How corruption paved the way for the rise of ISIS and the failure of Iraq

Ken Silverstein writes: It is hard to overstate the devastating role that corruption has played in the failure of Iraq and the rise of ISIS. According to a report last March by the Iraqi parliament’s auditing committee, the country’s defense ministry has spent $150 billion on weapons during the past decade — but acquired only $20 billion worth of arms. Much of the equipment it did obtain was useless, 1970s-era matériel from former Soviet bloc states that was invoiced at up to four times its actual value. Late last year, well-placed sources tell me, the Pentagon delivered a shipment of new weapons to the Iraqi government, including .50-caliber sniper rifles, which were supposed to be sent to Sunni fighters in Anbar Province. Instead, corrupt officials in the Iraqi ministries of interior and defense sold the arms to ISIS, which is using them to kill Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

“The Kurds are still using equipment we gave them in 2003,” says a former CIA official who spends a good deal of time in Iraq. “They’re forced to buy ammo and weapons that the U.S. government gives to Baghdad from corrupt Iraqi government officials.”

Weapons aren’t the only target for corruption. When it comes to the vast sums of money that have flowed into Iraq for reconstruction and economic development, officials at every level of government have been more focused on lining their own pockets than rebuilding their ruined country. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. scrambled jets to protect its ‘advisers’ in Syria

AFP reports: The US-led coalition scrambled fighters to protect US advisers working with Kurdish forces after Syrian regime jets bombed the area, in the latest escalation of Syria’s bloody conflict, the Pentagon said.

The air strikes took place on Thursday, conducted by two Syrian SU-24 attack planes targeting Kurdish forces undergoing training with US special operations advisers around the northeastern city of Hasakeh, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

The coalition scrambled its own jets to the area in a bid to intercept the Syrian jets, but the regime planes had left by the time they arrived. [Continue reading…]

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Inside the real U.S. ground war on ISIS

Mike Giglio reports: The Black Hawk helicopter pushed into ISIS territory through the pre-dawn sky. Joshua Wheeler, a veteran master sergeant with US special operations, was taking his men deep behind enemy lines. As the chopper descended on the ISIS stronghold of Hawija in northern Iraq, back in Washington, US president Barack Obama, who had been notified of the mission, waited for word of its fate.

Wheeler and his team were at the forefront of the hidden war US special operations troops are waging against ISIS. With him in the chopper were fellow members of the US Army’s elite Delta Force and some of the local commandos they had trained. Decked in desert camouflage and equipped with high-tech automatic weapons and night vision, the US and local soldiers looked almost identical.

Their mission, carried out on Oct. 22, was more dangerous than most. It called for the men to infiltrate a guarded compound that ISIS had converted into a prison and rescue dozens of men who, according to intelligence reports, were scheduled to be executed that day.

ISIS militants began firing on the helicopter as it lowered toward the compound. Wheeler shot back from the bay, recalled one of the local soldiers who was beside him, a captain with a specialized Kurdish force called the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), which is run by the security council of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Then — as Wheeler often did, his Kurdish partners said — he led the way.

Wheeler hit the ground first, said the 29-year-old captain, the ranking CTU officer on the chopper. Gunshots and calls of “Allahu Akbar” rang out as the militants tried to repel the commandos, firing with everything they had. The captain said he and Wheeler advanced together, “fighting side by side.”

By the time the operation was over three hours later, around 20 ISIS militants had been killed and 69 prisoners had been saved. And Wheeler was dead, struck down by an ISIS bullet, making him the first US service member to lose his life in the ISIS fight.

When his death became public, US officials painted the combat role of the US commandos on the mission as an anomaly. The Pentagon’s press secretary called it “a unique circumstance.” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wheeler’s engagement with the enemy “wasn’t part of the plan.” These comments pushed Wheeler’s death into line with the narrative Obama had presented to the public when the new fight began. “I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said in August 2014 as US airstrikes against ISIS began. “And so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”

But the Kurdish soldiers who worked with Wheeler tell a different story. They say that Wheeler intended from the start to be up front in the operation — and that elite US troops like him often lead the charge against ISIS on the ground. [Continue reading…]

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Aid worker in Aleppo says joint U.S.-Russian airstrikes would be ‘diabolical’

The Intercept reports: A British aid worker based in rebel-held East Aleppo says that reported plans by the United States and Russia to conduct joint airstrikes against the city are “ludicrous and diabolical,” and, if carried out, would have a disastrous impact on civilians living there.

Tauqir Sharif, 29, speaking to The Intercept from a hospital in Aleppo, says that Russian and Syrian government airstrikes on the city are creating nightmarish conditions for ordinary people. The addition of American forces to the mix would compound the misery of civilians, while giving the impression that the United States was openly siding with the Assad government.

Last week an alliance of Syrian rebels and Islamist groups broke the longstanding government siege on the eastern half of the city. Sharif says that since then, the frequency and intensity of airstrikes has increased. “There has been an almost constant bombardment from strikes because the regime is very, very angry that a corridor has been opened into the city from the south,” Sharif says. “The siege in some ways is still in place because it is very difficult to bring aid in due to constant airstrikes on vehicles driving the routes to the city.” [Continue reading…]

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The specter of an accidental China-U. S. war

The Wall Street Journal reports: The last time America and China went to war—in Korea in 1950—they fought each other to a standstill.

Later that decade, as the Cold War ramped up, they came close to blows again; the Eisenhower administration repeatedly threatened “Red China” with nuclear devastation as tensions bubbled over Taiwan.

Today, given the astronomical stakes at play, many assume that armed conflict between the two giants is out of the question. They are each other’s largest trading partner. Military confrontation wouldn’t only threaten these huge flows but also student exchanges, scientific collaboration, joint technical projects and the myriad other ways in which the fates and fortunes of the world’s two largest economies and their peoples are inextricably linked.

Yet, as China flexes its muscles in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the risks of an inadvertent clash on the water or in the air are growing by the day.

A new RAND Corp study says that a Sino-U. S. war as a result of such a crisis “cannot be considered implausible.”

Violence could ignite quickly, the report warns. That is because each side has deployed precision-guided munitions, as well as cyber and space technologies, able to inflict devastating damage on the other’s military assets, including Chinese land-based missile batteries and American aircraft carriers. Thus they have a strong incentive to launch massive strikes first as part of a “use it or lose it” calculation. [Continue reading…]

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End the first-use policy for nuclear weapons

James E. Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the United States Strategic Command, and Bruce G. Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer, write: Throughout the nuclear age, presidents have allowed their senior commanders to plan for the first use of nuclear weapons. Contingency plans were drawn to initiate first strikes to repel an invasion of Europe by the Soviet Union, defeat China and North Korea, take out chemical and biological weapons and conduct other missions.

After the end of the Cold War, which coincided with revolutionary advances in our nonnuclear military capacities, the range of these missions steadily narrowed to the point where nuclear weapons today no longer serve any purpose beyond deterring the first use of such weapons by our adversaries. Our nonnuclear strength, including economic and diplomatic power, our alliances, our conventional and cyber weaponry and our technological advantages, constitute a global military juggernaut unmatched in history. The United States simply does not need nuclear weapons to defend its own and its allies’ vital interests, as long as our adversaries refrain from their use.

Using nuclear weapons first against Russia and China would endanger our and our allies’ very survival by encouraging full-scale retaliation. Any first use against lesser threats, such as countries or terrorist groups with chemical and biological weapons, would be gratuitous; there are alternative means of countering those threats. Such use against North Korea would be likely to result in the blanketing of Japan and possibly South Korea with deadly radioactive fallout.

But beyond reducing those dangers, ruling out first use would also bring myriad benefits. To start, it would reduce the risk of a first strike against us during global crises. Leaders of other countries would be calmed by the knowledge that the United States viewed its own weapons as deterrents to nuclear warfare, not as tools of aggression. [Continue reading…]

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Serving in the military doesn’t make you special

Rosa Brooks writes: A strange thing happened when I married a soldier. Whenever I mentioned my husband’s occupation, my subsequent words, whether controversial or trite, would be greeted with the wide eyes and reverential nods Americans now reflexively offer members of the military community. Sometimes I’d even get an awkward, earnest “Thank you for your service,” or “That must be so hard.”

Our worshipful national attitude toward the military has been on full display during this presidential campaign season, and both major parties have been eager to exploit it. The Republicans trotted out retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to tell Americans they should vote for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. The Democrats countered with retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who urged Americans to do the opposite.

Then came the Gold Star family episode. Trump has spent the entire campaign season insulting one group after another – Women! Immigrants! Democrats! Muslims! African Americans! – without apparent consequence. But when he spoke slightingly about the parents of a Muslim American Army officer killed in Iraq, he instantly found himself on the receiving end of bipartisan public condemnation.

To GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump’s comments were “beyond the pale”; to former Republican contender Jeb Bush, they were “so incredibly disrespectful of a family that endured the ultimate sacrifice for our country.” A coalition of military support and advocacy groups signed an open letter calling on Trump to apologize, declaring, “Nothing is more sacred or honored than our Gold Star parents.” “We work in a sacred space,” explained one of the signatories. A Gold Star family is “a sacred family,” added another.

This is the language of theology, not civics. And while only someone with a heart of stone could belittle the grief of parents who have lost a child, our national sanctification of the military makes me deeply uneasy. [Continue reading…]

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45,000 ISIS fighters killed in past two years, says U.S. general

AFP reports: About 45,000 militants have been killed in Iraq and Syria since the US-led operation to defeat the ISIS group began two years ago, a top general said Wednesday.

“We estimate that over the past 11 months, we’ve killed about 25,000 enemy fighters. When you add that to the 20,000 estimated killed (previously), that’s 45,000 enemy (fighters) taken off the battlefield,” said Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, who commands the US-led coalition campaign against ISIS.

MacFarland said estimates for the overall remaining strength of ISIS vary from about 15,000 to 30,000 but said the jihadists are having increasing difficulties replenishing their ranks. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. Special Operations troops aiding Libyan forces in major battle against ISIS

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Special Operations forces are providing direct, on-the-ground support for the first time to fighters battling the Islamic State in Libya, U.S. and Libyan officials said, coordinating American airstrikes and providing intelligence information in an effort to oust the group from a militant stronghold.

The positioning of a small number of elite U.S. personnel, operating alongside British troops, in the coastal city of Sirte deepens the involvement of Western nations against the Islamic State’s most powerful affiliate.

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a mission that has not been announced publicly, said the American troops were operating out of a joint operations center on the city’s outskirts and that their role was limited to supporting forces loyal to the country’s fragile unity government. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military intelligence contractors being hired to operate in Syria

The Daily Beast reports: Every day at 5 p.m., the Pentagon releases a list of that day’s contracts worth more than $7 million. On July 27, buried in the daily email was an eye-catching detail: Military contractors would be working inside Syria alongside the roughly 300 U.S. troops already deployed there.

This appears to be the first time the Pentagon has publicly acknowledged that private contractors are also playing a role in the fight against the so-called Islamic State inside Syria, and it’s one more signal that the U.S. military is deepening its involvement in the fate of the country.

The contract announcement said Six3 Intelligence Solutions — a private intelligence company recently acquired by CACI International — won a $10 million no-bid Army contract to provide “intelligence analysis services.” According to the Pentagon, the work will be completed over the next year in Germany, Italy and, most notably, Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Obama prepares to boost U.S. cyberwarfare capabilities

Reuters reports: The Obama administration is preparing to elevate the stature of the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, signaling more emphasis on developing cyber weapons to deter attacks, punish intruders into U.S. networks and tackle adversaries such as Islamic State, current and former officials told Reuters.

Under the plan being considered at the White House, the officials said, U.S. Cyber Command would become what the military calls a “unified command” equal to combat branches of the military such as the Central and Pacific Commands.

Cyber Command would be separated from the National Security Agency, a spy agency responsible for electronic eavesdropping, the officials said. That would give Cyber Command leaders a larger voice in arguing for the use of both offensive and defensive cyber tools in future conflicts. [Continue reading…]

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Rosa Brooks examines war’s expanding boundaries

In a review of Rosa Brooks’ new book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, Harold Evans writes: Is Rosa Brooks psychic? Her book had gone to press before the killings of July 2016 broke upon us. Did she have a crystal ball to yield an image of the ambush in Dallas in which, from a sniper’s vantage point, a veteran of the ­Afghan war in body armor machine-gunned 12 policemen, killing five? Or of the military bomb squad robot that ended the terror without the police risking more lives? Or of the ambush in Baton Rouge by a veteran who shot three policemen to death? Or of another loner in Orlando, Fla., who was able to walk into a gun shop to buy what Army Special Ops calls a “Black Mamba”? That’s a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle capable of firing 24 bullets in nine seconds, advertised by its makers as “an innovative weapon system built around a battle-proven core.” Forty-nine people died innovatively in the ­battle-proven core of the Pulse nightclub.

All these elements of the infiltration of military weapons and methods into American life are within the broad compass of Brooks’s perceptive book, “How Everything ­Became War and the Military Became Everything.” She has seen the paradoxical effects of the inflation of metaphor on law and institutions: how the police have become more like the military, and how soldiers, in nation-building efforts, have become more like police (and farmers); how police forces have bought hundreds of armored cars from the Pentagon for “the war on terror”; how “the war on drugs” has incarcerated more than one million Americans; how large cities now have SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams. And she has seen how a quiet word in a drone command center can end the life of a young terror suspect thousands of miles away.

In impressive and often fascinating detail, she documents that the boundaries between war and peace have grown so hazy as to undermine hard-won ­global gains in human rights and the rule of law. [Continue reading…]

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