In reversal, Trump says he and intel chiefs on ‘same page’

US President Donald Trump blames media as he reverses his stand on the assessment of the intelligence service on the country's security concerns. (AFP / Alex Edelman
Updated 01 February 2019
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In reversal, Trump says he and intel chiefs on ‘same page’

WASHINGTON: A day after he lashed out at US intelligence agency chiefs over their assessments of global threats, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed course Thursday and said that he and the intelligence community “are all on the same page.”
Trump met with his director of national intelligence and other top security officials in the Oval Office and said afterward that they told him their testimony at a Senate hearing had been “mischaracterized” by the news media.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats had slammed the president for his comments disparaging Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and other top security officials.
The officials told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and that the Iran nuclear deal is working, contrary to what Trump has claimed.
The intelligence agency chiefs “said that they were totally misquoted and ... it was taken out of context,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They said it was fake news.”
Coats and other officials presented an update to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday on their annual assessment of global threats. In a public report and testimony broadcast on C-SPAN, they warned of an increasingly diverse range of security dangers around the globe, from North Korean nuclear weapons to Chinese cyberespionage to Russian campaigns to undermine Western democracies.
Trump tweeted Thursday that he and the intelligence leaders “are very much in agreement on Iran, Daesh, North Korea, etc.” and that he values their service.
“Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!” he wrote.
Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that the intelligence officials were “courageous” in speaking “truth to power” by publicly contradicting Trump.
“One dismaying factor of it all is that the president just doesn’t seem to have the attention span or the desire to hear what the intelligence community has been telling him,” Pelosi said Thursday, calling Trump’s comments attacking the intelligence leaders “cause for concern.”
Trump said earlier that intelligence officials were wrong about North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State, which they said remains a terrorist and insurgent threat.
“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Pelosi said Trump’s comments were “stunning.”
“It’s important for the Republicans in Congress to recognize they have to weigh in with the president to say, ‘You can’t act without knowledge,’” Pelosi said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it was “past time” for US intelligence officials to stage an intervention with Trump.
In a letter to Coats, Schumer called Trump’s criticism of intelligence agencies “extraordinarily inappropriate” and said it could undermine public confidence in the government’s ability to protect Americans.
Schumer urged Coats and other officials to “educate” Trump about the facts and raw intelligence underlying threat assessments so the administration can speak “with a unified and accurate voice about national security threats.”
Asked about his tweets earlier Thursday, Trump did not back away from questioning the assessment by Coats and Haspel.
“I disagree with certain things that they said. I think I’m right, but time will prove that, time will prove me right probably,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I think Iran is a threat. I think I did a great thing when I terminated the ridiculous Iran nuclear deal. It was a horrible one-sided deal.”
Speaking about intelligence agencies generally, Trump added: “I have great respect for a lot people but I don’t always agree with everybody.”
At a hearing Tuesday, Coats said intelligence information does not support the idea that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eliminate his nuclear weapons.
Trump later insisted on Twitter that the US relationship with North Korea “is the best it has ever been.” He pointed to the North’s halt in nuclear and missile tests, the return of some US service members’ remains and the release of detained Americans as signs of progress.
US intelligence agencies also said Iran continues to work with other parties to the nuclear deal it reached with the US and other world powers. In doing so, they said, Iran has at least temporarily lessened the nuclear threat. In May 2018, Trump withdrew the US from that accord, which he said would not deter Iran.
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” Trump tweeted. “They are wrong!“


US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

Rescuers carry a man who was injured in an attack on a restaurant by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 March 2019
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US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

  • The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians

WASHINGTON: There is credible evidence that US military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.
US Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible.
The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.
The report came the same day that a Somali intelligence official and two local residents said a US drone strike on Monday killed civilians.
The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians. The official was not authorized to talk with the media and did so on condition of anonymity.
Residents concurred with the official’s assessment.
Mohamed Siyad, an elder in Lanta Buro, a village near the farming town of Afgoye, Somalia, told The Associated Press that four civilians including employees of a telecom company were killed.
“They were known to us — they had nothing to do with Al-Shabab,” he said by phone.
Another resident, Abdiaziz Hajji, said that the drone destroyed the vehicle. “Bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
In a rare move, US Africa Command on Tuesday mentioned those possible casualties in a press release about the strike and said officials will look into the incident. But, more broadly, US defense officials said casualty allegations in Somalia are questionable because Al-Shabab militants make false claims or force local citizens to do the same.
Amnesty International, however, said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data, and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five specific airstrikes detailed in the report. The report concludes that there is “credible evidence” that the US was responsible for four of the airstrikes, and that it’s plausible the US conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight injured in the strikes.
“Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” the report said, adding that the US doesn’t have a good process for survivors or victims’ families to self-report losses.
US Africa Command said it looked at the five strikes and concluded there were no civilian casualties. In the fifth case the command said there were no US strikes in that area on that day.
The group’s report and Defense Department officials also agreed that the strikes usually take place in hostile areas controlled by Al-Shabab militants. And those conditions, the report said, “prevented Amnesty International organization from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”
US defense officials told reporters that American troops were on the ground at strike locations in a very limited number of cases. Even in those instances, they said, US troops ordered strikes to protect local Somali forces they were accompanying, and there was little opportunity to investigate possible civilian casualties at that moment.
Still, the rights group concluded that the US military’s insistence that there have been zero civilian deaths is wrong.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smoke screen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, a senior adviser at Amnesty International.
US officials countered that they have access to information not readily available to nonmilitary organizations, including observations from people on the ground at the site and post-strike intelligence gathering from various electronic systems. Those systems can include overhead surveillance and data collected through cyber operations and other intercepted communications and electronic signals.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
They said the US rigorously assesses targets in advance to make sure no civilians will be hurt or killed.
The officials noted that Kenya and Ethiopia also conduct airstrikes in the region, but provided no details. There are 500 to 600 US troops in Somalia at any time.
The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration, from 47 in all of 2018 to 28 already this year. So far more than 230 militants have been killed in 2019, compared to 338 killed in all of 2018.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump approved greater authorities for military operations against Al-Shabab, allowing increased strikes in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who heads Africa Command, told reporters in a recent interview that Al-Shabab controls about 25 percent of the country and the key effort is to help the government regain control of its land.
“The intention is to keep the pressure on that network,” he said.
He said there are three categories of strikes: ones to target senior Al-Shabab leaders, ones to take out training camps or involve Daesh militants in the north, and ones aimed at helping the government increase security and regain control of the country. He said the last group involves the most strikes.