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Making Repression Our Business: The Pentagon’s Secret Training Missions in the Middle East

Posted on Dec 14, 2011
michael baird (CC-BY)

By Nick Turse

This piece was originally published at TomDispatch.

As the Arab Spring blossomed and President Obama hesitated about whether to speak out in favor of protesters seeking democratic change in the Greater Middle East, the Pentagon acted decisively.  It forged ever deeper ties with some of the most repressive regimes in the region, building up military bases and brokering weapons sales and transfers to despots from Bahrain to Yemen.

As state security forces across the region cracked down on democratic dissent, the Pentagon also repeatedly dispatched American troops on training missions to allied militaries there.  During more than 40 such operations with names like Eager Lion and Friendship Two that sometimes lasted for weeks or months at a time, they taught Middle Eastern security forces the finer points of counterinsurgency, small unit tactics, intelligence gathering, and information operations—skills crucial to defeating popular uprisings.

These recurrent joint-training exercises, seldom reported in the media and rarely mentioned outside the military, constitute the core of an elaborate, longstanding system that binds the Pentagon to the militaries of repressive regimes across the Middle East.  Although the Pentagon shrouds these exercises in secrecy, refusing to answer basic questions about their scale, scope, or cost, an investigation by TomDispatch reveals the outlines of a region-wide training program whose ambitions are large and wholly at odds with Washington’s professed aims of supporting democratic reforms in the Greater Middle East.

Lions, Marines, and Moroccans—Oh My!


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On May 19th, President Obama finally addressed the Arab Spring in earnest.  He was unambiguous about standing with the protesters and against repressive governments, asserting that “America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them.”

Four days earlier, the very demonstrators the president sided with had marched in Temara, Morocco.  They were heading for a facility suspected of housing a secret government interrogation facility to press for political reforms.  It was then that the kingdom’s security forces attacked.

“I was in a group of about 11 protesters, pursued by police in their cars,” Oussama el-Khlifi, a 23-year-old protester from the capital, Rabat, told Human Rights Watch (HRW).  “They forced me to say, ‘Long live the king,’ and they hit me on my shoulder. When I didn’t fall, they clubbed me on the head and I lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness, I found myself at the hospital, with a broken nose and an injured shoulder.” 

About a five-hour drive south, another gathering was taking place under far more hospitable circumstances.  In the seaside city of Agadir, a ceremony marking a transfer of military command was underway.  “We’re here to support… bilateral engagement with one of our most important allies in the region,” said Colonel John Caldwell of the U.S. Marine Corps at a gathering to mark the beginning of the second phase of African Lion, an annual joint-training exercise with Morocco’s armed forces.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the Pentagon’s regional military headquarters that oversees operations in Africa, has planned 13 such major joint-training exercises in 2011 alone from Uganda to South Africa, Senegal to Ghana, including African Lion.  Most U.S. training missions in the Greater Middle East are, however, carried out by Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees wars and other military activities in 20 countries in the Greater Middle East.

“Annually, USCENTCOM executes more than 40 exercises with a wide range of partner nations in the region,” a military spokesman told TomDispatch.  “Due to host-nation sensitivities, USCENTCOM does not discuss the nature of many of our exercises outside our bilateral relationships.” 

Of the dozens of joint-training exercises it sponsored these last years, CENTCOM would only acknowledge two by name: Leading Edge, a 30-nation exercise focused on counter-proliferation last held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in late 2010; and Eager Resolve, an annual exercise to simulate a coordinated response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high yield explosive attack, involving the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

However, military documents, open-source reports, and other data analyzed by TomDispatch offer a window into the training relationships that CENTCOM refused to acknowledge.  While details of these missions remain sparse at best, the results are clear: during 2011, U.S. troops regularly partnered with and trained the security forces of numerous regimes that were actively beating back democratic protests and stifling dissent within their borders.

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LocalHero's avatar

By LocalHero, December 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment

Nothing new here.

The arrested adolescents in the US military, at every opportunity, spew the nonsense that they are fighting for the freedom of you and I. What drivel. The military has always been the tip of the spear of the 1%. Sorry to burst your airless bubble, but you are nothing but a global police force for Big Oil, Big Pharma & Big Agra-Business.

HU-AH, brainwashed idiots!

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blogdog's avatar

By blogdog, December 16, 2011 at 2:14 am Link to this comment

the mission is clear:

A “Humanitarian War” on Syria? Military Escalation. Towards a Broader
Middle East-Central Asian War?

Part I of a three part series

by Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research, August 9, 2011

“As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior
military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going
against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a
five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries,
beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.” 
General Wesley Clark

  The Pentagon’s “Salvador Option”: The Deployment of Death Squads in Iraq
and Syria
- by Michel Chossudovsky - 2011-08-16

An extended Middle East Central Asian war has been on the Pentagon’s drawing
board since the mid-1990s.
As part of this extended war scenario, the US-NATO alliance plans to wage a
military campaign against Syria under a UN sponsored “humanitarian mandate”.

Escalation is an integral part of the military agenda. Destabilization of sovereign
states through “regime change” is closely coordinated with military planning.

There is a military roadmap characterised by a sequence of US-NATO war

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By gerard, December 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment

The “repression” that underlies all the other repressions is the U.S. refusal to admit the evil which it is creating in the world with its policies of aggression, suppression and domination.

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By berniem, December 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment

Everyday this nation comes closer to becoming the actual embodiment of the Fourth Reich!!! FREE BRADLEY MANNING!!!!!

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, December 15, 2011 at 8:44 am Link to this comment

This Nick Turse article seeks to inform, but its title begins with a premise that is either uninformed or disinformation: “Making Repression Our Business”

The Corporate States of America isn’t just now making repression its business. It’s been in the business of repression ever since it was incorporated.

The function of the School of the America’s that Democrats have never closed when they could have has always been (and still is) to provide foreign military thugs a liberal education in the arts of torture, assassination, and other more nuanced means of political repression specifically targeting democracy advocates.

These global military “training exercises” in repression that Turse is reporting are executed at the pleasure and discretion of the Executive Branch’s Commander-In-Chief, Obama. They are metastasizing extensions of the School of the America’s program.

When Democrats provide progress, evil policies move on to be progressively more malignant.

Jill Stein for President:

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, December 15, 2011 at 8:08 am Link to this comment

Damn, not other posts here yet?  Well all I can say is repressive governments supported by US means repressive governments support each other? We have the Patriot Act, Our Own Homeland Security and now intended indefinite holding by our own military super seeding civil law, I give you the Rise of the 4 Reich! OH wait, ...what will the US Gestapo be called?

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By NZDoug, December 14, 2011 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

US aid brings instability to the govts of countries guilty of being cursed with oil who don’t
secum to asset stripping.
Judas is the hero.
Business is business.
Total destruction as the only solution guaranteed.

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