White House Tried, Failed, to Send Drones to Surveil 2010 Osh Violence
The White House wanted the United States military to monitor the 2010 massacres in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, with a drone, and the military's failure to do so had negative ramifications for future U.S. military operations in Sudan, Libya, and Syria, a new book reports.
"Within the White House," the Osh violence "triggered fears of a possible ethnic cleansing campaign to come, or even genocide," writes Rosa Brooks in her new book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon. At the time, Brooks was working as Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and she recounted getting a phone call from an acquaintance at the National Security Council. "With little preamble, he told me that Central Command needed to move a surveillance platform to a position from which it could monitor fast-breaking events in Kyrgyzstan," she writes.
The Pentagon blanched -- not because it didn't care about Kyrgyzstan, Brooks writes, but because the request didn't come through the proper chain of command, and a medium-level staffer couldn't approve something as weighty as deploying a military aircraft to a new country.
"My White House colleague was incredulous when I raised some of these concerns. 'We're talking about, like, one drone. You're telling me you can't call one colonel at CentCom and make this happen? Why the hell not? You guys' -- by which he meant the Pentagon writ large -- 'are always stonewalling us on everything. I'm calling you from the White House. The president wants to prevent genocide in Kyrgyzstan. Whatever happened to civilian control of the military?"
For Brooks, the point of the episode -- which she calls a "minor issue" -- was that it illustrated the lack of understanding on the part of the White House of how the military decision-making process worked: "My White House colleague--a smart, energetic, dedicated guy--went away upset, convinced that 'the military' was refusing to take atrocity prevention issues seriously (an attitude that soured many later interagency discussions about Sudan, Libya, Syria, and more)."
For Central Asia watchers, though, it's an interesting little insight into high-level U.S. policymaking around one of the most significant recent regional crises. The idea that President Obama wanted "to prevent genocide in Kyrgyzstan" suggests that, had the U.S. gotten information about an ongoing genocide that it would have tried to do something about it. Recall that while the crisis was taking place, President Roza Otunbayeva asked not for U.S. military intervention, but Russian. How all of this would have played out is impossible to guess now; fortunately we never had to find out.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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