Category Archives: Military Industrial Complex

Somali citizens count cost of surge in US airstrikes under Trump – Jason Burke.

The Guardian has investigated scores of reports of US-led strikes targeting al-Shabaab, which have risen to unprecedented levels.

Dozens of civilians have been killed and wounded in Somalia as US-led airstrikes against Islamist militants increase to unprecedented levels, a Guardian investigation has found, raising fears that Washington’s actions could bolster support for extremists.

The escalation in strikes is part of the Trump administration’s broader foreign policy strategy in Africa and the Middle East. There have been 34 US airstrikes in Somalia in the last six months – at least twice the total for the whole of 2016.
Regional allies active in the campaign against Islamic extremists in the east African country have conducted many missions too. These appear to be the most lethal for civilians.

Almost all the strikes target al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida affiliated extremist movement fighting to establish an Islamic state in Somalia for more than a decade.

The Guardian collected and investigated scores of reports of airstrikes over the last 12 months, checking claims in local media with western and local officials, medical staff, witnesses and relatives of victims.

In five attacks since July, more than 50 civilians appear to have been killed or injured. At least two involved US aircraft.
Further casualties are likely to have been caused by other strikes but have gone unreported.
Five civilians were killed and two wounded in an airstrike on a village on 6 December, witnesses and hospital staff said.

In another incident, in October, residents and medics reported up to eight civilians being injured in an airstrike during fierce fighting in Lower Shabelle province.
The previous month, four herders were injured when a water hole near the border with Kenya was bombed.

In August, seven members of a family including small children died in a strike in southern Jubaland, relatives said. Officials said all those killed were extremists.
A month earlier, four people, including three children, were killed and eight wounded in an airstrike on a village near the southern port city of Kismayo, relatives and witnesses said.

The strikes have also killed large numbers of livestock and caused extensive damage done to agricultural infrastructure.

Though the intensity of the recent strikes is unprecedented, the use of air power in Somalia has been steadily increasing since before Donald Trump became US president.

A recent UN analysis described 74 airstrikes between January 2016 and October 2017, resulting in 57 civilian casualties. Only 14 of these strikes were “US supported”, and the report blamed Kenyan forces in Somalia for 42 of those casualties.

Kenya contributes troops and three attack helicopters to Amisom, the 22,000-strong African Union military and policing mission in Somalia. Kenyan forces are also believed to have conducted their own strikes in border areas, though Nairobi denies this.

Most airstrikes hit deep into the territory held by Islamist militants and confirmation of claims of civilian casualties, even when made by relatives of those hurt or killed, is difficult.

Some of the dead or injured may be fighters with armed tribal militias who are technically civilians, though sometimes align with the militants.

Al-Shabaab also routinely exaggerate the number of civilian casualties, and communities are sometimes tempted by the prospect of compensation to support such claims.

The sudden increase in the use of air power in Somalia by the US come after the relaxation of guidelines intended to prevent civilian casualties and a decision by the Tump administration to give local military commanders greater authority in ordering attacks.

A huge bomb that killed 500 people in Mogadishu in October – the latest in a series to target the Somali capital – has added extra impetus to the new US efforts.

Senior humanitarian figures have expressed growing concerns about the potential humanitarian cost of the offensive.

Michael Keating, the UN special representative in Somalia, said: “All those who are using military means in one way or another [in Somalia] claim that they have standards when it comes to the protection of civilians but are not translating their principles into practice. All actors could do more to protect civilians.”

In a phone interview, Ibrahim Mohamed Abdullahi, a resident of Illimey village, which is about 80 miles (130km) south-west of Mogadishu, said a projectile killed five people and injured two others on 6 December.

“Farmers had gathered at a tea shop … when the drone begun to fly over … Some of the victims were passing on the road while some were inside drinking their afternoon tea. Five died on the spot. They are not killing al-Shabaab. They are killing civilians,” he said.

Hospital officials in Mogadishu confirmed two casualties – an 18-month-old girl and a 23-year-old man – had been brought with shrapnel injuries because a clinic nearer Illimey was without electricity.

A five-year-old girl, a 17-year-old girl and three men were killed.

A US spokesperson said there were no US airstrikes in Somalia on 6 December.

The strikes in October in Lower Shabelle took place during fierce fighting between government forces and al-Shabaab. A number of militants were killed, but eight civilians in the village of Awdhegle were also injured, locals said.

Muse Xirey, an elder, said three women, a child and four men were transported to Daru al-Shifa hospital in Mogadishu when their house was hit.

“They were herders and farmers, not al-Shabaab ,” the 56-year-old said.

A doctor at the hospital said two men and a woman injured in “an airstrike between Awdhegle and Barire” were treated.

US officials say a single strike was carried out, 35 miles south-west of Mogadishu.

A third incident took place at the village of Talaka near the border with Kenya after Kenyan troops withdrew. Al-Shabaab fighters moved in shortly afterwards and were bombed, witnesses said. A watering hole some distance away was also attacked. Twenty camels were killed and four herders injured.

Kenyan forces have been blamed for the strike, but deny responsibility.

Between 16 and 17 August, the US conducted three “precision airstrikes against al-Shabaab militants, killing seven fighters” in the Middle Juba region, where there has been heavy fighting between government forces and militants, officials said.

Residents, local media and al-Shabaab-linked outlets reported seven civilians killed by explosions in Ahmed Yare village, about 15 miles outside the town of Jilib, an al-Shabaab stronghold.

In a phone interview from Kismayo, Halima Sheikh Yare said her cousin Sheikh Mohamed, a “renowned cleric”, was killed along with his wife and five male relatives.

The 47-year said her cousin was a farmer as well as religious teacher and local imam, and not, a Somalia officials claim, a local leader of al-Shabaab.

“ Al-Shabaab members are armed, but these were family members who stayed in their house and were not armed,” she said.

Hassan Muhumed, 31, a resident of Jilib who visited Ahmed Yare to check on relatives shortly after the drone strike, said al-Shabaab fighters had visited to address locals a day before the attack but had left shortly afterwards.

“All those killed were civilians,” Muhumed said.

A spokesperson for the US military said an internal investigation had found allegations of civilian casualties near Jilib at this time were “not credible”.

The final incident investigated by the Guardian occurred during the evening of 18 July, in the village of Qabri Sharif, west of Kismayo.

Residents describe “a huge bomb [that] hit several houses”, killing three children and a man. Eight injured adults were transferred to Kismayo hospital, they said.

Muhumed Kuusow, a local elder, said the children were playing inside their house when hit by shrapnel.

“They all died on the spot. The bomb was huge and the whole place was like a deep cave in the ground,” he said.

Dr Hassan Sheikh Ali, who was director of Kismayo hospital at the time, said four casualties – all herders – were brought in.

“They told us there was an airstrike on the village on 18 July, killing several people and many animals,” he said.

Abdinur Mohamed, the provincial information minister, said officials in Kismayo were aware of civilian casualties in the strike, which he said was carried out by Kenyan planes.

A US official said there were no US air strikes in Somalia on 18 July.

The recent UN report found that al-Shabaab killed 1,223 civilians and injured nearly 1,500 others between January 2016 and October 2017. This accounted for 60% of the 2,078 documented civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries in the period reviewed.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said civilian casualties caused by regional or international forces, though only a small proportion of civilian deaths, were of utmost concern because they undermined the Somali population’s trust in the government and the international community, and that this helped extremists.

One problem for the US is that its forces are often blamed for air attacks even when not responsible.

Tricia Bacon, a former counterterrorism expert at the US Department of State who is professor at the American University in Washington DC, said airstrikes have a potent “disruptive effect” on militant organisations, but also risked alienating civilian populations “you needed to turn against them”.

A Kenyan military spokesperson referred the Guardian to Amisom when asked about Kenya’s operations in Somalia. Francisco Madeira, the head of Amisom, said the force had “not been responsible for any airstrikes” in ..Somalia in 2017.

A US military spokesperson said its forces complied “with the law of armed conflict” and took “all feasible precautions … to minimise civilian casualties and other collateral damage”.

The Guardian

Dispatches, A War Correspondent’s Vietnam Story  – Michael Herr. 

BREATHING IN 
There was a map of Vietnam on the wall of my apartment in Saigon and some nights, coming back late to the city, I’d lie out on my bed and look at it, too tired to do anything more than just get my boots off. 

That map was a marvel, especially now that it wasn’t real any more. For one thing, it was very old. It had been left there years before by another tenant, probably a Frenchman, since the map had been made in Paris. The paper had buckled in its frame after years in the wet Saigon heat, laying a kind of veil over the countries it depicted. Vietnam was divided into its older territories of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China, and to the west past Laos and Cambodge sat Siam, a kingdom. 

That’s old, I’d tell visitors, that’s a really old map. If dead ground could come back and haunt you the way dead people do, they’d have been able to mark my map CURRENT and burn the ones they’d been using since ’64, but count on it, nothing like that was going to happen. 

It was late ’67 now, even the most detailed maps didn’t reveal much any more; reading them was like trying to read the faces of the Vietnamese, and that was like trying to read the wind. We knew that the uses of most information were flexible, different pieces of ground told different stories to different people. 

We also knew that for years now there had been no country here but the war. The Mission was always telling us about VC units being engaged and wiped out and then reappearing a month later in full strength, there was nothing very spooky about that, but when we went up against his terrain we usually took it definitively, and even if we didn’t keep it you could always see that we’d at least been there. 
At the end of my first week in-country I met an information officer in the headquarters of the 25th Division at Cu Chi who showed me on his map and then from his chopper what they’d done to the Ho Bo Woods, the vanished Ho Bo Woods, taken off by giant Rome ploughs and chemicals and long, slow fire, wasting hundreds of acres of cultivated plantation and wild forest alike, ‘denying the enemy valuable resources and cover’. 

It had been part of his job for nearly a year now to tell people about that operation; correspondents, touring congressmen, movie stars, corporation presidents, staff officers from half the armies in the world, and he still couldn’t get over it. It seemed to be keeping him young, his enthusiasm made you feel that even the letters he wrote home to his wife were full of it, it really showed what you could do if you had the know-how and the hardware. 

And if in the months following that operation incidences of enemy activity in the larger area of War Zone C had increased ‘significantly’, and American losses had doubled and then doubled again, none of it was happening in any damn Ho Bo Woods, you’d better believe it . . . 

Going out at night the medics gave you pills, Dexedrine breath like dead snakes kept too long in a jar. I never saw the need for them myself, a little contact or anything that even sounded like contact would give me more speed than I could bear. Whenever I heard something outside of our clenched little circle I’d practically flip, hoping to God that I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed it. A couple of rounds fired off in the dark a kilometre away and the Elephant would be there kneeling in my chest, sending me down into my boots for a breath. 

Once I thought I saw a light moving in the jungle and I caught myself just under a whisper saying, ‘I’m not ready for this, I’m not ready for this.’ That’s when I decided to drop it and do something else with my nights. And I wasn’t going out like the night ambushers did, or the Lurps, long-range recon patrollers who did it night after night for weeks and months, creeping up on VC base camps or around moving columns of North Vietnamese. 

I was living too close to my bones as it was, all I had to do was accept it. Anyway, I’d save the pills for later, for Saigon and the awful depressions I always had there. 
I knew one 4th Division Lurp who took his pills by the fistful, downs from the left pocket of his tiger suit and ups from the right, one to cut the trail for him and the other to send him down it. He told me that they cooled things out just right for him, that he could see that old jungle at night like he was looking at it through a starlight scope. ‘They sure give you the range,’ he said. 

This was his third tour. In 1965 he’d been the only survivor in a platoon of the Cav wiped out going into the la Drang Valley. In ’66 he’d come back with the Special Forces and one morning after an ambush he’d hidden under the bodies of his team while the VC walked all around them with knives, making sure. They stripped the bodies of their gear, the berets too, and finally went away, laughing. 

After that, there was nothing left for him in the war except the Lurps. ‘I just can’t hack it back in the world,’ he said. He told me that after he’d come back home the last time he would sit in his room all day, and sometimes he’d stick a hunting rifle out the window, leading people and cars as they passed his house until the only feeling he was aware of was all up in the tip of that one finger. ‘ It used to put my folks real uptight,’ he said. 

But he put people uptight here too, even here. ‘No man, I’m sorry, he’s just too crazy for me,’ one of the men in his team said. ‘All’s you got to do is look in his eyes, that’s the whole fucking story right there.’‘ Yeah, but you better do it quick, ’someone else said. ‘I mean, you don’t want to let him catch you at it.’ But he always seemed to be watching for it, I think he slept with his eyes open, and I was afraid of him anyway. 
All I ever managed was one quick look in, and that was like looking at the floor of an ocean. He wore a gold earring and a headband torn from a piece of camouflage parachute material, and since nobody was about to tell him to get his hair cut it fell below his shoulders, covering a thick purple scar. Even at division he never went anywhere without at least a .45 and a knife, and he thought I was a freak because I wouldn’t carry a weapon. 

‘Didn’t you ever meet a reporter before?’ I asked him. ‘Tits on a bull,’ he said. ‘Nothing personal.’ But what a story he told me, as one-pointed and resonant as any war story I ever heard, it took me a year to understand it: 
‘Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened.’ I waited for the rest, but it seemed not to be that kind of story; when I asked him what had happened he just looked like he felt sorry for me, fucked if he’d waste time telling stories to anyone dumb as I was. His face was all painted up for the night walking now like a bad hallucination, not like the painted faces I’d seen in San Francisco only a few weeks before, the other extreme of the same theatre. 

In the coming hours he’d stand as faceless and quiet in the jungle as a fallen tree, and God help his opposite numbers unless they had at least half a squad along, he was a good killer, one of our best. 

The rest of his team were gathered outside the tent, set a little apart from the other division units, with its own Lurp-designated latrine and its own exclusive freeze-dry rations, three-star war food, the same chop they sold at Abercrombie & Fitch. 

The regular division troops would almost shy off the path when they passed the area on their way to and from the mess tent. No matter how toughened up they became in the war, they still looked innocent compared to the Lurps. When the team had grouped they walked in a file down the hill to the lz across the strip to the perimeter and into the treeline.

I never spoke to him again, but I saw him. When they came back in the next morning he had a prisoner with him, blindfolded and with his elbows bound sharply behind him. The Lurp area would definitely be off limits during the interrogation, and anyway, I was already down at the strip waiting for a helicopter to come and take me out of there. 

‘Hey what’re you guys, with the USO? Aw, we thought you was with the USO ’cause your hair’s so long.’ Page took the kid’s picture, I got the words down and Flynn laughed and told him we were the Rolling Stones. The three of us travelled around together for about a month that summer. 

At one lz the brigade chopper came in with a real foxtail hanging off the aerial, when the commander walked by us he almost took an infarction. ‘Don’t you men salute officers?’‘ We’re not men,’ Page said. ‘We’re correspondents.’ When the commander heard that, he wanted to throw a spontaneous operation for us, crank up his whole brigade and get some people killed. We had to get out on the next chopper to keep him from going ahead with it, amazing what some of them would do for a little ink. 

Page liked to augment his field gear with freak paraphernalia, scarves and beads, plus he was English, guys would stare at him like he’d just come down from a wall on Mars. Sean Flynn could look more incredibly beautiful than even his father, Errol, had thirty years before as Captain Blood, but sometimes he looked more like Artaud coming out of some heavy heart-of-darkness trip, overloaded on the information, the input! The input! He’d give off a bad sweat and sit for hours, combing his moustache through with the saw blade of his Swiss Army knife. 

We packed grass and tape: ‘Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing in the Shadows’, Best of the Animals, Strange Days, ‘Purple Haze’, Archie Bell and the Drells, ‘C’mon now everybody, do the Tighten Up . . .’

Once in a while we’d catch a chopper straight into one of the lower hells, but it was a quiet time in the war, mostly it was lz’s and camps, grunts hanging around, faces, stories. ‘Best way’s to just keep moving,’ one of them told us. ‘Just keep moving, stay in motion, you know what I’m saying?’ 

We knew. He was a moving-target-survivor subscriber, a true child of the war, because except for the rare times when you were pinned or stranded the system was geared to keep you mobile, if that was what you thought you wanted. As a technique for staying alive it seemed to make as much sense as anything, given naturally that you were there to begin with and wanted to see it close; it started out sound and straight but it formed a cone as it progressed, because the more you moved the more you saw, the more you saw the more besides death and mutilation you risked, and the more you risked of that the more you would have to let go of one day as a ‘survivor’. 

Some of us moved around the war like crazy people until we couldn’t see which way the run was even taking us any more, only the war all over its surface with occasional, unexpected penetration. As long as we could have choppers like taxis it took real exhaustion or depression, near shock or a dozen pipes of opium to keep us even apparently quiet, we’d still be running around inside our skins like something was after us, ha ha, La Vida Loca. 

In the months after I got back the hundreds of helicopters I’d flown in began to draw together until they’d formed a collective meta-chopper, and in my mind it was the sexiest thing going; saver-destroyer, provider-waster, right hand-left hand, nimble, fluent, canny and human; hot steel, grease, jungle-saturated canvas webbing, sweat cooling and warming up again, cassette rock and roll in one ear and door-gun fire in the other, fuel, heat, vitality and death, death itself, hardly an intruder. 

Men on the crews would say that once you’d carried a dead person he would always be there, riding with you. Like all combat people they were incredibly superstitious and invariably self-dramatic, but it was (I knew) unbearably true and close exposure to the dead sensitized you to the force of their presence and made for long reverberations; long. Some people were so delicate that one look was enough to wipe them away, but even bone-dumb grunts seemed to feel that something weird and extra was happening to them. 

Helicopters and people jumping out of helicopters, people so in love they’d run to get on even when there wasn’t any pressure. Choppers rising straight out of small cleared jungle spaces, wobbling down on to city rooftops, cartons of rations and ammunition thrown off, dead and wounded loaded on. Sometimes they were so plentiful and loose that you could touch down at five or six places in a day, look around, hear the talk, catch the next one out. 

There were installations as big as cities with 30,000 citizens, once we dropped in to feed supply to one man. God knows what kind of Lord Jim phoenix numbers he was doing in there, all he said to me was, ‘You didn’t see a thing, right Chief? You weren’t even here.’ 

There were posh fat air-conditioned camps like comfortable middle-class scenes with the violence tacit, ‘far away’; camps named for commanders’ wives LZ Thelma, LZ Betty Lou; number-named hilltops in trouble where I didn’t want to stay; trail, paddy, swamp, deep hairy bush, scrub, swale, village, even city, where the ground couldn’t drink up what the action spilled, it made you careful where you walked.

Sometimes the chopper you were riding in would top a hill and all the ground in front of you as far as the next hill would be charred and pitted and still smoking, and something between your chest and your stomach would turn over. Frail grey smoke where they’d burned off the rice fields around a free-strike zone, brilliant white smoke from phosphorus (‘Willy Peter/ Make you a buh liever’), deep black smoke from ’palm –they said that if you stood at the base of a column of napalm smoke it would suck the air right out of your lungs. 

Once we fanned over a little village that had just been airstruck and the words of a song by Wingy Manone that I’d heard when I was a few years old snapped into my head, ‘Stop the War, These Cats Is Killing Themselves’. Then we dropped, hovered, settled down into purple lz smoke, dozens of children broke from their hootches to run in towards the focus of our landing, the pilot laughing and saying, ‘Vietnam, man. Bomb ’em and feed ’em, bomb ’em and feed ’em.’ 

Flying over jungle was almost pure pleasure, doing it on foot was nearly all pain. I never belonged in there. Maybe it really was what its people had always called it, Beyond; at the very least it was serious, I gave up things to it I probably never got back. (‘Aw, jungle’s okay. If you know her you can live in her real good, if you don’t she’ll take you down in an hour. Under.’) 

Once in some thick jungle corner with some grunts standing around, a correspondent said, ‘Gee, you must really see some beautiful sunsets in here, ’and they almost pissed themselves laughing. But you could fly up and into hot tropic sunsets that would change the way you thought about light for ever. You could also fly out of places that were so grim they turned to black and white in your head five minutes after you’d gone. 

That could be the coldest one in the world, standing at the edge of a clearing watching the chopper you’d just come in on take off again, leaving you there to think about what it was going to be for you now: if this was a bad place, the wrong place, maybe even the last place, and whether you’d made a terrible mistake this time. 

There was a camp at Soc Trang where a man at the lz said, ‘If you come looking for a story this is your lucky day, we got Condition Red here,’ and before the sound of the chopper had faded out, I knew I had it too. ‘That’s affirmative, ’the camp commander said, ‘we are definitely expecting rain. Glad to see you.’ He was a young captain, he was laughing and taping a bunch of sixteen clips together bottom to bottom for faster reloading, ‘grease’. 

Everyone there was busy at it, cracking crates, squirrelling away grenades, checking mortar pieces, piling rounds, clocking banana clips into automatic weapons that I’d never even seen before. They were wired into their listening posts out around the camp, into each other, into themselves, and when it got dark it got worse. 

The moon came up nasty and full, a fat moist piece of decadent fruit. It was soft and saffron-misted when you looked up at it, but its light over the sandbags and into the jungle was harsh and bright. 

We were all rubbing Army-issue nightfighter cosmetic under our eyes to cut the glare and the terrible things it made you see. (Around midnight, just for something to do, I crossed to the other perimeter and looked at the road running engineer-straight towards Route 4 like a yellow frozen ribbon out of sight and I saw it move, the whole road.) There were a few sharp arguments about who the light really favoured, attackers or defenders, men were sitting around with Cinemascope eyes and jaws stuck out like they could shoot bullets, moving and antsing and shifting around inside their fatigues. 

‘No sense us getting too relaxed, Charlie don’t relax, just when you get good and comfortable is when he comes over and takes a giant shit on you.’ That was the level until morning, I smoked a pack an hour all night long, and nothing happened. Ten minutes after daybreak I was down at the lz asking about choppers. 

A few days later Sean Flynn and I went up to a big firebase in the Americal TAOR that took it all the way over to another extreme: National Guard weekend. The colonel in command was so drunk that day that he could barely get his words out, and when he did, it was to say things like, ‘We aim to make good and goddammit sure that if those guys try anything cute they won’t catch us with our pants down.’ 

The main mission there was to fire H&I, but one man told us that their record was the worst in the whole Corps, probably the whole country, they’d harassed and interdicted a lot of sleeping civilians and Korean Marines, even a couple of Americal patrols, but hardly any Viet Cong. (The colonel kept calling it ‘artillerary’. The first time he said it Flynn and I looked away from each other, the second time we blew beer through our noses, but the colonel fell in laughing right away and more than covered us.) 

No sandbags, exposed shells, dirty pieces, guys going around giving us that look, ‘We’re cool, how come you’re not?’ At the strip Sean was talking to the operator about it and the man got angry. ‘Oh yeah? Well fuck you, how tight do you think you want it? There ain’t been any veecees around here in three months.’‘ So far so good, ’Sean said. ‘Hear anything on that chopper yet?’ 
But sometimes everything stopped, nothing flew, you couldn’t even find out why. I got stuck for a chopper once in some lost patrol outpost in the Delta where the sergeant chain-ate candy bars and played country and western tapes twenty hours a day until I heard it in my sleep, some sleep. ‘Up on Wolverton Mountain’ and ‘Lonesome as the bats and the bears in Miller’s Cave’ and ‘I fell into a burning ring of fire’, surrounded by strungout rednecks who weren’t getting much sleep either because they couldn’t trust one of their 400 mercenary troopers or their own hand-picked perimeter guards or anybody else except maybe Babe Ruth and Johnny Cash, they’d been waiting for it so long now they were afraid they wouldn’t know it when they finally got it, and it burns burns . . . 

Finally on the fourth day a helicopter came in to deliver meat and movies to the camp and I went out on it, so happy to get back to Saigon that I didn’t crash for two days. 

Airmobility, dig it, you weren’t going anywhere. It made you feel safe, it made you feel Omni, but it was only a stunt, technology. Mobility was just mobility, it saved lives or took them all the time (saved mine I don’t know how many times, maybe dozens, maybe none), what you really needed was a flexibility far greater than anything the technology could provide, some generous, spontaneous gift for accepting surprises, and I didn’t have it. 

I got to hate surprises, control freak at the crossroads, if you were one of these people who always thought they had to know what was coming next, the war could cream you. It was the same with your ongoing attempts at getting used to the jungle or the blow-you-out climate or the saturating strangeness of the place which didn’t lessen with exposure so often as it fattened and darkened in accumulating alienation. It was great if you could adapt, you had to try, but it wasn’t the same as making a discipline, going into your own reserves and developing a real war metabolism: slow yourself down when your heart tried to punch its way through your chest; get swift when everything went to stop and all you could feel of your whole life was the entropy whipping through it. Unlovable terms. 

The ground was always in play, always being swept. Under the ground was his, above it was ours. We had the air, we could get up in it but not disappear in to it, we could run but we couldn’t hide, and he could do each so well that sometimes it looked like he was doing them both at once, while our finder just went limp. All the same, one place or another it was always going on, rock around the clock, we had the days and he had the nights. 

You could be in the most protected space in Vietnam and still know that your safety was provisional, that early death, blindness, loss of legs, arms or balls, major and lasting disfigurement –the whole rotten deal –could come in on the freakyfluky as easily as in the so-called expected ways, you heard so many of those stories it was a wonder anyone was left alive to die in firefights and mortar-rocket attacks. 

After a few weeks, when the nickel had jarred loose and dropped and I saw that everyone around me was carrying a gun, I also saw that any of them could go off at any time, putting you where it wouldn’t matter whether it had been an accident or not. The roads were mined, the trails booby-trapped, satchel charges and grenades blew up jeeps and movie theatres, the VC got work inside all the camps as shoeshine boys and laundresses and honey-dippers, they’d starch your fatigues and burn your shit and then go home and mortar your area. 

Saigon and Cholon and Danang held such hostile vibes that you felt you were being dry-sniped every time someone looked at you, and choppers fell out of the sky like fat poisoned birds a hundred times a day. 
After a while I couldn’t get on one without thinking that I must be out of my fucking mind. Fear and motion, fear and standstill, no preferred cut there, no way even to be clear about which was really worse, the wait or the delivery. 

Combat spared far more men than it wasted, but everyone suffered the time between contact, especially when they were going out every day looking for it; bad going on foot, terrible in trucks and APCs, awful in helicopters, the worst, travelling so fast towards something so frightening. I can remember times when I went half dead with my fear of the motion, the speed and direction already fixed and pointed one way. It was painful enough just flying ‘safe’ hops between firebases and lz’s; if you were ever on a helicopter that had been hit by ground fire your deep, perpetual chopper anxiety was guaranteed. 

At least actual contact when it was happening would draw long raggedy strands of energy out of you, it was juicy, fast and refining, and travelling towards it was hollow, dry, cold and steady, it never let you alone. All you could do was look around at the other people on board and see if they were as scared and numbed out as you were. If it looked like they weren’t you thought they were insane, if it looked like they were it made you feel a lot worse. 

I went through that thing a number of times and only got a fast return on my fear once, a too classic hot landing with the heat coming from the trees about 300 yards away, sweeping machine-gun fire that sent men head down into swampy water, running on their hands and knees towards the grass where it wasn’t blown flat by the rotor blades, not much to be running for but better than nothing. The helicopter pulled up before we’d all gotten out, leaving the last few men to jump twenty feet down between the guns across the paddy and the gun on the chopper door. 

When we’d all reached the cover of the wall and the captain had made a check, we were amazed to see that no one had even been hurt, except for one man who’d sprained both his ankles jumping. 
Afterwards, I remembered that I’d been down in the muck worrying about leeches. I guess you could say that I was refusing to accept the situation.

***

from

Dispatches

by

Michael Herr

get it at Amazon.com 


Mapping the World’s Biggest Weapons Exporters, and their Best Customers – Frank Jacobs. 

War kills. And war sells. These maps show the world’s four biggest arms exporters and their major clients.

While they reveal a lot about who mongers weapons to whom, the sequencing on this graph is a bit misleading.

Reader’s instinct nudges us to interpret the maps clockwise from top left, as a series in descending order. But the correct order is anti-clockwise, from bottom left: the top seller is the U.S., followed by Russia, France and China.

The maps are based on figures for 2011-2015, published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. They exclude weapons trade deals below $100 million. The total volume of arms sales for this period was higher than for any other five-year stretch since the end of the Cold war, in the early 1990s.

The United States not only has the world’s largest defence budget by far (1), it also outsells all other countries by a considerable margin.

Bigthink.com

GLOBAL ARMS TRADE – MYTH #2: MILITARY SPENDING IS DRIVEN BY SECURITY CONCERNS – PAUL HOLDEN. 

‘Military spending may not be the most strategically rational approach to a country’s security threats, but it is, in the end, at least driven by security concerns.’

In reality, it is precisely this largely erroneous belief that muddies the water in most arms trade and procurement debates, and provides the cover for all sorts of completely unnecessary military equipment to change hands between producers and buyers for a whole host of other less rational reasons.

The unfortunate truth is that the arms trade is not primarily geared to dealing with security threats. Instead, many arms transactions are undertaken for a plethora of other reasons, and may, in fact, hinder a state’s response to security threats rather than increase preparedness.

ECONOMICS AND THE POWER OF POLITICS

One of the most commonly stated reasons for arms transactions is that they are supposed to generate a whole series of economic benefits. Indeed, in some cases, arms sales are justified entirely for their economic benefit, rather than their importance for national defense. In certain countries these supposed economic benefits become the means by which arms producers place pressure on politicians to support strategically questionable projects: no politician wants to attack a project that may employ large numbers of their constituents, even if the money could theoretically be more efficiently spent elsewhere. Combined, these two reasons can be decisive in securing support for sometimes clearly absurd expenditure.

Changes to US trade policies will mean that a significant percentage of items previously on the Munitions List will now be able to be exported without a license. Some may be small items—bolts and nuts—but there are enough big-ticket items to be worrying: military cargo planes as well as Black Hawk helicopters, for example. Freeing up these items makes it ever easier for groups that may be anathema to the US to get hold of once heavily controlled items.

The danger of the administration’s new export control approach is that it could make it easier for significant military articles to reach major human rights abusers, countries seeking nuclear weapons, or destinations where they may be more likely to fall into the hands of terrorists.

Ironically, and despite the widespread support for deregulation amongst defense companies, there is the real risk that the reforms may lead to a net decrease in US defense industry jobs. This crystallizes the other unfortunate truth: often the economic benefit that is being touted is, in reality, a boon to the major companies but a bane to its employees, and even the wider population.

The threat of shedding defense jobs—and incurring the wrath of the powerful defense lobby—is a particularly important motivation in countries that manufacture and buy their own arms. But those countries that import most of their weapons—the large majority of the world—are often seduced by a different economic incentive: Offsets.

Offsets are agreements on the part of weapons manufacturers to invest in the economy of the buying countries, thus ‘offsetting’ the economic cost of importing the weapons. Offsets are particularly prevalent in the arms trade, despite the fact that they are hugely controversial. Part of this is because the defense trade is given a free pass when it comes to offsets. Using offsets as a selection criterion is banned by the World Trade Organization, except in the defense trade. The result, especially over the previous decade, has been an explosion in the number and size of offset deals. According to The Economist, it is estimated that the total offset obligations (the amount companies are still obliged to invest) in the global defense and aerospace industries is in the region of $250bn, and may grow to a remarkable $450bn by 2016.

CORRUPTION AND BUYING GLOBAL POLITICAL SUPPORT

It is a regrettable reality that the content of many weapons deals around the world are largely, and sometimes solely, determined by corruption. In particular, countries may be induced into buying particular types of equipment, even if better alternatives exist, regardless of the strategic implications of following this path.

In 2006, the consultancy company Control Risks conducted an extensive survey of 350 international businesses situated in numerous jurisdictions around the world. They found that, over the previous five years (2001‒2006), 26% of defense companies they interviewed believed that they had lost contracts due to corruption. In 2006 alone, 31% of defense companies interviewed believed that graft was a decisive factor in who won contracts. This suggests that in a significant number of cases what weapons are bought, who supplies them and what capacities are eventually delivered to armed forces is determined by bribes rather than whether the product itself is the best fit for the security needs of the country.

When corruption is mixed with other imperatives, when security concerns are not the main driving force of weapons buying, the result is entire weapons transactions conducted without apparent reference to a rational case for defense needs.

It is not just individual deals that are questionable: a large number of the most notoriously corrupt defense establishments in the world do not seem to buy arms for their countries’ national protection, but largely to cement important strategic relationships around the world. The simple fact is that by buying weapons systems from one of the major weapons sellers, even the most outrageously dictatorial governments are guaranteed a friendly reception amongst their supplier countries.

CONSEQUENCES 

The mixture of factors that underlie defense transactions, local and international political concerns, economic goals, misplaced national pride and corruption, has the effect that weapons sales often don’t serve much strategic need. More importantly, it can leave defense forces with inadequate weaponry when they are forced into combat roles, or, in certain instances, a telling lack of strategic capacity.

Conclusion

Defending the arms trade by claiming that it is legitimate to arm oneself and one’s allies may seem like a reasonable proposition, but it is frequently a red herring. The reason: when weapons are bought and sold, they are often chosen for a range of reasons that have nothing to do with strategic need. There is a dizzying array of reasons why many arms deals are done, including anticipated economic benefit, local and international political considerations and, disturbingly frequently, corruption. Sometimes the outcome is the selection of weapons systems that may not meet a strategic need exactly, when a better option is available. In others, it can lead to a weapons purchase that meets no identifiable strategic need at all. The end result is that military spending is often strategically questionable at best; farcical, criminal and dangerous at worst.

Global Arms Trade – Myth #1: HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING EQUALS INCREASED SECURITY – Paul Holden. 

Introduction. 

Military spending around the world totaled $1,676bn in 2015, nearly $250 for every one of the earth’s 7 billion people. Arms producers have direct access to the upper echelons of power, shaping policy and exercising considerable influence in how the world is run. Rich governments treat arms makers and dealers with remarkable charity. They help them out with subsidies, favorable export rules and a generosity of spirit and funding that most businesspeople could only dream of. Leaders of middle-income and poor countries who want to buy weapons are feted and lobbied by a slick industry that wheels out defense attachés, government ministers, and even royalty as testament to their political connection and clout, not to mention generous financial subsidies and payoffs.

Why does the arms business possess such influence and clout across the globe? The answer is complex, but one of the key reasons is that arms merchants and their government supporters can turn to a set of time-honed and well-packaged arguments to justify the status quo. They tell us that their products make and keep us all safer. They argue that the defense sector is vital to the economy and job creation. They claim that they are at the cutting edge of technological innovation.

All in all, the makers and sellers of weapons have been astonishingly successful in telling a story so deeply embedded in public narratives and political discourse that it is simply taken for granted. The defense industry narrative is like a set of clothes that a politician seeking office—still more so, in office—and the civil servants, academics and journalists concerned with government, put on to go to work every morning. The inconvenient truth is that each one of the claims is either deeply questionable or simply untrue.

The arms business needs to be undressed. Every rotten item needs to be thrown out. Then, we will find, there is hardly anything left. The arguments are nothing more than myths, enforced by repetition and given weighty authority by the power players who trot them out whenever there is the hint of change that might be to their disadvantage.

Global Arms Trade – Myth 1:

HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING EQUALS INCREASED SECURITY

‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’

So goes the much-repeated phrase, taken to heart around the globe. Indeed, the world spends a great deal preparing for war: at least $1,676bn in 2015. With such high levels of spending, and the innumerable threats that arms purchases are said to protect us from, it would be easy to accept this adage at face value: why on earth else would responsible governments pour such huge sums into military spending? Unfortunately, the reality is a lot more complicated.

It is unclear that large outlays on defense make a consistently measurable difference in providing security to the countries that buy weapons. Moreover, there is solid evidence showing that, in certain instances, spending money on buying weapons may actually decrease a country’s security.

Between 2011 and 2014, as defense budgets were reduced in the West, the ‘rest of the world’ was increasing its expenditure year-on-year.

Largest spenders worldwide: USA, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Russia has increased its military spending 92% since 2010 alone. Saudi Arabia vastly expanded its defense budget by 97% between 2006 and 2015.

The dominance of the top fifteen spenders should not obscure another important trend: military expenditure is growing rapidly globally, even in some of the poorest regions of the world. Indeed, SIPRI identifies twenty-three countries that have doubled their military spending between 2004 and 2013. Among them are some of the world’s poorest nations.

Despite regional and global increases, the United States remains far and away the world’s largest spender on its military, spending more than the next ten nations in the world combined, and four times its closest rival, China.

The US is currently on track to fund the most expensive weapons program in human history, the F-35 fighter jet, which will cost roughly $1.4trn to build and operate over its lifetime.

DOES DEFENSE SPENDING LEAD TO SECURITY?

There are a number of ways in which spending on defense may actually make us less secure.

1. The ‘security dilemma’, or the ‘spiral of insecurity’.

The ‘security dilemma’ occurs when a state with no hostile intentions believes that states around it, while not necessarily expressing any outward enmity, could pose a long-term security threat. The state responds by increasing its own sense of security through building up its defense capacities. However, states around it see this increase in defense spending, and come to believe that the original state now has hostile intentions; they, in turn, increase their own defense capacities. This cycle continues as both parties increasingly divert resources towards their own defense, leading to an arms race. This ‘spiral of insecurity’ can, in the worst case scenario, lead to actual conflict.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Germany’s leaders had come to believe that it was being surrounded by hostile forces including Russia, France and Great Britain. In response, Germany started to build up its military forces, in particular its naval forces, which all other parties began to believe was evidence of Germany’s ill intentions. Great Britain, which had built its military power on its navy, was particularly alarmed. The other three parties, seeing this, also increased their weapons, leading to an enormous arms race. This race created tensions between all the states; so much so that, when a political crisis unfolded upon the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary and Russia both mobilized and Germany then invaded its neighbors, provoking one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. The arms race may not have been the cause of World War I (human affairs are always more complicated than that), but it was a substantial contributor to the tensions that led to war.

2. When the spending is wasteful or inflated due to corruption. Usually this involves the perennial problem of cost overruns in the defense sector, dragging projects years into overtime and absorbing scarce economic resources that could be spent on things that encourage security—like health, education and infrastructure.

When corruption enters the picture, defense transactions might only take place because of the illicit money to be earned, without any concern for real strategic need.

3. Wars can make you less secure in the long term. The third way in which defense spending can actually decrease security is when military spending funds wars that, despite their intentions, worsen a country’s security situation.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is arguable that the two largest US military engagements of the 21st century so far have actually left the United States and the world less secure than if they had never been undertaken.(Gosh!) Not only did the conflicts cost trillions of dollars and cause hundreds of thousands of casualties, but they have contributed to an increase in terrorist activity and capabilities in areas well beyond the boundaries of the two states.

The war in Afghanistan—the longest war in US history—is in one respect a response to the ‘blowback’ from US military interventions of the 1980s. The CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars arming and training Afghan mujahidin forces to help them fight off the Soviet occupation of their country.

A significant portion of this aid was diverted by Pakistani intelligence, which used it to support Islamic extremist groups that have engaged in terrorism in South Asia and beyond. Aid that did reach Afghanistan often ended up in the hands of foreign fighters and forces that had an anti-US orientation.

Once the Soviet occupation had been repelled, and a nasty civil war was concluded, these groups turned their attention to attacking the United States and its interests. Following the civil war, many of them became part of the original cadre of Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaida organization, which was hosted by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The Taliban itself has received substantial support from Pakistani intelligence. As a result, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to root out Al Qaida, it was in part addressing a problem of its own making. And the mission of driving Al Qaida out of Afghanistan soon morphed into a large-scale counterinsurgency effort designed to defeat the Taliban and remake Afghanistan as a pro-US ‘democracy’ (or at least a pro-US regime, democratic or not). Fifteen years later the Taliban remains a major force in Afghanistan, the regime in Kabul is rife with corruption, and Al Qaida has entrenched itself in Pakistan.

This is what the United States and the world got for Washington and Europe’s investment in a trillion-dollar military undertaking in Afghanistan.

The case of Iraq is, of course, even more striking, in that it was without question a war of choice, and it has spawned a new generation of militant extremists, notably ISIS, who largely use military equipment supplied to the country by the US itself.

4. Military spending isn’t always intended to protect citizens. The fourth way in which defense spending can decrease the security of citizens is that in undemocratic states, military spending can make citizens less safe. Indeed, spending on one’s military in many cases does not mean protecting the country, but rather protecting the ruling elite from its people or discontented groups within the population, rather than protecting the people as a whole from external or internal threats. Even in more democratic, or partially democratic countries, the military may suppress legitimate dissent among citizens and marginalized groups.

The less free a country is, the more it tends to spend on the military.

5. Using the military to solve the world’s security issues isn’t always the best bet.

The fifth way that military spending can decrease security is that massive military expenditure can increase the tendency to seek military solutions to non-military problems.

One example of this has been the decades-long US ‘war on drugs’ which has been used to justify aid to death squads and repressive regimes abroad and mass surveillance and incarceration at home. For example, the multi-billion US ‘Plan Colombia’, designed to help the Colombian government dismantle the drug cartels there, included aid to a corrupt military that regularly abused human rights and aerial application of pesticides in large parts of the country. To the extent that Plan Colombia helped undermine the drug cartels there, the drug trade was merely displaced to Central American countries like Honduras and Mexico, where high levels of violence by drug gangs have become the norm.

Other suggested approaches, like reducing drug demand in the US by expanding treatment programs and providing alternative forms of employment in impoverished areas, have received only modest resources relative to the sums spent on military methods of fighting drugs.

In the US, the Pentagon budget is roughly fourteen times the budget of the US State Department. This is truly remarkable: in its relationship with the outside world, the US devotes 1,400% more to projecting military power than it does on building alliances and finding non-military solutions to conflicts.

As for peacekeeping, the US contribution to UN peacekeeping efforts is less than 0.5% of what it spends on military activities. If the United States devoted a tiny fraction of what it spends on its own military to support the cost of the United Nations and multilateral peacekeeping, a robust international capability could be on call to enforce peace agreements, protect potential victims of repression and genocide, and separate warring parties.

The idea that there is a military solution to terrorism has also been put into serious doubt by an influential 2008 study by the US-based RAND Corporation—a think-tank esteemed by conservatives. The study reviewed the life-cycles of 648 terrorist groups from 1968 to 2006, identifying the ways in which these groups ended. It found that in 43% of cases, terrorist groups ceased to exist because they were successfully integrated into the formal political process. In 40% of cases, the groups disappeared because of successful policing efforts. A further 10% of terrorist groups stopped their military activities because they achieved their main aim. And, most importantly for this discussion, only 7% of terrorist groups were snuffed out as a result of military campaigns.

Using the military to win the ‘war on terror’ is simply not going to work. More to the point, it is likely to be counter-productive, fueling resentment and undermining long-term regional goals.

As the Jones and Libicki note: Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect of what is intended: it is often over-used, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.

Human security is defined by the United Nations as ‘the right of all people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair’. Underpinning this is the recognition that ‘all individuals, in particular vulnerable people, are entitled to freedom from fear and freedom from want, with an equal opportunity to enjoy all their rights and fully develop their human potential’.

When security is thought about in this way—and it is hard to argue that a population that is chronically malnourished is not at risk—the type of threats that need to be addressed changes drastically. Instead of just focusing on threats from war or conflict, human security requires us to look at all the various risks that are faced in the world today that undermine human dignity, drive poverty and put billions of people in a constant state of emergency of survival. Some of these risks include access to clean water, food security, climate change, health pandemics, violent multinational organized crime and repressive states that use their monopoly of violence to terrorize their own populations. There is little doubt that, when considered in this light, the world suffers a serious human security deficit.

Military expenditure is massive, and fails to substantially tackle any of the major threats to human security. If only a fraction of military spending was focused on broader human security goals, the improvement in the security profile of billions of people around the world would be tremendous.

The goals of freedom from want and fear are most likely to be achieved in democratic states that are accountable to their populations. But huge amounts of global military spending is directed towards maintaining dictatorships or repressive regimes.

Perhaps it is time to recognize one powerful fact: even a small reduction in defense spending, one that sees resources properly devoted to the human security dangers faced by the majority of the world’s population, could actually make the world safer, healthier, more prosperous and more secure.



Shock tactics: how the arms industry trades on our fear of terrorism – Paul Holden. 

There can be no doubt that the terrorist crime of 11 September 2001 generated deep fears among western, and especially American publics. Not only were civilian airliners turned into weapons of conspicuous destruction, but the subsequent anthrax scare drew attention to the dangers of chemical and biological warfare agents in the hands of non-state actors bent solely on devastation. The fear that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons ready to launch on a hair trigger evoked still deeper fears. The ideologies of al-Qaida militants, and more recently Isis, are so alien and demonic that people are deeply afraid that the worst may transpire.

Fortunately, those fears are massively disproportionate to the actual threats.

In fact, you are more likely as a US citizen to drown in your bathtub (a one in 800,000 chance) than die from terrorism (a one in 3.8 million chance). And even this may be an overestimate: in 2013 the Washington Post reported that, based on the previous five years, there was only a one in 20 million chance of dying in a terrorist attack: two times less likely than dying from a lightning strike.

Toddlers, using weapons found in their own homes, have killed more Americans than terrorists in recent years.

It is crucial to consider that the “war on terror” might have been a horrendous error. The attempt to impose a military solution on complicated political problems was simplified thinking with a false promise of total national safety. In turn, the militarisation of the response – as seen in the massive expansion of military deployments, arms spending, and the license to do anything in pursuit of national security – has in reality worsened the problem of armed violence in the world.

If we take the number of fatalities caused by terrorists, 2001 marks a clear spike, because of 11 September. But a single spike, however terrible, is not indicative of a statistical trend. Looking back, it seems that the counter-terror policies of the 1980s and 1990s, aimed at pressuring governments to end state sponsorship of terrorist organisations, was actually working, and 9/11 was an exceptional and tragic outlier.

One thing that happened in the aftermath of the trauma of 9/11 was “threat inflation”: political leaders and pundits inflated the perils that America was facing.

Threat inflation is remarkably easy to do.The difference between popular fears and realities is well known to politicians. 

The security sector has a strong record of engaging in threat inflation.

During the early stages of the cold war, for example, American policymakers and military leaders loudly worried about first a “bomber gap” and then a “missile gap”, claiming that the USSR was massively outpacing US production of bombers and nuclear missiles. In 1959, US intelligence estimates suggested that the USSR would be in possession of between 1,000 and 1,500 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) compared to America’s paltry 100. In reality, by September 1961, the USSR had only four ICBMs at its disposal, “less than one half of one percent of the missiles expected by US intelligence”, as Stephen Van Evera points out. More recently, Saddam Hussein turned out not to possess weapons of mass destruction after all.

The practice extends, as retired Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel William Astore notes, to North Korean ballistic missiles, Iranian nuclear weapons production and increased Chinese military production. While all are real concerns, they “pale in comparison to the global reach and global power of the United States military …

All this breathless threat inflation keeps the money rolling (along with the caissons) into the military”.

The Guardian

Israelis Will Soon Be Mass Producing AK-47s for the U.S. Market – Neri Zilber. 

On a balmy Friday afternoon last fall outside Tel Aviv, at a high-end restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the individuals responsible for bringing one of the world’s best-known brands into the 21st century were seated enjoying the calamari salads and red wine. There was nothing about their outward appearances to suggest they were all veterans of elite Israeli commando units, nor that the brand in question was the venerable and lethal Kalashnikov assault rifle, better known by its initials: AK-47.

The principals were from Command Arms and Accessories (CAA), a local defense firm founded in 2008 that had, up until last year, a niche business making innovative accessories and other cutting-edge platforms for existing weapons. With official licensing from the original Russian manufacturer, they are now venturing into the gun business proper with what they’ve named the “Alfa” Kalashnikov—a weapon that combines Israeli design prowess and other modern amenities with the qualities that made the old model into a global phenomenon. It is, they claim, the world’s best assault rifle. And it’s coming to America.

Presiding over the lunch was Moshe Oz, CAA’s founder and president, a boyish 49-year-old who bears a more than passing resemblance to a darker-haired Jon Bon Jovi. He also has nearly two decades of combat experience in both the Israeli army and police special counter-terror units. It was this experience as an “end user,” as he puts it, that led him and his friends to “try to do things better” when they entered the private sector. In their line of work this meant one thing: “hitting the target with greater accuracy and greater speed.”

CAA initially made its name with a product called the Roni (named after Oz’s daughter), a metal and polymer chassis that converts a handgun into a carbine submachine gun. Jerusalem’s mayor raised eyebrows after a 2015 terrorist attack when he was filmed on the streets of his city with a Roni—which many mistook for a real assault rifle. In technical terms, the larger chassis, which envelopes the handgun, provides more stability and range than a simple pistol as well as automatic shooting speed. More to the point, it’s just a lot more imposing than a simple handgun.

Amidst the busy weekend lunch rush, Oz offered to grab one from his car outside, before thinking better of it. “These people would freak out,” he said, looking around at the cream of the Tel Aviv elite, with its fair share of tech entrepreneurs, real estate developers, and finance professionals. Oz and his colleagues, on the other hand, were the type of businessmen that had, as one proffered on his cellphone, the direct number for the son of an African president. And of course there were the Russians.

* * *

The AK-47’s origins have by now become well known, nearly elevated to the level of folklore. In the wake of World War Two, the Soviet Union launched a contest to develop its own rapid-fire rifle, similar to the groundbreaking Sturmgewehr deployed by Nazi Germany. The winner of the competition was Senior Sgt. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, a wounded veteran of tank warfare on the Western Front. The prototype he developed was accepted in 1947 and called the Avtomat Kalashnikova—the AK-47—a compact automatic assault rifle that was quickly incorporated into the Red Army. Subsequent years would see upgraded models, usually lighter and quicker, but the weapon’s signature design—and appeal—remained constant.

C. J. Chivers, a New York Times reporter and author of the seminal 2010 best-seller The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War, chalked up this appeal to several factors. Physically, the Kalashnikov had few moving parts, was simple to take apart and put back together, and was extremely reliable and durable. Kalashnikov ammunition cartridges were smaller than other comparable rifles of the day, allowing a soldier to carry more ammo; the relatively minor recoil meant that even poorly trained fighters could shoot more accurately when they did fire. “In much of the world,” Chinese wrote in a recent retrospective, “the Kalashnikov became the everyman’s gun.” The politics and economics of the Cold War took care of the rest.

Production of the rifle expanded from the Soviet Union to other Warsaw Pact states and from there to Communist allies across the globe (China, North Korea, Yugoslavia, etc.). Tens of millions of Kalashnikovs were manufactured in massive state-owned factories, under the warped logic of planned economies. As Chivers explains, when new Kalashnikov models came into production in the 1970s, the older stockpiles were freed up for global trade—especially to non-state Third World insurgents. From the jungles of Indochina to the deserts of the Middle East and the plains of Africa, the Kalashnikov became a symbol, for many, of anti-imperialism and revolution; for others, beginning with the Palestinian militants of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games through to Osama Bin Laden and the savages of ISIS, it is synonymous with global terror. For these reasons, a Kalashnikov adorns the flags of both post-colonial Mozambique as well as bitter Israeli enemies like Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

There are, by one reckoning, at least 100 million Kalashnikov variants in circulation worldwide, one for every 70 people. The fall of the Soviet Union, in addition to the proliferation of bootleg copies, often Chinese, only accelerated the trade in these light arms. The iconic banana-clipped assault rifle has become a true global brand, a constant presence in rap songs, Hollywood movies and in one instance a gold-plated Phillipe Starck-designed table lamp.

Throughout, the legendary Russian manufacturers Izhmash, based in the industrial hub of Izhevsk, never ceased production, increasingly for export to the U. S. civilian market, which is where CAA comes in.

In Oz’s telling, the relationship with the Russian manufacturers began as an advisory role. Production methods at the factory were still seemingly stuck in the 1950s. “They had heavy trucks driving over the rifles to test them,” one of Oz’s colleagues said, perhaps only half joking. CAA then obtained, a few years ago, rights to purchase and then export to the U.S. a sport version of the Kalashnikov. In 2015 the Israeli government issued CAA a permit to begin producing its own small arms. The company’s first target, so to speak, was to upgrade and modernize the Kalashnikov—with full Russian rights and permission to use the powerful brand name. “After 50 years,” Oz said, “it was time to do something different.”

* * *

“Since the nineteenth century there hasn’t been a breakthrough. No one is shooting lasers. You have a tube, gunpowder and a bullet.” Oz laid out this general theorem on firearms a few weeks after the Friday lunch, in his office at CAA’s factory in Kiryat Gat, a working class town in southern Israel. The functional, multi-story facility is located in an industrial park on the outskirts of the city, nestled in between firms selling ceramics and bathroom fixtures. The high wall, cameras, and overall tighter security indicated that CAA was in a rather more sensitive line of work.

Employing over seventy people—mostly designers, engineers and craftsmen often working (surprisingly) by hand—the plant was already bursting at the seams. Plans were in place to move to a new, larger facility across town, a sign that business was brisk. Inside, posters touting CAA’s various products adorned the hallways, providing the best “end-user” validation an advertising budget can’t buy: Israeli army special forces and police counter-terror units, Canadian SWAT teams, U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

“The only issue with weapons is design,” Oz continued, placing by way of example his sleek Austrian-made Glock pistol on the office coffee table. “It’s all about how the weapon looks and how easy it is to use.”

What CAA had done with the Alfa was, in effect, build a modern, ergonomically-friendly platform around the traditional Kalashnikov’s hugely reliable core shooting mechanism—the “engine,” in Oz’s words. It was always this engine that set the Kalashnikov apart.

In water or sand, in extreme heat or cold, the rifle simply fired, unlike many immediate competitors—the American M-16 included—which were prone to jamming in adverse conditions. It’s not a coincidence that Israel’s version of the Navy SEALs, the elite Shayetet 13, had been using Kalashnikovs for years, at first via captured enemy stocks (Syrian, Egyptian, Palestinian) and now apparently via CAA. An urban legend in the Shayetet has it, that a commando once dropped a Kalashnikov into the sea during a training exercise. Seven years later the weapon was salvaged from the bottoms and taken to the range—where it promptly fired.

According to Oz and his partners, in addition to the customary AK reliability, the Alfa’s design now provides better accuracy and balance, and less recoil and up-kick; it’s more precise. Multiple rails give the option of fitting the latest gadgets (scopes, lasers, night vision sites, etc.) onto the rifle, making it more lethal. Unlike the old Kalashinkov that just used the Soviet caliber bullets (7.62mm), the Alfa comes, as well, in a Western caliber model (5.56mm) and a less powerful, police-friendly model (9mm)—it’s more versatile.

But far more important than any of these is that the Alfa does indeed look, for all the world, like a Kalashnikov, right down to the signature banana-shaped ammunition clip. If, as Oz said, the only issue with weapons is really design, than the Alfa is a success: an updated, 21st century version of the last century’s bloodiest and most iconic light weapon.

Multiple approaches to get an independent assessment of the Alfa’s prowess from Israeli military and government sources as well as outside experts went unanswered. The close-knit nature of Israel’s defense industry, as well as the perceived murky world of the global weapons trade, may explain the reticence. Ultimately, both the appeal and proficiency of this new weapon, as well as any possible future problems, will be made abundantly clear. CAA has big plans for the Alfa.

* * *

The lynchpin for any weapons maker is the bottomless U. S. civilian market, which is estimated to hold anywhere from 300 million to 600 million guns and generates approximately $16 billion in yearly revenue. CAA plans to tap directly into this market by building its own factory in Florida, set to open this month. It’ll be a wholly U.S. venture run through CAA USA, a local subsidiary headed by Mikey Hartman, a Tennessee-born, retired Israeli army master sniper who once appeared on the cover of Soldier of Fortune magazine. The Alfa will then be sold under the brand name, and through a company, called Kalashnikov USA (patriotic tagline: “Russian Heritage—American Innovation”).

Pumping out Alfa Kalashnikovs into the massive U.S. gun market seems like a winning business proposition. And CAA is at pains to stress that it’s all done according to U.S. laws (laws that the new Trump administration and its allies in Congress and the National Rifle Association have already begun relaxing). As one of Oz’s colleagues said with no small amount of amazement, “You’ll be able to go to Wal Mart and buy some milk, and pick up an Alfa too.” Suggested retail price? $1,700.

The symbolism of a Kalashnikov on U.S. soil isn’t lost on CAA either. “For the intelligent [weapons] consumer, what do they want? They want an M-16, or [its close cousin] the AR-15, they want a shotgun, some want an [Israeli] Uzi, some get a Beretta [Italian]—and now you can buy a Russian Kalashnikov,” Oz observed, ticking off the names of the gun world’s strongest brands.

Hearing Oz tell it, there was no difference between assault rifles and other consumer goods—cars, soda, shaving blades, etc, ad infinitum. People in the weapons industry, like any other industry, were simply trying to make the best product possible. But still—wasn’t there an ethical obligation?

Oz, like most Israelis, was a firm believer in the maxim that guns don’t kill people, bad people with guns kill people—and therefore good people needed guns too. He was all for sensible gun regulations like criminal background checks on potential buyers. But he also emphasized that protection was crucial as well, “defending like we do in Israel at schools, shopping centers, and other public institutions. Armed citizens can solve the problem, stopping an attack from turning into a mass casualty shooting.” This was indeed the Israeli way. And besides, Oz went on, there were hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation. “If someone wants to do an attack, they’ll get their hands on a weapon. We [Israel] just had a lot of knife terror attacks. No one is arguing that we need to stop making knives, right?”

This was an expected line of argument perhaps, coming as it did from a person in his current line of work. But what of his previous career in the Israeli security forces? Wasn’t there a fear that he would wake up one morning to find that one of his weapons had gotten into the hands of a terrorist?

“There is a concern, but you don’t wake up in the morning worrying about it,” Oz replied steadily. “We’re one of hundreds of weapons producers in the world, and we’re small too. But we’ll do everything possible that it won’t happen. But if we sell it to someone and he sells it on…”

After a short pause, he added: “This is the industry.”

It was the industry, both writ large globally and for Israel in particular. Having an advanced, indigenous production capacity was a central pillar of Israeli’s security strategy: being able to defend itself, by itself. As one lawyer in Tel Aviv who specializes in defense exports told me on condition of anonymity, “the Israeli legacy is that we can only trust and depend on ourselves.”

The domestic defense industry is also, it has to be mentioned, a major economic driver. Israel’s defense exports stood at $5.7 billion in 2015, accounting for 14 percent of total exports. For all those Israelis like Oz and his colleagues who retire from mandatory military service with, shall we say, very particular skillsets, it is a major source of employment. Indeed, according to Defense Ministry figures, nearly 1400 arms dealers are registered in Israel, with 198,000 export permits issued to individuals or companies.

In recent years some questions have been raised regarding what type of unsavory states these Israeli companies are in bed with. As the lawyer in Tel Aviv laid out to me, there was a stringent oversight process in place to safeguard against such abuses, tasked by law to a unit inside the Defense Ministry called the Defense Exports Control Agency (DECA), but also taking into account the views of the Foreign Ministry and if need be the Prime Minister’s Office. There was, he said, a need to balance “moral considerations against diplomatic and economic considerations. I’ve seen it happen where the government decides to stop selling to a country because we don’t want Israeli technology to be used to put down a population.” Fines have also been meted out by the government for violations, particularly to those exporters who fudge the all-important End User Certificates (identifying where a certain export is headed).

And yet, Israel is no saint—there are few genuine saints in the weapons trade. As Dubi Lavi, DECA’s former chief, told the Haaretz Daily last year, “There are some non-democratic countries to which we approve exports, just as the rest of the world does. I don’t believe defense exports go only to democracies. Not from here and not from elsewhere, including enlightened countries.”

Which brings us back to CAA and the Alfa’s impending rise. While the U.S. civilian market is the primary focus, the firm does have a side business plan for its new assault rifle: setting up factories in countries that want to turn their aging AK stocks into state-of-the-art Alfas. “Refurbishment,” Oz calls it, wherein the barrel and some other older parts are used to build the new rifle. Given that there are millions upon millions of Kalashnikovs in official military circulation, the reach of this side of CAA’s business is, in a literal sense, global.

C. J. Chivers, the New York Times reporter, described the Kalashnikov as nothing short of a “disruptive technology that flooded the world almost three generations ago” becoming “a ready amplifier of evil and rage.” One can only hope that the Alfa Kalashnikov has a less disruptive, less bloody, future than its forerunner’s legendary past.

Daily Beast

A Massive March for Peace. People for Peace. Come and demonstrate that Kiwis Do Care. 

Saturday November 19, 2pm, Town Hall, Queen St, Auckland. 

Large numbers of people are stunned that the New Zealand Navy has invited approximately 15 warships to participate in the Navy’s 75 birthday celebrations and an International Naval Review. Other countries are sending senior officers to participate.

The vessels, with their array of deadly weaponry, will berth at both Ports of Auckland and Devonport Naval Base. This is a stark call to all peace activists who opposed the US warships in the eighties and worked for a peace that may now be under threat globally, and also to the new generation of young people who see the insanity of warfare and want to take a stand for peace.

“Even if the ships are non-nuclear armed, it is still not desirable to be reinforcing a warfare mentality and militarism when we should be promoting peace and underpinning the UN Charter that New Zealand signed in 1945. 
By endorsing conventional warships New Zealand is effectively being groomed for involvement in future wars”  –  Lisa Er.

Scoop

GFE, a Global Fund for Education – Jeffrey D. Sachs

Many parts of the world are headed for massive instability, joblessness, and poverty. The twenty-first century will belong to countries that properly educate their young people to participate productively in the global economy.

What US politicians and policymakers in their right minds could believe that US national security is properly pursued through a 900-to-1 ratio of military spending to global education spending? Of course, the US is not alone. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel are all squandering vast sums in an accelerating Middle East arms race, in which the US is the major financier and arms supplier. China and Russia are also sharply boosting military spending, despite their pressing domestic priorities. We are, it seems, courting a new arms race among major powers, at a time when what is really needed is a peaceful race to education and sustainable development. Jeffrey D Sachs, Project Syndicate

America Doesn’t Go To War Enough?

A couple of Rand Corporation scholars have discovered America’s problem vis-à-vis Russia: Washington isn’t willing to use its military as much. This has given Moscow an apparently unfair advantage in challenging America. Maybe Washington should reconsider its policy, they suggest.
Vladimir Putin appears to be working overtime to thwart U.S. policy in Ukraine and Syria. His actions have sparked economic sanctions and military counter-measures. The panicked Baltic States have demanded garrisons like other alliance members. NATO summits revolve around what is seen as a renewed security threat from Moscow.

Actually, only in Georgia, Iraq and Syria has Washington been less belligerent than Russia. Since the end of the Cold War the U.S. has intervened militarily in Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq (thrice, counting the battle against ISIS), Afghanistan, Libya, and (counting drones) Pakistan and Yemen. American forces have been involved in smaller operations elsewhere, such as Africa and the Philippines. Washington also has threatened to visit death and destruction on states which posed no obvious threat to the U.S., such as Iran. By any normal standard, there is no more warlike nation on the planet.

Huffington Post