U.S. military chiefs respond to Trump’s decisions with respectful disobedience

Phillip Carter writes: In a dizzying series of tweets and news stories on Monday, the Pentagon appeared to simultaneously embrace transgender recruits while the Trump administration was losing its bid in court to deny their entry into the service. Once the dust settled, it became clear that, for now, the slow policy change on transgender service that began under President Obama will continue under President Trump. Transgender people who want to serve their country in uniform may enlist starting on Jan. 1; those now serving can continue, with appropriate support from the military’s medical and personnel systems. Far from being a military coup, this was merely a case of the Pentagon following existing law while the courts haggle over what exactly the law is.

That fact may itself be startling at a time when senior administration officials seem more willing to unlawfully promote their boss—or misuse their offices—than follow the law. The Pentagon chiefs’ response to the transgender litigation illustrates how they differ from other senior officials, for better or worse. In response to Trump, the military’s leadership has improvised a new norm of civil-military relations: something in between a yes and a no that doesn’t amount to insubordination but does help modulate Trump’s excesses.

Although civilian Cabinet officials, generals, and admirals are all “Officers of the United States” under the Constitution, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, they have very different traditions of service. Over more than 240 years, but especially since World War II, the military has evolved into a profession that puts a premium on apolitical service to presidents of both parties. Senior military officers serve tours in key positions that are staggered so that they transcend administration boundaries. Senior officers and junior troops alike are bound by military justice provisions and regulations that sharply curtail their political activity. By rule, custom, and inclination, today’s military leaders shun direct involvement in partisan politics, such as standing on stage during rallies, even at the request of their commander in chief. Those officers who do politick for the boss—like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster writing a controversial op-ed supporting Trump’s “America First” policy—stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule. [Continue reading…]

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Inside the botched raid that left four U.S. soldiers dead in Niger

BuzzFeed reports: The mission that resulted in the death of eight soldiers — including four Americans — in a firefight with Islamist militants in Niger earlier this year was the result of reckless behavior by US Special Forces in Africa, according to insiders and officials with knowledge of the operation.

The deaths came as a result of a poorly executed mission intended to gather information about three senior ISIS militants operating in isolated territory on the border between Niger and neighboring Mali.

The US-led mission reached its target destination — BuzzFeed News can reveal for the first time that it was a militant camp across the porous border in Mali — on Oct. 3 and was returning back to base the following day when they were attacked, according to a senior ranking Nigerien official. But insiders say the fatalities in the remote village of Tongo Tongo were likely avoidable had the mission been better planned, although it is unclear whether key decisions were made by soldiers or their commanders back at base. Officials warn of the risks of further such operations just as the Trump administration is putting more US boots on the ground through the little-known Special Operations Command, Africa program (Socafrica).

A Nigerien general, two senior military officials, and an official from the Nigerien government’s anti-terrorist unit spoke about the mission to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak with the press.

In visits to “red zone” areas, deemed out of bounds by US and other foreign embassies, and high-level interviews, locals and senior officials told BuzzFeed News that the worst military fiasco under the Trump administration came after US soldiers rushed into a hornet’s nest of militants with insufficient intelligence, while a series of “negligent” decisions during the operation handed an accidental victory to an ISIS offshoot. The incident highlights the consequences of the US prizing firepower over intelligence-gathering, even in militant-controlled terrain where local military partners are on the backfoot. And it comes as Special Force troops are being drawn deeper into shadow wars against militant Islamists on the continent — wars that have no military solution, according to those mired within them. [Continue reading…]

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America’s uncritical admiration for its generals

Suzanne Garment writes: Trump came to office promising a return to American strength after years of what he calls failed foreign policy by an effete establishment. But Trump isn’t exactly an embodiment of American toughness: He’s an overweight and out of shape 71-year-old man who escaped military service by claiming bone spurs and has said he fought his personal Vietnam on the battlefield of sexually transmitted diseases.

You can see why he’d want alpha males around — not so much to wage war as because he seeks personal proximity to masculine winners. The generals lend Trump masculinity by association.

Yet Trump’s delight in proximate alpha males presents him with a dilemma because he also clearly enjoys dominating others and has a keen — critics might say pathological — sense of threats to his dominance. This makes him intolerant of alpha male behavior.

Mattis succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made the cover of Time Magazine, Trump reportedly complained to staffers, according to The New York Times. Several months later, the advisor was gone. Bannon’s return to Breitbart allowed Trump to make him a confidant again, without admitting that Bannon might be pulling the strings of power. But Breitbart’s current critique of Trump’s strategy in the Russia probe shows the unreliability of such a relationship.

Herein lies the beauty of generals. Despite their alpha male-ness, generals obey the code governing the American military: They are explicitly constrained by the Constitution’s provisions that civilians control the military. Even after serving, generals respect these constraints. As The Washington Post recently observed about Mattis, he succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

This combination of masculinity and deference isn’t an oxymoron but an amalgam that perfectly suits Trump’s needs.

If you’re Trump, it’s a treasure you don’t easily discard. No wonder Trump keeps calling them “my generals” in the same proprietary way he’s called his wife, Melania, “my supermodel.”

But will this formula allow the generals to be the “adults in the room,” restraining a president who lacks impulse control?

Don’t count on it. We’re not talking Dwight D. Eisenhower or George C. Marshall here, let alone Colin Powell or Alexander Haig — just your basic war heroes. When generals have to perform beyond their political competence, they’re as fallible as anybody else. [Continue reading…]

As every marketing executive knows, Americans are suckers for attractive packaging and strong branding.

A sharply cut uniform and a few gleaming stars, present or past, is all it takes to mask the frail content of men who clearly don’t fully embody the qualities they are meant to represent.

Supposedly, the uniform is the ultimate representation of patriotism — the willingness to die for ones country — yet who in all seriousness can pretend that serving as a pillar, or to be more precise as a crutch, in this administration is an act of patriotism?

These generals, just like all their non-military cohorts were to some degree enticed by the allure of power and the hook of their own vanity around which no doubt they each embellished some noble narrative to rationalize their prostitution to the ultimate pimp.

Service with honor is one thing and obedience to Donald Trump is another, but there is no way to marry the two.

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Pentagon evaluating U.S. West Coast missile ‘defense’ sites

Reuters reports: The U.S. agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the West Coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defenses, two Congressmen said on Saturday, as North Korea’s missile tests raise concerns about how the United States would defend itself from an attack.

West Coast defenses would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack. [Continue reading…]

In July Reuters reported: A ground-based missile defense system, THAAD is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

John Schilling, a contributor to 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, downplayed the idea that THAAD might be seen as a backup to hit a longer range ICBM, saying that THAAD was not designed to hit missiles traveling so fast.

“To engage an ICBM with THAAD would be like asking a high school baseball player to hit a fastball from a major-league pitcher – literally out of his league,” Schilling said. [Continue reading…]

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Providing South Korea with its own capabilities of nuclear deterrence may instead increase the risk of nuclear war

Richard Sokolsky writes: South Korean hawks have marshalled several arguments to defend their view that the US should deploy nuclear weapons on their territory and even allow the South to become a nuclear weapons state. According to this perspective, the North Koreans are unlikely to accept denuclearization unless they face considerably more pressure, and a more robust US and South Korean nuclear presence would provide badly needed leverage to force the North to bargain away its own nuclear capabilities. In addition, US TNW in South Korea or a nuclear-armed South Korea would counterbalance North Korean nuclear weapons and thus deter the North from starting a nuclear war or trying to use its unilateral nuclear advantage to coerce political concessions from the South. Moreover, confronting China with the prospect of a nuclear South Korea (and Japan) and an increased risk of nuclear escalation might be enough to scare China into using its leverage to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Although these arguments have gained some traction among the South Korean public, there are compelling reasons for the US to refuse redeployment of TNW in South Korea and reject its development of nuclear weapons. First, the existing US nuclear umbrella, especially sea-based weapons that roam the waters of the Western Pacific, and the presence of US forces in South Korea provide ample deterrent to the use of North Korean nuclear weapons. If these capabilities do not deter the North from starting a war, basing a few more weapons on South Korean soil will not change this calculus.

A US decision to redeploy TNW would also raise the thorny issue of operational decision-making and command authority over the use of these weapons. The South Korean government, like the governments of NATO countries where nuclear weapons are based, might prefer command arrangements with shared authority (in NATO, parlance “dual key” arrangements exist that require positive actions by both the US and basing countries to order nuclear release.) However, the commander of US Forces Korea would almost certainly want sole authority to employ these weapons. And because of the compressed time for decision-making due to the short distances involved, he might be given pre-delegated launch authority in certain conditions. Under these circumstances, and especially because both US and North Korean nuclear weapons would be highly vulnerable to a pre-emptive first strike, there would be strong incentives on both sides to use these weapons first or risk losing them. Thus, the re-introduction of US TNW in South Korea, while aimed at deterring a North Korean nuclear attack, could actually increase the risk of a nuclear exchange. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea’s latest missile launch appears to put U.S. capital in range

The Washington Post reports: North Korea launched what appears to be another intercontinental ballistic missile, the Pentagon said Tuesday, with experts calculating that the U.S. capital is now technically within Kim Jong Un’s reach.

The launch, the first in more than two months, is a sign that the North Korean leader is pressing ahead with his nation’s stated goal of being able to strike the United States’ mainland and is not caving in to the Trump administration’s warnings. The missile logged a longer flight time than any of its predecessors.

“We will take care of it,” President Trump told reporters at the White House after the launch. He called it a “situation we will handle.”

Trump has repeatedly said that military options are on the table for dealing with North Korea, suggesting that time has run out for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear problem.

A growing chorus of voices in Washington is calling for serious consideration of military action against North Korea, although this is strongly opposed by South Korea, where the Seoul metropolitan region — home to 25 million people — is within the range of North Korean artillery.

And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that “diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now.” He added: “The United States remains committed to finding a peaceful path to denuclearization and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea.”

The missile, which launched early Wednesday local time, traveled some 620 miles and reached a height of about 2,800 miles before landing off the coast of Japan and flew for a total of 54 minutes. This suggested that it had been fired almost straight up — on a lofted trajectory similar to North Korea’s two previous intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

The Pentagon said that the projectile did indeed appear to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The latest missile “went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said. He described the launch as part of an effort to build missiles “that can threaten everywhere in the world.”

If it had flown on a standard trajectory designed to maximize its reach, this missile would have a range of more than 8,100 miles, said David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. [Continue reading…]

David Wright adds: We do not know how heavy a payload this missile carried, but given the increase in range it seems likely that it carried a very light mock warhead. If true, that means it would be incapable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier. [Continue reading…]

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Trump tells Turkish president U.S. will stop arming Kurds in Syria

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration is preparing to stop supplying weapons to ethnic Kurdish fighters in Syria, the White House acknowledged Friday, a move reflecting renewed focus on furthering a political settlement to the civil war there and countering Iranian influence now that the Islamic State caliphate is largely vanquished.

Word of the policy change long sought by neighboring Turkey came Friday, not from Washington but from Ankara. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at a news conference that President Trump had pledged to stop arming the fighters, known as the YPG, during a phone call between Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Mr. Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions, and that the YPG won’t be given arms and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago,” the Associated Press quoted Cavusoglu as saying to reporters following the call.

Initially, the administration’s national security team appeared surprised by the Turks’ announcement and uncertain what to say about it. The State Department referred questions to the White House, and hours passed with no confirmation from the National Security Council.

In late afternoon, the White House confirmed the weapons cutoff would happen, though it provided no details on timing.

“Consistent with our previous policy, President Trump also informed President Erdogan of pending adjustments to the military support provided to our partners on the ground in Syria, now that the battle of Raqqa is complete and we are progressing into a stabilization phase to ensure that ISIS cannot return,” the White House statement said, referring to the recent liberation of the Syrian city that had served as the Islamic State’s de facto capital.

The decision to stop arming the Kurds will remove a major source of tension between the United States and Turkey, a NATO ally. But it is likely to further anger the Kurds, who already feel betrayed since the United States told them to hand over hard-won territory to the Syrian government. [Continue reading…]

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Russian jet makes ‘unsafe’ intercept of U.S. Navy aircraft

CNN reports: A Russian Su-30 fighter jet made an “unsafe” intercept of a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft Saturday while it was flying over the Black Sea, the Pentagon told CNN Monday.

“The US aircraft was operating in international airspace and did nothing to provoke this Russian behavior,” Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, told CNN.

The Russian jet’s actions were deemed unsafe because the aircraft crossed in front of the US plane from right to left while engaging its afterburners, forcing the P-8 to enter its jet wash, an action that caused the US plane to experience “a 15-degree roll and violent turbulence,” according to Baldanza.

Baldanza added that the Russian fighter jet came as close as 50 feet from the US aircraft. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is slowly destroying America’s national security agencies

Jeffrey H Smith writes: The Guardian has reported that John Le Carre, the famed British spy novelist, recently said of the Trump presidency: “something truly, seriously bad is happening and we have to be awake to that.” Chillingly, he expressed alarm about the “toxic” parallels between the rise of President Trump and hard right regimes in Poland and Hungary and the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

Mr Le Carre may be overstating the risk of rising fascism but he is surely right to warn that many of Mr Trump’s early actions and words challenge fundamental tenets of democracy.

These challenges include his assertion that the media is “the enemy of the people”, that news he doesn’t like is “fake news,” that there were “good people” among the neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, and that the Senate should change its rules to abolish the requirement for 60 votes to end a filibuster, thus eliminating the single most important protection of minority interests in our system of government.

At the same time, the Trump administration has mounted a systematic effort to “deconstruct the ‘administrative state’” as his recently departed chief strategist, Steven Bannon, was fond of saying.

Much of this effort has been focused on the regulatory agencies rather than the national security agencies. But make no mistake; the president’s words and actions are deconstructing those agencies with perhaps even greater consequences. [Continue reading…]

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ICC prosecutor seeks probe into war crimes allegations against U.S. military, CIA in Afghanistan

The Washington Post reports: The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday formally requested authorization to investigate the U.S. military and CIA for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian jurist who has been the ICC’s chief prosecutor since 2012, confirmed earlier suspicions that the United States would be implicated in the probe. The decision marks the first time the ICC under Bensouda will investigate American forces and operatives.

In a statement, Bensouda clarified that alleged “war crimes by members of the United States armed forces” and “secret detention facilities in Afghanistan” used by the CIA justified the court’s investigation. Earlier this month, she had announced that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed” in Afghanistan but had declined to specify by whom.

On Monday, she named the U.S. armed forces and the CIA among a roster of probe targets that also included the Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani network, as well as the Afghan National Security Forces. [Continue reading…]

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After the liberation of Mosul, an orgy of killing

The intrepid, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, writes: One hot and sticky evening in July, in the dying days of the battle for Mosul, a group of Iraqi army officers sat for dinner in a requisitioned civilian house not far from the ruins of the mosque where, three years earlier, the leader of Islamic State had announced the creation of a new caliphate.

At the head of the table sat the commander, large and burly, flanked by his two majors. The rest of the officers were seated according to rank, with the youngest officers placed at the far end. The commander, who was trying to lose weight, had banned his cook from serving meat at mealtimes, but tonight was a special occasion. The day before, his unit had liberated another block of streets in the Old City without suffering any casualties. In celebration, a feast of bread soaked in okra stew, and roasted meat shredded over heaps of rice flavoured with nuts and raisins, was laid out on a white plastic table.

Over the previous eight months, since the commander and his men had started fighting in Mosul, the caliphate had shrunk to a tiny sliver of the Old City squeezed between the River Tigris and advancing columns of army and police forces. Thousands of Isis fighters, who captured the city in 2014, were now trapped, living without running water or electricity, with dwindling supplies of food and medicine, being bombed day and night by US drones and jets. Caught in the siege with them were thousands of civilians. The few who were managing to escape came out filthy, emaciated and crazed by thirst and the constant bombing.

The officers at dinner that night were all veterans of the war against Isis, but nothing in their long years of fighting compared to what they had experienced over the past few weeks in Mosul, one of the fiercest urban battles since the second world war. They fought in narrow alleyways, old stone houses and dense networks of tunnels and basements. Their advance was sometimes measured in metres, and their casualties were mounting.

“We have one more battle and Mosul will be fully liberated, inshallah,” the commander said as he tucked into his meal. A captain who was still limping from a recent injury said: “Our fathers used to talk about the Iran-Iraq war as the ‘long war’. That one lasted for eight years. Well, soon this war against Isis will surpass it.”

Laughing, the commander asked the officers to open the military maps on their phones and proceeded to explain the plan for the next day’s advance. “You jump into this building, make a fire base here and here at street corners,” he said, giving them the coordinates of the street. “You advance towards this high building. Your flanks will be secured by other units. Once you take the building, you will dominate the whole area with your snipers and we can reach the river in few hours.”

Before leaving, a wiry junior officer named Taha asked the commander: “Sir, what do we do with the two detainees?” The prisoners had crossed the frontlines the night before and taken shelter with a civilian who denounced them to the army. “We tried to hand them to the intelligence service, but they refused to take them.”

“Yes,” the commander said, “they told me: ‘You deal with detainees from your end. We can’t hold them because of human rights and Red Cross inspections.’”

“We worked on them all night,” said the junior officer. “One eventually confessed that he was with Daesh [Isis], but he said he left them two months ago.” At that, everyone in the room laughed. “The other,” the junior officer continued, “we beat him hard but he didn’t confess, so I think he must be innocent.”

“Just finish them,” said a major.

“Release one and finish the other,” the commander said.

The sentence issued, now came the question of who would be bestowed with the honour of executing an Isis fighter. Kifah, a tall and lean soldier, stood next the table and asked to be given the prisoner. But the junior officer suggested that they gift the prisoner to a captain who was still grieving the loss of his brother, killed by Isis a month ago. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. now has its largest military presence in war-torn Somalia since ‘Black Hawk Down’ disaster

Politico reports: The number of U.S. military forces in Somalia has more than doubled this year to over 500 people as the Pentagon has quietly posted hundreds of additional special operations personnel to advise local forces in pockets of Islamic militants around the country, according to current and former senior military officials.

It is the largest American military contingent in the war-torn nation since the infamous 1993 “Black Hawk Down” battle, when 18 U.S. soldiers died. It is also the latest example of how the Pentagon’s operations in Africa have expanded with greater authority provided to field commanders.

The growing Somalia mission, coming more fully to light after four American troops were killed in an ambush in Niger last month, also includes two new military headquarters in the capital of Mogadishu and stepped-up airstrikes. It’s driven by a major shift in strategy from primarily relying on targeted strikes against terrorists to advising and supporting Somali troops in the field, the officials said. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s war on diplomacy

In an editorial, the New York Times says: American diplomats in recent decades have helped bring about an Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the peaceful fall of the Soviet Union, the unification of Germany, the end of the Bosnia war and a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. That record testifies to the power and influence of America as well as the skill of secretaries of state and other diplomats who worked to advance international stability and the national interest.

That isn’t the way the Trump administration approaches the world. Rex Tillerson is widely seen as ill suited to diplomatic leadership and determined to dismantle his own department, which has been central to America’s national security since Thomas Jefferson ran the place. The department is being undermined by budget cuts, a failure to fill top jobs, an erratic president and a secretary who has called reorganization, rather than policy, his most important priority. Given the aggressive behavior of North Korea, Russia and China in a world that seems shakier by the day, the timing could hardly be worse.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is going gangbusters. The State Department’s budget has been targeted with a 31 percent cut, to $37.6 billion, but Congress is moving to raise the Pentagon’s spending level roughly 15 percent from the $549 billion allowed under the Budget Control Act. Aircraft carriers and tanks are obviously much more expensive than diplomatic pouches and airline tickets. Even so, such lopsided budget priorities could favor military solutions over diplomacy and development.

In recent weeks, alarming new data from the American Foreign Service Association, the union representing diplomats, shows just how far Mr. Tillerson has taken things. Since January, more than 100 senior foreign service officers have left the department, depleting the ranks of career ambassadors, the diplomatic equivalent of four-star generals, by 60 percent, while the number of career ministers (akin to three-star generals) is down 42 percent. The hiring of new foreign service officers has slowed almost to a halt, and the number of young people seeking to take the foreign service exam has fallen to less than half the 17,000 who registered two years ago. [Continue reading…]

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Top general says he would resist ‘illegal’ nuke order from Trump

CBS News reports: The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be “illegal,” saying he would hope to find another solution.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday that he has given a lot of thought to what he would say if a president ordered a strike he considered unlawful.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

Hyten explained the process that would follow such a command. As head of STRATCOM, Hyten is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” Hyten added. “And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.” [Continue reading…]

The question, as to whether a presidential order to launch a nuclear strike would be legal, is a red herring. The real question Hyten should have addressed is what he will do if he receives an order that is legal but nevertheless unconscionable.

Does he accept that there might be circumstances in which his moral responsibility might be to refuse to follow a legal order?

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Under the gaze of the U.S. and British-led coalition, ISIS fighters were provided safe passage out of Raqqa

BBC News reports: Lorry driver Abu Fawzi thought it was going to be just another job.

He drives an 18-wheeler across some of the most dangerous territory in northern Syria. Bombed-out bridges, deep desert sand, even government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters don’t stand in the way of a delivery.

But this time, his load was to be human cargo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS, wanted him to lead a convoy that would take hundreds of families displaced by fighting from the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates river to a camp further north.

The job would take six hours, maximum – or at least that’s what he was told.

But when he and his fellow drivers assembled their convoy early on 12 October, they realised they had been lied to.

Instead, it would take three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo – hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition.

Abu Fawzi and dozens of other drivers were promised thousands of dollars for the task but it had to remain secret.

The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared.

But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.

Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal. [Continue reading…]

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Marine drill instructor sentenced to 10 years in prison for targeting Muslim recruits

The Washington Post reports: A military jury sentenced a former Marine drill instructor to 10 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge from the service Friday for subjecting Muslim recruits to verbal and physical abuse, including one young man who committed suicide after an especially troubling encounter.

The eight-member jury issued its sentence a day after it found Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix guilty of maltreatment for terrorizing three Muslim men at the Marines’ storied boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. Felix also will have his rank reduced to private.

Prosecutors had asked for a seven-year prison term. Felix faced a maximum possible sentence of more than 21 years. It’s not immediately clear why the jury elected to exceed what the prosecution had requested.

The military justice system requires automatic appeals for all prison sentences consisting of a year or more and all dishonorable discharges. Felix will be held at Camp Lejeune’s brig until his expected transfer to a larger prison.

One of Felix’s victims, 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui, died at Parris Island last year when he fell 40 feet onto a concrete stairwell. Prosecutors said Felix forced Siddiqui to run back and forth in the recruits’ squad bay and then slapped him in the face just before the recruit suddenly sprinted from the room and jumped to his death. Two other Muslim recruits accused Felix of putting them in an industrial clothes dryer and, in one instance, turning it on. [Continue reading…]

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The Texas shooting victims should sue the U.S. government. They’d win

John Culhane writes: The devastation wrought by all-too-regular mass shootings leads to immediate and predictable calls for “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. But what about compensation for the harm suffered? Unfortunately, that is one area in which U.S. law is inadequate, often preventing any kind of redress for the victims.

But that’s not so in the recent case out of Texas. The federal government could be—and should be—on the hook for personal injury and wrongful death damages. The Air Force’s unexplained and appalling failure to enter the shooter’s domestic-violence conviction into a national database that would have prevented him from obtaining a firearm is actionable.

In most cases of death-by-firearms, victims have no practical redress. The shooter, who’s the most obviously culpable actor, is usually either dead or broke. Depending on the facts of a given case, there might be a claim against those who manufactured or sold the weapon used in the killing, but victims would have a better chance against the seller of an ax than against a gun seller. That’s because of the Protection of Legal Commerce in Arms Act, a federal law that, with a few exceptions, rules out claims against those who sell guns and ammunition. So, there’s virtually no accountability anywhere in the system, and victims are left to whatever insurance they might have and to local crime compensation funds, which are typically limited in the amount of money recoverable. Sometimes, there’s also a private, charitable fund for victims of high-profile shootings, most recently including the Las Vegas massacre.

This case, however, is different. Victims—the injured survivors and the family members of those killed—may have a claim against the U.S. government for what seems like the plain negligence, or worse, of whoever failed to enter Texas shooter Devin Patrick Kelley’s name into the federal crime database—a listing that would have made him ineligible to buy a gun. The PLCAA doesn’t protect the government, since it applies to only gun and ammo sellers. So we’re left with the Air Force’s carelessness, which led to the murderer’s ability to purchase and use a weapon he had no right to possess. [Continue reading…]

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The military is reporting almost no domestic abusers to the main gun background check database

The Trace reports: A year before committing Sunday’s mass shooting at a tight-knit church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Devin Kelley walked into a sporting goods store and bought a Ruger assault-style rifle that he should have been banned from owning because of his history of domestic violence. An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Kelley had lawfully bought two more guns that were found in his car after the massacre.

The question that reporters and investigators are now digging into is why he was able to make those purchases.

The answer may lie in differences between how civilian courts and the U.S. military, in which Kelley had previously served, treat domestic violence, and how each submits abusers’ records for gun background checks.

While enlisted in the Air Force, Kelley was convicted by a court martial of charges stemming from an assault on his then-wife and young child in 2012 and sentenced to a year in confinement. The offense was the equivalent of the civilian crime of misdemeanor domestic assault — one of the 12 categories of records that automatically bar someone from legal gun possession.

But the military has no distinct charge for domestic violence, notes Grover Baxley, a former judge advocate general who now practices military law as a civilian. “We see this all the time,” Baxley said. “There is no specific domestic violence article.” Instead, military prosecutors charge abusers with other offenses, like assault. [Continue reading…]

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