For Italy, Trump Represents a ‘Populist’ Opportunity

The new Italian government is taking comfort in some of Trump’s positions, especially on migration, trade and Russia, says Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus
in Milan
Special to Consortium News

During the 2016 United States election campaign, most of Italy’s political class and media adopted the standard line about how Donald Trump was a grave threat to the stability of the Western world.

Unlike previous Italian governments, which toed the pro-globalization line, the new government in Rome, supported by the anti-system Five Star Movement and the right-wing League, seems ready to view Trump as an opening, not a disaster.

For the new Italian leaders, Trump’s victory presents a number of opportunities for Italy. It has opened a way to potentially link the anti-establishment vote in both countries and across Europe by addressing the negative effects of globalization on the middle and lower classes, as well as challenge disastrous “regime change” policies that breed instability.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte began revealing his hand at the G-7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada in June, shortly after he was chosen by the two populist parties as a compromise figure to lead the government. At the summit, he was the only other leader to support Trump’s call to allow Russia to rejoin the group. Conte also refused to join with other European leaders in railing against the threat of tariffs wielded by Washington to obtain concessions on trade. During Conte’s visit to the White House on July 30, he confirmed this position, seeking ways the two countries could work more closely together.

The Libya Disaster

The first common issue is how to deal with the chaos in Libya. In 2011, French President Nicolas Sarkozy—with the help of then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—successfully convinced President Barack Obama to launch a “humanitarian intervention” that led to the ouster and killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. What followed was a period of instability that persists to this day. For Italy in particular, the war has been disastrous on two fronts: it has hit its economic interests and increased human trafficking and the flow of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean.

Italy is the Western country with the strongest ties to Libya, a former Italian colony. Italy has invested heavily there, including through the construction of transport, military and housing infrastructure in the form of reparations for colonialism under a 2008 agreement with Gaddafi. Ties are strong in the energy sector as well, as the Italian conglomerate Eni manages numerous oil and gas fields there, providing about 20 percent of the company’s overall hydrocarbon production.

When NATO bombs were unleashed in 2011, the French military had included Eni infrastructure among its targets, according to then Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. The Italian oil assets were apparently never hit.  But armed groups continue to attack oil pipelines and hinder oil exports, including Eni’s. 

The targeting of Eni infrastructure has led to a belief in Italy that one goal of the Libyan war for France was to wrest control of Italy’s Libyan energy resources. Corroboration has come from the Clinton emails published first by WikiLeaks, and subsequently released in part by the State Department itself. Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal sent intelligence assessments regarding Sarkozy’s motives in attacking Libya, which included “a desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production.” Other emails show this meant cancelling existing oil concessions (such as those granted to Eni), and reassigning them to France’s Total. (Another major goal was to stop Gaddafi from creating a new pan-African currency which would supplant the CFA, the French franc used in French-speaking African countries.)

Italy also has borne the brunt of the increase in immigration passing through Libya. The north African country has become a hub for migrant and refugee passage, with ruthless traffickers exploiting and torturing people who hope to make it to Europe.

The elimination of the Gaddafi regime contributed strongly to the wave of desperate humans trying to make it to Italy, with over 90 percent of them arriving from Libya. 

The political result has been strong anti-immigrant sentiment in Italy that contributed significantly to the League’s March election success. The new Italian government has sought to block all arrivals not controlled by its coast guard and force other European countries to share the burden of those who are granted entry. This has led to claims that Italy is ignoring the humanitarian needs of desperate people. The Italians counter that European neighbors are refusing to do their part, having closed their borders within Europe despite their obligations under the Schengen Agreement that guarantees free movement of peoples throughout the EU.

Not surprisingly, Trump has offered his support to Conte, praising the Italian government’s approach and suggesting that Europe as a whole should reintroduce strong borders. Trump’s support on Libya can be of most help to Italy.

France continues to seek dominance in Western policy on Libya, while Italy aims to regain its leading role in the area, despite being seen as a second-tier power in Europe. After the bilateral meeting at the White House, sources told the Italian press that Italy could count on U.S. support for the Libya conference Conte is organizing in Rome this fall. Trump said: “We recognize Italy’s leadership role in the stabilization of Libya and North Africa.”

To Russia With Love

Trump and the Italian government also see eye to eye on Russia. Few people in Italy appear to support continuing the sanctions and deploying additional military personnel and equipment toward the East. Many Italians also would seem to welcome a shift away from the New Cold War mentality, but without rupturing the Western alliance.

So far, Trump’s openness to diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t brought much actual change. In fact, last month’s NATO summit produced a series of commitments for further NATO deployments toward Russia’s borders. But Italy’s desire for better relations with Russia, without alienating the U.S., is being facilitated by Trump’s approach to Moscow.

Conte and Trump skirted the Iran nuclear deal, over which Italy and the U.S. disagree. Italy has long been a major economic partner of the Islamic Republic. Though there is debate within institutions in Rome over the best approach to Iran, there’s no question many Italian companies stand to lose from Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions.

Trade With China

On trade with Europe Trump has followed his usual method: talk tough and make threats, hoping to obtain concessions. The first shot was Trump’s imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum, prompting Brussels to retaliate on a raft of American imports, including bourbon, motorcycles and numerous food items. Then Trump threatened 20 percent tariffs on European automobiles unless the EU reduced barriers to U.S. products.

The European Commission responded with a threat of over $300 billion in tariffs on American goods. Ultimately, a deal was reached in which the two sides committed to “work together towards zero tariffs.” The White House claimed victory after EU concessions in the energy and food sectors. More significantly, Europe appears to be siding with Trump over China on trade.

After his July 30 meeting with Trump, Conte agreed on the need to review the terms of China’s participation in the World Trade Organization. China still is accorded the status of a developing nation, which allows it to maintain higher tariffs and restrictions than its Western counterparts in many sectors. China has made great strides in improving living conditions for its population, but has a long way to go to deal with internal imbalances and inequality.

While the growth of the Chinese middle class represents an important opportunity for European industry, low-cost production from China and other developing nations has cost millions of jobs in developed countries, supplanting many Western industries during the process of globalization in recent decades.

Italy maintains a competitive advantage in many advanced manufacturing sectors—as do other European countries, led by Germany—but that advantage is waning as other nations reach higher levels of development. Italy must compete on quality, not quantity, overcoming the negative effects of unbalanced competition with China with its low costs and disparities in rules and regulations.

Limits of the EU

The populist Italian government is also seeking a more general challenge to the decades-old neoliberal economic system, which the Trump administration has supported.  It is premature to think that Italy and the U.S. have established a new partnership, given uncertainty on both sides. Even on rare occasions when Trump pursues reasonable goals, he is inconsistent and must do battle with many sides in the U.S.—even within his own administration. The Italian government is in a similar situation, with the European establishment putting roadblocks in the way to prevent wholesale changes in economic policy.

Seeking U.S. support outside the confines of the EU is in Italy’s interest, but raises concerns among those who look with disdain on Trump and his mistrust of supranational institutions. If EU countries act on their own, the idea of a common foreign policy loses credibility, strengthening the arguments of those who oppose further integration.

The problem is that the pro-EU forces so far have failed to address the issues leading to the populist revolt, whether economic or in foreign policy. Repeating the mantra that European nations must act as a bloc doesn’t solve the fundamental problems facing the member states. If Brussels won’t face its own failures, more conflict will be inevitable, and the alliance between populist forces will likely continue to grow.

Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He was elected chairman of the Milan Foreign Press Association in March 2018. He has published the books “Perché vince Trump” (“Why Trump is Winning” – June 2016) and “La rivolta degli elettori” (“The Revolt of the Voters” – July 2017).

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Election Results Could be Good for Pakistan, Bad for US

The election of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s new president further underscores America’s futile military strategy in the region, argues Graham Fuller.

By Graham Fuller

A bold new political face has come to power in the recent Pakistani elections, possibly offering the US a new opportunity in that country. Sadly the opportunity will likely be squandered—again. There’s something about Pakistani and US interests that seem doomed to collision course—mainly because Pakistan’s national interests are rarely what the US thinks they should be. 

Pakistanis themselves can be pleased the country has just experienced for only the second time in its history a democratic electoral transition from one political party to another. Over long decades democratically-elected governments have been routinely dethroned by the all-powerful Pakistani military-dominated intelligence service ISI. 

A key problem is that American interests in Pakistan have had little to do with Pakistan itself, but have been the function of other American interests—China, fighting the Soviet Union, al-Qaeda, and trying to win an ongoing—and losing—17-year US war in Afghanistan. Once about eliminating al-Qaeda, Washington today hopes the war in Afghanistan will eliminate the often violent fundamentalist Pashtun movement (Taliban) and enable the US to impose its strategic agenda upon Afghanistan. And over decades the US has alternately cajoled, but mostly threatened Pakistan to do US bidding in Afghanistan. (A former Deputy Secretary of the Pentagon, in the months after 9/11, threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t fully get on board and support the new US invasion of Afghanistan.)

In an earlier decade, after the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a failing Afghan communist regime, the US had recruited the Pakistani government to take the lead in organizing a new anti-Soviet “jihad” through supporting new mujahedin groups in Afghanistan. It was a fateful moment: this anti-Soviet jihad represented the first time that Islamist warriors, recruited from around the world in a joint US-Saudi-Pakistani strategy, became a powerful battle-hardened jihadi force that would later go on to fight new wars in the Middle East—and against US interests. As one of the mujahideen told me at the time, they had “defeated a superpower”—the USSR—and driven Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. What would be the implications for the future? 

Then, after 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan in order to overthrow the ruling Taliban—who had taken over the country and restored order after a devastating. nine-year Afghan civil war following the Soviet withdrawal. The Taliban actually represent a home-grown movement—they had no interest in international terrorism.  But they made one disastrous mistake: they allowed Osama Bin Laden to stay on in Afghanistan after he had played a small role in supporting the Taliban in achieving power in 1996. The US invasion ensued.

Pashtun Taliban

The thing to be remembered is that the Taliban are primarily a Pashtun movement; Pashtuns constitute the single largest ethnic group in multi-ethnic Afghanistan and have traditionally dominated national Afghan politics over several hundred years. While unquestionably following a kind of Wahhabi-style Islamic rule, they also represent a powerful Pashtun ethnic impulse. Many Afghan Pashtuns dislike the Taliban but they generally also wish to see Pashtuns maintain power in Afghanistan. This same ethnic issue matters a lot when it comes to Pakistan. 

The stated US agenda in Afghanistan now is to prevent the Taliban, who are conducting a fairly successful insurgency against the US-backed government in Kabul, from coming to power. Yet there is no way the Taliban can be decisively defeated, while the US may yet opt to move into its third decade of war there in trying to keep them out of power. While Taliban theology and policies are fairly Wahhabi in character, is it worth the longest war in American history to struggle on to keep them out? (There are a few encouraging signs that the US may be actually trying to reach some negotiated back-door deal with the Taliban for future power-sharing, but the Taliban may just decide to wait the US out.) What Washington doesn’t talk about is its long, strategic ambition to maintain military bases in Afghanistan, right in the heart of Central Asia in close proximity to Russia and China—very much out of the US Cold War playbook. But is it worth this costly and losing game?

Here’s where Pakistan comes in. In the Pak-Afghan border region there are twice as many Pashtuns living in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan. They represent a powerful force in Pakistani politics—and that’s where Imran Khan, Pakistan’s new president from the heart of Pashtun territory, also comes in. 

Bottom line: the US has consistently attempted to enlist Pakistan into rescuing America’s losing war in Afghanistan; a key US demand has been for the Pakistanis to sever ties between Pakistani and Afghan Taliban movements and crush all radical Islamist groups in the border region. There is no doubt Pakistan has indeed helped the Afghan Taliban (Pashtuns) to fight on in Afghanistan. Pakistan has a deep interest, domestic and foreign, in keeping close ties with all Pashtuns, Taliban or not. (The Pakistani Taliban movement is more violent than the Afghan one but cannot be easily crushed —perhaps only tamed—even by the Pakistani government.)

And the power base of Pakistan’s new president lies precisely in this Pashtun region of the country. Khan will not likely agree to any policy pressures from the US to crush Taliban cross-border ties; he favors a strong Pashtun/Taliban presence in any Afghan government. Khan, a former cricket star, has also been outspokenly critical of the US role in Pakistan and he will guard Pakistani sovereignty more jealously than his predecessors.

And Then There’s India

And then there are geopolitics with India. Already hugely outweighed and outgunned by a huge and powerful Indian state on Pakistan’s eastern border, Pakistan’s geopolitics dictate that it can never allow its geographically narrow state to be simultaneously threatened by a pro-Indian government on Pakistan’s western border in Afghanistan. Yet India has hugely invested—financially, politically and in an intelligence presence in Afghanistan with US blessing, which is perceived in Islamabad as a deadly geopolitical threat. Pakistan will do all it can to ensure that Afghanistan does not fall under Indian political domination. That also means deep involvement in Afghan Pashtun politics (that include the Taliban).

The US has consistently run roughshod over Pakistani sovereignty throughout its war in Afghanistan, thereby generating strong anti-US feelings in Pakistan. (My first novel: “Breaking Faith: An American’s Crisis of Conscience in Pakistan,” deals  heavily with these issues, including the CIA and American military presence in Pakistan, as well as the complicated range of Pakistani Islamist movements at the human level of a Pakistani family.)

And finally there is the ever-growing China factor. Pakistan has long been China’s closest ally and considers Beijing to be an “all-weather friend”— in pointed distinction to perceived US opportunism in Pakistan. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are now integral elements in China’s sweeping new economic and infrastructural Eurasian development plan “One Bridge, One Road.”  (Iran too, incidentally, is linked into the same Chinese vision.) There is no way Pakistan will ever choose close ties with Washington over ties with China, for a dozen good reasons, including shared mutual distrust of India. 

In short, Imran Khan may well bring some fresh air into Pakistani politics, including a declared willingness to clamp down on the country’s rampant corruption. The powerful Pakistan military also supports him. It is hard to imagine how the US will not continue to lose ever more traction in the Pakistan-Afghan morass short of undertaking a major US shift away from its military-driven foreign policy. That US policy and style seems to tally ever less with the interests of most states of the region.

This article originally appeared on Graham Fuller’s blog.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is BEAR, a novel of the Great Bear Rainforest and Eco-Terrorism. (Amazon, Kindle)

Trump’s Spaced-Out Space Force

While key members of his administration oppose him, Donald Trump seems intent on forging ahead with plans to create a sixth military branch–in outer space, as Renee Parsons reports. 

By Renee Parsons

At a recent meeting of the newly-revived National Space Council, President Donald Trump announced the Space Policy Directive: National Space Traffic Management (STM) Policy and ordered the Department of Defense to establish a Space Force as a sixth branch of the US military.

Creating a “separate but equal” Space Corps would need Congressional authorization, however, which could abort Trump’s lift off.

Members of Trump’s own cabinet, including the secretary of defense, are opposed to creating a new military branch, meaning the president’s plans could be left on the launching pad. 

The Directive suggests an overly-ambitious mission of broad, wide-ranging goals with no timeline or funding under the guise of a ‘space junk directive’ to clean up a “congested and contested” cosmos. That promises to keep the military industries happy while making space safe for the coming commercial space industry (CSI).

Specifically, the Directive provides a role for the Department of Defense “to protect and defend US space assets and interests.”  The Director of National Intelligence is supposed to provide a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) of “knowledge and characterization of space objects.” Expanding on the U.S. role in outer space, Trump could not be clearer about his intentions: “Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security. We must have American dominance in space.”

As the U.S. presumes to act on behalf of other countries on the planet and commercial space endeavors, the Directive proposes to establish operational criteria with the assumption that all players will accept such U.S. dominance. 

Opposition within the Trump Administration has been vocal, with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson suggesting that, “The Pentagon is complicated enough. This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart, and cost more money.”

In an October, 2017 letter on the National Defense Authorization Act 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis commented: “I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint war-fighting functions.”

In a second letter to Congress, Mattis reiterated, “I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations.”

Outer Space, Out of Mind

Despite Pentagon opposition, an administration witness told a recent House Armed Services subcommittee that “the President has prioritized space. He recognized the threats that have evolved and the pace at which they evolve.”

In March, the president endorsed a Space Force during a White House ceremony, saying, “We’re getting very big in space, both militarily and for other reasons,” suggesting that the true purpose of a Space Force may be more than the equivalent of a celestial traffic cop.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, there are 1,738 operational satellites with 803 US satellites in orbit (476 commercial, 150 government, 159 military and 18 civil). Russia has 142 operational satellites and China has 204. There are also 2,600 non-functional human-made satellites, most of which weigh less than 5 tons and fly in a low orbit specifically programmed to burn out and fall to earth after 25 years.

It is difficult to conjure up the effects of a “growing threat” from human-made orbital clutter and debris floating in the infinite vastness of outer space as significant enough to qualify as a national security risk. Nor would U.S. global dominance be required to sweep the cosmos clean of said debris. What could Trump be thinking in pushing this idea against the wishes of the top brass? Perhaps he is referring to something other than debris and clutter.

While outer space is a wide-open, limitless expanse that remains as clandestine as any black ops project, global citizens are familiar with the noteworthy increase of reported extra terrestrial activity across the planet. 

Especially intriguing are former astronauts who have commented on their experiences as well as members of the U.S. military who have described sightings that move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion or that hover with no apparent means of lift and can change direction or speed on a dime.

Revealed in December 2017, the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which prepared a 500-page document of worldwide UFO sightings, was Congressionally funded by former Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). In a CNN interview, retired AATIP director Luis Elizondo, who resigned in protest over “excessive secrecy” said, “My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone.”

Two events that dared challenge the government’s decades of secrecy with open disclosure were two press conferences at the National Press Club in Washington featuring retired military personnel providing public comment on their direct experiences with an extra terrestrial world in their official capacity. The first press conference occurred on September, 10, 2001, one day before the 911 attacks and another on September 27, 2010Both press conferences were organized by Dr. Steven Greer of the Disclosure Project, who also produced the videos Sirius and Unacknowledged.

In responding to the Directive, Greer claimed he has been “talking about this for years and has spoken to multiple witnesses who said that at least since the 1960s the U.S. has had military assets in space. They (Trump administration) are acknowledging something that is already there. However, what is not being talked about, even now, is that those military assets are tracking and targeting ET craft.”

On the edge of human consciousness lies a more subtle, potentially less obvious presence than the usual political adversaries as the U.S. continues to lay specious claim to ownership of Outer Space. 

A version of this article was first published on Global Research

Renee Parsons served on the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and as president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist for Friends of the Earth and a staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31

The U.S. and the Fate of the World

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the fate of civilization is up to Americans to sort out how they want to interact with the rest of the world, argues Inder Comar in this commentary.

By Inder Comar

Americans ought to be more honest about U.S. military interventionism. There ought to be a serious debate about it.  Instead there seems to be three, entrenched foreign policy camps who never talk to each other.

The first is made up of avowed imperialists. They are easy to recognize, because they happen to be in power. They are the people for whom there is no such thing as a bad war. They have likely committed the United States to regime change in Iran. And they are currently spearheading an overly aggressive approach in attempting to defuse tensions with a nuclear-armed North Korea—an approach that will probably backfire in the end.  This camp would also be the strongest to deny that there is any such thing as U.S. imperialism.

Then there are people who totally reject imperialism in any form, committed by any country, as a grave error. These are the people who recognize that there must be other values that bind relationships between nations—shared values premised on international law, human rights, Individual and spiritual freedom, and the rule of law.

I suspect it is a very small camp.

Finally, there is a third group, who’ve I’ve come to see as of two minds. They think it possible to maintain a militant foreign policy, while also saying they are using that foreign policy to spread civilized values. They want to wallow in the false glory that comes from empire, and to feel good about it.   

Current political discourse in the United States—whether it is in the media, the think-tanks, or from major politicians—largely falls in this camp. For example, most Republicans and Democrats use the language of human rights and freedom to couch their perspective.

Hiding an Interventionist Thread

But the reality of their actions, and the consequences of those actions, makes it impossible to hide an underlying imperialist thread. Thinking people cannot ignore that it was a Democrat, President Barack Obama, who increased the use of military drones in several countries, invaded Libya, maintained and increased America’s presence in Afghanistan, and even committed $1 trillion to enhancing America’s nuclear arsenal

There has never been a more urgent time for people to really study and consider American foreign policy, and to ask fundamental questions about America’s role in the world. There are people in power today who are literally playing with fire with a nuclear-armed country (North Korea) and who are goading another country (Iran) into seeking nuclear weapons in order to defend itself from the open threat of an American invasion.

An imperial foreign policy is one that makes the whole world far less safe—including the United States. We are not so different as humans. Humans, everywhere, eventually get sick of being bullied. And they eventually start to defend themselves. Or even fight back.

There is another point, too, which needs to be made. The pedigreed leaders who pace the halls of power, their think-tank enablers, and many individual Americans, very often find a false and perverse comfort in the domination, exploitation, and suffering of people who are not Americans. This is truly a despicable thing, and it needs to be called out. It was this type of thinking that created genocide in the United States, against the First Nations and indigenous people. It is this type of thinking which has killed, and which continues to kill, tens of millions abroad. 

There is a fundamental choice that Americans have to make. And that is whether they will be okay with imperialism as the defining characteristic of their foreign policy. Whether they want to be known as an imperialist people. I think there is a day coming, sooner than most would like, where that choice will have to be confronted head on.

Worst Crime of All

I think a lot about the terrible crime that was committed in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. Many rational people wonder why the purported “lessons” of the aggressive war against Iraq have not been digested by either high ranking Democrats or Republicans, and why the U.S. government continues to make baseless threats against other countries, or threaten war without a sufficient legal justification. After all, from a humane and civilized point of view, the Iraq war was not just a disaster: it was an international crime, and the worst of all war crimes, the crime of aggression.

But from the perspective of imperialism, Iraq was in many ways a success—it led to the destruction of a regional power center, gave the United States cover to continue to involve itself in the Middle East in perpetuity, and cemented a growing alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries who are keen to continue purchasing a large supply of U.S. armaments.  

Americans are a very lucky people. They have been fortunate to not have another, greater country impose its will on them. With the exception of Pearl Harbor, Americans have never been forced to feel the weight of imperialist policies that have led to death-by-drone or death-by-missile for family members, neighbors or friends. Americans have never had their country suffocated because of trade and economic blockades from a more dominant nation. And Americans have not had to deal with violent coups, sham elections, and propped up dictators who answer to a ruling elite living thousands of miles away, who don’t even care to speak the same language, who exploit the country’s resources, and who could care less about the fate and destiny of every day people.

This has been the sad fate of many societies over the last 100 years, whose only crime was being a strategic interest to the American government.

But even then, as an American, I am starting to get a taste for what these things feel like. Because imperial policies abroad are now taking root in the United States, and flowering as domestic policy. Police indiscriminately kill protestors and people of color. Immigrants are targeted as objects of hate. The poor and middle class are essentially destitute — more than 40% of Americans struggle to provide for food and rent for themselves. And the American electoral process is nakedly in the control of plutocrats, who enrich themselves at the public coffers, while every day people suffer. 

Imperialism abroad creates aristocracy at home; and combined, they produce only the demonic offspring of corruption, dictatorship, and total war. 

It is in the hands of all of us, as citizens, to question the dominant narrative of imperialism. And it is not enough to call out the avowed imperialists—they are easy to see.

Their words and actions are very clear.

It is also critical at this time to call out the people who think they can have it both ways—that they can feel good about empire and human rights at the same time, who think it is possible to promote freedom through the barrel of a gun.

These people need to be called out for this way of thinking. Peace and liberty is promoted through peaceful and free means. You would never kill a man on the street and claim to have saved him. What’s true on the street is also true between nations. And those “thought leaders” and politicians who claim that they can advance a civilized, humanitarian agenda through weapons, threats, coups and invasions, are not just wrong, they are being willfully dishonest—either to themselves, or to the world at large.

Americans need a civic dialogue that focuses on the rule of law, human rights norms, and shared, civilized values. Americans need a foreign policy that meaningfully and respectfully displays these same values, and which uses those values in relations with other countries. Not through warfare, domination, and exploitation. It seems simple to say, but the best way to end imperialism is to simply end imperialism. 

It is time for America to stop relying on its weapons, and to start relying on ethical and civilized principles.

The fate of the U.S. and perhaps the world, rests on it finding a better way to deal with itself, and with others. There will be no meaningful response and preparation for climate change, species extinction and the great refugee crises to come unless the U.S. uses its power in a positive way, and contributes to a world where dialogue, cooperation, and the promotion of peace are the foundation blocks of a civilized order. 

This article first appeared on Inder Comar’s blog.

Inder Comar is the executive director of Just Atonement Inc., a legal non-profit dedicated to building peace and sustainability, and the Managing Partner of Comar LLP, a private law firm working in technology. He is a recognized expert on the crime of aggression, the legality of the Iraq War, and international human rights. He holds a law degree from the New York University School of Law, a Master of Arts degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Stanford University. His Twitter handle is @InderComar.

Israelis Continue to Open Fire on Gaza Protestors: An Eyewitness Account

An Interview with Gaza-based Palestinian Journalist, Wafa Al-Udaini

By Dennis J Bernstein

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the Palestinian death toll since March 30, 2018 “has risen to 33, including 4 children and 1 photojournalist, and the number of those wounded has risen to 2,436, including 410 children, 66 women, 22 journalists and 9 paramedics.”

There have been no Israeli casualties.

According to PCHR, on Friday, April 20th, Israeli snipers “killed 4 Palestinian civilians, including a child, and wounded 274 others, including 41 children, 6 women and 1 journalist, in addition to hundreds suffering tear gas inhalation, including PCHR’s fieldworkers who were documenting the Israeli forces’ suppression of the entirely peaceful demonstrations near the border fence with Israel, east of the Gaza Strip.”

PCHR maintains that “for the fourth week in a row and upon a decision by the Israeli highest military and political echelons, the Israeli forces used lethal force against the peaceful protesters, who did not pose any threat to the soldiers’ life.” There is a cell phone camera recording now being widely distributed that appears to show Israeli snipers and soldiers cheering as they gun down unarmed Palestinians fleeing in the distance.

On April 17th, I spoke with Gaza-based Palestinian Journalist Wafa Al-Udaini who has been an eyewitness to all the Gaza protests in the ongoing anti-occupation, Right to Return protests since late March. Al-Udaini’s friend and colleague, Yaser Murtaja, a photojournalist and camera person for a Gaza-based media production company was shot on April 6th by Israeli sharp-shooters and died the next day of his wounds.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Pictures posted on social media by local journalists and witness testimony from local journalists show that Murtaja was wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet that were both clearly marked with the words “PRESS” when he was hit.”

In the following interview, Al-Udaini offers an eye-witness recounting of the initial protest in Gaza on March 30th, in which at least 18 protesters were killed by Israeli snipers and well over a thousand people were wounded.

Dennis Bernstein: We are going to hear now some eyewitness accounts, some very troubling testimony of the way in which Israeli snipers, from a long distance away, behind a fence and across a field, began to gun down hundreds of people, wounding over a thousand protesters and killing at least 18 Palestinians on the first day.  It was truly horrifying.

Some people were protesting, some were praying, and others, like Wafa Al-Udaini, were sitting down for a meal during the long day of anti-occupation protests, when Israeli snipers opened fire and began to gun down unarmed Palestinians.

Wafa Al-Udaini, tell us a bit of your background and then tell us what you witnessed on March 30th and the other protest days that you were an eye-witness to.

Wafa Al-Udaini: I live here in the Gaza Strip.  My grandparents were

expelled from Beersheba by Israeli gangs in 1948.  Now I live as a Palestinian refugee in the Gaza Strip. I work as a journalist for different websites and on radio.  I am also an activist, the leader of a youth group here composed of students and journalists who work to present Palestinian issues to the world.

We were so excited about the Great March of Return protests, which began on the 13th of March.  It was a peaceful and secular march, where all Palestinians, male and female, elderly and children, came to the border fence to resist peacefully.  I took my family with me and we brought along something to eat and drink. We sat together and shared our food. We were asserting our right to demonstrate and reminding the world of our right to return to the land we occupied before we were driven from our homes.  I brought my camera and intended to livestream the event. We were about 700 meters from the Israeli side.

DB: Could you talk about when you realized that the soldiers were opening fire on civilians?  Were people around you being shot?

WAU: At the moment, I was interviewing people around me about what life was like before 1948, stories they had heard from their grandparents.  Then suddenly I heard shots and I saw people running. I asked what was happening and they told me that the Israelis were opening fire. A man fleeing with his children told me some had been murdered.  The Israelis began throwing teargas and they gunned down people who were fleeing.

DB: Let me explain to people that there is the border fence, which is electrified, and then there is a major piece of land between the fence and where the protest was happening.  My understanding is that the soldiers were sharpshooters and they were picking people off from the other side of the fence.

WAU: Exactly.  It had nothing to do with “defense,” because of the distance and because we were unarmed.  They fired on women holding the Palestinian flag. This was their crime. Claims of self defense are just ludicrous.

DB: A friend of yours, a journalist, Yaser Murtaja, was gunned down on April 6th. I understand he was wearing his press vest, that clearly marked him as a journalist. He was gunned down and killed by Israeli snipers.  Do you think he might have been shot because he was wearing his press vest, and the Israelis weren’t crazy about there killing fields being broadcast around the world?

WAU: Yes.  The Israelis are realizing that they can’t continue to fool people indefinitely.  This camera footage of all of this flies in the face of any claims that the Israeli army is acting in self defense.  These on-the-ground images show Israeli propaganda for what it is.

DB: It appears they are willing to wipe out peaceful protesters while the rest of the world is watching, while the US government continues to provide them with arms, and while the Western corporate press works to bury the real story.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at You can get in touch with the author at

Syrian ‘Chemical Victims’ Suffered from Dust Inhalation, Reports Say

A report by the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk quotes doctors in Douma saying victims suffered from dust inhalation and that a member of the White Helmets caused panic by falsely shouting, “Gas!” in a triage center. The White Helmets were then bused out with other jihadists, as Caitlin Johnstone explains.

By Caitlin Johnstone

We are now being told (and I assure you I am not making this up) that if the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons doesn’t find evidence that the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack in Douma last week, it’s because Russia hid the evidence.

“It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site,” reports U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Ward. “It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to conduct an effective investigation.”

I guess the idea is that this international top-level investigative team on which tremendous credibility has been placed by the western world can be thwarted by Russians showing up with a Hoover and spraying some Febreze in the air like a teenage stoner when mom comes home? I’m not sure, but given the immense dearth of evidence we’ve been seeing in support of the establishment Douma narrative and the mounting pile of evidence contradicting it, it sure does sound fishy.

Now that the jihadist-occupied suburb of Douma has been retaken by the Syrian government, western journalists have been allowed in to poke around and start asking questions, and so far it isn’t looking great for the propaganda machine.

Dust Not Gas

The Independent‘s Robert Fisk has published a report which affirms the story so many westerners have been dismissing as Kremlin propaganda for days now after interviewing a doctor from the hospital of the area where the Douma attack was supposed to have occurred. Dr Assim Rahaibani told Fisk that what was in actuality an outbreak of respiratory distress among occupants of a dusty oxygen-deprived tunnel was made to look like the aftereffects of a chemical weapons attack when a member of the White Helmets started shouting about a gas attack in front of a bunch of video cameras. Everyone panicked and started hosing themselves down, but in the video, according to Rahaibani, “what you see are people suffering from hypoxia—not gas poisoning.”

This report was independently backed up by a reporter from One America News Network named Pearson Sharp, who gave a detailed account of his interviews with officials, doctors, as well as many civilians on the street Sharp says he deliberately selected at random in order to avoid accusations of bias. Many people hadn’t even heard that a chemical weapons attack had taken place, and the ones who had said it was staged by Jaysh al-Islam. The staff at the hospital, including a medic-in-training who was an eyewitness to the incident, gave the same story as the account in Fisk’s report. (Fisk also reported that the White Helmets in Duma had joined jihadists on Syrian government buses on the way to Idlib province.)

Weakening Narrative

The increasing confidence with which these unapproved narratives are being voiced and the increasing discomfort being exhibited by empire loyalists like Ambassador Ward indicate a weakening narrative in the greater propaganda campaign against the Assad government and its allies, but don’t hold your breath for the part where Fox News and the BBC turn around and start asking critical questions of the governments that they are meant to be holding to account.

The journalists who have been advancing the establishment narrative on Syria aren’t about to start reporting that they’ve gotten the entire Syria story backward and have been promoting a version of events manufactured for the benefit of CIA-MI6-Mossad agendas. You’re not about to see CNN, who last year staged a fake scripted interview with a seven year-old Syrian girl to manufacture support for escalations against Assad, suddenly turn around and start asking if we’re being told the full story about what’s happening Syria.

Watch them closely. Watch how they steadfastly ignore the growing mountain of evidence and keep promoting the Syrian regime change agenda that the western empire has been working toward for decades. Watch them dismiss all evidence they can’t ignore as Kremlin propaganda and shift the narrative whenever things start to look bad for them. Those riding the crest of the wave of establishment media are too far gone into the blob to ever admit error and change. The least among us aren’t about to stop constructing a public reality tunnel which depicts them as heroes of truth, tear it all down, and start advancing a narrative which makes them look like fools at best and villains at worst. It will not happen.Luckily for us, it doesn’t need to. Internet censorship is still far from closing the door on our ability to network and share information, and we’ve been very effective at sowing skepticism among the masses. The war propagandists are not nearly as good at their jobs as they want to believe, and we can beat them.

Consent Required

They work so hard to manufacture support for war because they require that consent. If the oligarchs try to launch a war against a disobedient nation amidst very clear opposition from the public, they will shatter the illusion of freedom and democracy that their entire empire is built upon, and then they’re exposed. Corporatist oligarchy has succeeded in weaving its web of dominance because its oppression has thus far remained hidden and its depravity disguised as humanitarianism. They cannot expose themselves by transgressing a loud NO from the public or else the masses will realize that everything they used to believe about their country, their government and their world is a lie.

They won’t risk that. We can force them into retreating from open war by circulating facts and information and keeping a healthy level of skepticism circulating among the public. Watch them squirm, move goalposts and shift narratives, and point and yell about it whenever it happens. We can win the media war against the propagandists. We have truth on our side.

This article first appeared on Medium.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on Facebook, Twitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.

Anatomy of a Chemical Attack

In the space of a little more than 24 hours Defense Secretary Jim Mattis learned all over again how to say, “Yes, sir,” explains Barry Kissin

By Barry Kissin Special to Consortium News

Analyzing certain aspects of the brief timeline between the date of the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Duma on April 7 and the date of the U.S. air strikes on April 13 in supposed retaliation, reveals a very curious sequence of events.

On April 8, a day after chlorine gas was allegedly used, President Donald Trump (with no time for investigation) blamed Syrian government forces for what he called a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” and warned there would be a “big price to pay.” He did not elaborate. In a series of tweets, Trump held Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chief sponsors, responsible.

On April 11 (at 3:57 AM), President Trump tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

The next morning, on April 12, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee. “I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence,” Mattis told lawmakers. “As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.” Mattis said he wanted inspectors in Syria “probably within the week.”

In an article titled “Mattis: US Wants Proof Before Striking Syria for Chemical Attack,” reported: “Currently, the U.S. and its allies ‘don’t have evidence’ that the Syrian regime carried out the attack last Saturday in the Damascus suburb of Duma that reportedly killed at least 40, Mattis said.”

In response to Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas (D-Mass.) Mattis testified: “We don’t have troops on the ground there so I cannot tell you we have evidence even though we certainly had a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used.”

Right after his testimony on Capitol Hill, Mattis attended a “closed-door White House meeting.” According to The New York Times, at this meeting, “Mattis pushed for more evidence of President Bashar al-Assad’s role in the suspected chemical attack …” Evidently, Mattis was overruled. Trump was already committed.

The Pentagon conducted a briefing immediately after the US strikes the next day, on April 13. One reporter asked: “What’s your evidence it was delivered by the Syrian regime? Are you quite clear it was?” Mattis dutifully responded: “I am confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people in this last week, yes. Absolutely confident of it.”

Another reporter queried: “So up until yesterday, and I’m going to quote you here, you said, ‘I cannot tell you that we have evidence.’ So when did you become confident that a chemical attack happened?

Mattis: “Yes, yesterday.”

Reporter: “Since yesterday, after you said that?”

Mattis: “Yes.”

And those inspectors Mattis had only the day before made clear to Congress would be coming “probably within the week?”  They were just hours away from starting their work in Duma when the first U.S. cruise missile hit its target.  

Barry Kissin is an attorney, musician and political commentator.

UK’s Russia Narrative: A Verdict in Search of a Crime

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is on increasingly shaky ground when it comes to his bombastic accusations against Russia in the Skripal case, comments Caitlin Johnstone

By Caitlin Johnstone

Two weeks ago, the Right Honourable Boris Johnson was asked by a German journalist how the UK government could be so very certain so very early on that the Kremlin was behind the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Salisbury.

“When I look at the evidence, the people from Porton Down, the laboratory, they were absolutely categorical,” Johnson replied. “I asked the guy myself, I said: ‘Are you sure?’ And he said: ‘There’s no doubt.’ So we have very little alternative but to take the action that we have taken.”

The “action that we have taken” include the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom, a cold war escalation in which they were joined by many allied governments around the world in the largest collective ejection of Russian diplomats in world history. It would also include Johnson’s personal campaign to unite the EU behind a more aggressive stance against Russia.

As we discussed this week, the narrative about the Skripal poisoning has been in a constant state of change, with the means by which the nerve agent was administered shifting from Yulia Skripal’s suitcase tothe air vents in their car to weaponized miniature drone to  the family’s car door handle to the front door of the house to Sergei Skripal’s favorite Russian cereal. Since the forensics of the case are clearly all over the map, and despite this glaring fact the UK government still insists that the poisoning was most certainly inflicted by Russia, the only remaining forensics which could possibly implicate the Kremlin to such a high degree of confidence would necessarily have to be evidence found within the nerve agent itself.

And until a few hours ago Johnson’s comments actually backed this up; he didn’t cite the dodgy crime scene forensics as reason for the government’s certainty, he cited the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down. He said they had found evidence within the compound which with “no doubt” implicated the Russian government.

Only problem with that? It’s bullshit.

Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the aforementioned Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, has told Sky News in a scandalous new report that while his laboratory has been able to learn the chemical composition of the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals, none of the work they have done has succeeded in identifying its source.

The DSTL Twitter account has hastened to inform the public that, in direct contradiction to Boris Johnson’s claims, it has never been its job to identify the source of the nerve agent, and that its identification of the compound has formed only one part of the government’s conclusions. The Sky News report backs this up with a statement from a government spokesperson who asserts that “This is only one part of the intelligence picture” on the Skripal poisoning, adding the following:

“As the Prime Minister has set out in a number of statements to the Commons since 12 March, this includes our knowledge that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents – probably for assassination – and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks.

“Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views former intelligence officers as targets.

“It is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation.”

But what does that mean? It means that there are no crime scene forensics implicating the Russian government as evidenced by how ridiculously all-over-the-place the narrative about how the poisoning occurred is, and there are no laboratory forensics proving a connection to the Russian government. According to the spokesperson’s statement, that leaves only the say-so of British intelligence agencies.

And of course it does. It always boils down to blind faith in shady intelligence agencies. Fifteen years after the Iraq invasion and we’re still being asked to blindly accept on faith the word of imperialist intelligence agencies. Sometimes I wonder why they even bother trying to make up excuses for their war agendas anymore. At this point they could just say “Yeah we’re going to work with our allies to sanction Russia off from the world stage because we need them out of the way and want to avoid a direct military confrontation due to their nuclear weapons.” At least it would be less insulting.

Also interesting is Aitkenhead’s denial of Russia’s assertion that the nerve agent could have come from Porton Down, not because the laboratory doesn’t have such weapons in its possession but because the laboratory has “the highest levels of security and controls.” Which to me sounds an awful lot like an admission that they have the same nerve agent that was used upon the Skripals in their possession.

This all comes on the back of new revelations that the US government has for years been working to hush public discussion of the novichok nerve agent, with Hillary Clinton herself ordering diplomats to downplay the issue should it arise in chemical weapon control talks.

So to recap, an accusation for which there is no evidence has been used to manufacture support for new escalations against Russia, a longtime rival of the western empire. We have been given ample evidence that the Skripal poisoning is being used to advance a preexisting agenda, and no evidence at all to the contrary. It is a verdict in search of a crime. A war in search of an excuse.

We’re being lied to. Again. Just like we were fifteen years ago. Don’t believe Boris Johnson. Don’t believe opaque and unaccountable intelligence agencies with an extensive history of deceit and depravity. Spread truth and remain loudly skeptical. If they’re going to drag us into a third and final world war, the least we can do is make it difficult for them.


Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.

What Did Israel Bomb in the Syrian Desert in 2007?

Israel last month admitted that it was responsible for bombing a building in Syria in 2007 that it says was a nuclear reactor under construction but there are strong doubts about what the building was for, argues Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

In September 2007, in the dark of night, warplanes crossed the Syrian border and bombed a covert nuclear reactor. Recently, Israel took responsibility for the bombing mission that obliterated the Syrian reactor.

The Israeli announcement was unnecessary if it was intended to be an admission of responsibility. The origin of the bombers had never been a mystery. As early as 2008, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh began a report on the bombing with the line “Sometime after midnight on September 6, 2007, at least four low-flying Israeli Air Force fighters crossed into Syrian airspace and carried out a secret bombing mission.” Even the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report on the bombing said that the building had been “destroyed by Israel in September 2007.”

That the nuclear reactor was bombed by Israeli planes is clear. That the building the Israeli planes bombed was a nuclear reactor is far less clear.

The Nontechnical Questions

If Syria was building a nuclear weapons program, they were doing it entirely without the knowledge of the CIA. CIA Director Michael Hayden told President Bush that the CIA knew nothing about the Syrian reactor. That the CIA missed a secret nuclear program is not impossible to believe or even entirely unprecedented. What is more unbelievable is that they missed it when it was right out in the open. The Syrians made no attempt to conceal their biggest secret. The highly sophisticated U.S. satellites missed what a commercial satellite easily picked up.

It is hard to make sense of that. In fact, it is hard to make sense of a lot of nontechnical features of the Israeli story. Even to the layman with no technical knowledge of enrichment or nuclear reactors, a number of features made no sense. Hersh picked up on these nontechnical anomalies in his early investigative report of the strike, “A Strike in the Dark.” A former State Department intelligence expert told Hersh that many of the features that one would see around a nuclear reactor were missing from the site. There was not even any security around it.

Former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley expanded on this anomaly in a personal correspondence. He said there was “no security whatever: no fences, no guards, no perimeter road, no security on the river pump house, water lines run under a public highway.” A nearby agricultural desert water station pump house had more security, he told me. He called the lack of security “a pretty big deal.” So did Syria’s then U.S. ambassador, Imad Moustapha, who told a Washington press conference in 2008:

“An allegedly strategic site in Syria without a single military checkpoint around it, without barbed wire around it, without anti-aircraft missiles around it, without any sort of security surrounding it, thrown in the middle of the desert without electricity, plans to generate electricity for it, with out major supply plans around it? And yet, it is supposed to be a strategic installation? And people don’t even think of it. Yesterday, in the White House presidential statement, it was stated to the letter that that was a secret location. And yet, every commercial satellite service available on earth was able to provide photos and images of this so-called secret Syrian site for the past five, six years.”

There were other details that didn’t fit the Israeli narrative either. The nuclear reactor was supposed to be based on a North Korean design, and North Korea was cast as a key player in the construction of the clandestine nuclear reactor. A North Korean ship called the Al Hamed attracted a lot of the spotlight. It was claimed to have brought the Syrians nuclear equipment from North Korea. But, the problem was that, in his investigation, Hersh found that neither maritime intelligence nor the ship’s transponder gave any indication that the Al Hamadhad recently docked in North Korea.

At least two people I spoke to were also struck by the absence of people and the lack of activity at the site. You need a program, one person told me. You need bureaucratic support. Building a nuclear reactor is a huge project. Kelley says “there were very few workers as in there are no busses and just a few motorcycles. That is a pretty big clue this is not a big deal. About to start up a super critical facility? No workers?”

Pursuing a different line of nontechnical questioning, one person I spoke to asked why, when war broke out in Syria, and America accused Assad and Syria, of everything from chemical weapons to barrel bombs, why did it never return to the illegal nuclear weapons program if it had real evidence that it had had one?

But, perhaps the most telling thing is not that the CIA missed what was out in the open for commercial satellites to pick up, not that they didn’t “have any proof of a reactor – no signals intelligence, no human intelligence, no satellite intelligence,” as a former senior US intelligence official who had access to the current intelligence told Hersh. What is, perhaps, more telling is that when they were provided with the intelligence, despite signing on to the Israeli narrative, they actually assessed only “low confidence” that the targeted site was part of a Syrian nuclear weapons program. And they weren’t the only ones. Mohamed ElBaradei, then director-general of the IAEA, said that their “experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

The IAEA Verdict

Despite the inconsistencies and the low confidence, by May 2011, the IAEA had rendered a verdict, repeated in their September 2014 report, that “based on all the information available to the Agency and its technical evaluation of that information, it was very likely that the building destroyed at the Dair Alzour site was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the Agency.” The Background section of the report informs that the information they had been provided with alleges that the bombed building was “a nuclear reactor that was not yet operational and into which no nuclear material had been introduced.”

But if the IAEA verdict is correct, why did Israel cross into Syrian air space and bomb the building in what was almost certainly an act of war? Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund and a leading expert on nuclear weapons, told me that he has no reason to doubt the IAEA’s verdict. But, he said, their verdict was only that it was “an unfueled nuclear reactor under construction,” and that, he said, is “only an initial step” “towards Syria developing a nuclear weapons capability.” Cirincione told me that “there was no imminent risk; no justification of an illegal Israeli attack” because Syria was still “a very long way from assembling the technical, industrial and financial capabilities needed to support a nuclear weapons program.” He said that, at this point in Syria’s development of a nuclear weapons program, the “matter should have been brought to the United Nations, not the Israeli Defense Force.”

The Technical Questions

But there were also reasons to doubt the IAEA’s verdict. More problematic for the Israeli-American-IAEA story than the nontechnical questions were a host of technical questions. There were three topics of technical questions.

The Photographs

The first was the photographs provided by Israel’s Mossad. There were two problems with the photographic evidence. The first was that Hayden never asked the Israelis how they got the photographs even though the CIA Director knew that at least one of the photographs had been photo-shopped to make the case more convincing, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter reports. The second was that the CIA was provided a bunch of photographs from inside a potential nuclear reactor and a bunch of photographs of the outside of the targeted building in Syria, but “nothing that links the two,” as former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has pointed out. The former were potentially of a nuclear reactor, but were the latter?

The Bombed Building

The second set of technical problems involves the building itself. The first is that the building is the wrong size. The weight of the claim that the Syrian building was a nuclear reactor rests on the Israeli-CIA insistence that the building looks like the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon upon which they claim it was modeled. It is a type of reactor known as a gas-cooled graphite-moderated (GCGM) reactor. If it looks enough like that nuclear reactor, it could be a nuclear reactor; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t. But it doesn’t: the Syrian building didn’t fit the blueprint. Hersh pointed out this crucial inconsistency early. He says that nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis told him that “even if the width and the length of the building were similar to the Korean site, its height was simply not sufficient to contain a Yongbyon-size reactor.”

Porter’s later investigation confirmed the contradiction. Porter relied on Yousry Abushady, the top IAEA specialist on North Korean reactors. Abushady knew GCGM reactors better than anyone at the IAEA, and “the evidence he saw in the video convinced him,” Porter reports, “that no such reactor could have been under construction” in Syria. And the first reason, again, according to Abushady was “that the building was too short to hold a reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea.” According to Abushady the building bombed in Syria was only “a little more than a third as tall” as the supposed North Korean archetype.

But there were other problems. The North Korean reactor required at least twenty supporting buildings, but the Syrian site had few or none even though Israeli intelligence insisted that it was only a few months from being ready to operate. The reactor was supposed to be a gas-cooled reactor, but there was nothing in place to cool the gas: there was no cooling tower. Porter reports that Robert Kelley also pointed to a lack of facility for treating the water in the imaging. That means the water arriving in the reactor would be full of “debris and silt.” Kelley has said elsewhere that “the IAEA’s analysis of the water linesthat purportedly would in the future have supplied cooling water to the bombed building ignored a number of relevant features.” Kelley told me there was no support for fuel fabrication of reprocessing. There was also no building for a spent fuel pond. But, Abushady says that every GCGM reactor ever built has a separate building to house the spent fuel pond. Building after building is missing from the imaging, but the nuclear reactor was supposed to be on the verge of going operational.

The Environment

But the most serious problem is the third: the environmental inconsistencies: there were three damning environmental inconsistencies: the first had to do with barite, the second with uranium and the third with graphite.

The IAEA says that Syria purchased “large quantities” of barite, which can be used, amongst other uses, to “improve radiation shielding properties of concrete.” Since the IAEA did not believe that Syria sought the barite for use in rooms in hospitals that use radiation, it said that it “cannot exclude the possibility” that the barite was intended for use in the nuclear reactor. But Ritter says that the imagery of the site makes it clear that the “shield” would already have been in place. That means that the barite would already be there. In fact, he says, nearly 2,000 tons of it would be there. So, when the building was bombed, barite would have been scattered all over the site. But sensitive environmental sampling revealed none. Robert Kelley says that “none of the concrete samples analyzed . . . contain any barite”: a fact that he says that the IAEA analysis conveniently “failed to report”. Ritter concludes that “The lack of Barite, especially when logic dictates its presence if the [Syrian] facility was in fact nuclear related, is a strong indicator that there was no nuclear function, especially that associated with the operation of a nuclear reactor. . . .”

The second crucial ingredient missing was uranium. If the bombed Syrian building was a nuclear reactor, there should have been uranium in the environmental samples the IAEA took. But there wasn’t. Mohamed ElBaradei said that “so far, we have found no indication of any nuclear material.” Every sample that was actually taken from the ground in the area of the Syrian building tested negative for uranium and plutonium.

Gareth Porter says that “Tariq Rauf who headed the IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office until 2011, has pointed out that one of the IAEA protocols applicable to these environmental samples is that “the results from all three or four labs to have analyzed the sample must match to give a positive or negative finding on the presence and isotopics or uranium and/or plutonium.” And they did: they all gave a negative finding. There was no uranium at the Syrian site.

Strangely, though, Porter reports, uranium was found in an additional sample that was taken in violation of IAEA protocol. That anomalous result was used as evidence that a nuclear reactor had sat on that land. But, that sample was problematic. Why did it disagree with the protocol compliant samples the IAEA had taken?

Every sample taken from the ground around the bombed building had tested negative for uranium. But, the positive sample wasn’t taken from the ground around the building. It was taken from a “toilet” or, according to David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, from “a changing room in a building associated with the reactor.” But why did the sample from inside the changeroom analyze positive for uranium?

The Syrians say the uranium came from the bombs the Israelis dropped on the site. The IAEA has rejected this explanation as having a low probability. But, Ritter says that the penetration bombs likely used by Israel could well have had uranium in them. He says that bombs dropped by the US in Kosovo led to the detection of uranium. Kelley agrees. He says that the IAEA assumed that the uranium in the bombs would have to be depleted uranium, and, since the uranium they found was not depleted, they said the uranium they found could not have been introduced by Israeli bombs. “But,” Kelley has argued, “that assumption and the conclusion that followed it are incorrect. They fail to take account of the fact that natural uranium, of which Israel has an abundance based on what is known about its nuclear program, can be used as a strong nose in an earth-penetrating bomb (of the kind that was used at Dair Alzour) with precisely the same effectiveness as depleted uranium.” Kelley goes on to say that the uranium that would be detected from such earth-penetrating bombs “would be similar to those found” in Syria. Kelley told me that the scientific reasoning the IAEA used was “kindergarten nonsense.” Intriguingly, Ritter says that “through its admitted morphology studies” on the uranium collected, the IAEA could answer questions about the source of the uranium. He says that “The fact that the IAEA is withholding the specific properties of the anthropogenic nuclear particles . . . suggests that this issue is being used more for political purposes than scientific.”

Kelley, who was still with the IAEA at this time, told me that the IAEA handling of the uranium question was “embarrassing.” Stories had surfaced that there may have been traces of uranium found in Lebanon from Israeli earth-penetrating bombs. When “Israel began dropping earth penetrators in Gaza,” Kelley says he “went to IAEA management and suggested we get samples.” But, he told me that the IAEA refused. “So an opportunity to compare samples from three sites, Lebanon, [Syria] and Gaza passed.” And with it passed the opportunity to resolve the Syrian claim that uranium could have been left by Israeli bombs.

Ritter also says the uranium could have been “brought in by the IAEA inspectors, . . . suggesting the presence . . . of cross-contaminated equipment.” That might explain why uranium was found only inside the one site and not outside on the ground all around. And, that, Robert Kelley says, is exactly what probably happened.

In a comment he made on a previous article of mine, Kelley said “the IAEA samples were almost certainly cross-contaminated.” He told Gareth Porter a lot more. Kelley told Porter that a “very likely explanation” is that the uranium found in the change room was the result of “cross contamination” from the IAEA inspector’s clothing. According to Kelley, the Syrian case would not be exceptional: this type of cross contamination had occurred a number of times before, including in Iraq.

But the barite and the uranium were not even the biggest problem. The biggest environmental inconsistency came not from testing for barite or uranium but for graphite. After all, the Syrian site was supposed to be a gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactor. If it was, then when the building exploded, it should have sent graphite everywhere, according to former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Ritter says there would have been thousands of pounds of graphite in the facility already. But, he says, “there’s no evidence in the destruction. . . . If it had been bombed and there was graphite introduced, you would have a signature all over the area of destroyed graphite blocks. There would be graphite lying around, etc. This was not the case.” According to Porter, this inconsistency is what bothered Abushady the most too. He says the bombing of the reactor “would have spread particles of nuclear-grade graphite all over the site.” But none of the samples taken by the IAEA showed even a trace of graphite: graphite that would have to be there and that “would have been impossible to clean it up,” as nuclear expert Behrd Nakhai told Porter. Abushady says that “these results are the basis to confirm . . . that the site cannot [have been] actually a nuclear reactor.”

It is presumably because of the lack of uranium and graphite in the sampling that the IAEA said that “based on all the information available to the Agency and its technical evaluation of that information, it was very likely that the building destroyed . . . was a nuclear reactor” but that it was a reactor that “was not yet operational and into which no nuclear material had been introduced.”

But there are two seemingly damning problems that seem to finally refute the Israeli-American-IAEA charge against Syria. The claim, presumably, is that there was no graphite in the environmental sampling because the nuclear reactor was not yet operational. But Scott Ritter told me in a recent correspondence that

“The graphite is an integral part of the reactor that would need to be in place prior to any nuclear material being inserted. According to the Israeli-provided images, the construction stage was pre-concrete pour, meaning graphite columns would logically be in place. Even if the graphite hadn’t been installed, it should have been present at the site awaiting installation given the alleged advance state of construction. Of course, the Israeli provided images could have been falsified, in which case no graphite would have been present. . . .”

Graphite bricks and tiles would have been part of the core structure of the building if it was a nuclear reactor. Ritter says there would have been about 30,000 bricks containing around 325 tons of graphite. If a building incorporating such bricks blew up, there would be graphite everywhere. There wasn’t. So, the nonoperational solution wilts.

So does the “into which no nuclear material had been introduced” solution. Saying that no nuclear material had yet been introduced was presumably supposed to make sense of the failure to find uranium in the environmental analyses. But rather than throwing a problematic result back at the Syrians, it only placed the problem right back in the Israeli-American-IAEA narrative. What is not given enough attention – and maybe even none – is that if no nuclear material had been introduced to the Syrian site, there should have been no uranium found in the additional sample taken outside of protocol from the inside of the change room of the associated building. If there was uranium brought into the change room before the Syrians had brought uranium into the site, then that means it was brought in by the inspectors who found it or from some other non-Syrian source. The anomalous uranium must have been the result of cross contamination.

And that, it seems, leaves little evidence of a nuclear reactor in the middle of the Syrian desert. No uranium, no barite and not even any of the graphite that a graphite-moderated reactor would have to be made of. Only a square building that doesn’t even look like the building whose resemblance is supposed to prove that the Israelis bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor in the dark of night in September 2007.

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history. [This article originally appeared at Reprinted with permission.]

How Many People Has the U.S. Killed in its Post-9/11 Wars? Part 2: Afghanistan and Pakistan

The numbers of casualties of U.S. wars since Sept. 11, 2001 have largely gone uncounted, but coming to terms with the true scale of the crimes committed remains an urgent moral, political and legal imperative, argues Nicolas J.S. Davies, in part two of his series.

By Nicolas J.S. Davies

In the first part of this series, I estimated that about 2.4 million Iraqis have been killed as a result of the illegal invasion of their country by the United States and the United Kingdom in 2003. I turn now to Afghan and Pakistani deaths in the ongoing 2001 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. In part three, I will examine U.S.-caused war deaths in Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.  According to Ret. U.S. General Tommy Franks, who led the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in reaction to 9/11, the U.S. government does not keep track of civilian casualties that it causes. “You know, we don’t do body counts,” Franks once said. Whether that’s true or a count is covered up is difficult to know.

As I explained in part one, the U.S. has attempted to justify its invasions of Afghanistan and several other countries as a legitimate response to the terrorist crimes of 9/11. But the U.S. was not attacked by another country on that day, and no crime, however horrific, can justify 16 years of war – and counting – against a series of countries that did not attack the U.S.

As former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz told NPR a week after the terrorist attacks, they were crimes against humanity, but not “war crimes,” because the U.S. was not at war. “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done.” Ferencz explained. “We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t believe in what has happened, who don’t approve of what has happened.”

As Ferencz predicted, we have killed “many people” who had nothing to do with the crimes of September 11. How many people? That is the subject of this report.


In 2011, award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter was researching night raids by U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan for his article, “How McChrystal and Petraeus Built an Indiscriminate Killing Machine.”  The expansion of night raids from 2009 to 2011 was a central element in Barack Obama’s escalation of the U.S. War in Afghanistan.  Porter documented a gradual 50-fold ramping up from 20 raids per month in May 2009 to over 1,000 raids per month by April 2011.

But strangely, the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported a decrease in the numbers of civilians killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2010, including a decrease in the numbers of civilians killed in night raids from 135 in 2009 to only 80 in 2010.

UNAMA’s reports of civilian deaths are based on investigations by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), so Noori Shah Noori, an Afghan journalist working with Porter on the article, interviewed Nader Nadery, a Commissioner of the AIHRC, to find out what was going on.

Nadery explained to Noori, “…that that figure represented only the number of civilian deaths from 13 incidents that had been fully investigated.  It excluded the deaths from 60 other incidents in which complaints had been received, but had not yet been thoroughly investigated.”

“Nadery has since estimated that the total civilian deaths for all 73 night raids about which it had complaints was 420,” Porter continued. “But the AIHRC admits that it does not have access to most of the districts dominated by the Taliban and that people in those districts are not aware of the possibility of complaining to the Commission about night raids.  So, neither the AIHRC nor the United Nations learns about a significant proportion – and very likely the majority – of night raids that end in civilian deaths.”

UNAMA has since updated its count of civilians killed in U.S. night raids in 2010 from 80 to 103, still nowhere close to Nadery’s estimate of 420.  But as Nadery explained, even that estimate must have been a small fraction of the number of civilian deaths in about 5,000 night raids that year, most of which were probably conducted in areas where people have no contact with UNAMA or the AIHRC.

As senior U.S. military officers admitted to Dana Priest and William Arkin of The Washington Post, more than half the raids conducted by U.S. special operations forces target the wrong person or house, so a large increase in civilian deaths was a predictable and expected result of such a massive expansion of these deadly “kill or capture” raids.

The massive escalation of U.S. night raids in 2010 probably made it an exceptional year, so it is unlikely that UNAMA’s reports regularly exclude as many uninvestigated reports of civilian deaths as in 2010.  But on the other hand, UNAMA’s annual reports never mention that their figures for civilian deaths are based only on investigations completed by the AIHRC, so it is unclear how unusual it was to omit 82 percent of reported incidents of civilian deaths in U.S. night raids from that year’s report.

We can only guess how many reported incidents have been omitted from UNAMA’s other annual reports since 2007, and, in any case, that would still tell us nothing about civilians killed in areas that have no contact with UNAMA or the AIHRC.

In fact, for the AIHRC, counting the dead is only a by-product of its main function, which is to investigate reports of human rights violations in Afghanistan.  But Porter and Noori’s research revealed that UNAMA’s reliance on investigations completed by the AIHRC as the basis for definitive statements about the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan in its reports has the effect of sweeping an unknown number of incomplete investigations and unreported civilian deaths down a kind of “memory hole,” writing them out of virtually all published accounts of the human cost of the war in Afghanistan.

UNAMA’s annual reports even include colorful pie-charts to bolster the false impression that these are realistic estimates of the number of civilians killed in a given year, and that pro-government forces and foreign occupation forces are only responsible for a small portion of them.

UNAMA’s systematic undercounts and meaningless pie-charts become the basis for headlines and news stories all over the world.  But they are all based on numbers that UNAMA and the AIHRC know very well to be a small fraction of civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  It is only a rare story like Porter’s in 2011 that gives any hint of this shocking reality.

In fact, UNAMA’s reports reflect only how many deaths the AIHRC staff have investigated in a given year, and may bear little or no relation to how many people have actually been killed. Seen in this light, the relatively small fluctuations in UNAMA’s reports of civilian deaths from year to year in Afghanistan seem just as likely to represent fluctuations in resources and staffing at the AIHRC as actual increases or decreases in the numbers of people killed.

If only one thing is clear about UNAMA’s reports of civilian deaths, it is that nobody should ever cite them as estimates of total numbers of civilians killed in Afghanistan – least of all UN and government officials and mainstream journalists who, knowingly or not, mislead millions of people when they repeat them.

Estimating Afghan Deaths Through the Fog of Official Deception

So the most widely cited figures for civilian deaths in Afghanistan are based, not just on “passive reporting,” but on misleading reports that knowingly ignore many or most of the deaths reported by bereaved families and local officials, while many or most civilian deaths are never reported to UNAMA or the AIHCR in the first place. So how can we come up with an intelligent or remotely accurate estimate of how many civilians have really been killed in Afghanistan?

Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of the “War On Terror”, published in 2015 by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a co-winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, estimated deaths of combatants and civilians in Afghanistan based on UNAMA’s reports and other sources.  Body Count’s figures for numbers of Afghan combatants killed seem more reliable than UNAMA’s undercounts of civilian deaths.

The Afghan government reported that 15,000 of its soldiers and police were killed through 2013.  The authors of Body Count took estimates of Taliban and other anti-government forces killed in 2001, 2007 and 2010 from other sources and extrapolated to years for which no estimates were available, based on other measures of the intensity of the conflict (numbers of air strikes, night raids etc,).  They estimated that 55,000 “insurgents” were killed by the end of 2013.

The years since 2013 have been increasingly violent for the people of Afghanistan.  With reductions in U.S. and NATO occupation forces, Afghan pro-government forces now bear the brunt of combat against their fiercely independent countrymen, and another 25,000 soldiers and police have been killed since 2013, according to my own calculations from news reports and this study by the Watson Institute at Brown University.

If the same number of anti-government fighters have been killed, that would mean that at least 120,000 Afghan combatants have been killed since 2001.  But, since pro-government forces are armed with heavier weapons and are still backed by U.S. air support, anti-government losses are likely to be greater than those of government troops.  So a more realistic estimate would be that between 130,000 and 150,000 Afghan combatants have been killed.

The more difficult task is to estimate how many civilians have been killed in Afghanistan through the fog of UNAMA’s misinformation.  UNAMA’s passive reporting has been deeply flawed, based on completed investigations of as few as 18 percent of reported incidents, as in the case of night raid deaths in 2010, with no reports at all from large parts of the country where the Taliban are most active and most U.S. air strikes and night raids take place. The Taliban appear to have never published any numbers of civilian deaths in areas under its control, but it has challenged UNAMA’s figures.

There has been no attempt to conduct a serious mortality study in Afghanistan like the 2006 Lancet study in Iraq.  The world owes the people of Afghanistan that kind of serious accounting for the human cost of the war it has allowed to engulf them.  But it seems unlikely that that will happen before the world fulfills the more urgent task of ending the now 16-year-old war.

Body Count took estimates by Neta Crawford and the Costs of War project at Boston University for 2001-6, plus the UN’s flawed count since 2007, and multiplied them by a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 8, to produce a range of 106,000 to 170,000 civilians killed from 2001 to 2013.  The authors seem to have been unaware of the flaws in UNAMA’s reports revealed to Porter and Noori by Nadery in 2011.

But Body Count did acknowledge the very conservative nature of its estimate, noting that, “compared to Iraq, where urbanization is more pronounced, and monitoring by local and foreign press is more pronounced than in Afghanistan, the registration of civilian deaths has been much more fragmentary.”

In my 2016 article, “Playing Games With War Deaths,” I suggested that the ratio of passive reporting to actual civilian deaths in Afghanistan was therefore more likely to fall between the ratios found in Iraq in 2006 (12:1) and Guatemala at the end of its Civil War in 1996 (20:1).

Mortality in Guatemala and Afghanistan

In fact, the geographical and military situation in Afghanistan is more analogous to Guatemala, with many years of war in remote, mountainous areas against an indigenous civilian population who have taken up arms against a corrupt, foreign-backed central government.

The Guatemalan Civil War lasted from 1960 to 1996.  The deadliest phase of the war was unleashed when the Reagan administration restored U.S. military aid to Guatemala in 1981,after a meeting between former Deputy CIA Director Vernon Walters and President Romeo Lucas García, in Guatemala.

U.S. military adviser Lieutenant Colonel George Maynes and President Lucas’s brother, General Benedicto Lucas, planned a campaign called Operation Ash, in which 15,000 Guatemalan troops swept through the Ixil region massacring indigenous communities and burning hundreds of villages.

CIA documents that Robert Parry unearthed at the Reagan library and in other U.S. archives specifically defined the targets of this campaign to include “the civilian support mechanism” of the guerrillas, in effect the entire rural indigenous population.  A CIA report from February 1982 described how this worked in practice in Ixil:

“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”

Guatemalan President Rios Montt, who died on Sunday, seized power in a coup in 1983 and continued the campaign in Ixil. He was prosecuted for genocide, but neither Walters, Mayne nor any other American official have been charged for helping to plan and support the mass killings in Guatemala.

At the time, many villages in Ixil were not even marked on official maps and there were no paved roads in this remote region (there are still very few today).  As in Afghanistan, the outside world had no idea of the scale and brutality of the killing and destruction.

One of the demands of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA) and other revolutionary groups in the negotiations that led to the 1996 peace agreement in Guatemala was for a genuine accounting of the reality of the war, including how many people were killed and who killed them.

The UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission documented 626 massacres, and found that about 200,000 people had been killed in Guatemala’s civil war.  At least 93 percent were killed by U.S.-backed military forces and death squads and only 3 percent by the guerrillas, with 4 percent unknown.  The total number of people killed was 20 times previous estimates based on passive reporting.

Mortality studies in other countries (like Angola, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda) have never found a larger discrepancy between passive reporting and mortality studies than in Guatemala.

Based on the discrepancy between passive reporting in Guatemala and what the U.N. ultimately found there, UNAMA appears to have reported less than 5 percent of actual civilian deaths in Afghanistan, which would be unprecedented.

Costs of War and UNAMA have counted 36,754 civilian deaths up to the end of 2017.  If these (extremely) passive reports represent 5 percent of total civilian deaths, as in Guatemala, the actual death toll would be about 735,000.  If UNAMA has in fact eclipsed Guatemala’s previously unsurpassed record of undercounting civilian deaths and only counted 3 or 4 percent of actual deaths, then the real total could be as high as 1.23 million.  If the ratio were only the same as originally found in Iraq in 2006 (14:1 – before Iraq Body Count revised its figures), it would be only 515,000.

Adding these figures to my estimate of Afghan combatants killed on both sides, we can make a rough estimate that about 875,000 Afghans have been killed since 2001, with a minimum of 640,000 and a maximum of 1.4 million.


The U.S. expanded its war in Afghanistan into Pakistan in 2004.  The CIA began launching drone strikes, and the Pakistani military, under U.S. pressure, launched a military campaign against militants in South Waziristan suspected of links to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.  Since then, the U.S. has conducted at least 430 drone strikes in Pakistan, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the Pakistani military has conducted several operations in areas bordering Afghanistan.

The beautiful Swat valley (once called “the Switzerland of the East” by the visiting Queen Elizabeth of the U.K.) and three neighboring districts were taken over by the Pakistani Taliban between 2007 and 2009.  They were retaken by the Pakistani Army in 2009 in a devastating military campaign that left 3.4 million people as refugees.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that 2,515 to 4,026 people have been killed in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, but that is a small fraction of total war deaths in Pakistan.  Crawford and the Costs of War program at Boston University estimated the number of Pakistanis killed at about 61,300 through August 2016, based mainly on reports by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad and the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) in New Delhi.  That included 8,200 soldiers and police, 31,000 rebel fighters and 22,100 civilians.

Costs of War’s estimate for rebel fighters killed was an average of 29,000 reported by PIPS and 33,000 reported by SATP, which SATP has since updated to 33,950.  SATP has updated its count of civilian deaths to 22,230.

If we accept the higher of these passively reported figures for the numbers of combatants killed on both sides and use historically typical 5:1 to 20:1 ratios to passive reports to generate a minimum and maximum number of civilian deaths, that would mean that between 150,000 and 500,000 Pakistanis have been killed.

A reasonable mid-point estimate would be that about 325,000 people have been killed in Pakistan as a result of the U.S. War in Afghanistan spilling across its borders.

Combining my estimates for Afghanistan and Pakistan, I estimate that about 1.2 million Afghans and Pakistanis have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapter on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.