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Khaled Abdullah

If you are looking for an AK-47, a sniper rifle or even an anti-aircraft gun, it takes only half-an-hour of shopping around in this arms market, one of Yemen's biggest weapons markets, to find one.

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A decade ago, the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq on the premise that the country was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Despite worldwide protest and a lack of UN authorization, 200,000 thousand troops deployed into Iraq in March of 2003, following massive airstrikes. The coalition faced minimal opposition, and Baghdad quickly fell. For years after President George W. Bush's "mission accomplished" speech, the war raged on, fueled by sectarian conflicts, al Qaeda insurgencies, outside agencies, and mismanagement of the occupation. Ten years later, we look back in a three-part series. Today's entry focuses on the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq, and the weeks immediately following. This entry is part 1 of 3, be sure to see part 2, and part 3. [50 photos]

Smoke covers Saddam Hussein's presidential palace compound during a massive US-led air raid on Baghdad, Iraq on March 21, 2003. Allied forces unleashed a devastating blitz on Baghdad, triggering giant fireballs and deafening explosions and sending huge mushroom clouds above the city center. Missiles slammed into the main palace complex of President Saddam Hussein on the bank of the Tigris River, and key government buildings. (Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images)

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WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Ten years ago, U.S. forces began bombing Afghanistan in retaliation against its Taliban rulers who refused to hand over the al Qaeda leaders responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Within weeks, the air strikes had helped Afghan opponents topple the Taliban, but in the decade since, the deposed Islamist fighters have returned to mount an ever more aggressive insurgency against an Afghan government backed by the United States and NATO. Since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. force has tripled in size, but Washington and NATO now plan to begin withdrawing and to hand over responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to Afghan forces by 2014.

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David R Arnott writes

GRAPHIC WARNING: This post contains graphic images which some viewers may find disturbing.

At the Beaconsfield Gallery in London last Friday, I sat in a darkened room and watched as dozens of images of death and destruction lit up the wall in front of me. Gruesome photos of mangled bodies and destroyed buildings, each accompanied by the name of a village and a date. The war they depict does not officially exist.

The photographs were taken by Noor Behram, a journalist from the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, and they document what he says are the civilian victims of unmanned aircraft 'drone' attacks carried out by U.S. forces.

Noor Behram via AP

In this Aug. 23, 2010 photo provided by Noor Behram, a man holds debris from a missile strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The Beaconsfield gallery in London is staging an exhibit of photographs taken by Behram allegedly showing innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal region.

Over a three year period Behram was able to travel to around 60 attack sites in Waziristan, a region that is usually off-limits to the international media. His images, fuzzy, washed-out and often poorly composed, are an incongruous sight in an art gallery, but these are photographs taken as a form of documentation, rather than for their aesthetic value.

In this, Behram follows a path set out by the renowned French photographer Gilles Peress, who declared in a 1997 interview that "I don't care so much anymore about 'good photography'; I am gathering evidence for history." Peress' project A Village Destroyed, which documented a 1999 massacre in Kosovo, illustrated the important role that photography can play in human rights investigations.

Noor Behram via AP

The body of an eight-year-old boy killed by a missile strike in Makeen, South Waziristan, Pakistan, in a photo taken on Feb. 14, 2009.

Behram explained his own motivation in taking the pictures: "I have tried covering the important but uncovered and unreported truth about drone strikes in Pakistan: that far more civilians are being injured and killed than the Americans and Pakistanis admit," he told the AP's Sebastian Abbot last month.

As Abbot reported, U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program, but they have said privately that the strikes harm very few innocents and are key to weakening al-Qaida and other militants.

Noor Behram via AP

A man stands next to a destroyed vehicle after a missile strike on a funeral in South Waziristan, Pakistan, on July 8, 2009.

Alongside Behram's pictures, the exhibition features The Ethical Governor, below, a satirical animation by the artist John Butler that draws on the parallels between drone technology and video games.

Butler Brothers

'The Ethical Governor', a fictional animation by the artist John Butler that satirizes Western imperialism and the use of drone technology.

The Beaconsfield exhibition, Gaming in Waziristan, is a collaboration with the NGO Reprieve, which has provided legal representation to prisoners on death row and Guantanamo Bay inmates. Reprieve has launched an initiative named "Bugsplat" - the term used by the CIA to describe a successful drone hit - which calls for an inquiry into the use of drones and says that some of the attacks may have constituted war crimes.

"We currently have a monopoly, or effective monopoly, on armed drones," John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, told Reuters last month. "This technology will spread, and it will be used against us in years to come."

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Osama bin Laden is dead. 9/11 was ten years ago. So it’s not the most obvious time for a key congressional panel to expand the war on terrorism.

But that’s exactly what a section of the fiscal 2012 defense bill proposes to do. The so-called “Chairman’s Mark” of the bill, currently before the House Armed Services Committee, wants to update the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, to reflect that the al-Qaida of the present day is way different than the organization that attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

While the original Authorization tethered the war to those directly or indirectly responsible for 9/11, the new language authorizes “an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces,” as “those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens.”

To its supporters, the proposal catches Congress up to the reality of today’s war. There aren’t many al-Qaida members in Afghanistan, but the war there rages onward. Meanwhile, the Obama administration wages a series of secret wars against al-Qaida entities in Pakistan and Yemen. Since last fall, Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the committee, has argued that Congress, which hasn’t voted on the war in a decade, needs to go on record approving or disapproving of the 2011-era war. Essentially, his proposal would bring the secret wars in from the cold.

But some counterterrorism analysts are worried that there’s no way to win a war this broad — only a way to expand it.

“Associated forces” could place the U.S. at war with terrorist entities that don’t concern themselves with attacking the United States. Think Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terrorist group aligned with al-Qaida that pulled off the Mumbai bombings of 2008. Under the House language, there’s nothing to stop Obama or his successors from waging war against them. It comes close to “terrorism creep,” says Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University.

Greenberg doesn’t dispute that the war on al-Qaida goes far beyond bin Laden. But before voting on an expansion of the war — beyond al-Qaida — “we need to absorb first what the death of bin Laden means,” she says. “We need to stop and think and re-think. The idea that we’re going to keep reacting and not have a thoughtful time out is just unacceptable.”

The proposal is a big expansion of executive authority, giving the president the ability to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against those terrorist groups he decides are U.S. enemies. So it’s an additional irony that the Obama administration isn’t wild about it.

Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, argued before the committee in March that the 2001 authorization is “sufficient to address the existing threats that I’ve seen.” Johnson’s resistance to a renewed authorization disappointed the panel’s leadership. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who chairs a panel subcommittee, argued that a deficit of congressional approval for actions like drone strikes in Pakistan makes it ”incredibly difficult for you to authorize the actions most of us agree we need to take.”

But the administration’s stated antipathy to the new authorization makes sense when considering a major chunk of the proposal would keep Guantanamo Bay open practically forever. It reestablishes military assessments on the continued danger from detainees at Gitmo, outside of the military commissions that try suspected war criminals. It restricts the resettlement of detainees into the U.S., even if that panel says they pose no threat, and makes it harder to transfer detainees to foreign countries. And it prevents the administration from building or upgrading any domestic detention facility to house Guantanamo detainees — a provision Obama bridled at in last year’s bill, but ultimately signed into law.

It’s an open question whether Obama will fight the committee on the new authorization provisions. It doesn’t want a second grueling fight over the defense bill this year — which gives McKeon an advantage. Josh Gerstein reports at Politico that the Obama team hasn’t made up its mind whether to embrace or oppose the proposal. Chances are, some aides would simply prefer to avoid a congressional debate that’s sure to split its liberal base.

And that indecision stretches to other areas of the war as well. Obama said last Sunday that the war won’t end because bin Laden’s dead. But aides like John Brennan optimistically forecast that bin Laden’s death and the reformist Mideast revolts are the beginning of the end for the terrorist group. In between, the administration is ratcheting up its drone war and withdrawing only about a third of the surge forces from Afghanistan. And now Congress would essentially give Obama a big encouragement to escalate the war instead of spooling it back.

“At a time when most Americans want the country to start pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan and limiting use of the military, the new declaration of war would give the president unchecked authority to use the military practically anywhere and everywhere,” says Chris Anders, a top lobbyist with the ACLU (which, full disclosure, employs my fiancee). “Congress should certainly exercise far more care and caution when turning over so much war authority to the president.”

Photo: U.S. Army

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Frontline’s new documentary on Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, al-Qaida and the drone war is an amazing piece of journalism. It’s so good that we thought you’d want to chat with one of its reporters about it.

In “The Secret War,” Stephen Grey traveled through Afghanistan and Pakistan for a first-hand look at the double game the Pakistanis play in the war on terrorism. One of his interlocutors was a Taliban commander, sheltered in Pakistan, who boasts of the support the Pakistanis provide. If the Pakistani government decided to roll up the extremist networks, the commander tells Grey, they’d be shut down before dinnertime.

The report provides a certain context for how Osama bin Laden could have lived in a safehouse in the shadow of Islamabad for as long as six years. What’s more, a former top CIA terror hunter, Robert Grenier, expresses concern that the drone war his old agency wages is radicalizing a new generation of killers to menace the U.S. now that bin Laden’s gone.

With so many questions remaining about counterterrorism strategy post-bin Laden, we jumped at the chance to chat with Frontline’s Grey. But it’s no fun if we’re the only ones talking. So you see that Cover it Live box below? Type your Af/Pak questions in starting at 11 a.m. EST and we’ll field them. And make sure to watch the doc if you haven’t seen it — a short promo’s on display below.

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