The Basic Navy Runaround
There are lots of, presumably 1000’s of U.S. personnel — the military refuses to say how many — stationed within the ochre-tinted country of Qatar. Out in the searing heat of the desert, they fly fighter jets or repair them. They equip and arm troops headed to struggle. Some work in a excessive-tech command-and-control middle overseeing U.S. air operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere within the Better Center East. Yet I found myself sitting in a resort room in Doha, Qatar’s capital, about 30 miles east of al-Udeid Air Base, the main U.S. set up in the nation, unable to see, let alone discuss, to any of them.
In mid-Could, weeks earlier than my arrival in Qatar, I sent a request to the general public affairs office at the bottom to arrange a visit with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, the unit that, in accordance with the military, carries out a “critical fight mission that spans nearly 6,000 miles from the Horn of Africa to Northern Afghanistan.” Or at the least I tried to. Day or night, weekday or weekend, the web site refused to deliver my message. Lastly, I dug up an alternate e-mail deal with and despatched in my request. Days passed with no phrase, without even an acknowledgement. I adopted up yet again and finally received a reply — after which it began.
The initial response got here on May 28th from the Media Operations Chief at Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs. She advised me that I needed to contact the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing’s Public Affairs liaison, Captain Angela Webb, immediately. So I repeatedly wrote to Captain Webb. No response. On June 10th, I received an electronic mail from Susan Harrington. She was, she instructed me, “taking over” for Captain Webb. Unfortunately, she added, it was now far too close to my arrival in Qatar to arrange a go to. “Due to time constraints,” she wrote me, “I don’t suppose it is going to be possible to help this request since we are seemingly already within that 30 day window.”
Don’t suppose I was surprised. By now, I’m used to it. Whether I’m trying to figure out what the U.S. army is doing in Latin America or Africa, Afghanistan or Qatar, the response is remarkably uniform — obstruction and obfuscation, hurdles and hindrances. In short, the great old-fashioned army runaround. I had hoped to take a walk round al-Udeid Air Base, perhaps get a glimpse of the jumbotron-sized screens and rows of computer systems in its Combined Air and Area Operations Center. I wanted to learn the way the drawdown in Afghanistan was affecting life on the base.
As a substitute, I ended up sitting in the local weather-controlled comfort of my resort room, staring at a cloudless sky, typing these words behind double-paned glass that shielded me from the 106 diploma heat exterior. For my trouble, on my return to the United States, I was detained at Kennedy Airport in New York by agents of the Department of Homeland Safety. Their query for me: Was I planning to struggle against U.S. forces in Afghanistan
Base Wishes in Africa
If you’re an American citizen, you’re really not purported to learn about operations at al-Udeid Air Base. The men and women there in your dime can’t even “mention the bottom identify or host nation name in any unsecured communications.” Instead, they’re instructed to say that they are at an “undisclosed location in Southwest Asia” instead of “the Deid,” as they call it.
It isn’t the one base that the Pentagon wants to maintain in the shadows. You’re also not speculated to know what number of bases the U.S. navy currently has in Africa. I learned that the hard means. As a start, let me say that, formally speaking, there is barely a single U.S. facility on all the continent that the army formally calls a “base”: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a tiny nation in the Horn of Africa. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is adamant about this and takes nice pains to emphasize it. Internally, nonetheless, they do admit that they even have forward working sites (aka “enduring locations”), contingency security areas (which troops marvel hawkeye sweatshirt 40 periodically rotate in and out of), and contingency places (which are used solely during ongoing operations). But don’t try to get an official record of these or perhaps a simple count — except you’re ready for the old-fashioned runaround.
In Might 2012, I made the error of requesting an inventory of all services utilized by the U.S. army in Africa broken down by nation. Nicole Dalrymple of AFRICOM’s Public Affairs Workplace advised me the command would look into it and would be in contact. I never heard from her again. In June, Pat Barnes, AFRICOM’s Public Affairs liaison on the Pentagon, shot down my request, admitting only that the U.S. navy had a “a small and momentary presence of personnel” at “several locations in Africa.” Attributable to “force protection” issues, he assured me, he couldn’t inform me “where our of us are located and what amenities they use.”
That July, with sparing help from AFRICOM, I revealed an article on “Secret Wars, Secret Bases, and the Pentagon’s ‘New Spice Route’ in Africa,” in which I attempted to shed gentle on a rising U.S. military presence on that continent. This included a beforehand ignored logistics community set as much as service U.S. army operations, with vital nodes in Manda Bay, Garissa, and Mombasa in Kenya; Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda; Bangui and Djema within the Central African Republic; Nzara in South Sudan; and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia. I also drew attention to posts, airports, and other amenities used by Americans in Arba Minch in Ethiopia, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, and the Seychelles Islands within the Indian Ocean.
U.S. Africa Command took great exception to this. Colonel Tom Davis, their director of public affairs, wrote a detailed, irritated response. I replied to him and once the mud had settled, I requested him for, among different info, a full listing of what he known as “temporary facilities” as well as all other outposts, camps, warehouses, provide depots, and anything else that is likely to be utilized by U.S. personnel in Africa. He ignored my request. I adopted up. 4 days later, AFRICOM spokesman Eric Elliott emailed to say Colonel Davis was on depart, but added, “Let me see what I can offer you in response to your request for a whole checklist of amenities. There will [be] some limits on the small print we are able to provide due to the scope of the request.”
Had been there ever!
That was August 2012. For months, I heard nothing. Not an apology for the wait, not a request for extra time. A observe-up in late October was ignored. A observe in early November was finally answered by still another AFRICOM spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Dave Hecht, who stated he was now on the case and would get again to me with an update by the tip of the week. You won’t be shocked to be taught that the weekend got here and went with no word. I sent another observe up. On November 16th, Hecht lastly responded: “All questions now have answers. I simply need the boss to evaluate earlier than I can launch. I hope to have them to you by mid subsequent week.”
Take a guess what occurred subsequent. Nada. Further emails went unanswered. It marvel hawkeye sweatshirt 40 was December earlier than Hecht replied: “All questions have been answered but are still being reviewed for launch. Hopefully this week I can send every part your method.”
In January 2013, solutions to some other questions of mine lastly arrived, but nothing on my request for data on U.S. bases. By now, Hecht, too, had disappeared and I used to be passed off to AFRICOM’s chief of media engagement, Benjamin Benson. After i requested in regards to the ignored questions, he responded that my request “exceed[ed] the scope of this command’s activities, and of what we’re resourced to research and supply underneath the general public Affairs program.” I should as a substitute file a request beneath the liberty of information Act (FOIA). In other phrases, I ought to begin what was assured to be one other endlessly drawn-out course of.
I used to be, shall we say, irritated. In some way, it had taken six months to get me nothing and send me elsewhere — and one way or the other neither Colonel Davis, nor Eric Elliott, nor Dave Hecht had realized this. I stated as a lot to Benson. He wrote back: “Lastly, you state, ‘I’ve been led astray for the higher part of a year and intend to write about it’, which of course is your proper to do in our free society. We anticipate that as knowledgeable, you convey the proper details, and ask that you simply observe that we did analysis, and supply answers to the questions you posed.”
Well, here you go, Ben. Duly noted. However of course, the “correct facts” are that neither Benson nor anybody else at AFRICOM ever offered solutions to the crucial basing questions I posed. And Benson continues not to offer them to this very day.
After we final spoke by telephone, a number of weeks in the past, I reiterated that I understood he couldn’t supply me a list of the areas of American bases in Africa as a result of “security of operations,” so all I now needed was a simple depend of services in Africa. “That’s difficult. Now we have teams coming in and out of Africa to completely different locations on a regular basis,” he replied. “Places that they is perhaps, the range of potential locations can get actually huge, but can provide a very skewed image of the place we are… versus different places the place we now have ongoing operations. So, when it comes to providing quantity, I’d be at a loss of how you can quantify this.”
It appeared straightforward enough to me: just rely them and embody the mandatory disclaimers. So I asked if AFRICOM stored a depend of the place its troops were located. They did. So what was the problem He launched right into a monologue about the problem of ascertaining just what really constituted “a location” and then instructed me: “We don’t have a means that we actually depend locations.”
It couldn’t have been clearer by then. They had a depend of all places, but couldn’t depend them. They had lists of where all U.S. troops in Africa have been based, however not an inventory of bases. It was a traditional runaround in motion.
The primary Casualty
And don’t think that was the worst of it. The most dismissive response I’ve gotten recently from anyone whose wage we pay to keep us (nominally) knowledgeable about the U.S. army came from Marco Villalobos, the FOIA supervisor of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), accountable for Central America and South America.
Final year, stories surfaced of civilians killed during operations carried out or overseen by U.S. personnel in Honduras. In at least one instance, the Honduran Air Power shot down a civilian plane thanks in part, it seems, to intelligence provided by SOUTHCOM. Because the U.S. military is closely concerned in operations throughout Latin America, I requested data relating to civilian casualties ensuing from all operations in the area.
That was in July 2012. In February 2013, I bought a peculiar response from Villalobos, one I’ve by no means seen in any other case in lots of of replies to FOIA requests that I’ve ever acquired from various authorities companies. He didn’t say there were no such records. He didn’t inform me that I had contacted the flawed agency or bureau. As a substitute, he directed me to the United Nations Statistics Division for the related information.
The trouble is, the U.N. Statistics Division (UNSD) doesn’t collate U.S. army data nor is it dedicated to tracking civilian casualties. As a substitute it provides breakdowns of big datasets, like the Food and Agriculture Organization’s figures on what number of hectares of apricots were harvested in Afghanistan in 2007 (three,four hundred) or the prevalence charge of contraceptive use for girls ages 15 to forty nine in Uganda in 2005 (19.7%).
I was shocked to say the least. And i wasn’t alone. Once i checked in with the U.N.the Statistics Division wrote back: “could you please forward us the e-mail you obtained from SOUTHCOM wherein they suggest UNSD as a supply, so we can contact them in the event that they continue to give our deal with out in response to such inquiries which don’t pertain to our work.”
So I referred to as Villalobos to complain. It wasn’t his fault, he quickly assured me. The choice had been made, he claimed, by the director of personnel. I asked for his identify, but Villalobos refused to give it: “He’s not a public person.”
That’s the nature of the runaround. Months later, you find yourself back in the identical informational cul-de-sac. And in the case of the U.S. army, it occurs again and many times. I had a similar experience attempting to embed with U.S. units in Afghanistan. I used to be rebuffed repeatedly for reasons that seemed spurious to me. As a result, however, a by no means-used Afghan visa for that journey sits unstamped in my passport — which brings me again to my recent trip to Qatar.
The American Taliban
In the airport upon returning to the United States, I was singled out by a Customs and Border Safety (CBP) agent. He directed me to a “girl” at a far counter. When i obtained there, I was admonished by her for being in the mistaken place. Lastly, I was sent to see a 3rd CBP officer at a different workstation. Think of it as the runaround earlier than the runaround.
This agent proceeded to query me in regards to the contents of my bag, pulled out my papers and started studying them. She additionally wished to find out about my profession. I said I used to be a writer. What did I write about Nationwide security issues, I advised her. She asked what I considered nationwide security and the role of the U.S. army on this planet. In my estimation, I said, it tended to lead to unforeseen penalties. “Like what ” she asked. So I described my most latest article on blowback from U.S. army efforts in Africa.
Did I write books
“I do,” I replied.
“What are the titles ”
“The newest one is called Kill Something That Moves.”
“Kill what ”
“Kill Anything That Strikes.”
She turned to her laptop, promptly Googled the ebook, went to the Amazon web page, and started scrolling through the shopper critiques. She requested if my e book was, because the page mentioned, a new York Occasions bestseller. I assured her it was. After a brief while, she told me to remain put and disappeared into a again room with my private papers — writings, notes, studying supplies. When she returned, she instructed me that she couldn’t conduct the remainder of my “examination” in public. She must bring me “back.” I asked if there was a problem. No. Might I have my papers back The reply was again no.
I was quickly deposited in “Area 23” of new York’s John F. Kennedy Worldwide Airport and I used to be definitely the odd one out. Not that there weren’t loads of other individuals there. The Muslim man in the taqiyah. Three ladies in head scarves. One other wearing a niqab. Everyone’s pores and skin colour was at the least a number of shades darker than mine.
I waited for some time, taking notes, earlier than my identify was known as by an Officer Mott. The badge on his shirt made that clear, however he spelled it out for me anyway. “It looks as if you’re taking notes on all the pieces, so I would as well get that out of the way in which,” Mott stated visibly perturbed, especially after i requested for his full identify. “I’m not giving you my first name,” he stated with palpable disgust.
Like the earlier CBP agent, he also requested about my writing pursuits. I advised him it principally centered on U.S. international policy.
“Are you for or in opposition to it ”
“Am I for overseas policy ” I asked.
“Well, I’m reading that your last guide is Kill Something That Strikes. That was about what ”
“The Vietnam Conflict.”
“What in regards to the Vietnam Struggle ”
“Sensitive matter,” he said.
“Especially for the Vietnamese,” I replied.
“Well, in this day and age with the whole struggle going on, that’s a sensitive issue you’re writing about… Do you get any heat or problems writing about war and civilian casualties ”
“It comes with the territory,” I told him.
As he typed away at his computer, I requested why I used to be singled out. “I assume as a result of some of the fabric you might have is of interest… What you’re writing, touring with.” I requested how they might know what was in my bag earlier than I was detained. “Why the officer stopped you is beyond me, however what the officer found is something of curiosity, particularly for nationwide security… It’s not daily you see somebody touring with information like this.”
It was most likely marvel hawkeye sweatshirt 40 true. The contents of my bag had been splayed out earlier than us. Essentially the most prominent and substantive doc was “Qatar: Background and U.S. Relations,” a report ready last 12 months by the U.S. Congressional Research Service.
Agent Mott rifled by means of my papers, tapped at his keyboard some extra, breathed in deeply after which launched into a collection of questions designed to ensure, he informed me, that nothing “jeopardizes our nationwide security.”
“How long have you ever been writing about wars and issues like that ”
“About 10 years.”
He did a double take, checked out my passport, and typed feverishly. “I thought you have been younger,” he instructed me. I took it as a praise. He wanted to know if I’d traveled wherever in the final 5 years as he flipped by my passport, stuffed as it’s with visas and entry and exit stamps from all over the world. The answer was obviously sure. “Pakistan Afghanistan ” he requested.
Immediately, I considered the unused Afghan visa in my passport and began to clarify. After instructing me to get a visa, the U.S. military had strung me along for months before deciding I couldn’t embed with sure units I requested, I advised him.
“Doing journalistic stuff, not combating with them or something like that ”
Combating Was I actually being accused of heading to Afghanistan to affix the Taliban Or possibly plotting to launch an insider assault Was I really being questioned about this on the idea of getting an Afghan visa and writing about nationwide security issues “Nope. I’m a author,” I told him. “I cover the U.S. army, so I used to be going to cover the U.S. navy.”
Agent Mott seemed glad sufficient. He finished his questions and despatched me on my approach.
The subsequent morning, I checked my e-mail, and found a message ready for me. It was from the Media Embed Chief in Afghanistan. “You are receiving this electronic mail because up to now you may have been an embed with ISAF [International Safety Force in Afghanistan] or requested an embed,” it read. “Your opinion and satisfaction are vital to us.”
“You can’t make this shit up,” an outdated editor of mine was fond of saying when reality — because it so often does — proves stranger than fiction. This sequence of occasions actually qualified. I may hardly imagine my eyes, but there it was: a hyperlink to a questionnaire about how effectively served I was by my (nonexistent) 2012 embed in Afghanistan. Query quantity six asked: “During your embed(s) did you get the knowledge and stories you require If no please state why.”
Let me depend the ways.
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow on the Nation Institute. An award-successful journalist, his work has appeared within the Los Angeles Instances, the Nation, and recurrently at TomDispatch. He is the writer most just lately of the new York Times bestseller Kill Anything that Moves: The true American War in Vietnam. You can catch his conversation with Invoice Moyers about that e-book by clicking here. His web site is NickTurse.com. You can observe him on Tumblr and on Facebook.
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