Friday, November 18, 2016

18-Nov-16: American service personnel killings in the Mid East get scant reporting and even less comprehension

A US soldier (in green) and his Afghan counterpart (blue) in a joint patrol
near Kandahar, Afghanistan, [Image Source]
Relatively little attention gets paid in the mainstream news media when American military personnel come under attack from so-called friendly forces while they serve in the Middle East. That's a shame became those killings tend to throw light on tendences that ought to be better understood.

A couple of recent examples.

Case number one: Two men - Army Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, Illinois, and Michael G. Sauro, 40, a civilian employee of the US Army from McAlester, Oklahoma - were shot to death by "hostile enemy forces" in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, according to a US the military announcement in late October, quoted by the Chicago Tribune.

But how hostile were they?

According to a Military Times report, the attack happened at Camp Morehead, an ammunition supply point outside Kabul:
The shooter was reportedly wearing an Afghan Army uniform. The Riney’s unit was at the base to determine whether the Afghans were tracking their ammunition inventories properly, defense officials said. [Military Times, November 4, 2016]
So was the shooter an Afghan soldier? Merely dressed up as one? And does that count as hostile enemy action? Or was this the result of so-called friendly fire? We will probably never know since "the attacker was later killed", according to this source.

But we know there are precedents. For instance, it was announced back on September 15, 2012, that four International Security Assistance Force personnel "died... in southern Afghanistan following an insider attack suspected to involve members of the Afghan police". As later became via a Talbian report, the American soldiers were killed by policemen "loyal to the movement" in "a carefully premeditated attack on six US troops at a vulnerable observation post by a team of six Afghan policemen working with them that night." [Long War Journal, May 15, 2013]

Case number two: Three US military personnel were killed on November 4, 2016 in an attack at the gates of an air base in southern Jordan. The Al-Jafr air-field, in a remote desert location near the southern Jordanian city of Ma'an (population: 50,000) and closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iraq, supports US air operations in the region. Called the King Faisal Airbase in the Jordanian media, it also serves as the venue for joint US/Jordan training operations. The shooter fired at a car carrying the Americans as they were entering the base. A Jordanian officer was wounded.
The Americans were in Jordan on a training mission, officials said. The U.S. military typically maintains about 2,000 U.S. forces on the ground in Jordan to support training with the Jordanian military and operations against the Islamic State in neighboring Iraq and Syria... Pro-Western Jordan is a key member of a U.S-led military coalition against the Islamic State group, which controls parts of neighboring Iraq and Syria... The United States has spent millions of dollars to help the kingdom fortify its borders. For the West, any sign of instability in Jordan, a key ally, would be of great concern. ["Officials say three U.S. service members killed in Jordan attack", Military Times | Andrew Tilghman | November 4, 2016]
Was this a terrorist attack? Could be, now it's revealed the shooter was not only dressed as a member of "friendly" forces but actually was one.
U.S. officials are investigating the fatal shootings of three American soldiers at a Jordanian air base earlier this month as a possible act of terrorism. “Investigators are considering all potential motives and reasons for why American service members came under fire and they have not yet ruled out terrorism as a potential motive,” the American embassy in Jordan said in a statement Wednesday, the New York Times reported... Jordanian officials told reporters soon after the shooting that the vehicle carrying the service members failed to stop at the security gates. Two days after the incident, the Pentagon said the service members were killed when their vehicle came under fire as it was entering a Jordanian military base, indicating there was no issue with the vehicles failing to heed orders to stop. The Jordanian soldier who initiated the exchange of fire was wounded in the incident and remains in custody... The U.S. military has hundreds of trainers in Jordan, a close American security partner, to help bolster the country’s defenses against threats stemming from the Syrian civil war and terrorists in the region... [U.S. Investigating Deaths of American Soldiers in Jordan as Terrorist Attack | Natalie Johnson | Washington Free Beacon | November 17, 2016]
Here's how Jordan's government paints the killings:
A senior official on Saturday described the killing of three US instructors in a shootout at an airbase a day earlier as “unfortunate”. In remarks to The Jordan Times, Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani extended Jordan’s condolences to the families of the persons who lost their lives. Meanwhile, Momani, who is also the government’s spokesperson, stressed that Jordan values its relationship with the US, reiterating that an investigation into the incident is under way... A Jordanian non-commissioned officer was injured, said the source, who warned against circulating the names of any of those involved in the incident, whether they are Jordanians or foreigners, threatening legal action against violators...  In a statement released Friday, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Amman said more information will be reported “when available and appropriate”... [Jordan Times, November 5, 2016]
At the risk of offending the Hashemite regime and violating its threats, the American victims are Staff Sgt. Matthew Llewellyn, 27, of Lawrence, Kansas, Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Arizona, and Staff Sgt. James Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas. All are from the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky from where its men and women specialize in operations in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.

President Barack Obama said the US took the attack "very seriously", according to a BBC report.

Seriously or not, a reasonable person might wonder how likely it is that a full expose of what happened will ever be done by the Jordanian authorities, given their disdain for informing the public. If we knew the name of the injured Jordanian, we would certainly publish that too.

As to whether some of the blame attaches to the American victims, as Jordanian voices have said, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Amman said this past Wednesday that the investigation continues to be "ongoing and has not yet reached any conclusions... [and the Americans] appreciate the assistance of the government of Jordan... Contrary to press reports, there has been absolutely no credible evidence to suggest that US personnel acted contrary to orders or established procedures when accessing the base...” [Jordan Times, November 16, 2016].

Eric Barbee, the Embassy spokesperson, was evidently referring to this:
...Jordanian state media reported that the servicemen, from the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Fort Campbell, Ky., sparked the incident by disobeying orders from Jordanian soldiers... ["U.S. refutes claim its soldiers sparked Jordan shooting", USA TODAY, November 17, 2016]
The ongoing inability to solve the mystery of the October killings is less understandable once two especially notable previous Jordanian killings are considered.
  • 2015: At least five people, including two Americans, two Jordanians and a South African, were killed after a Jordanian police officer opened fire at a US-backed police training facility near Amman, before being shot dead himself. At least four other people, including two more Americans, were injured in the attack, according to US officials. The attack took place at the Jordan International Police Training Center in al-Muwaqqar, on the outskirts of Amman... President Obama addressed the shooting before a White House meeting... “We take this very seriously and we’ll be working closely with the Jordanians to determine exactly what happened, but at this stage I want to just let everyone know this is something we’re paying close attention to... ["At least five killed by Jordanian police officer in training centre shooting", The Guardian, November 9, 2015]. Though the killings took place on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist human-bomb attacks on three Amman hotels, the Jordanian authorities declared the shooter to be "a lone wolf", "not a terrorist", and motivated by "financial pressures" [source]. By contrast, at least one Western news report quoted "security sources" saying the shooter was "a sympathiser of Islamic State with strong anti-Western feelings".
  • 1997: A Jordanian soldier opened fire on a large group of about 40 Israeli schoolgirls from grades 7 and 8 at the AMIT Fuerst School in Beit Shemesh who were on a class excursion to the so-called “Island of Peace” at Naharayim, a scenic peninsula on the Jordan River near the Israeli border. He killed seven of them and injured six others. The Wikipedia account says he "expressed pride for his actions, was imprisoned by Jordanian authorities, but was later called a "hero" by the Jordanian Justice Minister, Hussein Mjalli, and Parliament, who called for his release". They were not alone. As an Alarabiya news report from 2011 observes, "Jordan's powerful Islamist movement and the country's 14 trade unions, which have more than 200,000 members, have repeatedly called for Dakamseh's release... The motives of Dakamseh [the shooter]... were never clear... [In the words of a letter handed to the government] demanding Dakamseh's release "We cannot imagine that a great fighter like Dakamseh is in jail instead of reaping the rewards of his achievement..."
The confusion and doubt about the involvement of "friendly forces" in the cold-blooded killings (sometimes called "blue-on-green" attacks - and here's a list of some others) of US service personnel on active duty in Moslem countries, and about their motivations, very likely contributes to the success of the terrorists rather than to their defeat. We shudder to think what it does to the feelings of the bereaved families back home.

No comments: