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“Forever GI Bill” Is Now Law – Things You Should Know

Vets Forever Benefits

Image:  American Legion


“A new law that will bring significant changes to education benefits for service members, veterans and their families.

The legislation known as the “Forever GI Bill” garnered strong bipartisan support in Congress, passing unanimously in both the House and Senate.  Here are things you should know about the new GI Bill benefits.

1. There’s no longer an expiration date.

Previously, veterans had to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill within 15 years of their last 90-day period of active-duty service. That requirement is going away.

This portion of the law will apply to anyone who left the military after January 1, 2013. It will also apply to spouses who are receiving education benefits through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship for family members of service members who have been killed in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001.

2. Purple Heart recipients will get more benefits.

The new GI Bill allows anyone who has received a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to receive 100 percent of the benefits offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes coverage of tuition costs at a public school’s in-state rate for 36 months and stipends for textbooks and housing.

Previously, Purple Heart recipients were beholden to the same time-in-service qualifications for the GI Bill as other service members. This meant that Purple Heart recipients without a service-connected disability who did not reach 36 months of service were only eligible for a percentage of the benefits and not the full amount.

Aleks Morosky, national legislative director for Military Order of the Purple Heart, said there have been 52,598 Purple Heart recipients who were wounded in action during post-9/11 conflicts, though it’s unclear how many would immediately benefit from this provision. An estimated 660 Purple Heart recipients each year over the next 10 years will be able to take advantage of the increased benefits.

“We think that anybody who has shed blood for this country has met the service requirement by virtue of that fact,” Morosky said. “Everybody sacrifices, everybody puts themselves in harm’s way, but Purple Heart recipients are certainly among the service members who have sacrificed the most.”

This provision will go into effect in August 2018.

3. More people are eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary agreement between schools and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to split school costs not covered by the GI Bill, reducing or eliminating the amount students must pay themselves.

The Forever GI Bill will expand eligibility for this program to surviving spouses or children of service members in August 2018 and active-duty service members in August 2022.

Previously, only veterans eligible for GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent level or their dependents using transferred benefits were eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

4. There’s some extra money — and time — for STEM degrees.

Some college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields take longer than four years to complete, which is why the new law authorizes an additional school year of GI Bill funds on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Scholarships of up to $30,000 will be available for eligible GI Bill users starting in August 2018. Only veterans or surviving family members of deceased service members are eligible for this scholarship — not dependents using transferred benefits.

5. Vets hurt by school shutdowns will get benefits back.

A provision in the new GI Bill that will restore benefits to victims of school closures has been a long-time coming for the staff at Student Veterans of America.

“We’ve been getting calls for several years now, beginning with the collapse of Corinthian (Colleges), from student veterans whose lives were put on hold,” said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for the nonprofit, which has more than 500,000 student members. “Every day we wasted until it passed was another day that they had to wait.”

This provision will retroactively apply to GI Bill users whose schools have abruptly closed since January 2015, for credits earned at the shuttered institutions that did not transfer to new schools. This will include the thousands of veteran students who were attending the national for-profit chains Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute when they closed in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It would also provide a semester’s worth of reimbursement for GI Bill users affected by future school closures, as well as up to four months of a housing stipend.

6. The VA will measure eligibility for benefits differently.

Starting August 2018, this bill changes the way the VA uses time in service to calculate eligibility.

Previously, service members with at least 90 days but less than six months of active-duty service would be eligible for up to 40 percent of the full GI Bill benefits. Under new regulations, the same 90-days-to-six-month window is equal to 50 percent of benefits. Service members with at least six months and less than 18 months of service will be eligible for 60 percent of benefits.

This change will tend to benefit reservists more due to the nature of their service, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

7. Reservists can count more of their service toward eligibility.

Starting next August, members of the National Guard and Reserve will be able to count time spent receiving medical care or recovering from injuries received while on active duty toward their GI Bill eligibility. This will apply to all who have been activated since 9/11.

The Forever GI Bill also allows individuals who lost their Reserve Educational Assistance Program when the program ended in 2015 to credit their previous service toward their eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

8. Housing stipends will decrease slightly.

The government will pay for the expansions represented in the Forever GI Bill through a 1 percent decrease in housing stipends over the next five years. This will bring veterans’ housing stipends on par with what active-duty service members receive at the E-5 with dependents rate. (Veterans on the GI Bill currently receive a slightly higher housing allowance rate than active-duty E-5s with dependents.) This change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018 and will only apply to service members who enroll in GI Bill benefits after that date. No one currently receiving a housing stipend from the VA will see a reduction in benefits.

“On a month-to-month basis, they would never see less money,” said SVA’s Hubbard, explaining that the 1 percent reduction will come off of the total the VA would have spent over five years.

Starting in August 2018, housing stipends previously calculated based on the ZIP code of a student’s school will be based on where a student takes the most classes.

Also in August 2018, reservists will continue to receive their monthly housing allowance under the GI Bill on a prorated rate for any month during which they are activated, preventing them from losing a whole month’s worth of funds.

9. Benefits can get transferred after death.

A provision of the new GI Bill offers more flexibility with the transfer and distribution of benefits in case of death.

If a dependent who received transferred benefits dies before using all of the benefits, this provision gives the service member or veteran the ability to transfer remaining benefits to another dependent. This will go into effect August 2018 and apply to all deaths since 2009.

This provision also gives dependents of deceased service members the ability to make changes to their deceased loved one’s transferred benefits.

Ashlynne Haycock, senior coordinator of education support services for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, explains that currently, only a service member has the authority to make changes to the benefits they’d like to transfer. So, if a service member dies after transferring 35 months of benefits to one child and one month of benefits to another, for example, the family would not be able to make future changes to the GI Bill’s distribution among that service member’s dependents.

10. Surviving family members will get more money, but less time.

Besides access to Yellow Ribbon, spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty on or after 9/11 will also see their monthly education stipend from the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program increase by $200.

There’s a downside, however. Though the same program has previously provided 45 months of education benefits, that will decrease to 36 months in August 2018 to bring it in line with the provisions of the GI Bill.

11. School certifying officials must be trained.

Individuals who certify veteran student enrollment at schools with more than 20 veteran students will be required to undergo training. Previously, training was not mandatory.”






How to Destroy Afghanistan: Establish a Private Contractor Army




” The Department of Defense already has a relatively large number of operational contractors working in Afghanistan (23,525 in total as of July 2017).

In recent weeks, two major players in the private security industry proposed that Trump administration officials privatize U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to an unprecedented degree.

Erik Prince, former owner of the now-defunct firm Blackwater Worldwide, proposed a scheme that would entail the appointment of a viceroy to oversee operations in Afghanistan, and the use of “private military units” to fill in gaps left by departing U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Stephen Feinberg—owner of DynCorp International, which holds numerous major U.S. government security contracts at present—similarly proposed that the Trump administration privatize the military force in Afghanistan, though his conceptualization of such a force calls for it to be placed under CIA control.

Luckily, Defense Secretary Mattis reportedly has so far declined both offers. Research overwhelmingly indicates that replacing U.S. military personnel with contractors is not likely to be a militarily effective solution for the Afghanistan problem.

First, research has shown that security contractors tend to decrease military effectiveness when working alongside regular military units in large numbers, primarily due to coordination issues fed by convoluted command-and-control systems and resentment and misperception between the two types of forces. Coordination problems between the military and contractor forces lead contractors to have a negative impact on the military’s integration, responsiveness, and skill when the two groups are co-deployed in the field.

Second, while security contractors operating on their own—free from any alliance with an extensive force of friendly military troops—have been shown in some instances to increase operational effectiveness and achieve tactical and strategic goals, this has primarily occurred when they have been sent into an area without clear state support. In such cases, they can operate covertly and with “plausible deniability” for the state actor supporting them, which may allow for looser interpretations of the norms of international humanitarian law. In other words, contractors can be effective, but it may not always be pretty. Notably, current Department of Defense policy mandates compliance with standards of behavior may preclude such activities—but may also explicitly preclude some of what Prince is proposing.

Perhaps more relevant in this case is the fact that the tactical and strategic effectiveness of contractors who are operating without longer-term military support typically lasts only as long as the contract is in place. In Sierra Leone, in the late 1990s, paramilitary firm Executive Outcomes was successful in securing enough of the country to hold the first free elections in thirty years, but the peacefully-elected president was then ousted in a coup within eighty-nine days of the contract expiration.

Third, in a counterinsurgency effort such as Afghanistan, U.S. military policy focuses on establishing legitimacy with local civilians. The use of armed contractors has been shown to be risky in this regard: a survey of 152 U.S. troops showed in 2007 that 20 percent of them had at times witnessed armed contractors performing unnecessarily threatening, arrogant or belligerent actions in Iraq. Similarly, nearly 50 percent of a sample of 782 surveyed State Department personnel who had experience working alongside armed contractors in Iraq showed in 2008 that armed contractors did not display an understanding of—or sensitivity to—Iraqi people and their culture.

Both recruitment and retention are critical here. At key points during the contracting surge in the early years of the Iraq War, private security company vetting and hiring standards varied and were at times relaxed in order to hire a large number of contractors quickly. A company’s recruitment policy could therefore affect the quality of the force.

Moreover, the labor pool for highly skilled contractors is limited, and both retention of such skilled personnel and their overall effectiveness could be hindered by deployment-related health effects: a 2013 study indicated that 25 percent of a large, multinational sample of contractors screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a rate higher than among civilians (6 percent have PTSD) or even U.S. service members (8–20 percent). Even more troubling, 23 percent of those who were deployed overseas at the time of the 2013 survey had probable PTSD, and most were not being treated for it. In contrast to the numerous mental-health resources available to members of the U.S. military, very few (if any) resources are available to help private contractors struggling with deployment-related mental health problems, and seeking help is highly stigmatized across this population. Research has found that untreated mental-health problems reduce productivity and attentiveness—setting the stage for decreased effectiveness and even the potential for harm in an operational environment if left untreated.

None of these research findings bode well for the long-term stability and security of Afghanistan if contractors are used to replace U.S. troops in the country. While operational contractors are now an entrenched part of the Department of Defense’s “total force” and are here to stay, large-scale privatization of the U.S. force in Afghanistan is unlikely to be effective.”

Molly Dunigan is a senior political scientist and associate director of the Defense and Political Sciences Department at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a lecturer in Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy.



Estonia Lesson Learned: “Every Country Should Have a Cyber War”




” Estonia’s biggest turning point was 10 years ago, when the country came under sustained cyberattack.

The shock of a cyberwar united the community to take action.  Estonians don’t see cybersecurity as a phenomenon,  it’s about being empowered by technology, not controlled by it.”

“Estonia’s steps have certainly been radical, and other countries can learn lessons from them about how to defend themselves.

In 1991, Estonia was part of the dying communist empire. Its economy was run by central planners in Moscow, less than half of all households had a phone line, and goods were so scarce that people had to line up for food.

Skip ahead 26 years, and Estonians don’t even have to queue to vote. They do that online.

In just over two decades, Estonia has become one of the world’s most digitally innovative and efficient countries. In fact, Estonians conduct all their civic responsibilities online. Offices and paper forms have become obsolete as state-issued digital identities allow all citizens to carry out any financial or government transaction from their laptops or cellphones. And that gives them an edge when it comes to cybersecurity.

Estonia’s journey down the digital road has been astonishingly fast. When it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it had almost no money and few natural resources. But it did have one advantage: It was the designated center for software and computer production for the USSR. After achieving independence, the country had a pool of tech expertise for them to build on.

During these early years of independence, Estonia needed to create the means for a new economy. And it wasn’t going to be easy. The country’s tiny population of just 1.3 million is spread over a relatively vast countryside. Outside the capital Tallinn, there’s an average of just four people per square kilometer. The new government didn’t have the resources to extend government offices or banking facilities to small towns and villages, so it decided to encourage self-service, and spread internet access across the country in order to do so.

To achieve this, the government set up an investment group to build computer networking and infrastructure. By 1997, almost every school was connected to the internet, and by 2004, 300 wifi access points had been established, bringing the internet even to small villages—and mostly for free.

In 2007, Estonia was in the middle of a political fight with Moscow over plans to remove a Soviet war memorial from a park in Tallinn. Suddenly, it was hit with three weeks of D-DoS (designated denial of service) attacks. When this happens, multiple sources send multiple online requests, flooding a service or system and making it unable to function. It’s the digital equivalent of crowding an entrance to a building so that no one can come in or out.

As a result, the internet shut down as websites were bombarded with traffic. Russia denied any involvement, but Estonia didn’t believe it.

“War is the continuation of policy by other means,” Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid told a NATO cyber-conference in Tallinn in June 2017. “Ten years on, it is clear that the decision made by Estonia not to withdraw but stay and fight for the security of our cyberspace was indeed the right one.”

The attacks made Estonia more determined than ever to develop its digital economy and make it safe from future attacks. “I think every country should have a cyber war,” says Taavi Kotka, the government’s former chief information officer. “Citizens get knowledge about what an attack means, about how phishing works, how D-DoS works, and they start to understand and live with that. People aren’t afraid if they know they can survive something. It’s the same thing as electricity going off: Okay, it’s an inconvenience, but you know how to deal with it.”

In Estonia, people are not afraid of cyber warfare, nor are they afraid of sharing personal data across public and private institutions. Go to a hospital, and the nurse or doctor can call up your entire health records from any doctor you ever visited without the need to call their offices and asking them to send files.

Full marks for convenience, simplicity, and efficiency. But what about the dangers of nameless bureaucrats accessing your personal data? Isn’t there a risk of future governments abusing the system and using your intimate details against you? Isn’t this inviting an Orwellian nightmare?

Estonia says no. Unlike an authoritarian state like the old Soviet Union, government transparency is built into the system. While all your private data is online, only you can give permission for any data to be accessed. And you can check who has accessed what. If a doctor you don’t know has viewed your records, it will be traceable, and you can have them sacked. As one software developer Quartz spoke to said, “You become your own Big Brother.”

Data is protected through a framework known as X-road, which helps exchange decentralized data between big government databases. X-road has built-in security measures that encrypt traffic and time-stamps so that the data cannot be manipulated. Taimar Peterkop, from Estonia’s Information System Authority, says that the security measures built into E-identity databases are all but impenetrable by outsiders. “Estonia takes data integrity very seriously because our society is so digitized,” he says. “If someone manipulates citizens’ data, that’s a challenge for us. We use blockchain-based technology to ensure the data is as it should be.”

When it comes to security, Peterkop says humans are usually the weak link. “Cybersecurity starts with us. If you have weak cyber hygiene, that’s a problem. We need to raise awareness and educate people about using strong authentication methods,” he says. For example, Estonia has public-education campaigns about how to use your smart devices wisely.

It seems like glaringly obvious advice, but a look at the recent USelection shows that basic cyber hygiene has been an after-thought, even for the powerful. When Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta’s Gmail account was hacked, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed Podesta’s password was simply the word “password.” The campaign denied this claim and said they fell victim to a phishing scam. Whatever the case, it was an avoidable security breach that should never have occurred.

Peterkop also says that consumers need to ask more questions about the Internet of Things, especially when it comes to everyday household products and devices. “There is so much pressure to come up with new products in a hurry, so security measures are an after-thought,” he says. “As consumers, it’s essential that we start paying attention to it. We don’t do enough risk mitigation. Basically every TV is a computer now.” These issues are present already: A recent document dump from Wikileaks points to hacking tools that directly relate to Samsung televisions.

Estonia’s steps have certainly been radical, and other countries can learn lessons from them about how to defend themselves. As well as creating a paperless public service, Estonia is now backing up government data on secure servers offsite in Luxembourg. It has also prioritized tougher international action for cyber-crime and encouraged private companies to review security measures and have stronger agreements with server providers.”


New Mexico VA Albuquerque Office Denies 90 Percent of Gulf War Claims




“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Albuquerque office denied 592 of 640 Gulf War illness claims in 2015, which is the latest yearly data available, The Albuquerque Journal reported earlier this week.

Currently, a 90-minute training course on Gulf War illness is voluntary. Only about 10 percent of the VA’s 4,000 medical examiners had completed it as of February, according to the report.”

“The report released in June from the Government Accountability Office found approval rates for Gulf War illness claims are one-third as high as for other disabling conditions. The Gulf War illness claims also took an average of four months longer to process.

Gulf War illness was first identified in troops returning home from Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990s. But it has been found to afflict troops who have served in other parts of the Middle East since then as well.

The illness includes a wide variety of symptoms and conditions, from fatigue and skin problems to insomnia and indigestion. It is believed the conditions may be the result of exposure to burn pits, oil well fires or depleted uranium weapons during service.

The report concluded that instituting required training for medical examiners, clarifying claim decision letters sent to veterans and developing a single definition for the illness would increase consistency in approval rates and reduce confusion among staff and veterans.

Sonja Brown, acting associate director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System, did not say how many of the Albuquerque medical examiners have completed the course.

“The Gulf War Examination training is currently on the curriculum for our medical examiners with a due date of 8/10/2017 to complete,” Brown wrote in an email. “While I don’t have a percentage of those completed, I can tell you that the training is being taken.”

The VA plans to make training mandatory, with all medical examiners expected to complete the program by October.”

How Large Government Agencies Twist Accountability In Whistle Blowing


VA Pretzl


“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) removed the former director of the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center [ Brian Hawkins] for allegedly “failing to exercise effective oversight, follow instructions, follow policy, and for lack of candor.”

Hawkins [had] initiated an administrative investigation to look into identified deficiencies within the VA Medical Center’s Logistics Department. Mr. Hawkins then informed the agency’s OIG of his concerns.”

“Yesterday, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) issued a stay in the case of an alleged whistleblower, Brian Hawkins.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the office charged with protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices, found “reasonable grounds to believe that the personnel action was taken, or is to be taken, as a result of a prohibited personnel practice” and successfully petitioned the MSPB to intervene in the removal while OSC conducts a full investigation.

In response to the MSPB’s stay, the VA put out a troubling press release titled “MSPB forces VA to take back fired official, VA exploring all options under new accountability authorities.”

These “new accountability authorities” referred to in the press release were included in the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act signed into law in July by the President. POGO supported necessary provisions of the bill, while pointing out language that could be used to retaliate against whistleblowers and innocent employees. POGO has been watching with caution as the law is implemented, and while we applaud the hiring of former VA whistleblower Brandon Coleman to the VA’s new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, we remain concerned that the VA may use language meant to protect whistleblowers to instead retaliate against them.

The VA returned Hawkins to the payroll, but to an administrative position at the VA headquarters in Washington rather than to a patient-care position at the VA Medical Center.

“No judge who has never run a hospital and never cared for our nation’s veterans will force me to put an employee back in a position,” VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin defiantly announced.

Hawkins’ case will provide a litmus test for the new accountability office and how the VA interprets its authority and mission under the new legislation. POGO will continue to follow this case.”





In Washington – 16 Year Afghanistan War Fatigue Is Setting In

GettyImages-105558557 War Fatigue

“Getty Images”

“STRATFOR World View”

“War fatigue, spurred by an unwillingness to wade deeper into a feud whose resolution eluded the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, is clearly setting in.”

“As the newest administration in Washington hammers out a strategy for the war in Afghanistan, a rift has opened among U.S. policymakers about how to proceed. On one side is the Pentagon, which has proposed sending up to 3,900 troops to the conflict-ridden country. If approved, the move would escalate the United States’ involvement in the war, which began over 15 years ago. On the other side of the debate is the White House, where reports have emerged of calls to draw down the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. War fatigue, spurred by an unwillingness to wade deeper into a feud whose resolution eluded the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, is clearly setting in.

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia Alice Wells will lead a delegation to the capitals of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India on Aug. 2 to discuss U.S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy. It will be the second American delegation to visit these areas in the past month, after U.S. Sen. John McCain led a congressional delegation to Islamabad and Kabul in early July. Despite expectations that its Afghanistan strategy would be revealed in mid-July, it appears that the Trump administration is still mulling its options.

A troop increase would help the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, which currently number 352,000 troops, break their ongoing stalemate with the resilient Taliban. If deployed, the U.S. forces would support Washington’s two ongoing missions in Afghanistan: Operation Resolute Support, which is led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and focuses on training, advising and assisting the Afghan military, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, a counterterrorism mission targeting al Qaeda and the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter. By contrast, a troop decrease would satisfy U.S. lawmakers eager to pull out of the conflict. But with the Afghan army already straining to keep the Taliban in check on its own, withdrawing U.S. troops without compensating for their removal in some way would tip the scales in the Taliban’s favor.

Regardless of which path the Trump administration takes, one thing is clear: The Taliban are winning. The militant organization continues to control or contest up to 40 percent of the territory in Afghanistan — a level of dominance that has spurred the Pentagon’s request for more troops in hopes of inflicting enough damage to force the insurgents to lay down their arms and negotiate.

How Did We Get Here?

In December 2014, Obama ordered the end of Operation Enduring Freedom — the mission Bush launched in October 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and with it formal combat operations in Afghanistan. The decision moved the United States, along with its NATO and coalition allies, into a smaller supporting role for the Afghan military, which became responsible for fighting the war. But in the year following the drawdown, the diminished international troop presence had serious consequences on the battlefield. The Taliban conquered 24 district centers in 2015, compared with only four in 2014. Moreover, casualties (defined as deaths and injuries) saw a 37 percent increase in 2015 over 2014 — an uptick that particularly affected civilian women. 2015 was also the year that the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter formed in Afghanistan, injecting a new and destabilizing element of transnational jihadism into the conflict. Finally, September 2015 saw the Taliban briefly overrun Kunduz, marking the first time since 2001 that the group had taken control of a city.

These clear signs of trouble factored into Obama’s decision in October 2015 to keep 9,800 troops in the Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel operations through January 2017. (This number was later modified to 8,400 troops.) In doing so, the president reneged on his promise to end the war before leaving office, passing the conflict on to his successor instead. So while Trump said little about Afghanistan on the campaign trail, his new administration has been paying attention to the moves of Gen. John Nicholson, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. And during a congressional testimony in February, Nicholson requested a few thousand more troops, hoping to break the ongoing stalemate.

Washington is now weighing its options to determine whether it will fulfill that request. If it does, most of the U.S. troops deployed would join Operation Resolute Support to train, advise and assist the Afghan military. But they would do so at the brigade level rather than the higher corps level, meaning they would be closer to ground-level operations in Afghanistan. This move takes its cue from the Afghan Special Security Forces, which boast only 12,000 personnel and yet are considered the most effective of Afghanistan’s combat forces. (They take advice from NATO down to the tactical level.) Fresh U.S. troops would also help to advance Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s military road map. His four-year plan, which includes strengthening the Afghan air force, calls for nearly doubling the number of Afghan special operations forces and placing them at the center of offensive operations, supported by conventional forces. The new U.S. troops would likely arrive during the summer fighting season that commenced on April 28 under the name Operation Mansouri, named for the slain Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

At its highest, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan reached over 100,000.

The Pakistan Problem

The Pentagon’s most recent six-month review of the war in Afghanistan revealed that Pakistan is yet another complicating factor in Washington’s efforts to make real progress in the conflict. The report cited Nicholson as saying that the sanctuary Pakistan has given to the Taliban and Haqqani network presents the greatest external threat to NATO’s counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. Washington and Kabul have accused Islamabad of playing both sides in the conflict: While Pakistani forces continue to attack militant outposts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan, Islamabad also has a reputation for hosting insurgents. In fact, Pakistan has admitted to harboring Taliban leaders before, and in 1994 the country was instrumental in nurturing the jihadist group during its infancy, supporting its eventual conquest of Kabul in September 1996.

Pakistan’s rationale for helping the Taliban highlights its fundamental divergence from the United States on the matter of Afghanistan. Washington, for its part, remains committed to its goal of stabilizing the country so that extremist organizations cannot use it as a base for launching attacks against the United States or its allies. The White House supports an Afghan-led peace process, which would end the war by forging a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Islamabad, however, views Afghanistan through the prism of its relationship with Pakistan’s archrival, India. Islamabad’s support for the Taliban rests on the expectation that if the group enters a power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government, it will serve Pakistan’s interests by limiting India’s presence in the country.

Of course, Pakistan is aware that India could respond by encouraging Pakistani secessionists in the borderland province of Balochistan, which would jeopardize the construction of Islamabad’s flagship economic project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. But Islamabad also believes that an Afghan government including the Taliban would naturally prioritize religious motivations and would not be interested in spurring the unification of the ethnic Pashtun regions on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. (In the 1970s, Kabul floated the idea of merging these regions into one state called Pashtunistan, an initiative that would carve a sizable chunk out of Pakistan’s western territories.)

Aware of Pakistan’s motives in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is pushing a strategy that would pressure Islamabad, by withholding aid and launching more drone strikes in and beyond the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, to take a more serious stance against jihadist sanctuaries. But there are limits to how much the United States can afford to alienate Pakistan, since it cannot resolve the Afghan conflict without Islamabad’s help. Indeed, Washington’s ultimate goal is to use Islamabad’s cooperation to bring Taliban leaders to the table. But Pakistan, whose strategic imperative is to limit India’s influence in Afghanistan, will keep supporting the Taliban and frustrating the United States’ plans. As a result, an eventual end to the insurgency will largely depend on the Afghan military’s ability to rein in the Taliban on its own.

A Murky Future

In the wake of more pressing foreign policy challenges, including North Korea’s missile program and the Syrian civil war, the war in Afghanistan has become a lower priority for the United States. Should Washington give in to its war fatigue and pull its troops out of Afghanistan, it’s unclear just how big the drawdown would be. Either way, the presence of fewer troops will force the United States to turn to other measures, such as a greater emphasis on special operations forces and drone strikes, to maintain in its missions in Afghanistan. If, on the other hand, the Pentagon succeeds in sending more troops, the increase will still be only modest, suggesting the United States is interested in conflict management rather than conflict resolution. Regardless of the path the Trump administration chooses, none seem designed to successfully end the war as it rapidly approaches its 16th year.”




A New Tool for Looking at Federal Cybersecurity Spending

cyber Spending

Image:  “Taxpayers for Common Sense”


“A new database and visualization tool that breaks down unclassified federal spending on cybersecurity over the past decade—giving the public a peek at how each major federal agency is devoting resources toward protecting computer systems.”

“More and more of what the federal government does relies on complex computer systems and networks. This high tech infrastructure makes the government work better by making services more efficient and accessible.

But that digital revolution also comes with big risks—just think back to the massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management disclosed in 2015, when hackers compromised sensitive information about tens of millions of Americans. Last year, there were at least “30,899 cyber incidents that led to the compromise of information or system functionality” at federal agencies, according to a White House report released in March. The number of attacks on federal computer systems have risen sharply over the last decade.

So how much is the government spending to protect itself (and us) in this brave new world?

Unfortunately, the answer is “we don’t really know.” But a new tool from nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense provides perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of federal cybersecurity spending.

Last week, Taxpayers released a new database and visualization tool that breaks down unclassified federal spending on cybersecurity over the past decade—giving the public a peek at how each major federal agency is devoting resources toward protecting computer systems.

Taxpayers used public budget documents to build the database, but it wasn’t easy. “There is no government-wide standard definition or method of accounting for what qualifies as cyber funding and, therefore, no way to fully track it,” the organization explains on its methodology page. Agencies also use a variety of different approaches to tackle the issue, making it even harder to pin down their spending. Then, there is the government’s murky “black budget” of classified spending. So Taxpayers “settled on providing the best picture [it] could develop from extensive research of government programs” that are unclassified, spending two years searching through thousands of budget documents for terms like “information security” and “information assurance.”

Taxpayers found the amount spent on cybersecurity has quadrupled over 11 years. The group was able to tally $7 billion in unclassified cybersecurity spending in 2007, as compared to $28 billion in 2016. But some of that growth could be attributed to improvements in how the government tracks cybersecurity funding.

The resulting snapshot isn’t perfect, but it’s an impressive start—and a necessary one. After all, you can’t figure out what bang the government gets for its cybersecurity buck if you don’t know where those bucks go.”






“National Initiative for Cyber Security Education” Issues Common Definition for Position Descriptions.

Cyber Security Workforce

Illustration of NICE Framework being the central reference to help employers build a capable cybersecurity workforce. (Photo Credit: NICE Framework)


“Allowing a universal understanding between the government, academia and private sectors and clear communication between educators, certifiers, trainers, employers and employees. ”

“To help bolster the cybersecurity workforce, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education has released a publication detailing a guide that will provide a common, consistent language and definition for cybersecurity positions and descriptions.

The new NIST guide, entitled the NICE Cybersecurity Workforce Framework, will serve as a reference for organization-wide definitions and categories….

Furthermore, the NICE Framework details the different steps that should be taken to help guide all sectors possessing the capable and ready workforce needed to keep the nation’s cyber infrastructure safe. These steps include:

  • Performing a criticality analysis, identify the knowledge, skills, abilities and tasks that successful performances in a work role rely on, as well as identifying those that are key to multiple work roles.
  • Using common lexicon that will allow for universal understanding.
  • Conduct a proficiency analysis to determine the organization’s expectation level for positions. The proficiency analysis should allow for relevant tasks, knowledge, skills and abilities to be refined according to the work role.

The NICE Framework also details the different tasks that educators and trainers need to be aware of to properly prepare students with the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to succeed in the workforce.

Northrop Grumman Expanding Grand Forks, North Dakota Unmanned Aerial Systems Facility


Photo: Northrop Grumman


“Less than a year after Northrop Grumman opened the doors to its new unmanned aerial systems facility in North Dakota, the company will soon break ground on a new hangar to conduct testing and maintenance on its family of autonomous systems.

The company expects to employ 100 people by the end of 2017, with a mix of current Northrop employees coming from San Diego and other locations, and new hires from the North Dakota area.

The Grand Sky Park, for which Northrop Grumman is the anchor tenant, hosts several commercial tenants with ties to unmanned aerial systems, including General Atomics, Hambleton said. Northrop committed over $10 million to the initial Grand Sky project, and its initial 36,000 square-foot facility was completed in late 2016.

The company in April announced the opening of its new facility at the Grand Sky Unmanned Aerial Systems Business and Aviation Park near Grand Forks. The facility serves as a “nucleus” for research and development, pilot, operator and maintainer training, as well as operations and mission analysis and aircraft maintenance, according to Northrop.

Before the end of the summer, Northrop will start work on a new hangar that will allow it to take advantage of the proximity of Grand Forks Air Force Base’s remotely piloted aircraft squadron, David Hambleton, Grand Sky program manager and site lead, said in an interview with National Defense.

Northrop leased 10 acres of land from the Air Force to build the recently opened facility and the 35,000 square-foot hangar, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2018, he said. Flight testing and aircraft maintenance for the company’s family of autonomous systems will begin by the following year, he added.

The company’s facility in North Dakota will be an “offshoot” of its autonomous systems division in San Diego, California, he said. “In one place, we have access to both civil and restricted airspace [and] opportunities to collaborate with the universities nearby” such as the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, he said.

The Grand Sky team will have the ability to link different capabilities “through a modeling and simulation backbone,” he added. “We’ll be able to tie together system testing in a lab with monitoring mission data as it comes in, connecting to training simulators and linking them together in a technical way to enable new ways to doing what, in the past, we’ve done independently or separately.”

The FAA-designated Northern Plains unmanned aerial systems test site is also located in Grand Forks, and the Air Force’s fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft, produced by Northrop, is based next door, he noted.

“Having all of these capabilities and infrastructure concentrated here makes Grand Sky a desirable place for us to pursue flight testing and system demonstration,” he added.

Northrop expects to perform flight testing and maintenance for the Global Hawk fleet at Grand Sky, but also intends to support other unmanned systems such as the Navy’s forthcoming MQ-4C Triton surveillance aircraft or the MQ-8 Fire Scout reconnaissance helicopter, he added.

Northrop committed over $10 million to the initial Grand Sky project, and its initial 36,000 square-foot facility was completed in late 2016, he added.

The local community and the state of North Dakota were interested in developing the unmanned aerial systems industry in the Red River Valley region, he said. A group of local actors that included the University of North Dakota and Grand Forks County developed the Red River strategic alliance agreement.

“Northrop Grumman signed on to this agreement to promote the UAS industry,” he said. “That set the stage for the goal of creating… the Grand Sky aviation business park for UAS.”


Congress Must “Step Up” Under Our Constitution to Directly Authorize Use of Military Forces


James Madison President and War

Editors Note: 

Since September 18, 2001, the Congress of the United States has vested power in 3 Presidential Administrations to engage the United States Armed Forces through The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Pub. L. 107-40. 

As combat veterans, we are alarmed that this practice continues in many countries 16 years later and far beyond the scope of the original threat posed by 911, with soldiers lives and billions in taxes at play. 

Extracts below from an article by Daniel DePetris In “Military Times” and another article by Shawn Snow and Mackenzie Woffin in the “Army Times” detail our alarm:

**Congress just removed a proposed amendment to the AUMF from legislation underway that would have required a debate on Congressional authorization for present use of military forces as specified in the Constitution. 

**The current President of the United States and his advisers are considering withdrawing military forces from current war zones and replacing them with civilian contractor ground and air forces reporting directly to the U.S. President in support of the occupied countries heads of state.

It is our hope the American People will become as alarmed as we are and insist their elected representatives accept the constitutional military authorization duties entrusted to them as well as stop all dangerous contracting to civilian military forces with tax payer funding. 

Congress Shirking Its Duty By Avoiding War Authorization Debate

“MILITARY TIIMES” By Daniel Detris

“Congress is preparing to adjourn for several weeks after a legislative session dominated by partisan infighting … and very little productivity.

Not a single piece of significant legislation has passed, and while most attention has gone toward health care reform and appropriations bills, we’re also talking about the legislative branch’s most solemn responsibility under the Constitution: Declaring war, or at least authorizing the use of military force.

The war on terrorism has expanded into new theaters of combat, encompassing terrorist groups that didn’t exist when President George W. Bush began the campaign against Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida network in October 2001. The U.S. military is either conducting bombing runs, combat missions or counterterrorism operations in at least seven countries.

A congressional resolution originally crafted to provide the president with the power to retaliate against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks has turned into a blank check to drop munitions or send American troops against any band of terrorists that may pop up in the mountains of Waziristan or the fields of Somalia.Under our system of government, Congress is just as responsible for war as the commander in chief. Many lawmakers, however, have gradually transmitted this responsibility to the executive branch, across three presidencies.

But the congressional neglect is disturbing for a far more fundamental reason: By default, the power to plunge the U.S. into conflict is decided by a single individual — the president — based on that individual’s determination of what’s in the national interest.

As James Madison rightly observed 219 years ago, ”[t]he Constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it.”The country has unfortunately forgotten Madison’s words, operating as if it is the president’s job and the president’s job alone to not it outright.

At least a half-dozen lawmakers from both parties have filed AUMF drafts to stimulate their colleagues to start taking the issue seriously. At least in the rank-and-file, the momentum for a more assertive legislative branch is growing —the House Appropriations Committee voted to include a measure in the annual defense spending bill to sunset the 2001 AUMF in eight months, hoping that this would spur Congress into passing an updated version. The amendment was later stripped out of the bill.

The eagerness of the congressional rank and file has yet to reach the leadership. Their excuses are as varied as they are disjointed: It is not the right time to debate the war on terrorism; there is no room on the legislative calendar; a defense bill is not the appropriate vehicle to discuss a subject of such importance; bridging the gap between and among lawmakers on how extensive the president’s authority should be is simply too difficult, so why even try?

To the U.S. soldiers advising Iraqi security forces at the front and to the American taxpayers who are paying for these military operations, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year, the country’s elected representatives aren’t pulling their weight.

If congressional leadership will not authorize a debate –– and there is no reason to believe they will –– the committee chairmen who have jurisdiction over the writing of a military authorization bill shouldn’t wait any longer. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., are making the right decision by holding hearings, but merely talking about the issue cannot be the end of the process.

It will be up to these two men to allow an AUMF measure to work its way through committee. For the sake of America’s democracy, the Constitution, and the Americans who sacrifice their lives and their wallets to fight and pay for these wars, let’s hope they will use their power to shock Congress out of submission.”

Blackwater Founder Wants to Boost the Afghan Air War With His Private Air Force

“ARMY TIMES” By Shawn Snow and Mackenzie Wolf 

“The development comes as the White House is considering a plan to draw down the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and replace the ensuing power vacuum with contractors.

The proposal submitted to the Afghan government in March boasts an impressive array of combat aircraft for a private company. The aircraft offered in the proposal includes fixed-wing planes, attack helicopters and drones capable of providing close-air support to maneuvering ground forces, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by Military Times.

The proposal promises to provide ”high speed response” close-air support and ”the entire country can be responded to in under 1 hour.”  The proposal states that weapons release decisions will still be made by Afghans.

The air frames are also outfitted with equipment to provide intelligence collection that includes imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and communications intelligence. The aircraft would be operated by the private company’s employees.

The former Blackwater CEO sparked controversy a decade ago when his firm provided hundreds of millions of dollars in security support services to U.S. government in Iraq.

More recently, Prince has been using his private air force all over the globe to include Somalia, Iraq and South Sudan. Prince also reportedly has close ties to the Trump administration: He is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and was reportedly tapped to create a back channel line of communication with the Russian government during the Trump transition.

Prince’s firm is now called the Frontier Services Group and is based in Hong Kong.

Through an affiliate known as EP Aviation, Prince operates his own personal air force. In Central Africa, the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army is bolstered by Prince’s airpower. Helicopters registered to EP Aviation have been seen transporting U.S. Special Forces troops in the central African region, per a Daily Beast report.

The company named on the proposal to the Afghan government, Lancaster6, is already operating some of its aircraft in Afghanistan providing air mobility, troop transport, and parachute air drop support for supplies and cargo.

It’s unclear precisely what Prince’s current role is with Lancaster6, which is based in Dubai. The Afghan military official said Prince personally presented the Lancaster6 proposal to Afghan officials.

The current CEO of Lancaster6, according to a personal LinkedIn profile is the former director of operations and director of aviation for Prince’s Frontier Services Group, Christiaan Durrant.

Durrant was recruited by Erik Prince to build his private air force, according to a report by The Intercept.

Frontier Services Group and Lancaster6 did not respond to Military Times requests for comment.”