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September 24, 2014

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"The U.S. continually bombing in this area of the world is now the regular state of affairs, and has essentially always been the case for today's high school seniors - kindergartners on September 11, 2001."

We were doing a bit of bombing of Iraq during the 90's (aside from the Gulf War, when we did a lot of bombing.)

Just to touch on the extra bombs we lobbed for the Khorasan group:

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/terrorism-security/2014/0923/US-widens-bombing-campaign-to-IS-strongholds-in-Syria-video

Anybody else struck by the use of the word 'imminent' to describe the justification of attacks against the Khorasan group?

I pulled this from an old discussion of the OLC memo justifying targeted killings:

"Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, the condition that an operational leader present an "imminent" threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future. "

I think its accurate but don't have a chance to pull up the actually memo at the moment.

The legality of this entire thing seems grab-bag to me. Arguably, the Khorasan group is covered by the AUMF (at least more so than ISIS is).

So far, we seem to be on course for two major mistakes:

First, while we have gotten some of the local countries (who are actually far more seriously threatened by ISIS than we ever will be) to join in, we have not insisted on them doing the heavy lifting. If we had merely provided some air support for their substantial efforts, it would have made far more sense.

Second, we have failed to insist that the Congress formally vote to approve what we are doing here. And that applies whether we are doing as we apparently are, or as I think (above) we ought to be.

Regardless of whether the administration's position regarding previous authorization is valid (and I have severe doubts), it is a dereliction of their job for the Congress not to act. Or refuse to act, as the case may be. And of the President's duty to ask them to do so.

Not to mention being a political stupidity on the part of the administration. Why leave the opposition in a position to claim glory for (strictly verbal) support if things work, while being free to say "I never supported this" if (more likely when) something goes wrong?

This all comes down to whether you view it as moral to swap the lives of a couple of hundred innocent US citizens for the lives of a couple of thousand innocent non-US citizens. If we don't do counter-terrorism, eventually we'll be on the receiving end of some successful attacks. If we do do counter-terrorism, there's a cost to be paid.

Here are some things to consider:

1) Precision bombing, from either manned or unmanned platforms, is the cheapest way we have to perform counter-terrorism. The cost in American lives is effectively zero. The cost in innocent foreign lives is low but non-trivial. And the dollar cost is a lot less than the alternatives. (If you assume you kill an average of five bad guys per manned airstrike and a five hour mission, considering the cost per flying hour and the cost of a precision-guided munition, I back-of-napkined it out to about $100K per terrorist. The cost for a drone is somewhat lower, and likely to drop quite a bit as the technology improves.)

2) Bombing seems to be effective for counter-terror. As has endlessly been pointed out in the last two months, bombing can't hold territory, but we don't really care if we hold territory. I was a supporter of trying the Bush Doctrine, but we seem to have adequately answered the question, "Can we promote liberal democracies to crowd out terrorists?" with a resounding "no". Bombing makes your enemy spend most of his time hiding from you and not communicating, which makes it difficult to plan attacks thousands of miles away from where you're hiding.

3) The people we're bombing already hate us. Yes, when we bomb the bad guys, more bad guys take their place. But those bad guys have to learn the ropes, and then they have to hide, just like the guys that failed to hide previously.

4) The cost of being struck by a large terrorist attack, even in foreign lives, is huge. A big successful attack requires a much, much bigger retaliation. You can argue that that retaliation is silly, but I don't see an alternate political reality. We're bombing Syria because two guys who understood the risks they were taking got their heads chopped off. Imagine what would happen if 300 people got blown up in a mall in Cleveland.

All things considered, bombing seems to be the least bad option. If we can get these states and their neighbors to self-police, that would be lovely. Until that unlikely event transpires, this is what we've got.

ISIS was part of al-Q for many years. their goals, targets and ideology are identical to al-Q's. they killed people all over the ME (and anybody else they could find) under the al-Q flag.

their recent separation from al-Q proper was due to turf battles, inter-jihadi power struggles and questions of tactics not because they disavowed anything that makes al-Q the specific subject of the AUMF. they are every bit the anti-western terrorist group that al-Q proper is, they just wave a different flag these days.

the idea that a name change and a rewriting of their corporate mission statement excuses them from being legitimate targets under the AUMF seems, frankly, insane to me.

I would say that we're bombing Syria because we helped de-stabilize Syria.

This seems to be pattern behavior, even though it's driven from a variety of motivations.

We screwed around with Iran, and earned their hatred for a good while. We screwed with Iraq to remove a despot and instantiate democracy, and it's an absolute mess. We screwed with Syria, ostensibly in a quest for monopoly, and look where we're headed.

History teaches us only to recognize when it's repeating.

"we seem to be on course for two major mistakes:"

Three, and counting:

Pay for the f&cking thing.

I demand that the President and Congress immediately enact a permanent (since war is now permanent) and sizable income and corporate tax surcharge to pay for any and all military action in the Mideast, whether it is against ISIS, al Qaeda, the governments of Syria, Iran, Iraq, etc, etc AND to pay for all casualties suffered by U.S. troops engaged in the region.

I want the tax surcharge to include full payment for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002-3 and their aftermaths.

I include corporate taxes here on account of the granting of personhood to corporations, who could be captured by ISIS and beheaded on the Chamber of Commerce's Facebook page.

I want the tax surcharge extended to the entire populations of Israel, Saudi Arabia (9/11, baby), and Pakistan just to see if beheading is as fearsome to them as it is to Lindsay Graham, who is an odd sort of scaredy-cat --- howling as the ISIS knife nears his neck but leaving one hand free to clap his wallet closed in case preventing his beheading by tipping the rescuers might cost a few bucks.

Filth.

This won't happen of course. Because we're deadbeats, led by deadbeats. We shop at Tiffany's for our expensive military and we demand that we pay Dollar Store prices for it.

Instead, the usual suspects will demand cutting medical (gutting Obamacare and Medicaid,, making is harder for poor Americans beheaded by ISIS to have their heads reattached) and other aid to the American poor, in a move to show that we can murder thousands more of our fellow Americans with the stroke of a right-wing pen than ISIS vermin can manually, one at a time, with the sawing of a medieval curved dagger.

Raise taxes now.


thompson: Anybody else struck by the use of the word 'imminent' to describe the justification of attacks against the Khorasan group?

I thought it was interesting that what they used was "disrupt imminent attack planning." An imminent attack in the planning stage? Seems like an oxymoron to me.

Slart, I agree.

We did this to ourselves and plenty of innocent bystanders.

I want George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's and a host of others who did this, including Dems and the media clowns who voted to invade Iraq, to have 100% of their wealth confiscated next April 15 as a down payment for the mess we're about to endure.


the idea that a name change and a rewriting of their corporate mission statement excuses them from being legitimate targets under the AUMF seems, frankly, insane to me.

I'm not sure I disagree, but, what would excuse them?

what would excuse them?

if they publicly renounced all of their terrorist ways and offered to help - and actually helped to - bring down any remaining terrorists. probably.

but saying "al-Q is not bad enough! death to the infidel!" ain't it.

RM: If we don't do counter-terrorism, eventually we'll be on the receiving end of some successful attacks.

Presumably you mean more attacks than we would be if we do engage in this particular bit of counter-terrorism.

It is not, as you seem to at least imply, a given that this is true. Certainly there are some people who will willingly engage in terrorism against us. But whether that baseline is even slightly impacted by our efforts is far from obvious. Let alone that the impact of our counter-terrorism efforts have a net positive impact.

Not saying that it isn't so, just that it has not been demonstrated to be true either. Which means that it at least ought to be discussed, rather than just assumed.

I'm not sure I disagree, but, what would excuse them?

IANAL, but I'd say by a straight reading nothing could. Ofc, by a straight reading, there's no credible means of arguing the overwhelming majority of "al-Qaida affiliates" have the use of force authorized against them:

Section 2 - Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces

(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Unless it can be reasonably shown that the "affiliates" have harbored (not aided, but harbored) the organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the 2001 attacks (and only the 2001 attacks), I can't see how the AUMF is applicable. It's written much more narrowly than it's casually bandied about as being written. Not to say it's not incredibly vague, but saying that organizations that came into existence - not just in name, but in facts - fall under its purview is in most cases kinda hard to swallow. There were a finite number of entities that can reasonably trigger its relevance, and we've killed, dismantled, or detained an awful lot of them already...

*came into existence after 2001

ISIS came into existence in 1999.

cleek:

the idea that a name change and a rewriting of their corporate mission statement excuses them from being legitimate targets under the AUMF seems, frankly, insane to me.

NV has already had a pretty good comment on the applicability of the AUMF. I don't have much to add. But that's never stopped me before.

Simply put, this isn't just a name change. AQ, led by the same people (minus the ones we've killed), still exists. ISIS split off from AQ. There are accounts of extensive fighting between the two groups (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/03/isil-says-it-faces-war-with-nusra-syria-20143719484991740.html ).

To me, open fighting between two groups strains the definition of 'aided' or 'harbored' or 'affiliated'. In other words, I don't think the AUMF applies.

Your point, that these are vicious, evil, violent people is well taken. I'm not necessarily opposed to military action against ISIS. And the objections I have are more practical (I'm unsure if we will have a positive effect) than moral.

But the fact that they are as bad, or worse, as AQ, does not make them AQ. It may make them equally worthy of our wrath, but if we engage in military action against them, it should be authorized by congressional action. While it is likely asking too much of congress, it should ideally be after some debate and deliberation.

For 2 reasons. One, boundless AUMFs do little to keep the balance of power between the legislative and executive. I think that a reason to interpret AUMFs narrowly.
Two, because the AUMF wasn't to get everybody that was as evil as AQ. It is against AQ, specifically. Because congress thought that AQ was bad enough to use force against, thought we had a chance of doing something good, and thought the risks of negative fallout were minimal. All of those might be true for AQ, but some or all might be different for ISIS.

In other words, I don't think the war power residing with congress is just so we only attack bad people, truly deserving of it (which ISIS is). It's because war is complicated, and dangerous, and can have far-reaching consequences.

As such, it should be considered, debated, and voted on by congress.

All imho, of course.

As an aside, there is also the 2003 AUMF, which I haven't really addressed. The arguments for and against it applying are different.

Different, but very straightforward:

SEC. 3. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.

(a) Authorization.--The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to--
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

It is against AQ, specifically.

simple question: if an alQ cell changes its name but remains a terrorist organization, is it then exempt from the AUMF ?

is that all it takes?

do you think that was the intent behind the AUMF?

"This all comes down to whether you view it as moral to swap the lives of a couple of hundred innocent US citizens for the lives of a couple of thousand innocent non-US citizens. If we don't do counter-terrorism, eventually we'll be on the receiving end of some successful attacks. If we do do counter-terrorism, there's a cost to be paid."

If you had anything to back this up in the real world, it'd be something I'd care to debate.

is that all it takes?

No, that's not all it takes. And if that was the situation confronting us, I would agree. But as I said above, this is not a simple change of name.

If ISIS was a functional arm of AQ, sure, I would agree the AUMF applies. They have at times allied themselves to AQ, but that doesn't mean they are covered by the AUMF.

You also raised the point that the group was founded in 1999. But they weren't specifically allied with AQ until 2004, which again leads me to question whether the 2001 AUMF applies. I can find no reports that they in any way helped plan, support, or execute 9/11.

And if reports are accurate, they are fighting a pretty bloody war against AQ.

do you think that was the intent behind the AUMF?

I think, oddly enough, the intent behind the AUMF was to target the perpetrators of 9/11 and those who supported them. That seems to be a plain reading of the law.

AQ planned and executed 9/11. The Taliban arguably enabled the attacks by sheltering and supporting AQ. ISIS, to my knowledge, was not involved.

But what if some entity *harbored such organizations or persons* after the fact (of 9/11)? What if a given individual joined AQ after the 9/11 attacks? What if some number of such individuals are now members of IS?

If the intent was *to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons*, these would seem to be relevant questions.

cleek (or anybody else),
What do you think is required for the President to take military action against "vicious, evil, violent people"? Because, after all, there are a lot of those scattered around the world. (And many of them dislike us as well.)

At what point does it require anything more than a "these are bad people" statement from the President to do so? Because if there is some additional requirement for military action, why bother to even bring it up as a justification?

I think, oddly enough, the intent behind the AUMF was to target the perpetrators of 9/11 and those who supported them.

the perpetrators are all dead. those who supported them are mostly dead.

is the AUMF now irrelevant?

what if some entity *harbored such organizations or persons* after the fact (of 9/11)?

I think you'd have some argument to someone actively aiding AQ. The president has the authority to use military force against AQ, and I can see that reasonably being extended to be people who are currently aiding them.

But a group that has disavowed AQ, violently, seems to not fit that description.

I would point out that many countries and groups have at times supported bin Laden, AQ and the Taliban. Does the AUMF give the president authority to attack any/all of them? I would say no. I would interpret the AUMF narrowly to those entities that directly supported AQ in carrying out the 9/11 attack.

is the AUMF now irrelevant?

AQ carried out the 9/11 attacks. AQ still exists, and the AUMF still gives the president authority to pursue them with military force. There is no evidence to suggest that AQ is a significantly different group than when it carried out 9/11. I would note that AQ is headed by al-Zawahiri, who has been involved in AQ since the beginning.

There is no evidence to suggest that AQ is a significantly different group than when it carried out 9/11.

likewise, there's no evidence that ISIS is a significantly different group than when it was formally associated with al-Q. they're doing everything they used to do, and a whole lot more.

the point of the AUMF, it's "in order to...", is to prevent future acts, not to punish only the specific people who were involved in 9/11.

But a group that has disavowed AQ, violently, seems to not fit that description

ISIS' violent disavowal of al-Q had nothing to do with the two groups' goals concerning the US. where the US is concerned, there is no difference between them; they are functionally equivalent. give either group an American and they will both give you back a dead American. give either group a way to kill 1000 Americans and both will utilize it.

all the disavowal changed, from the US's perspective, is the name.

I think you'd have some argument to someone actively aiding AQ. The president has the authority to use military force against AQ, and I can see that reasonably being extended to be people who are currently aiding them.

What about people who aided AQ at some point between 9/11 and now and who are now part of a terrorist network with the same goals as AQ, even if that group doesn't like AQ anymore?

I'm not really married to the idea that the AUMF applies to IS, and I'm certainly not married to the idea that congress shouldn't have a role in deciding whether we should be attacking IS militarily, be it under the existing authorization or under a separate one.

I'm just looking at this from a few different angles and seeing what other people think, mostly because I'm on the fence about it - morally, legally and practically speaking.

While we are talking about extending the AUMF to ISIS, how about this: does it extend to taking action (military or otherwise) against the folks in the Gulf or Saudi Arabia who are providing funding and support for it? How about the middlemen helping ISIS sell oil to support its work?

Is the President authorized to send in hit teams to deal with those people? After all, without them ISIS rapidly loses the resources to keep going....

the point of the AUMF, it's "in order to...", is to prevent future acts

"any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

It's not carte blanche to use military force to stop ANY terrorist attack by ANY terrorist group. It's to stop acts by the nations/organizations/persons responsible for 9/11. Which ISIS isn't.

ISIS' violent disavowal of al-Q had nothing to do with the two groups' goals concerning the US.

I would agree. Similarly, their anti-US stance and violent acts against the US have nothing to do with them being covered by the AUMF.

where the US is concerned, there is no difference between them; they are functionally equivalent.

Except that one group is responsible for 9/11, and one isn't. Which is an important distinction, especially as responsible for "terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001" figures prominently in the AUMF.

give either group an American and they will both give you back a dead American.

That is true of many groups around the world, which are not covered by the AUMF.

all the disavowal changed, from the US's perspective, is the name.

The "US perspective"? Some members of congress might disagree that is the "US perspective."

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2014/0924/Obama-cites-authority-to-fight-Islamic-State.-Why-some-lawmakers-don-t-buy-it.-video

How far does this AUMF go in your mind? Is any person, group, or country that at one time supported the perpetrators of 9/11 fair game?

I ask, because as I noted above, that is a very long list.

inasmuch as all that applies to al-Q proper, sure.

And, of course, U.S. officials apparently can't agree on how "imminent" the "imminent" attacks being planned by the Khorasan Group (not to be confused with any private equity firms) were:

American officials have given differing accounts about just how close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.

And:

Several of Mr. Obama’s aides said Tuesday that the airstrikes against the Khorasan operatives were launched to thwart an “imminent” terrorist attack, possibly using concealed explosives to blow up airplanes. But other American officials said that the plot was far from mature, and that there was no indication that Khorasan had settled on a time or location for the attack — or even on the exact method of carrying out the plot.

Seems it was more of a "blow 'em up while the blowin' up's good" kind of thing than any imminent attack prevention.

HSH:

What about people who aided AQ at some point between 9/11 and now and who are now part of a terrorist network with the same goals as AQ, even if that group doesn't like AQ anymore?

I would say no. The AUMF specifically calls out those who perpetrated or enabled the attacks. ISIS (which wasn't called ISIS back than) did not, to the best of my knowledge.

ISIS's goals are irrelevant to the AUMF. The AUMF doesn't target groups that have similar, or even identical, goals to those responsible for 9/11. It targets those responsible for 9/11.

ISIS may very well be worth bombing. I'm unsure on that point. Not because I'm not appalled by their actions, but I am skeptical of the long term good the US can do militarily in that context. But imho, it requires separate congressional authorization.

Yes, thank you, wj, that is exactly the kind of problem I have with the expansive definition of the AUMF.

Bombing ISIS can do some significant good when it is part of an effort to support the Kurds in holding their territory. Because, after all, the Kurds are the sole success story of our past interventions to "bring democracy and peace to the region".

But beyond that, doing anything militarily against ISIS is going to require boots on the ground. And not American boots either -- it will require Saudi, Jordanian and Turkish boots. (And would require Gulf boots if there were any.)

@wj:

"Certainly there are some people who will willingly engage in terrorism against us. But whether that baseline is even slightly impacted by our efforts is far from obvious."

I think that's the wrong metric. The proper metric is whether you're affecting the ability to plan and execute attacks, not whether you're winning friends and influencing people, or even if the number of people dedicated to your destruction is increasing or decreasing. That's going to be tied to how much command and control you leave hanging around. So, if you exchange one smart bad guy for ten dumb ones, you may easily be coming out better off in terms of homeland security.

Of course, if two of the dumb ones grow up to be smart in ten years, then that's another story. Time is not usually on your side in things like this. Either things calm down after a while, or they get worse. But I'll settle for long-duration low intensity warfare over the high intensity kind of any duration. Better for us, and better for them. Remember, one successful attack, and it's the latter for sure.

thompson, the angle I'm looking at it from involves the "such persons." Does IS's membership include anyone who was part of AQ leading up to 9/11? If someone joined AQ after 9/11, did they harbor anyone who was part of AQ leading up to 9/11? Are there any current IS members like that?

How do you separate an organization like AQ from its members, whether those members were in AQ in the lead-up to 9/11 or thereafter? What about people who were part of organizations that aided AQ in the lead-up to 9/11?

I don't know that there's are simple answers to those questions.

inasmuch as all that applies to al-Q proper, sure.

So for example, US has regularly accused Iran of providing support to AQ and the Taliban. Does the AUMF apply? Can a president decide to attack Iran without further congressional approval?

HSH:

I don't know that there's are simple answers to those questions.

I don't think so either. I think its possible some members of ISIS were members of AQ during the planning and execution of 9/11, and I would agree if so, they are valid targets under the AUMF.

I'm skeptical the bulk of ISIS is made up of former AQ members, and the leadership is not AQ.

Fundamentally, their link to AQ seems to be that they were allied in Iraq against the US, and with al-Nursa in attacks against Assad loyalists.

Which is not an especially stronger link than many groups that fought against us in Iraq (including Sunni groups that later became our allies), or many groups that fight against Assad in Syria.

RM: The proper metric is whether you're affecting the ability to plan and execute attacks, not whether you're winning friends and influencing people, or even if the number of people dedicated to your destruction is increasing or decreasing.

Fair enough. But is there any indication that military actions (not targetted strikes) actually achieve that to any significant degree? Yes, if you happen to take out a bomb-maker, or maybe a charismatic leader, you might achieve something. But you have a better chance of doing that with a small strike team than a military operation of any size.

US has regularly accused Iran of providing support to AQ and the Taliban. Does the AUMF apply?

thompson, you do realize, I trust, that those accusations are utter nonsense. In fact, Iran was helping our efforts in Afghanistan initially, precisely because AQ (and the Taliban) are Sunni religious fanatics who hate Shia probably more than they do the West.

If we had seized the opportunity, we could probably have turned around our relations with Iran -- including getting the nuclear issues resolved a lot quicker and easier. Too bad so much of our leadership is so utterly ignorant of those sorts of little details which are critical to understanding how things work in the Middle East.

Can a president decide to attack Iran without further congressional approval?

if it's in service of the AUMF, yes.

that no president has done that isn't about the AUMF, it's about not wanting to start a war with Iran.

Can a president decide to attack Iran without further congressional approval?
cleek:
if it's in service of the AUMF, yes.

Well, only if you assume that Iran had anything to do with 9/11. Or anything to do with those responsible for 9/11 . . . besides being violently opposed to them. (And vis versa.) Otherwise you are essentially saying that, for example, if someone from South America might launch a terrorist attack (and some of the drug cartels certainly might do something that looks very much like one), the AUMF means that the President can attack in those countries, too.

"If we had seized the opportunity, we could probably have turned around our relations with Iran -- including getting the nuclear issues resolved a lot quicker and easier. Too bad so much of our leadership is so utterly ignorant of those sorts of little details which are critical to understanding how things work in the Middle East."

Not being a great fan of this administration, this comment seems unrealistically definitive. So many of our leaders are assuredly not utterly ignorant of those details. There is no chance that our minimal shared goals in Afghanistan could have been leveraged to solve the nuclear issue, since the first use would be to threaten those Sunni religious fanatics. Of course the threat would have been from Shia religious fanatics.

Mostly to assume that the leadership doesn't have a steady stream of input on this problem from knowledgeable Middle East experts in State and NSA and CIA that are career analysts just seems a stretch.

So much of our leadership may have misinterpreted our own political goals, I would buy. But not from utter ignorance.

Marty, I think it was the previous administration which had the golden opportunity. Right when we first went into Afghanistan; not to mention when we were attacking their great enemy Hussein.

Not that the current one couldn't have (and probably should have) tried to leverage the common enemy approach. But they were way late to be able to try.

The key words in the AUMF are "he determines."

If the President determines that the Boy Scouts of America "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored" anyone who did, then he is "is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force" against them "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

Well, only if you assume that Iran had anything to do with 9/11.

i wrote: if it's in service of the AUMF, yes.

that implies that there's a connection assumed.

cleek:

if it's in service of the AUMF, yes.

Well, I think we've firmly established we disagree.

wj:

thompson, you do realize, I trust, that those accusations are utter nonsense.

Largely irrelevant because the AUMF puts the power of determination in the hands of the executive. Which means if the executive was convinced Iran was supported AQ generally at some point, even if not specifically for 9/11, the expansive interpretation of the AUMF would allow them to attack Iran without further congressional action.

And I don't think they are utter nonsense, there is a reasonable amount of evidence, for example from the wikileaks dump: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703700904575391664183556930 and evidence offered by US officials over the years.

Perhaps an organized disinformation campaign, but it seems likely, imo, that there is some level of truth. I would point out that Iran would hardly be the first country in history to discreetly support an ideological enemy as a proxy against a third party.

that the Boy Scouts of America "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks

Sadly, it wouldn't be the craziest 9/11 conspiracy theory I've seen on the web...

lemme note that i think the AUMF is too broad and i wish Congress would repeal it. and that i could rewind time back to 2003 and stop Bush from starting this Iraq mess. alas.

but the AUMF is, currently, the law. and i don't see that bombing ISIS violates it in any way.

Sadly, it wouldn't be the craziest 9/11 conspiracy theory I've seen on the web...

Indeed :-(

but the AUMF is, currently, the law. and i don't see that bombing ISIS violates it in any way.

Typical warmongering from cleek...

die brown people! die!

The president can order the killing if anyone anywhere anytime as long as he mentions "terror" or some variation thereof - we will always be at war with eastasia ...

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/09/25/1332086/-Cartoon-Win-Win

Ted Cruz is the American ISIS:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/why-cruz-represents-the-worst-of-both-worlds-on-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-cruz-represents-the-worst-of-both-worlds-on-foreign-policy

Why no bombing strikes on his ass?

Why not, Count? Because Obama won't take the hard decisions necessary to keep America safe!

(Two can play this game! ;-)

As legal matter, Obama has no more authority to bomb ISIL than Jefferson had to bombard Tripoli.

As a practical matter, Obama's choices were:
1) Bomb ISIL
2) Leave ISIL alone
3) Do something else
With or without a vote in Congress, I can't think of a fourth alternative.

"Something else" covers a lot of ground, of course. Quite possibly, there is "something else" that would be far wiser to do than what Obama is doing. But does anybody here seriously think that our present Congress could come up with it?

As for the Greenwald line about "bombing 7 predominantly Muslim countries", I refer back to Jefferson. American presidents seem to have a long history of feeling the need to bomb Muslim terrorists. That Muslim terrorists tend to hang out in "predominantly Muslim countries" is a surprise to some people, apparently.

Perhaps it would be a better, fairer world if it had terrorists of all different religions in it. But I really have a hard time imagining Amish terrorists or even Mormon terrorists.

--TP

Tony,
You could probably profitably parse your first option into
1A) bomb ISIS everywhere
1B) bomb ISIS in support of those (e.g. the Kurds) who are actually fighting them, but no further. At least until someone else steps up and fights them.

We seem to be going with 1A. But I submit that 1B would have been a better way to go (ignoring the question of doing so with or without Congress formally voting).

Something else to consider:

Every country in the middle east that is currently feeling threatened by ISIS is busy buying arms from...guess who?

Pretty much anyone who will sell them arms, that's who. And we (the US) are certainly willing.

Stimulus!

@ wj

"But is there any indication that military actions (not targetted strikes) actually achieve that to any significant degree?"

Just to nitpick, all of the things you discuss are military actions, and as far as I know, all airstrikes are targeted. We don't do area bombing, and AFAIK the rules of engagement for counter-terror strikes are pretty strict. I'm sure they're less strict right now because the military and intelligence folks are working off the backlog of strategic targets, but the stable state is to find specific bad guys through some kind of intelligence and drop a bomb or missile on them.

Do these actually reduce the likelihood of attacks on the homeland or Western Europe? It's kind of hard to prove a negative, but we have some pretty good evidence that one-off attacks by lone idiot bombers aren't very effective. (One-off attacks by lone shooters are moderately effective, but for whatever reason they don't seem very effective at, you know, terrorizing people. Call it the silver lining of a lot of gun violence in the US.)

So, if big attacks require lots of planning, training, finance, and logistics of both men and materiel, and all of those things leave some kind of communications trace, I'd guess that terrorist leaders are reluctant to make an electronic peep for fear of having to say howdy to Mr. Hellfire. And if that's true, then I'd guess that bombing is at least somewhat effective.

I'd love for someone who knew a lot more about strike coordination to chime in on how different the intelligence is from the ground vs. using the very, very good optics on the UAV platforms. My impression is that the gap between the two is closing pretty fast.

If I'm wrong about that, then airstrikes aren't going to be very effective and we're likely to sustain a big attack at some point. As I've said above, that's catastrophic, because the only viable political response is massive retaliation. The losers in that are pretty much everybody, but the big, big losers are the civilians mixed in with the terrorists, because we'll be a lot less circumspect about our rules of engagement during that retaliation.

But I really have a hard time imagining Amish terrorists or even Mormon terrorists.

There are some Mormon ones but they tend to target other Mormons and to do it in a less spectacular way than your typical Muslim beheader/suicider.

I'd guess that terrorist leaders are reluctant to make an electronic peep for fear of having to say howdy to Mr. Hellfire.

On the other hand that would be an ideal tool for the same leaders to draw American bombs onto civilian targets by doing fake transmissions. I am surprised again and again that they don't go for obvious solutions. E.g. I expected that on the days following 9/11 there would be secondary strikes on railways and ferries* because all eyes were on airborne means of transport. If graffitti sprayers have no problems at all at tagging trains transporting e.g. chlorine through Washington, placing a bomb could be left to interns as a training excercise. And how much does it take to derail a passenger train? Not much as some nasty accidents have shown.

*the Staten Island ferries would have been 'ideal'. It took quite some time before New York introduced countermeasures.

The Amish terrorists are into beard cutting, which is only a short step away from beheading.

The DC snipers were pretty effective at terrorizing folks. Put five of those in five big cities and see how ho hum Americans are.

I'm as surprised as Hartmut that we haven't seen dozens of less spectacular but nevertheless terrorizing and much more easily accomplished attacks since 9/11. We could take that as evidence that perhaps there really aren't that many people willing and able to do such things and thus maybe our response had been overblown and self destructive. YMMV.

very, very good optics on the UAV platforms

I have seen video from the very, very good optics on one or two of our favorite UAV platforms, and as far as I have seen, the "very, very good" part has yet to surface.

But I haven't seen it all. Maybe they're only showing me their factory seconds.

Ugh:

We could take that as evidence that perhaps there really aren't that many people willing and able to do such things and thus maybe our response had been overblown and self destructive.

We could, but there's no money in it.

Slarti:

Pretty much anyone who will sell them arms, that's who. And we (the US) are certainly willing.

"The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI5hrcwU7Dk

From what I have seen, in fact, far and awy the best video is from airborne targeting sensors, which are also used as reconnaissance sensors. UAVs lack aperture and stabilization (and possibly other things) necessary to get as clear a picture.

Knowing where to look is always a problem, even for recon personnel on the ground.

Wasn't the optics of UAVs discussed recently in a thread about the retiring of the A-10? I can't find the link at the moment, but didn't a pilot say it was like looking through a straw at 1000 feet or something like that?

We could take that as evidence that perhaps there really aren't that many people willing and able to do such things

or, playing Bush's advocate, we could take that as evidence that our response worked. or some combination of both.

RM: Just to nitpick, all of the things you discuss are military actions, and as far as I know, all airstrikes are targeted.

You are right, and I definitely plead guilty to sloppy phrasing. What I was trying to do was distinguish between something at the commando team level vs something involving thousands of men. The former, in addition to being much smaller, have the characteristic that they tend to be in and out in days (a couple weeks at most), rather than staying for months or years.

As for air strikes, again, sloppy phrasing. I was thinking of the air strikes which, while nominally targetted, did a bad job of figuring out whether the intended target was actually where the strike hit. And who or what else might be there as well. Hitting a training camp -- no problem. Hitting a residence or a moving vehicle -- a lot less "targetted" in the sense I was using the word.

We could take that as evidence that perhaps there really aren't that many people willing and able to do such things

here's one, possibly.

A fired Oklahoma food processing plant employee who proselytized for Islam beheaded one co-worker and seriously injured another before the owner of the plant shot him, police said Friday. Moments after Alton Nolen, 30, was let go from Vaughan Foods in Moore, he drove to another part of the facility and walked into a front office where he attacked 54-year-old Colleen Hufford, police said.

doesn't say what his motive was, aside from being very very angry at being fired.

"If you assume you kill an average of five bad guys per manned airstrike...."

Then you assume more than I am willing to.

I fear Henry Kissinger may be correct (although I shudder to find myself saying so) when he claimed that quite possibly the ratio of terrorists to innocents killed by his carpet bombing campaign may have been better than President Obama's drone attacks.

I can't find the link at the moment, but didn't a pilot say it was like looking through a straw at 1000 feet or something like that?

It is, in fact, much like looking through a telescope. The "soda straw" effect is a natural byproduct of the fact that high magnification and wide field of view don't really go together well.

Radial change of magnification* would be a way to deal with that but I guess it takes too much training to work with that. I also have no idea if it can be combined with zoom without using a lens capable of selective flexing.

*as e.g. in this famous M.C.Escher print
http://onrelease.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/escher2.jpg

This:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/26/how-to-cut-off-isis-terror-tycoons.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+thedailybeast%2Farticles+%28The+Daily+Beast+-+Latest+Articles%29

Multiple cameras, multiple focal lengths and a requirement for autofocus might tend to complicate things. Also: magnification change across the FOV would more likely than not annoy the hell out of the customer.

It's also probably a complicating factor that the telescope articulates between the objective and the camera.

That's our pod. The other company's pod might work a bit differently.

I have seen video from the very, very good optics on one or two of our favorite UAV platforms, and as far as I have seen, the "very, very good" part has yet to surface.

I've seen operational feeds - feeds that were at times quite literally used for dropping Hellfires on targets - and I broadly concur with Slarti. I'd feel much better with a pilot's eyeball 1.0 than with UAV feeds. Granted, my experience was two years ago, but yeah. It wasn't very, very good. It was extremely impressive, and much better than I'd naively expect, but it was not very, very good.

History teaches us only to recognize when it's repeating.

Agree wholeheartedly. The problem is the amount of time it takes for the awareness of the repeating to take place...(insert Keynes famous bon mot here).

"I fear Henry Kissinger may be correct (although I shudder to find myself saying so) when he claimed that quite possibly the ratio of terrorists to innocents killed by his carpet bombing campaign may have been better than President Obama's drone attacks."


Without wishing to defend Obama's drone campaign, whenever Kissinger says anything about his own war crimes you should assume it's all lies. Here's a link which contains a map of the targets of US air strikes in Cambodia--some of it was in remote areas with few people, but much of it is carpet bombing by B-52's on some of the most heavily populated areas of the country--

article by Kiernan

the difference I see between ISIS and Al Qaeda is that ISIS aspires to be, and in fact claims to be, a state.

They are the Islamic Caliphate reborn, if you ask them.

When you claim to be a state, IMO the rules change. You're accountable for all of the things that we do not accept from states, which include capturing and holding citizens of other countries for ransom, beheading them if their home nations do things that displease you, and then filming the beheadings and publishing them for one and all to see.

You can also add in exterminating populations of people within your claimed borders for reasons of ethnic or religious background, aka genocide.

When you're a loosely defined band of free lance terrorists doing crap like that, military action may not always be a good choice, because the target of the military action - the people places and things that get blown up - may or may not have all that much to do with the folks carrying out the bad behavior.

When you're a state, your territory, infrastructure, military assets and personnel, and any other assets critical to your ability to make war are fair game.

These are largely the same reasons that I thought an invasion of Afghanistan as a response to 9/11 was legitimate. The Taliban at that time were the self-proclaimed government of that country, and they were directly providing shelter and material support to Al Qaeda.

IMO Obama should put this in front of Congress before going further, because this should - again IMVHO - be treated as a response to an act of war by a state actor. Congress should authorize military force, either as a declaration of war against ISIS or in some other form. And then, once again IMVHO, we should pound these vicious bastards into the ground.

That's how it looks to me. Haven't been following the details for the last couple of weeks, because I've been on vacation, so please correct me if I'm missing any important parts of the puzzle.

Good article on the Kurdish leadership and peshmerga:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/29/fight-lives

Russell,
That pretty well sums it up. We ought to be getting a formal declaration of war -- early on, even if immediate action to save the folks on that mountain required acting before that got done. But we won't because:
A) the President doesn't want to risk Congress adding constraints on his actions, and
B) the Congress, especially the Republicans, don't want to accept any responsibility for what happens. Far easier to criticize anything which doesn't go perfectly if you didn't vote for war originally.

The article cited above, which I've now finished reading, has great background on the utter fecklessness and corruption of the Iraqi Army, which we first destroyed militarily and then by dismissing all Sunnis among the officer class and in the ranks, many of whom are now fighting for ISIS against the Shia government in Iraq.

That's depressing enough, but the Kurdish leadership, despite its high regard in some circles by supporters in the West, is also outrageously corrupt.

I mean, you can already see two more murderous wars down the road, once the one with ISIA takes whatever catastrophic course its headed for, if the Kurds manage to gain some sort of national independence, with Kurdish youth rebelling in violent guerilla movements to overthrow and kill their Kurdish leaders for stealing every f*cking thing.

The Middle East is shattering into shards.

And the shards are each sharpened for mass killing to a large extent by American weaponry.

We haven't armed the Kurds yet, but we will.

Then when they deal with ISIS, they'll turn around and kill each other with American weaponry.

Then there is Syria.

Then there are the radical fundamentalist conservatives in Israel, which have politicians of both parties in this country straightjacketed.

I find it -- something -- that Republicans, to single them out, cry continually about the U.S. Government telling them what to do and to leave them alone, but when the Israeli government lays down a marker, they obey in lockstep.

This world is a steaming pile of horseshit, visible from faraway galaxies.


quoted at Washington Monthly:

"A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites. Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam-to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”

At least the Iraqi members of ISIS were incentivized by the 15 percent flat tax forced down their throats.

I guess when an ignoramus promises to cut your taxes in this here America, there's nothing for it but to succumb.

Speaking of other ignoramuses NEARLY voted into office (think about that now, if you can bear it), after the Palin family punch out and pile on while they were guests at a person's birthday party, I kept thinking what George Zimmerman would have done had he been the one being punched up there in half-baked Alaska.

Too bad Republicans don't bring out the lethal weaponry to use on themselves in self-defense.

Always carry around Republicans; you never know when the Skittles are going to hit the fan, the chimps.

That's depressing enough, but the Kurdish leadership, despite its high regard in some circles by supporters in the West, is also outrageously corrupt.

I've not been able to read much about this, but I'd just observe a particular problem we (the West, but really the US) have is that we raise up groups and leaders and then are shocked, absolutely shocked when they are not the saints we took/claimed them to be. (this link has Dana Rohrabacher's recent positions, and this gives a nice look into the time when the Taliban were freedom fighters. In his mind at least.)

The Kurds suffer from the same problem, with the peshmerga lauded for their freedom loving ways but now, when various interests intersect, they are found to be looking out for theirs, well, another group breaks our heart.

Of course, we are upset with Turkey because they are not clamping down on oil smuggling, which gives ISIS most of its revenue, but they are probably thinking that if the Kurds are given a free hand, we are screwed. So I think we will arm the Kurds if only to gain leverage on Turkey, which, if you think about it, is really a dumb reason to do that.

is really a dumb reason to do that

Has that stopped us before?

But really, I think you touch on a really important aspect of the trouble we have in the ME (and elsewhere). We really don't seem to grasp that other people might have interests that diverge from ours...and more importantly, that their interests aren't especially simple.

In other words, someone willing to help us fight in one war, might fight against us in another.

One of the many reasons I'm skeptical of fighting ISIS. It just seems like we're going to be in a position of dumping arms on various parties in the ME, that will ultimately be used in ways we don't predict.

I think part of the reason that we in the US get so shocked over corruption is that it's just another aspect of our general massive ignorance of the world outside. (Plus a little flavoring of ignorance of how much corruption lingers in our own government.) In so far as we are aware of how much corruption there is anywhere else, we know about Canada -- which has about our own level (maybe less).

But the fact is that, in most of the rest of the world (especially beyond Western Europe), paying off officials is standard practice. The only thing that changes is how blatant/formalized it is, and how much you pay. Also everybody there, including those in government jobs, is expected to look out for their own family (and tribe).

But since we don't know that, when we hear about it happening in one of the places we have been working on, we get shocked. Or depressed, depending on our individual personality. The only upside to our ignorance is that, if Americans generally knew how things really worked elsewhere, our isolationist tendencies (already on the up-swing) would get a huge boost.

We really don't seem to grasp that other people might have interests that diverge from ours...and more importantly, that their interests aren't especially simple.

It comes down to two things. First, we have a tendency to see issues as binary; shades of grey simply don't come into it. Second, starting from that binary view, everybody else in the world is expected to be either with us all the way, or against us. Neutrality is barely acknowledges as a possibility. And mixed positions depending on the issue at hand is incomprehensible -- because everybody is supposed to be either a "good guy" or a "bad guy."

No wonder we are recurringly the dispair of our allies.

wj wrote:

"I think part of the reason that we in the US get so shocked over corruption is that it's just another aspect of our general massive ignorance of the world outside."

Yes, our ignorance is so innocent and touching. Graham Greene immortalized it in his work.

I worked in the Philippines for two years and the sheer everydayness of the payoff really is something to behold.

Baksheesh is the way most of the world works. This is one reason why we decided so long ago to have a professional civil service in this country, despite so many of the usual suspects' hatred of it and wanting to return to the days when civil servants, for all of the wrong reasons, could be destroyed if they didn't do the bidding of those in power.

In the case of the Kurdish situation, however, as the world becomes smaller and more "cosmopolitan", and as the article I cited points out, the younger generation is growing fed up with their leaders' (the very men who champion Kurdish independence) cultural corruption and their monopolizing of all wealth, public, private and corporate.

It'll be interesting to see which side we arm in that civil war down the road. Both, I imagine.

By the way, Kurdish civil servants haven't been paid in months, but of course they must work. A situation which the usual suspects in this country might point to as the best of all possible worlds, given the constant attacks on civil service jobs, benefits, and salaries.

In Kurdistan, this must do wonders for the baksheesh trade, don't you think?

American ignorance of the phenomenon and our wide-eyed innocence accompanying it is of course utter self-serving horsesh*t.

We make a business of the entire political corruption enterprise and couch it in the high-flown rhetoric of constitutionally protected free speech and free market solutions, as in the revolving door of outrageously salaried job bribery our so-called private sector and our politicians practice.

And this, a huge brown swirling sh*tstorm of misapplied crapola, visible from space, duly noted by a metaphysically empty but nonetheless beautiful universe:

Alien worlds nod and stay as far away from us as possible.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/ruth-bader-ginsburg-worst-ruling-supreme-court

Baksheesh is speech, don't you know? Corporations are people, don't you know? Vlad Putin is a strong, forceful leader, don't you know? Why, if he was President of this country, things would change!

And then in our grandiose but eminently touching ideals-laden, self-fetishizing hagiography of ourselves, the usual suspects point to local governments as the seat of all governing effectiveness.

Right? Right.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/ferguson-charging-high-fees-for-brown-records

Count, perhaps the problem is that (as happens in other arenas as well) those in power haven't grasped the concept of "enough."

If they merely accumulated high wealth, but not off the charts compared to the rest of the country wealth, their people might be willing to tolerate it. It's when, as is Kurdistan, the families of the leaders end up owning all the biggest businesses (not to mention the fanciest houses/palaces) that their people run out of patience.

Yes.

But, you know, neither the Kurdistan Constitution (is there one?) nor ours contain the word "enough", so we're not permitted to invoke it.

We in America, of course, find alternative free market ways of f8cking each other:

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/heres-yet-another-rage-inducing-scam-american-health-care-system

All in an incentivized day's work.

I guess next time I'm shopping for emergency medical care from my medical shopping gurney as I bleed from various wounds because some Republican NRA fat f*ck at Home Depot dropped his loaded pistol while bending over a pallet of plywood, I'll be sure to ask around about this new twist in free market practices and if I don't like the list price, why, I'll take my gurney and patronize another establishment.

I think the way to solve the fairness problem is to route all kickbacks through me. I can then take a cut and redistribute it to all of the people the point of the bribe impacts. After I am appropriately paid for my fairness and largesse, of course.

Relevant:

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2014/0929/Is-Khorasan-a-real-threat-or-a-way-to-avoid-a-vote-on-US-military-action

"I can understand how some people would think it’s pretty convenient that we’re going to talk about this group just as we’re kicking off these strikes in Syria."

from thompson's link: “What was the imminent threat they posed?” one reporter asked.

Pentagon officials claimed that the intelligence was too sensitive to share with the American people.

Sure it is. Did they think they would lose a vote in Congress to attack ISIL?

Glenn Greenwald had a similar article last week.

Also, apparently Executive Orders are all powerful.

This is a side issue, but I read the Filkins piece in the New Yorker. I don't trust Filkins since his Fallujah reporting (that's a side issue to the side issue), but what I didn't trust in the New Yorker reporters was the throwing around of estimates of the number of people killed by Saddam as though the largest estimates were definitively established. Anyone familiar with the debates about the Iraq War death toll will have picked up on the fact that it's pretty damn difficult to get any hard widely accepted figure for any death toll in Iraq and so what people do in practice is pick the largest (or smallest) number available, depending on their politics. Here's an old piece from the Guardian about the Saddam era mass graves and the gap between the numbers the locals would give and the numbers actually found--

link

The Glenn article about "Khorasan" was pretty convincing. It'd be nice if the press pushed the Administration and each other a little harder on the story of the terrorist group that may or may not exist and that might or might not have had plans which we may or may not have know about. That's the sort of process story I wish the press would cover with the same obsessiveness they give to things that don't matter at all.

Posted by: Donald Johnson:

"Anyone familiar with the debates about the Iraq War death toll will have picked up on the fact that it's pretty damn difficult to get any hard widely accepted figure for any death toll in Iraq and so what people do in practice is pick the largest (or smallest) number available, depending on their politics. Here's an old piece from the Guardian about the Saddam era mass graves and the gap between the numbers the locals would give and the numbers actually found--"

In the sense that 'widely accepted' means 'those accepted by people dedicated to lying about the number killed', yes.

In the sense that repeated studies haven't been done (with some deliberate cross-checking measures), no.

It's been a while, but go to the blog Deltoid, and search there. He covered this quite a bit.

I read all that Barry--I participated in some of the arguments at Deltoid, Crooked Timber and at medialens and probably a few other places, though those were the main ones. My stance was that the Iraq Body Count numbers were too low, but I was never certain of the second Johns Hopkins study. (The first one gives numbers that are consistent with several others if you exclude Fallujah--the error bars are big enough it is also consistent with the second Johns Hopkins paper.)

And there are multiple studies on the Iraq War death toll. The most recent one was published last year and found an excess death toll of about 500,000 (roughly 60 percent from violence) for the period 2003-2011. This is considerably higher than the Iraq Body Count figure and considerably lower than the second Johns Hopkins paper that came out in 2006. There was another study (besides the second Johns Hopkins one) that found the death toll by early 2006 was 100-225,000 dead from violence, which was 2-5 times higher than the IBC figures for dead civilians at that time, but much lower than the Johns Hopkins figure of 600,000 for the same period.

I assume you mean to imply that the true number is known to be the Johns Hopkins figure and that anyone who doesn't accept it is lying. This is false. It's safe to say that all the studies find numbers considerably larger than IBC's figures, but that the mainstream press invariably seems to use the IBC numbers, while (as in the case of Dexter Filkins) using the highest estimates for Saddam's crimes.

"The first one gives numbers that are consistent with several others if you exclude Fallujah--the error bars are big enough it is also consistent with the second Johns Hopkins paper"

I meant consistent for the time period covered--the first Johns Hopkins paper estimated the death toll up through late 2004 and (excluding Fallujah)its midrange estimate for the violent death toll was about 60,000 (total was 100,000), which was about 3-4 times the corrected IBC death toll for civilians in the same period. Two other studies give roughly that result--violent death toll numbers that are in the neighborhood of 3 times the IBC numbers.

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