Adding to the list of closures throughout the region coinciding with the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning and has closed the consulate in Lahore, Pakistan for non-essential personnel. The closure comes as officials claim to have intercepted intelligence suggesting that attacks from Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups on U.S. assets in the region are increasingly likely.
Lawmakers arguing over what exactly happened that made the Benghazi embassy attack possible, while pontificating about whether or not the latest closures are a knee-jerk reaction to keep such attacks from ever happening elsewhere, is a pointless discussion. The real threat is the long leash being given to the CIA and Defense Department in how they are fighting our adversaries.
Quite frankly, there is nothing here to be shocked about. U.S. Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC for short— has been operating against international law in Pakistan and elsewhere for many years, performing night raids, snatch and grab missions, direct action including assassination, and drone strikes with alarming frequency. The latest threats and many others are the fallout of such extreme foreign policy tactics.
JSOC’s area of operation encompasses the entire planet: Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and even European countries. Their latest reinvention is Donald Rumsfeld’s wildest dream come to life: a deadly group of ninjas who don’t openly exist drawn from the ranks of DEVGRU (SEAL Team 6), CAG (1st SFOD-Delta), the 75th Ranger Regiment, and a host of support and super secret intelligence units who operate on an undisclosed budget and with a direct line to the White House.
Such operators are the ones carrying out the real war against terrorism, but the misguided direction of this endless campaign is actually multiplying and broadening the landscape of threats the country actually faces — e.g. Lahore. What looked good on paper, the lesser use of conventional military assets in favor of swift, deadly, and force-multiplying elites to fight the wars of the future, is not working out in practice. In fact, it is making things worse.
Consider for a minute the CIA’s “signature strike” program that basically allows drone operators to kill congregating groups of military aged males without intelligence pointing to their actual identities or roles in nefarious activity. It was this kind of strike that in 2011 killed almost every tribal elder in Datta Khel, Pakistan while they were convening to settle a local resources dispute between themselves. It was this kind of strike that killed Anwar Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son while he was out looking for his father (already killed in a targeted strike), and it was this kind of strike that has killed countless military aged males who were of questionable guilt since the inception of the program.
The misdeeds of JSOC and the CIA don’t end with drone strikes. In Somalia, JSOC re-energized the Al-Qaeda threat when they backed the wrong horse in the country by partnering with Somalia’s archenemy, Ethiopia. They used Yemen’s President Saleh in the wrong fashion thus strengthening AQ’s presence there, and the lack of attention to Afghanistan once resources pivoted to Iraq in 2003 allowed Al-Qaeda's resurgence in that country as well.
If JSOC continues to be used in such ways, and lawmakers cannot come up with alternatives or listen to some of the possibly game changing ideas and criticisms already on the table, then the U.S. will again have created a self-fulfilling prophecy via shoddy foreign policies that led to our previous woes. The embassy closures are but a glimpse of what the U.S. military machine has created, with far more terrifying consequences in sight if something doesn’t give.