Later On

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Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

Blowback from drone attacks

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A couple of articles of interest:

Former Drone Operators Say They Were “Horrified” By Cruelty of Assassination Program

Drone Strikes Fuel the Hatred that Led to Paris Attacks, Ex-Drone Pilots Say

15 wedding parties. (Signature strikes, since the identities of those attacked were clearly not known. But the US has decided that it can fire missiles at those whose behavior indicates that they are terrorists—like a few cars driving together to a wedding—and the dead are counted as enemy combatants unless someone raises a stink.)

But 15 wedding parties is only the partial toll.

Those whose children were killed in the US attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital are also likely to have some negative feelings about the US. It was a hospital, for the love of God. (Still, I should await the results of the investigation of the attack, done by those responsible for the attack. But I think I know how it will work out.)

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2015 at 1:58 pm

Opaque military justice system shields child sex abuse cases

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The Associated Press reports:

As a U.S. Marine, Daniel E. DeSmit swore to live by a code of honor. Semper fidelis, always faithful. But DeSmit shattered that pledge repeatedly — directing dozens of live Internet videos of children having sex with each other.

DeSmit, a chief warrant officer and father of three, spent at least $36,000 viewing and producing child pornography over a span of six years. In emails examined by Navy criminal investigators, DeSmit described his preference for sex with prepubescent girls as “the best experience.”

A military judge in January found DeSmit, 44, guilty of a litany of sex offenses and sentenced him to 144 years behind bars. But he’ll serve just a fraction of that time. In an undisclosed pretrial agreement, the Marine Corps slashed his prison term to 20 years. When The Associated Press asked for the investigative report in DeSmit’s case, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service rejected the Freedom of Information Act request on privacy grounds. The report was released only after AP appealed.

DeSmit’s crimes are not all that uncommon. Neither is the misleading prison sentence.

An AP investigation found the single largest category of inmates in military prisons to be child sex offenders. Yet a full accounting of their crimes and how much time they actually spend behind bars is shielded by an opaque system of justice.

Child sex assaults committed by service members have received scant attention in Washington, where Congress and the Defense Department have focused primarily on preventing and prosecuting adult-on-adult crimes. And those steps were belated. Despite years of warning signs that adult sexual assault in the ranks was a persistent problem, it took a documentary film about the situation to shock lawmakers and military leaders into action.

Of the 1,233 inmates confined in the military’s prison network, 61 percent were convicted of sex crimes, according to the AP’s analysis of the latest available data, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA. In just over half of those cases, the victims were children.

Since the beginning of this year, children were the victims in 133 out of 301 sex crime convictions against service members — including charges ranging from rape to distributing child pornography.

“This disturbing report exposes, once again, that our military’s justice system has glaring and unacceptable failures,” Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said Wednesday of AP’s investigation. Tsongas, co-chair of the congressional Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said she will be taking a closer look at what she described as “alarming findings.”

The military justice system operates independently of state and federal criminal courts. The U.S. Constitution mandates a presumption of openness in civilian courts — trials are open to the public, as are court filings, including motions and transcripts, with exceptions for documents that have been sealed. Anyone can walk into any county or U.S. courthouse and ask to read a case file without providing a reason beyond curiosity. That openness is designed to provide accountability.

But visibility in connection with military trials is minimal. While brief trial results are now made public, court records and other documents are released only after many FOIA requests, appeals and fees, and often months of waiting. While military trials are technically “open,” as are civilian trials, they take place on military bases, which are closed to the general public.

Over the past five months, AP has filed 17 separate requests under the FOIA for documents from more than 200 military sexual assault cases that ended with convictions. At the time this story was published, the military services had provided complete trial records for five cases and partial records for more than 70 others.

Under military law, children are defined as “any person who has not attained the age of 16 years.” Victims aged 16 and 17 are counted as adults, which is consistent with age-of-consent laws in most states. . .

Continue reading.

It’s a long and detailed article, and DeSmit will be released from prison in less than 7 years. (The 144-year sentence quoted in the military press release is a fiction.)

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2015 at 8:41 am

No news yet on why the US military struck the Kuduz hospital

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The military promised a full investigation, and just to be extra sure that the investigation proceeds to a good conclusion, the military (and President Obama) have absolutely rejected any independent investigation. In their experience, if an organization makes a serious error, it works best for the organization to investigate itself. And, no doubt, it’s best of all if those directly responsible for the error do the investigation—after all, they were right on the spot when it happened, so they know more about what happened than anyone else. Do you see any problem with that?

Still, it would be good to have an update, especially since the military floated several different stories. From this excellent summary by Laura Gottesdiener at TomDispatch (and the whole column is definitely worth reading), following her detailed summary of the events of the attack:

. . . That’s one version of the story, based on a Doctors Without Borders preliminary report on the destruction of their hospital, released on November 5th, as well as on articles published by Reuters, the Associated Press, theWashington Post, the New York Times, and Al Jazeera, the testimonies of medical staff published by MSF, and a Democracy Now! interview with the executive director of MSF USA.

Here’s the second version of the story, the one we in the United States are meant to believe. It’s far more confusing and lacking in details, but don’t worry, it’s much shorter.

On October 3rd, an American AC-130 gunship “mistakenly struck” a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz. The attack was ordered by U.S. Special Operations forces, possibly at the behest of the Afghan army (ormaybe not).

Earlier contradictory accounts, all issued within the span of four days, go as follows: (1) it may not have been an American air strike; (2) the U.S. launched airstrikes in the neighborhood of the hospital and the facility was hit by accident; (3) the hospital was hit because American Special Operations forces were under fire near the hospital and called in the strikes in their own defense; (4) the facility was hit because Afghan forces supported by that Special Ops unit “advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces.”

As the story changed, culpability shifted back and forth. The Afghans, not the Americans, had called in the attack. No, the Afghans never directly called in the attack. The Americans called in the attack from within the U.S. chain of command.

In the end, the bottom line from Washington was: we’re conducting a full investigation and one of these days we’ll get back to you with the details.

This second version of the story (in its many iterations) came from commander of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan General John Campbell, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest, and Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook. Unnamed sources added some colorful, although unsupported allegations about a Pakistani intelligence agent or armed Taliban fighters being inside the hospital — despite all evidence to the contrary.

Campbell offered his “deepest condolences.” President Obama called the head of MSF and personally apologized for the “tragic incident.” The Pentagon promised to make “condolence payments” to the families of those killed.

Several investigations into the “incident” were launched by the Pentagon and a joint Afghan-NATO team. However, MSF’s repeated call for an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, established under the additional protocols to the Geneva Convention, have been ducked or ignored.

There is, at least, one aspect both accounts agree on: the timing.

It’s undisputed that the attack occurred on October 3, 2015 — just over nine months after President Obama officially declared the ending of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. . .

One thing I had realized: the number of US attacks on wedding parties is greater than I thought. From the column introduction by Tom Englehardt:

. . . [A]t least eight wedding parties wiped out in whole or in part between December 2001 and December 2013 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen by U.S. air power, and evidently two more barely a week apart this fall by the U.S.-backed Saudi air force, also in Yemen. In the first of those, two missiles reportedly tore through wedding tents in a village on the Red Sea, killing more than 130 celebrants, including women and children; in the second, a house 60 miles south of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, “where dozens of people were celebrating,” was hit leaving at least 28 dead. Cumulatively, over the years (by my informal count) close to 450 Iraqis, Afghans, and Yemenis have died in these disasters and many more were wounded.  Each of the eviscerated weddings made the news somewhere in our world (or I wouldn’t have noticed), though with rare exceptions they never made the headlines and, of course, never did any of them get anything close to the 24/7 media spotlight we’ve grown so used to; nor, except perhaps at this website, has anyone attended to these disasters as a cumulative, repetitive set of events. . .

We lucky that this slaughter of civilians has not triggered a backlash from inhabitants of the region. Or, come to think of it, perhaps it has.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2015 at 8:38 am

The A-10 lives a little longer

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James Rosen reports in McClatchy:

Air Force Col. Martha McSally was leading a squadron of A-10 attack jets over Afghanistan when they encountered U.S. forces engaged in a desperate fight against Islamist insurgents.

One of the embattled troops signaled his unit’s location with a small mirror that reflected sunlight upward. McSally, the first American woman to fly in combat, and the other pilots flew to the light and opened fire with the seven-barrel Gatling cannons nestled in the A-10s’ noses. The fire, at 65 rounds per second, devastated the enemy. The surrounded Americans lived.

“They didn’t have time to figure out the eight-digit coordinates of the enemy or to put a laser spot on the target because they were on the run with their lives in danger,” McSally recalled in a recent interview. “The other (jet) fighters were above the weather, so they could not get down to save these guys. They were not going to live, but we went down and saved their asses. We were able to get below the weather in the mountains because the A-10 is slow and maneuverable.”

A decade later, McSally is in her first year in Congress and on a different sort of rescue mission: She’s trying to save the A-10 Thunderbolt II, whose former pilots and other supporters affectionately call it the Warthog, from being sent out to aviation pasture.

The Arizona Republican belongs to a bipartisan group of lawmakers – they include Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue of Georgia, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Tom Tillis of North Carolina, among others – who are resisting an Air Force push to retire the 283 A-10 aircraft from military service and hand off their core mission of close-air support for ground troops to a handful of other models of U.S. fighter jets.

The A-10 caucus received a jolt of good news last month when the Pentagon unexpectedly announced that it was moving a dozen of the aircraft to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, from where American warplanes have been launching raids against the Islamic State since August.

The surprise move came 10 days before President Barack Obama said he was sending “fewer than 50” special operations troops to Syria to help Arab and Kurdish fighters combat Islamic State militants.

Sim Tack, a defense analyst with Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based group that sells geopolitical intelligence to government agencies and corporations, believes that the dispatch of the special operators to Syria may be tied to the arrival of the A-10s at Incirlik.

“These would be exactly the type of guys who would be able to make full use of the A-10s by providing (targeting) coordination from the ground,” Tack told McClatchy. “And the A-10 would be a very capable aircraft to provide them with close air support as they are operating inside Syria.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, welcomed the new assignments.

“As the United States and our coalition partners take the fight to ISIL, the A-10’s ability to provide air support is very important,” McCaskill said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “Its pilots are making an invaluable contribution to our multipronged campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.”

Despite the recent Incirlik mission, Pentagon officials say the A-10 flies too low, moves too slow [though, of course, low and slow is exactly the idea for providing close air support – LG] and, in its fourth decade of service, must give way in the coming years to sleeker, faster jets that can drop precision-guided munitions on enemy targets with pinpoint accuracy and from greater heights.

“While no one, especially me, is happy about recommending divestiture of this great old friend, it’s the right military decision,” Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, then Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said at another hearing that an A-10 had once rescued him in combat. He extolled it as “the ugliest, most beautiful aircraft on the planet” – but said its time has come.

The Pentagon wants to replace the A-10 with the F-35, the futuristic Joint Strike Fighter that has endured numerous production delays and is now projected to be fully deployed across the Air Force, Navy and Marines by 2019. . .

Continue reading.

The F-35, of course, does not work and in an effort to make it work, the USAF is busy scaling back its capabilities and loosening specifications.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2015 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Military

One Degree of Separation in the Forever War

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Brian Castner writes a piece for Motherboard that is definitely worth reading, especially today:

On April 9, 2011, Captain Jaymes Collin Uriah “Yuri” Hines drank a beer with a friend at a brewery in Bruges, Belgium, and tried desperately to relax.

Yuri was a Weapon Systems Officer on an F-15E, a backseater who dropped the bombs, and he was exhausted. Just back from a combat tour, he had been conducting airstrikes only two weeks before.

His brother Reese was deployed to Afghanistan, and something in his voice, the last time they had talked on the phone, still haunted him. Yuri would soon leave for US Air Force pilot training, to move to the front seat of a fighter jet and fulfill a boyhood dream. He was newly married, but had barely seen his bride. He was only 29, and the stress of so many significant life events in so short a period of time was taking its toll.

Yuri was relieved to finally just sit and have a drink. Then his phone rang. It was his mother. His mother never called.

“It’s Reese, he’s been hit,” she sobbed. “They don’t know if he’s going to survive.”

***Yuri spoke to his mother for only a moment. Then he hung up, walked out of the Belgian brewery, got in his truck, and with no other planning or preparation, drove directly to Germany. If Reese lived, the Landstuhl military hospital would be his first stop out of the war zone. Yuri drove 110 miles per hour the entire way. It took him six hours on the autobahn, and he didn’t arrive until after midnight.

All the next day, Yuri was beset by rumors. On Facebook someone said that Reese had died. It took time to prove that wasn’t true, but the initial wrong report traveled fast, and many of Reese’s family members only learned he was injured at all from this incorrect post. Yuri got, as he put it later, “pretty fucking pissed,” so frustrated that he begged favors from every colonel he knew, ultimately discovering the phone number of the hospital room in Afghanistan that mostly likely held his brother.

A doctor answered the phone. He sounded hesitant and suspicious. “I’m sorry, who is this?”

“Captain Hines. Reese Hines is my brother.”

“I don’t know if I can talk to you right now,” said the hesitant voice. “I’m kinda in the middle of something. Can I call you back?”

“Sir,” pleaded Yuri, “I’m in Germany. I just found out my brother got hit. Can you please tell me what the hell’s going on?”

The voice took a deep breath. There was a muffling passing of the phone. A woman began speaking. “We’re in the middle of surgery,” she began, and then calmly explained every injury that Reese had endured.

“That’s the exact opposite way of how notifications are supposed to happen,” Yuri reflected later. “And I’m pretty sure I broke a million rules.”

Reese finally arrived from Bagram the following day, on a massive KC-135 refueler that had been chartered just for him; he and the medical staff were the only passengers in the cavernous belly of the aircraft. Yuri talked his way onto the flight line, helped carry his brother off the plane and onto a bus that would take them to the hospital. Reese was strapped down, face and arms a mass of bandages. No one knew if he would live.

“What do I do?” Yuri begged of a doctor accompanying Reese. “I don’t know what to do.”

“He’s your brother, just talk to him,” the doctor said.

So Yuri did. He told Reese he was there and that he was going to make it. Reese was in a drug-induced coma, but Yuri swore his wounded brother turned his head toward his voice, and it was in that moment that the strain of the previous two weeks finally overcame him. Yuri put his head in his hands and cried so hard, so uncontrollably, that he shook until he couldn’t breathe.

“They had to escort me off the bus, until I could be a person again,” Yuri said.

***Some now call it the Forever War, and every day that name grows more appropriate.

Soldiers are dying again in Iraq. President Obama extended the mission in Afghanistan through 2017 after the city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban in October.Leaked classified documents reveal a barely acknowledged drone war in Somalia and East Africa. Plus strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, direct action raids against ISIS leaders, a proxy war in Syria and al-Anbar. Between 1975 and 2000—in Grenada, Panama, the First Gulf War and Somalia—the United States fought a total of twelve days of conventional ground combat. Since October of 2001, it hasn’t ceased.

This longest war in American history has created a warrior caste. Less than one percent of the US population, the “Other One Percent,” served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly half of those veterans completed two or more tours, and 51,000 of them, a Spartan-esque subculture than would barely fill Yankee stadium, have deployed six or more times. The Delta operator who fell in Iraq in October was on his fourteenth tour.

Our professional military is staffed entirely by volunteers. Returning to combat this often is a choice, and our culture has turned to explanations from camaraderie to adrenaline to economics to explain this drive.

But this Veterans Day, it is worth considering another reason, unique to our current conflict: saving a life within a very small world. So small, in fact, that using small world theory, the math tells us that statistically they are not saving the lives of strangers, but of known quantities.

Over dozens of interviews with men and women about why they continue to volunteer to fight the Forever War, the only universal motivation I encountered was the desire to protect. To clear an improvised explosive device (IED) threatening a patrol, to helicopter in for a medical rescue, to patch up a wounded Marine, to drop a bomb to keep a platoon from being overrun. Surely, most rescuers must assume that the soldier they are helping—from another unit, another service—is a stranger; Joseph Campbell and Arthur Schopenhauer wrote volumes of essays about the mystical empathy present at such a moment of rescue.

But the science of modern social network research tells us something different about these lives that are saved. In previous American wars, soldiers bonded over a single definitive experience and went home. Today, these 51,000 veterans have spent years building an extensive social network in harm’s way. When they go back to war, they know the soldiers in their new units as well as former comrades still fighting throughout the battlefield. In the modern US military, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game needs a new name. Only one or two degrees separate these men and women.

This phenomenon is embodied in the tale of Reese and Yuri Hines, two brothers in two wars, and all of the ways coincidence and fate and loyalty and purpose bind together those very few soldiers who deploy to fight over and over and over again.

***The brothers have a story. They call it “our story,” and they will tell you that the story starts in Libya. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2015 at 9:39 am

Man, today is nothing but sf novels come to life: DARPA Is About to Start Testing an Autonomous, Submarine-Hunting Ocean Drone

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In fact, I think I’ve read this one. Doesn’t it sound familiar?

And this is a vignette from a Philip K. Dick novel, a chapter called “Deputy Florida Man.”

And if you give the religions exotic names, this clear conflict is seen in many a novel placed in other worlds.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:58 am

What Rankles About the NFL’s Paid Role in “Salutes to the Heroes”

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Excellent column and reader comment in James Fallows’s Atlantic blog:

Pro football looms large in modern America’s consciousness in all ways, but notably so in what we’ve been discussing as Chickenhawk Paid Patriotism. Ben Fountain’s wonderful novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, builds its whole plot around a halftime “Salute to the Heroes!” at a nationally televised Dallas Cowboys game. And NFL teams were prominently featured in the Sen. McCain/Sen. Flake exposé on the Pentagon’s underwriting of pro-veteran and pro-troop displays at sports events.

A reader writes about why he objects in particular to the NFL:

Just wanted to say it has long bothered me that the National Football League foists “tributes to the military” during its games.  (Other leagues might bother me just as much, but I pay less attention to them).

I can think of no demographic group in the United States that has a lower rate of service in the US military than the players, owners, and coaches of the National Football League.  For members of the NFL, it is virtually always “my career over my country.”  I am almost 60 years old, and a lifelong fan of football, but of the  thousands of players who have played in the NFL in my lifetime, I can recall only two players — Roger Staubach and Pat Tillman — who have served in the US military.  [JF note: I am sure there are more, but like the reader I don’t immediately think of them. I checked the NFL’s site for players/coaches with military connections. The list is here, and it’s mainly “father served in Vietnam,” “brother is in the Reserves” etc.]

Plus, the NFL as an organization does all it can to avoid paying taxes to support those who do serve.  And its owners generally have their nose in the trough to gather up as many tax dollars as they can to subsidize their profit-seeking enterprises.

In terms of real military service and support, it would be difficult to find a more concentrated cluster of physical and economic wimpiness than the National Football League.

On the more substantive questions of the real respect and accomodation for troops, veterans, and their families, a reader with a military background writes: . . .

Continue reading. Definitely read the letter from the veteran.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2015 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Business, Military


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