Is Biden Ignoring a Key Tool to Combat Violent Extremists?

“many in law enforcement are opposed to designations, but not because they don’t think there’s a problem. Former FBI agent Tom O’Connor, who worked domestic terrorism cases for 20 years before retiring in 2019, said he is opposed for First Amendment reasons, but he believes it is vital for the U.S. to implement its own domestic terrorism statute. Without a statute, O’Connor said, it is much harder for law enforcement to track domestic terrorism and assign resources to fight it.

“You can’t tell me how many incidents of domestic terrorism have taken place in United States, because you would have to review every act of violence, to tell me if there was a political agenda behind that violence,” O’Connor said. “Because people have been charged with gun charges, other violent actions, but they’re not charged as domestic terrorists, it is almost impossible to correlate that information into a system that can tell you what the problem actually is.””

Strikes on U.S. Troops Show the Need To Withdraw From Iraq and Syria

“Just days into 2022, multiple military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria came under attack. Two drones carrying explosives were destroyed last Tuesday as they headed toward U.S. troops in western Iraq. The next day, rockets and indirect fire hit bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria. And last Monday, two armed drones were shot down as they approached a facility housing American advisers at the airport in Baghdad.

Though there were no casualties, the Iran-backed militias behind the attacks have made clear that they will continue. That alone should encourage the Biden administration to get American soldiers out of harm’s way”

US forces raid house in Syria, civilians reported killed

“U.S. special forces carried out what the Pentagon said was a large-scale counterterrorism raid in northwestern Syria early Thursday. First responders at the scene reported 13 people were killed, including six children and four women.

Residents said helicopters flew overhead and U.S. forces clashed with gunmen for more than two hours around a two-story house surrounded by olive trees. They described continuous gunfire and explosions that jolted the sleepy village of Atmeh near the Turkish border, an area dotted with camps for internally displaced people from Syria’s civil war.

The Pentagon did not identify the target of the raid. “The mission was successful,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a brief statement. “There were no U.S. casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”

A journalist on assignment for The Associated Press and several residents said they saw body parts scattered near the site of the raid, a house in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province. Most residents spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

It was the largest raid in the province since the 2019 Trump-era U.S. assault that killed the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

Jan. 6 Didn’t Set Off A Wave of Right-Wing Terrorism. Here’s What Happened Instead.

“Rather than a spate of attacks by organized groups — largely what the Biden administration has prepared for — instead we have seen a massive expansion of the broader ecosystem of far-right extremism. I study terrorism and regularly monitor the rhetoric traversing Telegram and other platforms frequented by far-right extremists. Over the past year, it’s become clear that the violence underpinning the Capitol rioters’ ideology has seeped into mainstream culture and politics. As a result, many more people can — and do — engage in extremist thoughts and actions, not just members of groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. This raises risks of violence by radicalized “lone wolves,” who are much harder to track and thwart.”

“Remarkably for a year that started off with an unprecedented display of political violence, 2021 saw zero major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, nor did we experience anything resembling the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. One reason is that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has artificially suppressed terrorism plots and attacks that we might have seen otherwise. At the same time, lockdowns, isolation and stress have exacerbated many of the underlying factors that contribute to extremism, while also making mental health matters more acute. Meanwhile, 2020 and 2021 were record years for the sale of weapons and ammunition. Americans are anxious, angry and well-armed — a combustible combination.

Another reason for fewer incidents of domestic terrorism during 2021 is that far-right extremists, both individuals and formal organizations, have likely been cowed by an aggressive law enforcement response to Jan. 6. To date, more than 700 individuals have been charged with federal crimes for their role in the insurrection. The city of Washington, D.C., has sued the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, seeking severe financial penalties. Given how paranoid many far-right extremist groups are about being infiltrated by law enforcement, many have gone underground and attempted to drop off the grid to avoid further entanglement with the authorities.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that the problem has faded away. Though we haven’t seen the most visible signs of growing extremism, a more extreme climate is permeating our society, culture and politics. Far-right talking points about election interference and comparisons of public health officials to Nazis are now part of mainstream political dialogue among Republicans.”

“Trump’s unique role in sending extremism mainstream helps explain the most salient domestic terrorism we face in 2022: political violence by those who are convinced the 2020 election was stolen. Many of the calls for violence I’ve observed denigrate Biden’s presidency as illegitimate and refer directly to the falsehood that his victory was “rigged.” A University of Massachusetts Amherst poll revealed that nearly 71 percent of Republican voters still contest the 2020 election results, falling victim to Trump’s “Big Lie.” When almost three-quarters of a political party believe an election was stolen, and that party’s leader continuously reinforces the belief, it lowers the bar for violence.”

“To date, the vast majority of those charged with crimes stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection, approximately 87 percent, do not belong to formal organizations. In fact, although these groups were busy organizing in the weeks before Jan. 6, the makeup of the rioters on the actual day was far broader. This means there is a massive throng of “free agents,” the most radicalized of whom have the potential to become “lone wolves,” while others may seek to join existing groups or opt to form new ones.”

“Perhaps the most notorious lone wolf terrorist is Timothy McVeigh, who was responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. McVeigh was the product of the far-right ecosystem of the 1990s, which was far smaller and less radicalized than the equivalent today. It’s certainly plausible that the next McVeigh (or McVeighs) could emerge from the murky online extremist landscape that is increasingly blending with mainstream politics.”

Will America’s Military Reckon with the Reckless Murders Perpetuated by Its Drone Wars?

“Throughout America’s War on Terror, whistleblowers have been warning that drone strikes have frequently killed people who were neither terrorists nor insurgents, just innocent civilians trying to survive in a war zone.

Over the weekend, in a detailed, heavily reported two-part story, The New York Times documented how Washington’s “precision drone strikes” have been anything but precise. Not only did they repeatedly kill innocents, including children, but more often than not the military failed to examine adequately why these mistakes were made, failed to correct its procedures, and failed to hold anybody accountable.

When an ill-advised August drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed aid worker Zamari Ahmadi and nine of members of his family (including seven children), military officials first insisted the strike had hit terrorists plotting to attack the airport as American troops were leaving the country. Only after the media began investigating the strike did the truth came out. Yet last week, the Pentagon announced that no troops involved in the misbegotten strike would be disciplined. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, “What we saw here was a breakdown in process, and execution in procedural events, not the result of negligence, not the result of misconduct, not the result of poor leadership.”

An alternative way to read that quote, based on the massive Times report from the weekend, is that what happened to Ahmadi and his family was an example of how America’s drone program actually works. It has not, in fact, operated as a tool to surgically take out ISIS terrorist leaders and destroy individual cells, as Americans have been told again and again. The military will admit to killing at least 1,300 civilians in these strikes. That’s just the number of civilians documented in Pentagon reports the Times analyzed. The actual (uncertain) number of civilian deaths due to drone strikes is much higher—between 22,000 and 48,000.”

‘Trust was gone’: Former Afghan official recounts his government’s collapse

“Afghanistan’s government lost trust in the United States because of the Trump administration’s negotiations with the Taliban and the Biden administration’s insistence on withdrawing its forces, a former Afghan official said Sunday in describing his government’s collapse earlier this year.”

“Mohib told Brennan the decision was made to leave when it became clear that the military had largely melted away and the police had not shown up for work. “We had to make a decision that was right for Afghanistan,” Mohib said.
For his part, Mohib said the Afghan government expected more from the United States, but that his country was betrayed by the U.S. government negotiating with the Taliban independently.

“What happened was the rug was pulled under the Afghans’ feet,” he said, adding: “The decision to talk directly and engage the Taliban and make a deal with the Taliban that didn’t include the Afghan government was protested.””

Islamic extremists sidestep Facebook’s content police

“Photos of beheadings, extremist propaganda and violent hate speech related to Islamic State and the Taliban were shared for months within Facebook groups over the past year despite the social networking giant’s claims it had increased efforts to remove such content.

The posts — some tagged as “insightful” and “engaging” via new Facebook tools to promote community interactions — championed the Islamic extremists’ violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, including videos of suicide bombings and calls to attack rivals across the region and in the West, according to a review of social media activity between April and December. At least one of the groups contained more than 100,000 members.

In several Facebook groups, competing Sunni and Shia militia trolled each other by posting pornographic images and other obscene photos into rival groups in the hope Facebook would remove those communities.

In others, Islamic State supporters openly shared links to websites with reams of online terrorist propaganda, while pro-Taliban Facebook users posted regular updates about how the group took over Afghanistan during much of 2021”

“Facebook said it had invested heavily in artificial intelligence tools to automatically remove extremist content and hate speech in more than 50 languages. Since early 2021, the company told POLITICO it had added more Pashto and Dari speakers — the main languages spoken in Afghanistan — but declined to provide numbers of the staffing increases.

Yet the scores of Islamic State and Taliban content still on the platform show those efforts have failed to stop extremists from exploiting the platform.”

A Big, Dumb Machine

“It is common to chalk up America’s failures in Afghanistan to incompetence, ignorance, or stupidity. Yet The Afghanistan Papers, by The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock, shows an American government that, although it had no idea what it was doing when it came to building a democracy in Afghanistan, did an excellent job manipulating the public, avoiding any consequences for its failures, and protecting its bureaucratic and financial interests. The problem was a broken system, not a generalized incompetence.

In 2016, Whitlock received a tip that the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) had interviewed hundreds of participants in the war, including top American and Afghan officials, military leaders, and outside consultants. When the paper tried to get its hands on the results, SIGAR fought it every step of the way; it took a three-year legal battle to get the documents. The Post then published them on its website—along with some related items, such as memos from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—and those formed the basis of this book.

Ultimate responsibility must start on top. No matter what he told himself, President George W. Bush acted as a man who simply didn’t much care what happened to Afghanistan beyond how it influenced his political fortunes. One of Rumsfeld’s memos notes that in October 2002, Bush was asked whether he’d like to meet with Gen. Dan McNeil. The president asked who that was, and Rumsfeld answered that he was the man leading the war in Afghanistan. Bush responded that he didn’t need to see him. The president was presumably preoccupied with the Iraq war he would launch five months later. (That is, he was preoccupied with selling the war. He didn’t really think much about what the U.S. would be doing in that country either.)

The bureaucracy beneath the president comes across as a big dumb machine that was unclear about what it ultimately wanted, and whose different limbs sometimes worked at cross purposes. Many parts of that machine were extremely aware of how hopeless the mission was. As Gen. McNeil said, “There was no campaign plan. It just wasn’t there.” The British general who headed NATO forces in the country from 2006 to 2007 similarly remarked that “there was no coherent long-term strategy.” American military personnel would be sent to Afghanistan on more than one occasion over the two decades of conflict and, in Whitlock’s words, “the war made less sense each time they went back.”

To fight the Taliban, the U.S. empowered brutal warlords, who would often rape and terrorize the local populations. One of the most prominent of these, Abdul Rashid Dostum, was such a destructive force that one American diplomat offered to make him the executive producer of a movie just to get him out of the country. At the same time, the CIA was paying him $70,000 a month. Whitlock’s account includes an endless number of similar stories, in which one part of the American government was doing things that completely negated the actions of others. Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living documented this on the ground, showing how the same individual might be an ally to the CIA and an enemy to the military, and how ultimately this hurt the Afghan people more than anyone else.

As of 2006, Afghanistan had one successful industry: growing up to 90 percent of the world’s opium. Under pressure from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and members of Congress, and over the objections of the military, the Bush administration decided to start destroying those crops. This only fueled the insurgency, even as opium production increased. When the U.S. tried paying farmers not to grow opium, more had an incentive to start planting the crop—and many of them still sold the harvest on the open market anyway after taking American money. According to one official, “urging Karzai to mount an effective counternarcotics campaign was like asking an American president to halt all U.S. economic activity west of the Mississippi.””

“Each part of the American war machine had its own mission, and was going to do what it did regardless of the facts on the ground. The DEA wanted to destroy opium, the human rights bureaucracy pushed women’s rights, and the military wanted to keep the war going. Nobody was there to force these disparate parts to work towards a common goal in a way that made sense. Theoretically, the president should have done so, but the American system clearly rewards political competence more than it does the ability to build stable democracies on the other side of the world. Often extremely self-aware, American officials were not as stupid or incompetent as they were self-interested cogs in a system filled with misaligned incentives.”

“The transition from Barack Obama to Donald Trump shows how flexible the Pentagon could be to keep the war going. When working for the former law professor, the generals used more rhetoric about human rights and became experts at manipulating statistics to show how they supposedly were making people’s lives better. Under Trump, they realized that they could maintain his support for the war by talking of victory and killing bad guys. In both cases, the generals successfully resisted a president who was skeptical about their mission. The military seemed relatively indifferent to whether it was spending its time building girls’ schools or undertaking a more expansive bombing campaign, as long as it could keep the war going. Joe Biden watched the generals box in Obama, and he came into the White House determined not to be similarly manipulated.”

U.S. Drone Strikes Plunge Under Biden

“Airwars, an independent nonprofit that tracks strikes and casualties in conflict areas like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, provides regular assessments of civilian deaths. And in their latest data which spans the first year of Biden’s presidency, civilian deaths and strikes plunged in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

The differences are striking, even keeping in mind we’re comparing just one year of Biden’s presidency with four years of President Donald Trump and eight years of President Barack Obama.

During the length of Trump’s four-year presidency, Airwars documented more than 16,000 air and artillery military strikes in Iraq and Syria, which itself was a decline of more than 1,500 strikes when compared to Obama’s second term. During Biden’s first year, there have been 39 total military strikes spread between both countries.

Alleged civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria skyrocketed under Trump’s four years in office to more than 13,000 compared to 5,600 during Obama’s second term. Thus far, Airwars reports only 10 under the Biden administration. There have been no reported civilian deaths in Somalia thus far during Biden’s term, compared to 134 under Trump and 42 under Obama over both of his terms. Strikes in Yemen, which had declined each year throughout Trump’s administration, have dropped to just four this year (Airwars did not provide civilian deaths for Yemen).

This follows reporting earlier this year that Biden had quietly imposed restrictions on the use of drone strikes outside of active war zones. Trump had eased restrictions and allowed the military and CIA to decide when to strike, thus explaining the dramatic increase in strikes and civilian deaths in Somalia during his term. Biden is now requiring the White House to vet and approve these strikes, for now, until the administration sets up new formal policies (about which we know very little, but observers hope will require more procedures to ensure that civilians aren’t killed).”

Terrorwashing a Genocide

“In The War on the Uyghurs, Sean Roberts begins the arduous task of probing these and other mysteries of the first two decades of the global war on terror. In doing so, he shows how the United States’ efforts to build an international consensus for its counterterrorism projects had far-reaching consequences on the other side of the world, changing the relationship between the Chinese state and its long-oppressed Uyghur minority. He also shows how, during that same period—apart from any Western influence—the Chinese government became increasingly brazen in its oppression of Muslim and Turkic minorities, steadily curtailing freedoms of movement, assembly, and speech in Xinjiang long before the moment in 2016 when it began secretly interning hundreds of thousands of people in extrajudicial “Transformation Through Education” centers.”

“It is tempting to think of Xinjiang as a vast and arid Guantanamo Bay, one roughly as large as Alaska and as populous as Texas. Like Donald Rumsfeld’s own “world-class operation,” on a much grander (albeit largely domestic) scale, it is a hypertrophied state-within-a-state where minority residents are guilty before judgment and where the rule of law is reengineered in the name of fighting a pervasive, unbounded, and infinitely flexible terrorist threat. According to Darren Byler, another scholar of the region, China’s counterterrorism campaign in Xinjiang “rests on the assumption that most Uyghurs and significant numbers of Kazakhs are terrorists, separatists, and extremists-in-waiting.” But while Guantanamo Bay’s purpose is containment, Xin-jiang’s state of exception is intended to cure a diseased population. This philosophy is made explicit in government statements dating to the 2014 start of China’s “People’s War on Terror.” In the words of one 2015 report from Hotan City, anyone whose thinking has been “deeply affected” by “religious extremism” must be transformed through “military-style management.”

Roberts argues that this state of exception is facilitating cultural genocide. In addition to the system of extrajudicial detention that has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people—possibly more than a million—in camps, more than 300,000 residents have also received formal prison sentences in the last three years, an order of magnitude more than in previous periods. An entire generation of Uyghur academics, artists, and businesspeople has disappeared, probably into prisons; they include internationally respected anthropologists, poets, comedians, novelists, and economists. There have been many credible reports of torture, sexual violence, and forced sterilization among Xinjiang’s minority population. Children are routinely taken from detained parents and placed in state orphanages where minority language and culture are demonized. And more than a million Communist Party cadres have been sent to live temporarily with Uyghur and Kazakh families, where they perform searches of homes, lecture their hosts on the dangers of Islam, and even sleep in the same beds as their “brothers” and “sisters.” Meanwhile, birth rates have plummeted in minority areas. The end result, scholars and activists fear, will be the eradication of Uyghurs as a distinct people.”

“It’s true that small numbers of Uyghurs have sometimes pushed for political independence in their homeland, even founding two short-lived Republics of East Turkestan in the years before China’s Communist revolution. But in case after case, Roberts shows, the Chinese government has used deceptive framing, official secrecy, and the framework of the war on terror to artificially inflate the danger of Uyghur separatism in order to justify increasingly ruthless policies in Xinjiang. “Often,” he writes, “what was framed as a ‘terrorist attack’ by authorities at this time was really armed self-defense against police and security forces, which were seeking to aggressively apprehend Uyghurs they viewed as ‘disloyal’ to the state, often merely determined by their religiosity.””

“As the war on terror escalated outside of China, state-conjured threats of separatism led to harsher policies in Xin-jiang. Roberts argues that this environment created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where state tactics made spontaneous acts of rage and violence—eventually including genuine acts of terrorism, such as a coordinated knife attack in Kunming in 2014—all but inevitable, retroactively justifying the policies that caused the violence in the first place.”