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"You now stand among the giants, not just in our time, but of all time - joining the ranks of Grant, and Pershing, and Marshall, and Eisenhower, as one of the the great battle captains of American history."
- Admiral Mullen, introducing General (now retired) David Petraeus, US Army, at his retirement ceremony today.
Full video of the ceremony below, along with a final interview with General Petraeus.
The ceremony (skip forward to 56 minute mark for General Petraeus' remarks):
Earlier this month General Petraeus reflected on his decades of service in this interview.
Michael Totten: "My second book, In the Wake of the Surge, is now available. The first takes place in Lebanon. As you can almost certainly tell from the title, the second takes place in Iraq."
Already acquainted for years via ye olde blogosphere, I actually met Michael in Baghdad in 2007; in what was no doubt a violation of somebody's rule somewhere (I was never part of the military's hospitality or public affairs corps) I helped him get settled in to his temporary home away from home. Needless to say, I followed his reporting closely.
Needless to say, I'm looking forward to this read.
Hundreds of people celebrated the end of Ramadan in Tripoli's Martyrs Square on Tuesday in what Libyans in the capital are calling the Eid of victory.
Although the Eid celebrations started in most of the Muslim Middle East on Tuesday, in Libya it will be formally starting on Wednesday.
Ahmed who was out celebrating in the newly renamed Martyrs Square, hoped that "Qaddafi will be captured and tried fairly and hung in this square."
Al Jazeera's Libya Live blog:
Tens of thousands of Libyans gathered Wednesday to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast, kneeling in prayer at the landmark Martyrs' Square as they rejoiced in the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi's rule.
At dawn, men, women and children began to pour into the Tripoli square - which had been dubbed "Green Square" by strongman Gaddafi - decked out in their holiday best, as women ululated in triumph and spontaneous cries of joy erupted.
"This is the best holiday of my life," said Adel Masmoudi, who at 41 was born the year Gaddafi seized power.
An imam leading the dawn prayer at the square urged all Libyans to stand united and hailed the ouster of "the tyrant Gaddafi", prompting jeers from the crowd at the mention of the former leader's name.
Rebel forces had set up a security belt around the square, as armed guards patrolled the area and shooters took position on rooftops overlooking the gathering which ended peacefully later in the morning.
A sign of hope in a city with corpse-lined streets - hopefully this is something more than a cease-fire for a holy day.
Maintain, sez I.
Last week (warning - graphic images):
This week brings images like this...
...along with reports of ongoing battles.
NATO claimed 120 air sorties flown on Monday, 42 of them strike sorties with targets including:
Yesterday's strikes (109 sorties/38 strike sorties) included:
"So how is that PAC working out for you, VFW?"
- Ouch. Jonn Lilyea (who is at the American Legion convention) gives a bit of a backhand to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, whose convention will not feature "a first-tier speaker from the administration" this year. (It should be noted the President, like Jonn Lilyea, was in Minneapolis for the Legion's convention.)
Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin casts a critical eye on Texas Governor Rick Perry's speech to the VFW. (After raising questions regarding his appearance there in the first place.)
"Huh?" she asks (after quoting a potion thereof)....
Let's take "military adventurism" for starters. Is someone in favor of that, and is he accusing President Obama or former President George W. Bush of such a thing? He doesn't say. They he says we should shed blood only for "our vital interests." Is that different from our plain old interests? Really, the issue is how one defines national interests or vital national interests. Does that include Libya? What about Afghanistan? Again, there is no hint at what he means. Then comes a tangle of statements. "Always look to build coalitions" and don't "go it alone." But then again, we must be willing to act "when it is time to act." Got that? Me neither.
I asked Perry spokesman Mark Miner what Perry meant by "military adventurism." He e-mailed me: "The military adventurism comment in the VFW speech was a statement of the Governor's philosophy and not intended to be a specific reference to previous or ongoing military operations." But, you know, what does that mean in Perry's mind?
A candidate explaining his or her general philosophy at this point is fine, of course. But there is something rather than nothing in what Perry's saying; he's offered a hint of a refutation of what many are declaring to be the main "lesson learned" from Libya, re: coalitions ("always have one") - a concept that is neither "new" nor universally true. (Besides which it's a bit too early for any "lessons learned" on Libya - but I think you can take this one to the bank: "own" the media.)
Point being - general philosophy is fine for now - we're all just getting acquainted, aren't we? But I will be looking for specifics from the various candidates over the next year, much as I did in 2008. I don't expect to hear them this go-round, either, but I'll be looking.
Postscript/afterthought: just recalled the all-time low bar for defining national security strategy from a presidential candidate in time of war - John Kerry's "secret plan" for ending the war in Iraq that he would only reveal if Americans gave him "the power." He almost won with that...
Live video here (if you're fast...)
Mr Wolf is there liveblogging.
And - that's done. (The video link, however, will take you to live feed of the convention throughout the week.) Nothing new or earth-shattering in the President's remarks, which, not surprisingly, focused primarily on his administration's initiatives on behalf of veterans.
And - here's Jonn Lilyea's report - he's skeptical.
Promises to "not balance the budget on the backs of our veterans". That will remain to be seen.
That very brief line stood out to me, too. We shall see (and you can bet we'll be watching).
More than a hundred protesters gathered across the street from the Minneapolis Convention Center to demonstrate at President Barack Obama's appearance at the national American Legion convention on Tuesday.
They were only able to fit about 30 in the group photo, though. (Some of those might have been just passing through.)
Much-arrested Hollywood actress Daryl Hannah was taken away from the White House in restraints Tuesday afternoon.
Hannah was taking part in an ongoing protest against the unbuilt Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Which is what (based on the photo accompanying the previous story) most of the protesters in Minneapolis are protesting, too. I guess it's a fashion statement, the latest thing. (War for oil being okay these days, right?)
Austin Bay offers a brief overview of war in Libya.
One could conclude this was a brilliant plan well executed. However, a series of uncoordinated (albeit related) events would be a better description.
Don't watch this video if you're offended by the sight of guys pulling their pants down and jumping around naked in the street. (Or just watch it with something covering the right side of the screen.)
The Weather Channel's Eric Fisher probably didn't realize when he put on his safety glasses and went to work last Saturday that he would be starring in what undoubtedly will become one of the most-watched hurricane coverage videos of all time.
Er, actually, he probably hoped for that - but not for this reason.
I had the Weather Channel tuned in most of the day Saturday, and saw several of Fisher's reports from Virginia Beach. I missed seeing this one in real time. I was probably on the computer looking at actual weather observations and Doppler radar coverage - so I also knew that at this point Irene had weakened to tropical storm strength. In fact, I suspect that had happened immediately after the initial landfall, if not some time before. The only hurricane-force winds I saw reported - and by reported I don't mean on TV - were from the ocean edge of the outer banks at initial landfall. But whether a weak hurricane or a strong tropical storm, here was our intrepid reporter in a spiral band squall ahead of the center of the storm - a guy trying to do his job, and taking it seriously. You can see the rain, and if you watch the trees and shrubs in the background you can see the leaves blowing in the gusty winds - at least, you can if you aren't shaking too hard with laughter at the antics of the passersby. They obviously don't take his job as seriously as he does.
The theme, repeated by Fisher and the Weather Center team in every such segment (each featuring a growing cast of dozens of people in vehicles or on foot, going about their business, mugging for the cameras, or generally, um, enjoying youth to the fullest) was stay inside where it's safe - don't act like these morons.
Immediately following one such segment (this I saw live) they delivered this news:
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) -- A Virginia boy has died after a tree felled by winds from Hurricane Irene crashed through his apartment in Newport News.
City spokeswoman Cleder Jones says the 11-year-old boy and his mother were in the apartment when a large tree fell shortly after noon Saturday.
So, obviously not everyone was ignoring their advice to stay indoors. (No, they didn't point that out at the time.)
Not long after came a live press conference with NY City Mayor Bloomberg.
The mayor attributed one casualty to the storm, a 66-year-old man who fell from a ladder while trying to board up windows at his house in Jamaica, Queens, early in the day. A Fire Department spokesman said the man, who was not immediately identified, was in serious condition at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
Bloomberg, in fact, had indicated the man was not expected to survive. There's a tragic reminder that every storm is a deadly storm, just as every day is a deadly day.
The moral? Life is dangerous, I suppose. Celebrate it while you can. Also, if you were in the storm's path (as I believe I might have mentioned here before - a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina, in fact) don't let the folks on TeeVee convince you you've survived a hurricane - a real one could show you just how wrong they are.
Related: The bestest year in science ever
You know, the Navy and Marine Corps are pretty damn good at amphibious assault. They've even got vehicles designed for it.
These guys, however, are Army National Guard. (Manville, NJ, in the wake of Irene, according to video title.)
Via Wings Over Iraq, on teh Facebooks.
I live near the ocean. Based on this I think the ocean smells different where this guy lives...
The accompanying story:
A local news reporter from Washington, D.C. ended up getting covered in what is probably the remnants of raw sewage as he delivered live hurricane reports from Ocean City, Md.
WTTG-TV reporter Tucker Barnes was providing live updates for stations around the country as a wall of what he described as sea foam poured over him.
Barnes was on the boardwalk as Hurricane Irene hit the coast of Maryland
He noted that he had immersed himself in organic material. That "organic material" was most likely the effects of raw sewage pouring into the water during the storm.
"It doesn't taste great," he said.
He said it had a sandy consistency and added, "I can tell you first-hand, it doesn't smell great."
The foam is often a toxic mix of pollution and cyanobacteria.
60 mph wind gust sprayed the toxic mix across the reporter and the boardwalk and coated buildings.
Bubbles and foam in the ocean can be caused by several other things, including oils from decomposing animals.
Ryan Dunn is dead, but his spirit lives on.
New on my shelves, at least.
A nice set - first edition (later printings), near fine condition with pages white and bindings tight. Cost (including shipping) less than 30 dollars. Bargains like that can be found these days for books like these - meaning books no one apparently wants.
Pondering: who was the last great American author? What was the last great American book?
Has anything been written in this century that might be worth reading in the next?
Friends and fans of babatim at Free Range International will be glad to know he's taken a break from not reporting his thoughts and adventures in Afghanistan to update us on his travels to various garden spots in Helmand Province currently inhabited by United States Marines - and, of course, an indigenous population, too.
The only thing the local people of southern Helmand are concerned about, when it comes to Marines, is that they are going to leave soon. They would much rather see them stay - This is is told to me everywhere I go, and I go just about everywhere in this Province.
Your guided tour (complete with many photos) is a mouse click away.
"The risk is that everyone thinks it's someone else's responsibility," a British government aide said this week of international efforts to help stabilise a post-Gaddafi Libya.
I can't speak for everyone, but that's certainly US policy.
Besides, the civilians are protecting themselves now.
Abdul Qader packed a suitcase on Friday to move out of his Abu Salim district in Tripoli, even though he believed Libyan rebels had finally cleared it of Muammar Gaddafi's gunmen.
"The revolutionaries control the area, but there are no services, water or electricity," he said, fleeing an area where bodies still lay in the streets from recent battles.
Elsewhere in Tripoli Reuters found "occasional vigilante groups of residents defending their neighbourhoods."
In Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya complex near Abu Salim, rebels were looting what still remained three days after it was overrun. A body lay at the entrance, buzzing with flies, while rebels drove around in trucks, yelling "Libya free".
However, "Elsewhere in Tripoli, rebels supervised the collection of government office equipment to save it from looters."
(So - note to American civilians in the projected path of Hurricane Irene: include "have an explanation ready" as part of your "disaster planning.")
The Libyan rebel leadership, mindful of the need to bring the conflict to a swift end to avoid a descent into chaos, announced a 2 million dinar ($1.7 million) bounty on the head of embattled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi today.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC) that has been governing rebel territory from Benghazi, announced Tuesday that anyone who kills or captures Mr. Qaddafi will be pardoned for any past crimes, in an attempt to entice one of his inner circle to give him up. The money had been raised by businessmen, he said.
Mr. Jalil also said that if Qaddafi renounces his claim to power, the NTC would give him safe passage to any country that would accept him for exile. He said the NTC would allow the Libyan leader to go to a nation that is not a member of the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for Qaddafi's arrest on charges of crimes against humanity - which in practice would allow Qaddafi to escape ICC trial.
One of the lesser-noticed stories from Tripoli helps explain why there's been little actual confirmed news from Tripoli* - but this is good news, indeed: Captive journalists walk free from Tripoli hotel.
We've been following the Twitter reports from CNN's Matthew Chance, one of the Rixos4 (Matthew Price, Missy Ryan, and Jomana Karadsheh had not been updating) closely over the past several days, they've certainly had a story to tell. Chance's feed as of this writing still features the last few Tweets detailing the final hours of their captivity and their release.
Earlier, Chance had written that Former U.S. Congressman Fauntroy is amongst those holed up in #Rixos (and Fauntroy was on a peace mission). A story on Fauntroy here reports there were 35 foreign nationals ("most of them journalists") held hostage at the Rixos.
An update to this story:
Former U.S. member of Congress Walter Fauntroy, currently held in Tripoli's Rixos Hotel, had traveled to Libya on a self-appointed peace mission. His trip did not have his government's approval, though he appears to have planned to negotiate on behalf of his country, and it came as a complete surprise to the State Department, government sources tell The Atlantic.
...adds that "Many of the journalists held at Tripoli's Rixos Hotel were allowed to leave, according to reports on Wednesday. Fauntroy's whereabouts are unknown."
I hope the former captives are well enough and eager to provide some on-scene reporting, as the ratio of rumors to fact (and photos) from Tripoli has been overwhelming. Lots of folks are eager to actually see a lot of what we've so far only read about.
*Footnote: Chance was actually able to break the story (with a photo sent through Twitter) that - contrary to rebel claims - Gaddify's son Saif was not their prisoner.
More: And an earlier Washington Post story reports that even Fauntroy's wife "'did not know the circumstances' of her husband's visit to Libya." We'll hope their headline remains true. And here's a report quoting Fauntroy from the Rixos.
Politico: Even though President Obama has been super awesome in dealing with all that war stuff, he doesn't want to take credit for it because he's laser-focused on the economy and other important things.
Once again, there will be no flight suit photo op or "Mission Accomplished" banner for Barack Obama.
The ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi represents yet another military victory for a president long cast as a gun-shy liberal uncomfortable with the use of force. But while Obama has claimed credit for his individual successes -- and has mentioned the killing of Osama bin Laden at campaign events -- he has never fully embraced the role of a president at war.
Despite defining moments that include the NATO-led air assault on Libya, the decision to increase troop strength in Afghanistan and the daring special forces raid that killed bin Laden, Obama and his advisers still appear almost resigned to the fact that it will be the economy, not his national security record, that defines his presidency and his fight for reelection.
"The big picture with President Obama is that he demonstrates that a civilian without military experience can be an exceptional commander in chief," said former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who served on the 9/11 Commission.
But Kerrey, a Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, noted that Obama "doesn't particularly define himself as a war president because he's trying to shift attention to issues that are, in the long term, a lot more important."
Maybe he should try leading the economy from behind, too?
Much more at the link.
Added thought: I've been trying to think of a good name for that upcoming movie about how Obama got Osama. How's this one sound:
Maybe with this as a tag-line: "- A Spike D. Football Joint."
Hmmmm... why does this picture look so familiar to me...
Oh, now I remember - it's because I described it back in April...
Act three: By the end of the weekend - about ten days after the event began, or at least really got our attention (especially at the gas pumps) - we are treated to an amazing sight: celebratory crowds in Tripoli, Benghazi, and all those other towns in between. Chants of "USA! USA! USA!" occasionally drown out efforts of western reporters to describe the scene, but their commentary isn't needed. Throughout the crowd, hand-held posters of Barack Obama are visible...Now, please note that the photo above - like all large celebratory crowd photos you may have seen from Libya so far this week - is from Benghazi, the eastern rebel capital - not Tripoli. Maybe we'll see some in Tripoli today - but while we wait, here's more from last April:
That, friends and neighbors, was the original best-case scenario for the Libya op (never mind all that boring stuff that would come after about blah blah blah) - a best-case scenario thought to be likely, too. (Okay - maybe no one actually expected Obama posters, unless they'd already printed them...)
And here it all is, finally appearing in newspapers today. What went wrong? I asked back in that April post. (That celebration was supposed to happen after just a few days - not months). In part...
...you simply can't really write a script like that and expect it to play out in the real world. Still, the Obama administration, having written it, figured they'd give it a try. The fever wasn't completely contagious (the DoD seemed particularly resistant), but on the non-military side of the debate two factors overwhelmed all other considerations in the go/no-go decision making:
One: Qaddafi really is a living comic book villain...
But honestly I thought all the comic book fans were in America. Seeing the Fantastic 4 photo I guess I was mistaken. Obviously I have no idea what's going on in the world, perhaps I should watch more TV...
(Whisper: speaking of what's going on in the world - don't look now, but the New York Times is starting to catch on. And watch out - they're starting to make Iraq comparisons, too. That's a big no-no...)
Trivia questions: is Hillary Clinton upset that she didn't get to be the Invisible Girl? And which of those guys is Mr Fantastic? The Human Torch? The Thing?
Andrew J. Bacevich, in the Washington Post: Don't rewrite the rules for military retirement.
He describes what he calls an ACM - an "Afghanistan cost metric" - which is "the monthly bill for waging the Afghan war, which the Pentagon estimates at $10 billion" - and points out that "By 2035, absent action taken to reduce these costs [meaning, what military retirees cost the government], the present system will consume 11 ACMs -- almost what it costs to fight in Afghanistan for a single year."
He is, of course, pointing out the absurdity of slashing pensions. But as noted here previously, only 17% of military members - that larger group already less than one percent of the population - serve long enough to earn a pension. (That explains why there's no real savings potential and why it's politically expedient to bitch-slap retired military folks from time to time - we're too few in numbers to form a real voting block.) Since he and I are both in that group, we're going to need outside help to convince the powers that be that this is a very bad idea. And since so many others - from the folks who calculate ACMs to the folks who calculate earned income credit to the good folks who pay the taxes that make it all possible - can be convinced those lazy retired folks are getting money that would otherwise be theirs, that groundswell could be slow to form.
Whether out of malice or ignorance, the DBB would junk all that [military professionalism]. By focusing on economy and flexibility, its proposed overhaul would commodify military service. The effect would be to transform profession into trade, reducing long-serving officers and noncommissioned officers to the status of employees, valued as long as they are needed, expendable when they are not, forgotten the day they leave -- just like the workers at any GM plant or your local Safeway.
"The All Volunteer Force has proven to be an outstanding success," the DBB declares as if stating an incontrovertible fact. Yet that force costs a bundle. Trimming retirement outlays appears to offer one way to keep that force fiscally viable. Next on the docket will be cuts in medical benefits. You can count on it.
While we both agree it would be awful on an all-time historical scale, this is where he and I part ways on our anticipation of the impact. In this piece, at least, he's neglected to mention the rather significant enticements to getting out after one term of service already in place. I say couple that with the elimination of both retiree pensions and inexpensive medical care (that's not next - it's already on the block, boys and girls) and there won't be any career military members to worry about - only a fool would stay beyond a bare minimum time in service.
And if you think this is a happy thought:
Panetta was interrupted by applause from audience members at the National Defense University when he suggested current service members might be exempt from changes.
"You have to do it in a way that doesn't break faith...with our troops and with their families," he said, "if you're going to do something like this, you've got to think very seriously about grandfathering in order to protect the benefits that are there."
"So it wouldn't affect the people in this room," asked moderator Frank Sesno of George Washington University.
"Exactly..." answered Panetta who was then drowned out by applause.
...you are horrifically and tragically mistaken. "We're not going to destroy our military - we're just going to make sure no future president has one" is a very bad idea. (I wish I could say a non-starter, but obviously that it's not.)
Postscript: Do you think there were actually any military members in that crowd cheering for the idea of eliminating their future subordinates' pensions? If so, I'd sure like to meet 'em some day...
Heh - Salamander has the original picture. This isn't a case of minor discrepancies - it's so wrong he's warning Marines not to look.
In which the NY Times asks once again - Hey! - why do you lazy, no good, inbred, slack-jawed American morons pretend to support all those murderous thugs?
Meaning, your troops:
The new cult of the uniform began with the call to "support our troops" during the Iraq war...
In a New York Times op/ed, William Deresiewicz - "an essayist and critic, and the author of "Solitude and Leadership," an address delivered at West Point in 2009 and widely taught in the armed forces" is worried about the "cult of the uniform."
The cult of the uniform also bespeaks a wounded empire's need to reassert its masculinity in the wake of 9/11. "Dead or alive," "bring it on," "either you're with us or you're against us": the tenor of official rhetoric in the ensuing years embodied a kind of desperate machismo...Honestly, I believe I've been hearing this stuff pretty routinely since 2003...
At the very least, our generals ought surely to come in for some criticism -- as they did, when it was appropriate, in other wars. And yet the cult of the uniform has immunized them from blame, and inoculates the rest of us from thought......and I'm well aware that more than a few people don't like the idea that the military is one of the few institutions - and perhaps the only government institution - that enjoys a favorable opinion from the general public.
The term most characteristically employed, when the cult of the uniform is celebrated, is "heroes." Perhaps no word in public life of late has been more thoroughly debased by overuse...
And make no mistake - Deresiewicz is aiming his comments at correcting what he sees as ignorance on the part of that public.
The political scientist Jonathan Weiler sees the cult of the uniform as a kind of citizenship-by-proxy. Soldiers and cops and firefighters, he argues, embody a notion of public service to which the rest of us are now no more than spectators.
So - I guess you people should be ashamed of yourselves.
But I really got a laugh out of the correction the Times had to append to that heated warning about uniform worship run amok.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 22, 2011
A picture with an earlier version of this article was posted in error. It showed a uniform with mismatched military insignia, rank and badges. The current image is the one that was published in print editions on Sunday.
(Oh - and don't forget to call your Congressperson and demand they cut pay and benefits to retired military personnel right away!!!)
Or: The Triumph of the Willpower
There's a little problem with that statement - the bottom line about "the people of Tripoli rose up to claim their freedom" hasn't happened yet. I want it to happen (and without bloodshed - just as you should, too) and I could add my voice to the chorus of those who say it has - but the only thing that can make it true is the people of Tripoli actually doing it.
It would be a bit more accurate to propose that the rebels represent the eastern tribes of Libya, with support from international Islamists and crucial NATO air power, while the challenge to their advances has been undertaken by members of western tribes such as Qaddafi's, with some deployment of mercenaries. If the tribal divisions were geographically neat, and loyalties were consistent, one might call this a civil war, but to do so would be grossly inaccurate in a situation where all parties keep lying about what side they're on, why, and what they hope to get out of the conflict.
A third of Libya's citizenry lives in Tripoli, and the capital cannot be conquered simply by inflating the techniques that worked in lesser towns. It could fail Sunday night or hold on for a few desperate days of fruitless turmoil--and no one has enough information to guess, because the crux of the matter lies with the people of Tripoli. Do they fear the rebels more than Qaddafi? It has not behooved them to express their preferences; indeed, it has not behooved them fully to formulate those preferences in their own minds, because their survival will depend on the ability to shift quickly to the winners' side, without leaving a trail of former loyalties. Terminating a horror does not imply an improvement, and many people in Tripoli have expressed distaste for leaping out of a frying pan and into a fire. When this is all over, it will be easier to identify the losers than the winners.
There's an odd (and purely coincidental, I'm sure) sort of symmetry to the timing of the whole thing - the president was off on a South American trip back when his bombing campaign really got underway, but he returned to Washington just after our European allies agreed that NATO, and not the United States, would "take the lead." He gave a speech on that occasion, too.
And if, as with that previous example, his knees seemed slightly shaky or repeatedly buckled (figuratively, of course) in this latest address, perhaps this time it's because he's prepared to end his days of "leading from behind," and feels strong enough to jump out in front of the situation.
Or perhaps not just yet...
"We're getting out of this country in a couple of years, but now we're going back into the Pech?" asked Sgt. Altaf Swati, 27, of Houston, a team leader with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "I don't see where that makes sense."
"Welcome back to the Pech, America," writes Martin Kuz in Stars and Stripes - "the insurgents have been waiting."
Less than six months after mostly abandoning the deadly Pech Valley in what U.S. military officials dubbed a "realignment" of forces in eastern Afghanistan, the Army has begun rebuilding its presence in the heart of Kunar province. Since the start of the Afghan war, more than 100 American troops have been killed in mountainous terrain so treacherous that previous U.S. commanders openly questioned the need to secure such a remote region.But this time there won't be 600...
Whereas the Army had a battalion of about 800 troops in the valley before, it will have only perhaps a couple of hundred troops this time.
"We're coming here to set the conditions for a transition that will support the Afghan army and Afghan police in providing security," Lt. Col. Colin Tuley, commander of the 2-35th said.
The Chinook had descended within 200 feet of the ground when a rocket-propelled grenade rose from the night-cloaked mountains and stabbed its belly fast and deep.
The 15 U.S. soldiers and crew members on board heard only a faint thump above the helicopter's pounding. Yet nothing muffled the attack's underlying message.
So far, insurgents appear undeterred by the return of U.S. forces, as the downing of the Chinook on July 25 revealed with a fiery flourish.
The rocket strike in the pre-dawn hours caused the helicopter to crash outside Nangalam Base in a graveyard of nameless headstones. Two soldiers suffered minor shrapnel wounds as flames consumed the aircraft and ignited thousands of rounds of ammunition loaded in its fuselage.
"In a way, (the attack) wasn't surprising," said Capt. Derek Price, 23, of Medina, Ohio, who walked away from the wreck. "We're in the Pech."
"We're getting out of this country in a couple of years, but now we're going back into the Pech?" asked Sgt. Altaf Swati, 27, of Houston, a team leader with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "I don't see where that makes sense."
Previously (May, 2011) - State of War:
This month ... the last U.S. forces will close their bases and withdraw from the Pech Valley...
In retrospect, the attempt to extend the state's authority into the Pech was folly...
1st Brigade troops would win over one tribe, but the next valley over would be against them ... American troops attracted militants and the people living in the villages would allow the insurgents in to attack the bases...
"We were the destabilizing force all by ourselves," he said...
CNN's Matthew Chance, via Twitter: "Here's the picture I took sitting next to #Saif #Gadhafi! Certainly not detained!"
Somebody's got some 'splainin' to do...
Earlier today, al Jazeera reported on another Gaddafi son...
Mohammad Gaddafi, a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has escaped after having been arrested by rebels in Tripoli, Libya's US ambassador said Monday.
Mohammad Gaddafi was arrested on Sunday as rebels seized control of large swathes of Tripoli.
A senior rebel source confirmed the escape to AFP, saying "Yes, it's true, he has escaped." - AFP
"Tripoli is under our control. Everyone should rest assured. All is well in Tripoli," Saif told journalists outside Kadhafi's compound at Bab al-Azizya.
This Washington Post story is worth a careful read, too:
From his new base, at what had until days ago been a women's military academy, a top rebel commander boasted Monday afternoon that his units had laid the groundwork for liberating Tripoli.
"We are currently in control of 90 percent of the capital," said Ghula, his spotless white robe and gold-embroidered vest forming a sharp contrast with the appearance of his fighters -- bearded men with machine guns in their hands and dusty sandals on their feet. "We rule the streets now."
Inside the waterfront compound, the rebels had ripped up posters of Gaddafi. A group of fighters was fixing an antiaircraft weapon mounted on a pickup truck, and the mood was decidedly optimistic. Some younger men flashed victory signs for journalists as others napped in the dried-out garden of the military academy.
Their rest was interrupted by a sudden hail of bullets that zinged through an open steel gate. The rebels scrambled to their feet, running around in disarray and shooting at anything that moved in the distance.
After half an hour of intense fighting, the rebels seemed to have at least slowed down the surprise attack. But it was clear that the base was no longer safe. "We are going to leave this location," Ghula said, as his men prepared to move to a safer neighborhood.
It's no fun being stuck in one of #Gadhafi's few remaining strongholds. #Rixos gunmen now refusing to let us leave.
CNN's Matthew Chance tweets updates from the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli.
At the CNN Live Blog:
CNN's Matthew Chance, who is inside the Rixos Hotel, said he and other journalists have barricaded themselves as gunmen roam the hotel.
"We're quite spooked," he said.
Libyan troops are keeping the reporters on lockdown, Chance said.
Chance had earlier reported that there was fresh and heavy gunfire outside the hotel, which is near the Gadhafi compound and one of the few remaining strongholds of the longtime leader of Libya.
Update (1535 eastern): unconfirmed reports of an explosion at the hotel... is an apparent hoax.
Here's an earlier report via phone from Reuters correspondent Missy Ryan at the Rixos to NPR radio:
A careful read of most early reports from Tripoli over the weekend would reveal there suddenly weren't any eyewitness accounts from actual reporters on the scene - now you know why.
COMBAT OUTPOST SABARI, AFGHANISTAN: The first explosion rocked Combat Outpost Sabari at about noon. A 107-mm rocket fired from the southwest arced over the base and detonated into a road 30 meters beyond the wire. It was immediately followed by a recoilless rifle round from the northwest that plowed into the hill in front of the base, and the rhythmic thump of an American .50 caliber machine gun returning fire. Afghan and American soldiers in three guard towers shot back at the source of a flash and smoke trail from the enemy recoilless, a ridge about 80 meters to the northwest.
Not long after, Bill Ardolino went on a patrol with soldiers from the outpost in search of whodunnit... and came back with a hellofa good story.
Walking in a staggered column down one of the narrow stone alleys, the soldiers came to a left-hand turn. The corridor cut 90 degrees left into an enclosed space, almost like a courtyard, that had a far exit surrounded on three sides by high walls. The Afghans at the head of the column had already moved out of the qalat, while six Americans in the center of the patrol were moving through the courtyard. As the men passed through the space, a faintly hissing pair of spheres arced over the far wall and bounded into the patrol. Three men shouted "grenade!" as the deadly objects landed in their midst...
Read the rest here, one of the finest first-hand accounts from Afghanistan I've seen in some time.
(I'll also point out that in the reader comments following the story you'll hear from one of the soldiers wounded on that expedition - in fact, he's the guy in the photograph - and his mother, too.)
Added: Bill's also provided a 26-picture slideshow of that adventure here.
"Jubilant Rebels Control Much of Tripoli" - a fine headline, but I've seen the headlines over that story and many others about Libya change over the past day.
Gaining much attention over the past 24 hours: rebels appeared in Green Square in Tripoli, and declared they were renaming it "Martyrs Square." Gaining little attention: reportedly they numbered about 150, and earlier reports put the total number of rebels approaching Tripoli from the west on Sunday at 600. That might be enough to precipitate collapse of the regime, but when the rebels in the square heard a rumor that Gaddafi's forces were approaching they left rather quickly - "to coordinate some sort of offensive in the city, although it was not immediately clear what they were planning." (Per CNN report - that adds "CNN could not confirm any movement of Gadhafi forces.")
Meanwhile, in a troubling development, Mustapha Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council (the organization recognized as Libya's government by a growing number of other nations - including the US as of last month) indicated during a press conference today that he may have to resign, citing certain elements among the rebels - never a cohesive unit in the first place (though it now appears the "security measures that surround Qaddafi and the fierce loyalty of his immediate supporters" were over-estimated in that report) - as cause for his concern.
It seems certain we are witnessing the end of Gaddafi's regime in Libya, and the beginning of something else. That ending is a good thing; those who recall the departure of the Shah from Iran or the scenes from Firdos Square in Baghdad in April, 2003 hope for the best, but are concerned about that something else.
With headlines literally changing rapidly, here are a few useful sources for tracking developments.
Tracking Twitter feeds can be useful, too - but use with caution. #Libya and #Tripoli feeds have become clogged with old information (often presented as new), cheerleading/denouncing one side or the other, rumors, propaganda and other mis- or disinformation, in the midst of which some gems can be found.
Or Tell me, friend, what news from Tripoli?
The news began to trickle out of Libya yesterday - rebel forces had advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli. By the end of the day reports indicated residents of Libya's capital city had taken to the streets - a long-awaited uprising had begun.
An early al Jazeera report quoted a US State Department official (perhaps surprised that his visit coincided with such a momentous occasion) calling for Gaddafi to step down.
"Gaddafi's days are numbered,'' said Jeffrey Feltman, US Assistant Secretary of State, during a visit to the de-facto rebel capital of Benghazi. "The best case scenario is for Gaddafi to step down now ... that's the best protection for civilians.''
Before long the name of the operation was appearing repeatedly on Twitter feeds: Mermaid Dawn.
A senior official in the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Sunday that operations in Tripoli were co-ordinated between opponents of Gaddafi in the city and the rebels in the east.
"The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up," said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the NTC, in the eastern city of Benghazi.
"There is co-ordination with the rebels in Tripoli. This was a pre-set plan. They've been preparing for a while. There's co-ordination with the rebels approaching from the east, west and south," he said.
Colonel Fadlallah Haroun, a military commander in Benghazi, said the battles marked the beginning of Operation Mermaid Dawn. Tripoli's nickname in Libya is "Bride of the Sea," or mermaid.
Haroun told the AP news agency that weapons were assembled and sent by tugboats to Tripoli on Friday night.
"The fighters in Tripoli are rising up in two places at the moment - some are in the Tajoura neighbourhood and the other is near the Matiga airport," he told Al-Jazeera.
As might be expected, throughout the day every rebel claim of areas in Tripoli falling under their control brought a government response. The most dramatic example, stories of rebels taking the airport were countered by a government-sponsored media tour of the facilities. Meanwhile, rebels generated a Google map depicting locations in the city where they claimed fighting was ongoing.
By Saturday evening all that was certain was that if there was no war being waged on the streets of Tripoli, there was most definitely action on the battlefields of Twitter, where claims of fighting (and atrocities) from both sides were countered as lies and propaganda (Gaddafi shelling hospitals/NATO bombing hospitals) by the other. Western news organizations were slow to report details, and offered little in the way of confirmation of rumors or quotes provided by rebels and government officials.
Then the British newspaper The Telegraph delivered an amazing headline: Libya: Colonel Gaddafi 'flees' to Venezuela as cities fall to protesters. "Credible Western intelligence reports say that Muammar Gaddafi has fled Libya and is on his way to exile in Venezuela, according to William Hague, the foreign secretary."
Not long afterward Gaddafi delivered a speech via phone through Libyan media, announcing the date and time to prove his message wasn't pre-recorded. One transcript of his remarks can be read here. Excerpt:
Those of you who are feeling ashamed, who have a tribe, who have religion, who have families, drop you weapons and return to your moms, to your families. Where are you heading to? You want to take Libya's petroleum and hand it over to France? Is that what it is? The Libyan people cannot allow France to take Libya's petroleum in order to give it to the French people. The Libyan people cannot allow the agents of France to rule and hand Libya over to France. You want Sarkozy or the Gulf's donkey to rule over Libyans? Is that what things have come to? Donkeys? Greedy donkeys feeding you instead of you feeding them?
Libyan families, who were happy during Ramadan and practicing religion during its nights, are now stranded from Egypt to Tunisia in refugee camps. Are we Palestinians? Is this Somalia? Did we suffer natural disasters? Not at all. Why transform our people into this? Who is supporting those who turned Libya and its people into this?
Claims of other Libyan government officials fleeing the country soon began to appear, as did statements from Gaddafi's sons that they would never surrender. As for any first-hand accounts of fighting from the streets, rumors also began to fly that reporters were being held prisoner in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli.
Whether that claim was true or not, the New York Times found a solution to the problem of getting on-scene reports:
"We are coordinating the attacks inside, and our forces from outside are ready to enter Tripoli," said Anwar Fekini, a rebel leader from the mountainous region in western Libya, speaking by telephone from Tunis. "If you can call any mobile number in Tripoli, you will hear in the background the beautiful sound of the bullets of freedom."
Phone calls to several Tripoli residents from different neighborhoods confirmed widespread gunfire and explosions.
Meanwhile, via Twitter, calls for the people of Tripoli to rise up against Gaddafi's tyranny were answered with calls for the people of Tripoli to rise up and crush the invader.
Abdel-Jalil said [the rebels] chose to start the attack on Tripoli on the 20th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which fell on Saturday. The date marks the ancient Islamic Battle of Badr, when Muslims first fought for the holy city of Mecca in A.D. 624.
No doubt the Islamic calendar was closely consulted in planning - but obviously from the NATO perspective the fall of Tripoli can't happen soon enough. Original expectations were that this end would come within "days not weeks" of the start of the bombing campaign - and from all indications these many months later, one way or another that campaign is nearing its end. The UN-approved coalition formed to "protect civilians" in Libya has been crumbling after multiple setbacks, occurring against the background of a downward-spiraling global economy. Any sense of urgency on the part of the rebels is justified.
Last month's release of strategic oil reserves by several nations bought a little time for the NATO effort, but fell short of achieving a larger effect (in part because OPEC nations declined to increase production following implementation of that measure). As prices per barrel rose (intensifying other economic woes plaguing Europe), oil-starved Italy (they'd entered the war with a 90-day reserve, more than adequate by all "expert" pre-war estimations) became the first to feel the pain. Other nations soon followed.
And though in June "ambassadors from [NATO's] 28 member states, as well as representatives from five non-NATO nations participating in the campaign, agreed unanimously ... to extend the mission into at least September" - that September deadline is now looming. Meanwhile, in the United States, Congress has threatened to resume debate over whether they support the war or not just as soon as they get back from vacation next month, too.
NATO, working under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, has conducted 7,459 strike sorties in Libya since the end of March, the alliance said Sunday.
As for direct support to Mermaid Dawn, NATO claims "It made 22 'key hits' in the Tripoli area Saturday, including on several military facilities."
NATO said the shifting battle lines and concentration of fighting in towns and villages are making it more difficult to identify and engage targets for airstrikes.
"It's much tougher to do in an urban area," NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said. "This requires very precise and deep intelligence to achieve without endangering the civilian population."
Although "US officials" expressed their concerns that Gaddafi's intentions "could involve a final military offensive against civilians." ("The officials, who have knowledge of the situation on the ground, did not want to be named because of the sensitive intelligence matters.") So clearly NATO pilots and controllers will be in very tough situations regarding attack decisions in the days ahead.
As for what might come once Gaddafi falls, few are able to make predictions with confidence or certainty. Last May,
U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the Joint Operations Command at Naples, declined to comment on whether NATO would put forces on the ground but suggested a small force may be needed to help the rebels once Gaddafi's rule collapses.
He told the Varna forum: "I would anticipate that there might be a need at some point to unfold a small force ... a small number of people there to help them in some way."
More recently, however, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta "said unequivocally that he is not considering putting any American boots on the ground in Libya should Moammar Gadhafi's regime fall."
On Sunday morning came reports that rebels advancing on Tripoli were delayed under fire...
Fighters said a 600-strong rebel force that set out from Zawiya has reached the outskirts of the village of Jedaim and was coming under heavy fire from regime forces on the eastern side of the town.While in the city:
Youssef, another Tripoli resident who lives in the Abu Sita neighbourhood, said regime gunmen had taken positions on the top of the nearby Libyana mobile company building and were firing indiscriminately, as other forces launched mortar rounds. The streets in the area were deserted, he said, as occasional gunfire and booming explosions could be heard in the background.
The rebel flag, a tricoloured emblem of the country's first post-colonial days, flew over many buildings in the neighbourhood, he said.
"We are waiting for the revolutionaries to come to conquer Tripoli, because we don't have weapons to defend ourselves," he said.
"An AP reporter in Tripoli said the city was largely quiet on Sunday after a night of gunfire and explosions." The same report noted that regarding any fighting overnight, "claims from both sides could not immediately be independently verified." Elsewhere, "CNN could not immediately confirm whether rebel fighters had taken control of any parts of the city, including the airport."
"Rebel flag flies over the airport"
...Twitter feeds continued to flow...
"Five boats full of freedom fighters have arrived from Misrata"
...urging the citizens of Tripoli to take to the streets...
"Gaddafi has fled to the Venezuelan embassy"
...and claim their future.
Information - or disinformation? - the question of the night.
Story sourced to British diplomats, including foreign secretary William Hague.
Meanwhile - Twitter feeds... (and a Tripoli map here.)
Update: many Twitter reports of Gaddafi appearing live on Libyan TV. (But unless you know them, assume all twitterers are PR flaks for either Gaddafi or the rebels.)
And - al Jazeera English live stream. (I haven't seen much US coverage of Libya.)
Explosions and gunfire rocked Tripoli on Saturday night, after days of battlefield defeats left Muammar Gaddafi's government and troops penned ever more tightly in the besieged capital.
The scale of the unrest was unclear, but speculation was rife that Gaddafi's 41-year rule was close to collapse.
Al Jazeera's "Libya Live Blog" here.
Robert Haddick at Small Wars Journal, yesterday:
Libya's rebels seem to finally be closing in on Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. According to the New York Times, rebels in the west, which used to be the more reliably pro-Qaddafi region of the country, have moved into two towns just west and south of Tripoli. Should the rebels complete the capture of Zawiyah along the road to Tunisia and Gheran to the south, Qaddafi's final redoubt in the capital would be cut off. In a scene harkening back to Stalingrad in early 1943, Qaddafi exhorted his remaining followers to resist from the far end of a scratchy and barely audible landline, exclaiming that "[t]he blood of martyrs is fuel for the battlefield."
If Qaddafi's future now looks bleak, it should be no surprise to find him now open to a negotiated end to the war. Indeed, Reuters reported that a U.N. envoy had arrived in Tunisia and was meeting with Libyan government and rebel representatives at an island resort. But both Qaddafi and the rebels denied that they were bargaining. In spite of the denials, the bargaining for Libya may be imminent.
More at the link.
And... Gaddafi flees to Venezuela? (Latest Twitter feeds moved to that post.)
This is Joe.
He's thinking about his future and needs your help. (Yes, even though he appreciates the care packages full of beef jerky, chapstick and well wishes he's gotten during his Afghan tour, he needs something more.)
Think of this as a role-playing exercise. You are a sergeant, and Joe's one of your troops - a young specialist. You guys spent the day as part of a team "outside the wire" trying to get to know the concerns of the local Afghan villagers better. You've told them you'd like to help them build a school, start some irrigation projects, improve the road and refurbish the local marketplace - but you need their help to keep the Taliban away. Unfortunately, they aren't much interested, or if they are they can't show it. Their main concern is that they've been told you're just going to leave soon anyway, and the Taliban will control the area after you're gone. They've promised to behead anyone who worked with the Americans when that day comes - so if you'd just keep walking on by that would be great.
After finishing your patrol you hit the DFAC back on the FOB. On the way in some sharp looking senior type gave your group grief about how awful you look - said he'd let you get away with it this time, but next time you better take the time to clean yourselves up before showing up for chow. You thought about explaining to him what you'd been doing - but beside the point that he outranks you, the DFAC closes in 15 minutes, so you respectfully pledge to do better in the future - swallowing your pride so your guys can swallow some food.
While eating, the guys bitch about every aspect of the day, pausing only to brag about what they'd like to do with the female news anchor if she was actually there instead of just on the TV up on the wall. You seem to be the only one who notices she's reporting on our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the latest developments in our negotiations with the Taliban, but rather than point that out you change the subject to the upcoming football season. (You've also noticed a couple female officers two tables away starting to look your way in response to some of your louder, prouder guys - and not smiling...)
After dinner the guys head "home" while you check in at the TOC, where the Equal Opportunity and Treatment NCO informs you that your guys are the only ones left who haven't had the latest DADT repeal briefing - and tomorrow morning is the last one. You point out that you've got a late mission tomorrow - hooking up with some ANA troops for an over night patrol designed to maybe bag some Taliban and possibly allay those villagers' fears, and you were planning on giving the guys the morning off. She stares at you like she didn't understand a word you said, and tells you the briefing starts at oh-nine-hundred sharp and won't take more than two hours, then hands you a printed copy of the email the colonel sent out last week saying everyone would complete this mandatory training by next Friday.
So - now you're almost back to your hooch when you see Joe hanging out in the smoking area alone. Joe's your best troop - he had to extend his enlistment for this tour, but he did it without complaining, and he's been awesome from day one. He's a quick learner, and the rest of the guys look up to him as an informal leader. But shortly after this tour ends he will have to decide whether or not he's going to reenlist. In your humble opinion, he's exactly the sort of guy the Army needs for the future - and senior NCOs in the unit have noticed that, too. In fact, you made sure of that - though Joe wasn't exactly thrilled when you made him go before the "Soldier of the Month" board twice so far on this tour. (He won it the second time.)
Now you tell him to spread the word that everyone needs to form up out here at 0830 sharp for training (and to be sure to eat breakfast because there might not be time for lunch), and to get back to you when he's sure everyone got the word. He responds "yes sergeant" in exactly the same tone you used with that guy outside the DFAC, snuffs out his smoke, and starts to walk away - but you stop him.
First, you hand him another smoke. Then you ask him if he's given any more thought to whether or not he's going to reenlist.
He has indeed. He's given it a lot of thought - and here's what he sees.
Hmmmm... wonders the sergeant to himself, I've been thinking the same things. My dad's retired Army - and he emails me those news reports and asks me the same questions. I've only got a couple more years in than Joe, and I'm due to re-up next year myself. If I get out I get all the sweet benefits Joe's talking about, too - and a pension and affordable medical care for life are the only real gains if I stay in and can make it to twenty. And with talk of killing pensions floating around - and giving 401k money to everyone whether they do twenty years or not - how long can it be before they start looking at saving money by getting rid of the GI Bill, too? Can I really expect that to be there in fourteen years? And how much will they want to charge retirees for healthcare then?
Okay - here's the part where you take over for the sarge. Explain to Joe why you think he should still re-up.
Better yet - don't. Because you're not the sergeant.You're one of the citizens of this country who controls the military through the power of your vote. If you're one of those citizens who thinks it's a good idea to have a military made up of sharp people with more than a couple years of experience - and that eliminating the benefits of staying in beyond a couple years will actually do more damage to our military than any wartime opponent in history, you might want to think about what you can do to actually give that sergeant (and if you believe he's imaginary you are in for a rude surprise in a few years) something worthwhile to say.
- and those of you thinking of voting for one next year, too.
America and Afghanistan are close to signing a strategic pact which would allow thousands of United States troops to remain in the country until at least 2024, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Both Afghan and American officials said that they hoped to sign the pact before the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday that Iraq has agreed to negotiate an extension of noncombat U.S. forces there beyond 2011.More:
"We have not yet agreed on the issue of keeping training forces," Ali Mussawi, media advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, told the Agence France Press news service on Friday.
After Stars & Stripes published its interview, Pentagon press secretary George Little provided reporters a transcript of Panetta's interview with the paper.
In that transcript, Panetta is quoted saying: "My view is that they finally did say yes, which is that, as a result of a meeting that [Iraqi President Jalal] Talabani had last week, that ... it was unanimous consent among the key leaders of the country to go ahead and request that we negotiate on some kind of training, what a training presence would look like, they did at least put in place a process to try and get a minister of defense decided and we think they're making some progress on that front."
Panetta also said, according to the official transcript, that the Pentagon will abide by President Barack Obama's pledge to end U.S. military operations in Iraq.
"We have begun the drawdown, and we will continue the drawdown and we will fulfill the commitment that we are going to take all the combat forces out of Iraq," he said.
There's a lot of Orwellian doublespeak in the above - but there is a difference between "agreeing to negotiate" and "agreeing to keep troops" that the Politico reporter apparently has failed to grasp.
The Stars and Stripes story indicates the US is demanding a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq; obviously that would be a mandatory step one to a permanent presence, as the current agreement - developed during the final year of President Bush's administration - established the ongoing drawdown there, including its conclusion date of December this year.
Then-Senator/presidential candidate Barack Obama was a strong opponent of that SOFA, and demanded (unsuccessfully) "that any security accord must be subject to Congressional approval." It's long forgotten (and ignored at the time), but candidate Obama also pledged to keep "a residual force in Iraq" of unspecified size for an indeterminate amount of time. (Ed: Why not 100 years?)
As for the Afghanistan story above, we live in a strange world indeed when the most sensible quote comes from the Russian Ambassador to Kabul:
"If the job is not done, then several thousand troops, even special forces, will not be able to do the job that 150,000 troops couldn't do. It is not possible."
And back to Stars and Stripes for a final word (for now):
Panetta said unequivocally that he is not considering putting any American boots on the ground in Libya should Moammar Gadhafi's regime fall.
Postscript/Oh-by-the-way - a little noticed story from the end of July:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday his government would buy 36 F-16 fighters from the United States, doubling the number it had initially planned to purchase to strengthen its weak air defenses.
The announcement of the deal came as Iraq and the U.S. government discuss whether to keep some U.S. troops or military trainers in the OPEC country after the planned withdrawal of the last American soldiers at the end of the year.
"A delegation from the Iraqi Air Force along with advisers will travel to revive the contract to include a larger number than the contract had agreed before... We will make it 36 instead of 18," Maliki told reporters.
Love the hint of honesty glimpsed in that "in the OPEC country" reference.
And apparently Iraq wants to buy 96 F16s over the next decade.
Iraq is expanding its air force to over 140 aircraft and 6,000 personnel. Within five years, it plans to have over 500 aircraft, most of them non-combat types. By 2015, Iraq wants to have about 35 squadrons (14 fighter, 5 attack helicopter, 5 armed scout helicopter, 2 transport, 2 reconnaissance, 1 fixed wing training, 1 helicopter training, 3 helicopter transport, 1 utility/search and rescue, and 1 special operations). The $1.5 billion the air force needs for its first 18 F-16s includes what it will cost to build maintenance and training infrastructure for that type of aircraft.
And... "The U.S. has agreed to begin training Iraqi F-16 pilots. The first ten Iraqis will begin their training in a few months. This will cover basic and advanced flight training. Upon completion of this, the new pilots will be ready to learn how to operate F-16s."
If it isn't clear, a big part of what US troops would be doing in Iraq next year and beyond would be training that Air Force, at a base (or bases) located near several oilfields somewhere between Syria and Iran.
Two developing trends that bear watching - as when paired they should be cause for very deep concern.
As best as I can tell, these developments have gained much attention - the first with enthusiastic endorsement from all quarters and the second with nascent (but growing) support from those who want to demonstrate their fiscal responsibility and their firm resolve that we all must make sacrifices in these tough economic times. Both initiatives seem to enjoy bi-partisan support (a rarity in Washington today) but if anyone has considered the impact of these seemingly separate efforts as a whole, I've missed it.
Just 17 percent of all service members make a career of it, according to the first link in that second paragraph. Since "all service members" currently total less than one percent of the population in the first place you can see where retired military is a group with a future that includes nothing a politician would call "political clout." (Though, ironically, a group whose members earned the modest benefits received.) Whatever such political firepower exists now, it's dwindling with a certainty no legislation can stop: the numbers in the retired ranks (as with those of all veterans) have been thinning dramatically - and will continue to plunge over the coming years as the era of an actual big American military slips into the ever more distant past. (One might think those obvious ongoing and inevitable future cost reductions would be sufficient to turn hungry eyes elsewhere in the search for places to save taxpayer bucks; one would be exactly wrong.) You can see where this particular trend is going (or if you can't, your congressman can) barring someone shouting stop.
And someone had best shout stop - and it isn't just for the personal well-being of the members of a small sub-minority of America's smallest minority group. Those who believe good idea #1 and good idea #2 above are indeed both good ideas are going to have to somehow square that belief with the frequently declared concerns over the past few years that the military isn't able to get "the best" troops (officer or enlisted) to commit beyond a minimum term of service. I'm not certain exactly how the above initiatives will combine to improve that situation. In fact, I will guarantee the opposite effect, and further enhancement of the developing (if obscene) arguments in favor of putting the screws to the supposed "losers" who do give their lives in service to their country while somehow failing to die for it. (Not that anyone would ever say that out loud...)
It is indeed tough to keep good people in - but not yet impossible. I'm speaking from my own recently concluded 24 years of service on that. If I learned anything about retention in that time it's that the names on the personnel rosters are more essential to our nation's future than any single piece of inanimate equipment on the inventory spreadsheets. (Repainting or replacing said equipment being something else we must spend money on in various congressional districts across America - but that's another story...) Continue hopping down the bunny trail defined by trends one and two and you'll find a point of no return is not as far around the next bend as some apparently believe it to be - and that this point is, in fact, a cliff.
Be careful what you wish for, (or ignore) America. The consequences of the above actions are too obvious to call them "unintended."
Came across your blog this morning, and thought I'd share my thoughts as the dad of an American Soldier killed in action four months ago. My son was standing cover flank for two buddies checking out a suspicious location in the roadway while on patrol at 2:20 A.M. 16 Aug when an IED exploded. He was the only one killed. Two soldiers suffered serious injuries and are now home on permanent medical leave, but both will live normal lives after they finish med rehab and surgery.
Life is hard when you lose a child; you have children and you think of them burying you and not the other way around. But war brings a new perspective to the parent child relationship, for the parent is put in a position that they are unable to fulfill a basic parental instinct - protect your child. Losing a child, especially in war and especially with media attention focused on your loss, is difficult. I find myself counting time in weeks - every Monday at 6:20 p.m., I silently remember, maybe with a tear, that X weeks ago Mike died at what was 2:20 a.m. his time on Tuesday; then as the evening goes on, I think, Mike was dead X hours at this time; I then awake on what is my Tuesday mornng, and at 7:00 a.m., I remember the call to my home and the voice saying "Mr. Stokely, this is Maj. Hulsey - please come to the door, you dog won't let us up the driveway and we need to speak to you" and then remembering my fast gait to the driveway and asking, before they can say anything "is my boy dead" and the the words they spoke, with humble sadness in the eyes of Maj. Hulsey and the Chaplin that was with him "we regret to inform you...." But the pain,while there, is more manageable. I think it must be like the rigors and harshness of war - it is always the same, you just adjust.
No pity for me is needed, for as a friend said to me, I am lucky to have a son who has brought such honor to his father and the entire family. My son was a man who had a heart that cared deeply for others, and they likewise cared for him. In all of this, so many stories of his simple kindness have been shared with us and touched us. My favorite is the one where he and his buddies had been on continuous duty for several days (their normal day was 22 hours long). He and one of his fellow soldiers had to pull guard duty after being on missions for that continuous period without any sleep. He told his buddy to take a nap and he would stand watch and then they would swap out. For the next six hours, he let his buddy sleep while he stood the whole watch.
We miss him so much. We hurt inside. But we burst with pride in our son and brother. His memory will not fade nor will our love for him. When Mike was just becoming a teenager, I tried to imagine what he would be one day. I often told people I wasn't sure where life would take him, but I knew he would do something different and be very well known in his chosen field. I never dreamed he would become an American Hero who would serve his country so well.
For whatever reason, the last few days what Cindy Sheehan said "Casey didn't die for a just cause" has been on my mind. Maybe it is because some people have felt comfortable enough four months out to ask me how I felt about Mike's death and whether I thought the cause was "just" enough to justify his sacrifice.
My response is that Mike didn't die for a "just cause", he died JUST BECAUSE - just because he loved his country enough to want to serve it since the time he was in middle school; just because he loved his family enough to want to protect them; just because he loved his friends enough that he would rather fight a war "there" than here; just because he believed in our order of government whereby the civilian government rules and the military obeys, and when the President, with lawful authority, calls upon soldiers to go and fight, he believed it was not only his duty, but his honor to go; just because he wouldn't let his fellow soldiers - his guys - go it alone; and just because he wanted to do for others - the Iraqi people - what he would do for his own country.
A good friend of our family, Charles Carmical, wrote these words in tribute to Mike - "Would I lay down my life for a country to defend? I willing would if it housed my family and friends."
Mike Stokely didn't die for a just cause, he died for a lot of just causes, including the ones I set out above. I wish I were fit to tie his shoe laces but I am fortunate enough to have a son who believed in God, family, duty, honor and country and who certainly turned out to be the better of the two of us.
Robert Stokely, Lucky and Proud to be the Dad of
SGT Michael "Mike" James Stokely, KIA Operation Iraqi Freedom 16 Aug 05
2nd Platoon, E Troop 108th CAV 48h Brigaded GA NATL GUARD
15 miles south of Baghdad near Yusufiyah / IED
(Original post: 2005-12-19 17:39:58)
Or: Help us Mullah Omar - you're our only hope.
(You might want to read this earlier entry first.)
Here's the video of Secretary Clinton's June 23, 2011 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on "Evaluating Goals and Progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan." The full-length feature film can be viewed here; in these clips (you can find them at approximately the 1:30 and 1:50 marks in the full video) she answers questions on the secret negotiations with the Taliban towards a "diplomatic settlement" of the war in Afghanistan.
If you're at all confused about what you just saw, in the first clip Senator Shaheen (D-NH) asks Secretary Clinton if she thinks "that there really is a possibility of any kind of agreement with the Taliban?"
"We are committed to pursuing it," Clinton answers (in the midst of all those grass is green sky is blue war is hard statements that politicians use to demonstrate their grasp of a situation), "because it is the only path forward, there is no other path forward," because "nobody is strong enough to assert control." The significance of that statement is that making the government of Afghanistan - via training Afghan security forces - "strong enough to asset control" has been the key to Obama's strategy there for years. ("As they stand up, we'll stand down" is how I recall Donald Rumsfeld describing the same strategy applied to Iraq in 2005-2006.) Here the US Secretary of State concedes that we aren't going to achieve it in the limited time (with the limited troop levels) President Obama has allowed for it, and we've adjusted our sights downward accordingly.
The followup comes from Senator Durbin (D-Il) who - after acknowledging what a bummer it is that "100,000 brave Americans are risking their lives" in Afghanistan, and being told "you can't win this, but perform your mission" - asks what is the likelihood that we can "engage the Taliban in a meaningful discussion that will come up with a political solution?"
A four minute answer follows - but not a second of those minutes is used to refute his assertion that the current marching orders for American troops in Afghanistan are "you can't win this but perform your mission." In fact, the Secretary can't even provide a meaningful discussion of anything beyond I don't know - except it's all Bush's fault and if there's any hope at all it's because President Obama has made the best of a bad situation. I can further simplify that: in the unlikely event that things work out, thank Obama - if not, blame Bush.
In the middle of that she strikes these familiar notes: "I don't think it's a matter of winning or losing, I think it's a matter of how we measure the success we are seeking in Afghanistan."
I'd prefer to have seen our goal defined long ago, and a well-resourced strategy implemented to achieve it. I'm not convinced we're going to do either at this point - but one measure we might use was described by Steve Coll when he broke the news of the secret negotiations earlier this year:
There are many, many models of peace talks emerging in a war of this character just in the last fifty years. And in Afghanistan itself, there is a rich history of negotiating across battle lines. Probably the most direct analogy of all would be the negotiations that the Soviet Union and its Kabul proxy government undertook with various mujaheddin rebels as the Soviets fashioned their exit strategy. Those never produced direct peace talks with important sections of the enemy, but they did produce the Geneva Accords and various backchannel deals with guerrillas that eased the Soviet position as they moved back from direct combat.
Whether that or Vietnam is the batter analogy, eventually we might come up with a goal we can achieve; in her testimony the Secretary pledged she'll have a better idea of what that might be by the end of this year.
Durbin's response is that he hopes we can bring the troops home even faster than the president's (long-obviously disastrous) current plan, and if that can happen he'll support it. Honestly, at this point I'm not sure how anyone could oppose it; it's not likely we can hold out long enough for a better commander in chief to come along and un#%&k this. (But those who think they'd like the job had best first understand exactly what the job is.)
If you weren't aware those negotiations were going on, or that the United States Secretary of State had all but declared the war effort a failure in the Senate (arguably not a first for her, just the first in her current job and for this specific battlefield), and wondering why you hadn't seen something that important on television, rest assured that while leaked, this secret isn't something the administration wants all of America talking about just yet. Like the latest from Libya or the Gunwalker "scandal" it's not ready for prime time - and may never be. In fairness, however, we can't completely blame the media - news of the president's announcement that he would indeed withdraw 30,000 of the 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan in time for the 2012 elections combined with congressional failure to decide whether our participation in the civil war in Libya met with their approval or not dominated the defense-related headlines that week.
But let's give credit where due. Keeping in mind current US national security doctrine: "I'm not going to fight a war that costs me the whole Democratic Party" - as far as holding on to the White House goes, this might be, as Secretary Clinton says, the least-bad choice from a menu of bad choices. If disaster in Afghanistan can be staved off until after the next election, if we can bring 30,000 troops home in time to attend the October 2012 premier of the movie about how Obama killed bin Laden, then the problem of the other 70k becomes President Next's. If that's President Same it doesn't matter; Obama couldn't run again and Afghanistan is an impediment to many other domestic programs he (and most anyone) would rather spend that money on. If it's President Republican, then he or she can deal with it - including a long-dormant "anti-war movement" ready to take the streets. That's a win-win for Team O, but to pull it off, they'll need some cooperation from Team Mullah O.
Certainly we must negotiate with the enemy - if that wasn't a generic truth it wouldn't be part of the cover. Negotiation from a position of power (see Iraq 2007-2008 for several examples) is a mandatory prerequisite for victory - but done from weakness it leads to headlines* like "Secret peace talks between US and Taliban collapse." Conducted by fools it leads to excuses like "over leaks" - the blame for which is placed on "'paranoid' Afghan government figures" who for some reason think they're being screwed. (Don't feel bad if you weren't aware of that collapse, the loss of an Army helicopter full of Air Force, Navy, and Afghan special operations troops dominated the defense headlines last week.)
But don't feel bad doesn't mean don't feel angry. After all, we live in a world where another Senator recently asked (with a straight face) the theater commander of American forces in time of war if "keeping more forces in Afghanistan longer" (rather than withdrawing just under one third in time for the next presidential election) wouldn't have "signaled to the enemy and to our regional partners that the Taliban still possessed strength enough to warrant the full measure of our presence?" - and got an answer that you won't see on TV, either.
Instead you'll get this.
* Footnote: I suppose it should be acknowledged that we live in a world where the "talks collapse" story might not be true...
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m., the president announced that the Japanese had accepted the Allied terms of surrender.
Life magazine led their story with a picture of Truman announcing the surrender to the White House press corps - but the pictures that followed were the real keepers.
See the rest here.
But this one from a later story ("Life goes to a luau in Hawaii") in the same issue seems downright... wrong.
(Begging the question: How much did the Navy charge a soldier for a "seat at a luau"?)
More: color/sound video of VJ Day in Honolulu - "spontaneous celebrations that broke out upon first hearing news of the Japanese surrender." The service men and women in this film had much to celebrate. (Via).
Illinois high school's "star running back and linebacker" misses preseason football training because he was at Army basic training at Ft Benning. Can he still play in the opening game of his senior year?
The Illinois High School Association board of directors says "no."
According to the Paxton Record's Cody Westerlund, Paxton-Buckley-Loda star running back and linebacker Eddie Nuss, who is a rising senior at the school, has been forced to miss nearly all of PDL's preseason training because he is still in the midst of Army basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. He won't return until August 19, which is only one week before the school's football season opener.
That seven day preparatory period falls short of the 12 days of practice that the IHSA requires all student athletes to go through before participating in a varsity football contest. Knowing that Nuss' practice time could be an issue, the family had a lawyer draw up a signed liability waiver that would have cleared the IHSA and all affiliated groups from any responsibility if Nuss was hurt in the season's opening game, but the IHSA board rejected the waiver citing, "concern for the person's well-being."
"We've had this issue a number of times," says IHSA executive director Marty Hickman. "It's been brought to the board's attention, and they've consistently said that they're not interested in modifying this policy."
Well Marty, maybe "being in shape and being in football shape are two different things" - but in this case being wrong and being you are one and the same.
"What I learned in my 20's traveling the globe as an Air Force pilot, our current president has yet to acknowledge in his 50's - that we are the most exceptional nation on the face of the earth."
Having linked the Republican presidential candidates' debate yesterday (and a likely Democratic campaign platform), my sense of fairness compels me to link the guy who wasn't there. (And who announced his candidacy at a blog meet-up.)
This video from Rebuild the Dream, the new organization of former Obama green jobs czar and 9/11 truther Van Jones, in which cute kids mouth bizarrely sophisticated talking points, including words and phrases they almost certainly don't understand, such as "infrastructure," "living wage," and "tax brackets."
Apparently MoveOn.org has a piece of this action, too. It's kind of a creepy sequel to the many videos from '08 featuring kids singing praises to Obama - something the folks at Reason also noted.
If we're to believe the producers, most of what these kids want boils down to just collecting all the money in America and redistributing it more fairly.
And ending the wars.
Nine: End wars and invest at home. Our troops have done everything we've asked. It's time to bring them home to good jobs here.
From the last part of that statement I gather that serving in the military isn't viewed as a "good" job - and that it will be eliminated as an employment option under this plan.
(Postscript: why is "We've got to protect voting rights and give immigrants a clear path to become citizens" stated as if it was just one issue? Aren't they two different things? I know Tammany Hall used to make sure immigrants were registered to vote before they got off the ships - but that was 19th century New York City...)
(Postscript two: For some reason I keep thinking of the colors red and green when I watch this. Is that because it reminds me of Christmas?)
I didn't watch the recent GOP presidential debate - and from a few soundbites and news items that I saw afterward (I stress few - I wasn't seeking them out) it appeared the candidates didn't have much to say about national security issues. So I found a full transcript and plunged in to see if there were any references made to the various wars we're fighting - or not fighting - intending to highlight whatever few comments on that topic I might find.
To my surprise (due only to not having heard any substantial coverage of it), there were plenty. Most were soundbites. That's expected, and excusable in that it's far too early for anyone to state with certainty exactly what the national security picture will look like in a year. (If anyone had told you even a month before it happened that Barack Obama was going to take us to war in Libya would you have believed it?) If you're interested, follow the link above for the whole thing.
By my quick count, the following countries/issues got the most mention. (Numbers indicate how many times some form of the word was spoken - either in a question or response.)
A few others were named - for example, Gingrich mentioned Egypt once: "I said what we should do go in covertly, use Egyptian and other allies not use American forces." He's talking (I'd say "babbling incoherently" but I'm trying to be objective and impartial so I won't) about Libya there - the original question and his response account for the only Libya references in the debate.
As for Iran, a lively bit of back and forth between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum account for its knocking our borders out of the number one spot on this list. Paul concluded by expanding his disgust with what he perceives as fear mongering/saber rattling over Iran into a broader condemnation of US militancy over the past few years: "It's time we quit this. It's time -- it's trillions of dollars we're spending on these wars."
The transcript of what followed reads like this:
And that's about right - the immediate response to his statement was applause - more enthusiastic than polite, and loud if not thunderous. After it faded a bit you could hear some boos.
Personally I'm a long way from endorsing Ron Paul or anyone else - and I'm well aware he's been the keeper of the flame on this point for years (and that he's got a small, enthusiastic core group of fans) - but that cheer/boo ratio is something worth noting. Is it just his core fans, or a sign of something stirring in the broader ranks?
If it's the latter, what is that something?
Here's the video of that part of the debate:
If that's because of them, whose fault is this? Secret peace talks between US and Taliban collapse over leaks.
Well, Leaks R Us, of course. File that and the rest of this post under "things I wish weren't true."
Don't kick yourself if you didn't know we were trying to smoke the peace pipe with the Taliban - the Obama administration has done a fair job of keeping information on those talks out of American media reports. Given that they can be seen as a failing effort to make Afghanistan end up at least as well as Vietnam did (politically, that is - any military comparison is insane and obscene) that's probably a good idea on their part.
But yeah - sentiment in Washington has gone from "oh my, if we aren't careful this could be another Vietnam" to "Oh gawd I hope this ends at least as well as Vietnam." To make that happen, we need help from the Taliban - or so those responsible for America's national security strategy believe. (Secretary Clinton recently told the Senate that reaching an agreement with the Taliban was "the only path forward" in Afghanistan. Why the president wouldn't want Americans to know that is obvious - why he'd want to tell it to the Taliban is less so, because they've made the obvious response.)
As for who to blame for this communication breakdown (because as far as how to fix it goes no one has a clue) - the menu options are (as with anything Afghanistan, forever) George Bush, Hamid Karzai, Pakistan, NATO allies, or "the generals" - in descending level of desirability (with "Bush" less credible as a choice every passing month). These choices all have some validity, as their generic equivalents (predecessor... allied leader... shaky allies, etc) did in any war ever fought in history.
In this case it appears we've selected Hamid Karzai.
Sources in Kabul confirmed the talks appeared to have been "blown out of the water" by the publicity.
American officials had understood the need for complete confidentiality but decided President Hamid Karzai's government had to be kept informed of developments.
So without pausing for breath we respond to a "peace talks" collapse by running another lap around the downward spiral - an action that could even make a one-eyed Mullah smile.
If you're wondering what sort of position we're in to bargain, understand that the Obama administration insists our drawdown in Afghanistan must be viewed by all concerned as proof that our "strategy" is working, likewise that our killing Osama bin Laden somehow gives us leverage at the table with the Taliban. The Taliban, of course, views our drawdown as an indication that we're getting out come hell or high water - and we've even given them the dates certain for it to happen: 30,000 troops home before the US presidential elections next year and the remaining 70-odd thousand by midway through the next presidential term (at least, assuming the guy making the guarantee gets reelected, which, by the way, you people could help ensure...). Likewise they view the death of bin Laden as more incentive for us to beat feet - and rightfully so.
The final point of negotiation the Obama administration believes it has to offer the Taliban, the last carrot to get these folks to come to the table, is the fate of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay - but there's no reason to believe the Taliban sees them as anything but expendable. Earlier "leaked" reports on negotiations indicated they had demanded the release of 20 prisoners from Guantánamo, but martyrdom is hardly something any self-respecting Taliban member would avoid - especially someone else's, and especially when the someones are the prisoners President Obama believes are his last bit of bait to bring their masters to the table - to "negotiate" for things we've already promised them repeatedly - if not directly - will be theirs for the taking in just a few more months.
After years of effort in Vietnam the US was able to achieve a "peace" that allowed us to evacuate the vast majority of our forces from that country long enough before the ultimate communist invasion to make a claim - thin as it may be - that one was not the direct result of the other; at least, people can argue endlessly to this day over whether or not it was so. As much as the Obama administration would appreciate an outcome even that favorable to the US in Afghanistan, they're going to have to come up with some incentive for the enemy to play along.
Then again, when it comes to potential catastrophic failure they've already got that list of people to blame, and the sure knowledge that every American sees at least one target on it they'd say deserves it.
Afterthought - it could have been worse:
Previous international efforts to contact the Taliban high leadership have foundered on an inability to reach anyone who has the confidence of the Taliban leader. In one notorious case last year a man claiming to be senior leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour was in fact an impostor and walked away with a large sum of money.
I mean, that's worse, right? (Maybe someday we'll be able to look back on it and laugh.)
May 16, 2011: U.S. speeds up direct talks with Taliban, The Washington Post
May 17, 2011: US steps up face-to-face peace talks with Taliban, The Telegraph
May 24, 2011: Germany Mediates Secret US-Taliban Talks, Der Spiegel
May 25, 2011: Positive signs in Afghanistan, David Ignatious, The Washington Post
Jun 18, 2011: America has opened peace talks with Taliban, says Afghan President Hamid Karzai, The Telegraph
Jun 23, 2011: Secretary Clinton testimony on Evaluating Goals and Progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Jun 23, 2011: Clinton: Talks with Taliban not 'pleasant' but 'necessary', Washington Post
Jun 28, 2011: Former Members Trying to Coax Taliban to Table, Der Spiegel
August 10, 2011: Secret peace talks between US and Taliban collapse over leaks, The Telegraph
Sony Pictures, the company distributing next year's film, hosted a fundraiser for Barack Obama on their studio's premises in California last April. So far, Sony is the only major studio to hold a political fundraiser this cycle.
The others will come around - if they know what's good for them. (I'm looking at you, Disney...)
(*If you've read this, you aren't shocked at all.)
Reuters interviews "officials from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and the U.S. military" to reconstruct events surrounding the Chinook shoot-down in Afghanistan. "Unless identified, all spoke on condition of anonymity because investigations are still being carried out."
"The ground force was assaulting the objective and were in contact with the insurgents," another military official told Reuters, adding that a small number of Taliban fighters soon broke away from the main group.
At that point, very early on Saturday, the SOC ground team called in what ISAF describes as an "Immediate Reaction Force" (IRF), a standby unit.
An IRF is different from a Quick Reaction Force, emergency units that have been deployed in response to "spectacular" attacks by insurgents in Kabul and elsewhere.
Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, that means the extra force called in to assist the ground team was not sent on a "rescue" mission. Neither was it caught in any kind of elaborate Taliban trap.
"A group started breaking away and fleeing," the second military official said. "That's when they called in the IRF, to come in and get those guys."
Military officials have said that, under such circumstances, it is not unusual for insurgent leaders to break off from an engagement and leave behind "low-level fighters".
"That's when the helicopter coming in got hit," one said.
In other news, the guys that did it are dead, according to this official ISAF release.
ISAF Forces Conduct Airstrike Against Insurgents Responsible for Downing CH-47
ISAF Joint Command - Afghanistan
For Immediate Release
KABUL, Afghanistan (Aug. 10, 2011) - Coalition forces killed the Taliban insurgents involved with the recent downing of the CH-47 helicopter, with a precision airstrike in Chak district, Wardak province, yesterday.
The strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mohibullah and the insurgent who fired the shot associated with the Aug. 6 downing of the CH-47 helicopter, which resulted in the deaths of 38 Afghan and coalition service members.
Mullah Mohibullah was a key facilitator in an insurgent attack cell led by Din Mohammad, a Taliban leader killed in a previous Special Operations mission. As a leader in Mohammad's network in Tangi valley, Mohibullah had as many as 12 Taliban fighters under his command, including potential suicide bombers.
On the night of the crash, the inbound CH-47 carried Special Operations Forces intended to pursue insurgents from Mohammad's network that were fleeing an engagement in which six militants had already been killed. While it has not been determined if enemy fire was the sole reason for the helicopter crash, it did take fire from several insurgent locations on its approach.
After an exhaustive manhunt, Special Operations forces located Mullah Mohibullah and the shooter after receiving multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens. The two men were attempting to flee the country in order to avoid capture.
The security force located and followed the insurgents to a wooded area in Chak district. After ensuring no civilians were in the area, the force called for the airstrike which resulted in the deaths of the Mullah Mohibullah, the shooter, and several of their Taliban associates.
The security force assesses no civilians were harmed during the strike.
F-16 fighter jets killed the insurgents responsible on Monday, according to the top American commander in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gen. John Allen.
The military provided few details to back up the claim, but Allen said he was confident the airstrike killed fewer than 10 insurgents involved in the attack on the U.S. Chinook helicopter.
"All of these operations generate intelligence," Allen said, including about those who fled the site of the crash.
"We tracked them as we would in the aftermath of any operation, and we dealt with them with a kinetic strike, and in the aftermath of that we have achieved certainty that they, in fact, were killed in that strike," Allen said. He spoke by video from his Kabul headquarters.
In a separate statement, the military said the strike killed a Taliban leader and the insurgent who fired the rocket-propelled grenade at the helicopter. That statement also cited intelligence gathered on the ground. It did not provide further details.
"This does not ease our loss, but we must and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy," Allen said. The crash was the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the nearly 10-year Afghan war.
But this is confusing: "The military is still seeking the top insurgent leader that troops were going after in Saturday's mission, Allen said." The Reuters report claimed "Friday's mission targeted Mullah Mohibullah, who led a network of 12 fighters in the Tangi valley." (I'm presuming they're talking about the same mission, a Friday night-Saturday morning effort.) The ISAF release said "The strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mohibullah."
War has its way of touching us unexpectedly, at long distance from directions we aren't looking. I know that feeling, I don't think there's a word for it. By coincidence, most of the events in this story happened in Shreveport. Many of the events in this story did, too.
But do read this one. Rob Reeves was on that helo in Afghanistan, along with his fellow SEAL Jonas Kelsall. For more glimpses of the road they followed from high school soccer team mates in Shreveport (where Caddo was the team to beat - most other teams were measured by how close they lost to them) to that mission click here.
... said the auto mechanic to his customer, who stared back for a moment, confused. "Oh! - No," The senior administration official finally replied, with hand quickly rubbing chin, "that's probably just mayonnaise from my lunch."
- an old joke
(Tasteless? You're about to see tasteless redefined - and that's no joke...)
Twenty-first century product placement:
On the morning of Sunday, May 1st, White House officials cancelled scheduled visits, ordered sandwich platters from Costco, and transformed the Situation Room into a war room.
I don't live near one and I never knew anything about Costco before I saw that odd detail. Curiosity led me to this profile of the store and its customers ("members") from 2004.
Like today's Democratic Party, Costco favors highly trafficked urban and edge-city locations--it has three stores in New York City. And it caters to a decidedly upscale crowd. As John Helyar reported in this excellent Fortune profile, the average salary of a Costco member is $95,333. The company's merchandise mix reflects the fact that its customers shop at discounters by choice, not by necessity. They're New Luxury suckers who like to save on staples, more Jean Chardonnay than Joe Six-Pack.
And Costco's where they can save without fear of running into one of those people of WalMart you've seen in all those emails. Good for them. I'm all about the power of choice. And now they've been mentioned in association with the bin Laden kill, too. More power to 'em.
And more on that in a moment, but first -
YEEEEEEEHAAAW!! Spike that football!!!!:
The White House is also counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama's growing reputation as ineffectual. The Sony film by the Oscar-winning pair who made "The Hurt Locker" will no doubt reflect the president's cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds. Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 -- perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.
The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.
It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president's image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently -- to the surprise of some military officers -- at a C.I.A. ceremony celebrating the hero Seals.
Just like W., Obama is going for that "Mission Accomplished" glow (without the suggestive harness). At least in this president's case, though, something has been accomplished.
That's Maureen Dowd in the New York Times - announcing another upcoming version of the killing Osama story, sounding peeved, but still ending on a high note. As for any White House plumbing problems - maybe Team Obama has "tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration," - but that's just those who leak stuff they don't like. These days when you read something like this...
A current U.S. official and a former U.S. official said the Americans included 22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers and a dog handler and his dog. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.
...you can bet those US officials don't have anything much to worry about.
But back to her observation that "Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently -- to the surprise of some military officers -- at a C.I.A. ceremony celebrating the hero Seals." I'm sure they were surprised, and probably wondering who the hell invited the guy who wrote that "Kill Team" story for Rolling Stone.
Boal is no stranger to failed war movies. His first co-writing credit was for In the Valley of Elah, one of a flock of shitty Iraq-themed movies audiences avoided in droves in the Fall of 2007. (Hey, [the producers] listened to a wide variety of experts - from Joe Biden to Barack Obama - who predicted the surge would fail, Iraq would get worse, etc. etc.) These movies were supposed to be welcoming the surviving members of Bush's legions home in defeat to an angry America - how could they fail? (Don't bet against well-led American troops, says I...)
As mentioned above, Boal also scripted the slightly less shitty (but still unwatched) Academy Award winning Hurt Locker. ("Everything wrong with Hurt Locker could have been fixed, within the budget, by a decent script." - Greyhawk) Ostensibly "about" an EOD team, the film - like Elah - was really about how screwed up Army dudes are. (Sympathetically, of course.)
More recently Boal penned the Kill Team story for Rolling Stone. Like Locker of Elah, it's based on truth. For as good a review as I've seen anywhere, (though mine would be different if I had the stomach to write one) here's Carl Prine's take.
So, will America line up and pay hard earned cash (with gas at 4+ bucks a gallon...) to watch a movie this guy writes about killin' bin Laden? (Maybe - who's in it?)
If you've already forgotten the "Kill Team" story, it's another in an endless series on how soldiers identified as killers and busted by the US Army prove that all American soldiers everywhere are baby killers.
Speaking of babies - those born in the year that Charlie Sheen movie about "real SEALs" came out are old enough to drink now - and somehow I've survived those decades without seeing the film. I'm sure that whoever they get to star in this upcoming blockbuster (you can bet that every agent in Hollywood is speed-dialing Columbia/Sony even as you read this - but sorry, Charlie - the lead SEAL role is Matt Damon's for the asking) I won't be there to witness it being sprayed on the wall in my local theater either - even if they offer free admission and a sandwich buffet to military ID card holders.
Now back to our twenty-first century product placement.
On the morning of Sunday, May 1st, White House officials cancelled scheduled visits, ordered sandwich platters from Costco, and transformed the Situation Room into a war room.
As I said, that passage leaped out at me the first time I read it in Nicholas Schmidle's bin Laden take-down piece in The New Yorker. For one, it hints at his sources (or leakers, if you prefer). That seemingly trivial detail didn't come from the Pentagon, it came from someone with knowledge of what that small, elite group of folks in The Iconic Photo nibbled on while they watched bin Laden die.
But it tells us something else about those sources, too - how they want the story told. I can identify two words in that paragraph that can be deleted without diminishing its authority - the first is "from." But if keeping those two words in the final doesn't boost the credibility of Schmidle's piece, it does provide a nice little pat on the corporate back to Costco, a company whose CEO's half million dollars in campaign contributions to Democrats over the years has earned him a high place in this "Business Executives' Hall of Fame." (Business executives - not to be confused with billionaires or celebrities or media - moguls and otherwise.) His employees are also generous in that regard, having dropped another half million-odd dollars into various Democrat campaign buckets since 2008. (Including to candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.)
So certainly all that ought to buy you some sort of place at the president's table for the bin Laden takedown - even if it's just in the story written about it.
But is it true? Who knows. Maybe Secretary Clinton's concealing a dainty little bite of a ham and cheese croissant right here...
It probably is true, but what's damn sure true is that it's in the script, and whether it's actually true or not doesn't matter; if you want access to this White House, to get the sort of leaks needed to get your name listed as author of a story, you damn sure better write what you're told.
But hey - we killed Osama bin Laden.
That I'm sure we did, even if who ordered the salami hold the pickles? is a detail I don't need.
But "Determining what wasn't true was just as important as what was," this Washington Post story says of Schmidle's methodical approach to his coup. Still,
Schmidle says he wasn't able to interview any of the 23 Navy SEALs involved in the mission itself. Instead, he said, he relied on the accounts of others who had debriefed the men.
Though who exactly supplied him with the accounts of others who debriefed the men (and whether their breath smelled like onions) isn't said.
I thought the point that it wasn't the SEALs was notable, too, so I included that in my first post about the story. Not having the WaPo piece available I cited Schmidle's quote from a PBS interview the day before: "I have not spoken to any of the 23 SEALs who were on the raid, no." It seemed like straight-up honesty to me - even though his only actual in-story disclaimer that "some of their [the SEALs] recollections--on which this account is based--may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute" was less so. (What, you mean they were all like totally super flustered and nervous?)
A few days later others started noticing, too, including Christine Fair, "an assistant professor at Georgetown University and the author of Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States" - a book subtitled "A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations." I'd have expected someone with that background to have caught on to that bit about the Situation Room snack menu, but she seemed more concerned with the line Schmidle was told the SEALs used to confirm the kill:
How would a proclamation that Bin Laden was killed "for God and for country" be read in a place like Pakistan where the war on terror has been largely seen as a war on Islam and Muslims?
Especially when, as she notes, "Since 9/11, countries with Muslim minorities have been gripped by Islamophobia..." and
Several states in the United States have even introduced ludicrous and shameful bills to outlaw Sharia.
Several states with WalMarts, I'm sure... But all that would be a more valid critique if it was applied to this passage from Schmidle's story too:
At one point, Biden, who had been fingering a rosary, turned to Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman. "We should all go to Mass tonight," he said.
She seems to have overlooked it - but like most of Schmidle's piece that's another detail that appeared in earlier "leaked accounts" of the raid, too:
And seriously? "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. fingered his rosary beads"? That'll play better in Peoria than Peshawar - but of all the things better left unsaid about this op... hell, why not just call it a crusade?
That was me again, last May. But now that I think about it, that explains why Biden (who doesn't even have a car, I'm told) - his hands too busy to grab a sandwich off that platter - didn't have potato salad and mustard stains down the front of his shirt in that photo.
"From an American point of view," writes Fair, "the story reads like the film script Schmidle may well aspire to write."
It confirms all that we wanted to know about the raid and the bravado of our SEALS. The shooter, who finally killed Bin Laden, even managed to mutter "For God and Country" in the femtoseconds that his synapses took to pull the trigger, according to Schmidle.
Assuming he wasn't too flustered and nervous to accurately remember what he said, of course. But if Schmidle aspired to write the film script, too, he might be disappointed to discover that's a task that's been assigned to Mark "Kill Team" Boal - since he's done most of the work.
Whoever gets the script credit, I've already written the perfect ending for the movie (it won't be used) - and now that I think more about it, I can envision another great cinematic moment, the climax of the film, done with fast cuts back and forth...
Joe Biden fingers his rosary - in slow motion Ben Afleck shoots Osama's wife and tackles the two girls. Hillary chews a chunk of ham and cheese - while whoever's playing America's first ever female SEAL puts a round into center mass bin Laden. Obama stares impassively from his corner - Matt Damon puts the kill shot into bin Laden's eye, his brains splatter the wall.
As an homage to the Christening scene in The Godfather (one that college film study majors will be instructed to appreciate well into the next century), Biden's chanted Hail Marys provide a continuous soundtrack - broken only by gunshots. As the echo of the last one fades, a "counterterrorism expert" in the Situation Room says:
A long awkward silence follows, until Biden says "We should all go to Mass tonight," then Hillary chokes a little on some bread.
I'm glad I live in the country that came up with the idea of the Navy SEALs, the only one in the world that could transform that concept into reality. I love movies, too - but I won't go see that one, and I don't care if they give ten cents from every ticket sold to charity (and they will). Sony, Columbia, (that reminds me - nice try on the trademark thing, Disney/ABC, better luck next time) and whoever wants product placement in it or profit from it can spend a few hundred million making it over the next year, even as Barack Obama breaks campaign contribution records to collect another billion plus to fund the goal of four more years. Not only will I not see it, I won't see any other movie playing in a multiplex while it's there, and I won't see the next movie made by anyone associated with it.
It doesn't get much mention in the papers - what with all the troop drawdowns and all - but the numbers of Americans killed and wounded in combat have been climbing steady since January, 2009. When that movie does come out, I'll take the fifteen bucks (or twenty, or whatever a ticket might cost by then) and give it to a military charity, where even as small a donation as that will do more good than all the mis-directed millions mentioned above.
There will be plenty of need for it, as far as I can see.
"Ill-fated Mission Targeted Taliban Leader, Officials Say"
Ill-fated Mission Targeted Taliban Leader, Officials Say
From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 8, 2011 - An ill-fated Aug. 6 mission that ended in the deaths of 38 Afghan and U.S. service members when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed was targeting a Taliban leader in the Sayyidabad district of Afghanistan's Wardak province, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command officials reported today.
The helicopter reportedly was fired on by an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade while transporting the U.S. service members and Afghan commandos to the scene of an engagement between ISAF and insurgent forces, officials said.
The U.S. service members on board included five aircrew members and 25 personnel from the U.S. Special Operations Command, they added.
The operation began as a security search for a Taliban leader responsible for insurgent operations in the nearby Tangi Valley, officials said. After commencing the search, the initial security force on the ground observed several insurgents armed with rocket propelled grenade launchers and AK-47 assault rifles moving through the area.
The security force and insurgents exchanged small-arms fire, resulting in several enemies killed. As the insurgents continued to fire, the combined force on the ground requested additional forces to assist the operation. Those additional personnel were in-bound to the scene when the CH-47 carrying them crashed, killing all on board.
Immediately following the crash, the forces already on the ground broke contact with the insurgents and moved to the crash site to secure the scene and search for survivors. Additional security elements deployed from a nearby forward operating base to augment the search and security efforts.
An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the crash.
Explosive Jackie O tapes 'reveal how she believed Lyndon B Johnson killed JFK and had affair with movie star' - add as many exclamation points to that headline as you think it needs. (And to reduce potential confusion, it was Jackie - not JFK or LBJ - who had an affair with a movie star.)
The tapes were recorded with leading historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr within months of the assassination on November 22, 1963, and had been sealed in a vault at the Kennedy Library in Boston.
The then Mrs Kennedy, who went on to marry Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, had ordered that they should not be released until 50 years after her death...
It is believed that Caroline, 53, agreed to the early release of the tapes in exchange for ABC dropping its £10million drama series about the family.
"They are believed to include the suggestion that Mr Kennedy was having an affair with a 19-year-old White House intern..."
While much of the dirty laundry was well aired decades ago, that revelation probably still would have shocked Americans - before 1998.
And if "she too had affairs - one with Hollywood star William Holden and another with Fiat founder Gianni Agnelli - as a result of the president's indiscretions" - well, what self-respecting modern American gal would condemn her today for getting some in revenge?
Serious answers to the question Was John F. Kennedy the flat-out absolute worst U.S. president of the 20th century? rightfully focus elsewhere -
In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.
Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam. The assassination of Vietnam's President Diem on Kennedy's watch may have been one of the two biggest mistakes of the war there...
The myth of Camelot, created in the press and on tee-vee, was entirely believable in a United States at the height of its 20th century arc. Less King Arthur than Caligula, the reality was a redirection of that upward trajectory, perhaps well-intentioned, perhaps unintentional, and certainly aided by history's equivalent of gravity's pull.
According to Bill Walton, a Kennedy family friend, JFK was followed everywhere during the 1960 presidential campaign by an aide with a special bag containing the "medical support" that was needed all the time...
"Of course, we all know now..."
And certainly we're no longer naive enough to be so thoroughly hoodwinked again.
"This seems about right" was about all I could add to this video my friends at Soldiers' Angels posted on Facebook yesterday - though words from Patti's Uncle George are fitting: "We should thank God that such men lived."
Beyond that, yesterday wasn't a good day for words, and I'm not sure today is either.
KABUL, Afghanistan (Aug. 6, 2011) - Thirty International Security Assistance Force service members, one civilian interpreter, and seven Afghan commandos were killed when a coalition CH-47 Chinook crashed in Afghanistan early today.
No words I can imagine would give adequate tribute to those whose deeds are such as these, said I. "No words describe the sorrow we feel in the wake of this tragic loss," said General John Allen, United States Marine.
On board that Chinook were members of the Army, Navy and Air Force - which struck me as a notable point, and I suspect others will eventually notice that, too. I'm not bemoaning the attention given the SEALs - the media perceives them as what the public wants, and in that they're right. Had mere corpsmen been on that joint op with my USAF brothers and Army cousins "Afghanistan" would not be in the headlines today. That's a reality I've long since grown accustomed to.
The Associated Press:
A current U.S. official and a former U.S. official said the Americans included 22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers and a dog handler and his dog. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.
NPR and ABC News first reported that those aboard were believed to be Navy SEALs. The AP withheld the report at the request of their sources until they believed the majority of families of those lost had been notified.
There's another reason why sometimes words can wait.
You get where I'm coming from. Here I can cite Patti and her Uncle George without last names; likewise General Allen, the man who replaced General Petraeus as commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan last month, as a man who needs no introduction.
Like family, we are, with room for more.
(A re-run from January...)
A Mudville graphic novel blending non-fiction and fiction (until the distinction blurs)...
On July 17  world-shaking news had arrived. In the afternoon Stimson called at my abode and laid before me a sheet on which was written, "Babies satisfactorily born." By his manner I saw something extraordinary had happened. "It means," he said, "that the experiment in the Mexican desert has come off. The atomic bomb is a reality."- Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy
(The Second World War, Volume 6) 1953
The bomb flashed blinding scarlet in mid-air, and fell, a descending column of blaze eddying spirally in the midst of a whirlwind. Both the aeroplanes were tossed like shuttlecocks, hurled high and sideways and the steersman, with gleaming eyes and set teeth, fought in great banking curves for a balance. The gaunt man clung tight with hand and knees; his nostrils dilated, his teeth biting his lips. He was firmly strapped.... When he could look down again it was like looking down upon the crater of a small volcano. In the open garden before the Imperial castle a shuddering star of evil splendour spurted and poured up smoke and flame towards them like an accusation.
- Wells, The World Set Free
No responsible scientist would predict what would happen when the first full-scale atomic explosion was tried. Were those bombs useless or were they annihilating? Now we knew. The "babies" had been "satisfactorily born".- Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy THE WORLD SET FREE was written in 1913 and published early in 1914 ... under the immediate shadow of the Great War. Every intelligent person in the world felt that disaster was impending and knew no way of averting it, but few of us realised in the earlier half of 1914 how near the crash was to us. The reader will be amused to find that here it is put off until the year 1956. He may naturally want to know the reason for what will seem now a quite extraordinary delay. ... in the particular case of The World Set Free there was, I think, another motive in holding the Great War back, and that was to allow the chemist to get well forward with his discovery of the release of atomic energy.- Wells, preface to 1921 edition of
The World Set Free
The President [Truman] invited me to confer with him forthwith... A more intricate question was what to tell Stalin... "I think," [Truman] said, "I had best just tell him after one of our meetings..."
- Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy
Hitler had lost the advantage of a first crack at the secret of uranium through not taking precautions. Dr. Hahn, the first man to break open the uranium atom, was a German. But one of his laboratory assistants had fled Germany to escape a pogrom. She came to this country, and told us about it.
We were searching, there in the laboratory in Maryland, for a way to use U235 in a controlled explosion. We had a vision of a one-ton bomb that would be a whole air raid in itself, a single explosion that would flatten out an entire industrial center. Dr. Ridpath, of Continental Tech, claimed that he could build such a bomb, but that he could not guarantee that it would not explode as soon as it was loaded and as for the force of the explosion--well, he did not believe his own figures; they ran out to too many ciphers.
That July 24, at the last Big Three conference in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, Truman, exultant at Grove's awesome description of the Trinity test, had approached Stalin with contrived casualness as the Soviet dictator was leaving the conference room. Truman said that the United States "had a new weapon of unusual destructive force." Stalin had simply nodded his thanks and left the room. Truman and Churchill decided that Stalin had not understood. They were wrong.
Stalin was well briefed on the Manhattan Project. The latest yield of Soviet espionage, a memorandum he had apparently received a couple weeks before, had informed him, among other things, that the Trinity test was imminent.
- Neil Sheehan, A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon, 2009
U-235 has been separated in quantity easily sufficient for preliminary atomic-power research, and the like. They got it out of uranium ores by new atomic isotope separation methods; they now have quantities measured in pounds. By 'they,' I mean Seilla research scientists. But they have NOT brought the whole amount together, or any major portion of it. Because they are not at all sure that, once started, it would stop before all of it had been consumed-in something like one micromicrosecond of time.
Two cast-iron hemispheres, clamped over the orange segments of cadmium alloy. And the fuse-I see it is in-a tiny can of cadmium in a beryllium holder and a small explosive powerful enough to shatter the cadmium walls. Then-correct me if I'm wrong, will you?-the powdered uranium oxide runs together in the central cavity. The radium shoots neutrons into this mass-and the U-235 takes over from there.
- Cleve Cartmill, Deadline, Astounding Science Fiction, March 1944
...or taking advantage of splits in the opposition? Libya Allying With Islamists, Qaddafi Son Says.
After six months battling a rebellion that his family portrayed as an Islamist conspiracy, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's son and one-time heir apparent said Wednesday that he was reversing course to forge a behind-the-scenes alliance with radical Islamist elements among the Libyan rebels to drive out their more liberal-minded confederates.For their part...
The leading Islamist whom Mr. Qaddafi identified as his main counterpart in the talks, Ali Sallabi, acknowledged their conversations but dismissed any suggestion of an alliance. He said the Libyan Islamists supported the rebel leaders' calls for a pluralistic democracy without the Qaddafis.Ismail al-Sallabi is identified as "operations commander of the February 17 Martyrs Battalion, one of the leading rebel military groups" in this Financial Times story: Libyan rebels prepare push towards Tripoli - that push being a claim made by Sallabi, and "described by western observers as 'optimistic'..."
The Coalition of February 17, a group that played a leading role in the February uprising, has criticised the confusion surrounding the investigation into General Abdel Fattah Younes's assassination, which came after he surrendered himself for questioning to rebel authorities in Benghazi.
The group has called for the resignation of several ministers for lapses that led to the rebel leader's death. Mr Sallabi, 35, denied claims that his forces had threatened the leader of the Coalition of February 17, but he is calling for the group of influential lawyers and judges to withdraw their statement.
Earlier this week came news of rebel infighting - or rebels battling pro-Qaddafi militia infiltrators, depending on the source.
More on that confusion in a moment - first, a follow-up on a previous post:
In a separate development on Saturday, the Libyan government said three journalists were killed in a NATO airstrike on a state television station.
NATO says it bombed three Libyan satellite dishes in the capital, Tripoli, in an effort to prevent Mr. Gadhafi from using state television to intimidate civilians. A NATO spokesman said the strike was "necessary," because Mr. Gadhafi used television broadcasts to "oppress and threaten" the Libyan people.
But the Libyan Broadcasting Corporation condemned the attack, saying the station is not a "military target" and that its employees were doing their jobs as journalists and posed no threat.
That July 30 Voice of America report opens with this:
The head of Libya's Transitional National Council says the opposition group has ordered all militia factions to disband and come under its control in the wake of the murder of the group's military chief.The following day's New York Times story was headlined Benghazi Clash Exposes Cracks in Rebel Ranks:
Rebel fighters challenging the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waged an eight-hour gunfight here in their de facto capital on Sunday, against what their leaders called a "fifth column" of Qaddafi loyalists who had posed as a rebel brigade.
As July ended,
In Benghazi, opposition forces patrolled the streets on Sunday night in a bid to track down more members of the pro-Kadhafi group, a rebel spokesman said...
"We caught about 38 and later today more than 25," the spokesman, Mustafa al-Sagazly, told AFP late on Sunday.
The arrests came hot on the heels of a five-hour raid by the rebel-backed February 17 brigade on a Benghazi factory, leaving four rebels and five Kadhafi loyalists dead.
Rebel spokesman Mahmud Shammam said the group had been rounded up for its role in organising a prison break in Benghazi last week when about 300 prisoners escaped, including high ranking prisoners of war.
The rebels' National Transition Council vice chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga said "only a minority" of the prisoners remained at large and that they "posed no serious threat."
But the pro-Kadhafi cell was found in possession of explosives and had "plans to plant car bombs in Benghazi," according to Sagazly, deputy chief of the February 17 brigade.
The February 17 Martyr's Brigade was identified in an earlier story as the group that had first arrested rebel commander Abdul Fatah Younis. However, Sagazly (identified above as the deputy chief of the February 17 brigade - and in other stories as the rebel government's Deputy Interior Minister) is also quoted by AFP as saying the group his group was fighting...
...the "very same group" -- the Katiba Yussef Shakir -- was suspected in last week's assassination of General Abdel Fatah Yunis, a right-hand man to Kadhafi before his defection to rebel ranks.
If you're confused by all that, you aren't alone. Not just the spelling, but even the names of various factions aren't consistent through various reports. Al Jazeera:
Though the AP uses al-Nidaa instead of "Yussef Shakir," too:
El-Sagisli said the al-Nidaa Brigade had been involved in "plans to [plant] car bombs" and that they had "participated in many acts of terrorism inside Benghazi".
He also said the "very same group" of fighters was suspected of involvement in the assassination of Younes, who was a right-hand man to Gaddafi before his defection to the opposition.
Suspicions about al-Nidaa were confirmed, a rebel security leader said, when intelligence officials determined the group was behind two prison breaks on Friday in the rebels' de facto capital of Benghazi. The prison breaks freed 200 to 300 inmates, including pro-Khadafy mercenaries, fighters, and other regime loyalists.
"These people took advantage of the chaos that resulted from the killing of Younis and entered and attacked the military prison and the [civilian] Kuwaitiya prison,'' said the rebel's deputy interior minister, Mustafa al-Sagezli.
Yesterday before dawn, rebel forces tracked al-Nidaa members to a factory where they were hiding out and sent in negotiators to try to persuade them to surrender. When they refused, the rebel units besieged the factory
Mr. Sagazly and other officials said the group in the factory had called itself the Yousef Shakir brigade, after a famous pro-Qaddafi commentator on state television who is from Benghazi. They said the group took orders from Mr. Shakir over the television, and that Mr. Shakir broadcast minute-to-minute details of the fighting during the battle.And that Voice of America report...
Finally, the NYT report again - where we learn that NATO isn't the only group with journalists in their sights...
...the Libyan government said three journalists were killed in a NATO airstrike on a state television station.... A NATO spokesman said the strike was "necessary," because Mr. Gadhafi used television broadcasts to "oppress and threaten" the Libyan people ... Libyan state television remained on the air following the strike.
Since Friday, rebel officials have been bluntly warning reporters that they could face legal action over what they write, and they have singled out certain journalists whose reports they called inaccurate and divisive, though they did not offer specifics.
Asked why the rebel government was not more open about its investigation of the general's death, Mr. Bani replied by questioning the motives of journalists.
"We don't know if anybody here is a fifth column," he said of the reporters at a news conference. "It is very difficult to determine who is with you and who is against you in a time of conflict, because you don't necessarily have to hold a weapon. With a word or a rumor they can cause a lot of deaths."
And if your response to everything above is "Wait... what?" then it's the same as mine.
Added: and if you're wondering whatever happened to that debate about the War Powers Act, the latest I've heard is that after the House voted not to approve the war or limit funding for it (or support the cost, not the war), Congress had to get busy with the budget crisis, and Senate debate over Libya will be postponed until after the August congressional recess.
The powerful tribe of the Libyan rebels' slain military commander vowed on Tuesday to find justice themselves for his suspicious killing last week if rebel leaders failed to investigate it fully.
"The way he was killed looks like a betrayal, so until now we are trying to calm and control the youth of the tribe, but we don't know what could happen," one of Younes's sons told foreign reporters when asked if rifts could turn violent.
However, you can also page through that entire issue of Life online - the article referenced above begins right here.
Some might believe the real fun of looking through the magazine is that (via the advertisements) you'll not only see which products were really going to help us win the war,but also discover exactly what Mary's problem is - and it wasn't that all the boys were in a great big hurry to enlist.
Though they were - and they should have been...
Right from the start you get photographic evidence of the danger confronting us. "You are looking at the first German missile of this war to land on the soil of the Western Hemisphere," the piece begins, adding that before the war is over "you will certainly see a lot more of the same."
This was launched from a Nazi U-boat, part of a pack that sunk several ships and shelled the town. Though this torpedo missed its target, it exploded shortly after this picture was taken ("in the calm harbor of the little Dutch island of Aruba in the Caribbean"), killing four torpedo experts attempting to dismantle it.
Obviously, everyone had a lot to learn about war.
The big invasion hadn't happened yet, so Life turned to novelist Philip Wylie for scenarios, and in addition to rendering maps and plans they had artists illustrate some of the more compelling scenes of the upcoming war.
Above - Jap paratroopers land in Alaska. Another image (with Mt Ranier in the background) shows them capturing Americans near Seattle - "their arms bound by a cord with a special pain-producing knot" as they're led off to the rear...
...while Nazi forces overrun an unnamed East Coast airport, and "use an American gasoline truck to refuel their big Condor planes for the return hop."
The description accompanying the image above (and you should really view it and all the others in full size for full impact):
"In Southern California, with burning oil wells in the background, a Jap light tank has stopped for gas at a roadside filling station. The attendant pretends to oblige, then sprays the tank with gasoline, setting it afire. Jap shoots him down. Another attendant lies dead at right. A motorcyclist has overturned in foreground. This is what he sees."
However, comma, Life also provided these reassuring words from Secretary of War Stimson: "Some members of the public apparently believe that the high command are the only ones in the US who do not realize the value of taking the offensive. I can assure you of the contrary." Yeah - nobody's bringing their special pain knots here, buster - "the American people are temperamentally suited to the offensive, not the defensive." You're damn skippy we are. Er, I mean, were.
"But," the secretary added, "we have got to be prepared for attacks... not only at Aruba, but all along our coasts..."
Trivia (or maybe not): It isn't mentioned in that Life article (which is intended to be deadly serious), but many of writer Philip Wylie's better known works were to be found in pulp science fiction magazines of the previous decade. (At least, found in those few copies not actually pulped for the war effort.) His 1930 serial Gladiator [Full text] is said to be the inspiration for Superman, and his 1933 story When Worlds Collide was made into the 1951 movie of the same name.
In other news that is included in that issue of Life, longshoreman and sailors were brawling in the streets of New York.
Not sure whose military strategy they were debating, but "The combatants were of Italian, Irish, German, and plain American descent," Life reports. "Some knives were drawn."
For those less enamored of fisticuffs, an exhibit of British Firemen's art was touring the USA; New Yorkers and others could view photos, drawings, and paintings of what a major city looked like after being bombed by the Nazis. (As can you, here.)
This example "ranks high as art," we are reliably informed...
"Notice how the camera creates effect of slanting buildings at right, just as an artist creates distortion for a better composition."
Epilogue: With relief we reach the back pages, where we find the cover story - a nice long look at Ginger ("as American as apple pie") Rogers, here in a publicity still from her latest movie Roxie Hart. (Based on the 1927 stage production Chicago.)
As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, "They told me if I voted for McCain..."
Opening line from a little-noticed story: "U.S. officials on Wednesday welcomed Iraq's decision to negotiate with Washington on keeping some U.S. troops in the country into next year."
American officials and other observers agree that a sustained U.S. training presence could also help the Iraqis shore up their external defense capabilities and encourage them to buy more equipment from the United States. On Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced plans to buy 36 U.S. F-16 fighter jets, in part to sustain a military partnership.
U.S. officials also want troops to stay in Iraq as a check on Iran...
Talking is different than doing, but the rest of the story is more evidence that it's Orwell's world, and we're just living in it.
All of which reminds me of a question I asked (from Iraq) back in 2007: "Will the remaining (non-combat) American troops be allowed to carry weapons of some sort? If so, why?"
- that guy they meet in the bar with the Ranger Zippo (or the SEAL tattoo, or - unfortunately - any war story) probably isn't telling them the whole truth.
And editors, tell your reporters the same thing. If you don't want to do the hour of research needed to prove your story is baloney before you publish it, someone else will after. (Sure, I can't make members of any of those groups actually do that - but I still care enough to share.)
There are old jokes about at what rank you let officers have weapons with real ammo, too - but the true part of this story involves death, so will pass that opportunity by.
(But speaking of oldest story in the book, some of the other headlines in this 1967 newspaper don't seem all that outdated, do they?)
Afterthought (and I kick myself for not stating this previously) - it's also entirely possible that in this specific case the reporter got the story wrong, and the guy at the bar never uttered an untrue word. The LT in this story went on to serve a full career, including Vietnam.
"Believe none of what you hear or read and half of what you see" is the fuller truth, and the moral of this story, hopefully that's clear..
The Washington Post: In war-torn Libya, no pause for Ramadan
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began here at a lonely outpost on the front lines, as rebel forces broke their daylight fast with a handful of dates, a glass of milk and a couple of rocket launches.
There will be no cease-fire...
NATO had previously offered a cease fire.
That it didn't happen shouldn't have surprised anyone - at least, anyone who'd heard of the Ramadan War (better known as the Yom Kippur War) of 1973, or Operation Ramadan during the Iran-Iraq war - an assault that was "launched by Iran in July 1982 near Basra and featured the use of human wave attacks in one of the largest land battles since World War II." (Wikipedia offers a list of battles fought by Muslims during Ramadan here.)
Still, in 1990-91 Desert Storm was planned (see page 17) with an eye on Ramadan (March, 1991) and in 1998 Desert Fox - an even larger bombing campaign against Iraq - was scheduled (according to General Hugh Shelton) not to coincide with impeachment hearings and the Lewinski scandal, but to end before Ramadan because "President Clinton had long since made it clear that he believed military action during Ramadan would be offensive to the Muslim world."
Perhaps it would have. (It was certainly offensive to Osama bin Laden anyway.) But a clue about what all that really means should be evident in this graph of American deaths in the earliest months after the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq. Ramadan was coincident with November that year...
The holy warrior gets extra bonus virgins in paradise if he dies during Ramadan - especially during Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power. Ramadan is the best month for everything in the Islamic world, including (for the militant) death in Jihad.
However, the Ramadan spikes do not appear in death tolls from Afghanistan.
I'll argue that combat in 'The Real Central Front of the War on Terror' is driven more by planting season and fair weather in mountain passes - an indication that who we're fighting there is more angry locals and fewer distant travelers, motivated more by a basic desire to kill invaders than by religious fanaticism.
Though the DoD has another explanation for that: Taliban leaders like to travel back to Pakistan for Ramadan - which seems like odd behavior for fundamentalists. (But perhaps their grandmothers like seeing them over the holidays.) Still, this year could be different, in years past Ramadan has fallen later in the Western calendar year, this year's edition will fall more within the regular fighting season, so perhaps it will be a rough go for Americans (and other NATO forces) there. Here in Mudville we'll hope and pray for all concerned it is otherwise.
Meanwhile, back in Libya, at the dawn of Ramadan...
As for the rebels, "we are going to fight more, not less," said Ismail Ashur, who leads the dozen fighters dug into the hillside here and who promised -- as every commander does here, every few days -- "big news next week."
True believers, they are.
Another quote from that bin Laden takedown piece:
On the morning of Sunday, May 1st, White House officials cancelled scheduled visits, ordered sandwich platters from Costco, and transformed the Situation Room into a war room.
(Afterthought: Do they have the new Satan Sandwich?)
Below: video from the Pentagon Channel - a recap of stolen valor issues, and those who've been fighting the frauds (phony SEALs, fake former POWs, Rick Duncan/Strandlof and more) since the days of the Vietnam War. (Including new efforts in Congress now that judges have determined Americans have a Constitutional right to claim medals they haven't earned.)
In other news:
Last October, a man named Rick Gold, a 30-something lawyer who said he lived in Denver's trendy Highlands neighborhood, appeared on the social scene and slipped comfortably into a welcoming circle of young Jewish professionals.
He attended Passover meals and Sabbath dinners, knew enough Hebrew to participate in the prayers and joined several faith-based organizations as he told friends of his Israeli heritage and sought to reconnect with his religious roots.
Through parallel social networks, online and in person, a lot of people got to know Rick Gold.
Except that they didn't.
Last weekend, many of his friends concluded -- to their shock and disbelief -- that Rick Gold is, in fact, Rick Strandlof, the fake military hero whose unmasking in 2009 triggered an uproar and criminal charges.
"He seems to continue his romance with military service," writes Jonn Lilyea, "since he has now taken on service with the israeli Defense Forces. His fantasies continue; He's a martial arts instructor, a member of GOProud, the conservative gay advocacy group..."
He sure didn't waste much time taking advantage of his newly-minted, judge-granted Constitutional right as an American.
More on Congressman/Colonel/Doctor Joe Heck's (one of those freshman Republicans) Stolen Valor Act of 2011 here.
If you haven't seen it yet, the latest version of What happened that night in Abbottabad is in the latest New Yorker, and is a lively read, greatly expanding details from this AP report refuting some details of an earlier CBS report and indicating someone(s) didn't take this admonishment to shut the hell up very seriously.*
Though not the guys on the mission:
RAY SUAREZ: Have you spoken to anyone who was actually on the raid?
NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE: I have not spoken to any of the 23 SEALs who were on the raid, no.
In the text he adds his own caveat on the SEALs: "some of their recollections--on which this account is based--may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute" - adding that none of them had cameras on their helmets.
Caveats aside, a great read.
(*A detail from that AP report not in the latest version, but worth repeating: "The decision to launch on that particular moonless night in May came largely because too many American officials had been briefed on the plan." Meaning time was of the essence, because you can't trust them to keep their mouths shut.)
Just a few things that happened on this day in history (more here):
1897 - Afghan war: The Siege of Malakand ends when a relief column reaches the British garrison in the Malakand region of colonial India's North West Frontier Province (now Pakistan).
1934 - Hindenburg dies; Adolf Hitler becomes Führer of Germany.
1939 - Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd write a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt, urging him to begin what became the Manhattan project to develop a nuclear weapon.
1943 - Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 is rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri and sinks. Lt. John F. Kennedy, future U.S. President, saves all but two of his crew.
1945 - The Potsdam Conference, at which the Allied Powers discuss the future of defeated Germany, is concluded.
...and history marches on.
What compares with World War Two today?
Is it the terrorists?
"We have negotiated with terrorists," an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. "This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money."
Biden, driven by his Democratic allies' misgivings about the debt-limit deal, responded: "They have acted like terrorists," according to several sources in the room.
Biden's office initially declined to comment about what the vice president said inside the closed-door session, but after POLITICO published the remarks, spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said: "The word was used by several members of Congress."
That would certainly help explain this:
(But not make it funny.)
(But I did laugh out loud at "This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.")
Next day update
The NY Times - Tea Party's War on America:
These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people...
And NBC TV's Al Sharpton on the Tea Party 'monster' that 'will destroy you'
The "highest ranking member of the Army to join Iraq Veterans Against War (IVAW)..."
Luis Carlos Montalvan tells some spine chilling war stories: In Iraq in 2003 he was attacked by two assailants armed with knives and grenades - he describes it as "an assassination attempt" hatched by Iraqi "Mafia elements" in response to crackdowns on their activities.
As a result,
He writes that he saw another man running toward him with a "long knife" raised above his head. "His momentum carried him into me ... and ... he stabbed downward toward my neck," the book says.
Montalvan writes that the knife hit the body armor on his left shoulder, tore through his uniform and left arm. "I pushed off and, in the second of space that followed, pulled the pistol from my thigh holster and fired one shot center of mass into the first attacker, who was charging from my right ... and then I was twisting and falling, the man with the knife on top of me, driving me downward. I fired two more shots before my spine hit the concrete, my head snapped backward, and the world, like the desert around me, went totally black."
Montalvan was "wounded by attackers wielding knives and hand grenades. During this attack, he was stabbed multiple times and suffered spinal cord damages, multiple lacerations, post-traumatic stress disorder and a severe concussion which caused traumatic brain injury."
Montalvan is recovering from the trauma with the assistance of a psychiatric service dog; the combination of dog and wounded vet makes for images and stories that would melt the hardest of hearts.
But the other soldiers who were there tell a different story: Montalvan was attacked, but by a single "truck driver who, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, attacked when rousted from his vehicle" as his unit inspected vehicles at a truck stop near the Syrian border. The attacker was armed with "a small switchblade" that "wasn't even that sharp." And Montalvan never fired a shot.
"There were only three shots fired, and they all came from Page," said Staff Sgt. Carl Bishop, who was on patrol that night and about 50 to 100 yards from Montalvan and Page.
Bishop, Dannhaus and Page all said Montalvan's gun was still in his holster. Bishop found the trucker on his back, one of his legs draped over Montalvan. When the trucker was pulled off, Bishop saw three bullet holes in him. He said Montalvan had a cut in his sleeve but he does not recall seeing any blood on him.
Dannhaus said he and another medic at the scene cut the lieutenant's uniform off to examine him and there was no evidence of even a single stab wound. "It was more an abrasion, a scratch," Dannhaus said.
Staff Sgt. Mark Elsey Jr. helped carry Montalvan to the medevac helicopter right after the attack. He said in an interview that Montalvan had no blood on him and that medics "weren't assessing him for a head injury of any type.
"And he was back in a couple of days, and it was business as usual. ... He was out there doing what he was supposed to do. ... It didn't seem to bother him..."
He wanted a Purple Heart, but "When Montalvan's Purple Heart recommendation came to his desk for screening, Command Sgt. Maj. John Kurak declined to recommend its approval."
When that sort of disagreement happens in the bar at reunions, the rest of the guys might tell the bullshitter to sit down and shut the hell up - end of story. But Montalvan has parlayed his story into a book deal and television appearances - Dave Letterman and Senator Al Franken are among those who've helped advance it - and a 40 million dollar lawsuit against McDonalds. In addition, he's receiving $1,523 a month in taxpayer dollars, courtesy of an 80% disability rating from the VA (that he wants raised).
While he was home on leave, Kurak said he received a call from Montalvan, wanting to know why his Purple Heart had not been approved. "He argued the point with me for some time until finally I told him I would not discuss the matter with him any further," Kurak recalled. "He made some comment to the effect that this was not a dead issue."
When word reached the unit that Montalvan had received the medal, Kurak said, it caused "a lot of consternation."
He returned to Iraq for a second tour in 2005, where he was described as "constantly in the gym, bragging how he could bench press and dead lift hundreds of pounds."
"He was in tiptop physical shape; had the body that guys work out to have," said Lloyd, who noted that Montalvan was often in full body armor. "Just a workout warrior kind of guy."And events he describes in his book during that tour have been questioned by Brigadier General H.R. McMaster:
"The story is not accurate," McMaster, who could not recall whether Montalvan was with him that day, wrote in an email to the AP. "Only the suicide bomber died. There were body parts on the ground, but only his."
Capt. Matthew Hodges, McMaster's personal aide and the head of his personal security detail in 2005, said he remembers the bombing "like it was yesterday." He took photos at the scene and said it was not as Montalvan describes. Hodges also said he never saw evidence that Montalvan was physically impaired during that tour.
"He's doing a disservice to other veterans; he could use his truthful experiences to help. Instead his lies will ultimately result in bringing a negative light on others who are trying to advocate for those in the same boat (like myself) without all the public scrutiny," says former Staff Sgt. Len Dannhaus, who treated Montalvan's abrasion in the 2003 attack's immediate aftermath.
For his part, Montalvan responds to his fellow vets with "the right of others to their own perspectives, positive or negative, is one of the rights I fought to protect during two tours of duty in Iraq." He's currently attending Journalism School at Columbia University.
(However, before anyone starts reporter/MSM-bashing over this one, credit goes to AP reporters Allen Breed and Hillel Italie for digging into this and bringing it to light of day.)
And the full AP story, Comrades question Iraq vet's memoir, memories at Army Times.