Category Archives: Afghanistan

The Terrifying Background of the Man Who Ran a CIA Assassination Unit

open quoteA federal investigation alleged Enrique Prado’s involvement in seven murders, yet he was in charge when America outsourced covert killing to a private company.

It was one of the biggest secrets of the post-9/11 era: soon after the attacks, President Bush gave the CIA permission to create a top secret assassination unit to find and kill Al Qaeda operatives. The program was kept from Congress for seven years. And when Leon Panetta told legislators about it in 2009, he revealed that the CIA had hired the private security firm Blackwater to help run it. “The move was historic,” says Evan Wright, the two-time National Magazine Award-winning journalist who wrote Generation Kill. “It seems to have marked the first time the U.S. government outsourced a covert assassination service to private enterprise.”

The quote is from his e-book How to Get Away With Murder in America, which goes on to note that “in the past, the CIA was subject to oversight, however tenuous, from the president and Congress,” but that “President Bush’s 2001 executive order severed this line by transferring to the CIA his unique authority to approve assassinations. By removing himself from the decision-making cycle, the president shielded himself — and all elected authority — from responsibility should a mission go wrong or be found illegal. When the CIA transferred the assassination unit to Blackwater, it continued the trend. CIA officers would no longer participate in the agency’s most violent operations, or witness them. If it practiced any oversight at all, the CIA would rely on Blackwater’s self-reporting about missions it conducted. Running operations through Blackwater gave the CIA the power to have people abducted, or killed, with no one in the government being exactly responsible.” None of this is new information, though I imagine that many people reading this item are hearing about it for the first time.

Isn’t that bizarre?

The bulk of Wright’s e-book (full disclosure: I help edit the website of Byliner, publisher of the e-book) tells the story of Enrique Prado, a high-ranking CIA-officer-turned-Blackwater-employee who oversaw assassination units for both the CIA and the contractor. To whom was this awesome responsibility entrusted? According to Wright’s investigation, a federal organized crime squad run out of the Miami-Dade Police Department produced an investigation allegedly tying Prado to seven murders carried out while he worked as a bodyguard for a narco crime boss. At the time, the CIA declared him unavailable for questioning; the investigation was shut down before he was arrested or tried.

There’s a lot more to the story — Wright’s e-book is almost 50 pages long — but this bit is of particular note:

The reporting on Prado’s activities at Blackwater produced no evidence that the firm’s employees had ever killed anyone on behalf of the CIA. But I spoke to Blackwater employees who insisted that they had. Two Blackwater contractors told me that their firm began conducting assassinations in Afghanistan as early as 2008. They claimed to have participated in such operations — one in a support role, the other as a “trigger puller.” The contractors, to whom I spoke in 2009 and 2010, were both ex-Special Forces soldiers who were not particularly bothered by assassination work, although they did question the legality of Blackwater’s involvement in it.

According to the “trigger puller,” he and a partner were selected for one such operation because they were Mexican Americans, whose darker skin enabled them to blend in as Afghan civilians. The first mission he described took place in 2008. He and his partner spent three weeks training outside Kabul, becoming accustomed to walking barefoot like Afghans while toting weapons underneath their jackets. Their mission centered on walking into a market and killing the occupant of a pickup truck, whose identity a CIA case worker had provided to them. They succeeded in their mission, he told me, and moved on to another. This contractor’s story didn’t completely fit with other accounts about Prado’s unit at Blackwater. The e-mail written by Prado and later obtained by the Times seemed to indicate that the unit wouldn’t use Americans to carry out actual assassinations. Moreover, two CIA sources insisted that the contractors I spoke to were lying. As one put it, “These guys are security guards who want to look like Rambo.”

When I asked Ed O’Connell, a former Air Force colonel and RAND analyst with robust intelligence experience in Afghanistan, to evaluate these contractors’ claims, he first told me they were almost certainly a “fantastical crock of shit.” But a year later, in 2011, after a research trip in Afghanistan for his firm Alternative Strategies Institute, O’Connell had changed his assessment. He told me, “Your sources seem to have been correct. Private contractors are whacking people like crazy over in Afghanistan for the CIA.”

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Leaked Memo: Afghan ‘Burn Pit’ Could Wreck Troops’ Hearts, Lungs

well, shit.

open quoteFor years, U.S. government agencies have told the public, veterans and Congress that they couldn’t draw any connections between the so-called “burn pits” disposing of trash at the military’s biggest bases and veterans’ respiratory or cardiopulmonary problems. But a 2011 Army memo obtained by Danger Room flat-out stated that the burn pit at one of Afghanistan’s largest bases poses “long-term adverse health conditions” to troops breathing the air there.

The unclassified memo (.jpg), dated April 15, 2011, stated that high concentrations of dust and burned waste present at Bagram Airfield for most of the war are likely to impact veterans’ health for the rest of their lives. “The long term health risk” from breathing in Bagram’s particulate-rich air include “reduced lung function or exacerbated chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, atherosclerosis, or other cardiopulmonary diseases.” Service members may not necessarily “acquire adverse long term pulmonary or heart conditions,” but “the risk for such is increased.”close quote (Read more)

Afghans thwarting ‘insider’ plots to kill NATO forces, says top U.S. commander John Allen

open quoteHow badly are things going in Afghanistan? The top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. John Allen, told reporters it was “good news” that Afghan authorities had arrested 160 people in the last few months for plotting so-called “green-on-blue” attacks by Afghan security forces on their NATO-led international partners.

Update, Tuesday May 22, 11:42 a.m.: A NATO International Security Assistance Force spokesman says Allen was talking about thwarted insurgent plots, not insider attacks.

Allen was describing how the alliance and the government in Kabul have responded to a spate of deadly insider attacks. He cited “an eight-step vetting process” to screen new members of the Afghan armed forces. close quote (Read more)

Pakistan seeks $5,000 transit fee for each NATO container

open quotePakistani negotiators have proposed a fee of about $5,000 for each NATO shipping container and tanker that transits its territory by land into and out of Afghanistan.

The amount is a key sticking point in discussions about the terms of a deal that would allow the traffic to resume, about six months after Pakistan closed its border crossings, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.close quote (Read more)

Afghan-led forces beat back brazen Taliban attack

open quoteA brazen, 18-hour Taliban attack on the Afghan capital ended early Monday when insurgents who had holed up overnight in two buildings were overcome by heavy gunfire from Afghan-led forces and pre-dawn air assaults from U.S.-led coalition helicopters.

Kabul residents awoke Monday to a second day of loud explosions and the crackle of gunfire. As darkness turned to dawn, Afghan-led forces fired one rocket-propelled grenade after another into a building in the center of the city where insurgents began their attack Sunday.close quote (Read more)

Child witnesses to Afghan massacre say Robert Bales was not alone

open quoteHere are two versions of what happened the night of March 11, when 17 Afghan villagers were shot to death.

First, the Army version: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, troubled by marriage woes, drunkenly left Camp Belambai, 12 miles from Kandahar, with a pistol and an automatic rifle and killed six people as they slept. Bales then returned to the base and left again for another village, this time killing 11. He acted alone and he admitted to the killings, according to the Army.

Then there is the account that child witnesses provided Yalda Hakim, a journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia. Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Australia as a child, is the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses.

In the video, the children told Hakim that other Americans were present during the rampage, holding flashlights in the yard.

Noorbinak, 8, told Hakim that the shooter first shot her father’s dog. Then, Noorbinak said in the video, he shot her father in the foot and dragged her mother by the hair. When her father started screaming, he shot her father, the child says. Then he turned the gun on Noorbinak and shot her in the leg. close quote (Read more)

Russia Considering Allowing NATO a Transit Hub to Afghanistan

From Air Force Magazine online:

open quote Russia Considering Allowing NATO a Transit Hub: Russia’s legislature will consider a proposal to allow US and allied airlifters use of a Russian air base to ferry supplies to Afghanistan, according to Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. “We want those who are fending off threats directed at Russia to efficiently fulfill their tasks,” stated Lavrov, reported the Associated Press. “We are helping the coalition to proceed from our own interests,” he added, noting that Russia may allow NATO to access the airfield near Ulyanovsk, but not station troops there. Since Pakistan barred NATO from using the over-land supply route from the port of Karachi last November, NATO relies heavily on air and rail corridors permitted through Russia. “Clearly we welcome the cooperation we have with Russia already on transit to and from Afghanistan,” said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lugescu last week.close quote

Osama not buried at sea: WikiLeaks

open quoteAl-Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden, who was killed on May 02 last year in US Special Forces operation in Abbottabad, was not buried at sea but his body was shifted to the military mortuary in Dover, claimed a report on Monday.

The Strat for analysts did not believe that Osama bin Laden was buried at sea, according to Stratfor emails leaked by WikiLeaks. According to leaked secret files of Statfor, a US security agency, Osama was not buried at sea in an Islamic ceremony but his body was shifted to the military mortuary in Dover, DE, on a CIA plane.

Then it was shifted to the medical institute of US armed forces in Maryland for examination. At 5:26 a.m. on May 2, the morning after Barack Obama announced the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, Stratfor CEO George Friedman sent an email that said: “Reportedly, we took the body with us. Thank goodness.”close quote (Read more)

Army Offers Dares to Tell the Truth About Afghanistan

Expect the author to be put on the no-fly list.

open quoteOver the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

. . . .

“And last night, right on that mountain there [he pointed to a ridge overlooking the U.S. base, about 700 meters distant], a member of the ANP was murdered. The Taliban came and called him out, kidnapped him in front of his parents, and took him away and murdered him. He was a member of the ANP from another province and had come back to visit his parents. He was only 27 years old. The people are not safe anywhere.”

That murder took place within view of the U.S. base, a post nominally responsible for the security of an area of hundreds of square kilometers. Imagine how insecure the population is beyond visual range. And yet that conversation was representative of what I saw in many regions of Afghanistan.

In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal. If the events I have described – and many, many more I could mention – had been in the first year of war, or even the third or fourth, one might be willing to believe that Afghanistan was just a hard fight, and we should stick it out. Yet these incidents all happened in the 10th year of war.

. . . .

‘m hardly the only one who has noted the discrepancy between official statements and the truth on the ground.

A January 2011 report by the Afghan NGO Security Office noted that public statements made by U.S. and ISAF leaders at the end of 2010 were “sharply divergent from IMF, [international military forces, NGO-speak for ISAF] ‘strategic communication’ messages suggesting improvements. We encourage [nongovernment organization personnel] to recognize that no matter how authoritative the source of any such claim, messages of the nature are solely intended to influence American and European public opinion ahead of the withdrawal, and are not intended to offer an accurate portrayal of the situation for those who live and work here.”

The following month, Anthony Cordesman, on behalf of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that ISAF and the U.S. leadership failed to report accurately on the reality of the situation in Afghanistan.

“Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively ‘spinning’ the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full scale of the challenges ahead,” Cordesman wrote. “They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to ‘spin’ the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control.” open quote (Read more)
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