Good Dogs. Bad Humans. (Alternate Title: No, Virginia, The US Military Is Not A Flawless Band Of Heroes)

This story, tweeted out by the redoubtable Twitterer Angry Staff Officer (@pptsapper), breaks my heart:

In a report released on Friday, the Inspector General said that canine heroes, which saved the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan while working with brigade combat teams to sniff out roadside bombs, were mistreated by the Army after they returned to the United States…

The report said that some dogs were left in kennels for up to 11 months, beyond a deadline for giving them away for adoption or re-using them in the military or other government agencies. It said they were mistreated through lack of care and attention, and others may have been put down.

To its belated credit, as a spokesman told Reuters, “The Army concurs with the DoDIG (Defense Inspector General) report” and is implementing its recommendations.

But damn.

I mean, damn.

I know this isn’t really surprising, given the wretched history of US abandonment of local colleagues in too many conflicts.  Those people’s lives should have counted for much more than they did, we owed them more, and the costs they’ve born outweigh, to me at least, the mistreatment of animals.

But that our armed forces, acting in our names, may have committed greater sins doesn’t make lesser ones any better.

And in some ways, this story is worse, or grates more than larger tales of betrayal, because doing the right thing would have been easy.  Treating these dogs well would have made their lives better, while making the lives of their human comforters richer as well.

F**k it.

People don’t always suck, but some days, it sure seems like the default condition.

Miserably open thread.

Image: Passarotti, Portrait of a gentleman with two dogsbefore 1592.

Welcome To My World!

We’ve all had fun over the past several years about the zany acronyms that the US military uses in place of real words as an almost foreign language. And yes, it is entirely possible to have an entire conversation, even a lengthy one, solely in military acronym. One of the more interesting portions of US military subculture is really, really bad powerpoint slides and slide decks. This ranges from just whacky topics for briefings, or rather legitimate topics for briefings that become whacky and surreal because of who built the slides, all the way to just slides that make so little sense I’m not sure anyone can explain them. People’s exhibit A of this last type is this jewel from International Security Assistance Force – Afghanistan:

For the record: I did not make that slide. I have no idea who did, but since it was when GEN McChrystal was running ISAF, it most likely came from LTG Flynn’s shop. And I actually understand all of the stuff on the slide and it still makes my head hurt and is an abomination.

Anyhow, the Internet Archive has gone through and created an online archive for all the worst examples of the genre.

The Internet Archive celebrated its 20th anniversary with a variety of special events and collections, including the cleverly named Military Industrial Powerpoint Complex, an archive of US military bureaucratic slide-decks that are as cringey as they are hideous.

You can celebrate these marvels of the military bureaucratic communications system with a special “battledecks” Powerpoint karaoke event at the Internet Archive in San Francisco on March 6: contestants download a random military powerpoint and present it sight unseen, improvising the accompanying explanation.

If you can’t make it to the event, you can peruse the archive yourself from the comfort of your bunker; or follow Motherboard’s Matthew Gault on his guided tour of offensive, outdated, boring, and weird highlights of the collection.

Here’s the link. Once you’re done reviewing them all you can be awarded your tab:

I haven’t found any of mine yet, or any of my colleagues, but if I do, I’ll do a follow on post so you all can point and laugh.

Open thread!

A Battle of Eight Armies: Syria Update

Events have begun to spin out of control in Syria. Last week the Israelis lost an IAF F-16I Fighting Falcon. Though both the pilots were able to safely eject and survived. They came down in Israeli controlled territoryThe Israelis, of course, responded to the downing of their F-16 with a large scale reprisal. This included shooting down an Iranian drone – based on the US drone the Iranians downed in 2011. So we can now confirm that actually happened.

While this Israeli Vs Iranian in support of Syria and backed by Russia engagement was happening, the Syrian/Iranian/Russian coalition stepped up their attacks on Idlib and Ghouta.

The Turks lost a rotary wing (helicopter) craft last week as well. It was shot down by the US allied Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) near Afrin. Two Turkish Soldiers were killed.

Syrian Arab Armed Forces also conducted an attack against the US allied Kurds, which prompted a response from the US led coalition – Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF OIR):

US Special Operations Forces (SOF) are currently stationed in Manbij in a train, advise, and assist mission to the YPG.

It has been reported that anywhere between 100 (the official-ish number) and 600 Russian contractors fighting in Syria were killed in the US Coalition strikes last week.

While LTG Funk, Commander 1st Corps US Army and Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve talked about deconfliction and deescalation in the CNN clip above, he has a battlespace that is becoming more and more complex by the day. There are a lot of moving pieces in his operating environment (OE): Kurdish militia forces being supported by US SOF, the Syrian Arab Army and Air Force, Russian contractors, Iran’s Qud’s Force, Hezbullah’s military wing in support of Syria and Iran, the Turkish military, and Israel. And don’t forget ISIS. They may have lost almost all of the territory they seized to form their caliphate, but they are by no means finished. That is a lot of deconfliction and deescalation!

Moreover, while all of this is going on, and the US is being sucked deeper into the mess that is the Syrian Civil War, Russia continues to expand its interests in the region. In November it struck a deal with Egypt for basing Russian Air Force planes. Just last week the Russians and the Sudanese (that’s the northern, Republic of Sudan of the Sudans) came to an agreement for Russian military support to train and modernize the Sudanese Army.

Finally, it is unclear what the official US response will be. While the US led coalition is sticking with its Kurdish allies in Syria, it is unclear what decision will be made in DC by the National Command Authority. The President’s predilection for Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept the new, Congressionally mandated sanctions from being imposedAnd it appears that the decision to get rid of the Interagency produced, properly put together list of Russians to be named and shamed was made by a senior administration official, which lead to the rush job copy and paste from Forbes that was released.

A “name-and-shame” list of Russian oligarchs who made their money corruptly from their ties with Vladimir Putin was compiled by the US government agencies but then cancelled last week by a senior administration official, according to a Russia expert who was consulted on the list.

It was replaced by an all-inclusive list of rich Russians apparently copied straight from the Forbes magazine’s ranking of wealthy Russians, together with the names of some top Kremlin officials.

While the President has been very solicitous of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan even as Erdogan drags Turkey farther and farther into autocracy, he also warned the Turks against escalating against the US led coalition in Syria. The Turks have disputed the US account of this conversation.

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation.

“He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call.

“President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

 “The two leaders’ discussion of Operation Olive Branch was limited to an exchange of views,” the source said.
Right now there are a lot of moving pieces in Syria. All of them are rubbing against each other in a confined (battle) space. And the alliances don’t really line up with how the President seems to see the world. He’s favorably inclined to Putin and Erdogan. Yet the former is allied with the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbullah and the latter’s actions have the potential to pit NATO allies against each other. Since there is no clearly delineated US policy, or rather policy change, to what the US is trying to achieve in the Syrian part of the Levantine theater from the past administration to the current one, it is unclear what the President really wants to do. How deep he wants the US and the US led coalition involved in the Syrian Civil War. And just what end state he envisions as a result of the US’s actions in this highly complex theater of operations.

Stay frosty!

Open thread!

Open Thread: Toddlers & Clowns Always Love A Parade

Excellent overview from the Washington Post‘s Ishaan Tharoor — “Military parades are about ego and power. Of course Trump wants one.”:

In the same week we heard the president call his political opponents “treasonous” for not clapping at the State of the Union address, we now contemplate his excitement for the sort of martial display these days more associated with single-party states and irredentist autocrats.

Trump, who fondly refers to “my generals” and espouses a decidedly militarist agenda, now thinks it’s his turn. “We’re all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday. “We have been putting together some options. We will send them up to the White House for decision.”…

In a piece highlighting the difference between France’s yearly spectacular and Trump’s own ambitions, my colleague Rick Noack argued that Trump’s imagined parade is ultimately about his own brand of showboating nationalism, but that the French ceremonies nowadays commemorate something a bit more inclusive.

“France’s Bastille Day parade, which has persisted through two world wars and a Nazi occupation, has also been used to emphasize a very different message, which could be summarized as: We are only strong together,” Noack wrote. “What Trump may have missed while watching the Paris parade last July was that its organizers have frequently invited foreign troops — from Morocco and India to the United States, Britain and Germany — to march alongside French soldiers or to even lead the procession. Instead of the French flag, French soldiers sometimes wave the European Union flag, even though the political bloc does not have its own army.”…

So what’s the point? “A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life,” wrote the great British author George Orwell.

Orwell was writing in 1941, at a time when Britons faced the prospect of defeat and conquest by the Nazis. He decried the fascist “goose-step” as “one of the most horrible sights in the world,” and saw in it “an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.”

This led Orwell to conclude that, “beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.”

For Trump, the army certainly is no laughing matter — and he has picked a series of political battles with any domestic critics he claims are disrespecting the military. But while most Americans dare not laugh at their army, the reaction to Trump’s parade shows that quite a few are laughing at him.

The Turkish Gambit: Erdogan Issues An Ultimatum To the US In Syria

This broke late last night/early this morning:

ANKARA – The United States needs to withdraw from northern Syria’s Manbij region immediately, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday.

President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkish forces would sweep Kurdish fighters from the Syrian border and could push all the way east to the frontier with Iraq, including Manbij – a move which risks a possible confrontation with U.S. forces allied to the Kurds.

Speaking to reporters, Cavusoglu also said Turkey wanted to see concrete steps by the United States to end its support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

Ankara said earlier it had been told by U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster that Washington would not provide the YPG with weapons anymore.

There isn’t a lot of reporting yet on this. But this is worrisome as it would be operationally problematic for US forces to pullback from Manbij. It is also troubling because Erdogan, a NATO ally and partner of the US, specifically sought permission from Moscow for its escalating operations in Syria, not it’s US ally’s.

Moreover, less than 48 hours before the Turkish military operation — ironically dubbed Olive Branch — the Syrian regime in Damascus declared that a Turkish air operation would be met by Syrian missiles. The Syrian statement came while Turkey’s army and intelligence chiefs were in Moscow to get Russian approval and thus, the Syrian statement was interpreted as complementing a previous Russian warning against flying over Russian-controlled airspace over Syria.

The moment Turkish F-16s were in action and Turkish tanks rolled toward Afrin, no one was left with any doubt that Operation Olive Branch had the Russian green light.

The Russian position clearly indicates that the Syrian portion of the chessboard is important for Moscow in its game against Washington. Russia apparently saw a further opportunity to weaken NATO and create more fissures between Ankara and Washington by acquiescing to the Turkish military move into Afrin. The imperatives of Russia’s proxy war against the United States have preponderance over the uncertainties and problems that Turkey’s move could entail.

What we’re seeing is Erdogan’s need to shore up domestic support by targeting Syrian Kurdish groups allegedly connected to the PKK combining with Russia’s desire to drive a wedge into NATO as part of its active measures campaign against the US.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has blamed the US of trying to take control of the whole of Syrian-Turkish and Iraqi-Turkish borders by creating alternative authorities in Syria, pointing fingers at the SDF.

“Washington carries out open, and discreet delivery of arms to Syria for transfer to those groups that cooperate with them, especially to the SDF,” he said on Monday.

According to Mensur Akgun, a Turkish international relations professor, Russia’s move was understandable in light of Turkey’s firm stance on the PYD and YPG, and Moscow’s annoyance with the group’s close cooperation with the US.

“They are getting great support from the US. Washington is using the group, particularly in the east of the Euphrates [river], as a balancing force against the other powers there. They are using the group in order to increase the US presence and activities in this region,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I think this has become obvious with the announcement of the new border force planned to be set up there. Moscow, in my opinion, showed green light to Turkey’s operation to decrease the US influence in the region.”

Sergei Markov, a political analyst and a former MP from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, believes it was Moscow’s way of increasing tensions between Washington and Ankara.

“Russia does not publicly support such a military operation, but it opened the gate for this operation because it basically starts a proxy war between Turkey and the US [through YPG],” he told Al Jazeera.

He added that if the US, Kurds and Turkey fight each other, that would be regarded as a very positive trend by the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia and opposes all of those sides.

At this point we have to wait for more information to become available, but this is a very dangerous game being played. The US led coalition needs to maintain a presence in Manbij. It also needs to ensure that Syria’s borders are secure. Both of these have to happen as part of the campaign against ISIS. Turkey’s interest to prevent any Kurdish group from seizing and holding any ground that could be used as the basis for an independent Kurdistan, as well as its increasingly cozy relationship with Russia are very troubling signs. And as we can see with the Russians abandoning their historic support for the Kurds, the Russians are far more interested in rolling back US influence in the region and destabilizing, if not breaking, NATO than maintaining long standing support for a non state proxy. The Syrian Kurds are now learning that they are a disposable piece in Russia’s lukewarm war against the US and NATO. Given all the moving military pieces in play in the Levant, we are far more likely to stumble into something really bad happening here than almost anywhere else on the planet. The question now is, who blinks? The President or Turkey’s Erdogan?

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

At Em Boys, Give ‘Er The Gun!

Gen. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, the most senior Jewish American officer in the US military last seen in overwatch for Santa last Christmas, is once again subtweeting the President.

Give ‘er the gun indeed!

Open thread.

Excellent Read: ‘The World’s Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread’

I’ll probably get clipped for saying this — I may even deserve it! — but after reading Kerry Howley’s NYMag profile, I think Reality Winner and Heather Heyer (killed by a Nazi in Charlottesville) would’ve been friends. “Not every leaker is an ideological combatant like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Reality Winner may be the unlikeliest of all”:

Reality Winner grew up in a carefully kept manufactured home on the edge of a cattle farm 100 miles north of the Mexican border in a majority-Latino town where her mother, Billie, still lives. From the back porch, a carpet of green meets the horizon, and when a neighbor shoots a gun for target practice, a half-dozen local dogs run under the trailer to hide. Billie worked for Child Protective Services, and in Ricardo, Texas, the steady income made her daughters feel well-off; the fact that they had a dishwasher seemed evidence of elevated social standing. Billie, a chatty redhead with the high-pitched voice of a doll, supported the family while her husband, Ronald, she says, “collected degrees.” It was Ronald who named Reality. The deal had been that Billie got to name their first — Brittany — but their second was his to choose. He noticed, on a T-shirt at their Lamaze class, the words I COACHED A REAL WINNER. He wanted a success story and felt that an aspirational name would increase his chances of producing one. Billie did not object; a deal is a deal.

Ronald was intellectually engaged, though never, during his marriage, employed, and Reality’s parents separated in 1999, when she was 8. Two years later, when the Towers fell, Ronald held long, intense conversations about geopolitics with his daughters. He was careful to distinguish for them the religion of Islam from the ideologies that fueled terrorism. “I learned,” says Reality, “that the fastest route to conflict resolution is understanding.” She credits her father with her interest in Arabic, which she began studying seriously, outside school and of her own accord, at 17. It was this interest in languages that eventually drew her into a security state, unimaginable before 9/11, that she chose to betray. Fifteen years after those first conversations with her father, Reality’s interest in Arabic would be turned against her in a Georgia courtroom, taken as evidence that she sympathized with the nation’s most feared enemies…

No one was surprised when Reality’s sister, Brittany, went on to college, absurd amounts of college, such that she walked out of Michigan State with a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology last year. But Reality had then, and has now, a skepticism of academic degrees, which she recently described to me as “hundred-thousand-dollar pieces of paper that say you’ve never had a job.” (“It’s interesting,” her mother notes, “because of her father?”) She wanted her life to start. She wanted to make the biggest difference she could, as soon as she could. It wasn’t until she was getting on the bus for basic training that she told her mother she’d applied to engineering school at Texas A&M–Kingsville, received a full scholarship, and turned it down.

Based on her test scores, Reality was selected to be a cryptolinguist, which is to say she was tapped to help the military eavesdrop on people speaking languages other than English. She wanted Arabic, but the ones assigned to her were Dari and Farsi — languages of use to a military vacuuming up conversations from Afghanistan and Iran. She would spend two years becoming fluent and another year in intelligence training before she was sent to Maryland’s Fort Meade. Along the way, she’d be one of a few students admitted to a selective program in Pashto, yet another language in which she would become fluent.

In Maryland, her life, according to those closest to her, involved an exceptionally punishing exercise regimen, volunteer work, and 12-hour shifts listening to the private conversations of men and women thousands of miles away. There was also anxiety. Reality worried about global warming. She worried about Syrian children. She worried about famine and poverty all over the globe. Highly critical of her carbon-spewing, famine-ignoring fellow citizens, she nevertheless thought her humanitarian impulses were compatible with the military’s mission, and wished her fellow Airmen were not just more competent in their jobs but more motivated to do them well, to save the vulnerable from acts of terror…
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