antiwar for apr 15

Biden Imposes Wide Array of New Russia Sanctions, Expels Diplomats
Dave DeCamp, AntiWar.com, Apr 15 2021

In a major escalation with Moscow, the Biden administration announced on Thursday a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and entities. The White House also said it is expelling 10 Russian diplomats. In an announcement on the sanctions, the State Dept said they were being taken in “response” to a series of alleged Russian actions that the US has never proved Moscow was responsible for. Blinken said in a statement

Today, we announced actions to hold the Russian Government to account for the SolarWinds intrusion, reports of bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan, and attempts to interfere in the 2020 US elections.

The claim that Russia paid bounties for US troops in Afghanistan has no basis and was even walked back by Biden administration officials on Thursday. The claim first appeared in a report from the NYT last June, and since then, just about every US military leader said no intelligence corroborated the report. Putting the final nail in the coffin of the Russian bounty story, a senior Biden administration official told the Daily Beast on Thursday:

The US intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019 and perhaps earlier.

The fact that the Russia story has essentially been debunked but is still included in the State Dept’s list of grievances with Moscow shows what little credibility the US has with any accusations against the Russian government. The SolarWinds intrusion is the main incident the US is sanctioning Russia over, but the claim that Moscow was behind the hack is also highly dubious. Announcing the new sanctions, the Treasury Dept formally accused Russian Intelligence Services of being behind the hack. Missing from the accusation is any evidence. Before the Treasury Dept’s claim, the only formal accusation from the US came from several intelligence agencies that said in a joint statement that the SolarWinds hack was “likely” Russian in origin. The statement lacked any evidence. One reason the US claims the SolarWinds hack was done by Russian intelligence was the “sophistication” of the intrusion. But congressional testimony from SolarWinds’ current and former CEO revealed the software firm’s server password “solarwinds123” was publicly available on the internet for years. A cyber-security expert that used to advise SolarWinds said the hack “could have been done by any attacker, easily.”

The US also cited alleged interference in the 2020 election while announcing the sanctions. Last month, the ODNI released an assessment that claimed Putin ordered an influence campaign that sought to “denigrate” Biden in the 2020 election. But again, missing from the assessment was any evidence or explanation of how US intelligence reached the conclusion. The new sanctions came after Biden spoke with Putin on the phone on Tuesday and proposed an in-person meeting. On Wednesday, Russia warned that it would take measures in response to any “unfriendly steps” by the US. Kremlin spokesman said new sanctions from the US would mean Biden’s “words” would not “correlate” with his actions, referring to Biden’s call with Putin where he said the US and Russia should work together on things like arms control. Biden had earlier imposed sanctions on Russian officials over the jailing of Navalny. Biden’s rhetoric has also been incredibly hostile. In an interview last month, Biden agreed that Putin is a “killer” who has “no soul.” The new US sanctions also come against the backdrop of rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which has led the US to reaffirm its “unwavering” support for Kyiv. The US reportedly canceled a planned deployment of warships to the Black Sea amid the Ukraine stand-off, but the sanctions indicate Biden is keen on escalating with Moscow.

US Intelligence Walks Back Claim Russia Paid Bounties for US Troops in Afghanistan
Dave DeCamp, AntiWar.com, Apr 15 2021

Since the NYT published a story in Jun 2020 that claimed US intelligence concluded Russia offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill US troops, it has slowly been revealed that the report had no basis. On Thursday, putting the final nail in the coffin of the Russian bounty hoax, the Biden administration walked back the claim. A senior administration official told the Daily Beast:

The US intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019 and perhaps earlier.

As the Daily Beast report explains, “low to moderate confidence” means “the intelligence agencies have found the story is, at best, unproven — and possibly untrue.” The comments from the officials are not surprising, as US intelligence agencies, most notably the NSA, dissented from the Russian bounty story almost immediately. Shortly after the original the NYT report was published, NSA sources spoke out against the conclusion. A memo circulated by the National Intelligence Council in Jul 2020 said only the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center assessed with “medium confidence” that Russia offered the Taliban bounties. The memo said other intelligence agencies, only mentioning the NSA by name, gave it “low confidence.” According to US intelligence agencies’ definition of the confidence levels, the “medium” or “moderate” confidence level leaves plenty of room for doubt. US officials told the Daily Beast that the reporting about the alleged bounties came from “detainee reporting,” which suggests the bogus information was obtained through interrogation by the US-backed Afghan government, which has a history of torturing prisoners. The fact that some of the information was obtained through interrogation was included in the original NYT report, one reason why so many doubted it. Trump dismissed the Russian bounty story as a “hoax,” which prompted cries of treason from his political opponents. The report inspired House Democrats working with Rep Liz Cheney to add an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that sought to block troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, which was included in the final NDAA. Despite the fact that the Russian bounty story has zero credibility, the Biden administration is still using it to advance hawkish Russia policies. When announcing a series of sanctions on Moscow and the expelling of Russian diplomats on Thursday, the State Dept cited “reports of bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan.”

Austin Hints at Continued US Military Involvement in Afghanistan
Dave DeCamp, AntiWar.com, Apr 15 2021

Sec Def Austin on Wednesday said the US would continue to support the Afghan government’s military after Biden withdraws troops from the country and hinted at a possible “counter-terrorism” force in the region that could strike targets in Afghanistan. Austin said at a NATO press conference in Brussels:

We will look to continue funding key capabilities such as the Afghan Air Force and Special Mission Wing, and we will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan Security Forces. We will also work closely with them and with our allies to maintain counter-terrorism capabilities in the region

When asked where counter-terrorism troops could be deployed in the region, Austin suggested the US wants to maintain the capability to bomb Afghanistan, saying:

I think you’ll understand why I won’t get into specific details about where our counter-terrorist assets may be positioned. In terms of our ability to acquire targets and engage them in places where we are not, we have the reach and the ability to in fact do that.

The NYT reported Thursday on how the US is planning to continue fighting in Afghanistan “from afar.” The report reads:

The Pentagon, American spy agencies and Western allies are refining plans to deploy a less visible but still potent force in the region, to prevent the country from again becoming a terrorist base.

Unnamed US officials speaking to the NYT floated neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as possible locations to reposition forces from Afghanistan. When asked if Biden plans to leave special operations forces in Afghanistan after his new 9/11 withdrawal deadline, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment, saying:

I’m obviously not going to get into operational specifics from the podium.

A different NYT report from Tuesday cited unnamed current and former US officials who said some sort of US presence will continue in Afghanistan. The officials said:

The US will most likely rely on a shadowy combination of clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors and covert intelligence operatives.

Taliban Says Biden’s Decision Breaks Doha Agreement, Threatens ‘Counter-Measures’
Dave DeCamp, antiwar.com, Apr 15 2021

The Taliban released an official statement on Thursday, calling Biden’s decision to push back the Afghanistan withdrawal deadline to September, a “clear violation” of the US-Taliban peace deal that was signed in Doha last year. The Taliban statement says:

This decision is a clear violation of the Doha Agreement and non-compliance with its commitments.

The group called on other countries to pressure the US into living up to its end of the agreement and leave by May 1. The statement reads:

As this agreement was signed in the presence of UN and representatives of numerous world countries and organizations, and is currently being breached by America, it is imperative that all countries and organizations that were witnesses to the signing of this agreement exert pressure on America to implement its commitments and withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by the specified date.

Since the Doha agreement was signed in Feb 2020, no US troops have died in combat in Afghanistan. Local Taliban commanders told the Daily Beast on Wednesday that they are ready to attack the US again if troops stay beyond May 1, warning they could turn the final months of the war into a “nightmare” for the Americans. The Taliban’s statement on Thursday was a little more restrained but hinted that they might start attacking the US again. The statement reads:

Now as the agreement is being breached by America, it in principle opens the way for the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate to take every necessary counter-measure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences, and not the Islamic Emirate.

Biden is trying to say he is living up to the Doha agreement since he is starting the withdrawal on May 1. But the Taliban’s statement makes it clear that they don’t see it that way, and Biden’s decision could cause US troops to be targeted again.

NATO Says Afghanistan Withdrawal to Begin on May 1
Dave DeCamp, Antiwar.com, Apr 15 2021

Stoltenberg announced on Wednesday that the alliance will follow the US and begin its withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1. Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Brussels:

Our drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate. We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together.

There are currently about 7k NATO troops in Afghanistan. Biden announced his withdrawal plan on Wednesday. He pushed back the May 1 deadline set by the US-Taliban peace deal and said all US troops will be out of Afghanistan by 9/11. In an attempt to claim he is following the US-Taliban deal, Biden said he is beginning the withdrawal on May 1, but that doesn’t seem to be acceptable to the Taliban. The Taliban released a statement on Thursday that called Biden’s move a “clear violation” of the US-Taliban agreement and hinted that attacks against US and NATO forces could start up again. In comments to the Daily Beast on Wednesday, local Taliban commanders made more forceful threats and said they are “very much prepared to strike” against the US, warning that the Taliban will turn Afghanistan “into a nightmare” for them. While Biden says he is ready to withdraw from Afghanistan, the White House declined to answer when asked if special operations forces will stay in the country past 9/11.

Afghan Govt: Military Fully Prepared to Provide Security Without Foreign Troops
Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com, Apr 15 2021

The Afghan government’s National Security Council issued a statement Thursday warning the Taliban against miscalculation of the planned US military pull-out from the country, saying that the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF) are perfectly capable of providing security by themselves. Underlying this is the dismissal of the idea that the Afghan government will be overrun by the Taliban when the US finally does leave in September. That’s certainly been a narrative for more than just the Taliban, with some officials as recently as yesterday declaring the pullout plan as a “betrayal” of Afghanistan that is setting the stage for disaster. This declaration of self-sufficiency makes recent positions somewhat puzzling, including not-so-covert efforts by officials to try to sabotage the US pull-out’s original date in May. Furthermore, an admission of self-sufficiency makes the US delay look even worse, suggesting this is a war that the US wants to continue, not the grudging continuation that they are presenting it as. Blinken is in Afghanistan for talks on a future strategic relationship, promising that the US will “honor its commitments” in Afghanistan beyond the pull-out date. This presumably means more heavy subsidies for the ANSDF, but could also hint that the US will try to extend its stay even longer. The Taliban sees the delay from May to September as the US reneging on the peace deal, and is warning of retaliation. This response is not surprising, and again raises the question of why, with Afghan officials believing themselves ready, the US chooses to stay and provoke responses. This is doubly puzzling, as by most metrics the US is losing the war to the Taliban and has been for years. This makes the decision to stay even worse, as a sufficient Afghan defense would put the nation in a much better position than an eternally-failing US occupation.

Bipartisan Senators Reintroduce Bill to Block NATO Withdrawal
Dave DeCamp, AntiWar.com, Apr 15 2021

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators reintroduced a bill that aims to block any future president from leaving NATO. While Biden would never consider leaving NATO, the bill would prevent any future president from exiting the outdated military alliance without the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. The legislation would make it as hard to leave NATO as it is to convict and remove a sitting president from office. The legislation was reintroduced by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and has 13 co-sponsors; nine Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO, which was meant to be a defensive alliance, has turned into an offensive force and has led wars of aggression in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya. NATO currently has 30 member-states, 14 of which were added after the Cold War. Senator Rubio said in a statement on the bill:

As a critical military alliance for our national security interests and the security of our allies in Europe, NATO is more important than ever. With Moscow’s growing subversive aggressions, we must ensure no US president withdraws from NATO without the advice and consent of the Senate.

Besides Russia, NATO now has an enemy in China. A NATO report released last year said the alliance put more focus on Beijing. To do so, NATO wants to partner with countries in Asia to counter Beijing. Stoltenberg recently said the “rise” of China presents an “opportunity” for the alliance.

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