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Who Are the Shadow Warriors? Countries Are Getting Hit by Major Military Attacks, and No One Is Taking Credit

In Syria, Sudan and elsewhere there have been violent attacks that no country has claimed responsibility for. A dark new trend in warfare.

Sudan: The two F-16s caught the trucks deep in the northern desert. Within minutes, the column of vehicles was a string of shattered wrecks burning fiercely in the January sun. Surveillance drones spotted a few vehicles that had survived the storm of bombs and cannon shells, and the fighter-bombers returned to finish the job.

Syria: Four Blackhawk helicopters skimmed across the Iraqi border, landing at a small farmhouse near the town of al-Sukkariyeh. Black-clad soldiers poured from the choppers, laying down a withering hail of automatic weapons fire. When the shooting stopped, eight Syrians lay dead on the ground. Four others, cuffed and blindfolded, were dragged to the helicopters, which vanished back into Iraq.

Pakistan: a group of villagers were sipping tea in a courtyard when the world exploded. The Hellfire missiles seemed to come out of nowhere, scattering pieces of their victims across the village and demolishing several houses. Between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, 60 such attacks took place. They killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda members along with 687 civilians.

In each of the above incidents, no country took responsibility or claimed credit. There were no sharp exchanges of diplomatic notes before the attacks, just sudden death and mayhem.

War without Declaration

The F-16s were Israeli, their target an alleged shipment of arms headed for the Gaza Strip. The Blackhawk soldiers were likely from Task Force 88, an ultra-secret U.S. Special Forces group. The Pakistanis were victims of a Predator drone directed from an airbase in southern Nevada.

Each attack was an act of war and drew angry responses from the country whose sovereignty was violated. But since no one admitted carrying them out, the diplomatic protests had no place to go.

The "privatization" of war, with its use of armed mercenaries, has come under heavy scrutiny, especially since a 2007 incident in Baghdad in which guards from Blackwater USA (now Xe) went on a shooting spree, killing 17 Iraqis and wounding scores of others. But the "covertization" of war has remained largely in the shadows. The attackers in the Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan were not private contractors, but U.S. and Israeli soldiers.

Assassination Teams

In his book The War Within , The Washington Post's Bob Woodward disclosed that the U.S. military has developed "secret operational capabilities" to "locate, target, and kill key individuals in extremist groups."

In a recent interview during a Great Conversations event at the University of Minnesota, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed a U.S. military "executive assassination ring," part of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Hersh says that "Congress has no oversight" over the program.

According to a 2004 classified document, the United States has the right to attack "terrorists" in some 15 to 20 nations, including Pakistan, Syria, and Iran. The Israeli military has long used "targeted assassinations" to eliminate Tel Aviv's enemies. U.S. and NATO "assassination teams" have emerged in Iraq and Afghanistan, where, according to the UN, they have killed scores of people. Philip Alston of the UN Human Rights Council charges that secret "international intelligence services" allied with local militias are killing Afghan civilians and then hiding behind an "impenetrable" wall of bureaucracy.

When Alston protested the killing of two brothers in Kandahar, "not only was I unable to get any international military commander to provide their version of what took place, but I was unable to get any military commander to even admit that their soldiers were involved," he told the Financial Times .

In Iraq, such special operations forces have carried out a number of killings, including a raid that killed the son and a nephew of the governor of Salahuddin Province north of Baghdad. The Special Operations Forces (SOF) stormed the house at 3AM and shot the governor's 17-year-old son dead in his bed. When a cousin tried to enter the room, he was also gunned down.

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