Tag Archives: Military Wounded in Iraq and Syria

The Danger of Fibbing Our Way Into War

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“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness……U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964.

……. Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq. …the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3.

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“Many recall Winston Churchill’s statement on the need to sometimes fudge facts. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” he told Josef Stalin on the British prime minister’s 69th birthday in 1943.

What folks may not know is where he uttered those words: Iran.

Presidential rhetoric matters. And love him or loathe him, President Donald Trump isn’t bosom buddies with the truth. In today’s political environment, a lot of what used to be viewed as disqualifying for a president to say has been upended by our 45th. But one bright shining line should remain: The words he speaks as commander-in-chief should be true.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important.

The lives of Americans in uniform are too precious, and the nation’s credibility too important, to be frittered away by a president playing loose with the truth in a pursuit of political advantage or simply out of ignorance. Yet that is what is happening, and nowhere is that more clear than in the recent fracas with Iran.

Presidents seem to have an especially troublesome time with the truth when it comes to showing toughness. President Lyndon B. Johnson played loose with it when he pushed for a U.S. military response to an imaginary attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam in 1964. President George W. Bush exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Trump fired a fusillade of fibs in the wake of his decision to order the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani shortly after the general landed at the Baghdad airport in neighboring Iraq on January 3. He seemed to exaggerate the imminence of the threat Soleimani posed (the U.S. had put him on a kill list last June), and declared the Iranian general had been ready to attack four unidentified U.S. embassies. There’s no doubt that Soleimani was a bad actor, with his Quds force responsible for sowing terror across the Middle East and for killing Americans. There’s no doubt that the region, and the world, is better off without him. But Trump’s faux facts surrounding the killing are dangerous because they could let Washington and Tehran stumble into a war. There’s a reason President Teddy Roosevelt said that it’s best to speak softly and carry a big stick.”

After nearly 20 years of winless wars following 9/11, and a Pentagon budget that is well above the Cold War average, U.S. national security spending has never been a more target-rich environment. That is why the Project On Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information has launched The Bunker, a precision-guided e-newsletter targeting your inbox most every week.Sign Up

Churchillian lies only work when they are salted among truths. But Trump’s fabrications are more routine than rare. According to the Washington Post, Trump has made more than 16,000 false or misleading statements since taking office. That’s an average of about 15 a day, seven days a week.

Make no mistake about it, Soleimani’s death was a good thing. I well remember the pain felt by U.S. troops following their invasion of Iraq when insurgents’ crude roadside bombs were replaced with so-called “explosively formed penetrators” developed by Iran that pierced armor and killed the soldiers inside. But baiting a terrorist, or his sponsor, carries its own risk. Most critically, it means that if the terrorist—and Soleimani was a terrorist in Iranian government garb—calls Trump’s bluff, Trump will be forced to back up his bluster with young American blood.

In an apparent effort to discourage Iran from taking action after Soleimani’s death, Trump warned that the U.S. was primed to retaliate bigly if Iran retaliated. “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!” Trump tweeted January 5, two days after a pair of Hellfire missiles took Soleimani out. “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way … and without hesitation!” But his spending estimate was a five-fold whopper. The Trump administration has spent “only” about $400 billion on new military hardware (the rest has paid for more boring items like troops, training, beans, and boots).

Even when he’s plainly wrong, the president dodges. After Iran responded to Soleimani’s death with a January 8 missile barrage aimed at U.S. bases in Iraq, the president declared that “no Americans were harmed.” It turns out, there were delayed diagnoses in at least 64 U.S. military personnel of traumatic brain injuries resulting from the missiles’ warheads that had detonated nearby. Instead of acknowledging those injuries, the president minimized TBIs—the signature, and invisible, wound suffered by U.S. troops in the post-9/11 wars—as “headaches.” His comments triggered ire from veterans and veterans’ organizations trying to help the nearly half-million U.S. troops diagnosed with brain injuries since 2000.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

As U.S. skepticism surrounding the wisdom of the Soleimani hit mounted, Trump hyped the imminent threat the Iranian general posed to U.S. facilities and personnel. “I can reveal I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” he told Fox News January 10, in a double-weasel-worded bank shot. Unfortunately, reporting has shown no one else—not the U.S. diplomats in any embassies nor Secretary of Defense Mark Esper—was aware of the plot.

It contributed to a sense of chaos inside the U.S. government as everyone from cabinet officers to junior military officers struggled to retroactively jury-rig explanations for the verbal hand grenades the commander-in-chief was tossing their way. His enablers in government pivoted to praising the U.S. intelligence about Soleimani in general, and not the harder-edged claims about timing and targets.

(Source: @realDonaldTrump on Twitter)

The president’s claim quickly foundered on the facts. On January 13, three days after making it, Trump dismissed it all as a kerfuffle ginned up by “the Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners.” After all, “it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” he tweeted in reference to Soleimani.

It was as if Emily Litella of 1970s-era Saturday Night Live fame were sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, looking straight into the camera. “Never mind,” Litella, played by Gilda Radner, would chirpily say after screwing up something markedly less important than war and peace.

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this kind of thing matters. U.S. relations with nations in the Middle East have suffered following its 2003 invasion of Iraq. And with scant credibility at home or abroad, Trump has no reservoir of truth to draw on to reassure the American public and nervous allies that he has anything more than a wing-it strategy.

Trump’s boasting has highlighted a novice’s emphasis on weapons—shiny hardware—rather than on “software”—the troops and the training that are arguably more important. “The quality of military personnel is what matters most in any military force,” the Army said in a 1991 report in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the last time the U.S. military could claim a clear-cut victory. “Weapons are useless unless deployed in the hands of capable and well-trained people.”

On Christmas Eve, during the traditional presidential telephone calls to troops far from home, Trump told an Air Force officer that “you didn’t have brand new airplanes” until Trump occupied the White House. “You were not doing well,” he said, “And now you have all brand new.”

(Source: Congressional Budget Office, “The Cost of Replacing the Department of Defense’s Current Aviation Fleet,” page 2.)

Well, not quite. “The Army’s and the Department of the Navy’s aviation fleets are relatively new, but the Air Force operates many older aircraft,” the Congressional Budget Office noted in a January 15 report. “On average, the Army’s aircraft are 14 years old, and the Department of the Navy’s are 16 years old; the Air Force’s aircraft, on average, are 28 years old.”

The Air Force Times, an independent newspaper, reported last summer that the readiness of Air Force aircraft slipped to its lowest level in at least six years in 2018. In 2012—midway through Barack Obama’s tenure as president—77.9%of aircraft were ready to fly. By 2017—Trump’s first year in office—that figure had fallen to 71.3%. And in 2018 it had dipped to 69.97%. And fraying readiness has led to a spate of deadly military accidents.

What’s really depressing about Trump’s arms-length relationship with the truth is that he turbocharges the military-industrial complex’s self-licking ice-cream cone reflex. In the wake of Soleimani’s death, calls arose for boosting defense spending, which already tops the Cold War average. Hawkish cheerleaders for military action were echoing that line to their cable TV audiences, without revealing their lucrative alliances with defense contractors.

The illusion in all this chest-thumping and wallet-pumping is that money can buy victory. But the hubris wrought by fat military budgets has too often let the U.S. sleepwalk into war. The nation believes what the politicians and generals say, and what defense-contractor brochures declare (for example, per Trump: “We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World!”).

That’s especially the case when Congress fails to meet its obligation to debate, and vote on, the wisdom of declaring war. Restoring that constitutional duty would do two things: we’d go to war far less and we’d prevail far more. Too often, war has become a White House reflex, with Congress and the public serving as not-so-innocent bystanders. Yet the nation tends to become numb to such conflicts after a month or two, in part because its advice was never sought. That lets the Pentagon wage war so long as U.S. casualties are minimal.

What’s amazing about Trump’s Iran over-reaching is that it wasn’t necessary, given Soleimani’s key role in killing hundreds of U.S. troops. But instead of sticking to facts, the president chose fiction.

It was just such slippery language that greased the skids to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on the false claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

We need to take care that Trump’s all-too-real weapons of mass delusion don’t trigger another one.

Center for Defense Information

The Center for Defense Information at POGO aims to secure far more effective and ethical military forces at significantly lower cost.”

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/01/the-danger-of-fibbing-our-way-into-war/

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/


Pentagon Quietly Acknowledges Recent U.S. Military Wounded in Iraq and Syria

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US. army soldiers stand next a military vehicle in the town of Bartella

Image: Reuters

“MILITARY TIMES”

“At least 14 American military personnel have been wounded in combat since the start of October while battling Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to Defense Department data reviewed by Military Times.

The numbers suggest that more U.S. troops are being sent closer to the Islamic State’s front lines.

The sudden increase accounts for nearly half of the 30 wounded-in-action reports that the U.S. has publicly acknowledged since the ISIS campaign began in August 2014, and coincides with two ongoing offensives targeting the terror group’s strongholds in both countries: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the Islamic State’s self-declared capital.

It’s a sensitive topic for the Pentagon and the White House, which has made painstaking efforts to minimize any perception that American forces are actively engaged in ground combat despite steadily increasing force levels in both theaters where now more than 5,500 U.S. troops are deployed.

At least eight American troops have been killed in action since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, according to figures maintained in the Defense Casualty Analysis System, a comprehensive database charting American combat casualty information dating to the Revolutionary War. The most recent occurred Nov. 24 in a Syrian villagelocated north of Raqqa. Another 23 Americans have died in nonhostile incidents while supporting the war on ISIS.

Of the 14 wounded-in-action reports since October, eight stem from unspecified incidents recorded in December. That’s the highest monthly tally since March 2016.

Citing Defense Department policy, a Pentagon spokesman declined to elaborate on the spike in casualty reports or the scope of any recent injuries, saying only that it “should not be considered to be the result of one incident, or even a series of closely-related incidents.”

“The Department of Defense does not routinely release detailed information regarding service members who are wounded in action,” said Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins III. “This is due to concerns about operational security and about releasing health information that may be protected” under federal privacy laws.

Among the 30 troops who’ve been wounded in action while battling ISIS, 15 are Marines, according to Defense Department data. The remaining 15 incidents involve 11 Army personnel, three from the Navy and one from the Air Force.

Eight of the 15 cases involving Marines occurred last March, after the U.S. established a fire base on the fringe of ISIS-held territory near Mosul. One Marine was killed by a rocket attack that wounded four others there. It’s unclear how or precisely where the other four Marines were wounded that month, although the fire base did experience repeated attacks until their task force pulled out in June.

Another six Marines were among the eight U.S. troops wounded throughout December, according to Defense Department data. One appears to be Staff Sgt. Patrick Maloney, whom friends, family and fellow Marines have identified as a dog handler assigned to the service’s elite 2nd Raider Battalion out of Camp Lejeune in eastern North Carolina. Maloney, whose condition was publicized by friends seeking to raise money for the Marine’s family, suffered a head injury as a result of enemy action in Iraq on Dec. 30, an acquaintance of his told Military Times this week.

It’s unclear specifically where in Iraq that incident occurred. U.S. officials will not acknowledge it, nor will they confirm that any Marine Raiders are operating there as part of the counter-ISIS campaign. It’s been reported previously that elements of other elite special operations units — namely the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force — are active on these battlefields.

“We do not discuss specifics of special operations personnel in the interest of operational security,” a military spokesperson in Baghdad said via email.
Officials with Marine Special Operations Command in North Carolina have not addressed questions posed by Military Times seeking details about the the Raiders’ activity as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

As the battles for Mosul and Raqqa intensify, the U.S. has dispatched additional military advisers to assist allies fighting in and around each city.

In Iraq, the number of coalition advisers has doubled to about 450, Air Force Col. John Dorrian said Wednesday. They include special operations forces, combat engineers and intelligence specialists, troops who are closely partnered with Iraqi units fighting to retake the city. Some have been sent inside Mosul, he added.

“They’re with [Iraqi] headquarters elements in most cases,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Thursday, noting at least one instance in which U.S. advisers have been partnered with an Iraqi army battalion. “With the conventional Iraqi forces, they’re providing advice and assistance at the division levels with the leadership. … Some of those headquarters elements are moving as the forward line of troops moves, and certainly there are Iraqi commanders who are closer to Mosul now than they were previously.

“I want to make clear that not all these folks are specifically tied to Mosul,” Cook added. “We have advisers right now, for example, in Baghdad. We have advisers at various locations, installations that may be supporting Mosul. I mentioned Qayyarah again, Camp Swift,” both of which are south of Mosul.

In Syria, there are about 500 American troops closely partnered with militias battling to reclaim territory from the Islamic State. The last increase, totaling 200 U.S. troops, was announced by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in early December.”