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Russia ready to shoot down US aircraft and missiles in Syria. The US military knows it.

Russia has repeatedly warned it will shoot down US aircraft and missiles in Syria if its troops are threatened. The US has always heeded these warnings.

Alexander Mercouris

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There has been some discussion, especial on social media, as to whether or not Russia might shoot down US aircraft or missiles attacking Syria, and of the circumstances in which that might happen.

There have even been some suggestions that there are no circumstances where the Russians would ever shoot down US aircraft or missiles in Syria, and that the whole Russian military position in Syria is limited to fighting Jihadi terrorists and with respect to the US is essentially a bluff.

This is certainly wrong and is contradicted by the Russians’ own statements and by the actions they have taken.  Since this is a vitally important point, I have decided to discuss it in some detail.

Firstly, it is necessary to go back to the summer of 2015, when the Russians decided to intervene militarily in Syria.

At that point the military situation in Syria was in deep crisis.  With Saudi and Turkish support Al-Qaeda had brought together a coalition of Jihadi groups under the umbrella title of the ‘Army of Conquest’, which stormed the province of Idlib, capturing the provincial capital and threatening Aleppo, which by the late summer was completely surrounded and was about to fall.  Simultaneously ISIS, which had declared its Caliphate the previous year, captured Palmyra and brought all the eastern territories of Syria previously captured by the Jihadis under its control.

The greatest threat to the Syrian state came however from a plan – widely and openly discussed in the Western media and agreed by the US and Turkey – for the US to declare a no-fly zone over Syria whilst the Turkish army established ‘safe havens’ supposedly to protect civilians in Syria, but in reality intended as a cover for an armed invasion of the country.  As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, in Western parlance ‘no-fly zone’ means today unrestricted bombing campaign, and that is undoubtedly what in the summer of 2015 was being planned.  Subsequent events shows that it together with the Turkish invasion was planned to start sometime in September 2015.

The Russians were informed of these plans and were told that unless they arranged a ‘political transition’ (ie. the removal from power of President Assad) the Syrian government would soon collapse as a result of the Jihadi offensives, the incursions by the Turkish army and the US bombing campaign, and that ISIS would be in control of Damascus by October.  This was confirmed by Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to Britain, in an article published in the British media written in February 2016

Last summer we were told by our Western partners that in October Damascus would fall to IS (ie. the Islamic State – AM).

What they were planning to do next we don’t know.  Probably, they would have ended up painting the extremists white and accepting them as a Sunni state straddling Iraq and Syria.

Yakovenko’s claim received unexpected but conclusive corroboration when Wikileaks published secret recordings of comments US Secretary of State John Kerry made to a group of Syrian opposition leaders at the UN General Assembly last year.  During those comments – which have received startlingly little attention – Kerry frankly admitted that the US had not been fighting ISIS in Syria before the Russians intervened there because it was using ISIS to scare President Assad into stepping down.  Here is what Kerry said

And we know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that DAESH [the IS] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened.  (We) thought, however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.  I lost the argument for use of force in Syria.

The entirety of Kerry’s highly revealing comments can be heard here.

As Kerry admitted, the ploy failed because rather than allow the US to put its plans into effect and risk the fall of Damascus to ISIS Russia unexpectedly chose to intervene militarily in Syria.  The Russian action was intended to forestall and defeat the US plan, which it succeeding in doing.  In October 2015 the Financial Times admitted that the Russian deployment had scuppered US plans to declare a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria.

Implicit in all of this is of course the implicit threat of military action by the Russians in the event that the US were to attempt to carry out its plan despite the Russian military presence in Syria.  The point is that though the Russians took on no legal obligation to defend Syria from US attack when they deployed there, there was no doubt even then that they would defend themselves in Syria if threatened or attacked, which is what imposing a ‘no fly zone’ would have required.  The US was not willing to take on the enormous risks of doing it, and this made the whole ‘no fly zone’ plan effectively impossible.

This became even clearer in November 2015 after the Turkish air force shot down a Russian SU-24 fighter bomber in Syria.  The Russians responded by deploying the S-400 surface to air missile system to Syria.  The purpose of that deployment was to defend Russia’s military forces from air attack – whether by Turkey or anyone else – with no conceivable reason to deploy such a system to Syria for any other purpose.

The US military fully understood this, which is why in September 2016, when talk of the US declaring a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria re-started in the West in connection with the attack on the humanitarian convoy earlier that month and the fighting in Aleppo, General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Congressional testimony, said this would require the US to take control of Syrian air space, which would risk war with Russia

Right now… for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia

General Dunford’s full comments can be heard here.

The talk of the US imposing a ‘no fly zone’ and thereby intervening in the fighting in Aleppo, together with the US air raid on Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor in September 2016, provoked the Russians in October to deploy the S-300VM Antey-2500 surface to air missile system to Syria to supplement the S-400 system already deployed there.  The S-300VM Antey 2500 system is specifically designed to shoot down cruise missiles as well as aircraft.

The Russians also publicly declared that they would defend their troops in Syria if they were attacked, and warned the US of the capability of their air defence system in Syria.  This is what General Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman of the Russian Defence Ministry, said

Most officers of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties currently work ‘on the ground,’ delivering humanitarian aid and conducting negotiations with heads of settlements and armed groups in most Syrian provinces. 

That is why any missile or air strikes on the territory under control of the Syrian government, will create an obvious threat for Russian military.

And finally, I draw attention of ‘hotheads’ that after a strike on Syrian troops in Deir ez-Sor by planes of the coalition on September 17, we have taken all necessary measures to rule out any such ‘mistakes’ against Russian military and military facilities in Syria (NB: this clearly refers to the deployment of the S-300VM Antey-2500 systems to Syria – AM).

The crews on duty will hardly have the time to calculate the missile’s flight path or try to find out their nationality. As for the laymen’s illusions about the existence of ‘invisible planes’ they may confront a disappointing reality.

These missile deployments and warnings from the Russians caused the US a week later to back down and declare publicly that they had no plans to intervene militarily in Syria.  Subsequently, a few weeks later, James Clapper, President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, confirmed in Congressional testimony the capability of the Russian air defence system and Russia’s readiness to use it if its personnel were threatened

I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft if they felt that was threatening to their forces on the ground.  The system they have there is very advanced, very capable and I don’t think they’d do it – deploy it – if they didn’t have some intention to use it

Simultaneously articles began to appear in the media obviously sourced from the US military that spoke of the US military’s apprehensions about the capability of the Russian air defence system and of the irresponsibility of calls by certain politicians and journalists to challenge it.

Thus an article appeared in The Washington Post which said the following

While there is some disagreement among military experts as to the capability of the Russian systems, particularly the newly deployed S-300, “the reality is, we’re very concerned anytime those are emplaced,” a U.S. Defense official said. Neither its touted ability to counter U.S. stealth technology, or to target low-flying aircraft, has ever been tested by the United States.  “It’s not like we’ve had any shoot at an F-35,” the official said of the next-generation U.S. fighter jet. “We’re not sure if any of our aircraft can defeat the S-300

Whilst an article appeared in the Guardian sourced from retired US military officials saying the following about Hillary Clinton’s talk of declaring a ‘no fly zone’

Retired senior US military pilots are increasingly alarmed that Hillary Clinton’s proposal for “no-fly zones” in Syria could lead to a military confrontation with Russia that could escalate to levels that were previously unthinkable in the post-cold war world.

The proposal of no-fly zones has been fiercely debated in Washington for the past five years, but has never attracted significant enthusiasm from the military because of the risk to pilots from Syrian air defenses and the presence of Russian warplanes.

Many in US national security circles consider the risk of an aerial confrontation with the Russians to be severe….

…..the most distinguishing feature of a Syria no-fly zone in 2017 would be the aerial presence of another great-power air force with an objective which is diametrically opposed to Washington’s.

Russia and the US currently share the skies above Syria and maintain a military-to-military communication channel to avoid confrontation.

But since they operate over different parts of the country and with different objectives – the US in the east against the Islamic State, Russia to the west against Assad’s opposition – a US-imposed no-fly zone would put their objectives into conflict. No one knows how either side would respond if Russian aircraft violated a US air cordon, nor how to de-escalate a clash before it spiralled into extended combat.

In recent days, in connection with the US missile strike on Syria’s Sharyat air base, the Russians have again reiterated their warnings about the capabilities of their air defence system in Syria and of their willingness to use it defend their troops there.

Thus five days ago, on 8th April 2017 – the day after the US missile strike – Lieutenant General Viktor Gumenny, Russian Air Defence and Missile Defence Troops commander and Aerospace Forces deputy commander, went on the radio station Ekho Mosvky to say the following

We have set up a group of forces in Syria over the past two years in line with the decision of the supreme commander-in-chief and the defence minister. Our bases in Khmeimim are protected today. Navy facilities in Tartus are protected. In such a way, we ensured our Aerospace Forces’ activities in terms of aircraft use

The Russians have made their position completely clear, and they have been doing so since the start of their intervention in Syria in September 2015.  Whilst they have taken on no legal obligations to defend Syria from external attack, they have repeatedly said they will defend themselves if they are themselves attacked or threatened in Syria, and they have also said they have the capability to do it.

The US for its part has repeatedly said it understands and accepts this.

Given that the US – as General Dunford has admitted – cannot intervene militarily to overthrow the Syrian government by for example declaring a ‘no fly zone’ over the whole of Syria without risking military confrontation with Russia, in any half-ways rational world that in effect rules the entirety of that option out.

This is why the US was so careful to inform Russia in advance of the missile strike on Sharyat air base, why the US has gone to such lengths since the missile strike to say that it is not planning a wider intervention in Syria to overthrow President Assad’s government, and why the US has been obliged to scale back its air operations in Syria since the Russians switched off the deconfliction hotline between their military in Syria and that of the US.

I have laboured these points because there seems to be some doubt about the extent of Russian willingness to shoot down US aircraft and missiles in Syria.  This is strange because the Russians have issued repeated warnings that they are prepared to do it, and that they will do it if they decide their personnel in Syria are being threatened, whilst the US for its part has gone out of its way to say that it has heeded these warnings and has adjusted its strategy in Syria in response to them.

Everything I have just said is a matter of fact and of public record.  It has been confirmed in public statements by members of both the Russian and US militaries.  It has also been confirmed by their actions. To refuse to recognise it is an exercise in denial.

None of this is to say that the situation has not become much more dangerous since the missile strike.

The point is that both the Jihadis in Syria and the regime change hardliners in Washington and elsewhere have now been emboldened, and an inexperienced US President obsessed with demonstrating his ‘toughness’ has shown that he can be easily pressured and manipulated by them.  The seeds for further escalation are now there, and unfortunately one can no longer be confident it will not happen.

However it is a fundamental error to think that if a truly major escalation – one going far beyond an isolated and ineffectual missile strike on a single Syrian air base – is threatened, the Russians will simply sit back and let it happen.  On the contrary they have clearly signalled that they won’t, and the US military has repeatedly made clear that it recognises the fact.  The Russian decision to switch off the deconfliction hotline is intended as a reminder to the US of this reality, and the scaling down by the US military of US air operations in Syria is intended at least in part as an acknowledgement of this signal.

General McMaster’s public comments show that he fully understands the situation, and that in his role as the President’s National Security Adviser he is explaining it to the President, and the President’s public comments show that for the moment he is listening to General McMaster’s and the US military’s advice.

The big unanswered question is whether the President – if he is goaded again – will continue to listen to the advice of General McMaster and of his other military chiefs, and what they – McMaster, Mattis and Dunford – will do if one day he does not.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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Claims of Khashoggi death by fistfight expose Saudi brutality

The brutality of both state claims and unproven allegations in Khashoggi’s death raise serious questions about American alliances.

Seraphim Hanisch

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On October 2, 2018, Muslim Brotherhood member and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, never to be seen or heard from again.

This chilling report has been answered with some horrifying and grisly stories about what happened – that he was dismembered while still alive, that his body parts were dissolved completely in acid, leaving nothing left.

Now after two weeks, the Saudi official word on what happened came out: He died in an unexpected fistfight in the embassy.

Really. That is the Saudi’s explanation. A fistfight. In an embassy. With 18 people detained as suspects in the investigation.

And apparently the Saudi government expects the world to accept this explanation and just let it go.

This situation has just exposed the true nature of this “ally” of the United States. Even Rush Limbaugh, a staunch supporter of all conservative positions in America, has spoken from time to time about the amazing disconnect in American foreign policy with regards to Saudi Arabia. He continued that on his radio programs on both October 18th and 19th, 2018, as shown in this excerpted transcript, with emphasis added:

I’m simplifying this, folks, but generally that’s what happens. So, by the same token, you could say that this militant terrorist Islam that we’ve known since 9/11 and maybe 10, 15 years prior, that has been sponsored by Saudi Arabia, by the Saudi royal family. It’s why so many people have been upset with so many American presidents being buddy-buddy with the king, whoever he happens to be. The Saudis always fund former presidents’ libraries. I mean, the Saudis had a good thing going. They had relationships with every president, former president and so forth.

And while they were selling us oil, sometimes. Cooperative or uncooperative, depending on the time, with price. But during all of that, they were the primary thrust for Wahhabi Islam. Now, here comes MbS (Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia), and he wants to just reform the hell out of the country, get rid of Wahhabism, bring in petrodollars competitors such as Hollywood and Silicon Valley and basically bring Saudi Arabia into the twenty-first century instead of the seventh. And there’s some people that don’t want that to happen.

And from the 19th:

Wahhabi Islam is where the really radical clerics and Imams are who are welcoming anybody they can into their mosques and just literally converting them into suicide bombers, terrorists, and what have you, under the auspices of Islam. And the Saudi royal family stood by and let it all happen. Whether they were instrumental in advocating it, don’t know, but Saudi-funded charities all over the world promoted Wahhabism.

And that’s when I went back to Mr. Buckley and said, “I don’t see how the Saudi royal family, the Saudi government can be separated from these 19 hijackers.”

Now in the rest of these transcripts, which are very interesting, Rush explains that Khashoggi was a Muslim Brotherhood member, and as such, stood opposed to MbS’ reform plans and actions. However the brutality of the alleged murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the official “State version” account of his death are almost equally brutal. Death by fists? How is it that the United States considers such people allies?

President Trump is on record as saying that this explanation by the Saudi government is “credible.” However, this statement alone is out of context, so we bring you the entire statement:

This is not to be misunderstood as a Trump endorsement of belief. He points out that this is a first step, and that in his view it is a good one, but that is all.

Still, these events throw the real nature of the Saudi kingdom into sharp relief. They are the number one customer for US military equipment, now considered allies against Iran. In the complicated field of Middle East relations, the president’s caution is probably very wise for the moment. However, this is a nation which produced most of the 9/11 hijackers, which is said to be the last voice in what Islam is, and so promotes a very violent interpretation of an already violent faith.

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The news and information media got a great lesson in following something like “due process” with this matter, and while the President is doing that, this situation still invites some strong speculation. Allies that simultaneously seek an allied nation’s destruction do not seem like allies much at all. And embassies are usually held to be very safe places for people, not places where they meet their death in any way at all, let alone the cruel means alleged and later claimed.

This event may actually be very damaging to the Saudi Crown Prince’s effort to bring his nation out of Wahhabism and into some more kind interpretation of Islam, and indeed the West’s assessment of Khashoggi has taken to calling him a “teddy bear” when he is a Muslim Brotherhood member. Former US President Obama supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and these people were so violent, killing Christians and destroying homes and businesses, that the Muslim Brotherhood’s uprising was followed by a second uprising from the more reasonable people in Egypt (which Obama promptly dropped).

If reports are to be believed, Mohammed bin Salman wants to end Wahhabism. It would seem to logically make sense that his agencies were involved in what happened to Kashoggi, who is a known critic of bin Salman. But if it really is true that the Saudi royals were not involved, then whoever it was certainly succeeded in stopping bin Salman’s efforts to modernize his country, at least for now.

 

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The future of war: UAE hires U.S. mercenaries to assassinate political leaders (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 137.

Alex Christoforou

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An investigation by BuzzFeed News has revealed that Middle East Monarchy, United Arab Emirates, hired U.S. mercenaries to assassinate political leaders and religious clerical leaders in war torn Yemen.

The U.S. ex-military, elite soldiers were paid by to kill those designated as “terrorists” by the UAE.

The UAE worked with the U.S. based mercenary-for-hire Spear Operations Group, founded by Israeli-American Abraham Golan, who told BuzzFeed News…

“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen. I was running it.”

Spear Operations Group’s first target in Yemen was Anssaf Ali Mayo, the local leader of the Islamist political party Al-Islah, a party whose members include Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkul Karman.

Is this the future of war?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the stunning Buzzfeed News article that exposes the dangerous and dark assassination strategy of the United Arab Emirates, hiring American ex-soldiers to target and kill political enemies.

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Follow The Duran Audio Podcast on Soundcloud.

Authored by Aram Roston via BuzzFeed News…


The operation against Mayo — which was reported at the time but until now was not known to have been carried out by American mercenaries — marked a pivot point in the war in Yemen, a brutal conflict that has seen children starved, villages bombed, and epidemics of cholera roll through the civilian population. The bombing was the first salvo in a string of unsolved assassinations that killed more than two dozen of the group’s leaders.

The company that hired the soldiers and carried out the attack is Spear Operations Group, incorporated in Delaware and founded by Abraham Golan, a charismatic Hungarian Israeli security contractor who lives outside of Pittsburgh. He led the team’s strike against Mayo.

“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”

The UAE and Saudi Arabia lead an alliance of nine countries in Yemen, fighting what is largely a proxy war against Iran. The US is helping the Saudi-UAE side by providing weapons, intelligence, and other support.

The press office of the UAE’s US Embassy, as well as its US public affairs company, Harbour Group, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails.

The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE. (The Saudi Embassy in the US did not respond to a request for comment. Riyadh has denied it killed Khashoggi, though news reports suggest it is considering blaming his death on a botched interrogation.)

Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”

Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:

  • Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.
  • War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.
  • The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work.

With Spear Operations Group’s mission in Yemen, these trends converged into a new and incendiary business: militarized contract killing, carried out by skilled American fighters.

Experts said it is almost inconceivable that the United States would not have known that the UAE — whose military the US has trained and armed at virtually every level — had hired an American company staffed by American veterans to conduct an assassination program in a war it closely monitors.

One of the mercenaries, according to three sources familiar with the operation, used to work with the CIA’s “ground branch,” the agency’s equivalent of the military’s special forces. Another was a special forces sergeant in the Maryland Army National Guard. And yet another, according to four people who knew him, was still in the Navy Reserve as a SEAL and had a top-secret clearance. He was a veteran of SEAL Team 6, or DEVGRU, the sources told BuzzFeed News. The New York Times once described that elite unit, famous for killing Osama bin Laden, as a “global manhunting machine with limited outside oversight.”

The CIA said it had no information about the mercenary assassination program, and the Navy’s Special Warfare Command declined to comment. A former CIA official who has worked in the UAE initially told BuzzFeed News there was no way that Americans would be allowed to participate in such a program. But after checking, he called back: “There were guys that were basically doing what you said.” He was astonished, he said, by what he learned: “What vetting procedures are there to make sure the guy you just smoked is really a bad guy?” The mercenaries, he said, were “almost like a murder squad.”

Whether Spear’s mercenary operation violates US law is surprisingly unclear. On the one hand, US law makes it illegal to “conspire to kill, kidnap, maim” someone in another country. Companies that provide military services to foreign nations are supposed to be regulated by the State Department, which says it has never granted any company the authority to supply combat troops or mercenaries to another country.

Yet, as BuzzFeed News has previously reported, the US doesn’t ban mercenaries. And with some exceptions, it is perfectly legal to serve in foreign militaries, whether one is motivated by idealism or money. With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria. Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover.

Despite operating in a legal and political gray zone, Golan heralds his brand of targeted assassinations as a precision counterterrorism strategy with fewer civilian casualties. But the Mayo operation shows that this new form of warfare carries many of the same old problems. The commandos’ plans went awry, and the intelligence proved flawed. And their strike was far from surgical: The explosive they attached to the door was designed to kill not one person but everyone in the office.

Aside from moral objections, for-profit targeted assassinations add new dilemmas to modern warfare. Private mercenaries operate outside the US military’s chain of command, so if they make mistakes or commit war crimes, there is no clear system for holding them accountable. If the mercenaries had killed a civilian in the street, who would have even investigated?

The Mayo mission exposes an even more central problem: the choice of targets. Golan insists that he killed only terrorists identified by the government of the UAE, an ally of the US. But who is a terrorist and who is a politician? What is a new form of warfare and what is just old-fashioned murder for hire? Who has the right to choose who lives and who dies — not only in the wars of a secretive monarchy like the UAE, but also those of a democracy such as the US?

BuzzFeed News has pieced together the inside story of the company’s attack on Al-Islah’s headquarters, revealing what mercenary warfare looks like now — and what it could become.

Full Story at BuzzFeed News…

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