Thursday, May 29, 2014

Endless War! 5 Disturbing Things in America's Military Budget

By Alex Kane

Beaver County Peace Links via Alternet

May 27, 2014 - It’s Pentagon budget time.  And once again, Congress and the White House are haggling over the fine print of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  But what has stayed constant over the years is the massive spending on the defense budget, which points to the American political establishment’s appetite for militarism.

Congress’ proposed Pentagon budget this year is for $601 billion, a sum that dwarfs spending during the Vietnam War. [3] There have been predictable howls from conservative lawmakers over some proposed cuts to the defense budget advocated by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Congress has resisted the military’s attempts to cut spending. But even if Hagel’s cuts are implemented, the budget would amount to $495 billion- [4]-not a paltry sum.

The House of Representatives this month passed its $601 billion version of the NDAA, though the Senate still has to vote on it.

Despite the back-and-forth over the exact budget amount, it’s clear that once again, the U.S. will be spending a ton of cash on the military.  In addition to spending money on weapons and other military items, the NDAA for 2015 also includes provisions on indefinite detention and authorization to wage war.  Here are 5 aspects of the budget you should know about.

1. More Special Forces

President Obama has wound down the Iraq War and plans to reduce troops levels in Afghanistan, though he’s also attempting to negotiate a prolonged troops presence in the latter country. At the same time, he has presided over an expansion [5] of elite military units known as special operations forces, which operate secretly around the globe and have become crucial to the endless “war on terror.”  Special Operations Forces, like the Navy SEALs, are used to train foreign militaries in counter-terrorism and execute raids like the operation that killed bin Laden.

Defense Secretary Hagel has called for more Special Operations forces to be added in the coming years.  He wants 4,000 extra personnel to be added to a force [6] that already has 69,700 troops, which would mean spending $7.7 billion--an increase of $729 million from last year. [7]A Senate subcommittee has approved Hagel’s request for the NDAA.

These forces will be helping the U.S. expand its “war on terror” even further in Africa.  The New York Times reported today [8] that Special Operations Forces are forming more counter-terror units in Africa to battle threats like Boko Haram in Nigeria.

2.  The Drone War Continues

In addition to deploying Special Operations Forces, the other key aspect of the Obama administration’s approach to war has been drones.  The U.S. has waged a relentless war via drone in Pakistan and Yemen, as well as other countries, though drone strikes have decreased in recent months.  Still, the impact of drones on civilians has not lessened, as a December strike in Yemen that killed at least a dozen people, many of them civilians, showed.

The NDAA reflects the emphasis on the use of drones.  As Defense News reports [9], “House version of the NDAA includes $120 million” for Reaper drones.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pilots Come Clean: Drone Warfare Is Riddled with Tragic, Bloody Errors

By Pratap Chatterjee

Beaver County Peace Links via Tom Dispatch

May 11, 2014 - Enemies, innocent victims, and soldiers have always made up the three faces of war. With war growing more distant, with drones capable of performing on the battlefield while their “pilots” remain thousands of miles away, two of those faces have, however, faded into the background in recent years.

Today, we are left with just the reassuring “face” of the terrorist enemy, killed clinically by remote control while we go about our lives, apparently without any “collateral damage” or danger to our soldiers. Now, however, that may slowly be changing, bringing the true face of the drone campaigns Washington has pursued since 9/11 into far greater focus.

Imagine if those drone wars going on in Pakistan and Yemen (as well as the United States) had a human face all the time, so that we could understand what it was like to live constantly, in and out of those distant battle zones, with the specter of death. In addition to images of the "al-Qaeda" operatives who the White House wants us to believe are the sole targets of its drone campaigns, we would regularly see photos of innocent victims of drone attacks gathered by human rights groups from their relatives and neighbors. And what about the third group -- the military personnel whose lives revolve around killing fields so far away -- whose stories, in these years of Washington’s drone assassination campaigns, we’ve just about never heard?

After all, soldiers no longer set sail on ships to journey to distant battlefields for months at a time. Instead, every day, thousands of men and women sign onto their computers at desks on military bases in the continental United States and abroad where they spend hours glued to screens watching the daily lives of people often on the other side of the planet. Occasionally, they get an order from Washington to push a button and vaporize their subjects. It sounds just like -- and the comparison has been made often enough -- a video game, which can be switched off at the end of a shift, after which those pilots return home to families and everyday life.

And if you believed what little we normally see of them -- what, that is, the Air Force has let us see (the CIA part of the drone program being off-limits to news reporting) -- that would indeed seem to be the straightforward story of life for our drone warriors. Take Rene Lopez, who in shots of a recent homecoming welcome at Fort Gordon in Georgia appears to be a doting father. Photographed for the local papers on his return from a tour in Afghanistan, the young soldier is seen holding and kissing his infant daughter dressed in a bright pink top. He smiles with delight as the wide-eyed child tries on his military hat.

From an online profile posted to LinkedIn by Lopez last year, we learn that the clean-cut U.S. Army signals intelligence specialist claims to be an actor in the drone war in addition to being a proud parent. To be specific, he says he has been working in the dark arts of hunting and killing “high value targets” using a National Security Agency (NSA) tool known as Gilgamesh.