PressWatch: Hiding the Wars
During the US war on Vietnam and SouthEast Asia, war correspondents for major US media outlets were actually accorded a certain equivalency of officer's rank, so that soldiers could figure out how they were to be treated, what mess hall they could use, what transportation was available, et cetera. That was long ago, and US warmakers have long since figured out that the soldiers and the US public will still prattle about democracy and freedom even when the press is shunned. The daily bombing statistics are now secret. This policy has had its effect, to the extent that basic information about the US war on Iraq and Afghanistan is hard to come by.
The extent of the wars has to be deduced from the trickle of information available. Tom Engelhardt has often done the footwork, and here is an excerpt of one of his articles:
Tom Engelhardt/Tom Dispatch
§ Believe it or not, for instance, US commanders in our war zones have more than one billion Congressionally mandated dollars a year at their disposal to spend on making "friends with local citizens and help[ing] struggling economies." It's all socked away in the Commander's Emergency Response Program. Think of it as a local community-bribery account which, best of all, seems not to require the slightest accountability to Congress for where or how the money is spent.
§ Believe it or not (small change department), the Pentagon is planning to spend an initial $50 million from a "$350 million Pentagon program designed to improve the counterterrorism operations of US allies" on Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, all of whom, in the latest version of the Coalition of the Billing, just happen to have small numbers of troops deployed in Afghanistan. The backdrop for this is Canada's decision to withdraw its combat forces from Afghanistan in 2011 and a fear in Washington that the larger European allies may threaten to bail as well. Think of that $50 million as a down payment on a state bribery program--and the Pentagon is reportedly hoping to pry more money loose from Congress to pay off the smaller "allies" in a bigger way in the future.
§ Believe it or not, the Defense Logistics Agency shipped 1.1 million hamburger patties to Afghanistan in the month of March 2010 (nearly doubling the March 2009 figure). Almost any number you might care to consider related to the Afghan War is similarly on the rise. By the fall, the number of American troops there will have nearly tripled since President Obama took office; American deaths in Afghanistan have doubled in the first months of 2010, while the number of wounded has tripled; insurgent roadside bomb (IED) attacks more than doubled in 2009 and are still rising; US drone strikes almost doubled in 2009 and are on track to triple this year; and fuel deliveries to Afghanistan have nearly doubled, rising from 15 million gallons a month in March 2009 to 27 million this March. (Keep in mind that, by the time a gallon of gas has made it to US troops in the field, its cost is estimated at up to $100.)
§ Believe it or not, according to a recent report by the Pentagon inspector general, private contractor KBR, holding a $38 billion contract to provide the US military with "a range of logistic services," has cost Washington $21 million in "waste" on truck maintenance alone by billing for twelve hours of work when, on average, its employees were actually putting in one hour and twenty minutes.
§ Believe it or not, the State Department has paid another private contractor, Triple Canopy, $438 million since mid-2005 simply to guard the massive, 104-acre US Embassy in Baghdad, the largest on the planet. That's more than half the price tag to build the embassy, the running of which is expected to cost an estimated $1.8 billion dollars in 2010. Triple Canopy now has 1,800 employees dedicated to embassy protection in the Iraqi capital, mainly Ugandan and Peruvian security guards. At $736 million to build, the embassy itself is a numbers wonder (and has only recently had its sizeable playing field astroturfed--"the first artificial turf sports field in Iraq"--also assumedly at taxpayer expense). Fans of Ripley-esque diplomatic gigantism should have no fears about the future either: the United States is now planning to build another "mother ship" of similar size and cost in Islamabad, Pakistan.
§ Believe it or not, according to Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com, nearly 400 bases for US troops, CIA operatives, special operations forces, NATO allies, and civilian contractors have already been constructed in Afghanistan, topping the base-building figures for Iraq by about 100 in a situation in which almost every bit of material has to be transported into the country. The base-building spree has yet to end.
§ Believe it or not, according to the Washington Post, the Defense Department has awarded a contract worth up to $360 million to the son of an Afghan cabinet minister to transport US military supplies through some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan--and his company has no trucks. (He hires subcontractors who evidently pay off the Taliban as part of a large-scale protection racket that allows the supplies through unharmed.) This contract is, in turn, part of a $2.1 billion Host Nation Trucking contract whose recipients may be deeply involved in extortion and smuggling rackets, and over which the Pentagon reportedly exercises little oversight.
I don't have any trucks either, and I've been trying to suppress a perfectly wonderful evil idea, namely, that I could undercut the Afghan trucking contractor by offering a no-truck service for only, say, three hundred million, find someone to call the Afghans and bribe them with the same amount, and then take the remaining $299 million and –never mind, it's an evil idea. But on the other hand maybe I could offer private no-aircraft aerial bombing for a billion or so—look at it this way, at least no one could get hurt.
How many people are getting bombed today? The closest guess I could get is some military non-information and this article from four years ago by Nick Turse, excerpted as follows:
While some aspects of the air war remain a total mystery, Air Force officials do acknowledge that U.S. military and coalition aircraft dropped at least 111,000 pounds of bombs on targets in Iraq in 2006. This figure, 177 bombs in all, does not include guided missiles and unguided rockets fired, or cannon rounds expended; nor, according to a U.S. Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF) spokesman, does it take into account the munitions used by some Marine Corps and other coalition aircraft or any of the Army's helicopter gunships. Moreover, it does not include munitions used by the armed helicopters of the many private security contractors flying their own missions in Iraq.
Air War, Iraq: 2006
In statistics provided to Tomdispatch, CENTAF reported a total of 10,519 "close air support missions" in Iraq in 2006, during which its aircraft dropped 177 bombs and fired 52 "Hellfire/Maverick missiles." These air strikes presumably included numerous highly publicized missions ranging from the January air strike outside the town of Baiji that reportedly killed a family of 12, including at least three women and three young children, to the December attack on an insurgent safehouse in the Garma area, near Fallujah, that reportedly killed two women and a child in addition to five guerillas. Then there were the even less well remembered events, such as those on July 28th when, according to official reports, an Air Force Predator unmanned aerial vehicle destroyed an "anti-Iraqi forces" vehicle with Hellfire missiles, while Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons "expended a GBU-12, destroying an anti-Iraqi forces location," both in the vicinity of the city of Ramadi.
The latter weapon, Guided Bomb Unit-12, a laser-guided bomb with a 500-pound general purpose warhead, was the most frequently used bomb in Iraq in 2006, according CENTAF statistics provided to Tomdispatch. In addition to the ninety-five GBU-12s "expended," sixty-seven satellite-guided, 500-pound GBU-38s and fifteen 2,000-pound GBU-31/32 munitions were also dropped on Iraqi targets last year, according to official Air Force figures.
One weapon conspicuously left out of this total is rockets – such as the 2.75-inch Hydra-70 rocket which can be outfitted with various warheads and is fired from fixed-wing aircraft and most helicopters. The number of rockets fired is withheld from the press so as, according to a CENTAF spokesman, not to "skew the tally and present an inaccurate picture of the air campaign." The number of rockets fired may be quite significant as, according to a 2005 press release issued by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who helped secure a $900 million Hydra contract from the Army for General Dynamics, "the widely used Hydra-70 rocket… has seen extensive use in Afghanistan and Iraq… [and] has become the world's most widely used helicopter-launched weapon system." Early last year, Sandra I. Erwin of National Defense Magazine noted that the U.S. military was looking to the Hydra to serve as a low-cost weapon for Iraq's urban areas. "The Army already buys and stockpiles thousands of the 2.75-inch Hydra rockets, and is seeking to equip as many as 73,000 with the laser kits, under a program called 'advanced precision kill weapon system,' or APKWS. The Navy would purchase 8,000 for Marine Corps helicopters," she wrote.
The number of cannon rounds fired – some models of the AC-130 gunship, for instance, have a Gatling gun that can fire up to 1,800 rounds in a single minute – is also a closely guarded secret. The official reason given is that "special forces often use aircraft such as the AC-130" and since "their missions and operations are classified, so therefore these figures are not released."
Repeated inquiries concerning another reporter's statistics on cannon rounds fired by CENTAF aircraft prompted the same official to emphatically state in an email: "WE DO NOT REPORT CANNON ROUNDS." His superior officer, Lt. Col. John Kennedy, the Deputy Director of CENTAF Public Affairs, followed up, noting:
"Glad to see you appreciate the tremendous efforts [my subordinate] has already expended on you. Trust me, it's probably much more significant than the relentless pursuit of the number of cannon rounds."
But the number of cannon rounds and rockets fired by U.S. aircraft is not an insignificant matter, according to Les Roberts, formerly an epidemiologist for the World Health Organization in Rwanda during that country's civil war and an expert on the human costs of the war in Iraq. According to Roberts, who was last in Iraq in 2004 (where, he says, he personally witnessed "the shredding of entire blocks" in Baghdad's Sadr City by aerial cannon fire), "rocket and cannon fire could account for most coalition-attributed civilian deaths." He adds, "I find it disturbing that they will not release this [figure], but even more disturbing that they have not released such information to Congressmen who have requested it."
Non-CENTAF military officials were equally tight-lipped about such munitions – at least with me. A Public Affairs officer from U.S. Central Command told me that the Command didn't track such information. When I questioned a coalition spokesman in Baghdad about the number of rockets and cannon rounds fired by Army and Marine Corps helicopters in Iraq in 2006, I was told, "We cannot comment on your inquiry due to operational security."
I then pointed out that just last month, in National Defense Magazine, Col. Robert A. Fitz;gerald, the Marine Corps' head of aviation plans and policy, was quoted as saying that, in 2006, "Marine rotary-wing aircraft flew more than 60,000 combat flight hours, and fixed-wing platforms completed 31,000. They dropped 80 tons of bombs and fired 80 missiles, 3,532 rockets and more than 2 million rounds of smaller ammunition."
When asked if this admission had endangered operational security, the spokesman responded, "I cannot comment on the policies or release authority of a Marine colonel."
So, bearing in mind that the following information is purposely devoid of usable statistics on bombs dropped, cannon rounds fired, et cetera, here is what the journalist-free US Air Force says for this month so far:
4/5/2010 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Coalition airpower integrated with ground forces in Iraq and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan during operations April 4 according to Combined Air and Space Operations Center officials here.
Air Operations in Afghanistan
Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots provided armed overwatch for friendly forces. The pilots conducted a show of presence to prevent enemy fire from a compound then made a cannon-fire strafing run that ended enemy fire from an adjacent enemy fighting position. The pilots also conducted shows of force to ensure no further enemy fire occurred. All actions were successful in meeting the ground commander's intent.
Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon pilots provided armed overwatch for a friendly-forces convoy. The aircrews conducted shows of force, some with flares launched, to deter enemy activity when the convoy came under enemy small-arms fire. The shows of force were declared successful when enemy fire ceased.
Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircrews provided armed overwatch for friendly forces and a friendly-forces convoy. The aircrews made a strafing run on an enemy compound when friendly ground forces reported taking enemy small-arms fire. Enemy fire ceased when the insurgents fled the enemy compound.
F-16C pilots provided armed overwatch for a friendly forces operation. The pilots conducted a show of force in support of the operation to deter any potential enemy action in the area of the operation. The show of force was considered successful when no enemy action was noted.
An Air Force B-1B Lancer aircrew provided armed overwatch for friendly-forces and a friendly-forces convoy. The aircrew conducted shows of force to deter potential enemy action in the vicinity of friendly ground forces. The shows of force were declared successful by ground forces.
Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet aircrews provided armed overwatch for friendly forces. The pilots conducted a show of force to deter hostile activity. Ground commanders declared the show of force successful.
F-16C pilots provided armed overwatch for a friendly forces operation. The pilots conducted a show of force, with flares launched, in support of the operation to deter potential enemy action in the area of the operation. The show of force was considered successful when no enemy action was noted.
Coalition aircrews conducted a successful show of force, with flares expended.
F-15E aircrews provided armed overwatch of a friendly forces convoy and a quick-reaction force. The aircrews conducted several shows of presence for friendly forces.
F-15E aircrews provided armed overwatch for friendly forces convoys, an extraction operation and a medical evacuation operation. The aircrews conducted a show of presence during the medical operation.
A B-1B aircrew provided armed overwatch for friendly-forces convoys. When the convoys reported an improvised explosion device, aircrews conducted a show of presence.
An Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircrew flew a combat-resupply mission in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, airdropping approximately 60,000 pounds of combat-sustainment supplies to friendly forces.
An Air Force C-130 Hercules aircrew flew a combat airdrop mission in Badghis Province, Afghanistan, delivering approximately 35,000 pounds of supplies to friendly forces.
A C-130 Hercules aircrew flew a combat airdrop mission in Konar Province, Afghanistan, delivering approximately 30,000 pounds of supplies to friendly forces.
A C-130 Hercules aircrew flew a combat-resupply mission in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, airdropping approximately 34,000 pounds of combat-sustainment supplies to friendly forces.
A C-130 aircrew conducted a low-cost low-altitude combat airdrop mission to deliver 1,200 pounds of supplies to friendly forces.
Air Operations in Iraq:
Nothing significant to report today.
radio free europe
The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said today that flights supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan from an air base in Kyrgyzstan have been temporarily suspended following violent political upheaval in Bishkek.
But a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, says the move has not had any significant impact on operations or logistical support in Afghanistan.
The United States is leasing the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan as a main regional hub for logistical support of NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan today declared that they had seized power and had taken control of security headquarters, state television and various government buildings.
The declaration came a day after riot police shot dead at least 60 people and protesters attempted to storm the main government building in the capital, Bishkek.
The opposition leader, Roza Otunbayeva, called for President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to resign and said she planned to run an interim government for six months to draft a new constitution for the central Asian state.
Speaking in Bishkek's ransacked parliament building this morning, Otunbayeva said Bakiyev was currently in the south of the country and had apparently taken refuge in the town of Jalal-Abad. Asked whether the new government had plans to arrest him, she said: "He should resign. His business is finished in Kyrgyzstan."
She went on: "You can call what happened here a popular uprising or a revolution. In essence people were simply fed up with the previous regime, and with its repressive, tyrannical and abusive behaviour. They want to build democracy here."
Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister, said the country's security service and interior ministry were under the full control of the new coalition government, made up of several opposition leaders. No decisions had been made over the future of the US airbase at Manas, near Bishkek, she said, which the opposition had said it wanted to close.
According to Otunbayeva, 60 people were killed yesterday and 300 injured when protesters tried to storm the main government building in the centre of Bishkek.
Today the building was on fire, with thick black smoke pouring out of its upper floors. Hundreds of looters gathered in the grassy forecourt surrounding the White House building. The burnt-out shells of several trucks and a tractor lay next to smashed-in railings.