American history is littered with examples of military intervention and political meddling in the affairs of foreign countries. There was the US-backed overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953; the 1954 coup in Guatemala engineered by the Central Intelligence Agency; US funding of brutal “dirty wars” against leftists throughout Latin America in the 1970s; and much more.
The post-9/11 era is no different, though the methods of warfare have changed. US military intervention in countries like Yemen have destabilized nations and killed innocent civilians in the name of the “war on terror.” The current crop of undeclared wars the US is waging is having a deleterious impact around the world. And there’s also the so-called war on drugs, which the US continues to wage despite devastating consequences on the ground.
Here is a look at some of the specific countries where US intervention is doing immense damage.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., the Bush administration intensfied partnerships with a host of countries ruled by unsavory regimes. Yemen is one such country.
After 9/11, the US government ramped up its support for the Yemeni government, which was ruled by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a strongman who had been in power for over three decades. Under the Bush administration, this support mostly took the form of security assistance, as the US gave Yemen “advanced tactical training, weapons and surveillance equipment as well as armored vehicles, airplanes, helicopters and sea vessels,” according to a Middle East Policy Council journal article.
But the destabilization of Yemen has intensified amidst the Obama administration’s stepped-up campaign of drone strikes. The Bush administrationlaunched one drone strike on Yemen in 2002. By contrast, the Obama administration has expanded the drone war immensely, and has launched scores of drone strikes on Yemen. The Saleh government has claimed at times that its own air force carries out the strikes. But WikiLeaks cables show that Saleh welcomed the US drone strikes while assuring the US that his regime would take credit for the strikes in a bid to quell any dissent against US meddling.
The intensification of a militarized approach to Yemen carried out by the US military and CIA came as drone strikes reportedly decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan. Concurrently, US officials turned their attention to Yemen, warning of the threat emanating from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Al Qaeda spin-off group based in Yemen.
But if the Obama administration hoped drone strikes would pacify Yemen’s most radical anti-American forces, they were dead wrong.
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute, has done the best on-the-ground investigation of how Washington’s war on Yemen has backfired. Scahill’s February 2012 dispatch from Yemen reported on the takeover of a Yemeni town, Zinjibar, by radical militants who declared themselves part of Ansar al-Sharia, a group that espouses an extreme Islamist ideology. The Yemeni government claims that Ansar al-Sharia is linked to AQAP. It’s unclear whether the Yemeni government’s claims are true, but what is certain is that “the group’s significance...extend[s] well beyond Al Qaeda’s historically limited spheres of influence in Yemen while simultaneously popularizing some of AQAP’s core tenets,” as Scahill writes.
The takeover of Zinjibar was no fluke. What gave radical Islamists the fuel to beat back the Yemeni government for a time was “its message of a Sharia-based system of law and order.” This message, Scahill writes, was “welcomed by many in Abyan [a region in Yemen where Zinjibar is located] who viewed the Saleh regime as a US puppet. The US missile strikes, the civilian casualties, an almost total lack of government services and a deepening poverty all contributed.” In the years preceding the 2012 takeover of Zinjibar, “cruise missile and drone attacks” have killed civilians throughout Abyan--including a 2009 drone strike that killed 40 people, many of them women and children.
The US strategy of funneling cash and military equipment to Saleh and bombing Yemen with unmanned drones has caused the varied tribes in Yemen, which hold a lot of power in the country, to brim with anger at the US. Scahill reports:
“US policy has enraged tribal leaders who could potentially keep AQAP in check and has, over the past three years of regular bombings, taken away the motivation for many leaders to do so. Several southern leaders angrily told me stories of US and Yemeni attacks in their areas that killed civilians and livestock and destroyed or damaged scores of homes. If anything, the US airstrikes and support for Saleh-family-run counterterrorism units has increased tribal sympathy for Al Qaeda.”
The cycle of violence has continued. In May, the Yemeni government launched a military campaign to retake Zinjibar. As part of that campaign, “Central Security forces opened fire with assault rifles in a crowded market in Zinjibar, killing six merchants and shoppers and wounding three dozen others,” according to Human Rights Watch.
And those Central Security Forces were armed, trained and funded by the U.S. to combat terrorism. But the CSF has also turned its guns on pro-democracy protesters who, inspired by the Tunisian revolution, led an uprising seeking to bring Saleh’s regime down. Central Security has been “implicated in deadly attacks on protesters during last year’s unrest” and “in abuses including unlawful detention and torture of opposition protesters during the uprising,” according to Human Rights Watch.
In the popular American imagination, Somalia, a country beset by corruption, poverty and famine, was left behind in the early 1990s after the Battle of Mogadishu, made famous by the movie Black Hawk Down. But recent history shows that the US continues to intervene in Somalia, making a bad situation even worse.
Predictably, U.S. policy towards Somalia is now formulated by viewing the war-torn country through the prism of the “war on terrorism.” The US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006 is one prominent example.
As the Union of Islamic Courts gained power and territory and challenged Somalia’s government, Ethiopia’s military invaded and started a three-year-war.According to Foreign Policy in Focus, WikiLeaks cables show that “the Bush Administration pushed Ethiopia to invade Somalia with an eye on crushing the Union of Islamic Courts.” The consequences were devastating: “It resulted in 20,000 deaths and according to some reports, left up to 2 million Somalis homeless. The 50,000-strong Ethiopian invasion force, which had expected a cake walk, instead ran into a buzz saw of Somali resistance, got bogged down and soon withdrew with its tail between its legs.” And the end result was that the more moderate Islamist forces that were defeated were replaced by “more radical and militant Islamic groups with a more openly anti-American agenda.”
Scahill’s recent on-the-ground reports from Somalia add more to the picture. Despite the fact that a full-blown war was waged to defeat Islamist forces in Somalia, the most radical faction, Al Shabaab, which is linked to Al Qaeda, was “in control of a greater swath of Somalia” than the central government in 2010. Just as in Yemen, US-backed forces’ brutality had turned many Somalis away from the US, allowing radical, anti-government forces to step into the void, which led to more conflict with the central government.
Drone strikes, too, have had a similar effect. Scahill explains the Obama administration’s actions on Somalia: “When President Obama took office in 2009, the United States increased its covert military involvement in and around Somalia, as the CIA and JSOC intensified air and drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen... But as the United States began striking in Somalia, the Shabab’s influence was spreading.”
Scahill reports that US government action against Somalia emanates from Camp Lemonier, in Djibouti. This camp “serves as a command center for covert US action in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and as the launch pad for operations by the CIA and the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to strike Al Qaeda targets outside the declared battlefield of Afghanistan.”
But as anti-drone activist Nick Mottern noted on Truthout, “the drone experiment is not working...Factional fighting has also increased in Yemen and Somalia, where drone strikes are creating rage against the United States.”
Manuel Zeyala’s election as president of Honduras in 2006 was cut short by a coup d'état three years later. Zeyala’s alliance with other Latin American leftist leaders, and his moves to provide free education to children and to lessen income inequality, angered the conservative elite. In 2009, Zeyala was awoken at gunpoint by the military, whisked onto a waiting plane and flown to Costa Rica.
Initially, the United States condemned the coup. But the Obama administration’s tune quickly changed. As Dana Frank, professor of history and an expert on Honduras, writes in the Nation, “After almost all the opposition candidates (as well as international observers) boycotted the post-coup election that brought Lobo to power, heads of state throughout the region refused to recognize his presidency; but the United States hailed him for 'restoring democracy' and promoting 'national reconciliation.'” The US now firmly backs the presidency of Porfirio Lobo. The regime has systematically violated the human rights of many Hondurans. “The coup has unleashed a wave of violence against political opposition, journalists, small farmers and others, with impunity for the security forces that have been implicated in these killings,” as Mark Weisbrot noted in the Guardian.
But instead of threatening the regime with aid cutoffs, the Obama administration has instead asked for more money to help Honduras fight the “war on drugs.”
The drug war remains the primary prism for how the US views Latin America, and in Honduras it has led to disastrous consequences. DEA agents have set up shop in the country, and the US government has helped train Honduran police in an effort to militarize aspects of the police. (It’s important to note, though, that the US government recently announced it was cutting off aid to units supervised by the new national police chief, who is suspected of human rights violations dating back to 1998.)
DEA agents were involved in a May 2012, operation that went awry. In an indigenous area of Honduras, the police, working alongside DEA agents, opened fire on a boat thought to be trafficking drugs. But local residents claim that the four villagers who were killed were civilians and had nothing to do with drugs; two of the dead were pregnant women.
The DEA operation drew widespread attention to how the US government is helping to militarize the Ahuas region in Honduras. As Sandra Cuffe and Karen Spring reported for AlterNet, “the presence of Honduran and US security forces has dramatically increased over the past several years and even more so since the June 2009 coup, particularly in communities along the Patuca River where recent DEA-led operations have occurred.”
The operations have greatly angered indigenous villagers. “We resolve to declare members of the Honduran and US armed forces persona non grata in the territory of the Moskitia due to their invasion and effect on security, creating situations of intimidation and fear,” one group of indigenous Hondurans wrote in a declaration made at an emergency assembly to address the killings.
Latin American leaders have increasingly spoken up about the failure of the war on drugs. Despite massive amounts of money spent on prohibition, Latin America and the world is no closer to winning the decades-old “war.” Some leaders have taken to calling for legalization or decriminalization of drugs.
But in Mexico, the US-backed drug-war rolls on--and a horrific death toll keeps rising.
The US has poured money into and helped train Mexican security forces to battle drug cartels in the country. The centerpiece of US policy on Mexico is the Merida Initiative, a US government program that has spent $1.3 billion on “training and equipping Mexican security forces engaged in counterdrug efforts,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
Initiated by the Bush administration in 2007, the Obama administration has extended the Merida Initiative indefinitely. This money has gone to federal police and the military, which have been deployed throughout Mexico to crackdown on drug cartels. But these very same Mexican security forces have been accused of massive human rights violations.
“Instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country,” the Americas director of Human Rights Watch stated in 2011.
The militarized effort to root out drugs in Mexico has failed miserably. Drug violence continues to increase; from 2010-2011 there was an 11 percent increase in drug-related murder in Mexico--a number the government touted as a success(the previous year the increase was 70 percent).
The total death toll in Mexico is staggering: an estimated 50,000 people have died from drug war-related violence. And the failed strategy of militarizing the effort to root out drug cartels has arguably increased this violence. For example, as Mexico expert Laura Carslen noted on Democracy Now!, from 2007-2008, drug-related deaths went up more than two-fold. “This violence is predictable: when you fight violence with violence, what you get is more violence,” said Carlsen.
This country bordering Afghanistan has borne the brunt of US drone strikes. Forty-four strikes occurred during the Bush administration, But the Obama administration has launched over 300. Many of the strikes have taken place in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semi-autonomous region near Afghanistan that hosts elements of the Pakistani Taliban.
The Obama administration’s strategy has “decimated” the Taliban in Pakistan, according to CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. But that’s not all the drone strikes have done.
The American drones that regularly pound Pakistan have killed a growing number of civilians, and Pakistanis are furious about the bloodshed. Since 2004,according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which closely tracks drone strikes, between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed by US drone attacks; 176 of the dead were children. Over 1,000 people have been injured. As theGuardian’s Glenn Greenwald noted recently, US drone strikes have also targeted Pakistanis going to remove the wounded and dead after an initial attack.
Speaking to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a senior Pakistani diplomat, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, laid out the costs of American drone strikes in Pakistan. The US has “directly or indirectly contributed to destabilizing or undermining the democratic government,” he said. “Because people really make fun of the democratic government – when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament, and nothing happens. The Americans don’t listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory.” Hasan also said that the drone strikes have increased anti-US sentiment and anti-government sentiment in Pakistan.
“Even those who were supporting us in the border areas have now become our enemies. They say that we are partners in these crimes against the people. So they hate us as well. They hate the Americans more,” Hasan noted.
From the “war on drugs” to the “war on terror,” the US is screwing up a multitude of countries. The military intervention and political meddling that sustains US empire continues to march on unabated—and the world continues to suffer for it.