File photo: David Shearer delivers remarks during International Peacekeepers Day celebrations in Juba on May 29, 2017. (UNMISS)
May 29, 2017, The head of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in South Sudan, David Shearer, has remembered 49 UNMISS staff members who have lost their lives since 2011 while serving the mission on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, observed annually on May 29.
Speaking at a commemorative ceremony at UN House in Juba on Monday, Shearer said the UNMISS staff members who laid down their lives paid “the ultimate price in the line of duty.”
The senior official praised the “unsung contribution” of personnel serving in the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), while paying tribute to the men and women of UNMISS.
Shearer, who is also the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan, underscored his expectations that peacekeepers must act in a way that is “robust, calm and appropriate.”
He pointed out that UNMISS has been mandated to protect civilians and to build a durable peace. Shearer expressed hope that 2017 will be the year peace prevails for the people of South Sudan.
Some 12,000 military personnel, 1500 police and 2500 civilians, including hundreds of UN volunteers, currently perform their duties under the United Nations flag in locations across South Sudan.
May 29, 2017, South Sudanese model Nyakim Gatwech is truly the epitome of this.
Her moonshine dark skin has now taken the internet by storm, thus earning her the “Queen Of Dark” nickname.
Nyakim embraces her dark skin and is prepared to shut down anyone who has anything negative to say about it.
Just recently a crass Uber driver decided it was his job to ask if she would consider bleaching gorgeous dark skin.
“I was [asked by] my Uber driver the other day, he said, ‘Don’t take this offensive but if you were given 10 thousand dollars would you bleach your skin for that amount?’” the goddess wrote on Instagram in late March.
“I couldn’t even respond I started laughing so hard.”
“[Then] he said, ‘So that a no’ and I was like hell to the f*king yeah [that’s] no.”
“Why on earth would I ever bleach this beautiful melanin God [blessed] me with,” she added.
“[Then] he said so you look at it as a blessing?”
“You won’t believe the kind of questions I get and the kind of looks I get for having this skin.”
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Nyakim has been asked this ridiculous and insensitive question.
Speaking at a campaign event in Bavaria, she emphasised the need for friendly relations with the US, Britain and Russia, but added: “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.”
She said that “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.”
Donald Trump says Nato member states need to ‘pay up’
Her comments came after Mr Trump said he needed more time to decide if the US would continue backing the Paris climate deal, which has frustrated European diplomats.
Mr Trump, who has previously called global warming a hoax, came under concerted pressure from the other leaders to honour the 2015 Paris Agreement on curbing carbon emissions.
Although he tweeted to say he would make a decision next week, his apparent reluctance to embrace the first legally binding global climate change deal, signed by 195 countries, clearly annoyed Ms Merkel.
G7 leaders blame Trump for failure to reach climate change agreement
“The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying,” she told reporters.
“There are no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris Agreement or not.”
“Understanding this process, the heads of state and of government of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom and the presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement.”
A source who has been in contact with people involved in the decision told Reuters a couple of meetings were planned with chief executives of energy companies and big corporations and others about the climate agreement ahead of Mr Trump’s expected announcement later in the week.
It was unclear whether those meetings would still take place.
May 28, 2017, South in Juba confirmd that Paul Malong is officially under arrest after talk failed between him and Salva Kirr. Molang wabts to go to Aweil and Salva Kirr on the other hands is afraid to allow Paul Malong to go to Aweil.
May 28, 2017, “Nobody believes in it. You’re like, ‘Fuck this,’” a former Green Beret says of America’s covert and clandestine programs to train and arm Syrian militias. “Everyone on the ground knows they are jihadis. No one on the ground believes in this mission or this effort, and they know they are just training the next generation of jihadis, so they are sabotaging it by saying, ‘Fuck it, who cares?’”
“I don’t want to be responsible for Nusra guys saying they were trained by Americans,” the Green Beret added. A second Special Forces soldier commented that one Syrian militia they had trained recently crossed the border from Jordan on what had been pitched as a large-scale shaping operation that would change the course of the war. Watching the battle on a monitor while a drone flew overhead, “We literally watched them, with 30 guys in their force, run away from three or four ISIS guys.”
Another militia commander came back to Jordan to be debriefed by CIA case officers stationed at Damascus X, the exiled CIA station now located in Amman, Jordan, since departing Syria’s capital after the civil war began. The Syrian proxy broke down saying that he might as well join ISIS—something the case officer had to talk him out of.
But perhaps this was a step in the right direction from a the recent past, when the commander of the now-defunct Syrian Revolutionary Front came in for a debriefing, telling his CIA handler that a helicopter was shot down and destroyed some of his equipment but he also claimed that he had an expensive suit onboard the aircraft that the CIA also needed to replace.
While the press has reported extensively on the over 100 armed groups within Syria vying for control, and the occasional report comes out about U.S. special operations troops in Syria and wasteful spending on covert action programs, the wider story about the U.S. Special Forces arming Syrian anti-ISIS forces while the CIA conducts a parallel program to arm anti-Assad regime forces has yet to be told—until now. It is a story of fraud, waste, and abuse, as well as bureaucratic infighting and a disgusting excess, which has only contributed to perpetuating the Syrian conflict.
The CIA underestimates the threat
After the 2009 withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq, the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center’s presence also became a pale shadow of what it had once been during the heyday of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the height of the war, the CIA could deploy targeting officers to Iraq and assign them regionally, so a targeting officer would work Mosul and focus on the leadership elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI, which later became ISIS), but several years after the withdrawal, the CIA was unable to tap into U.S. special operations units as a force multiplier.
In 2011 and 2012, Delta Force would deploy a single operator to Iraq as a counterterrorism liaison, but the CIA’s chief of station (CoS) in Baghdad made it clear that Delta was not welcome in Iraq. However, U.S. Army Special Forces were able to deploy by working for the State Department and training Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF). In the years leading up to the rise of ISIS, the commander’s in-extremis force, a specialized counterterrorist element in each Special Forces group, would deploy in small numbers in an advisory capacity. Meanwhile, the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center Iraq (CTC/I) was mostly focused on combating Shia militias.
CTC/I become CTC/SI, recognizing the transnational threat of ISIS, which now sprawled across two countries. Although some believed that CTC/SI had to switch its focus to targeting mid-level Baath party leaders within ISIS who guided the group on strategy, tactics, and propaganda, the leadership of CTC/SI and the newly formed Syrian Task Force consisted of only 10 targeting officers who were constantly forced to shift gears as the agency’s senior leadership would have them focus on ISIS, al-Nusra, the Khorosan Group, Shia militias, and Ahrar al-Sham.
Targeting the Khorosan Group was one of the CIA’s early successes in the Syrian Civil War. Tracking signals intelligence (SIGINT), the CIA was able to positively ID senior al-Qaeda leaders from those who formed the nucleus of Khorosan. Intercepting their cell phone conversations, the CIA targeted the group, eventually wiping them off the face of the earth with airstrikes. However, CTC “didn’t even track ISIS worth a damn,” a CIA officer said.
Amazingly, ISIS remained in the background, regarded by CIA leadership as little more than another insurgent group. The director of CTC, who had once been chief of station in Baghdad, did not care about Iraq one way or the other according to multiple sources in CTC who spoke to SOFREP confidentially. Since this was the party line held by the CTC director, it filtered down through the lower ranks in the CIA. The Syria Task Force was focused on Khorosan and Nusra, while Baghdad Station continued to focus on Shia militias and local car bombings. In Erbil, the CIA’s chief of base told a member of the Syria Task Force, “I don’t know why they keep sending you guys [targeting officers]. Nobody gives a shit about counterterrorism in Iraq.”
Lingering in the background was ISIS, a force of 500 to 1,000 fighters that no one took seriously. All of that changed in 2014, when ISIS spilled across the border from Syria, massacred the Yazidi ethnic minority in Sinjar—turning hundreds of girls and women into sex slaves—before moving on and capturing the major city of Mosul in northern Iraq. For a moment, it looked like ISIS was going to overrun Erbil before taking on Baghdad. Then, Jihadi John started executing hostages.
British citizen Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John, appeared in a series of publicly released execution videos. Delta Force launched an attempted hostage rescue mission with Jordanian counterparts to rescue two journalists being held by ISIS, John Sotloff and James Foley. Despite the sizable firefight they engaged in while on target in Syria, the two American journalists had been moved elsewhere.
Jihadi John began executing hostages, demanding that America cease its airstrikes.
That August, Jihadi John, wearing his black balaclava, forced Foley to read an anti-American statement, then beheaded him with a knife and threatened to do the same to Sotloff if the United States did not cease its intervention in Iraq. In September, another video emerged in which Jihadi John beheaded Sotloff. The brutal murders of two captured American journalists shocked the world, particularly the horrified American public. ISIS was now on the front pages of major newspapers, drawing the attention of policymakers and a public demanding that something be done.
ISIS was now on the CIA’s radar. CTC targeted the organization, but not often enough to have any tangible effect on the battlespace. Toward the end of 2014, the CIA had less than 20 targeting officers and analysts dedicated to fighting ISIS. As of early 2016, the situation had improved little. According to several sources, the CIA simply does not care about ISIS. Using an excuse that ISIS is an army rather than a terrorist organization, they have punted the job to Army special operations—the men of Special Forces and Delta Force.
In Syria, the overwhelming priority for the CIA is what some CTC officers call Director John Brennan’s baby: the removal of the Assad regime.
Ousting the Alawite government of Bashar al-Assad had been a long-term strategic goal of the United States. The summary of a 2006 diplomatic cable authored by William Roebuck, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Damascus, reads:
We believe Bashar’s [Assad] weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising.
The cable goes on, outlining how the United States government should exploit fissures between Syria and Iran. The Iranians have long used Syria as a logistics and command hub for Hezbollah operations. Exploiting fears of Shia meddling in Sunni affairs was one way that America could create a fracture in the alliance.
In June of 2007, the Bush White House debated military action against a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor. Vice President Dick Cheney pushed hard for military intervention. “I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor,” Cheney wrote. “But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.” Stung badly by faulty intelligence suggesting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, President Bush opted for a diplomatic option.
During this timeframe, American special operations soldiers assigned to Task Force Orange were deployed to Syria under commercial cover. However, they targeted foreign fighters flowing into Iraq to fight coalition soldiers rather than fixate on the Assad regime. “The missions enabled JSOC to build a detailed picture of the network of jihadis from Aleppo and Damascus airports through the Syrian section of the Euphrates River Valley until they crossed into Iraq near Al Qaim,” Sean Naylor wrote.
Meanwhile, State Department cables reveal that the U.S. government was actively searching for ways to undermine the Syrian government, and potentially remove Assad from power. Another 2006 cable reads, “Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar’s reform efforts—pointing, for example to the use of reform to disguise cronyism—would embarrass Bashar and undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy.”
Roebuck points out another interesting vulnerability to the regime, one that would come into play in full effect a decade later. He wrote that the Kurds are “the most organized and daring political opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria’s northeast, as well as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo. This group has been willing to protest violently in its home territory when others would dare not.” Also revealed in the cables was that the United States was covertly financing Assad’s political opponents.
Robert Ford and a military attache in Syria.
The U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2010 to 2014 was Robert Ford, who traveled around Syria meeting with opposition leaders prior to the outbreak of civil war. This was back when Syria was simply next on the list of Arab Spring countries and protesters in Syria were demanding liberalization from the Assad regime. Ford was an outspoken critic of the regime, and criticized the Obama administration in 2014, saying that the United States had not put enough pressure on Assad. Advocating the arming of so-called moderate rebels, Ford went on to say, “We have to think about a way to escalate pressure.”
Damascus X, Syrian Task Force, and CTC/SI
In 2012, with the Syrian Civil War already well underway, CIA Case Officer Doug Laux was dispatched to the Middle East in order to meet with allied nations and the leadership of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA). The mission was to “achieve the desired result of removing President Bashar al-Assad from power,” as Laux wrote in a memo. “Leadership on the seventh floor [of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia] and the White House had made it clear from the beginning that the goal of our task force was to find ways to remove President Assad from office,” the former CIA officer wrote in his memoir. Large sections of Laux’s book are blacked out by CIA censors, but what we do know is that American-made TOW anti-tank weapons began showing up in offensives waged by the FSA in Syria.
“The Syria covert action program is [CIA Director John] Brennan’s baby,” a former CIA officer told SOFREP. Weapons were provided to the FSA by the CIA under US Code Title 50, which authorizes the CIA to conduct covert operations, including the supply of arms to foreign proxy forces, after receiving permission from the White House via a presidential finding. In 2014, it became perfectly clear that U.S.-supplied TOW missile launchers had fallen into the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria.
The FSA made for a viable partner force for the CIA on the surface, as they were anti-regime, ostensibly having the same goal as the seventh floor at Langley. In December of 2014, al-Nusra used the American-made TOW missiles to route another anti-regime CIA proxy force called the Syrian Revolutionary Front from several bases in Idlib province. The province is now the de facto caliphate of al-Nusra. That Nusra captured TOW missiles from the now-defunct Syrian Revolutionary Front is unsurprising, but that the same anti-tank weapons supplied to the FSA ended up in Nusra hands is even less surprising when one understands the internal dynamics of the Syrian conflict.
Distinguishing between the FSA and al-Nusra is impossible, because they are virtually the same organization. As early as 2013, FSA commanders were defecting with their entire units to join al-Nusra. There, they still retain the FSA monicker, but it is merely for show, to give the appearance of secularism so they can maintain access to weaponry provided by the CIA and Saudi intelligence services. The reality is that the FSA is little more than a cover for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.
The Syrian Civil War has spun into a complex conflict with over 100 armed groups fighting for territory, each group with constantly shifting alliances, while foreign powers like Russia, the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and others meddle in Syria’s internal affairs. The armed groups go by different names, but in reality, the names of these groups are of little relevance. The situation in Syria resembles a form of full-auto capitalism present in the United States during the dot com economic boom. Commanders on the ground will assemble ad hoc groups almost like LLCs or place their group under the banner of another, each militia having a different task organization and operational control from one battle to the next.
The fact that the FSA simply passed American-made weaponry off to al-Nusra is also unsurprising considering that the CIA’s vetting process of militias in Syria is lackluster, consisting of little more than running traces in old databases. These traces rely on knowing the individuals’ real names in the first place, and assume that they were even fighting-age males when the data was collected by CTC years prior. CTC/SI, as with CTC/Iraq before it, was a “stepchild to Big Mark [name changed], the former director of CTC, and that neglect had consequences, especially when a terrorist group took over multiple countries,” a former CIA officer elaborated.
Brennan was the one who breathed life into the Syrian Task Force, which was able to draw upon resources from CTC/SI. “John Brennan loved that regime-change bullshit,” a former CIA officer commented. CTC/SI focuses on counterterrorism, while the Syrian Task Force conducts espionage, influence operations, and paramilitary activities in conjunction with the Special Activities Division (SAD) as needed in pursuit of regime change, including the covert arming of militia groups inside Syria.
The CIA’s Ground Branch paramilitary component was being treated like a bunch of toddlers in Syria, with case officers acting as if they were just hired help. Composed of former special operations personnel, Ground Branch has been very active in combat while working alongside Afghan commandos assigned to that country’s NDS intelligence service, but in Jordan, they were not trusted to do anything more than observe and report. They could ask rebel leaders who came across the border how things were going, but not much else.
The reality is that Ground Branch has always been regarded as a backwater in the CIA, a place where careers go to die, at least until the War on Terror kicked off and they were running and gunning in Afghanistan. Prior to 9/11, there were not even a dozen personnel assigned to the unit.
John Brennan’s Syrian Task Force running covert action programs that deliver arms to al-Nusra fronts like the FSA is especially ironic considering a recent interview with the CIA director in which he was asked about the recent public split between al-Nusra and al-Qaeda. He stated, “I think they recognized that that moniker is a liability. And I do not believe that that name change is going to really change the focus of this organization, which has been primarily to carry out offenses against pro-regime forces.” Brennan then acknowledged the serious threat that al-Nusra poses, including possibly conducting terrorist operations in the West. “I am concerned that there still remains a very worrisome element of Jabhat al-Nusra that will be wrapped maybe in this new name but will still have external plotting as its purpose,” Brennan said. “So I do think it’s purely a change of name but not really a change in orientation, purpose, agenda, and objectives.”
Meanwhile, Damascus X, the CIA station in exile now based in Amman, Jordan, deploys case officers who collect human intelligence (HUMINT) and also pursues the anti-regime policy. With CTC/SI, the Syrian Task Force, and Damascus X all working to similar ends, but with different chains of command, the result is bureaucratic infighting, which is only exacerbated by meddling from Langley and the White House.
“There was a stifling of ops, because of personalities, and then it was general madness there with too many people who never handled assets. Also, just ignorance, like thinking ISIS wouldn’t use its access to Europe,” a former CIA officer said.
5th Special Forces Group enters the fray
With the CIA wanting little to do with anti-ISIS operations as they are focused on bringing down the Assad regime, the agency kicked the can over to 5th Special Forces Group. Basing themselves out of Jordan and Turkey, 5th Group conducts nearly all of their anti-ISIS missions under U.S. Code Title 10, which covers military activities instead of the CIA’s coveted Title 50 covert action authorities.
By 2015, U.S. Special Forces were established in both Jordan and Turkey with the task of working by, with, and through surrogate forces to attack ISIS. In this instance, they rarely, if ever, fought alongside indigenous forces, but rather by them, training them in a host nation and then deploying them or working through third-country nationals such as Turkish and Jordanian Special Forces to train the Syrian militias who were then sent across the border.
While the CIA needed a presidential finding to target the Assad regime, 5th Special Forces Group did not require any additional paperwork, as they were already allowed to target ISIS under Title 10—the group is already on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations under its alternate name, ISIL. A sergeant major from 5th Special Forces Group was dispatched to Jordan to begin assessing the situation.
Battlespace was delineated among the Special Forces members, with the troops stationed in Amman in charge of southern Syria, and others deployed to Turkey in charge of the north. However, Damascus X maintained a tremendous amount of clout over both commands. Gradually, funding and weapons flowed into Jordan for the Green Berets to use to further their mission.
One Green Beret commented on the great living conditions they had. A marble chow hall was built for them that employed a full-time cook. “They always have sweets out, ice cream, a giant freezer with chocolate milk, giant TVs, and an Xbox,” he said. He also mentioned they had a great gym. Between training rebel groups, they would take trips to see the local attractions. All and all, not a bad deployment.
But the actual mission was met with little besides frustration. For starters, everything had to be done through the host nation—Jordan, in this case. When it comes to sending proxy forces across the border, it can’t be done unilaterally. The Jordanian intelligence service, border patrol, and police checkpoints all have to be negotiated with and informal expectations arranged. The Jordanian intelligence service, GID, is also known to steal weapons provided by the Americans to arm rebel groups, then sell them on the black market. In some cases, they will even steal the weapons back from the rebels in order to sell them a second time.
There are also quotas for training the Syrian militias. “For one Title 10 project, there was a quota for the number of soldiers processed and trained. You can’t have any guys get sick; they have actual numbers they have to meet.” The vetting process was also deeply flawed, consisting of a database check and an interview. The rebels know how to sell themselves to the Americans during such interviews, but they still let things slip occasionally. “I don’t understand why people don’t like al-Nusra,” one rebel told the American soldiers. Many had sympathies with the terrorist groups such as Nusra and ISIS. Others simply were not fit to be soldiers. “They don’t want to be warriors. They are all cowards. That is the moderate rebel,” a Green Beret told SOFREP. Many of the so-called moderate rebels were described as a bunch of farmers and retards who could not hack it in ISIS, and the Syrian Army would not want them either.
The New Syrian Army shows off some of their American-supplied toys in a propaganda film.
The so-called New Syrian Army (NSA) was one of the bigger boondoggles that Special Forces engaged in. General Cleveland (who also backed the wrong players in Libya) was involved in pushing the New Syrian Army as a Title 10 program for the Green Berets from its inception up until the first class began training, believing they would make a suitable proxy force since they were already on the battlefield. While they were pro-regime, they were also willing to fight ISIS, as they viewed the jihadis as a threat to the Assad government. Despite some Special Forces soldiers believing that the NSA had already received training under a CIA Title 50 program, the militia was armed with American-made M16s, M249 Squad Automatic Weapons, 60mm and 81mm mortar systems, and M240B and M2HB .50 caliber machine guns. One of many problems with this program is that, after ISIS is defeated, the real war begins. CIA-backed FSA elements will openly become al-Nusra, while Special Forces-backed FSA elements like the New Syrian Army will fight alongside the Assad regime. Then the CIA’s militia and the Special Forces’ militia will kill each other.
An unidentified instructor teaches the New Syrian Army how to field-strip an M249 SAW.
No, that is not part of some diabolical plan, but rather the result of gross mismanagement.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, a similar quagmire unfolded. Among the rebels that U.S. Special Forces and Turkish Special Forces were training, “A good 95 percent of them were either working in terrorist organizations or were sympathetic to them,” a Green Beret associated with the program said, adding, “A good majority of them admitted that they had no issues with ISIS and that their issue was with the Kurds and the Syrian regime.” Like the militias being trained in Jordan, the rebels being trained in Turkey were not ready for combat. “It is not in their blood to be fighters. A large majority of them are criminals,” a Green Beret said. Many were foreign fighters, some from Iraq. One even turned out to be a Lebanese drug smuggler.
“The majority of these guys have been coached on what to say at the training site and give cookie-cutter answers,” the Special Forces soldier told SOFREP. They would portray themselves as being secular, but the Americans could tell who the hardliners were because they didn’t smoke (jihadis follow Wahhabi Islam, which does not permit it) and looked at the Green Berets with disdain.
When General Austin paid a visit to the Green Berets, he discovered that the Syrians in the training camp were on the verge of a riot. Due to Special Forces being told not to train the Syrian militiamen, they were just sitting in the barracks all day. The general’s answer was to buy them flat-screen TVs and Xbox game consoles to keep them entertained. Most of the Xboxes ended up with the Turks, who played soccer games all day, and with other Special Forces teams.
The relationship with the Turks was, and is, extremely complicated. In the tactical operations center (TOC) run by U.S. Special Forces in Turkey, there are also Turkish military officers present. The Americans have to pretend that they are not working with the Kurds, while other 5th Group members and Delta Force operators are, in fact, embedded with the Kurdish YPG militia. Likewise, the Turkish military turned a blind eye and pretended not to know that the Americans were with the YPG militia in Syria. To make a strange situation even stranger, the Green Berets also had to pretend not to know that the Turkish Special Forces were training their own jihadi force in northern Turkey.
Turkey sponsors groups like Ahrar al-Sham (the CIA has tracked al-Qaeda members from the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan joining them), and the Turkish Special Forces train them and then send them across the border into Syria using the Jarabulus corridor. When the jihadis come through, the Turkish military transmits the code word “lights out” to tell the border guards to let their proxy force through. When al-Sham attacked the Kurdish YPG in Afrin, the Kurds counterattacked, killing a large number of the jihadis. In a move uncharacteristic to the YPG, they paraded the bodies of their dead enemies around on the back of a flatbed truck.
The YPG displays slain al-Sham jihadis in Afrin.
Such actions are diametrically opposed to the YPG’s political philosophy and ideology. Aldar Xelil, a Kurdish politician in the region, denounced the act, saying, “This goes against our values as human beings. We are not people who terrorize our enemies in such a shameful way. Methods like this are how Daesh operates or the Baath regime or military dictatorships. These are not methods we should be employing.” The fact that the bodies were displayed by the YPG, and a video of the event distributed, can only signal one thing: a giant middle finger toward the Turkish military and intelligence services, who use al-Sham as puppets against the Kurds, the latter who have had a long-running conflict with the Turkish government.
YPG success stories like this, as well as the recent capture of Manbij from ISIS, make for an embarrassing situation at the TOC in Turkey, as Kurdish forces are outperforming American and Turkish proxies.
The YPG celebrates the capture of Manbij from ISIS.
Several Green Berets complained that they were being employed as a conventional force rather than conducting the Special Forces mission of unconventional warfare. As seen in training films made by the New Syrian Army, they are being trained as an infantry unit straight out of U.S. Army doctrine rather than as guerrilla fighters. “The group commander is holding onto this dream that we’re going to be allowed to do something, but we’re spinning our wheels,” a Special Forces soldier said. One factor is that they are just training forces, and are not allowed to conduct operational preparation of the environment (OPE), which would pave the way for a more substantial military intervention. “If we can’t go over the border and prepare stuff, then we’re kicking ourselves in the pants because it is not unconventional warfare, it is just waiting for the go ahead.”
Pallets of weapons and rows of trucks delivered to Turkey for American-sponsored rebel groups simply sit and collect dust because of disputes over title authorities and funding sources while authorization to conduct training for the militias is turned on and off at a whim. One day they will be told to train, the next day not to, and the day after only to train senior leaders. Some Green Berets believe that this hesitation comes from the White House getting wind that most of the militia members are affiliated with Nusra and other extremist groups. Those given arms by Special Forces are given American-made weaponry in order to keep the militias dependent on the United States for ammunition resupply.
While the games continue on, morale sinks for the Special Forces men in Turkey. Often disguised in Turkish military uniform, one of the Green Berets described his job as, “Sitting in the back room, drinking chai while watching the Turks train future terrorists.” Fifth Group has one of the worst retention rates in the U.S. Army, with senior sergeants filing their separation paperwork all the time. At the American military base in Incernik, the 5th Group commander was known to stand outside the chow hall and give his men uniform corrections, as well as chase down his soldiers on post who were driving too fast. For the group commander, a former military police officer, old habits died hard.
Delta Force and 5th Special Forces Group hit the ground in Syria
A memo came across President Obama’s desk from the Department of Defense for the authorization to deploy 300 special operations soldiers into Rojava, Kurdish-held northern Syria, where they would work with the Kurdish YPG militia. The memo explained that the DOD assessed a low risk of human rights violations by the American soldiers deployed to Rojava, and little else. Under intense scrutiny in the American news media to do something about ISIS, Obama authorized the deployment.
When the Syria deployment was authorized, the CIA requested the men of Delta Force. Falling under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Delta is the Army’s premiere counterterrorism unit that answers to the secretary of defense and the president. Delta responded that they are task organized for counterterrorism strike missions, not long-duration counterinsurgency, so they requested help from Special Forces.
Fifth Special Forces Group is regionally focused on the Middle East, making them a natural choice. It didn’t hurt that the then-group commander (not the new commander making uniform corrections in Turkey) was a former Delta Force officer. It also didn’t hurt that the former 5th Group commander, General Muholland, is working a liaison job to the CIA. On top of that, the then-5th Group commander also served as an aide to General Muholland in the past. Fifth Group received the nod to be co-located near an airfield inside YPG territory in Syria, while a second element from 5th Group ran a train, advise, assist mission in another location within Rojava.
The 5th Group members are not allowed to engage in direct combat with ISIS, but on rare occasions have been able to participate in long-range engagements with mortar fire and sniper fire from the .50 caliber Barrett anti-material rifle. Otherwise, they are mostly confined to running the YPG through flat range drills. On SOFREP’s visit to the YPG in Syria and the PKK in Kurdistan, it was made clear that the Kurds do not desire military training from Americans, as they have their own training program, although they do appreciate being given weapons and air support.
5th Special Forces Group soldiers in Syria
Delta Force had also been stymied by red tape and bureaucracy as they tried to get into the fight and knock ISIS down a peg. Both hostage operations they conducted—the failed James Foley rescue and the successful prison raid in Hawija, Iraq—required presidential approval. Early into the conflict, Delta wrote up a massive concept of the operation (CONOP) for a joint operation with Iraqi Special Operations Forces. The CONOP went all the way to the White House before the lawyers spotted that several Delta members were included in the mission roster. Central Command (CENTCOM) forwarded the CONOP to the White House without even realizing it. The executive branch quickly shut the entire mission down.
Syria is a different situation for Delta because the unit works under the CIA’s Title 50 covert action authorities. The concept of “sheep dipping” active-duty military members under the auspices of the CIA is a practice that stretches back at least as far as deployments to Central American in the 1980s. Today, this arrangement is called D triple S (DSSS), standing for Defense Sensitive Support System. In effect, this means that the Delta element temporarily assigned to the CIA no longer works for the secretary of defense and the president, but rather has to answer to a comparatively low-ranking CIA station chief.
“The CAG [an alternate name for Delta] dudes were beyond pissed seeing some of the shenanigans from our people,” a CIA officer said. With the CTC at war within itself, they were both trying to prevent their own people from collecting intelligence (lest they find something threatening) and stonewalling any and all Delta Force operations from going forward against ISIS. Currently, Delta is sitting on several hundred completed targeting packets for operations they could launch. Like the more forward-leaning members of CTC and the Syrian Task Force, they want to hollow out the Baath party members within ISIS.
5th Special Forces Group soldier in Syria.
Delta Force wants to conduct the mission for which they were created—surgical strikes—but under CIA leadership, they are mostly stuck doing a counterinsurgency mission that they have little interest in. The Special Forces teams also feel they are providing little more than a support role in Syria, and one member described the Syria deployments as “a shit show, for lack of a better term.”
A mess of mistakes and a legacy of ashes
The covert and clandestine action programs carried out by the CIA and Special Forces have become a hot mess of ill-conceived ideas, faulty assumptions, and bureaucratic in-fighting within and between the organizations involved. In order to fully make sense of why both the anti-Assad and anti-ISIS programs under Title 10 and Title 50 are destined for failure in their current configuration, it is useful to understand the internal politics within the units and agencies involved.
For years, Special Forces has bemoaned the fact that JSOC units like Delta and SEAL Team Six have edged into what they consider to be their mission, namely unconventional warfare. Many within Special Forces advocate handing over operational control of Special Forces to the CIA, a type of nostalgia for the old days of the Office of Strategic Services, a paramilitary organization that existed during World War Two and led to the creation of both the CIA and Special Forces.
To that end, General Cleveland is reported to have stated that Special Forces will support the CIA “until our eyes bleed,” which apparently includes following the CIA down one misguided rabbit hole after another.
Leadership elements inside Special Forces have pushed hard to take the 4th Battalion from each Special Forces Group and turn them into “Jedburgh” teams. The Jedburghs, named after the World War Two unit that parachuted behind Nazi lines and conducted sabotage operations, were to be so-called all-encompassing Green Berets who were qualified in all specialties, as well as their target language, making them more competitive against other special operations units and attracting the attention of the CIA. The competitiveness is real. After the CIA requested Special Forces teams who had participated in a large-scale unconventional warfare exercise in Texas, the Navy SEALs immediately ran their own UW exercise to try to get in on the action. Meanwhile, MARSOC is also trying to edge in on the UW mission in a big way.
The Jedburghs were to be moved down to Washington D.C. under a flimsy cover, where they would supposedly become a tier one unit. The entire endeavor was stillborn, the result of good-idea fairies, as the unit had no real funding and no real cover. Acting as gatekeeper, the CIA is also not about to let the Army make use of Title 50 authorities on their own, as it would make the agency obsolete. The Jedburghs, while well intended, can also be interpreted as an attempt by Special Forces to have themselves placed under CIA control and begin to take away missions from JSOC.
In regards to Syria, 5th Group leaders see ISIS as the only game in town. The war in Syria keeps them relevant and gives them a purpose to remain in the Middle East. Initially, they deployed to Jordan with the excuse that they would be there to secure weapons of mass destruction from the Assad regime, which was redundant since JSOC has a specialized unit for that task. In reality, 5th Group wanted to be on the leading edge for a potential invasion of Syria.
At the same time, JSOC has major issues working with the CIA. JSOC units like Delta Force are used to working for a streamlined chain of command, a necessity for a hostage rescue unit in which time is crucial, but when working under Title 50 programs for the CIA, they have to answer to a lowly station chief. There is a natural culture clash between an agency tasked with collecting strategic intelligence and an Army special operations unit charged with conducting direct-action missions, a culture clash that only becomes worse when some hard-charging Delta Force sergeant major has to answer to a well-dressed Princeton University graduate.
The flip side of the coin, of course, is that military units like Delta, Rangers, SEALs, and Special Forces want to hit targets. They are used to doing multiple strikes in a single period of darkness back in Iraq or Afghanistan. The CIA is an intelligence-gathering organization, and takes more of a wait-and-see approach. The military often has a different approach, and sometimes they do need to be held back and exhibit some tactical patience.
It is also important to note that the CIA is not going to relinquish Title 50 authorities to JSOC units, so if units like Delta Force want to conduct covert operations, they have to go through the CIA. Some observers believe that throughout the Global War on Terror, the CIA has actually co-opted JSOC by acting as gatekeeper to covert action authorities.
Another dynamic in the special operations and CIA relationship to note is that the military often does not like detailing their men to the agency as individuals, and when they do, the operators are sometimes not welcome back. A Delta operator attached to the CIA’s Ground Branch during the early years of the war in Afghanistan was told by his command upon returning home that he had spent too much time with the Agency and had “lost his way.” He opted to retire rather than be kicked out of Delta.
For years, 5th Special Forces Group had resisted detailing their men to the CIA because antsy officers want to maintain such tight control over their men in a micromanaged environment that simply doesn’t exist in the CIA. The agency’s paramilitary components often request Special Forces medics, as they feel they are better trained than CIA medical personnel, and SF medics who are good at speaking their target language are even more sought after. Requests like these were routinely turned down until recently.
At the CIA, the Counter-Terrorism Center is reported to have undergone a massive cultural shift during the course of the War on Terror and is at war with itself more than anything. Despite the problems with the programs run by CTC and the Syrian Task Force, employees are unwilling to go to the inspector general because it is an internal oversight mechanism they feel provides top cover for the agency rather than actually doing its job. This presents a disturbing scenario. One former CIA officer described the current programs as approaching Church Committee territory, stating, “The Syrian Task Force was off the reservation.”
The politically and militarily challenging conflict in Syria appears to have few long-term and no short-term solutions. Some observers believe that it will take 20-30 years in order to bring the Syrian Civil War to some type of resolution.
Some Special Forces soldiers advocate going all in with the Kurdish YPG. This option does offer some attractive incentives, as the YPG is secular as well as effective in combat, capturing wide swathes of ISIS territory across northern Syria with and without any help from the coalition. Additionally, the YPG represents an organic democratic movement in the Middle East, one which could serve as a template for other countries in the region in decades to come.
The problem is that allying with the Kurds, even with plausible deniability in place, has already caused tension with the Turkish government, who will never accept a Kurdish state on their southern border. The Kurdish PKK, of which the YPG is an offshoot, considers a large part of Turkey to be a part of Kurdistan and continues to fight the Turks for recognition of their basic human rights. If America is to openly support the YPG, the loss in rapport with the Turks would be catastrophic. Strategically located, Turkey controls access to the Black Sea, and the U.S. Incirlik Air Base provides a staging ground for aerial refueling planes used by the Air Force. Additionally, the United States keeps somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 nuclear weapons in Turkey.
The YPG could offer a long-term solution to ISIS, but would also present a long-term strategic disaster to the United States in the context of future conflicts with Russia and Iran if Turkey begins to lean further East toward Russia and China.
For the time being, the Special Forces soldiers assigned to carry out Title 10 programs feel as if they have to make it look like they are doing their job while actually doing nothing. With their hands tied behind their backs, options are few and far between. Many are actively sabotaging the programs by stalling and doing nothing, knowing that the supposedly secular rebels they are expected to train are actually al-Nusra terrorists.
“It was like winning didn’t matter anymore,” a former CIA officer said. “It was more of the two-year rotation: Just make it though and leave, and maybe if you blow the right senior [officer] you get promoted.” A Green Beret associated with the programs added, “No one on the ground believes in this mission or this effort, and they know we are just training the next generation of jihadis, so they are sabotaging it by saying, ‘Fuck it, who cares?’”
In the last 15 years of war against terrorism, it appears that the U.S. military and intelligence services have learned no lessons, repeatedly doing the same thing again and again, hoping for a different result. Likewise, the leadership of Special Forces, the CIA, and the White House appear to have little interest in making a course correction.
“Brennan and Obama, unlike George W. Bush, will see failure through,” a former CIA officer said bitterly.
“Slavery continues to have an impact on America in the most basic economic sense,” Baptist told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “We don’t want to hear that at its root, the economic growth depends to a large extent on slavery.”
Book Excerpt: ‘The Half Has Never Been Told’
By Edward E. Baptist
Introduction: The Heart 1937 A beautiful late April day, seventy-two years after slavery ended in the United States. Claude Anderson parks his car on the side of Holbrook Street in Danville. On the porch of number 513, he rearranges the notepads under his arm. Releasing his breath in a rush of decision, he steps up to the door of the handmade house and knocks.
Danville is on the western edge of the Virginia Piedmont. Back in 1865, it had been the last capital of the Confederacy. Or so Jefferson Davis had proclaimed on April 3, after he fled Richmond. Davis stayed a week, but then he had to keep running. The blue-coated soldiers of the Army of the Potomac were hot on his trail. When they got to Danville, they didn’t find the fugitive rebel. But they did discover hundreds of Union prisoners of war locked in the tobacco warehouses downtown. The bluecoats, rescuers and rescued, formed up and paraded through town. Pouring into the streets around them, dancing and singing, came thousands of African Americans. They had been prisoners for far longer.
In the decades after the jubilee year of 1865, Danville, like many other southern villages, had become a cotton factory town. Anderson, an African-American master’s student from Hampton University, would not have been able to work at the segregated mill. But the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a bureau of the federal government created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, would hire him. To put people back to work after they had lost their jobs in the Great Depression, the WPA organized thousands of projects, hiring construction workers to build schools and artists to paint murals. And many writers and students were hired to interview older Americans—like Lorenzo Ivy, the man painfully shuffling across the pine board floor to answer Anderson’s knock.
Anderson had found Ivy’s name in the Hampton University archives, two hundred miles east of Danville. Back in 1850, when Lorenzo had been born in Danville, there was neither a university nor a city called Hampton—just an American fort named after a slaveholder president. Fortress Monroe stood on Old Point Comfort, a narrow triangle of land that divided the Chesapeake Bay from the James River. Long before the fort was built, in April 1607, the Susan Constant had sailed past the point with a boatload of English settlers. Anchoring a few miles upriver, they had founded Jamestown, the first perma- nent English-speaking settlement in North America. Twelve years later, the crews of two storm-damaged English privateers also passed, seeking shelter and a place to sell the twenty-odd enslaved Africans (captured from a Portuguese slaver) lying shackled in their holds.
After that first 1619 shipload, some 100,000 more enslaved Africans would sail upriver past Old Point Comfort. Lying in chains in the holds of slave ships, they could not see the land until they were brought up on deck to be sold. After the legal Atlantic slave trade to the United States ended in 1807, hundreds of thousands more enslaved people passed the point. Now they were going the other way, boarding ships at Richmond, the biggest eastern center of the internal slave trade, to go by sea to the Mississippi Valley.
By the time a dark night came in late May 1861, the moon had waxed and waned three thousand times over slavery in the South. To protect slavery, Virginia had just seceded from the United States, choosing a side at last after six months of indecision in the wake of South Carolina’s rude exit from the Union. Fortress Monroe, built to protect the James River from ocean-borne invaders, became the Union’s last toehold in eastern Virginia. Rebel troops entrenched themselves athwart the fort’s landward approaches. Local planters, including one Charles Mallory, detailed enslaved men to build berms to shelter the besiegers’ cannon. But late this night, Union sentries on the fort’s seaward side saw a small skiff emerging slowly from the darkness. Frank Baker and Townshend rowed with muffled oars. Sheppard Mallory held the tiller. They were setting themselves free.
A few days later, Charles Mallory showed up at the gates of the Union fort. He demanded that the commanding federal officer, Benjamin Butler, return his property. Butler, a politician from Massachusetts, was an incompetent battlefield commander, but a clever lawyer. He replied that if the men were Mallory’s property, and he was using them to wage war against the US government, then logically the men were therefore contraband of war.
Those first three “contrabands” struck a crack in slavery’s centuries-old wall. Over the next four years, hundreds of thousands more enslaved people widened the crack into a gaping breach by escaping to Union lines. Their movement weakened the Confederate war effort and made it easier for the United States and its president to avow mass emancipation as a tool of war. Eventually the Union Army began to welcome formerly enslaved men into its ranks, turning refugee camps into recruiting stations—and those African-American soldiers would make the difference between victory and defeat for the North, which by late 1863 was exhausted and uncertain.
After the war, Union officer Samuel Armstrong organized literacy programs that had sprung up in the refugee camp at Old Point Comfort to form Hampton Institute. In 1875, Lorenzo Ivy traveled down to study there, on the ground zero of African-American history. At Hampton, he acquired an education that enabled him to return to Danville as a trained schoolteacher. He educated generations of African-American children. He built the house on Holbrook Street with his own Hampton-trained hands, and there he sheltered his father, his brother, his sister-in-law, and his nieces and nephews. In April 1937, Ivy opened the door he’d made with hands and saw and plane, and it swung clear for Claude Anderson without rubbing the frame.1
Anderson’s notepads, however, were accumulating evidence of two very different stories of the American past—halves that did not fit together neatly. And he was about to hear more. Somewhere in the midst of the notepads was a typed list of questions supplied by the WPA. Questions often reveal the desired answer. By the 1930s, most white Americans had been demanding for decades that they hear only a sanitized version of the past into which Lorenzo Ivy had been born. This might seem strange. In the middle of the nineteenth century, white Americans had gone to war with each other over the future of slavery in their country, and slavery had lost. Indeed, for a few years after 1865, many white northerners celebrated emancipation as one of their collective triumphs. Yet whites’ belief in the emancipation made permanent by the Thirteenth Amendment, much less in the race-neutral citizenship that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments had written into the Constitution, was never that deep. Many northerners had only supported Benjamin Butler and Abraham Lincoln’s moves against slavery because they hated the arrogance of slaveholders like Charles Mallory. And after 1876, northern allies abandoned southern black voters.
Within half a century after Butler sent Charles Mallory away from Fortress Monroe empty-handed, the children of white Union and Confederate soldiers united against African-American political and civil equality. This compact of white supremacy enabled southern whites to impose Jim Crow segregation on public space, disfranchise African-American citizens by barring them from the polls, and use the lynch-mob noose to enforce black compliance. White Americans imposed increased white supremacy outside the South, too. In non-Confederate states, many restaurants wouldn’t serve black customers. Stores and factories refused to hire African Americans. Hundreds of midwestern communities forcibly evicted African-American residents and became “sundown towns” (“Don’t let the sun set on you in this town”). Most whites, meanwhile, believed that science proved that there were biologically distinct human races, and that Europeans were members of the superior one. Anglo-Americans even believed that they were distinct from and superior to the Jews from Russia, Italians, Greeks, Slavs, and others who flooded Ellis Island and changed the culture of northern urban centers.
By the early twentieth century, America’s first generation of professional historians were justifying the exclusions of Jim Crow and disfranchisement by telling a story about the nation’s past of slavery and civil war that seemed to confirm, for many white Americans, that white supremacy was just and necessary. Above all, the historians of a reunified white nation insisted that slavery was a premodern institution that was not committed to profit-seeking. In so doing, historians were to some extent only repeating pre–Civil War debates: abolitionists had depicted slavery not only as a psychopathic realm of whipping, rape, and family separation, but also as a flawed economic system that was inherently less efficient than the free-labor capitalism developing in the North. Proslavery writers disagreed about the psychopathy, but by the 1850s they agreed that enslavers were first and foremost not profit-seekers. For them, planters were caring masters who considered their slaves to be inferior family members. So although anti- and proslavery conclusions about slavery’s morality were different, their premises about slavery-as-a-business-model matched. Both agreed that slavery was inherently unprofitable. It was an old, static system that belonged to an earlier time. Slave labor was inefficient to begin with, slave productivity did not increase to keep pace with industrialization, and enslavers did not act like modern profit-seeking businessmen. As a system, slavery had never adapted or changed to thrive in the new industrial economy—let alone to play a premier role as a driver of economic expansion—and had been little more than a drag on the explosive growth that had built the modern United States. In fact, during the Civil War, northerners were so convinced of these points that they believed that shifting from slave labor to free labor would dramatically increase cotton productivity.
It didn’t. But even though the data of declining productivity over the ensuing three score and ten years suggested that slavery might have been the most efficient way to produce the world’s most important crop, no one let empirical tests change their minds. Instead, historians of Woodrow Wilson’s generation imprinted the stamp of academic research on the idea that slavery was separate from the great economic and social transformations of the Western world during the nineteenth century. After all, it did not rely upon ever-more efficient machine labor. Its unprofitable economic structures supposedly produced antique social arrangements, and the industrializing, urbanizing world looked back toward them with contempt—or, increasingly, nostalgia. Many whites, now proclaiming that science proved that people of African descent were intellectually inferior and congenitally prone to criminal behavior, looked wistfully to a past when African Americans had been governed with whips and chains. Granted, slavery as an economic system was not modern, they said, and had neither changed to adapt to the modern economy nor contributed to economic expansion. But to an openly racist historical profession—and a white history-reading, history-thinking public obsessed with all kinds of race control—the white South’s desire to white-wash slavery in the past, and maintain segregation now and forever, served the purpose of validating control over supposedly premodern, semi-savage black people.
Such stories about slavery shaped the questions Claude Anderson was to ask in the 1930s, because you could find openly racist versions of it baked into the recipe of every American textbook. You could find it in popular novels, politicians’ speeches, plantation-nostalgia advertising, and even the first blockbuster American film: Birth of a Nation. As president, Woodrow Wilson—a southern-born history professor— called this paean to white supremacy “history written with lightning,” and screened it at the White House. Such ideas became soaked into the way America publicly depicted slavery. Even many of those who believed that they rejected overt racism depicted the era before emancipation as a plantation idyll of happy slaves and paternalist masters. Abolitionists were snakes in the garden, responsible for a Civil War in which hundreds of thousands of white people died. Maybe the end of slavery had to come for the South to achieve economic modernity, but it didn’t have to come that way, they said.
The way that Americans remember slavery has changed dramatically since then. In tandem with widespread desegregation of public spaces and the assertion of black cultural power in the years between World War II and the
1990s came a new understanding of the experience of slavery. No longer did academic historians describe slavery as a school in which patient masters and mistresses trained irresponsible savages for futures of perpetual servitude.
Slavery’s denial of rights now prefigured Jim Crow, while enslaved people’s resistance predicted the collective self-assertion that developed into first the civil rights movement and later, Black Power.
But perhaps the changes were not so great as they seemed on the surface. The focus on showing African Americans as assertive rebels, for instance, implied an uncomfortable corollary. If one should be impressed by those who rebelled, because they resisted, one should not be proud of those who did not. And there were very few rebellions in the history of slavery in the United States. Some scholars tried to backfill against this quandary by arguing that all African Americans together created a culture of resistance, especially in slave quarters and other spaces outside of white observation. Yet the insistence that assertive resistance undermined enslavers’ power, and a focus on the development of an independent black culture, led some to believe that enslaved people actually managed to prevent whites from successfully exploiting their labor. This idea, in turn, created a quasi-symmetry with post– Civil War plantation memoirs that portrayed gentle masters, who maintained slavery as a nonprofit endeavor aimed at civilizing Africans.
Thus, even after historians of the civil rights, Black Power, and multicultural eras rewrote segregationists’ stories about gentlemen and belles and grateful darkies, historians were still telling the half that has ever been told. For some fundamental assumptions about the history of slavery and the history of the United States remain strangely unchanged. The first major assumption is that, as an economic system—a way of producing and trading commodities—American slavery was fundamentally different from the rest of the modern economy and separate from it. Stories about industrialization emphasize white immigrants and clever inventors, but they leave out cotton fields and slave labor. This perspective implies not only that slavery didn’t change, but that slavery and enslaved African Americans had little long-term influence on the rise of the United States during the nineteenth century, a period in which the nation went from being a minor European trading partner to becoming the world’s largest economy—one of the central stories of American history.
The second major assumption is that slavery in the United States was fundamentally in contradiction with the political and economic systems of the liberal republic, and that inevitably that contradiction would be resolved in favor of the free-labor North. Sooner or later, slavery would have ended by the operation of historical forces; thus, slavery is a story without suspense. And a story with a predetermined outcome isn’t a story at all.
Third, the worst thing about slavery as an experience, one is told, was that it denied enslaved African Americans the liberal rights and liberal subjectivity of modern citizens. It did those things as a matter of course, and as injustice, that denial ranks with the greatest in modern history. But slavery also killed people, in large numbers. From those who survived, it stole everything. Yet the massive and cruel engineering required to rip a million people from their homes, brutally drive them to new, disease-ridden places, and make them live in terror and hunger as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire—this vanished in the story of a slavery that was supposedly focused primarily not on producing profit but on maintaining its status as a quasi-feudal elite, or producing modern ideas about race in order to maintain white unity and elite power. And once the violence of slavery was minimized, another voice could whisper, saying that African Americans, both before and after emancipation, were denied the rights of citizens because they would not fight for them.
All these assumptions lead to still more implications, ones that shape attitudes, identities, and debates about policy. If slavery was outside of US history, for instance—if indeed it was a drag and not a rocket booster to American economic growth—then slavery was not implicated in US growth, success, power, and wealth. Therefore none of the massive quantities of wealth and treasure piled by that economic growth is owed to African Americans. Ideas about slavery’s history determine the ways in which Americans hope to resolve the long contradiction between the claims of the United States to be a nation of freedom and opportunity, on the one hand, and, on the other, the unfreedom, the unequal treatment, and the opportunity denied that for most of American history have been the reality faced by people of African descent. Surely, if the worst thing about slavery was that it denied African Americans the liberal rights of the citizen, one must merely offer them the title of citizen—even elect one of them president—to make amends. Then the issue will be put to rest forever.
Slavery’s story gets told in ways that reinforce all these assumptions. Textbooks segregate twenty-five decades of enslavement into one chapter, painting a static picture. Millions of people each year visit plantation homes where guides blather on about furniture and silverware. As sites, such homes hide the real purpose of these places, which was to make African Americans toil under the hot sun for the profit of the rest of the world. All this is the “symbolic annihilation” of enslaved people, as two scholars of those weird places put it.2 Meanwhile, at other points we tell slavery’s story by heaping praise on those who escaped it through flight or death in rebellion, leaving the listener to wonder if those who didn’t flee or die somehow “accepted” slavery. And everyone who teaches about slavery knows a little dirty secret that reveals historians’ collective failure: many African-American students struggle with a sense of shame that most of their ancestors could not escape the suffering they experienced.
The truth can set us free, if we can find the right questions. But back in the little house in Danville, Anderson was reading from a list of leading ones, designed by white officials—some well-meaning, some not so well-meaning. He surely felt how the gravity of the questions pulled him toward the planet of plantation nostalgia. “Did slaves mind being called ‘nigger’?” “What did slaves call master or mistress?” “Have you been happier in slavery or free?” “Was the mansion house pretty?” Escaping from chains is very difficult, however, so Anderson dutifully asked the prescribed questions and poised his pencil to take notes.
Ivy listened politely. He sat still. Then he began to speak: “My mother’s master was named William Tunstall. He was a mean man. There was only one good thing he did, and I don’t reckon he intended to do that. He sold our family to my father’s master George H. Gilman.”
Perhaps the wind blowing through the window changed as a cloud moved across the spring sun: “Old Tunstall caught the ‘cotton fever.’ There was a fever going round, leastways it was like a fever. Everyone was dying to get down south and grow cotton to sell. So old Tunstall separated families right and left. He took two of my aunts and left their husbands up here, and he separated altogether seven husbands and wives. One woman had twelve children. Yessir. Took ‘em all down south with him to Georgia and Alabama.”
Pervasive separations. Tears carving lines on faces. Lorenzo remembered his relief at dodging the worst, but he also remembered knowing that it was just a lucky break. Next time it could’ve been his mother. No white person was reliable, because money drove their decisions. No, this wasn’t the story the books told.
So Anderson moved to the next question. Did Ivy know if any slaves had been sold here? Now, perhaps, the room grew darker.
For more than a century, white people in the United States had been singling out slave traders as an exception: unscrupulous lower-class outsiders who pried apart paternalist bonds. Scapegoaters had a noble precedent. In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson tried to blame King George III for using the Atlantic slave trade to impose slavery on the colonies. In historians’ tellings, the 1808 abolition of the Atlantic trade brought stability to slavery, ringing in the “Old South,” as it has been called since before the Civil War. Of course, one might wonder how something that was brand new, created after a revolution, and growing more rapidly than any other commodity-producing economy in history before then could be considered “old.” But never mind. Historians depicted slave trading after 1808 as irrelevant to what slavery was in the “Old South,” and to how America as a whole was shaped. America’s modernization was about entrepreneurs, creativity, invention, markets, movement, and change. Slavery was not about any of these things—not about slave trading, or moving people away from everyone they knew in order to make them make cotton. Therefore, modern America and slavery had nothing to do with each other.
But Ivy spilled out a rush of very different words. “They sold slaves here and everywhere. I’ve seen droves of Negroes brought in here on foot going South to be sold. Each one of them had an old tow sack on his back with everything he’s got in it. Over the hills they came in lines reaching as far as the eye can see. They walked in double lines chained together by twos. They walk ‘em here to the railroad and shipped ’em south like cattle.”
Then Lorenzo Ivy said this: “Truly, son, the half has never been told.”
To this, day, it still has not. For the other half is the story of how slavery changed and moved and grew over time: Lorenzo Ivy’s time, and that of his parents and grandparents. In the span of a single lifetime after the 1780s, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out plantations to a sub-continental empire. Entrepreneurial enslavers moved more than 1 million enslaved people, by force, from the communities that survivors of the slave trade from Africa had built in the South and in the West to vast territories that were seized—also by force—from their Native American inhabitants. From
1783 at the end of the American Revolution to 1861, the number of slaves in the United States increased five times over, and all this expansion produced a powerful nation. For white enslavers were able to force enslaved African-American migrants to pick cotton faster and more efficiently than free people. Their practices rapidly transformed the southern states into the dominant force in the global cotton market, and cotton was the world’s most widely traded commodity at the time, as it was the key raw material during the first century of the industrial revolution. The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the rest of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation—not only increasing its power and size, but also, eventually, dividing US politics, differentiating regional identities and interests, and helping to make civil war possible.
The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth. And that truth was the half of the story that survived mostly in the custodianship of those who survived slavery’s expansion—whether they had been taken over the hill, or left behind. Forced migration had shaped their lives, and also had shaped what they thought about their lives and the wider history in which they were enmeshed. Even as they struggled to stay alive in the midst of disruption, they created ways to talk about this half untold. But what survivors experienced, analyzed, and named was a slavery that didn’t fit the comfortable boxes into which other Americans have been trying to fit it ever since it ended.
I read Lorenzo Ivy’s words, and they left me uneasy. I sensed that the true narrative had been left out of history—not only American history in general, but even the history of slavery. I began to look actively for the other half of the story, the one about how slavery constantly grew, changed, and reshaped the modern world. Of how it was both modernizing and modern, and what that meant for the people who lived through its incredible expansion. Once I began to look, I discovered that the traces of the other half were everywhere. The debris of cotton fevers that infected white entrepreneurs and separated man and woman, parent and child, right and left, dusted every set of pre–Civil War letters, newspapers, and court documents. Most of all, the half not told ran like a layer of iridium left by a dinosaur-killing asteroid through every piece of testimony that ex-slaves, such as Lorenzo Ivy, left on the historical record: thousands of stanzas of an epic of forced separations, violence, and new kinds of labor.
For a long time I wasn’t sure how to tell the story of this muscular, dynamic process in a single book. The most difficult challenge was simply the fact that the expansion of slavery in many ways shaped the story of everything in the pre–Civil War United States. Enslavers’ surviving papers showed calculations of returns from slave sales and purchases as well as the costs of establishing new slave labor camps in the cotton states. Newspapers dripped with speculations in land and people and the commodities they produced; dramatic changes in how people made money and how much they made; and the dramatic violence that accompanied these practices. The accounts of northern merchants and bankers and factory owners showed that they invested in slavery, bought from and sold to slaveholders, and took slices of profit out of slavery’s expansion. Scholars and students talked about politics as a battle about states’ rights or republican principles, but viewed in a different light the fights can be seen as a struggle between regions about how the rewards of slavery’s expansion would be allocated and whether that expansion could continue.
The story seemed too big to fit into one framework. Even Ivy had no idea how to count the chained lines he saw going southwest toward the mountains on the horizon and the vast open spaces beyond. From the 1790s to the 1860s, enslavers moved 1 million people from the old slave states to the new. They went from making no cotton to speak of in 1790 to making almost 2 billion pounds of it in 1860. Stretching out beyond the slave South, the story encompassed not only Washington politicians and voters across the United States but also Connecticut factories, London banks, opium addicts in China, and consumers in East Africa. And could one book do Lorenzo Ivy’s insight justice? It would have to avoid the old platitudes, such as the easy temptation to tell the story as a collection of topics—here a chapter on slave resistance, there one on women and slavery, and so on. That kind of abstraction cuts the beating heart out of the story. For the half untold was a narrative, a process of movement and change and suspense. Things happened because of what had been done before them—and what people chose to do in response.
No, this had to be a story, and one couldn’t tell it solely from the perspective of powerful actors. True, politicians and planters and bankers shaped policies, the movement of people, and the growing and selling of cotton, and even remade the land itself. But when one takes Lorenzo Ivy’s words as a starting point, the whole history of the United States comes walking over the hill behind a line of people in chains. Changes that reshaped the entire world began on the auction block where enslaved migrants stood or in the frontier cotton fields where they toiled. Their individual drama was a struggle to survive. Their reward was to endure a brutal transition to new ways of labor that made them reinvent themselves every day. Enslaved people’s creativity enabled their survival, but, stolen from them in the form of ever-growing cotton productivity, their creativity also expanded the slaveholding South at an unprecedented rate. Enslaved African Americans built the modern United States, and indeed the entire modern world, in ways both obvious and hidden.
One day I found a metaphor that helped. It came from the great African-American author Ralph Ellison. You might know his novel Invisible Man. But in the 1950s, Ellison also produced incredible essays. In one of them he wrote, “On the moral level I propose we view the whole of American life as a drama enacted on the body of a Negro giant who, lying trussed up like Gulliver, forms the stage and the scene upon which and within which the action unfolds.”3
The image fit the story that Ivy’s words raised above the watery surface of buried years. The only problem was that Ellison’s image implied a stationary giant. In the old myth, the stationary, quintessentially unchanging plantation was the site and the story of African-American life from the seventeenth century to the twentieth. But Lorenzo Ivy had described a world in motion. After the American Revolution—which seemed at the time to portend slavery’s imminent demise—a metastatic transformation and growth of slavery’s giant body had begun instead. From the exploitation, commodification, and torture of enslaved people’s bodies, enslavers and other free people gained new kinds of modern power. The sweat and blood of the growing system, a network of individuals and families and labor camps that grew bigger with each passing year, fueled massive economic change. Enslaved people, meanwhile, transported and tortured, had to find ways to survive, resist, or endure. And over time the question of their freedom or bondage came to occupy the center of US politics.
This trussed-up giant, stretched out on the rack of America’s torture zone, actually grew, like a person passing through ordeals to new maturity. I have divided the chapters of this book with Ellison’s imagined giant in mind, a structure that has allowed the story to take as its center point the experience of enslaved African Americans themselves. Before we pass through the door that Lorenzo Ivy opened, here are the chapters’ names. The first is “Feet,” for the story begins with unfree movement on paths to enslaved frontiers that were laid down between the end of the American Revolution in 1783 and the early 1800s. “Heads” is the title of the second chapter, which covers America’s acquisition of the key points of the Mississippi Valley by violence, a gain that also consolidated the enslavers’ hold on the frontier. Then come the “Right Hand” and the “Left Hand” (Chapters 3 and 4). They reveal the inner secrets of enslavers’ power, secrets which made the entire world of white people wealthy.
“Tongues” (Chapter 5) and “Breath” (Chapter 6) follow. They describe how, by the mid-1820s, enslavers had not only found ways to silence the tongues of their critics, but had built a system of slave trading that served as expansion’s lungs. Most forms of resistance were impossible to carry out successfully. So a question hung in the air. Would the spirit in the tied-down body die, leaving enslaved people to live on like undead zombies serving their captors? Or would the body live, and rise? Every transported soul, finding his or her old life killed off, faced this question on the individual level as well: whether to work with fellow captives or scrabble against them in a quest for individualistic subsistence. Enslaved African Americans chose many things. But perhaps most importantly, they chose survival, and true survival in such circumstances required solidarity. Solidarity allowed them to see their common experience, to light their own way by building a critique of enslavers’ power that was an alternative story about what things were and what they meant.
This story draws on thousands of personal narratives like the one that Lorenzo Ivy told Claude Anderson. Slavery has existed in many societies, but no other population of formerly enslaved people has been able to record the testimonies of its members like those who survived slavery in the United States. The narratives began with those who escaped slavery’s expansion in the nineteenth century as fugitives. Over one hundred of those survivors published their autobiographies during the nineteenth century. As time went on, such memoirs found a market, in no small part because escapees from southern captivity were changing the minds of some of the northern whites about what the expansion of slavery meant for them. Then, during the 1930s, people like Claude Anderson conducted about 2,300 interviews with the ex-slaves who had lived into that decade. Because the interviews often allowed old people to tell about the things they had seen for themselves and the things they heard from their elders in the years before the Civil War, they take us back into the world of explanation and storytelling that grew up around fires and on porches and between cotton rows. No one autobiography or interview is pure and objective as an account of all that the history books left untold. But read them all, and each one adds to a more detailed, clearer picture of the whole. One story fills in gaps left by another, allowing one to read between the lines.4
Understanding something of what it felt like to suffer, and what it cost to endure that suffering, is crucial to understanding the course of US history. For what enslaved people made together—new ties to each other, new ways of understanding their world—had the potential to help them survive in mind and body. And ultimately, their spirit and their speaking would enable them to call new allies into being in the form of an abolitionist movement that helped to destabilize the mighty enslavers who held millions captive. But the road on which enslaved people were being driven was long. It led through the hell described by “Seed” (Chapter 7), which tells of the horrific near-decade from 1829 to 1837. In these years entrepreneurs ran wild on slavery’s frontier. Their acts created the political and economic dynamics that carried enslavers to their greatest height of power. Facing challenges from other white men who wanted to assert their masculine equality through political democracy, clever entrepreneurs found ways to leverage not just that desire, but other desires as well. With the creation of innovative financial tools, more and more of the Western world was able to invest directly in slavery’s expansion. Such creativity multiplied the incredible productivity and profitability of enslaved people’s labor and allowed enslavers to turn bodies into commodities with which they changed the financial history of the Western world.
Enslavers, along with common white voters, investors, and the enslaved, made the 1830s the hinge of US history. On one side lay the world of the industrial revolution and the initial innovations that launched the modern world. On the other lay modern America. For in 1837, enslavers’ exuberant success led to a massive economic crash. This self-inflicted devastation, covered in Chapter 8, “Blood,” posed new challenges to slaveholders’ power, led to human destruction for the enslaved, and created confusion and discord in white families. When southern political actors tried to use war with Mexico to restart their expansion, they encountered new opposition on the part of increasingly assertive northerners. As Chapter 9, “Backs,” explains, by the 1840s the North had built a complex, industrialized economy on the backs of enslaved people and their highly profitable cotton labor. Yet, although all northern whites had benefited from the deepened exploitation of enslaved people, many northern whites were now willing to use politics to oppose further expansions of slavery. The words that the survivors of slavery’s expansion had carried out from the belly of the nation’s hungriest beast had, in fact, become important tools for galvanizing that opposition.
Of course, in return for the benefits they received from slavery’s expansion, plenty of northerners were still willing to enable enslavers’ disproportionate power. With the help of such allies, as “Arms” (Chapter 10) details, slavery continued to expand in the decade after the Compromise of 1850. For now, however, it had to do so within potentially closed borders. That is why southern whites now launched an aggressive campaign of advocacy, insisting on policies and constitutional interpretations that would commit the entire United States to the further geographic expansion of slavery. The entire country would become slavery’s next frontier. And as they pressed, they generated greater resistance, pushed too hard, and tried to make their allies submit—like slaves, the allies complained. And that is how, at last, whites came to take up arms against each other.
Yet even as southern whites seceded, claiming that they would set up an independent nation, shelling Fort Sumter, and provoking the Union’s president, Abraham Lincoln, to call out 100,000 militia, many white Americans wanted to keep the stakes of this dispute as limited as possible. A majority of northern Unionists opposed emancipation. Perhaps white Americans’ battles with each other were, on one level, not driven by a contest over ideals, but over the best way to keep the stream of cotton and financial revenues flowing: keep slavery within its current borders, or allow it to consume still more geographic frontiers. But the growing roar of cannon promised others a chance to force a more dramatic decision: slavery forever, or nevermore. So it was that as Frank Baker, Townshend, and Sheppard Mallory crept across the dark James River waters that had washed so many hulls bearing human bodies, the future stood poised, uncertain between alternative paths. Yet those three men carried something powerful: the same half of the story that Lorenzo Ivy could tell. All they had learned from it would help to push the future onto a path that led to freedom. Their story can do so for us as well. To hear it, we must stand as Lorenzo Ivy had stood as a boy in Danville—watching the chained lines going over the hills, or as Frank Baker and others had stood, watching the ships going down the James from the Richmond docks, bound for the Mississippi. Then turn and go with the marching feet, and listen for the breath of the half that has never been told.