Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Rare Sincerity

Not an elegant solution, stripping the individual tweets like this, but I hope y’all will overcome your aesthetic instincts to read the whole thing anyways:

2/ I watched the segment @chrislhayes did tonight RE whether Trump called or sent letters to the families of the 4 soldiers KIA in Niger
3/ it kinda unexpectedly wrecked me. I heard about it earlier, & like w much that he does, my response was sarcastic humor. But watching…
4/…it overwhelmed me, & I ended up in tears. It was one of those moments where it was devastating to think about the defective human…
5/…now with power to make some of the most consequential decisions w the most catastrophic effects in human history. Specifically…
6/…it reminded me of my role in bringing a dog from Iraq to the United States. In 2006 I managed a Congressional campaign vs a Repub…
7….incumbent who–like nearly every one of them-voted for the Iraq War. As late as early 2006 there were still a lot of Dems afraid of…
9/…opposing the Iraq War & making the campaign centered on it. Like many Dems unafraid of opposing the war, he won. He asked me to be…
10/…his chief of staff. And in 2007 I took on the job of setting up his operation & positioning him for reelection.
*****

14/…BUT, he was not elected to represent only people opposed to or not involved in the war. He was elected to represent all +700,000 people in his district…
*****

19/ Fast forward a few months. We get word the family had tried to get help from one of the state’s 2 Repub…
20/…senators but we’re getting ignored. They reached out to us. The last photo of their son was him holding a puppy. The next day…
21/…he was killed. They wanted to know if we could he them bring them the puppy. From Iraq. To the US. From the start, I made it clear..
22/…I would likely fire anyone on our staff who should do any of the following: A. Guarantee we could get the dog B. Request anything…
23/…that could get anyone else wounded or killed C. Mention anything about what we were doing to anyone in the press. This was…
24/…something the family wanted. We were doing it for them, & because their son had made the ultimate sacrifice for his nation. Remember
25/…the man we worked for was elected for opposing the war in which their son was killed. I assumed they voted for the Repub incumbent…
26/…but _it didn’t matter. We had a duty to act in the interests of everyone in the district. And we took that duty seriously. So, for…

27/…the next several months, in addition to all out normal work, & helping a guardswoman who’d gone AWOL to attend a custody hearing…
28/… for her son, & a soldier who wanted to donate a kidney to his mom, we worked to find a street dog in Iraq, get it quarantined…
29/…in Iraq, transported through three countries, & delivered to a family in the US, & keep it secret from the press. The help we got…
30/…still makes me choke up; the soldier’ squad, the commander of the 82nd Airborne, DHL, customs officials in three countries…
31…and especially the 20-somethings on our staff who took on this task as professional, as public servsnts, as patriots, and as…
32…this connects to today–as serious people doing serious work. When I saw the tape of Trump today, I wanted to punch the screen…


***********

Apart from resolving to NEVER STOP RESISTING, what’s on the agenda for the day?



Open Thread: Trump Lies About Fallen Soldiers & Actual Presidents

There is nothing this person will not lie about. THANKS, REPUBLICANS!

Trump was responding to a question about why he has not yet made remarks about the four special operations servicemen killed in Niger almost two weeks ago. Trump, speaking from the Rose Garden in a surprise press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he plans on contacting the families soon.

“If you look at President [Barack] Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I am able to do it,” said Trump. “They have made the ultimate sacrifice. So generally I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass. I’m going to be calling them.”…

The office staff is having a little trouble finding those phone numbers, y’see. And they tore the place up looking for the roll of stamps, but how often do letters get sent, these days?

Look, those soldiers will be just as dead during the off-season, but there’s only so many days suitable for a few rounds of golf. The man has his priorities.

“President Trump’s claim is unequivocally wrong,” a former Obama official said in a statement to ABC News. “President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star Families at the White House and across the country.”

“President Bush wrote all the families of the fallen, and called and/or met privately with hundreds if not thousands,” a spokesperson to former President George W. Bush told ABC News.

An aide to President Bill Clinton also called the claim false. “He did call the families of fallen soldiers while in office,” the official told ABC News.

Alyssa Mastromonaco, former White House deputy chief of staff and a longtime scheduler for Obama, told ABC News, “It is unconscionable that a president would dare to ever portray another as unpatriotic, which is essentially what he was doing.” …

He may be squatting in the Oval Office, but Donald Trump will never be “a president”.

(Also, too, if glum-faced Mitch McConnell had the political sense of my little dog, he’ve tried to distract his “leader” before he dug that trench any deeper — by faking a heart attack, if necessary. Nobody outside the 27% believes your ‘No True Republican’ bullshit, McConnell.)

ETA:


(Trump would probably explain that he prefers soldiers who don’t get wounded and suck up money that could better be spent on tax cuts shiny new weapons.)



Bergdahl Pleads Guilty

Closure in the Bergdahl case:

The Latest on the court-martial of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his post in Afghanistan (all times local):

11:20 a.m.

A military prosecutor says he has made no agreement to limit punishment for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in return for the soldier’s guilty pleas to charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

After Bergdahl entered guilty pleas to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, the prosecutor, Maj. Justin Oshana, told the judge that there’s no pretrial agreement between the two sides.

The judge, Army Col. Judge Jeffery R. Nance, spent Monday morning asking Bergdahl questions to make sure he understands what he’s pleading guilty to, and that his offenses carry a maximum punishment of life in prison. The judge asked him one last time if he wanted to plead guilty, and Bergdahl replied, “yes.”

This is the system working. I still maintain that all the people screaming “fuck him” or “leave him” are wrong, as I have said all along. You bring your men back, and if they have done something wrong, the military will deal with it.








Conflicting Reports from Kirkuk

I’ve been covering the potential for an Iraqi Civil War between Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds for Kirkuk and its surrounding areas since before the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum in September. Tonight we’re getting conflicting reports out of Kirkuk about what is actually going on.

From the Government of Iraq:

There have been reports of US led coalition aircraft over Kirkuk:

And that attacks have begun despite PM Ibadi’s orders:

From al Jazeera (emphasis mine):

Iraqi security forces have launched a “major operation” in the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk to take control of a strategic military base and oil fields, according to Kurdish and Iraqi officials.

The aim of the advance early on Monday was taking control of the Kurdish-controlled K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani, of the Iraqi army’s 9th armoured division, told Reuters news agency.

Hemin Hawrami, senior assistant to Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) PresidentMasoud Barzani, also said on Twitter that Peshmerga forces had been ordered “not to initiate any war, but if any advancing militia starts shooting”, then they had the “green light to use every power” to respond.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Erbil, said Kurdish forces in and around Kirkuk “have vowed to defend it to the last man”. He added that the Kurdish governor of Kirkuk has reportedly called residents to arms, “saying anybody with a weapon should take it up and defend the city”.

It seems as if all diplomatic efforts have failed,” said Stratford, calling the push a “very worrying” development.

At this point it is unclear what exactly is going on. While the reports of actual fighting are scattered and only partially confirmed, there are two armed forces moving into close proximity of each other. And those two forces have very different objectives. Cooler heads may yet prevail, but it won’t take much for this to get really ugly really quickly.

Here’s a live stream from Kirkuk:



What Exactly is the Military’s Role in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands?

We’ve had a lot of discussion in the comments over the past couple of weeks about not just what is going on with the disaster response, emergency management, and/or humanitarian assistance missions in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, but also what exactly the US military’s role is. The US military is currently involved in assisting with all three components of the response: disaster response, emergency management, and humanitarian assistance. They are specifically doing so through what is called Defense Support of Civil Authorities, which is abbreviated as DSCA and pronounced as disca.

Defense Support of Civil Authorities is defined in Joint Publication 3-28/Defense Support of Civil Authorities:

Defense support of civil authorities (DSCA) is support provided by federal military forces, Department of Defense (DOD) civilians, DOD contract personnel, DOD component assets, and National Guard (NG) forces (when the Secretary of Defense [SecDef], in coordination with the governors of the affected states, elects and requests to use those forces in Title 32, United States Code, status or when federalized) in response to requests for assistance from civil authorities for domestic emergencies, law enforcement support, and other domestic activities, or from qualifying entities for special events.

DSCA in the US presents a unique challenge based on the history of the country and the interaction of the federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments and private and nonprofit organizations. These relationships establish the multiple layers and mutually reinforcing structures throughout the state and territorial governments for interaction based on the US Constitution, as well as on common law and traditional relationships.

US Army North has been mobilized as the Joint Land Force Component Command (JFLCC) to coordinate the US military response. This includes Task Force 51*, which is contingency command post. Specifically:

TF-51 is Army North’s contingency command post and conducts Defense Support of Civil Authority (DSCA), homeland defense and theater security cooperation in order to promote the defense and security of the United States​

There are also US Army Corps of Engineers, US Army Civil Affairs, and US Army National Guard – primarily from the Puerto Rico National Guard, as well as US Marine Corps personnel from the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group/26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (USS Kearsarge, USS Arlington, and USS Oak Hill) plussed up with USS Wasp, US Coast Guard Sailors, and the USNS Comfort on site assisting. There are also civilian personnel from a variety of US government civilian agencies.

The Commanding General of US Army North is not actually in charge of the response. Rather a FEMA executive on site is responsible. Unfortunately everyone defaults to “the US military is there, there’s a 3 star commander on site, the US military is in charge”. This is not actually the case. Because of how the news media has covered things since 9-11 everyone expects the military not only to perform, but to work miracles. This is largely a result of the US military being the only US governmental institution that is viewed positively by a majority of Americans. Whether the result of good public relations, the concerted effort not to treat uniformed personnel returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom the popular perception about the way returning Vietnam veterans were treated**, or a combination of the two, there is a pervasive belief among elected and appointed officials, as well as the US citizenry that the US military can do anything and everything. This combined with the significant divide that has grown between the All Volunteer Force and the rest of Americans, as well as a general lack of knowledge and understanding about what the US military does and does not do, can and cannot do, all contributes to the default belief that if the US military has responded, then it is in charge. So if things aren’t going well, then someone in uniform must be screwing up.

It is important to remember that LTG Buchanan, the Commanding General of US Army North, is not the military governor of PR and that martial law hasn’t been declared. In this mission he and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines under his command actually work for Michael Byrne, who is the Federal Coordinating Officer for Puerto Rico. While it is absolutely correct to question exactly what is going on with the response to the crises in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, it is important to remember who is running the show – FEMA – and who isn’t – the US military. Moreover, we don’t know what the Memorandum of Agreement is between FEMA/DHS and US Army North/Department of the Army that delineates who is doing what in regard to the Federal response to the crises in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as it is not posted anywhere public facing. Here’s an example of a Memorandum of Agreement between FEMA and the US Army Corps of Engineers from 2008 to give you an idea of what they look like. Here’s the manual for US military support to FEMA in these types of situations to give you some idea of how things should go.

That doesn’t make what we’re seeing in news reports and eye witness reports on social media about the inadequacy of the response okay. It just means that other than knowing that things aren’t going well, despite official pronouncements from various parties in DC, we don’t really know why they’re not going well. As in the root causes. Is the Memorandum of Agreement too limiting? Has too little resources, specifically actual food, water, clothing, medical supplies been queued up? Or delivered on site? Are there too few personnel on site when accounting for US civilian and military personnel? All of these are legitimate questions. But just because the US military on site gets all the press, and just because we’ve become conditioned to assume that they are both hyper-competent and always in charge wherever they are deployed, this is not always the case. And it is certainly not the case in the US response to the hurricane created crises in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

* Full disclosure: the Chief of Staff for Task Force 51 is my former student from my last year (academic year 2014) assigned at USAWC. I have not been commissioned by him, anyone else at the Joint Force Land Component Command in Puerto Rico, or anyone else in the US military to write this post.

** There is a popular perception in the US that returning vets from Vietnam were treated poorly by the American public. In terms of actual history this isn’t exactly what happened, and there are a lot of nuances, but this is the popular perception.



The Battle for Kirkuk Has Begun!

Three weeks ago, in the run up to the independence referendum called by Masoud Barzani, I wrote:

One of the major issues in play here is who controls Kirkuk. When my teammates and I conducted our tribal study and social history in 2008, with in depth interviews of over 50 sheikhs, imams, political, and business leaders in central Iraq (predominantly from Mada’ain Qada, but also including interviewees from across Baghdad Province, and a few from Diyala and Wassit Provinces) Kurdish independence was only brought up by about five or six of our interview subjects. But when it was brought up we were told that any attempt to declare an independent Kurdistan, especially if the attempt included taking Kirkuk, would be unacceptable. We were specifically told by several sheikhs that this was one issue that would unite Sunni and Shi’a Iraqi Arabs and could lead to an Iraqi-Arab versus Iraqi-Kurdish civil war.

The Iraqi army launched an operation to retake Kurdish-held positions around the disputed oil city of Kirkuk on Friday amid a bitter row with the Kurds over a vote for independence last month.

A senior Kurdish official said thousands of heavily armed fighters had been deployed to resist the offensive “at any cost” and called for international intervention with the federal government in Baghdad to prevent the confrontation worsening.

The Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga have been key allies of the US-led coalition in its fight against the Islamic State (IS) group and the threat of armed clashes between them poses a major challenge for Western governments.

Ethnically divided but historically Kurdish-majority Kirkuk is one of several regions that peshmerga fighters took over from the Iraqi army in 2014 when the jihadists swept through much of northern and western Iraq.

Baghdad is bitterly opposed to Kurdish ambitions to incorporate the oil-rich province in its autonomous region in the north and has voiced determination to take it back.

Al Jazeera reports:

“Thousands of heavily armed peshmerga units are now completely in their positions around Kirkuk,” a top aide to KRG President Masoud Barzani posted on social media on Friday.

“Their order is to defend at any cost,” Hemin Hawrami wrote on Twitter.

The Iraqi Kurdish/Iraqi Arab civil war has begun. This was both predictable (see my September post) and preventable. No one was so naive as to think that the Iraqi Kurds would not declare independence when the fight against ISIS was over. Everyone knew it would happen. Doing it now was just strategically stupid. It will divert attention and resources allowing ISIS to regroup. It will provide openings for the Russian and Iranian backed Assad government to advance their interests. The US led coalition against ISIS is facing a strategic nightmare: a civil war among their host country allies.



What the Deaths of Four Green Berets in Niger Really Tells Us About the US Military’s Strategic Posture

Eight days ago a US Army Special Forces* Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA, A Team, small team) partnered with a Nigerien Special Forces team were ambushed along the Niger-Mali border.  The Green Berets, from 3rd Special Forces Group, were conducting a Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission. Foreign Internal Defense is defined in Joint Publication 3-22/Foreign Internal Defense as:

Foreign internal defense (FID) is the participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization, to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to their security. The focus of US FID efforts is to support the host nation’s (HN’s) internal defense and development (IDAD), which can be described as the full range of measures taken by a nation to promote its growth and protect itself from the security threats described above.

Derek Gannon has provided excellent coverage over at SOFREP. Including a powerful op-ed. But it was this point that he made that I found the most thought provoking:

Gannon’s reporting brings us back to one of the points I made in May when discussing plans to send an additional 4,000 or so troops to Afghanistan:

… the conventional Army can’t do much more than what it is actually doing. And neither can the Air Force or the Navy or Special Forces. Eventually something will have to give. Either the US will have to adjust its national security strategy expectations down so they are in line with the ways and means available/likely to be available or it will have to adjust the ways and means available up so they are in line with our national security strategy expectations and obligations. Given that the US is the only country to ever cut taxes, twice, while waging two wars, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to increase our means in any significant manner. To do so would require actually increasing Federal revenue, which is anathema to the GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate, as well as movement conservative and Republican party orthodoxy.

What Gannon reported in regard to US Army Africa and US Africa Command’s inability to provide close air support (CAS) and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) by air isn’t just confined to US Special Forces operating in Niger. US Army Africa has one, let me repeat that, ONE brigade combat team allocated to it. Currently it is the 1st Brigade Combat Team/101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), also known as the 327th Infantry Regiment or “Bastogne”. That brigade, approximately 4,500 to 5,000 Soldiers (if it is at full readiness) garrisoned at Ft. Campbell, KY is usually broken up to conduct a number of advise, assist, train, and support missions as tasked by US Army Africa. It is supplemented by small teams of Soldiers from a variety of state National Guard elements as every state National Guard has foreign country partners. This is not a new development, rather it is how US Army Africa has been organized since its inception. The only other brigade combat team that the US Army Africa commander has at his command is the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which is allocated to the Southern European Task Force, which is the other command that the US Army Africa commander is dual hatted to run**. They are the rapid reaction force for US Army Europe and the Southern European Task Force, as well as for US Army Africa. However, they are garrisoned in Vicenza, Italy, which is also the home station for US Army Africa and the Southern European Task Force.

It has recently been reported, however, that the 173rd is struggling to meet and maintain readiness as a result of technological changes and as a result may not be able to successfully fulfill its mission set:

But the assessment details a series of “capability gaps” the unit has identified during recent training with Ukrainian troops with experience battling Russian-backed separatists, who have used cheap drones and electronic warfare tools to pinpoint targets for artillery barrages and devastated government armored vehicles with state-of-the-art Russian antitank missiles.

Some of the shortfalls, like the brigade’s lack of air defense and electronic warfare units and over-reliance on satellite communications and GPS navigation systems, are the direct results of the Army’s years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy has no air power or other high-end equipment and technology.

“The lessons we learned from our Ukrainian partners were substantial. It was a real eye-opener on the absolute need to look at ourselves critically,” Col. Gregory Anderson, who commissioned the report earlier this year during his stint as the brigade’s commander, told POLITICO after it had obtained a copy of the report. “We felt compelled to write about our experiences and pass on what we saw and learned.”

The reason that this is important and the reason it has to do with the four dead Green Berets last week is one more indicator that the ends, ways, and means of the US military are way out of balance. The US military is currently designed to be expeditionary. To be forward based and forward deployed to help positively shape the 21st Century operating environment and various areas of responsibility through a variety of missions. A lot of these missions are military to military partnering. Foreign Internal Defense, advise and assist, train, equip, as well as military to civilian development (National Guard engineering teams partnering with host country elements to build or refit infrastructure ), humanitarian assistance (Civil Affairs and other units conducting medical and veterinary operations, etc) and military to military and military to civilian diplomacy. These four Soldiers killed in action continues to hammer home that despite what we’re spending on the US military we’re still unable to properly sustain operations. The inability to provide close air support or casualty evacuation by air when troops are in contact with hostile forces is inexcusable. This isn’t the US Army Africa or the Special Operations Command Africa Commanders faults per se. They have been given missions to carry out. They also have not been provided with the appropriate resources to support those missions. Eventually these two things are going to be in conflict. Unfortunately it happened eight days ago and involved four dead Green Berets, as well as a number of our Nigerien partners.

This is an ends, ways, means out of alignment problem. It has contributed to three collisions and one grounding over the past year in the 7th Fleet, which is the Navy’s most active command. Tired, overworked Sailors are going to make mistakes. And they have.

This isn’t an argument for more defense spending, rather it is an acknowledgement that given what we’re spending we’re not getting optimum outcomes. Some of this is that US Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps aviators have been at war continuously since 1991. Some of it is that the tooth (combat elements) to tail (support elements) needs to be reapportioned. I’m not nocking all the hard working uniformed and civilian personnel doing acquisitions, logistics, combat arms support, sustainment, garrison/home station operations and installation management, medical, dental, and veterinary services, etc. If they go away then the combat elements are going to be in even worse shape. But right now we appear to have too little operational capability and capacity to do what is necessary. Eventually something will have to give. Either the US force posture, the idea of being expeditionary and using the US military to proactively shape the global operating environment will have to be reconsidered and reconceptualized or the ways and means provided will have to be adjusted accordingly. If we can’t provide close air support and casualty evacuation to a 12 man ODA and their host country partners in contact with hostile forces in Niger, then we have a problem. And that problem is only going to get bigger and worse as long as the discussion of what the US military is for, how it should be structured to achieve the objectives set for it, and how we pay to do that gets punted from one continuing resolution to another and from one waiver of the Budget Control Act to the next. Regardless of how one feels about what the US military is doing or should be doing, the ambush in Niger is a major signal that we have a problem. And this problem is bigger than just what the US military is tasked to do and how it is resourced to do it.

* Special Forces (SF) specifically refers to the US Army’s Green Berets. All other US special operations elements are referred to as Special Operations Forces (SOF).

** US Army Africa is technically a build out and restructuring of the Southern European Task Force. Hence the US Army African commander being dual hatted as the Southern European Task Force commander.