Q&A: America’s secret “war without end”

by Maria Caspani | www.twitter.com/MariaCaspani85 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 14 June 2013 09:10 GMT

Protesters shout slogans denouncing air strikes by U.S. drones during a demonstration outside the house of Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Sanaa, on Jan. 28, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

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The covert “Dirty Wars” of the U.S. and its allies have turned al Qaeda from an organisation on the run into tens of thousands of members - filmmaker Richard Rowley

SHEFFIELD (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - There's a covert war that has been fought by the U.S. government over the past decade. It is part of, but goes far beyond, the "war on terror" launched by former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

It is more ruthless and bloodier than the "conventional war" we hear reports of on television and read about in mainstream media.

This is the conclusion investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill and filmmaker Richard Rowley came to after years of investigating America's wars. The pair traveled thousands of miles, from Afghanistan to Yemen and Somalia, to uncover the "Dirty Wars" - the title of their compelling documentary screened at this year's Sheffield Doc/Fest - that the United States and its allies are secretly carrying out under the guise of fighting terrorism.

It's a global war of targeted attacks and air strikes that wipe out men, pregnant women and children, and are subsequently and systematically covered up by American authorities. Its material executors are the men of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive branch of the U.S. military born under former Vice President Dick Cheney that has grown exponentially under President Barack Obama.

Rowley, the director of “Dirty Wars”, spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation about the “war without end” that he says America is carrying out beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

Q: How is America fighting a “permanent war”?

A: Some of the people we talked to are on the inside - operators or members of the military intelligence community - they talk about this...they say it’s like mowing the lawn. When the jihad rises above a certain point, you come in and you chop off the leadership of it knowing that it is going to grow back up. So that means you’re managing a permanent state of crisis.  

A calculation that, I think, some people are making is that we allow countries like Yemen to turn into terrifying places and just hope that we wipe out enough of the leadership that they don’t have the logistical capability of getting on a plane and getting to the U.S. ... It’s a tactic without a strategy.

Q: Do you think this tactic is proving to be effective?

A: It’s completely counterproductive, even if you didn’t have a problem with civilian casualties and drone strikes, even if you didn’t have a political problem with this massive overreach by the executive wing declaring covert war without any oversights, assassinating people without a trial or charges and spying on Americans... On Sept. 11, al Qaeda was a tiny organisation that was on the run, it didn’t control any territory. Now there are tens of thousands of members of al Qaeda and they control swathes of East Africa, parts of Yemen. The war has produced a spiral of violence that we need to find a way to exit.

Q: In 2014, international troops will pull out of Afghanistan. Do you think it will make a difference at this point?

The special operation forces (JSOC) are going to stay in Afghanistan. They’re going to continue to have their kill list to work through, so while the conventional war is winding down, the covert war is accelerating and expanding. Obama will be credited with ending two conventional wars - Iraq and Afghanistan - but, under (George W.) Bush, JSOC was authorised to operate in 26 countries around the world. Under the Obama administration, that’s expanding to over 70. This issue, this war, is bigger than any political party, is bigger than the office of the president.

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