Archive for the ‘Army’ Category
Fred Kaplan’s book is newsworthy, but not in the way you might assume. Kaplan’s years of research and writing for The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War had evidently come to their end shortly before November 9 of last year. On that date, Kaplan’s title character, the retired four-star general and national hero who had been renowned for his advocacy and management of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and dreamed of by many Republicans as an eventual presidential candidate, resigned as CIA director after the revelation of his affair with a much younger former Army officer, Paula Broadwell.
Kaplan alludes to the sudden, shocking collapse of the omni–competent, hyper-disciplined “mystique that had shrouded David Petraeus for nearly a decade” only in a page-long postscript to the book. In it he half-convincingly argues that although the affair took the military and political worlds by surprise, it should be seen as just one more of the very close mentor-apprentice relationships that had been indispensable to Petraeus’s own rise and to the spread of his influence within the military. With this little difference: “Unlike other protégés, Broadwell didn’t merely admire Petraeus, she adored him.”
Sooner or later we’ll surely get an account of how and when Petraeus decided to ignore his own oft–promulgated “Front Page of The Washington Post Rule.” (If you don’t want to see something on the front page of the paper, then don’t do it or say it, he would tell his associates—other than Broadwell, it seems.) What Kaplan has given us in this book is rarer than the latest reminder of the folly of powerful middle-aged men. He uses David Petraeus’s pre-Broadwell career as the narrative thread for what is really an authoritative and accessible overview of the ideas, insights and blind spots, successes and failures on the battlefield, intrigues, and alliances within the military and civilian bureaucracies, and all the other factors that have shaped what President Barack Obama recently called our “decade of war” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. As that decade ends, the defense budget will inevitably shrink, controversial practices like drone warfare and warrantless detention will apparently continue, and debates over the proper size and mission of the American military should begin. The Insurgents is a tremendously clear and informative guide to the strengths and weaknesses of the military we have today and to the decisions we are about to make.
The shorthand version of Kaplan’s richly detailed narrative is a tale of the military’s long struggle to repair its culture and reconceive its doctrine and tactics in the aftermath of its agonies in Vietnam. David Petraeus was part of the first post-Vietnam generation of officers. He grew up near West Point (though not in a military family—his father was an immigrant sea captain from Holland, and his mother was a librarian) and graduated from there in 1974, just as the American disengagement from Vietnam was nearly complete. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the military reflected upon what had gone wrong in Vietnam—putting less emphasis on stab-in-the-back betrayal by politicians than many civilians would guess and more on its own shortcomings in doctrine and leadership.
Kaplan does a particularly good job of describing the . . .
Interesting post by Tom Engelhardt:
History, it is said, arrives first as tragedy, then as farce. First as Karl Marx, then as the Marx Brothers. In the case of twenty-first century America, history arrived first as George W. Bush (and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and the Project for a New America — a shadow government masquerading as a think tank — and an assorted crew of ambitious neocons and neo-pundits); only later did David Petraeus make it onto the scene.
It couldn’t be clearer now that, from the shirtless FBI agent to the “embedded” biographer and the “other other woman,” the “fall” of David Petraeus is playing out as farce of the first order. What’s less obvious is that Petraeus, America’s military golden boy and Caesar of celebrity, was always smoke and mirrors, always the farce, even if the denizens of Washington didn’t know it.
Until recently, here was the open secret of Petraeus’s life: he may not have understood Iraqis or Afghans, but no military man in generations more intuitively grasped how to flatter and charm American reporters, pundits, and politicians into praising him. This was, after all, the general who got his first Newsweek cover (“Can This Man Save Iraq?”) in 2004 while he was making a mess of a training program for Iraqi security forces, and two more before that magazine, too, took the fall. In 2007, he was a runner-up to Vladimir Putin for TIME’s “Person of the Year.” And long before Paula Broadwell’s aptly named biography, All In, was published to hosannas from the usual elite crew, that was par for the course.
You didn’t need special insider’s access to know that Broadwell wasn’t the only one with whom the general did calisthenics. The FBI didn’t need to investigate. Even before she came on the scene, scads of columnists, pundits, reporters, and politicians were in bed with him. And weirdly enough, many of them still are. (Typical was NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams mournfully discussing the “painful” resignation of “Dave” — “the most prominent and best known general of the modern era.”) Adoring media people treated him like the next military Messiah, a combination of Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Ulysses S. Grant rolled into one fabulous piñata. It’s a safe bet that no general of our era, perhaps of any American era, has had so many glowing adjectives attached to his name.
Perhaps Petraeus’s single most insightful moment, capturing both the tragedy and the farce to come, occurred during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was commanding the 101st Airborne on its drive to Baghdad, and even then was . . .
From the grandson of a highly regarded WWII general, Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.:
FASTIDIOUSNESS is never a good sign in a general officer. Though strutting military peacocks go back to Alexander’s time, our first was MacArthur, who seemed at times to care more about how much gold braid decorated the brim of his cap than he did about how many bodies he left on beachheads across the Pacific. Next came Westmoreland, with his starched fatigues in Vietnam. In our time, Gen. David H. Petraeus has set the bar high. Never has so much beribboned finery decorated a general’s uniform since Al Haig passed through the sally ports of West Point on his way to the White House.
“What’s wrong with a general looking good?” you may wonder. I would propose that every moment a general spends on his uniform jacket is a moment he’s not doing his job, which is supposed to be leading soldiers in combat and winning wars — something we, and our generals, stopped doing about the time that MacArthur gold-braided his way around the stalemated Korean War.
And now comes “Dave” Petraeus, and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. No matter how good he looked in his biographer-mistress’s book, it doesn’t make up for the fact that we failed to conquer the countries we invaded, and ended up occupying undefeated nations.
The genius of General Petraeus was to recognize early on that the war he had been sent to fight in Iraq wasn’t a real war at all. This is what the public and the news media — lamenting the fall of the brilliant hero undone by a tawdry affair — have failed to see. He wasn’t the military magician portrayed in the press; he was a self-constructed hologram, emitting an aura of preening heroism for the ever eager cameras.
I spent part of the fall of 2003 with General Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division in and around Mosul, Iraq. One of the first questions I asked him was what his orders had been. Was he ordered to “take Mosul,” I asked. No answer. How about “Find Mosul and report back”? No answer. Finally I asked him if his orders were something along the lines of “Go to Mosul!” He gave me an almost imperceptible nod. It must have been the first time an American combat infantry division had been ordered into battle so casually. . .
A new look at Petraeus’s early military contributions suggests that they were not that new and very much oversold. Hannah Allam and Nancy Youssef report for McClatchy:
Gen. David Petraeus’ affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has muddied the carefully crafted narrative of America’s most eminent “soldier-scholar statesman,” allowing unprecedented scrutiny of the policies of a man who was so venerated in Washington that one could be labeled unpatriotic simply for challenging his strategies.
The still-unfolding Petraeus scandal offers space for the most critical look to date of the popular general’s resume, including his blueprint for counterinsurgency, the “surge” tactic he applied to Iraq and then Afghanistan, and the recruiting of Iraqi tribesmen in the battle against al Qaida.
Critics raised serious doubts about those and other projects years ago, but, in public at least, their concerns were steamrolled by a propaganda machine that was designed to protect Petraeus’ military legacy – perhaps even for a future presidential bid.
“The country put him on a big, high pedestal, and he took himself off that pedestal with his own actions,” said retired Col. Steve Boylan, Petraeus’ former aide and acting spokesman since the scandal broke. “As he told me, ‘I screwed up.’”
While Boylan and other diehard supporters insist that the general’s military accomplishments endure, more critical voices say that it’s about time his entire record got a closer look. The infallibility of Petraeus, detractors say, was a myth created by his inner circle, nurtured by a sycophantic press corps, swallowed by a fawning government and, ultimately, punctured by his own weakness when it came to an attractive and ambitious devotee.
“I think there’s always a cult of celebrity, a cult of power,” said a Western official who was present at Petraeus’ headquarters in Afghanistan and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
That personality cult made it difficult to criticize Petraeus on the national stage. Petraeus skillfully worked the media early in the Iraq war to shape his public image as a thoughtful, modern military thinker. As a major general in 2003, Petraeus invited Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Atkinson to accompany him throughout the invasion of Iraq. The journalist’s subsequent book about his two months with Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division left a defining image of the general as someone clearly “entranced by the problem-solving nature of high command.”
Mark Jacobson, a former deputy NATO representative to the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, said it’s too early to determine the extent of Petraeus’ legacy or how this scandal will affect it. A better barometer, he said, will come when the generation of officers that was shaped by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and, he added, successfully navigated the challenges there – moves into greater positions of authority.
“That’s when you’re going to see the evolution that began after Sept. 11, 2001, completed,” Jacobson said. “That’s a military that’s more agile, more experienced and more adept.”
From Baghdad, Petraeus pushed the 101st north to the restive city of Mosul, where the general was credited with bringing stability through counterinsurgency methods – a type of warfare the conventional army typically shunned. Petraeus became the face of the counterinsurgency renaissance, his ideas heralded as groundbreaking. In fact, they were old strategies that had been rejected by the military in the post-Vietnam period, according to military historians.
Petraeus returned to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the Army’s intellectual hub, and began drafting its counterinsurgency manual, which he envisioned as a vital tool to fill a gap in military thinking. It was published during the worst days of the Iraq war and became a national bestseller, overshadowing the fact that Petraeus had arrived in Kansas after overseeing the training of the new Iraq army in Baghdad – a disastrous venture in which millions of dollars vanished and U.S.-trained forces morphed into sectarian death squads that fueled the ensuing civil war.
To a nation that was desperate for anything resembling success in the abyss of Iraq, however, Petraeus was regarded as a trailblazer for challenging the military to move away from its timeworn tactic of major combat operation. Never mind that the manual was an amalgam of old military thinking and similar to a blueprint written in 1964 and based in part on the French incursion into Algeria.
Petraeus’ application of those ideas to Iraq in February 2007, along with a surge of 25,000 additional American troops, “qualifies neither as particularly new nor even as a strategy,” wrote Army Col. Gian Gentile, a Petraeus critic who teaches American and military history at West Point and who commanded a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006.
“Better to call it, instead, an enhanced reliance on tactics and operational concepts previously in use,” Gentile wrote in the World Affair Journal in summer 2008. “Or, put less charitably, an over-hyped shift in emphasis that, on the one hand, will not necessarily yield an American victory in Iraq, but on the other might well leave the United States Army crippled in future wars.”
Such harsh criticism barely surfaced in the public arena, however, where a pliant media helped to turn Petraeus into a national figure for embracing the risky “surge” proposal at a time when the Bush White House had lost all credibility in the war, and the military was losing as many as 120 service members a week. . .
Besides the failures of leadership noted in the NY Times today, the Army is losing (or failing to create) war records required by veterans to secure benefits. Two reports, first a ProPublica piece by Peter Sleeth:
A strange thing happened when Christopher DeLara filed for disability benefits after his tour in Iraq: The U.S. Army said it had no records showing he had ever been overseas.
DeLara had searing memories of his combat experiences. A friend bled to death before his eyes. He saw an insurgent shoot his commander in the head. And, most hauntingly, he recalled firing at an Iraqi boy who had attacked his convoy.
The Army said it could find no field records documenting any of these incidents.
Over the last decade, millions of military field records from Iraq and Afghanistan have been lost or destroyed, making it difficult for some soldiers to prove their combat experiences and obtain medical benefits or other veteran awards and services. Our reporting found a few reasons behind the problem:
System failure: In a string of critical reports, historians said Army units were losing their own history by failing to keep adequate field records. The U.S. military began relying on computer records during the Gulf War, introducing major gaps in recordkeeping as the old-style paper system fell apart. The Army then introduced a centralized system for collecting electronic field reports, but units have failed to submit records there.
Security concerns: Some military commanders ordered units to purge computer hard drives before redeploying to the United States, destroying any classified field records they contained.
Leadership: Disagreements among military officials have also led to lack of coordination in record-keeping. “The Army would say it’s Centcom’s responsibility… Centcom would say it’s an Army responsibility,” said one Archivist. Recordkeeping took a backseat to wartime demands: “Something just had to fall off the plate, there was so much going on,” a former Centcom records manager said.
» Are you a veteran who can’t obtain your military field records? Tell us your story.
DeLara appealed, fighting for five years before a judge accepted the testimony of an officer in his unit. By then he had divorced, was briefly homeless and had sought solace in drugs and alcohol.
DeLara’s case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War.
A joint investigation by ProPublica and The Seattle Times has found that the recordkeeping breakdown was especially acute in the early years of the Iraq war, when insurgents deployed improvised bombs with devastating effects on U.S. soldiers. The military has also lost or destroyed records from Afghanistan, according to officials and previously undisclosed documents.
The loss of field records — after-action write-ups, intelligence reports and other day-to-day accounts from the war zones — has far-reaching implications. It has complicated efforts by soldiers like DeLara to claim benefits. And it makes it harder for military strategists to learn the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the nation’s most protracted wars.
Military officers and historians say field records provide the granular details that, when woven together, tell larger stories hidden from participants in the day-to-day confusion of combat.
The Army says it has taken steps to improve handling of records — including better training and more emphasis from top commanders. But officials familiar with the problem said the missing material may never be retrieved.
“I can’t even start to describe the dimensions of the problem,” said Conrad C. Crane, director of the U.S. Army’s Military History Institute. “I fear we’re never really going to know clearly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan because we don’t have the records.”
The Army, with its dominant presence in both theaters, has the biggest deficiencies. But the U.S. Central Command in Iraq (Centcom), which had overall authority, also lost records, according to reports and other documents obtained by ProPublica under the Freedom of Information Act.
In Baghdad, Centcom and the Army disagreed about which was responsible for keeping records. There was confusion about whether classified field records could be transported back to the units’ headquarters in the United States. As a result, some units were instructed to erase computer hard drives when they rotated home, destroying the records that had been stored on them. . .
And then, part two: A Son Lost in Iraq, but Where Is the Casualty Report?
For more on the story behind the story, read How This Story Came About.
I have blogged previously about the apparently unjust and deceptive award of the Medal of Honor in the Battle of Ganjgal: More Military Lies and The Army’s suspicious conduct toward a Medal of Honor nomination. Now we have eye-witness reports contradicting the accounts used to justify the award. Jonathan Landay reports for McClatchy:
Nine Afghan soldiers who survived a 2009 battle that brought the first Medal of Honor to a living Marine since the Vietnam War have disputed the official accounts of how Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer won the country’s highest military decoration.
The Afghans, whom U.S. military officials never interviewed , contradict key details of the narratives cited by President Barack Obama and the Marine Corps in awarding the decoration to Meyer for his actions during a battle that took place in the Ganjgal Valley in Afghanistan three years ago this past weekend.
The Afghans said that Meyer, who received the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony on Sept. 15, 2011, couldn’t have killed up to eight insurgents as they charged his Humvee and that he didn’t twice vault from the vehicle to load up two dozen Afghan soldiers and drive them to safety. They also insisted that it was the belated arrival of U.S. helicopters – not Meyer’s intervention – that ended the Taliban ambush, allowing the withdrawal of U.S. and Afghan troops who’d been trapped in the valley.
The Afghans didn’t dispute that Meyer, of Greensburg, Ky., who’s now a 24-year-old sergeant in the Marine reserves, risked his life by braving enemy fire in helping U.S. and Afghan personnel recover the bodies of four American servicemen.
Questions about what Meyer did during the battle touch on the rigor and integrity of a military awards process that’s supposed to leave no margin of doubt or possibility of error in granting the nation’s highest military honor. A McClatchy investigation published last December showed that many of the feats attributed to Meyer by the Marine Corps and the White House were embellished or invented and weren’t substantiated by sworn statements from Meyer himself and others who participated in the battle.
McClatchy raised more questions about the process in August, when it revealed that another Medal of Honor nomination from the same battle, for former Army Capt. William Swenson, conflicted with parts of the official narratives of Meyer’s achievements.
Swenson’s nomination mysteriously disappeared from military computers, . . .
The military, of course, will never admit to its deceptive behavior. “Honor” is a vacant word in the military nowadays, and the Medal of Honor seems to be equally empty.
The Army, despite its frequent exhortations of “honor,” seems increasingly removed from it. This report by Jonathan Landay in McClatchy is astounding—and equally astounding is that the Army seems totally uninterested in finding out what happened or in fixing the problem.
Like other U.S. trainers with the Afghan force that day, former Army Capt. William Swenson had expected light resistance. Instead, the contingent walked into a furious six-hour gunfight with Taliban ambushers in which Swenson repeatedly charged through intense fire to retrieve wounded and dead.
The 2009 battle of Ganjgal is perhaps the most remarkable of the Afghan war for its extraordinary heroism and deadly incompetence. It produced dozens of casualties, career-killing reprimands and a slew of commendations for valor. They included two Medal of Honor nominations, one for Swenson.
Yet months after the first living Army officer in some 40 years was put in for the nation’s highest military award for gallantry, his nomination vanished into a bureaucratic black hole. The U.S. military in Afghanistan said an investigation had found that it was “lost” in the approval process, something that several experts dismissed as improbable, saying that hasn’t happened since the awards system was computerized in the mid-1970s.
In fact, the investigation uncovered evidence that suggests a far more troubling explanation. It showed that as former Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer’s Medal of Honor nomination from the same battle sailed toward approval despite questions about the accuracy of the account of his deeds, there may have been an effort to kill Swenson’s nomination.
Swenson’s original nomination was downgraded to a lesser award, in violation of Army and Defense Department regulations, evidence uncovered by the investigation showed.
Moreover, Swenson’s Medal of Honor nomination “packet,” a digitized file that contains dozens of documents attesting to his “heroism . . . above and beyond the call of duty,” disappeared from the computer system dedicated to processing awards, a circumstance for which the military said it has “no explanation.”
The unpublished findings, which McClatchy has reviewed, threaten to taint a military awards process that’s designed to leave no margin of doubt or possibility of error about the heroism and sacrifices of U.S. service personnel. They also could bolster charges by some officers, lawmakers, veterans’ groups and experts that the process is vulnerable to improper interference and manipulation, embarrassing the military services and the Obama administration.
“The whole awards system is just totally jacked up,” said Doug Sterner, a military historian who’s made a career of verifying the authenticity of commendations.
The Pentagon and the military services deny that the system is flawed, and the U.S. command in Afghanistan denied that there was any attempt to downgrade Swenson’s Medal of Honor nomination.
Yet despite the possibility of malfeasance or worse, no further effort was made to determine what happened. The “discrepancies” posed by the evidence of a downgrade to a Distinguished Service Cross “could not be resolved,” the investigators said.
Swenson’s nomination was resubmitted last year. President Barack Obama must approve it before Sept. 8, the third anniversary of the battle, or it expires and can only be revived by an act of Congress.
It couldn’t be determined whether there was an effort to kill Swenson’s Medal of Honor nomination, but there are several possible motives for doing so. . .
Continue reading. The possible motives are revealing of the state of the Army.
Mary Elizabeth Williams has a sobering column in Salon:
Kirby Dick’s “The Invisible War” is already the darling of the festival circuit, a documentary that won the audience award at Sundance and critical praise for its sharp, skillful storytelling. But as compelling as his film is, the director of “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” and the Catholic Church sex abuse documentary “Twist of Faith” doesn’t merely want to impress you. This is a movie that intends to reform the entire United States military. And it stands a very good chance of succeeding.
Inspired by Helen Benedict’s 2007 Salon story “The Private War of Women Soldiers,” “The Invisible War” is a gut-wrenching condemnation of the way the military has, across the board and in every branch, failed to protect its members from sexual assault – and then failed them again and again afterward. In a series of harrowing personal accounts, victims – mostly women but a sampling of men as well – recount the trauma of their rapes while in uniform and the sickening personal consequences they experienced for reporting them. It’s estimated that over 20 percent of female veterans have been sexually assaulted during their service – and some believe the real figure is even higher. It’s an epidemic.
As the film demonstrates, because the military handles sexual assault internally, a stunning number of victims are simply brushed off by their superiors. But even more outrageously, many of them have faced retribution. The subjects speak of having their careers ruined, of being punished for committing “adultery” with their married rapists, or being denied veterans’ benefits for the long-term consequences of the emotional and physical batterings they received.
Dick’s film is a devastating, intimate portrait of the aftereffects of sexual abuse. It’s impossible to see the photographs of the astonishing number of women and men who talked to the filmmakers — each looking so fresh and sharp and proud in their uniforms — and not be heartbroken and enraged at the perpetrators and the institutions that protected them. . .
Continue reading. “Honor”—the military seems to have abandoned the idea.
The military, when faced with a scandal, has a standard operating procedure—probably some MilSpec thing that includes a Field Manual. The essential steps are to lie, deny, cover-up, admit nothing, and—if absolutely necessary—punish the highest ranking enlisted man involved.
You can see the initiation of the process in this story by David Goldstein and Matthew Schofield in McClatchy, though more benign interpretations are possible. Still, given the military’s history of lying, cover-ups, and protecting officers at all costs, I think a more cynical view is not out of the question:
Besides waiting nearly a week before identifying the Army staff sergeant who’s accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, the U.S. military scrubbed its websites of references to his combat service.
Gone were photographs of the suspect, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, as well as a recounting in his base’s newspaper of a 2007 battle in Iraq involving his unit that quoted him extensively.
But not really.
Given the myriad ways that information remains accessible on the Internet, despite the best efforts to remove it, the material about Bales was still out there and available, such as in cached versions of Web pages. Within minutes of the Pentagon leaking his name Friday evening, news organizations and others found and published his pictures, the account of the battle — which depicts Bales and other soldiers in a glowing light — and excerpts from his wife’s personal blog.
So why did the Pentagon try to scrub Bales from the Internet in the first place?
The military said its intention in removing the material wasn’t to lessen the Army’s embarrassment over the horrific attack — nine of the victims were children — but to protect the privacy of Bales’ family.
“Protecting a military family has to be a priority,” said a military official, who like several interviewed for this story spoke only on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.
“I think the feeding frenzy we saw after his name was released was evidence that we were right to try. … Of course the pages are cached; we know that. But we owe it to the wife and kids to do what we can.”
A second Pentagon official acknowledged that one of the reasons for the delay in releasing Bales’ name was to remove references to his Army service from the Internet. However, when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan was arrested in the deadly shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, the Pentagon released his name immediately.
Several former military officers said they were perplexed that the Army would try to remove information that already had been public. One called it “unusual.”
Experts agreed that the effort was futile.
“Once a site has been accessed enough times, it’s very, very difficult to remove content,” said Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports Internet access. “I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but there’s no evidence of it happening in recent times.”
Another likely concern of the military was that criminal charges against Bales are expected, and the case could last a long time. He’s at the Army’s maximum-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
“The military actually does a very good job of protecting defendants’ rights,” said Allan Millett, a military historian at the University of New Orleans and a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. “I suspect it was simply a matter of not prejudicing either public opinion or anyone who might be involved in the case. I’m sure they’re leaning over backwards.” . . .
Continue reading. I was struck by the strong concern expressed for the military family, and total lack of concern for the Afghans murdered. “Protect the family” and “collateral damage, so what?” do not go easily together, IMO. The military has shown no concern at all for the families who live in countries we invade—indeed, we slaughter them by the hundreds, paying a head bounty to settle things if the survivors insist, but always first denying that there were any civilian casualties at all, and then shrugging them off as “collateral damage.” Why the sudden concern for family welfare? Sure hasn’t been evident before. And if they are so damned concerned about family welfare—even military family welfare—why so little attention given to detecting and treating PTSD. I’m sorry, but the concern shown seems to be alligator tears and doesn’t pass the smell test.
I do not think the US is doing well in Afghanistan. Events like this one, reported in the NY Times by Alissa Rubin and Sangar Rahimi are more likely to increase terrorism than reduce it:
Nine boys collecting firewood to heat their homes in the eastern Afghanistan mountains were killed by NATO helicopter gunners who mistook them for insurgents, according to a statement on Wednesday by NATO, which apologized for the mistake.The boys, who were 9 to 15 years old, were attacked on Tuesday in what amounted to one of the war’s worst cases of mistaken killings by foreign-led forces. The victims included two sets of brothers. A 10th boy survived.
The NATO statement, which included an unusual personal apology by the commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the boys had been misidentified as the attackers of a NATO base earlier in the day. News of the attack enraged Afghans and led to an anti-American demonstration on Wednesday in the village of Nanglam, where the boys were from. The only survivor, Hemad, 11, said his mother had told him to go out with other boys to collect firewood because “the weather is very cold now.”
“We were almost done collecting the wood when suddenly we saw the helicopters come,” said Hemad, who, like many Afghans, has only one name. “There were two of them. The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters. Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting. They fired a rocket which landed on a tree. The tree branches fell over me and shrapnel hit my right hand and my side.”
The tree, Hemad said, saved his life by covering him so that he could not be seen by the helicopters, which, he said, “shot the boys one after another.”
Continue reading. This reminds me of the incident we learned of through Wikileaks, in which an Army helicopter gunned down people attempting to help the wounded.
I think these actions will be defended only because they were not the actions of an enemy. In the US today, the same behavior is condemned if done by our enemies, excused if done by us. There seems to be no recognition that the US is doing very bad things, things that work to increase terrorism.
The US can certainly massacre civilians, but when our forces had the opportunity to capture Bin Laden, they instead allowed him to escape and did not push the attack.
My jaw dropped. Reported in the Washington Post by Joshua Partlow:
KABUL – To the shock of President Hamid Karzai’s aides, Gen. David Petraeus on Sunday suggested that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.
Petraeus’s exact language in the closed-door session at the presidential palace is not known, nor the precise message he meant to convey. But his remarks about the deadly U.S. military operation in Konar province were interpreted as deeply offensive by some in the room. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
They said he dismissed allegations by Karzai’s office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed, and said residents invented stories, or even injured their children, to blame U.S. forces for targeting civilians and to stop the operation.
“I was dizzy. My head was spinning,” said one participant about listening to Petraeus. “This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd.”
Petraeus, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
U.S. and Afghan officials have started to investigate what happened during a three- to four-day operation in the mountains of Ghaziabad district, one of the most dangerous and inhospitable parts of Afghanistan. U.S. military officials said there is no evidence innocent civilians died. The governor of Konar, Fazlullah Wahidi, disagreed, citing reports from villagers that dozens of women and children perished. Karzai’s office placed the civilian death toll at 50 . . .
Continue reading. The military’s record on reporting civilian deaths is extremely clear: the military will immediately and officially say that all deaths were armed insurgents or terrorists or whatever, and then if an independent investigation determines that there were in fact civilian casualties (and occasionally all those killed were civilians, as in the case of the wedding party), the military accepts the findings, expresses regret, and promises to make changes. And so it goes on and on.
But this is a new low.
Elisabeth Bumiller reports in the NY Times:
Senior Airman Michael Kearns had been back from Iraq for only two months when he was pulled over on a Florida highway for going more than 120 miles per hour on his new Suzuki. He knew his motorcycle riding was reckless, but after living through daily mortar attacks on his base in Iraq, he said he needed the adrenaline rush.
“When you get here, there’s nothing that’s very exciting that keeps your pulse going,” Airman Kearns, 27, said in a recent interview.
His experience is so common that the United States military, alarmed by a rising suicide rate and the record number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who die in highway accidents back home, is asking a provocative new question: Nearly a decade into two bloody wars, are the armed forces attracting recruits drawn to high-risk behavior?
“In January 1990, you could join the military and think, ‘You know, I’m probably not going to get deployed,’ ” said Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University professor who has done research on the gap between the military and civilian society. “So on the margins it is reasonable to expect that there might have been a few more people in the pre-9/11 period who said, ‘I have no interest in war and there are other reasons for me to join.’
“By 2005, there were very few, or nobody, like that,” he said. “Or if you were like that, you were a fool. The evidence was staring you in the face that you would be deployed in ground combat.”
The military says the people who enlist to serve their country have always included plenty of adrenaline addicts, which recruiters say is a good thing when troops are needed to jump out of airplanes and go on raids in Afghanistan. But military researchers say they have been compelled to take a deeper look at the psychological demographic of an all-volunteer force during the most prolonged period of combat in American history.
“We’ve never been at war for as long as we’ve been, and we don’t know the effects of that,” said Bruce Shahbaz, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and one of the three main authors of a recent Army suicide report. “We may be attracting people who are more comfortable with risk, and if so, how do we measure that?”
Beyond that, Colonel Shahbaz said, the Army wants to know whether risk-takers are more likely to commit suicide or die in accidents, and whether a predisposition to risk-taking is increased by combat.
To try to find answers, this fall the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health are beginning a five-year study of 90,000 active-duty soldiers and all new Army recruits, 80,000 to 120,000 per year. The recruits are to answer confidential surveys that Colonel Shahbaz said might include questions on whether they owned motorcycles, used drugs or liked to bungee-jump. There will be cognitive tests to measure reactions to stress as well as an in-depth look at a recruit’s family background and genetics.
“It will give us an assessment of someone’s cognitive style and whether they have a history that draws them to high-risk behaviors,” said Thomas R. Insel, the institute’s director.
Researchers acknowledge that in focusing so much on recruits, they are slighting what many say is the biggest reason for the high military suicide rate, the stress of repeated wartime deployments. But in one of the more surprising statistics cited in the Army’s suicide report, 79 percent of the soldiers who committed suicide in recent years had had only one deployment, or had not deployed at all…
But perhaps he’s missing the point on purpose? Or he just didn’t think it through? Mistermix tries to explain the problem, but I doubt that the guy will ever understand.
The Wikileaks videos also do not reveal the hundreds upon hundreds of cases in which American forces refrain from attacking targets precisely because civilians are in harm’s way. That is today an iron rule in Afghanistan, and one for which our soldiers are themselves paying a price in increased casualties. Yet even with the greatest care, armed conflict cannot be sanitized. In almost every war America has ever fought, things on occasion go badly awry. In World War II, instances in which Allied forces massacred captured enemy soldiers were not unheard of. While such cases were a blemish on our military honor, broadcasting the facts to the world and thereby stiffening enemy morale would have been unthinkable in the midst of the great global conflagration.
Although our current struggle does not compare to World War II, there can be no doubt that the dissemination of military videos—far more potent in their impact than written dispatches—can have a profound affect upon our soldiers, inflaming opinion against them in the battlefield and placing their lives at risk. Such videos also undermine the larger counterinsurgency mission of winning hearts and minds. That is why the military keeps them classified. [...]
Schoenfeld is a think-tanker neocon who’s an expert on the media, so it’s interesting to see what’s implicit in his argument. First, the “hearts and minds” he’s concerned about aren’t actually experiencing what’s going on in those videos. Hell, most Afghanis don’t even have an Internet connection. As for “stiffening” the morale of the “enemy”—if their morale isn’t stiffened by an almost-decade of occupation, will one or two videos more make much difference?
The real risk of Wikileaks is that the videos posted there will convince Americans that our endless entanglement there is both brutal and useless. That’s why Wikileaks are so essential, and why they’re a target: Nobody else is doing it.
The military routinely classifies things not because they are truly a matter of national security, but because they are embarrassing to the military or to some particular officer who has the authority to get the materials classified. Cover-up: that is the most important military virtue, based on occurrence.
And we certainly cannot depend on our corporate-owned, corporate-friendly media to report anything that might rock the boat. Corporations like things to run smoothly, keep the dirty work behind the scenes. (Cf. BP’s aggressive efforts to prevent media coverage of the effects of the spill.)
Interesting that the investigation of the incident was done by non-Army personnel—I’ve noted before that the Army’s investigations of itself inevitably turn out to be cover-ups, with officers getting off and enlisted personnel taking the rap. But this time, the investigation was conducted by Togo West, a former Secretary of the Army, and Adm. Vernon E. Clark, a former Chief of Naval Operations. The story in the NY Times by Scott Shane and Elisabeth Bumiller:
The military’s defenses against threats from inside its own ranks are outdated and ineffective, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Monday as he described the findings of a Pentagon review of the Nov. 5 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas.
Mr. Gates cited poor communications about internal threats to the security of personnel, as well as a weak supervision by commanders, as systemic problems with implications that go beyond the single case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the military psychiatrist accused of the shootings.
The formal report, released at noon by the Pentagon, found that “some medical officers failed to apply appropriate judgement and standards of officership” when judging Major Hasan, and that more attention should have been paid to his overall performance rather than just his academic record.
Major Hasan behaved erratically and had questionable communications with a radical cleric during the years and months before the shootings, which killed 13 and injured 28 more, according to various officials monitoring the investigations that ensued.
But his supervisors took no actions based on his behavior, and he was transferred to a combat unit at Fort Hood last summer.
Several officers may be held accountable for any failures in supervising Major Hasan during his psychiatric training in the Washington area, Mr. Gates said. He referred the recommendations to the Army for further review. He did not provide details, but the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the findings overnight, said that as many as eight mid-ranking officers could face reprimands…
Some of you may recall Elisabeth Bumiller for her inept and inadequate reportage on the Bush Administration, somewhat explained by her remark that President Bush is so impressive and important that she didn’t feel she could question him. I was amused to note in posting the above that Windows Live Writer questioned the word “Bumiller” and suggested “bumbler” instead. I had no idea Live Writer monitored the news.
A loss of nerve that cost tens of thousands of lives. David P. Colley, author of Decision at Strasbourg: Ike’s Strategic Mistake to Halt the Sixth Army Group at the Rhine in 1944, writes in the NY Times:
IXTY-FIVE years ago, in November 1944, the war in Europe was at a stalemate. A resurgent Wehrmacht had halted the Allied armies along Germany’s borders after its headlong retreat across northern France following D-Day. From Holland to France, the front was static — yet thousands of Allied soldiers continued to die in futile battles to reach the Rhine River.
One Allied army, however, was still on the move. The Sixth Army Group reached the Rhine at Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 24, and its commander, Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers, looked across its muddy waters into Germany. His force, made up of the United States Seventh and French First Armies, 350,000 men, had landed Aug. 15 near Marseille — an invasion largely overlooked by history but regarded at the time as “the second D-Day” — and advanced through southern France to Strasbourg. No other Allied army had yet reached the Rhine, not even hard-charging George Patton’s.
Devers dispatched scouts over the river. “There’s nobody in those pillboxes over there,” a soldier reported. Defenses on the German side of the upper Rhine were unmanned and the enemy was unprepared for a cross-river attack, which could unhinge the Germans’ southern front and possibly lead to the collapse of the entire line from Holland to Switzerland.
The Sixth Army Group had assembled bridging equipment, amphibious trucks and assault boats. Seven crossing sites along the upper Rhine were evaluated and intelligence gathered. The Seventh Army could cross north of Strasbourg at Rastatt, Germany, advance north along the Rhine Valley to Karlsruhe, and swing west to come in behind the German First Army, which was blocking Patton’s Third Army in Lorraine. The enemy would face annihilation, and the Third and Seventh Armies could break loose and drive into Germany. The war might end quickly.
Devers never crossed. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander, visited Devers’s headquarters that day and ordered him instead to stay on the Rhine’s west bank and attack enemy positions in northern Alsace. Devers was stunned. “We had a clean breakthrough,” he wrote in his diary. “By driving hard, I feel that we could have accomplished our mission.” Instead the war of attrition continued, giving the Germans a chance to counterattack three weeks later in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge, which cost 80,000 American dead and wounded.
Garrison Davidson, then Devers’s engineering officer and later a superintendent of West Point, believed Devers’s attack would have succeeded and pre-empted the Bulge, writing, “I have often wondered what might have happened had Ike had the audacity to take a calculated risk, as General Patton would have.” Patton wrote in his diary that he also believed Eisenhower had missed a great opportunity; the Seventh Army’s commander, Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch, felt the same way.
Why did Eisenhower refuse to allow Devers to cross? …
Continue reading. The short answer: Eisenhower was appallingly petty.
How old is old enough for students to be approached by military recruiters?
High school? Junior high? Fourth grade? How about ten weeks into kindergarten?
Last week at the dinner table, my five-year-old son announced blithely, "Soldiers came to school today." He then added, "They only kill bad people. They don’t kill good people."
He made the announcement with the same levity he uses in recalling the plot line of Frog and Toad or a Nemo video.
My wife and I looked at each other incredulously.
"Soldiers came to school? What do you mean?" I asked.
He repeated himself and then I remembered – it was "Career Day" at school. My son mentioned a bus driver too, but it was the soldier who stuck out in his mind. When my wife asked if the soldier was cool, he nodded yes.
The soldier had given my five-year-old a gift. From his yellow backpack, he produced a six-inch, white, plastic ruler with big, bold, red letters reading "ARMY NATIONAL GUARD" next to a waving American flag and below that www.1-800-GO-GUARD.com.
So, now we know the answer to the above question…
Interesting story by Michael Moss and Ray Rivera in the NY Times:
Staff Sgt. Gilberto Mota, 35, and his wife, Diana, 30, an Army specialist, had returned to Fort Hood from Iraq last year when he used his gun to kill her, and then took his own life, the authorities say. In July, two members of the First Cavalry Division, also just back from the war with decorations for their service, were at a party when one killed the other.
That same month, Staff Sgt. Justin Lee Garza, 28, under stress from two deployments, killed himself in a friend’s apartment outside Fort Hood, four days after he was told no therapists were available for a counseling session. “What bothers me most is this happened while he was supposed to be on suicide watch,” said his mother, Teri Smith. “To this day, I don’t know where he got the gun.”
Fort Hood is still reeling from last week’s carnage, in which an Army psychiatrist is accused of a massacre that left 13 people dead. But in the town of Killeen and other surrounding communities, the attack, one of the worst mass shootings on a military base in the United States, is also seen by many as another blow in an area that has been beset by crime and violence since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Reports of domestic abuse have grown by 75 percent since 2001. At the same time, violent crime in Killeen has risen 22 percent while declining 7 percent in towns of similar size in other parts of the country.
The stresses are seen in other ways, too.
Since 2003, there have been 76 suicides by personnel assigned to Fort Hood, with 10 this year, according to military officials.
A crisis center on base is averaging 60 phone calls a week from soldiers and family members seeking various help for problems from suicide to anger management, with about the same volume of walk-ins and scheduled appointments.
In recent days, Army officials have …
One of the worst tragedies of the recession has been people losing their health insurance because they lost their job. Nearly 14,000 Americans lose their insurance every day. Wisconsin father Bill Caudle was laid off from his job at a plastics company in March 2009, which resulted in his family losing their employer-subsidized health care coverage. This put the family in an especially precarious position, because Bill’s wife, Michelle, was an ovarian cancer patient. After months of unsuccessfully looking for work, Caudle did the only thing he could to get his wife chemotherapy — he joined the Army:
Bill needed a job. He needed health benefits. [...]
The Army would solve their health coverage problem. In years past he would have been too old, but in 2005 the age limit for enlistment was increased from 35 to 40, and a year later it was raised again to 42. The tradeoff would be his absence from home.
In the end, although he risked leaving Michelle to fight cancer on her own, Bill chose the Army. He signed on for a job as a signal support systems specialist, a soldier who works with communications equipment.
“Seventy percent of the reason is for the insurance,” said Bill’s mother, Marguerite Hemiller. “He told me, ‘I’ve always wanted to do something for my country and I have to help Michelle.’”
The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee comprehensive health coverage to all of its citizens. In the rest of the developed world, Bill would not have to leave his cancer-stricken wife behind and risk his own life in order to get her care.
Here’s yet another example by Mark Benjamin in Salon.com:
Salon has uncovered further evidence of grave offenses at Arlington National Cemetery. It is now clear that the cemetery, which is managed by the U.S. Army and calls itself "our nation’s most sacred shrine," lost track of the identity of remains buried in a grave, and covered up the disturbing discovery for six years. New information also casts doubt on Army statements about when the Army learned of criminal misconduct by a top cemetery official.
Last week Salon reported allegations by former and current employees that headstones and graves do not match in some cases. The article noted internal cemetery documents over the past several years that revealed "information listed on grave cards and burial records were not consistent with the information on the actual headstone." It documented an expensive, 10-year-old effort to computerize operations at Arlington — a feat cemeteries of similar size and age have achieved relatively quickly and cheaply.
Arlington admitted to the paperwork problems but insisted the confusion stopped at the grave’s edge. When asked — "Has the cemetery ever dug a grave only to find there is already someone there, though the grave is unmarked?" — cemetery spokeswoman Kaitlin Horst responded, "We are not aware of any situation like that."
But Salon has discovered evidence to the contrary. In 2003, Arlington workers dug into the ground at Grave 449 in Section 68 — the cemetery had paperwork that said the grave was empty — to bury somebody who had recently died. They came across remains already interred in that grave. There was no headstone. Soon after the discovery, workers filled out a grave card (obtained by Salon), generally used to note information about each burial site, with an urgent note to colleagues: "do not DO NOT USE!!! CASKET IN GRAVE REMAINS UNKNOWN."
Since Arlington does not know the identity of the remains in Grave 449, there is no way of knowing when the burial occurred. Arlington tends to bury service members who pass away at around the same time in the each section. The graves in Section 68 are generally from the late 1980s through 2008, suggesting the original burial occurred in that era.
In response to a query about Grave 449, Arlington admitted the error. "The identity of the remains in Grave 449 in Section 68 is unknown at this time," Horst admitted. "Arlington National Cemetery officials have known about this situation since 2003, when in the process of preparing for a burial, a casket was discovered in Grave 449 in Section 68," she added. "At that time, a review of records took place to locate the corresponding documents. The files could not be matched and as a result, the card you have described was filed. Following your inquiry this morning, a search for corresponding records in the paper files was conducted and again, proved inconclusive."
This discovery, Horst suggested, had an upside: …
International Security Assistance Force
APO AE 09356
Commander’s Initial Guidance As of: 13 June 09
To the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Civilians of ISAF,
The situation in Afghanistan is serious. The outcome is important–and not yet decided. Our actions this year will be critical. We must, and will, succeed.
Success will be defined by the Afghan people’s freedom to choose their future–freedom from coercion, extremists, malign foreign influence, or abusive government actions.
The outcome will be determined by our ability to understand and act with precision, the values we display, our unity of purpose, and our resolve.
The challenges to Afghanistan are complex and interrelated. Solutions will not be simple. The ongoing insurgency must be met with a counterinsurgency campaign adapted to the unique conditions in each area
- Protects the Afghan people–allowing them to choose a future they can be proud of
- Provides a secure environment allowing good government and economic development to undercut the causes and advocates of insurgency
This effort will be long and difficult–there is no single secret for success. As imperatives we must:
1. Protect and Partner with the People. We are fighting for the Afghan people–not against them. Our focus on their welfare will build the trust and support necessary for success.
2. Conduct a comprehensive Counterinsurgency Campaign. Insurgencies fail when root causes disappear. Security is essential; but I believe our ultimate success lies in partnering with the Afghan Government, partner nations, NGO’s, and other to build the foundations of good government and economic development.
3. Understand the Environment. We must understand in detail the situation, however complex, and be able to explain it to others. Our ability to act effectively demands a real appreciation for the positive and negative impact of everything we do–or fail to do. Understanding is a prerequisite for success.
4. Ensure Values Underpin our Effort. We must demonstrate thru our words and actions our commitment to fair play, our respect and sensitivity for the cultures and traditions of others, and an understanding that rule of law and humanity don’t end when fighting starts. Both our goals and conduct must be admired.
5. Listen Closely–Speak Clearly. We must listen to understand–and speak clearly to be understood. Communicating our intentions and accurately reflecting our actions to all audiences is a critical responsibility–and necessity.
6. Act as One Team. We are an alliance of nations with different histories, cultures, and national objectives–united in our support for Afghanistan.
We must be unified in purpose, forthright in communication, and committed to each other.
7. Constantly Adapt. This war is unique, and our ability to respond to even subtle changes in conditions will be decisive. I ask you to challenge conventional wisdom and abandon practices that are ingrained into many military cultures. And I ask you to push me to do the same.
8. Act with Courage and Resolve. Hard fighting, difficult decisions, and inevitable losses will mark the days ahead. Each of us, from our most junior personnel to our senior leaders, must display physical, mental, and moral courage. Our partners must trust our commitment; enemies must not question our resolve.
You have my thanks for all that you have done, and will do. I promise to be the best partner I am able to be.
STANLEY A. McCHRYSTAL
General, U.S. Army
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan /
International Security Assistance