Tag Archives: Middle East Wars

Adding up the Cost of Our Never-Ending Wars

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THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT

The bottom line, so far: According to the Costs of War Project, we’re staring at a $5.4 trillion tab for the post-9/11 wars, through September 30, 2020, the final day of the current fiscal year.

That’s an average of $23.7 billion monthly for the past 228 months.

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“Wars cost too much.

That’s really not a surprise. The surprise is how much more they cost than we’ve been told.

It might help to think of the nation’s post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq like a pair of icebergs. The Pentagon has a web page that tells us how much we’ve each paid for the wars. But that only tells us how much of those icebergs we can see above the waves. While it includes totals for war fighting, it doesn’t track the Pentagon’s bigger war budget, interest paid on money we’ve borrowed to fight the wars, veterans’ care, and other ancillary costs. There’s a whole lot more hidden beneath the waves. The real issue isn’t whether the cost of war is high; the issue is why the U.S. government keeps under-estimating it, and why U.S. citizens and taxpayers keep tolerating it.

The cost versus benefit of the nation’s post-9/11 wars was highlighted December 9 when the Washington Post began publishing a blockbuster series detailing how poorly the war in Afghanistan is going. The series is based on more than 400 internal government interviews that the Post largely pried from the congressionally created and independent Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction under the Freedom of Information Act. The stories show how U.S. government officials have misled the American public over the past 18 years by publicly declaring how well the war was going while privately acknowledging the opposite.

It echoes much of the analysis on Afghanistan we’ve done regularly here at the Military Industrial Circus (May 2017’s “What kind of military willingly walks onto a perpetual treadmill when the chance of prevailing is next to nil?”) about the rampant truth-fudging (August 2017’s “One can only take the constant spinning for so long before becoming dizzy and cynical over can-do officers who can’t-do.”), the hiding of key indicators about the war’s progress from the American people who are paying and dying for it (November 2017’s “When things are going well, there’s no shutting up the Pentagon.”), and the blindness of our national leaders through three administrations (last March’s “American hubris is always amazing to see, especially in hindsight.”).

For those too young to remember, the nation’s seemingly never-ending post-9/11 wars began as an invasion of Afghanistan. It was designed to crush its Taliban-run government for offering sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. But it quickly morphed into a “Global War on Terrorism” that has involved U.S. military action in about 80 nations. In 2003, the U.S. also invaded Iraq, arguing—wrongly as it turned out—that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction and played a role in the 9/11 attacks.

The global war on terrorism has killed 7,028 Pentagon personnel, both military and civilian, since 9/11 (at least 7,800 others, employed by private U.S. contractors, have also died in Afghanistan and Iraq.) But its mission creep has also created a non-nuclear chain reaction: The U.S. repeatedly decided it needed more troops, which has led to more veterans. Many of those heroes thankfully have survived wounds that would have killed them in prior wars. But that will boost the cost of their care for decades to come. The Department of Homeland Security, which the government cobbled together from existing agencies in 2003, was padded out with its own bureaucracy. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development got their own off-budget accounts too. And the federal government began borrowing money to pay for all this.

You might think, as a taxpayer, that you could just wander over to defense.gov and look up the cost of those two wars. After all, they’ve been the Pentagon’s focus, fiscally and otherwise, for nearly 20 years. But you’d be wrong. The Pentagon, whether reporting on wars or weapons, is remarkably opaque when it comes to spelling out how much they cost. So outsiders have had to step in to make cents of how much our recent wars have cost.

Direct spending by the Pentagon on the nation’s post-9/11 wars, shown in red, accounts for only 36 percent of their total cost. (Chart: United States Budgetary Costs and Obligations of Post-9/11 Wars through FY2020: $6.4 Trillion, page 6, by Neta C. Crawford for the Cost of War Project at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University)

Even more amazingly after nearly 20 years of war, keeping track of how much the U.S. is spending on the wars may be getting tougher. “In some instances, DOD, State Department and Department of Homeland Security Budgets are opaque,” notes a recent report by the Costs Of War Project, which consists of a team of about 50 experts. “Indeed, because of recent changes in budgetary labels and accounting at DOD, DHS, and the State Department, understanding the costs of the post-9/11 wars is potentially even more difficult than in the past.”

The U.S. has spent an estimated $5.4 trillion on its post-9/11 war on terror, with an additional $1 trillion due for veterans’ care in the future. (Table: United States Budgetary Costs and Obligations of Post-9/11 Wars through FY2020: $6.4 Trillion, page 3, by Neta C. Crawford for the Cost of War Project at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University)

Those interested in minimizing war’s costs will limit their ledger to what the Pentagon actually is spending on combat. A more complete accounting will add in additional military spending routinely ladled into Pentagon coffers during wartime. A still-fuller accounting will add veterans’ care, homeland security, and interest on the money we’ve borrowed to fight the war.

There’s a lot of wishful thinking involved when the U.S. is thinking of going to war. If the government were simply sloppy and slipshod, its estimates would be both low and high. But invariably, they are low, which suggests there’s a motive to the math: Low-balling the cost of war makes it more likely war will happen.

The bureaucratic imperative of how the Pentagon buys its wars and weapons is the “buy-in,” a rosy projection designed to show that the conflict or hardware is a relative bargain. Yet once the war or hardware has achieved escape velocity, its price begins escalating.

The Pentagon argues the nation’s investment in any particular piece of shiny new weapon has grown so massive that abandoning the effort would send those sunk costs spinning down the drain. Likewise, war costs soar because of mission creep—rebuilding Afghanistan instead of simply ousting the Taliban following the attacks of September 11, 2001, for example—and concern that pulling out before achieving victory would mean the lives of those Americans already killed in the effort would have been wasted.

Of course, no one can predict the final cost of a war before it has begun. Yet before it begins the government tends to speak of a war’s monthly cost. In Iraq, for example, that led to an early claim that the war would cost $2 billion a month, totaling perhaps $50 billion. Those relatively low numbers, in Pentagon terms anyway, grease the skids to war.

But watch how they grow.

The litany of minimized post-9/11 war-cost estimates is long. It got off to an ignoble start when one White House official suggested the Iraq war might cost more than his finger-crossing political masters wanted to admit. In September 2002, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey played the skunk at the Garden of Eden party (Iraq has several sites vying to be the biblical paradise) when he suggestedthe Iraq war’s cost to the U.S. could range between $100 billion and $200 billion. He tried to gussy up his then-exorbitant estimate: “The successful prosecution of the war,” he argued in the Wall Street Journal, “would be good for the economy.”

Nonetheless, Lindsey was unceremoniously combat-booted from the White House three months later. Mitch Daniels, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget at the time, said the war’s cost couldn’t be estimated. But he declaredLindsey’s estimate was “likely very, very high.”

By January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld uncharacteristically deferred to Daniels’ bean counters when it came to projecting the war’s cost. “Well, the Office of Management and Budget has come up with a number that’s something under $50 billion for the cost,” saidRumsfeld, who seemingly rarely embraced others’ views when he believed strongly in his own.

In April 2003, just after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Pentagon saidthe Iraq war would cost about $2 billion a month. But three months later, Rumsfeld raised lawmakers’ eyebrows when he doubledits estimated monthly cost to $3.9 billion (along with nearly $1 billion a month for Afghanistan).

The avarice avalanche had begun.

Direct Pentagon and State Department spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq peaked a decade ago. (Chart: United States Budgetary Costs and Obligations of Post-9/11 Wars through FY2020: $6.4 Trillion, page 7, by Neta C. Crawford for the Cost of War Project at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University)

By July 2006, nearly five years after the 9/11 attacks, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) saidCongress “has appropriated about $430 billion to DOD and other government agencies for military and diplomatic efforts in support of GWOT [the Global War on Terrorism].” (You know you’ve reached the Big Time in Washington when your pet project rates its own acronym.) That translated into about $7.4 billion a month.

But the numbers were squishy. “GAO’s prior work found numerous problems with DOD’s processes for recording and reporting GWOT costs, including long-standing deficiencies in DOD’s financial management systems and business processes, the use of estimates instead of actual cost data, and the lack of adequate supporting documentation,” top U.S. Bean Counter David Walker (officially known as the Comptroller General of the United States, the position that runs the GAO), told a congressional panel. “As a result, neither DOD nor the Congress reliably know how much the war is costing.”

“[N]either DOD nor the Congress reliably know how much the war is costing.”

DAVID WALKER, COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES

That’s quite a statement coming from the congressional Bookkeeper-in-Chief.

By 2014, the Congressional Research Service said that the U.S. had spent $1.6 trillion “for military operations, base support, weapons maintenance, training of Afghan and Iraq security forces, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the war operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.” That worked out to about $10.3 billion a month.

But even that eye-watering sum misses the mark. The Costs of War Project has spent the past decade pawing through government documents to try to tote up the post-9/11 wars’ total cost. Its latest calculation, released in November, says the U.S. will have spent $5.4 trillion on the global war on terrorism by the end of the current 2020 fiscal year, along with an additional $1 trillion for veterans’ care beyond that. That’s about $20,000 per American.

“There are many hidden or unacknowledged costs of the United States’ decision to respond to the 9/11 attacks with military force,” the group, run out of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, says on its website. “We aim to foster democratic discussion of these wars by providing the fullest possible account of their human, economic, and political costs, and to foster better informed public policies.” The group’s work is largely funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the Colombe Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and Boston and Brown universities.

“We go to war with optimistic assumptions” of duration, cost, and casualties, says Neta Crawford, head of Boston University’s political science department and one of the Costs of War Project’s leaders and author of its latest study. “Most people believe that force is effective, but the history of war is that [winning] doesn’t happen at least half the time,” Crawford told POGO.

And it isn’t just fusty academics who feel that way. “No government-wide reporting consistently accounts for both DOD and non-DOD war costs,” advises an April reportfrom the Congressional Research Service. Not only hasn’t the government been able to win its post-9/11 wars; after nearly two decades it can’t tell us how much it has spent failing to do so.

Put that in your howitzer and light it.

Something to keep in mind the next time the Pentagon predicts a war is going to cost $2 billion a month.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2019/12/adding-up-the-cost-of-our-never-ending-wars/



Returning Troops Denied Water, Bathrooms Under Quarantine

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(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Zach VanDyke via AP)

MILITARY TIMES

 “It wasn’t the welcome home that U.S. soldiers expected when they returned from war zones in the Middle East in the past week.

When their planes landed at Fort Bliss, Texas, they were herded into buses, denied water and the use of bathrooms, then quarantined in packed barracks, with little food or access to the outdoors.

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“This is no way to treat Soldiers returning from war,” one soldier told The Associated Press in an email.

The soldiers posted notes on social media about the poor conditions. Their complaints got quick attention from senior Army and Pentagon leaders. Now changes are under way at Fort Bliss and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the first soldiers placed under quarantine also complained of poor, cramped conditions.

Quarantining troops on military bases is becoming a greater challenge for military officials. While continuing missions and training, they also have to try to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus by enforcing two-week quarantines of soldiers who have spent months overseas.

In one of Bragg’s remote training areas, large white tents have popped up over the past few days to house hundreds of 82nd Airborne Division troops returning to the base from Afghanistan and Middle East deployments. The tent city, being called Forward Operating Base Patriot (FOB Patriot), materialized almost overnight, after commanders realized the limits of the barracks when troops began arriving on Saturday.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said senior leaders were looking into soldiers’ complaints and seeking answers from Fort Bliss. Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had heard about the problems and “his response is, we can do better and we need to do better.”

Hoffman said the commander at Fort Bliss has met with all of the quarantined soldiers and “talked through some of their concerns. The spokesman added, “We are going to do better. This is something unusual for all these bases to be handling, and they are doing the best they can.”

In the early days of the quarantine, soldiers at Fort Bliss posted photos on social media showing foam food trays dotted with small piles of peas and rice. On Thursday, in an email statement, Fort Bliss described changes that have been made.

“The dining facility we initially used could not keep pace with demand,” said the statement. “The portions were inadequate, and led to our number one complaint. Fort Bliss leaders saw photos and immediately took action.”

One soldier, in an email to the AP, said when soldiers got off the plane from Afghanistan, they were loaded onto buses and did not get water or permission to use the bathroom for hours.

“We can’t walk down the hall, go outside, or exercise. We finally received drinking water at 0900 this morning,” said the soldier, describing Day Two. “The Army was not prepared, nor equipped to deal with this quarantine instruction and it has been implemented very poorly. ”

The AP is not identifying soldiers who described the conditions, in order to protect their identity so they could speak freely and not worry about potential reprisals.

Fort Bliss said that the food service plan has already increased to give troops three hot meals a day and that soldiers are now getting donated snacks and are allowed to order food and have it delivered to a central location. The troops are also allowed to go outside more and will get more access to gym equipment.

Another soldier at Bliss, who had been deployed to Kuwait, said in a message that the food has gotten better and troops are now allowed to go outside more. But as they begin Day Six there, packages have been held up and there has been no access to laundry facilities.

At Fort Bragg, some of the first soldiers to return on Saturday were sent to rooms in barracks that had been quickly emptied. Soldiers previously living in those rooms were moved to make room.

According to officials, soldiers are being separated into groups that returned from overseas together for the two-week quarantine. But realizing the need for more space, the 82nd Airborne decided on Saturday to build a new facility, and on Monday morning the first tent stakes were being pounded into the ground.

Because the area has been used for training in the past, workers were able to quickly bring in and hook up shower and toilet trailers and set up food tents and other facilities. By Thursday, several hundred troops had already moved in.

The 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Brigade has been deployed to Afghanistan, and is steadily returning home. Members of the 1st Brigade had gone to Kuwait and Iraq to help bolster security due to threats from Iranian-backed militias. Some members of that group have also come home.

According to Army Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, FOB Patriot will be able to hold as many as 600 soldiers, but numbers have been changing as adjustments are made. He said Maj. Gen. James Mingus wanted to ensure that the returning troops knew “we were proud of what they accomplished and were doing everything we can to take care of them and stop the spread of the virus.”

Of the 1,700 82nd Airborne troops that have returned so far to Bragg, a bit less than half are housed in barracks and at FOB Patriot, and the rest are in quarantine in their homes. As of Friday about 200 were at FOB Patriot.

Anyone who exhibits symptoms of the virus will go into isolation and medical treatment.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/03/20/military-works-to-improve-conditions-for-quarantined-troops/

U.S. Remains Largest Military Arms Exporter Over Last 5 Years

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DEFENSE NEWS

The United States was the largest exporter of major arms from 2015-2019, delivering 76 percent more materiel than runner-up Russia, according to a new study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think tank.

The study found that the U.S. provided major arms — defined by the think tank as air defense systems, armored vehicles, missiles and satellites, among other materiel — to 96 countries in those five years, with half of the weapons going to the Middle East.

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“The U.S. contributed about 35 percent of all the world’s arms exports during that five-year time period, partly supported by the increased demand for American advanced military aircraft in Europe, Australia, Japan and Taiwan, said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI.

From 2015-2019, Russia’s major arms exports decreased by 18 percent; France’s increased by 72 percent, making it the third largest exporter; and Germany’s increased by 17 percent, making it the fourth largest exporter.

Worldwide arms exports rose nearly 6 percent in 2015-2019 from 2010-2014, and increased 20 percent from since 2005-2009, SIPRI said.

Arm exports to countries in conflict in the Middle East increased by 61 percent in 2015-2019 compared to 2010-2014, the study showed. Saudi Arabia, the country to which the U.S. exported the most arms, was the largest importer globally in 2015-2019. The kingdom’s imports increased 130 percent compared to the previous five-year period. Armored vehicles, trainer aircraft, missiles and guided bombs were among the leading arms purchased by the kingdom.

Despite attempts in Congress to restrict arms exports to Saudi Arabia, the delivery of major arms, including 30 combat aircraft ordered in 2011, continued in 2019 as the U.S. provided 73% of Saudi Arabia’s imports.

In May, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration to push through an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries for precision-guided bombs and related components. In July, he said blocking the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia would “weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationship [the United States] share with [its] allies and partners.”

U.S. arms exports to Europe and Africa increased by 45 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in 2015-2019. U.S. arms exports to Asia and the Oceania region decreased by 20 percent, as a result of fewer arms exports to India, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Since 2018, the U.S. has exported almost 100 major weapons to international organizations like the United Nations, the African Union and NATO, the report said, noting that Russia did not send weapons to these organizations.

Among the top 10 arms exporters outside Europe and North America, Israel and South Korea showed the biggest increase in exports. Israeli arms exports increased by 77 percent in 2015-2019 — a record for the country, according to the study. South Korea, which showed a 143 percent increase during that same time period, more than doubled its number of export clients.”

https://www.defensenews.com/2020/03/09/who-were-the-largest-major-arms-exporters-in-the-last-5-years/

Experienced Young Military Professionals Discuss The Future of Warfare

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following two articles by a Middle East war veteran at West Point and a Navy military lawyer contemplating warfare technology and the law should be carefully read by the American Public. These young gentlemen are highly visible in their fields. They and their peers are the future leadership of our country.

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“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT” By Matt Cavanaugh

“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish.

We’ve reached the end of victory’s road, and at this juncture it’s time to embrace other terms, a less-loaded lexicon, like “strategic advantage,” “relative gain,” and “sustainable marginalization.”

A few weeks back, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker triumphantly announced the peace deal between the government of Columbia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). While positive, this declaration rings hollow as the exception that proves the rule – a tentative treaty, however, at the end, roughly 7,000 guerrillas held a country of 50 million hostage over 50 years at a cost of some 220,000 lives. Churchill would be aghast: Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

One reason this occasion merited a more somber statement: military victory is dead. And it was killed by a bunch of cheap stuff.

The term “victory” is loaded, so let’s stipulate it means unambiguous, unchallenged, and unquestioned strategic success – something more than a “win,” because, while one might “eke out a win,” no one “ekes out a victory.” Wins are represented by a mere letter (“w”); victory is a tickertape with tanks.

Which is something I’ll never see in my military career; I should explain. When a government has a political goal that cannot be obtained other than by force, the military gets involved and selects some objective designed to obtain said goal. Those military objectives can be classified broadly, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz did, into either a limited aim (i.e. “occupy some…frontier-districts” to use “for bargaining”), or a larger aim to completely disarm the enemy, “render[ing] him politically helpless or military impotent.” Lo, we’ve arrived at the problem: War has become so inexpensive that anyone can afford the traditional military means of strategic significance – so we can never fully disarm the enemy. And a perpetually armed enemy means no more parades (particularly in Nice).

Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

It’s a buyer’s market in war, and the baseline capabilities (shoot, move, and communicate) are at snake-belly prices. Tactical weaponry, like AK-47s are plentiful, rented, and shipped from battlefield to battlefield, and the most lethal weapon U.S. forces encountered at the height of the Iraq War, the improvised explosive device, could be had for as little as $265. Moving is cost-effective too in the “pickup truck era of warfare,” and reports on foreign fighters in Syria remind us that cheap, global travel makes it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to rapidly arrive in an active war zone with money to spare. Also, while the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba shut down the megacity Mumbai in 2008 for less than what many traveling youth soccer teams spend in a season, using unprotected social media networks, communication has gotten even easier for the emerging warrior with today’s widely available unhackable phones and apps. These low and no-cost commo systems are the glue that binds single wolves into coordinated wolf-packs with guns, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. The good news: Ukraine can crowdfund aerial surveillance against Russian incursions. The less-good news: strikes, like 9/11, cost less than three seconds of a single Super Bowl ad. With prices so low, why would anyone ever give up their fire, maneuver, and control platforms?

All of which explains why military victory has gone away. Consider the Middle East, and the recent comment by a Hezbollah leader, “This can go on for a hundred years,” and his comrade’s complementary analysis, that “as long as we are there, nobody will win.” With such a modestly priced war stock on offer, it’s no wonder Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with the insurgents, recently concluding, of the four wars currently burning across the region, the U.S. has “no prospect” of strategic victory in any. Or that Modern War Institute scholar Andrew Bacevich assesses bluntly, “If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win.” This is what happens when David’s slingshot is always full.

The guerrillas know what many don’t: It’s the era, stupid. This is the nature of the age, as Joshua Cooper Ramos describes, “a nightmare reality in which we must fight adaptive microthreats and ideas, both of which appear to be impossible to destroy even with the most expensive weapons.” Largely correct, one point merits minor amendment – it’s meaningless to destroy when it’s so cheap to get back in the game, a hallmark of a time in which Wolverine-like regeneration is regular.

This theme even extends to more civilized conflicts. Take the Gawker case: begrudged hedge fund giant Peter Thiel funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the journalistic insurrectionists at Gawker Media, which forced the website’s writers to lay down their keyboards. However, as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out – Gawker’s leader, Nick Denton, can literally walk across the street, with a few dollars, and start right over. Another journalist opined, “Mr. Thiel’s victory was a hollow one – you might even say he lost. While he may have killed Gawker, its sensibility and influence on the rest of the news business survive.” Perhaps Thiel should have waited 50 more years, as Columbia had to, to write his “victory” op-ed? He may come to regret the essay as his own “Mission Accomplished” moment.

True with websites, so it goes with warfare. We live in the cheap war era, where the attacker has the advantage and the violent veto is always possible. Political leaders can speak and say tough stuff, promise ruthless revenge – it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you can’t disarm the enemy, you can’t parade the tanks.”

https://rosecoveredglasses.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/military-victory-is-dead/

JIA SIPA

By JOSHUA FIVESON

A new chapter of the international order The automation of war is as inevitable as conflict itself.  Less certain, however, is the international community’s collective ability to predict the many ways that these changes will affect the traditional global order. 

The pace of technology is often far greater than our collective ability to contemplate its second and third order effects, and this reality counsels cautious reflection as we enter a new chapter in the age-old story of war and peace.

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“Robots have long presented a threat to some aspect of the human experience.  What began with concern over the labor market slowly evolved into a full-blown existential debate over the future of mankind.  But lost somewhere in between the assembly line and apocalypse stands a more immediate threat to the global order:  the disruptive relationship between technology and international law.

Jus ad Bellum

Jus ad bellum is the body of international law that governs the initial use force.  Under this heading, force is authorized in response to an “armed attack.”  However, little discussion has focused on how unmanned technologies will shift this line between war and peace.

Iran’s recent unprovoked attack on one of the United States’ unmanned surveillance aircraft provides an interesting case study.  Though many saw the move as the opening salvo of war, the United States declined to respond in kind.  The President explained that there would have been a “big, big difference” if there was “a man or woman in the [aircraft.]”  This comment seemed to address prudence, not authority.  Many assumed that the United States would have been well within its rights to levy a targeted response.  Yet this sentiment overlooked a key threshold:  could the United States actually claim self-defense under international law?  

Two cases from the International Court of Justice are instructive.  In Nicaragua v. United States, the Court confronted the U.S. government’s surreptitious support and funding of the Contras, a rebel group that sought to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.  Nicaragua viewed the United States’ conduct as an armed attack under international law.  The Court, however, disagreed.

Key to the Court’s holding was the concept of scale and effect.  Although the U.S. government had encouraged and directly supported paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, the Court concluded that the scale and effect of that conduct did not rise to the level of an armed attack.  Notably, this was the case regardless of any standing prohibition on the United States’ efforts.

So too in Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States, more commonly known as the “Oil Platforms” case.  The Court analyzed the U.S. government’s decision to bomb evacuated Iranian Oil Platforms in response to Iranian missile and mining operations throughout the Persian Gulf.  Among other things, the Iranian operations injured six crew members on a U.S. flagged oil tanker, ten sailors on a U.S. naval vessel, and damaged both ships.  The Court nonetheless rejected the United States’ claim of self-defense because the Iranian operations did not meet the Nicaragua gravity threshold and thus did not qualify as “armed attacks.”  

Viewed on this backdrop, however contested, it strains reason to suggest that an isolated use of force against an unmanned asset would ever constitute an armed attack.  Never before have hostile forces been able to similarly degrade combat capability with absolutely no risk of casualty.  Though the Geneva Conventions prohibit the “extensive destruction” of property, it is another matter completely to conclude that any unlawful use of force is tantamount to an armed attack.  Indeed, the Nicaragua and Oil Platforms cases clearly reject this reasoning.  This highlights how the new balance of scale and effect will alter the landscape that separates peace and war.

Even assuming an attack on unmanned technology might constitute an armed attack under international law, there arise other complications regarding the degree of force available in response.  The jus ad bellum principles of necessity and proportionality apply to actions taken in self-defense, and the legitimate use of “defensive” force must be tailored to achieve that legitimate end.  A failure to strike this balance runs contrary to long-held principles of international law. 

What, then, happens when a robotic platform is destroyed and the response delayed?  Does the surrogate country have a general right to use limited, belated force in reply?  Maybe.  But a generalized response would likely constitute armed reprisal, which has fallen into disfavor with customary international law. 

To be lawful, the deferred use of defensive force must be tailored to prevent similar attacks in the future.  Anything short of this would convert a country’s inherent right to self-defense into subterfuge for illegal aggression.  Thankfully, this obligation is simply met where the initial aggressor is a developed country that maintains targeting or industrial facilities that can be tied to any previous, or potential future, means of attack.  But this problem takes on new difficulty in the context of asymmetric warfare.   

Non-state actors are more than capable of targeting robotic technology.  Yet these entities lack the traditional infrastructure that might typically (and lawfully) find itself in the crosshairs following an attack.  How, then, can a traditional power use force in response to a successful, non-state assault on unmanned equipment?  It is complicated.  A responsive strike that broadly targets members of the hostile force may present proportionality concerns that are unique from those associated with traditional attacks that risk the loss of life. 

How would a country justify a responsive strike that targets five members of a hostile force in response to a downed drone?  Does the answer change if fewer people are targeted?  And what if there is no question that those targeted were not involved in the initial act of aggression?  These questions aside, a responsive strike that exclusively targets humans in an attempt to stymie future attacks on unmanned equipment does not bear the same legal foundation as one that seeks to prevent future attacks that risk life.  The international community has yet to identify the exchange rate between robotic equipment and human lives, and therein lies the problem.

Jus in Bello

Robotic warfare will also disrupt jus in bello, the law that governs conduct during armed conflict.  Under the law of armed conflict, the right to use deadly force against a belligerent continues until they have been rendered ineffective, whether through injury, surrender, or detention.  But the right to use force first is not diminished by the well-recognized obligation to care for those same combatants if wounded or captured.  An armed force is not required to indiscriminately assume risk in order to capture as opposed to kill an adversary.  To impose such a requirement would shift risk from one group to another and impose gratuitous tactical impediments

This sentiment fades, however, once you place “killer robots” on the battlefield.  While there is little sense in telling a young soldier or marine that he cannot pull the trigger and must put himself at greater risk if an opportunity for capture presents itself, the same does not hold true when a robot is pulling the trigger.  The tactical feasibility of capture over kill becomes real once you swap “boots” for “bots” on the ground.  No longer is there the potential for fatality, and the risk calculus becomes largely financial.  This is not to say that robots would obligate a country to blindly pursue capture at the expense of strategy.  But a modernized military might effect uncontemplated restrictions on the traditional use of force under international law.  The justification for kill over capture is largely nonexistent in situations where capture is tactically feasible without any coordinate risk of casualty.

Design is another important part of this discussion.  Imagine a platoon of “killer robots” engages a small group of combatants, some of whom are incapacitated but not killed.  A robot that is exclusively designed to target and kill would be unable to comply with the internationally recognized duty to care for wounded combatants.  Unless medical care is a contemplated function of these robots’ design, the concept of a human-free battlefield will remain unrealized.  Indeed, the inherent tension between new tech and old law might indicate that at least some human footprint will always be required in theater—if only after the dust of combat settles.

Reports from China suggest that robots could replace humans on the battlefield within the next five years, and the U.S. Army is slated to begin testing a platoon of robotic combat vehicles this year.  Russia, too, is working to develop combat robots to supplement its infantry.  This, of course, raises an important question: what happens if the most powerful, technologically adept countries write off traditional obligations at the design table?  Might often makes right on the international stage, and given the lack of precedent in this area, the risk demands attention.

Law of the Sea

The peacetime naval domain provides another interesting forum for the disruptive effect of military robotics.  Customary international law, for example, has long recognized an obligation to render assistance to vessels in distress—at least to the extent feasible without danger to the assisting ship and crew.  This is echoed in a variety of international treaties ranging from the Geneva Convention on the High Seas to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  But what becomes of this obligation when ships of the future have no crew?

Navies across the world are actively developing ghost fleets.  The U.S. Navy has called upon industry to deliver ten Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle ships by 2024, and just recently, the “Sea Hunter” became the first ship to sail autonomously between two major ports.  This comes as no surprise given the Navy’s 2020 request for $628.8 million to conduct research and development involving unmanned surface and sub-surface assets.  The Chinese, too, have been exploring the future of autonomous sea power.  

This move highlights the real possibility that technology may relieve the most industrially developed Navies of traditional international obligations.  Whether fortuitously or not, the size of a ghost fleet would inversely reflect a nation’s ability—and perhaps its obligation—to assist vessels in distress. 

This would shift the humanitarian onus onto less-developed countries or commercial mariners, ceding at least one traditional pillar of international law’s peacetime function.  This also opens the door to troubling precedent if global superpowers begin to consciously design themselves out of long-held international obligations.

The move to robotic sea vessels also risks an increase in challenges to the previously inviolable (and more-easily defendable) sovereignty of sea-going platforms.  In 2016, for example, a Chinese warship unlawfully detained one of the United States’ underwater drones, which, at the time, was being recovered in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.  The move was widely seen as violating international maritime law.  But the Chinese faced no resistance in their initial detention of the vessel and the United States’ response consisted of nothing more than demands for return.  Unlike their staffed counterparts, unmanned vessels are more prone to illegal seizure or boarding—in part because of the relatively low risk associated with the venture. 

This dynamic may increase a nation’s willingness to unlawfully exert control over another’s sovereign vessel while simultaneously decreasing the aggrieved nation’s inclination (or ability) to use force in response.  This same phenomenon bears out in the context of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, for which the frequency and consequence of hostile engagement are counter-intuitively related.  But unmanned sea vessels are far more prone to low-cost incursion than their winged counterparts.  This highlights but one aspect of the normative consequence effected by unmanned naval technology, which, if unaddressed, stands to alter the cost-benefit analysis that often underlies the equilibrium of peace.”

https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/online-articles/disruptive-technology-and-future-international-law

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joshua Fiveson
Joshua Fiveson 

Joshua Fiveson is an officer in the U.S. Navy and a graduate of Harvard Law School.  Fiveson previously served as the youngest-ever military fellow with the Institute of World Politics, a national security fellow with the University of Virginia’s National Security Law Institute, a national security fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a leadership fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.  Fiveson also served as a John Marshall fellow with the Claremont Institute and a James Wilson fellow with the James Wilson Institute. 

Reclaiming Congress’s War Powers

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An American flag lines the inside of a U.S. Soldier’s helmet at Forward Operating Base Azim Jan Karez in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2012. (Photo: DOD / D. Myles Cullen)

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO) “

[James] “Madison wrote, “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”

______________________________________________________________________________

“Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war, raise and fund an army and navy, and “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” But the United States has been at war continuously since September 18, 2001, and Congress last voted to authorize force in 2002. Children born that year will soon be eligible to serve in the military.

There are signs that Congress is trying to reassert its constitutional authority in the wake of the United States’ killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani this January in Iraq. On February 13, the Senate passed a resolution intended to block war with Iran, by a bipartisan vote of 55-45. The House of Representatives passed a similar measure soon after the strike against Soleimani. More recently, the House voted to repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization (which President Donald Trump invoked as a justification for the Soleimani strike), and to forbid the use of federal funds for an attack on Iran.

Congress’s overdue efforts to reclaim its authority over the use of military force are very welcome. But they’re unlikely to be effective in restraining the executive in the short run. Trump has threatened to veto these measures, and none has passed with the two-thirds majority required for an override.

It is rare for Congress to unite across party lines by a large enough majority to override a presidential veto. The framers of the Constitution did not intend to give the president unilateral authority to start and expand wars unless two-thirds of Congress stopped him. James Madison warned in 1793 that presidents would inevitably be tempted to start, expand, and prolong wars: “War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them.” Because of this, Madison wrote, “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”

Nearly 50 years ago, in 1973, Congress did enact a law designed to prevent “prolonged engagement in undeclared, Presidential war.” The War Powers Resolution states that the president can only deploy the military into actual or imminent hostilities under “(1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The resolution requires troops deployed without statutory authorization to be removed within 60 days, or immediately upon a vote by a majority of both the House and the Senate.

The vote requiring the removal of troops from a conflict was originally supposed to take the form of a “concurrent resolution,” which is not subject to a veto by the president. But a 1983 Supreme Court decision, INS v. Chadha, held that “legislative vetoes” of executive action are unconstitutional.

The executive branch has weakened the limits imposed by the War Powers Resolution over time.

Perhaps most significant in recent years has been the executive branch’s contorted interpretation of existing authorizations to use force to cover new conflicts—in some cases, to cover conflicts with groups not even in existence at the time the authorizations of force were adopted.

Just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed an authorization for use of military force, known as an “AUMF,” permitting the use of force “against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” The 2001 authorization, however, has been interpreted so broadly since it was adopted that presidents have invoked it to conduct military operations in at least 19 countries, including at least seven where operations are ongoing, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Congress last passed an AUMF in October 2002, when it authorized President George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq. The U.S. government overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government shortly after the war began, and held a ceremony marking the official end of the conflict in 2011. But the Trump administration has threatened to veto the repeal of the 2002 war authorization, and has made the absurd claim that the 2002 war authorization has “long been understood to authorize the use of force” to address “threats directed by Iran.”

In other cases, presidents have claimed that their military actions fell short of war, or of “hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution. The Trump administration used this justification for its military strike against the Syrian government in 2018 and the Obama administration made the same claim when it intervened in Libya in 2011.

It will not be easy for Congress to stop these unauthorized uses of force and reassert its constitutional authority. But a growing number of members of Congress from across the political spectrum recognize the necessity for action. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) recommends that, beyond votes addressing specific uses of force, Congress reform the War Powers Resolution itself to close the loopholes that have prevented it from fulfilling its original purpose.

Reforms should include:

Requiring that war authorizations include proper nouns and end dates

The executive branch’s expansion of the post-September 11 war authorization to include “associated forces” of al-Qaida that did not exist at the time of the attacks demonstrates the need for greater specificity. Any resolution authorizing the use of military force should include a sunset date, and specify the name of the enemy (whether it is a foreign state or a terrorist group) and geographical locations where the military may use force. Existing authorizations, including the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, should also be repealed or given an expiration date.

While it is not possible to prevent a future Congress from passing a vague authorization, Congress could provide for expedited consideration of resolutions to authorize force only if they include these specifics.

Defining “hostilities”

The 1973 War Powers Resolution did not define “hostilities,” one of its key terms. For decades, presidents have used that omission to argue that military action did not qualify. In 2011, the Obama administration argued that the United States’ involvement in a military campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya—which lasted over six months, included a U.S. bombing campaign and the deployment of 11 naval ships, and ended in Gaddafi’s violent overthrow and death—did not amount to “hostilities.” In order to close this loophole, Congress should define “hostilities” to include, at a minimum, “armed conflict” or “clear and present danger of armed conflict,” and should make clear that armed conflict includes drone warfare and other situations where U.S. personnel take deadly action even where they face limited risk of casualties.

Requiring increased transparency from the executive branch about all uses of force

The executive branch has not only used the September 2001 AUMF to justify military force against an increasing number of terrorist organizations in an increasing number of countries, but it has also refused to publicly acknowledge many of these actions. In 2013, the Pentagon told members of Congress that the full list of al-Qaida “associated forces” with whom the U.S. was at war was classified. The secrecy has been even greater with respect to CIA paramilitary airstrikes in Pakistan and Yemen. For years, the executive branch has withheld crucial information about the drone campaign from most members of Congress. A new war powers resolution should include requirements for meaningful, prompt consultation with Congress whenever U.S. government employees are involved in armed conflict, and public notice with only very narrow exceptions.

Creating a mechanism for judicial review

Efforts to enforce the 1973 War Powers Resolution in court have not been successful, but Congress needs to keep trying. Unless the courts step in to enforce legal limits on the president’s commander-in-chief power, the Office of Legal Counsel and other executive branch lawyers will have the last word. The Office of Legal Counsel, the entity within the Department of Justice that offers legal advice to the executive branch, has repeatedly concluded that the president may use military force without congressional authorization if doing so serves the United States’ national interest—a test that “provides no meaningful constraint on presidential power,” in the words of former office head Jack Goldsmith and law professor Curtis Bradley. Congress should explicitly authorize the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, or the foreign affairs committee of either body to bring suit on its behalf, and instruct the courts that the executive’s compliance with a new war powers resolution is not a political question and thus is subject to judicial review.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/02/recommendations-for-reclaiming-congress-war-powers/

Veterans Speak Out On War Cost Amid Middle East Tension

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Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division board a bus to be taken to a flight line as they deploy to Middle East on Saturday January 4th 2020 at Ft. Bragg N.C. Malissa Sue Gerrits The Fayetteville Observer via A.P.

USA TODAY

Some say it’s time for Americans to cut our losses and bring U.S. troops home. Others say we need to keep our armed forces in place if it prevents another 9/11.

One message is clear: “Wars cost.”

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“The images are horrific. His left eyeball seemed to float in the bloody, mangled mass that used to be his face.

A bomb tore through the front of U.S. Army sniper Robert Bartlett’s head as he rode in a Humvee in Iraq in 2005. The device was traced to the Iranian Quds Force led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

So when President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the general last week, it wasn’t exactly an unwelcome development for Bartlett. 

Bartlett, who’s now a motivational speaker and veterans’ advocate, and other veterans who have served in the Middle East agree on that much. They differ on what should happen next.

Army Sgt. Robert Bartlett was disfigured during deployment in Iraq in 2005.
Army Sargent Robert Bartlett was disfigured during deployment to Iraq in 2005 American Society of Plastic Surgeons

But their years patrolling in Humvees, enduring stinging sandstorms and dealing with extreme temperatures have given them important perspective as the nation – again – focuses its attention on conflict in the Middle East.

Some say the face-off with Iran, which retaliated with a missile strike on Iraq bases Tuesday night, has reminded the American public of the uncertainty service members and their families have faced for nearly two decades since the U.S. military first invaded Afghanistan.

Some say it’s time for Americans to cut our losses and bring U.S. troops home. Others say we need to keep our armed forces in place if it prevents another 9/11.

One message is clear: “Wars cost,” said Sherman Gillums Jr., a Marine veteran who was paralyzed as he prepared to ship out to Afghanistan in 2002. 

“If you want it or believe it’s necessary but can’t fight it yourself, at least be prepared to pay in some other way,” Gillums said. 

He is now chief strategy officer at American Veterans, or AMVETS, a nonprofit veterans’ advocacy organization with more than 250,000 members.

Make no mistake, Bartlett said: The United States is at war with Iran. 

“We can keep lying to ourselves and say, ‘Hey, we’re not at war with them, we don’t want to be at war with them,’” he said. “Well, they’re at war with us, so you are at war with them.” 

Ending the ‘forever war’

Americans may have pushed Iraq to the back of their minds as American forces there dwindled and Trump declared ISIS had been defeated. But veterans interviewed by USA TODAY said the recent hostilities with Iran are an escalation of a conflict that has been going on for years.

In 2001, when U.S. forces prepared to take a crucial airport in Afghanistan during the initial U.S. invasion, one of the first things they did was destroy the runways, said Joe Chenelly, a Marine veteran who took part. “So that the Iranians could stop bringing stuff in to them,” he said.

That’s why Bartlett reacted to Soleimani’s death the way he did.

“I just got overcome with emotion,” he said. “Reluctantly, I prayed for his soul and the others who were killed. … Then I went and celebrated with a 12-year-old Scotch and a cigar.”

Chenelly, who is now national executive director of AMVETS, said the organization has been in favor of ending the “forever war” for years. What happened in the past week, however, “obviously complicates things.”

Now, he said, the most important consideration should be ensuring the security of U.S. forces and the nation. But today’s highly charged political environment makes it hard, he said, for Americans to talk about how to achieve that. 

“It’s hard to talk about this and not be labeled as taking one side or the other – the political side, which really isn’t fair when we’re talking about life and death,” Chenelly said. “It’s a lot deeper than Rs versus Ds or vice versa.”

National Executive Director of AMVETS Joe Chenelly poses for a photograph Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Washington.
National Executive Director of AMVETS, Joe Chennelly Alex Brandon AP

Navy veteran Jeremy Butler said images of troops being deployed to the Middle East recently have returned to the national spotlight the realities of military life: “what it’s like to be on call, what it’s like to have family members quickly deployed, what it’s like to have the uncertainty of not knowing when you’re going to see your spouse or your parents again.”

Butler deployed in 2003 in support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and is now chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which advocates for post-9/11 veterans. 

In addition to the 5,000 U.S. troops killed in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 50,000 have been wounded. Years later, those veterans require care by their families and American taxpayers.

Some veterans question what the U.S. is fighting for

Iraq combat veteran Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said what’s missing from the national conversation about recent hostilities with Iranis a strategy.

Rieckhoff, who unabashedly refers to Trump as “President Mayhem” on his podcast, said the White House and Pentagon need to articulate a clear strategy for the region beyond economic sanctions meant to pressure Iran into dropping its nuclear ambitions.

Trump on Wednesday pledged to impose more of those sanctions in response to Iran’s missile strikes. 0:151:20

Rieckhoff called Trump’s remarks nebulous. “Felt all over the place,” he tweeted. 

Trump’s address signaled a de-escalation from his earlier rhetoric, in which he pledged to strike Iranian cultural sites “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing. 

Veteran Army Special Forces officer Joe Kent wants the president to go further and pull U.S. troops out of Iraq – and away from Iran. That’s what Trump campaigned on.

“I would get all of our forces out of … striking distance,” he said. Kent deployed several times to Iraq. His wife was killed in Syria last year during her fifth combat deployment.

“If we do decide to stay in Iraq, either against the will of the Iraqi parliament or at the blessing of the Iraqi government, the question is, what are we fighting for?” he asked. “Are we fighting for the Iraqi government?”

Sherman Gillums Jr., chief strategy officer at American Veterans, or AMVETS, speaks during the 3rd Annual Vetty Awards at The Mayflower Hotel on Jan. 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Sherman Gillums, Jr., Chief Strategy Officer AMVETS Paul Morigi Getty Images

Marine veteran Dan Caldwell agrees. He said keeping troops in Iraq is “insane.” Caldwell is senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, a Koch-backed group that has supported Trump.

U.S. missions to eradicate ISIS and train and equip Iraqi forces are now complete, Caldwell said.

“The only mission our troops have in Iraq is guarding bases that no longer serve a purpose,” he said. “There’s no pressing national security need to have them there.” 

Middle East experts have said a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could be disastrous, creating a power vacuum for both Iran and the Islamic State terrorist group to fill. 

And Bartlett, who was disfigured by the Iranian-made bomb in 2005, warned against such sweeping judgments without knowing what intelligence is guiding U.S. leaders’ decision-making.

The lessons of 9/11 are worth remembering, Bartlett said: A small group of terrorists can kill thousands of people. “So we’ve got to keep that in mind. When we don’t deal with it, then we lose a lot of civilians.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/01/09/wars-cost-iraq-veterans-speak-out-amid-u-s-tensions-iran/2831788001/


Why U.S. Soldiers Battled Their Own Paid Security Detail

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Image: SkyAustraliaHealth

USA TODAY

The architects behind this corner of the war – and those profiting from the security contract – did not understand the difference between who they were supposed to be fighting, employing and protecting.

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“ZIZABAD, Afghanistan – Once the Americans left, the survivors started digging.

There were too many dead and not enough shovels, so a local politician brought in heavy machinery from a nearby construction site. He dug graves deep enough to fit mothers with children, or children with children. Some were still in their pajamas, their hands inked with henna tattoos from the party preparations the night before.

Villagers picked through the rubble of what had been an entire neighborhood, looking for remains to wrap in white linens for burial. A boy clutching a torn rug walked in a daze on top of the ruins. A young man collapsed in grief by a pile of mud bricks where his home once stood – where his wife and four children had been sleeping inside.

The local doctor recorded a cellphone video to document the dead faces, freckled with shrapnel and blood, coated with dust and debris. Some were Afghan men of fighting age, but most – dozens of them – were women and children. Taza was 3 years old. Maida was 2. Zia, 1.

The hot summer wind kicked up dust, smoke and the smell of gunpowder as villagers tried to make sense of why their remote village was demolished by an American airstrike in the middle of the night.

A clue was found near several of the dead Afghan fighters: ID badges from the private security company at the American-controlled airfield up the road.

Why had a team of U.S. soldiers and Marines battled its own paid security detail?

After more than a decade, those who buried their families still don’t know.


U.S. military officials publicly touted the August 22, 2008, Azizabad raid – Operation Commando Riot – as a victory. A high-value Taliban target had been killed; the collateral damage was minimal; the village was grateful.

None of it was true.

The Taliban commander escaped. Dozens of civilians were dead in the rubble, including as many as 60 children. The local population rioted.

It remains one of the deadliest civilian casualty events of the Afghan campaign. But the story of how the operation turned tragic has been largely hidden from the public.

USA TODAY spent more than a year investigating the Azizabad raid and sued the Department of Defense to obtain almost 1,000 pages of investigative files previously kept secret because it had been deemed “classified national security information.” The records included photographs of the destruction in Azizabad and sworn testimony from the U.S. forces who planned and executed the operation.SHOW OF FORCEThis is an ongoing series of reports about G4S, the world’s largest private security force, which provides guards for thousands of private businesses and government agencies across the nation. Reporters at USA TODAY and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spent more than a year gathering records and interviewing current and former employees, as well as those impacted by violence associated with G4S guards.

USA TODAY also obtained Afghan government records, evidence collected by humanitarian groups, including the Red Cross, and a confidential United Nations investigation into the incident.

In addition, a reporter traveled to western Afghanistan to interview government officials, investigators, first responders, witnesses and the villagers who survived.

Together, the records and interviews tell the story of a disaster that was months in the making as military and company officials ignored warnings about the men they had hired to provide intelligence and security. The records also reveal that the Defense Department has for years downplayed or denied the fatal mistakes surrounding the tragedy.”

Read full story here: https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2019/12/29/security-guards-afghan-warlords-mass-civilian-casualties/2675795001/

War Weary-Disinterested America And Its Soldiers

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Image: “Oocities.com”

Editors Note: Published 5 years ago this article is still basically true in 2020 –  Veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate say the American military cannot fix what is a cultural and political issue: the inability of governments to thwart extremism within their own borders.

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“ROSE COVERED GLASSES”

“As the U.S. continues into a second decade of the war on terror, our citizens and our volunteer military are growing disinterested and weary respectively. 

The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) continues to make grand strides in technology, spending billions on new air craft and naval vessels, cyber warfare tools and sensors, while we downsize the combat soldiers to stand in the job line or wait for admission to veterans’ hospitals. 
CRITERIA FOR WINNING
“THE ATLANTIC”
“Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion.

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.”

In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world.

When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.”

The Tragedy of the American Military 

RISK ASSESSMENT

Our government has not considered the risks, the indigenous cultural impact, the expense and the sacrifices required to sustain the nation building that must occur after we invade countries in pursuit of perceived enemies and place the burden of governance on military personnel who are not equipped to deal with it or manage USAID contractors who have profit motives in mind and corruption as a regular practice.

“POGO”

“Cost-plus contracts have long been criticized by government watchdogs like the Project On Government Oversight and waste-conscious lawmakers. Most recently, incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) bluntly stated that these contracts are “disgraceful” and should be banned.”
  
Your Tax Dollars Defrauded

 THOSE WHO HAVE FOUGHT ASK GOOD QUESTIONS

‘NEW YORK TIMES”

“There are 26 veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate.

Many say their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan taught them that the American military cannot fix what is fundamentally a cultural and political issue: the inability of governments to thwart extremism within their own borders.

Ted Lieu of California, said he would not support giving Mr. Obama the formal authority he had requested because, like many veterans, he finds it difficult to see how the conflict will ever end.

“The American military is an amazing force. We are very good at defeating the enemy, taking over territory, blowing things up,” said Mr. Lieu, who served in the Air Force and remains in the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. “But America has traditionally been very bad at answering the next question, which is what do you do after that.”

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now serving in Congress have emerged as some of the most important voices in the debate over whether to give President Obama a broad authorization for a military campaign against the Islamic State or something much more limiting.”
Veterans in Congress Bring Rare Perspective
NO SKIN IN THE GAME
“THE ATLANTIC”
“A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it,” Andrew Bacevich wrote in 2012. Bacevich himself fought in Vietnam; his son was killed in Iraq. “Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”
 The Tragedy of the American Military
BUYING OUR WAY OUT?

Foreign aid in the billions continues to the Middle East.  US weapons export sales have reached a crescendo, increasing by 31% to 94 countries. with the Middle East receiving the line share.
US Arms Exports Increase 31%
A single Weapon, the 1.4 Trillion dollar F-35 will soon account for 12% of our total national debt.
The 1.4 $Trillion F-35 Aircraft
QUOTE BY ERIC PRINCE, EX- CEO BLACKWATER:
“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”
“The world is a much more dangerous place, there is more radicalism, more countries that are melting down or approaching that state.” 
At the same time, the Pentagon is under growing pressure to cut spending and the cost of the all-volunteer force keeps rising, Prince said. 
“The U.S. military has mastered the most expensive way to wage war, with a heavy expensive footprint.” Over the long run, the military might have to rely more on contractors, as it will become tougher to recruit service members. 
Prince cited recent statistics that 70 percent of the eligible population of prospective troops is unsuitable to serve in the military for various reasons such as obesity, lack of a high school education, drug use, criminal records or even excessive tattoos. In some cases, Prince said, it might make more sense to hire contractors.”
What’s Eric Prince Been Up To?
QUESTIONS FOR THE READER:

Did not the Roman Empire run into these issues when they outsourced their wars and went to the baths?

What makes us believe this worldwide war of attrition can continue indefinitely and that our younger generations are going to be willing to enlist and/or pay the bills?

Image: Photolibra

 Can we insist our government representatives consider these factors and plan ahead?

Future generations, their wealth, health and treasure will depend on our answers.

https://rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com/2015/03/war-weary-disinterested-america-its.html

The Vietnam War Echos In Warfare And Politics Today

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Image: “Fine Art America

By Ken Larson

My comrades and I who served in the Vietnam War are reminded of that period when reading the words of our leaders in the recent Washington Post Freedom of Information Act victory in the courts.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/

We remember clearly the friends, innocence, physical and mental health lost in battle. We see the continuing implications of similar conflicts in which our country has since been involved.

Our conclusion is that war has become a racket and the capitalistic gain threat within the Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned us about as he left office has materialized.

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The U.S. today is about to approve another National Defense Authorization Bill, well in excess of $700 Billion .

As the STRAFOR article below conveys, similar geopolitical conditions to today existed 50 years ago.

Yet we have continued to approve this catastrophic money burner and debt creator https://www.usdebtclock.org/ in the interest of National Security making defense companies rich. It cannot continue.

STRATFOR WORLDVIEWWeighing the Geopolitics of the Vietnam” War

SUMMARY

“South Vietnam’s capital city, Saigon, fell to invading North Vietnamese troops on April 30, 1975. The image of an overloaded Huey helicopter on top of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, frantically loading refugees, was forever seared into the American mind. It was the ignominious end of more than a decade of involvement by the United States in Vietnam.

Ultimately, Washington’s failure to win the war in Vietnam resulted from factors beyond the conflict zone. The United States was heavily constrained by its global commitments — principally its need to secure Western Europe against Warsaw Pact invasion. Washington could not align military capabilities with realistic political goals to justify bringing the full might of U.S. armed forces to bear to defend its peripheral interests in Vietnam. Unable to comprehend North Vietnamese resolve and incapable of bringing about a swift victory, the United States’ will to continue the war crumbled as the human cost mounted. Today, the dominant narrative among the American public is that Vietnam was a crushing American defeat. Forty years after the fall of Saigon, however, it is apparent that Vietnam had only a limited impact on the overall U.S. position within the broader context of the Cold War.

The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War resulted from the evolution of U.S. grand strategy in the wake of World War II. As part of the overall containment structure that Washington hoped to set in place around the Soviet Union — and eventually China as well — a network of allied countries became necessary to block the spread of communism. Many allies found themselves in direct proximity to the communist states America wanted to contain. This meant that any future war between the West and the Soviet Bloc would not be fought in the NATO heartland, but on the far-flung fringes of the two camps’ spheres of influence.

At the root of Washington’s alliance structure was the promise of U.S. support, hardened by what was supposed to be seen as a clear guarantee of assistance should the worst happen. In a divided Europe, for example, an attack on West Germany would be treated as an attack on the United States. Washington had given its word to assist, but by doing so, it put its credibility on the line. Despite written obligations, it was a constant struggle to fully convince the NATO allies that the United States, an ocean away, would truly risk nuclear war to defend West German soil in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion.

A wave of helicopters from the 1st Air Cavalry Division fly over an isolated landing zone during Operation Pershing, in the region of the Bong Son Plain and An Lao Valley of South Vietnam, Jan. 3, 1967.
A wave of helicopters from the 1st Air Cavalry Division fly over an isolated landing zone during Operation Pershing, in the region of the Bong Son Plain and An Lao Valley of South Vietnam, Jan. 3, 1967.

This ambiguity was not lost on Moscow, and Russia continued to probe and pick at the perceived fault-lines in the American grand plan. By manufacturing crises, the Soviets hoped to generate a crippling uncertainty in America’s allies while emboldening their own clients. The Soviet insinuation was that, at a critical moment, the United States would not make good on its promises. So, when the United States found itself more and more involved in Vietnam, Washington was less interested in what Saigon was thinking or doing, or its virtues as a government, and more concerned with how its other allies, especially those in Europe, perceived the seriousness of the U.S. commitment to check the spread of communism within an allied country. When it came due for the United States to live up to its word, it was the international community and not Saigon that Washington looked toward. 

A Small Part of a Big Standoff

Vietnam was one small piece of a much bigger security challenge for Washington, with little intrinsic geopolitical value of its own. The real battles of the period — political and otherwise — were in Central Europe. Europe had to be prioritized, for if its resources and industrial capacity fell to the Warsaw Pact, the United States and its remaining allies would be unable to compete on either an economic or a military basis. For North Vietnam, however, the commitment to national unification was absolute. It pursued its own fundamental geopolitical interests and would give everything to achieve a victory — a single-minded devotion reflected in the horrendous casualties it suffered and the decades of conflict it endured. In the spectrum of conflict, the North Vietnamese were willing to embrace totality. This resolve was backed up with the support of powerful benefactors, namely the Soviets and the Chinese. From the United States’ perspective, committing the resources of the entire country against the North Vietnamese flew in the face of rational wisdom. Washington just had too many other interests. The conflict was ultimately decided by this imbalance of resolve.

A U.S. Air Force F-100 bombs a military target near Saigon on Feb. 8, 1965. The argument remains that the United States could have beaten North Vietnam by committing more forces.
A U.S. Air Force F-100 bombs a military target near Saigon on Feb. 8, 1965.

The argument remains that the United States could have beaten North Vietnam by committing more forces. While this may be accurate, the United States, burdened by its greater contest with the Soviet Union, could not afford to trade the security of its global commitments for a localized victory in Vietnam. The fact of the matter remains that the defense of Indochina was only worth a certain amount of blood and treasure. The U.S. military was saddled with self-imposed constraints and only allocated limited resources to the campaign that, ultimately, proved insufficient for an extended nation-building effort. The United States had to think about strategic balance elsewhere and was limited in what it could realistically commit. Securing the resources required to defeat a massive foreign-sponsored insurgency in the dense Vietnamese jungle had little chance of finding political backing. The fact that the American public deeply opposed the war — a direct result of Vietnam’s murky strategic significance — further eroded the tenuous support for U.S. operations in Vietnam.

Provisional Revolutionary Government fighters seize control of the presidential palace in Saigon after the fall of the city. May 3, 1975. The fact that the American public deeply opposed the war -- a direct result of Vietnam's murky strategic significance -- further eroded the tenuous support for U.S. operations in Vietnam.
Provisional Revolutionary Government fighters seize control of the presidential palace in Saigon after the fall of the city. May 3, 1975.

Once troops were committed, the rationale of Washington’s grand strategy maneuvered the United States into a damning position. U.S. leaders believed that by circumventing the conflict, and showing that the United States was willing to welch on its promises, irreparable fissures could have weakened the alliance structure Washington had fought so hard to construct. Conversely, being unable and unwilling to fully commit to a conflict over a peripheral interest, a clear victory could not be assured, especially against a dedicated and well-supported enemy. 

Limited Geopolitical Impact

The United States did not retreat from the world in the wake of Vietnam. Still determined to contest Soviet influence but eager to avoid overcommitting itself again in the developing world, Washington became more judicious in its use of military force. Instead of relying on direct interventions, Washington shifted the burden of fighting to its clients across the world, providing less direct assistance when necessary. These shadowy operations were well suited for areas of peripheral importance. When they failed, their costs were relatively small; when they succeeded, they often had an outsize impact. This was demonstrated during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the Soviet Union found that it was not prepared to pay the costs of a long counterinsurgency against U.S.-backed mujahideen.

A line of captured South Vietnamese soldiers walk through the streets of Saigon on April 30, 1975, escorted by communist troops. The Vietnam War is popularly remembered as a U.S. defeat at the hands of an enemy a fraction of its size but, from a broader geopolitical perspective, it is hard to say what the United States really lost.
A line of captured South Vietnamese soldiers walk through the streets of Saigon on April 30, 1975, escorted by communist troops.

The Vietnam War is popularly remembered as a U.S. defeat at the hands of an enemy a fraction of its size but, from a broader geopolitical perspective, it is hard to say what the United States really lost. The human cost of the war was certainly tremendous. Some 58,000 U.S. soldiers gave their lives in the conflict, and the war exacerbated huge social rifts in American society. Millions of Vietnamese perished on both sides — along with hundreds of thousands of people in Laos and Cambodia. Both victor and vanquished inherited a country broken by decades of war.

For the United States, the war was over in 1975. For the people of former Indochina, war would continue until 1979, consuming untold millions of lives. Yet, Washington’s worst fears did not materialize with the fall of Saigon. The United States retained its overall combat power and U.S. allies did not break from NATO en masse. The Soviets did not cross the Fulda Gap into West Germany, emboldened by a supposedly conspicuous collapse of U.S. resolve. Perhaps the U.S. refusal to empty its garrisons in Western Europe was far more meaningful a sign for America’s allies and adversaries than an iron commitment to Vietnam. Ultimately, for the United States, the geopolitical cost of the war was greatly overestimated.”

https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/weighing-geopolitics-vietnam-war

15 Years Later, Iraq Vets In Congress Worry Lawmakers Learned Little From The War

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Senator Tammy Duckworth

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, arrives for a vote at the Capitol on Jan. 24, 2018. On Tuesday, the 15-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Duckworth said she worries that Congress still doesn’t take its role overseeing military operations seriously enough. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“There is an understanding on both sides of the aisle that Congress is failing,” Duckworth said. “(Our troops) keep redeploying and redeploying and redeploying. Now they’re in Afghanistan, now they’re in Iraq, now they’re in Africa, now they’re in Syria.

“They keep showing up and we’re not doing our jobs. We’re too afraid to have this discussion, and turning it all over to the executive branch. We did it under President Obama and we’re doing it under the present administration. And that’s not acceptable.”


“Fifteen years after the start of the Iraq war, Sen. Tammy Duckworth is worried that Congress didn’t learn anything from the controversial conflict.

“We just added Niger as a combat zone for combat pay. We’re talking about troops in Syria permanently,” said Duckworth, D-Illinois, who lost both legs while serving as an Army National Guard helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2004.

“That to me is a very dangerous position to be in. I don’t feel like overall Congress has learned a lesson, and I think most people would just rather keep their head down and not have a vote.”

Duckworth and fellow Iraq war veteran Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., spoke to reporters on the anniversary of the start of that conflict Tuesday to again push for a new authorization for the use of military force for a host of current overseas military missions.

The justifications for military intervention in the Middle East, Africa and other conflict zones still rely on the war powers granted by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. For years, Duckworth and Gallego (along with other Democrats and Republicans) have argued in favor of an updated, more limited military force authorization measure, but a compromise remains elusive.

Earlier in the day, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said his panel will mark up a new authorization proposal on April 19.

“When we go into new countries, when we take on new groups, the Senate would have the ability to weigh in on those issues,” he said during a floor speech. “So I just would like to say to the body and those who are looking in, we are not shying away from this debate.”

But Duckworth and Gallego said lawmakers largely have avoided those difficult conversations on military roles and responsibilities, allowing the White House to make those decisions largely unchecked.

“We’re seeing a military that is expected to engage long-term on multiple fronts. We’re seeing a military that has not been funded in terms of readiness,” Duckworth said. “And we’re adding what we’re expecting them to do.

“We’re talking about Africa. We’re talking about Korea. If we want to have the military engage in a 15-year commitment on three fronts … let’s have that conversation.”

Gallego said he believes that after nearly 18 years of continuous military operations overseas, lawmakers have “a better understanding of how military adventurism can go wrong,” and the strain that puts on military families.

“But we’re not doing anything about it,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds. We don’t have to take a tough vote, and the military gets to do what they want because the operate under this old authorization. Democrats are just as responsible for this as Republicans.”

Both lawmakers said they were encouraged by increased debate in the House last year pushing for a new war authorization, but said the work is still moving too slow. They’re hopeful that as more young combat veterans enter Congress (42 current lawmakers served in the Iraq and Afghanistan War era) those issues will take more prominence.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2018/03/21/15-years-later-iraq-vets-in-congress-worry-lawmakers-learned-little-from-the-war/