TIME world affairs

Why We Should Send Vets Back to Iraq and Afghanistan

Jake Wood is a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, CEO of Team Rubicon and author of Take Command. Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and COO of Team Rubicon.

With over 2 million veterans from these wars, the U.S. is sitting on a reservoir of ready and able humanitarians

When we heard the news of Peter Kassig’s capture by ISIS terrorists, it felt like a punch in the gut. While we don’t know Peter, the organization he founded, SERA (Special Emergency Response and Assistance) is much like our own, Team Rubicon. Since 2010, we have been recruiting, training and deploying thousands of military veterans to serve communities afflicted by disasters. Our members are ideally suited for these missions, bringing such skills as strong leadership, effective decision-making and the ability to operate in austere environments with limited information.

As effective as Team Rubicon has become at assisting victims of disasters, the service itself has had a profound impact on our members. During one of our missions to Pakistan in 2010, former Marines and SEALs delivering lifesaving aid realized that the villagers they were helping had never before seen Americans in that light. Those veterans were able to return to a part of the world that had taken something from them– a friend, a limb, a notion of innocence–and replace it with something entirely good. We suspect Peter was driven by a similar impulse.

Imagine if, over the coming decades, the United States could shift the mindset of rural villagers in Pakistan or Iraq or Yemen by sending highly skilled aid workers to serve and teach alongside them. Who better than military veterans to fill that role? How much farther could we get with an army of humanitarians than with ever expanding fleets of drones? With over 2 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is sitting on a reservoir of ready and able humanitarians. The challenge is finding a way to re-deploy them not as warriors, but as peacemakers.

To start with, the broader public should know that 92% of returning veterans want to continue serving their country. Tapping into this talent is a no-brainer. Privately funded organizations like Team Rubicon are a good start. With nearly 20,000 members, we have deployed to more than 70 disasters across the globe. But any comprehensive solution will require government support. To that end, agencies such as the Peace Corps and USAID should create fast-track programs that enable military veterans to transition seamlessly into humanitarian positions.

We understand the risks involved. One of us, a former Navy pilot, served as a human rights advocate in Afghanistan upon leaving the military. The other, a former Marine sniper who led teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq, helped lead combat medics and doctors down to Haiti four days after the earthquake. As veterans who served during wartime, and chose to return to the front lines as humanitarians, we appreciate better than most that our military is the world’s largest disaster response organization. More importantly, we know that we carry those skills into civilian life.

Every member of Team Rubicon signed up because of his or her time in uniform, not in spite of it. They too know the risks, but still ask “If not me, then who?” Peter Kassig did the same. His bravery and compassion bear witness to an entire generation of veterans who wish to serve humanity. We, his brothers in arms, long for the day when all might answer as he did, “Send me.”

Jake Wood is a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, CEO of Team Rubicon and author of Take Command. Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and COO of Team Rubicon.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Yemen

Yemen Prime Minister Designate Declines Post

Mideast Yemen
A Houthi Shi'ite rebel holds a weapon while on patrol following dawn prayers attended by supporters of the rebels on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Oct. 4, 2014 Hani Mohammed—AP

The Shi'ite rebels, known as Houthis, threatened a renewal of violence if Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak didn't step down

(SANAA, YEMEN) — Yemen’s Prime Minister designate asked the country’s president to relieve him from the new post after Shiite rebels rejected his nomination, the official news agency reported early Thursday.

The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, had rejected President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s choice of a new prime minister, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, a 46-year-old businessman-turned-political figure, threatening to derail a U.N.-brokered peace deal.

The rebel leader called late Wednesday for new protests, just outside the presidential palace, threatening to renew the violence that left at least 140 people killed and left the rebels in control of the capital.

Yemen’s news agency SABA reported early Thursday that bin Mubarak asked Hadi to relieve him of the post to avoid further “split or disagreement” in the country.

On Wednesday night rebel leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi delivered a televised statement calling on supporters to rally Thursday against the choice of bin Mubarak.

Al-Houthi said his group was surprised by the nomination, saying it came after Hadi met with the U.S. ambassador to Yemen. Al-Houthi called Hadi a “puppet” in the hands of foreign powers.

“Blatant foreign interference is a form of circumventing the popular revolution,” he said.

The Houthis took control of the capital last month, the same day that a U.N.-brokered deal was reached ending the standoff between the government and the rebels. The Houthis had protested for weeks demanding a better share in power and a change in government.

The deal called for the appointment of a new head of government, and for the Houthis to pull out of the city.

Bin Mubarak was the head of the president’s office. Previously, he had successfully led an effort by various political parties — including longtime rivals — to devise a political map for transition after a 2011 uprising in Yemen, the impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula.

One of the youngest politicians in Yemen, bin Mubarak emerged during the uprising that forced longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in a U.S.-backed agreement. Saleh handed over to Hadi the next year but continued to yield significant power.

Yemen faces other challenges.

In addition to the Houthi rebels, an al-Qaida local branch is considered the world’s most dangerous branch.

On Wednesday, suspected al-Qaida militants carried out simultaneous attacks on a half-dozen Yemeni security and government offices in a province south of the capital Sanaa, setting off clashes that left at least 29 people dead, security officials said.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said 14 troops and 15 assailants died in the attacks and ensuing clashes in central Baida province. Other security officials told The Associated Press that at least three civilians also were killed.

The ministry said the gunmen assaulted the province’s security headquarters, a special forces camp, an intelligence agency office and other government offices using car bombs. Troops fired back and thwarted the assailants’ attempt to take over the offices, it said.

The security officials who spoke to AP said the targets included a government communication office and an Education Ministry administrative building. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The United States has been aiding the embattled Yemeni government in the fight against the militants, using drones to target al-Qaida operatives, their camps and hideouts across much of Yemen.

TIME Yemen

Yemen’s Prime Minister Resigns Amid Violence

Mohammed Salem Basindwa
Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa attends the third ministerial meeting of the friends of Yemen in the capital Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 23, 2012. Hassan Ammar—AP

Mohammed Salem Bassindwa's resignation came as Shiite rebels took control of a key military base and Iman University in the capital city of Sanaa

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s prime minister resigned Sunday, the state news agency reported, following days of violence that left more than 140 dead and prompted thousands to flee their homes.

The official SABA news agency gave no details on the move by Mohammed Salem Bassindwa, and it was not immediately clear if his resignation had been accepted by the president.

Bassindwa took office shortly after former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to step down in 2012. He has been in office since February 2012 and has since been the target of sharp criticism for his inability to deal with the country’s pressing problems.

The resignation came as Shiite rebels, known as Hawthis, took control of a key military base and Iman University on Sunday afternoon in the capital Sanaa, according to military officials. The university was seen as a bastion of Sunni hard-liners that is seen as a recruitment hub for militants.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters. There were no official casualty figures from Sunday’s violence.

Hawthi rebels on Saturday captured the state television building. The Hawthis have in recent months routed their Islamist foes in a series of battles in areas north of Sanaa, and have in recent days consolidated and expanded their grip on areas just to the north of the capital.

Their foes have traditionally been Islamist militias allied with the government or the fundamentalist Islah party. The Hawthis have been pressing for a change of government and what they see as a fair share of power.

The Defense Ministry and the General Staff issued a joint statement calling on military units in Sanaa and nearby areas to remain at their posts, be on high alert and safeguard their weapons and equipment.

On Saturday, the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, had signaled that an agreement was reached to halt the violence, and that preparations are underway to sign the accord.

TIME Yemen

State Department: U.S. Officers Killed 2 Yemeni Civilians in Shootout

YEMEN-UNREST
Yemenis gather at the site of a bomb explosion that targeted an army troop vehicle on its way to man a checkpoint on a street leading to two western embassies on May 9, 2014 in the capital Sanaa. Mohammed Huwais—AFP/Getty Images

Two U.S. officers shot and killed two Yemeni civilians during a botched kidnapping attempt, the State Department said Saturday. The incident raises tensions at a time when the Yemeni government is unpopular with the local population for allowing American drone strikes

Two American embassy officers shot and killed two Yemeni civilians trying to kidnap the Americans in Yemen’s capital last month, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to the New York Times Saturday. The pair of Americans involved in the incident have since left the country, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told the Times.

The Times first reported the incident Friday, citing unnamed American officials. The original Times report claimed the attempted kidnapping and subsequent shootout involved a U.S. Special Operations commando and a Central Intelligence Agency officer attached to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen and took place at a Sanaa barber shop.

The incident comes at a tumultuous time for Yemen’s embattled government. Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi has lost popularity among many Yemenis by allowing American drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda members. The strikes, which sometimes result in civilian deaths, are fiercely unpopular among Yemenis, and militants have stepped up their attacks against the government in response to the drone strikes.

Yemeni officials have remained largely silent about the shootings, though a spokesman for Yemen’s Interior Ministry said Saturday that two non-Yemeni foreigners targeted for abduction fired on their Yemini would-be abductors. Yemeni media did not report at the time that the shooters were American.

The episode could further damage the Yemeni government’s domestic reputation if it is perceived that it covered up the identities of the American officers.

[NYT]

TIME Yemen

Drone War Doesn’t Stop Al-Qaeda’s ‘Obsession’ With Striking U.S.

People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda
People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda April 19, 2014. Stringer—Reuters

Experts say Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains focused on striking the United States, and targeted attacks by American drones and Yemeni commandos have so far failed to weaken the dangerous group

Al-Qaeda is so many places these days that it’s easy to overlook the one spot on the globe arguably most dangerous to the West. But the stony hills of southern Yemen stood out vividly in the video that surfaced on the Internet last week, as did the scores of jihadi fighters who gathered to chant and pray in a brazen open-air meeting. The leader of al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, a former secretary to Osama bin Laden named Nasser al-Wuhayshi, sat on a rock and held forth on the importance of striking America—“the bearer of the cross.” Pick-ups carried black Qaeda flags fringed in gold, like the campaign standards of a regular army, all in the clear light of day.

“Many wondered, myself included, where were the drones during such a public display of al-Qaeda’s power?” Charles Schmitz, a Yemen specialist at Towson University in Maryland, tells TIME.

“Last weekend was the answer.”

The U.S. and Yemen launched joint attacks late Saturday that continued through Monday. The attacks served as a reminder of the persistent terror threat in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of bin Laden and a stronghold of al-Qaeda’s “old school”—militants focused not on sectarian warfare within Islam, but on “the far enemy,” meaning the West and, especially, the United States. Waves of American aircraft—identified by Yemeni officials as drones—targeted militants in vehicles, while Yemeni commandos poured from Russian-made helicopters steered by U.S. Special Operations pilots. The government of Yemen said 55 militants were killed, a sizable number that analysts said may also be significant.

“It’s significant if they’re senior people,” says Magnus Ranstorp, who directs research at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College.

DNA tests were underway to nail down identities, Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi told reporters on Wednesday. Initial reports indicated that the dead may include Ibrahim al-Asiri, the bomb-maker U.S. officials dubbed “the world’s most dangerous terrorist” because of his talent for getting explosives past security. Among al-Asiri’s innovations were the “underwear bomb” that a militant failed to detonate on an airliner over Detroit in 2009, as well as explosives hidden in computer printers shipped to the U.S. Earlier in 2009, al-Asiri dispatched his own brother on a suicide mission aimed at a Saudi interior ministry official.

“They are a serious terrorism threat, given the technical capability, the level of innovation in delivery,” Ranstorp says. “They almost have an autistic obsession with striking civilization.”

That alone distinguishes AQAP from other al-Qaeda branches, many of which are more interested in winning territory or waging sectarian war on Muslims they regard as apostates, often followers of the faith’s Shiite tradition. Qaeda fighters took over much of Yemen’s south in the security vacuum that followed the Arab Spring uprisings, only to be pushed into the mountains by government forces in 2012.

But the terror group remained focused on striking overseas. “AQAP appears to be the only one that’s still vectored toward, ‘We gotta hit the US, we gotta go after the Far Enemy,’ and that was al-Qaeda’s original banner,” says Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and officer at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Watts says there are indications that young members of AQAP, many of them Saudis who fought in Iraq, appear to be arguing for greater involvement in sectarian conflicts, and building a state based on Sharia law. And indeed, in the video that surfaced earlier this month, several militants speak of concentrating their attention within Yemen, where a Shiite uprising supported by Iran festers in the north.

But Watts says “the old guard” remains in control. “That’s the track record, and they’re the group that’s committed to external operations against the U.S. and the West,” he says.

That also explains the cascading U.S.-Yemeni joint strikes last weekend, which, based on the relative complexity involved, Watts says appeared to have been in the works for some time. U.S. Special Forces, both in Yemen and across the Bab-al-Mandab (Gate of Tears) in Djibouti, have worked closely with Yemen’s military and intelligence since 2001, and more openly since Hadi became president. But Schmitz, the Towson professor, says Yemenis harbor the same concerns about their sovereignty and civilian casualties that plagued the American drone campaign in Pakistan. And in Yemen, al-Qaeda has consistently bounced back, in recent months overrunning military installations, attacking the Ministry of Defense, and breaking 19 militants out of the capital’s central prison.

“These operations seem to show that al-Qaeda was alive and well,” Schmitz says. “In spite of five years of drone warfare and three years of direct confrontation with the Yemeni military in which many people have been killed, al-Qaeda shows great resourcefulness and resilience.”

TIME Terrorism

Air Strikes Kill Dozens of al-Qaeda Members in Yemen

People inspect the wreckage of a car hit by an air strike in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda on April 19, 2014. Reuters

A "massive and unprecedented" series of joint U.S.-Yemeni airstrikes was launched against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula over the weekend, reportedly killing some 55 militants but also at least three civilians in the country’s southern and central regions

Updated 1:12 p.m. ET

Air strikes killed about 55 suspected al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen on Sunday, officials said, in what was called an “unprecedented” series of strikes.

According to the nation’s High Security Committee, the operation focused on “terrorist elements [who] were planning to target vital civilian and military installations.” An unnamed high-level Yemeni official told CNN that the “massive and unprecedented” strike involved commandos who are now “going after high-level AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] targets.” He said the operation was launched in collaboration with the U.S., though wouldn’t confirm the use of drones in the attack. The U.S. is known to have conducted drone strikes in Yemen.

Predawn strikes targeted a mountain ridge in the southern province of Abyan, according to the official, while Yemen’s state news agency SABA said three strikes hit an al-Qaeda training camp around 450 km south of the capital Sana‘a.

AQAP is one of the terrorist group’s most lethal wings.

TIME National Security

Judge Says a Radical Cleric’s 9/11 Comments Can Be Used as Evidence

Muslim cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa prays in a street outside his Mosque in north London, on March 28, 2003.
Muslim cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa prays in a street outside his Mosque in north London, on March 28, 2003. Alastair Grant—AP

A judge has ruled that jurors at the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, a fundamentalist and former imam who's known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, will be allowed to hear comments he made to praise the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks

Jurors at the trial of radical Islamic cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who is also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, will be privy to comments the suspect made praising the 9/11 terrorists attacks, a judge ruled this week.

Mustafa is accused of trying to establish al Qaeda training camps in Oregon in the late 1990s and of aiding extremists who kidnapped a group of foreigners, including two American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.

According to an undated interview with a British television station, Mustafa stated: “Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center.” And according to U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest, who is presiding over the case, these comments can be presented as evidence in court.

“Expressing clear and unequivocal support for terrorism is no doubt prejudicial. However, the defendant is charged with just those sorts of crimes,” Judge Katherine B. Forrest said in a written decision earlier this week.

Jury selection for the case concludes on Monday, while opening statements for the trial are set to commence on Thursday morning.

[AP]

TIME Law

Send in the Drones: Judge Tosses Case Against Obama Officials Over Deadly Strikes

Predator Drone
Maintenence personel check a Predator drone on March 7, 2013 in Sierra Vista, Arizona. John Moore—Getty Images

A federal judge said that U.S. officials can't be "held personally responsible in monetary damages for conducting war." The drone attacks in question killed U.S. citizens in Yemen, including an al-Qaeda cleric

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Friday against Obama administration officials that was brought by family members of U.S. citizens, including an al-Qaeda cleric, killed in drone attacks in Yemen.

District Judge Rosemary Collyer raised questions over the killings without due process during oral arguments last July, but ultimately ruled that the plaintiffs could not bring a case against individual officials.

The “defendants must be must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the U.S. Constitution when they intentionally target a U.S. citizen abroad at the direction of the President and with the concurrence of Congress,” she wrote. “They cannot be held personally responsible in monetary damages for conducting war.”

A drone strike in Sept. 2011 killed U.S.-born al-Qaida head Anwar al-Awlaki and propagandist Samir Khan, and another one killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son a month later.

The lawsuit was filed against then-Defense Scretary Leon Panetta, then CIA-director David Petraeus and two Special Operations commanders by the father of the elder al-Awlaki and the mother of Khan.

[AP]

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