Archive for category Military
Ahrar al Sham T-72 tank at the recent battle of Wadi al Daif in Idlib province, Syria
It’s time once again to check in with The Long War Journal and see how things are going in Syria and Iraq. Oh, not good. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, and elements of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army have reportedly taken Syrian Army positions in the northwestern province of Idlib.
The Al Nusrah Front, supported by jihadist groups Ahrar al Sham and Jund al Aqsa, and units from the Free Syrian Army, today claimed to have overrun Wadi Al Daif, a Syrian Army base located just east of the city of Maa’rat al Nu’man. In addition, Ahrar al Sham, Al Nusrah, and the Free Syrian Army also advanced on Al Hamadiya, which sits just south of the city; the groups claimed to have taken partial control of Al Hamadiya.
Control of the two bases is critical for the Syrian military as they straddle the M5 highway, the main road from Aleppo to Damascus.
Meanwhile in Iraq, ISIS has renewed its attack on Samarra and nearby towns.
The Islamic State seeks to control Samarra and towns and cites to its south in order to secure the northern Baghdad belt. Jihadist control of this area would make it difficult for Iraqi forces to resupply and reinforce military units north of the city. Additionally, the Islamic State would use this area to disrupt security in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government has allowed Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, Hezbollah Brigade, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), and Muqtada al Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade, all of which are supported by Iran’s Qods Force, to reinforce beleaguered and demoralized Iraqi forces in Samarra. These militias have remained on the front line and have secured cities and towns, many of which are predominantly Sunni communities, along the road from Samarra to Baghdad.
ISIS is also trying to consolidate its hold on Anbar Province.
Islamic State fighters launched an assault on al Wafa, which is west of the provincial capital of Ramadi, on Dec. 12 and defeated Iraqi security forces and local tribal fighters.
…The Islamic State maintains the initiative in Anbar province, most of which is under its control. The provincial capital of Ramadi and the town of Haditha remain contested terrain. The Iraqi military, the Awakening, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been unable to wrest control of the province from the Islamic state since Fallujah and other cities and towns fell in January 2013.
Since Dec. 10, the US has conducted 16 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, and the US and partners have carried out 29 airstrikes against the group in Iraq. President Obama told US troops: “The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation building overseas, that’s coming to an end.”
Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham advance in northwestern Syria
Islamic State releases pictures from recent fighting near Samarra (Note: some gruesome photos here)
Islamic State overruns town in Anbar, executes Awakening fighters
Al Nusrah Front uses American-made anti-tank missile in Idlib (Video)
“Fury” is the best tank movie Hollywood has done to date (“Fury” is the crew’s name for their later-model M4A3E8 Sherman, also known as an “Easy Eight”). Of course, it’s still a Hollywood production; when Brad Pitt takes off his CVC (combat vehicle crewman) helmet, every hair on his head is neatly combed! And while the plot has elements of realism (how many lieutenants have made the mistake of putting their own tank at the head of the column?) it’s way too melodramatic. This film is very violent, as you might expect. Warfare can be horrifying, that’s why soldiers get PTSD.
Like a lot of movies today, the special effects are the best part. The actors do a credible job, especially Brad Pitt as SSGT Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, and Logan Lerman as Norman Ellison, a clerk-typist newly assigned to the crew of “Fury” (and the guy the audience can identify with, because like most people he’s never seen the inside of a tank before). One thing that’s definitely NOT a special effect is the real German Tiger tank that makes its Hollywood debut (up to now, the “Tigers” you have seen in contemporary feature films have been modified Russian T-34 tanks). This one is an actual Panzerkampfwagen VI.
I had the somewhat bizarre experience of leading a tank platoon across Bavaria as a member of the 2d Armored Division’s 66th regiment (the same unit the fictional Wardaddy was assigned to). Except I did it in 1978, not 1945. We didn’t ask any Germans what they thought of us, because the answer to that question would have to be complicated and hard to understand. As Wardaddy says in the film, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”
Fury (2014) – IMDb
An F/A-18E Super Hornet and an F/A-18F Super Hornet prepare to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush
The Obama administration has ramped up the air war against ISIS by attacking bases in Syria. The operation – which employed Tomahawk missiles, B1 bombers, fighter-bombers and drones – was supported by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and the UAE. According to reports, the $139 million F-22 stealth fighter jet saw combat for the first time ever during the strikes over Raqqa. The U.S. also carried out separate raids on the little-known al-Qaeda group Khorasan near Aleppo, possibly killing Muhsin al-Fadhli, a veteran al-Qaeda operative.
Gareth Evans points out the obvious fact that strategic bombing isn’t going to succeed where the 8-year U.S. occupation of Iraq failed.
The competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces — crucial if territory is to be taken and held — will take time to build up, and may never be achievable with the so-called moderate forces within Syria. Airstrikes anywhere risk civilian casualties — and thus the possibility of inflaming the very sentiments one is trying to counter.
Moreover, airstrikes in Syria without the government’s consent or Security Council authorization will be manifestly in breach of the United Nations Charter.
At this point, I think everyone has finally realized that following the al-Qaeda game plan post-9/11 didn’t turn out well. The aim of strategy is to force the enemy to conform to your will. Al-Qaeda had a strategy, and we really didn’t. The Bush administration sent our military to chase after who-knows-who in some 60 countries. When President Obama says, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to avoid spending more trillions and more American lives to give ISIS exactly what they want, he is stating a fact.
Tom Engelhardt (emphasis added):
Though the militants of ISIS would undoubtedly be horrified to think so, they are the spawn of Washington. Thirteen years of regional war, occupation, and intervention played a major role in clearing the ground for them. They may be our worst nightmare (thus far), but they are also our legacy — and not just because so many of their leaders came from the Iraqi army we disbanded, had their beliefs and skills honed in the prisons we set up (Camp Bucca seems to have been the West Point of Iraqi extremism), and gained experience facing U.S. counterterror operations in the “surge” years of the occupation. In fact, just about everything done in the war on terror has facilitated their rise. After all, we dismantled the Iraqi army and rebuilt one that would flee at the first signs of ISIS’s fighters, abandoning vast stores of Washington’s weaponry to them. We essentially destroyed the Iraqi state, while fostering a Shia leader who would oppress enough Sunnis in enough ways to create a situation in which ISIS would be welcomed or tolerated throughout significant areas of the country.
“Blowback” can’t even begin to describe a strategic failure of this magnitude. It would be nice to think that the Obama administration has the intelligence and fortitude to design a new strategy that goes beyond “don’t do stupid shit.” I don’t think that. Nobody in Washington is prepared to call the Global War on Terror an utter failure, or admit that ISIS could not have triumphed without our help. It’s reasonable to predict the USA will keep doing the same thing (if only for lack of a better idea), hoping for different results.
The Obama administration’s foreign policy approach (Don’t do stupid stuff) has been unbelievably better than the Bush administration’s approach (do as much stupid stuff as possible).
Read the rest of this entry »
I can’t believe that anybody needs to say this. There is nothing good that can be accomplished by the U.S. military in Iraq. We don’t even know what side to fight on. But MoveOn is right– we can’t just assume that Washington politicians have enough sense to make a smart decision, even after the nine-year fiasco that was the invasion and occupation of Iraq. We must make our voices heard now.
Petition by Iraq War veteran Matthew Hoh: “Tell President Obama and Congress: Keep America Out Of Iraq!”
Petition demanding a vote in Congress: “Join Barbara Lee & Scott Rigell, Stop Rush to Iraq War”
h/t War is Boring
Remember this classic exchange from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948)?
Dobbs: “If you’re the police where are your badges?”
Gold Hat: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”
On Wednesday, Department of Defense General Counsel Stephen Preston and State Department Deputy Legal Advisor Mary McLeod told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee roughly the same thing, saying that the Authorization To Use Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress three days after the 9/11 attacks is not needed to justify U.S. attacks on perceived enemies worldwide (emphasis added).
The single-paragraph AUMF has been the legal justification for the longest war in U.S. history; everything from the jailing of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo to drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen. Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was supposed to explore how and when that congressional mandate could be revised or repealed. But the biggest surprise was the administration’s top lawyers didn’t think Obama even needed it anymore to fight the war on terror as he pleased.
Asked by Corker, if the 2001 AUMF was repealed “can the president carry out the counter-terrorism activities he is carrying out today,” McLeod said, “Yes I believe he could.”
Going deeper into the legal thicket, both McLeod and Preston said that the Constitution’s Article II gives the president all the authority he needs to take military action. That view was initially promoted in the Bush White House by David Addington, Cheney’s chief counsel, who constantly told his legal critics, “You are either with us or against us.”
Now, 13 years later, McLeod and Preston say the president doesn’t need congressional authorization at all.
NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel has obtained a leaked draft of the “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.” This agreement, as yet unsigned, provides for an endless war despite President Obama’s repeated assurances that U.S. forces are leaving Afghanistan next year.
Afghan officials tell NBC NEWS the agreement is critical to Afghanistan’s future stability. Without ongoing military assistance, training and funding, those officials say the government could collapse and Afghanistan would enter a civil war. If the agreement passes, the draft says Washington would commit to a long -term, indefinite military involvement in this land-locked Asian nation.
This morning on MSNBC, Chuck Todd asked Richard Engel (who is still in Kabul) if the Afghan officials he has spoken to have any idea how unpopular the Afghanistan War is in America. Engel responded that they do not. Probably they are talking to the wrong Americans. More than two-thirds of us say this war was not not worth fighting.
The average annual cost to keep one American soldier deployed in Afghanistan is now $2.1 million. Total cost to taxpayers for our country’s longest war in history is estimated at $1.6 trillion (not counting interest). The human toll (including US soldiers and contractors, allied soldiers, and Afghan security forces, insurgents and militants, and civilians) is estimated to be at least 145,000 deaths by direct war violence since 2001 in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
First from The Commonwealth Fund:
In 2013, more than one-third (37%) of U.S. adults went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when they were sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of costs, compared with as few as 4 percent to 6 percent in the United Kingdom and Sweden.
And the second from JDI conservative Andrew Sullivan:
When a private sector system means you have ten times as many people failing to get basic treatment as in Britain’s uber-socialized NHS, you realize just how great the market failure is. I’m all for markets, but the facts seem to me to reveal that in healthcare, they are toxic to most people’s actual, you know, health. In what other area does socialism work so much better than capitalism? Isn’t that a first order question conservatives should address?.
The US healthcare system is a grotequely expensive disaster; plagued with inefficiencies, disconnected from the needs and wants of patients, distorted by massively misaligned priorities and goals, it consumes vast amounts of our national wealth without delivering corresponding benefits. More and more, it seems to me that healthcare and defense are exemplars of American dysfunction. Delivering sub-par outcomes in exchange for exorbitant amounts of money, driven by fear and a deep-seated mindset of scarcity, both healthcare and defense are expressions of American’s sense of vulnerability. We overspend on defense to keep us safe against military and other threats and we overspend on healthcare in a frantic desire for wellness. In both cases, our actions undermine our goals.
Today I actually got involved in an e-mail debate with none other than Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall (who never before has answered my e-mails). He contended that President Obama has complete authority as commander-in-chief to order an attack on Syria without congressional authorization, and he lectured me for allegedly being ignorant on the subject of constitutional war powers.
“It’s a complex topic,” said Marshall. “I simply don’t think this is as simple as only Congress has the right to get us into shooting wars.” He’s wrong of course, and I gave him some detailed arguments which I could repeat here, and maybe will in comments. But tonight on Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC show I learned about another debate that quickly got to the point. I could not do better.
[Note: Please ignore the AIPAC ad]
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) emerged from a meeting with President Obama and other congressional leaders earlier today and publicly declared her continued support for military intervention in Syria. But before she left the press gaggle, she shared one last story about a curious conversation she had with her five-year-old grandson over Labor Day weekend.
Before she left her home in San Francisco, Pelosi said her grandson approached her with this question: “Are you ‘yes’ war with Syria, ‘no’ war with Syria?” First of all, she wanted everyone to know that “we’re not talking about war, we’re talking about an action” in Syria, but none-the-less she continued the anecdote.
When she asked her grandson what he thought, he said, “I think no war.” She proceeded to make her case to the young man, describing how Bashar al-Assad’s regime has “killed hundreds of children there.”
“Were these children in the United States?” her grandson asked, bringing up the salient point of how the strike will affect American interests.
She told him, no, but they are “children” wherever they are. “It affects our interests because, again, it was outside of the circle of civilized behavior,” she told reporters. “Humanity drew a line decades ago that I think if we ignore, we do so to the peril of many other people who could suffer.”
From her remarks, it sounds like Pelosi may not have been able to sway her five-year-old grandson. Will she be able to convince her colleagues in the House?
Attacking Syria would be a big mistake, the biggest of the Obama administration. Everyone can see it. The only division is between those who can admit this in public, and those who cannot.
Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s the take-away from President Obama’s speech today at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, in Washington DC.
The drone surge may finally be over. By some estimates, 98% of drone strike casualties were civilian noncombatants (50 for every one “suspected terrorist”). The Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report detailing how the CIA deliberately targeted rescuers who show up after an attack, and mourners at funerals as a part of a “double-tap” strategy eerily reminiscent of methods used by terrorist groups like Hamas.
In the months and years ahead, drone strikes once conducted by the CIA will become more of a U.S. military responsibility. The rules for launching the strikes will become stricter — there must be a “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed, for instance — and they’ll become less frequent. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective,” Obama said… “is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”
Yet neither Obama nor senior administration officials ruled out the most controversial aspect of Obama’s counterterrorism measures: so-called signature strikes, in which the CIA does not know the identities of the people it targets, but infers terrorist affiliation based on their observed patterns of behavior.
President Obama says he’s sorry.
Of the civilians who have died in the strikes, Obama said: “For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Of course, the other guys kill civilians too.
“Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes,” he added.