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Vol. 75/No. 20      May 23, 2011

White House presses more
‘killer ops’ and drones
(front page)
In the aftermath of the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by a U.S. Navy Seal team, Washington continues to bolster its use of special operations forces and drone assassination attacks.

“Since the beginning of last year the Obama administration has embraced the hunter-killer mission with vigor,” noted the Wall Street Journal.

Three days after the commando raid in Pakistan, the U.S. military launched a drone missile strike in southern Yemen aimed at killing New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen. The targeted Muslim cleric was not killed, but two other purported al-Qaeda members were.

The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which also directs the Seals, is in charge of the attacks against Yemen, with help from the CIA. Over the past two years Washington has launched cruise missiles at Yemen from Navy ships and munitions from Marine Harrier jets.

On May 6 the CIA unleashed another CIA Predator drone attack in North Waziristan in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, killing at least 15 people. The missiles damaged a restaurant and nearby home. It was the 195th CIA drone attack against Pakistan since Obama took office.

The current administration has increased Predator assassination attacks fivefold, killing four times as many “terrorist” suspects by Predators in 27 months than the George W. Bush White House did in eight years, wrote National Review columnist Victor Hanson.

In the days since the bin Laden killing, media reports and accounts from the Seal assault team have made clear that the only shots fired at the Seals came from the guest house shortly after the U.S. squad landed. A man and woman in that outbuilding were killed. Nobody in the main house where bin Laden resided was carrying a weapon.

The policy was to kill any adult male while “neutralizing women,” wrote William Saletan in a May 5 Slate article titled “Their Fates Were SEALed.” Bin Laden’s son coming down the stairs was shot dead, while a woman who reportedly “rushed toward” the Seals as they entered an upstairs bedroom was shot in the leg. Then “without hesitation” the same commando “put two fatal bullets in a man standing in pajamas”—bin Laden.

Only one woman killed, one wounded, and no children dead or injured—that’s more than can be said for most U.S. drone attacks.

The raid involved secretly crossing the border from Afghanistan and flying over more than 120 miles of Pakistani airspace. It was conducted without informing Pakistani authorities beforehand, in violation of the country’s sovereignty.

Prior to the assault, Obama gave the go-ahead to engage Pakistani troops in an armed confrontation if they interfered with the operation. The president doubled the size of the attack force traveling to the compound. Four Black Hawk helicopters instead of the original plan of two were sent to Abbottabad, one of which was damaged while landing.

The U.S. military dubbed the mission “Operation Geronimo,” leading to calls by Native Americans for Obama to apologize for using this name. Equating the Apache leader, who led resistance to the dispossession and genocide of Native Americans, to Osama bin Laden was insulting, Suzan Shown Harjo, a member of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, told a Congressional hearing May 5. “Geronimo EKIA!”—enemy killed in action—was the Seals’ radio message after they fired two shots, one into bin Laden’s left eye.

Since 2009 the Obama administration has increased the number of U.S. “strike teams” in Afghanistan from 4 to 20. Each has 10 to 100 men, unnamed U.S. officials told the Journal. Over the past year special operations forces have conducted some 11,500 operations in Afghanistan, killing some 3,200 “insurgents” and capturing 8,000.

Plans are in the works to increase the number of such missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond under JSOC’s command. JSOC controls the Pentagon’s three classified “special-mission” units: the Army’s Delta Force and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron, in addition to the Seals.

There are currently 61,000 U.S. special operations troops, up from 45,500 in 2001. This accounts for about 5 percent of all U.S. active duty forces. Over the past decade Special Operations Command’s budget grew from $2.3 billion to nearly $10 billion today.  
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