The Legacy Of the United States’ Secret Wars, Past and Present

secret wars
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Runser US Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war on behalf of the United States. The Founding Fathers believed that to entrust declarations of war to one man – as was the case with the British monarchy – would be too great a temptation and too heady of a responsibility.

Congress has declared war a total of eleven times, with the last declaration taking place during World War II in 1942, and yet the United States has been engaged in the activity of war my entire adult life – of which as a veteran I was a key player.

How is it that America has been able to engage in war without declaring war and what does it mean for future Americans?

A means to an end

The United States can conduct what are often monikered as ‘secret wars’ through three key loopholes:

  • the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)
  • the covert action statute
  • U.S. Code Title 10 section 127e

The AUMF was born after the attacks of September 11th and helped kickstart my young adult life as a combat veteran. The covert action statute allows for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to utilize military force for some of their operations.

Finally, the 127e programs – known to those familiar as “127-echo” – allows special operations forces to use foreign military units as proxies. The United States pays to send special operators to foreign countries and train them up on using our tactics and equipment.

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The kicker, and what makes 127-echos controversial and dangerous, is that these foreign militaries are then sent on U.S. directed missions to target enemies of the United States. One argument is that these programs and authorities have allowed for evil men to be eradicated from the Earth and kept from executing countless unthinkable terrors on innocent civilians to include Americans.

Another argument is that these programs circumvent the Constitution and have in some ways complicated peace more than it has maintained it. Let us look at some of these secret wars and I will let you decide which argument weighs more.

Death from above

The Vietnam War is an often-misunderstood conflict, particularly America’s role in the fight between the North and South Vietnamese. The part of history that is rarely touched on enough is the United States military and intelligence agencies’ missteps throughout the war.

Case in point: the secret war waged on Laos. Between the years of 1964 and 1973 the United States dropped over two million tons of bombs.

That amount is more than what was dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. This aerial bombing was led by the CIA in a campaign to destroy supply lines going into Vietnam.

Unfortunately, it proved less than fruitful and resulted in countless innocent Laotian deaths, some of which are still happening today due to unexploded ordinance that still riddles the countryside.

Fast forward two years and the United States was at it again delivering catastrophic results from aerial bombings this time in Cambodia. Between 1975 and 1979 the U.S. conducted a secret B-52 aerial bombing campaign in rural Cambodia.

The devastation wrought by America’s secret bombings birthed the popularity of a new Communist regime in the country led by Pol Pot. His ascension to power on the heels of this poorly executed covert mission in the name of freedom led to the death of between one and three million people.

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Crimes in our name

When terrorists weaponized commercial airliners to wreak death and destruction on U.S soil on 9/11, the urge and call to strike hard and fast at those who scarred our national psyche was universal. That call to arms helped to usher in a new type of Constitutional assault in the form of Section 127e.

The United States has trained and unleashed foreign proxy armies on our enemies in (at least) the following countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, and Lebanon. These are only the countries we know about, and that’s only thanks to exhaustive Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The rub of the 127-echo program is that it is exempt from what is commonly referred to as the “Leahy Law.” This law requires the United States to scrutinize the human rights records of forces receiving security aid.

To illustrate the dangerous precedent this has caused one merely has to look to our secret war in Cameroon. The United States trained the “Rapid Intervention Battalion” known by its French acronym BIR.

The mission of BIR was to fight the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. However, it was discovered that while in the act of executing the interests of the U.S. the BIR tortured, murdered, and executed women and children.

https://twitter.com/Tapang_Ivo/status/1095095676600492034

As rights advocate Emma Osong describes:

“They kill randomly, they arrest randomly, they arrest children, they open fire on the civilian population. The crimes are piling up…and they are being done by a military who’s funding partly comes from America.”

It is hard to argue moral superiority when funding human rights violations and war crimes.

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The war machine

Even as these secret wars are meant to be conducted by proxies, American men and women in uniform are losing their lives in wars that have never been constitutionally declared. In 2017 combat ensued in the Tunisian 127-echo program titled Obsidian Tower that directly engaged U.S. forces.

That same year four American soldiers were killed by Islamic State militants in Niger during a similar operation. Currently there are U.S. troops actively engaged in a 127-echo in Lebanon called Lion Hunter.

In a letter to Congress back in June President Joe Biden wrote:

“Approximately 89 United States military personnel are deployed to Lebanon to enhance the government’s counterterrorism capabilities and to support the counterterrorism operations of Lebanese security forces.”

Is it the terrorist attacks by Hamas and subsequent counter ground assault by Israel that threatens to pull us into war in the Middle East, or is it our own actions perpetuated in the name of counterterrorism done in a blatant subversion of the Constitution that will plunge us into the next war?

This veteran of the War on Terror argues that we have already been engaged in war without our elected representative’s permission.

It is true, these secret wars waged by the United States have helped to snuff out evil men who would do evil things on this planet. But it is also true that these secret wars help to breed more evil, a self-eating snake that helps the war machine churn on and on.

What is the greatest casualty of these secret wars? Our Constitution.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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