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Monday, July 15, 2024

Obama’s support for US covert operations

A Washington-based think tank, the New America Foundation, reported that President Bush ordered between 45 to 50 drone attacks in his 8-year tenure (2001-09), which killed 477 people. About halfway through the Obama presidency, his administration had sanctioned 316 drone strikes by then which killed at least 2,363 people.

In 2007 and 2008 Barack Obama had altogether raised more than 3 times as much money from financial institutions and bankers, in comparison to his Republican Party rival John McCain. Obama’s campaign was furnished with millions of dollars from America’s major banks like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch.

Obama’s election victory in November 2008 was not chiefly due to promises that he made but, as is the case with US presidential elections in recent decades, was mainly because of the amount of cash that he acquired. Former president Jimmy Carter (1977-81) said 10 years ago “we have one of the worst election processes in the world right in the United States of America, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money”.

Read more: Obama says democracy at stake in US midterms

Understanding the matter better

Overall, Obama did not prove as expansionist regarding foreign policy matters as his predecessor, George W. Bush. Two European states joined the American-led NATO military organization during the Obama era, compared to 7 in the Bush years. Regarding the 2 countries which did accede to NATO in the Obama presidency, Albania and Croatia in April 2009, the groundwork for that had been laid by Bush. Yet among the White House’s principal goals under Obama was to maintain and if possible increase US hegemony.

In one regard Obama chose more harmful actions than Bush, relating to the field of drone warfare and the deployment of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in different countries. Between 2004 and the start of 2015, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) executed 413 drone strikes against militants who belonged to extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Inevitably, some of the victims were innocent bystanders. Of the 413 drone strikes launched by the CIA in the above decade, 362 of them were carried out under the Obama administration (Obama became president in January 2009, ending in January 2017).

A Washington-based think tank, the New America Foundation, reported that President Bush ordered between 45 to 50 drone attacks in his 8-year tenure (2001-09), which killed 477 people. About halfway through the Obama presidency, his administration had sanctioned 316 drone strikes by then which killed at least 2,363 people. The New America Foundation admits these figures are probably an underestimation. Rather than the number being 2,363, it may amount to more than 3,400 dead, including 307 civilians, with the victims present in nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

Pakistan’s involvement

Republican Party Senator Lindsey Graham said in February 2013 that the real death toll from US drone strikes is higher again. “We’ve killed 4,700”, Graham was quoted as saying. At the beginning of 2012, the Americans had in operation over 7,000 drones. In Pakistan alone, from 2004 to 2011, between 2,347 and 2,956 people were killed in US drone attacks which was reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, headquartered in London. The majority of the drone assaults in that 7-year period in Pakistan occurred from 2009 when Obama entered office.

According to historian Moniz Bandeira, “Barack Obama took charge of the selection process, picking targets from a top secret ‘kill list’ drafted by the intelligence services (NSA, CIA, etc.), including the names of terrorists or suspected terrorists (capture was only theoretical), using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones, or Navy SEAL Team 6 (ST6)”. The majority of those killed in Pakistan by US drones in the above years were militants; but, as elsewhere, there were civilian casualties including loss of life inflicted upon children. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that from 2004 to 2011 at least 393 civilians in Pakistan were killed in US drone attacks, including around 175 children.

The US military interventions abroad and drone assaults, rather than leading to a reduction of terrorism worldwide as Washington had foreseen, actually resulted in a significant increase in such activities. More than a decade after President Bush had announced his war against terrorism, in 2014 no less than 13,463 terrorist attacks occurred that year globally. In 2015, there were 11,002 casualties from terrorism in just one nation, Afghanistan.

Read more: Continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations?

American authorities felt the drone to be the cheapest, safest and most accurate means of eradicating their declared enemies. Obama had made drone attacks the hallmark of his anti-terrorism strategy. The US president ordered an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, in the hope of securing a military victory there, but it failed to materialize. The Americans did not possess the understanding of Afghanistan to accomplish victory.

Obama’s eyes on Syria

Obama had pondered taking military action against Syria in 2013 and has accused President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons. The Obama administration provided no firm evidence of chemical weapon usage by Assad’s forces, nor could definitive proof be found, which UN investigators admitted. Certainly, evidence was not forthcoming that Assad himself had ordered the deployment of chemical weapons. Assad also informed the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as to the exact location of the chemical weapons in Syria, an agreement which was met with the approval of the UN Security Council, and that may have frustrated Obama’s plans to remove Assad.

Since 2012, US personnel from the CIA, Special Operations Forces (SOF), Navy SEALs, and the Blackwater private military company, were providing training to militants in Jordan, before sending them across the border to Syria in order to fight against Assad’s soldiers. For example, in early March 2013 around 300 foreign fighters trained by the US special forces entered Syria from Jordan.

President Obama was warned by his Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, that Syria would be a more difficult prospect than Libya. The terrain of Syria was more heavily armed than that of Libya, and the Syrians had the support of Russia which was supplying president Assad with modern air defense systems. Washington estimated that between 75,000 to 90,000 American troops would be needed in Syria, almost as much as they had in Afghanistan.

A US aerial bombing campaign against Syria would have been unlikely to change the strategic scenario. In addition, there was little support within Syria for US military involvement; whereas there was considerable backing in Syria for a Russian presence there, because of the close historical ties between the Assad dynasty and the Kremlin. Unlike in Libya too, the Americans would have risked confrontation in Syria with Russia and Iran.

While Obama did not launch new, large-scale military offensives like Bush, as with his drone campaign he surpassed his predecessor in the regularity with which he deployed US military elite units, such as the Special Operations Forces (SOF), and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Obama sent the JSOC to conduct covert operations to liquidate Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, in states like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan. Obama’s government made such extensive use of covert actions with elite forces, that it was becoming difficult to distinguish between Washington’s secret operations and activities pursued by the CIA.

Comprising part of the Joint Special Operations Command are the Navy SEAL Team Six. In the first year of Obama’s presidency, the Navy SEAL Team Six killed 675 militants, and in 2011 they eliminated another 2,200. US lieutenant-colonel John Nagl said that, during a 90-day period in 2010, soldiers of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) carried out 3,000 combat missions, as they infiltrated villages in Afghanistan usually in the middle of the night. The night raids were carried out primarily with the observational assistance of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, which were controlled by the CIA and armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The US Special Operations Command were often executing these missions alongside the CIA.

Read more: Bush, Clinton, Obama stand united to help Afghan refugees

On top of the CIA’s usual intelligence gathering, they were involved in many of the tasks performed by the US Special Operations Forces, in regions such as the Middle East and Africa. This was outlined in a secret presidential finding signed by Bush on 17 September 2001, which authorized the CIA to create teams to apprehend and, if required, eliminate selected individuals. In mid-2010, about 18 months into Obama’s presidency, it was reported in the Washington Post that the US Special Operations Forces – which like the other elite units comprise part of the US Armed Forces – were operating in 75 countries, 60 more than at the end of Bush’s tenure.

In late 2011 Obama dispatched 100 American soldiers from the Special Operations Command to central Africa, to assist the Ugandan authorities in the search for Joseph Kony, who Western media outlets have described as “one of the world’s most wanted warlords”. For many years Kony has been the leader of the armed rebel organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony was never found and is reportedly alive and well today. One of Obama’s principal goals in Africa, however, was to increase the US military presence on that continent by establishing bases such as in Ethiopia, Djibouti and South Sudan.

Obama ordered a 5.7% increase in the budget for the US Special Operations Forces in 2011, raising it to $6.3 billion. The US Special Operations Forces had 13,000 active duty soldiers overseas, including perhaps 9,000 altogether in Afghanistan and Iraq. Between April 2010 and April 2011, the US Special Operations Forces killed 3,200 insurgents and captured 800. Washington was operating two covert action campaigns in Yemen, a strategically placed country between the Gulf of Aden and oil-rich Saudi Arabia. One of Washington’s operations in Yemen was overseen by the CIA using drones, and the other has been executed by elite forces from the Joint Special Operations Command.

One US drone strike in late September 2011, using a Hellfire missile, killed a number of people in Yemen, including an Al Qaeda leader from the Arabian Peninsula, and the American-born Anwar al-Awlaki, which proved controversial in Washington because of his country of birth.

Al-Awlaki had been eliminated because of his purported terrorist activities

Two weeks later on 14 October 2011 Al-Awlaki’s teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also born in America, was killed in another US drone attack in Yemen, which American officials who spoke anonymously admitted was a mistake. The tragedy for the Al-Awlaki family continued when Nawar al-Awlaki, an eight-year-old child and daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed on 29 January 2017 in a military raid in Yemen, sanctioned by the Trump administration.

Hundreds of soldiers from the US Special Operations Forces have been stationed at the American military base in Djibouti, east Africa, called Camp Lemonnier. There they worked undercover, as they co-ordinated the flight paths of the drones to nearby countries. The US Camp Lemonnier base is of strategic importance because it is located between east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, while American involvement there allows them access to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.


Shane Quinn has contributed on a regular basis to Global Research for almost two years and has had articles published with American news outlets People’s World and MintPress News, Morning Star in Britain, and Venezuela’s Orinoco Tribune. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.