U.S. preparing to put nuclear bombers back on 24-hour alert not seen since the Cold War

Defense One reports: The U.S. Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991.

That means the long-dormant concrete pads at the ends of this base’s 11,000-foot runway — dubbed the “Christmas tree” for their angular markings — could once again find several B-52s parked on them, laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment’s notice.

“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview during his six-day tour of Barksdale and other U.S. Air Force bases that support the nuclear mission. “I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.”

Goldfein and other senior defense officials stressed that the alert order had not been given, but that preparations were under way in anticipation that it might come. That decision would be made by Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, or Gen. Lori Robinson, the head of U.S. Northern Command. STRATCOM is in charge of the military’s nuclear forces and NORTHCOM is in charge of defending North America.

Putting the B-52s back on alert is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as the U.S. military responds to a changing geopolitical environment that includes North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal, President Trump’s confrontational approach to Pyongyang, and Russia’s increasingly potent and active armed forces. [Continue reading…]

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John Kelly and the language of the military coup

Masha Gessen writes: Consider this nightmare scenario: a military coup. You don’t have to strain your imagination—all you have to do is watch Thursday’s White House press briefing, in which the chief of staff, John Kelly, defended President Trump’s phone call to a military widow, Myeshia Johnson. The press briefing could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like, for it was in the logic of such a coup that Kelly advanced his four arguments.

Argument 1. Those who criticize the President don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t served in the military. To demonstrate how little lay people know, Kelly provided a long, detailed explanation of what happens when a soldier is killed in battle: the body is wrapped in whatever is handy, flown by helicopter, then packed in ice, then flown again, then repacked, then flown, then embalmed and dressed in uniform with medals, and then flown home. Kelly provided a similar amount of detail about how family members are notified of the death, when, and by whom. He even recommended a film that dramatized the process of transporting the body of a real-life marine, Private First Class Chance Phelps. This was a Trumpian moment, from the phrasing—“a very, very good movie”—to the message. Kelly stressed that Phelps “was killed under my command, right next to me”; in other words, Kelly’s real-life experience was recreated for television, and that, he seemed to think, bolstered his authority.
Fallen soldiers, Kelly said, join “the best one per cent this country produces.” Here, the chief of staff again reminded his audience of its ignorance: “Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of them. But they are the very best this country produces.”

The one-per-cent figure is puzzling. The number of people currently serving in the military, both on active duty and in the reserves, is not even one per cent of all Americans. The number of veterans in the population is far higher: more than seven per cent. But, later in the speech, when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.

The number of Americans killed in all the wars this nation has ever fought is indeed equal to roughly one per cent of all Americans alive today. This makes for questionable math and disturbing logic. It is in totalitarian societies, which demand complete mobilization, that dying for one’s country becomes the ultimate badge of honor. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I learned the names of ordinary soldiers who threw their bodies onto enemy tanks, becoming literal cannon fodder. All of us children had to aspire to the feat of martyrdom. No Soviet general would have dared utter the kind of statement that’s attributed to General George S. Patton: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump trivializes the deaths of four soldiers

In an editorial, the Washington Post says: Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, always relished a challenge. As a child, he drove himself to learn chess; as a teen, he excelled as a wrestler; and as an adult, he joined the Army, where he finished Ranger school and joined the Special Forces. Deployed to Niger, he learned the local dialect.

Before joining the Army, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah “J.W.” Wayne Johnson, 39, owned and operated a successful business. In uniform he became a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, was a good student and talented athlete. When he joined the Army he continued a family military legacy dating to 1812.

Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25, was known to be both determined and playful, as demonstrated by how he commuted to a job at Walmart — removing the front wheel of his bike and becoming known as the “Wheelie King.”

These are the four soldiers who were killed Oct. 4 when their unit was ambushed by Islamist extremists in West Africa. Their lives, their brave service and the sacrifice of their grieving families should be discussed and honored. Instead — thanks to a president with a compulsive need to be the center of attention — their deaths have been trivialized. President Trump reduced condolences to a political competition and treated the grieving families who received them as pawns in a game.

Having failed to publicly acknowledge the deaths for 12 days, Mr. Trump on Monday boasted about reaching out to family members of slain military personnel while falsely accusing his predecessors of not doing so. His whining about how hard the calls are on him — and the apparent hash he made of a conversation in which he allegedly told one widow her husband “must have known what he signed up for” — underscored his cluelessness about being commander in chief.

Mr. Trump then worsened his offense by attempting to exploit the combat death of the son of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he suggested did not receive a condolence call from President Barack Obama. The president ought to have read the eulogy Mr. Kelly delivered for two other Marines four days after his son was killed in Afghanistan. After asking the officer who introduced him, “Please don’t mention my son,” he talked passionately — and sometimes angrily — about the sacrifices of the military. He never mentioned his son, later explaining to The Post’s Greg Jaffe, “The death of my boy simply cannot be made to seem any more tragic than the others.”

Such grace and dignity in the face of unimaginable loss is the trademark of Gold Star families. It was on display in the days after the Niger attack when the families of the four men spoke with pride about their loved ones. “I know if you could ask him, he’d be glad that it was him,” said Staff Sgt. Wright’s brother. “He’d be glad he’s the one that went so somebody else’s son could come home.” Those words, and not Mr. Trump’s, ought to be what we remember.

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Trump told soldier’s widow he knew ‘what he signed up for,’ congresswoman says

NBC News reports: A Florida congresswoman said that the family of a U.S. service member killed in Niger was “astonished” when President Donald Trump suggested in a phone call that the soldier “must’ve known what he signed up for.”

Rep. Frederica Wilson told NBC Miami that she heard the president’s comment to Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, on speaker phone as they traveled together to meet his body on Tuesday.

“He said, ‘But you know he must’ve known what he signed up for,'” the Democrat recounted Trump saying more than once during the call to express his sympathy. According to Wilson, the conversation lasted somewhere from three to five minutes. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-backed force claims capture of ISIS’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa

The Washington Post reports: U.S. backed forces in Syria claimed full control of the Islamic State’s onetime capital of Raqqa on Tuesday, heralding an end to the militants’ presence in their most symbolically important stronghold and bringing closer the likelihood of their complete territorial demise.

Talo Silo, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said that military operations had halted and that members of the joint Kurdish-Arab force were clearing the city of explosive devices and hunting for sleeping cells.

It was still unclear whether some Islamic State pockets remained, but the SDF portrayed the battle for Raqqa as effectively over.

Besieged and severely weakened, dozens of militants had launched a final stand from inside Raqqa’s main hospital and stadium. But hundreds of others surrendered during the final days of the battle after local officials brokered a controversial deal which could see many escape prosecution. [Continue reading…]

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Somalia bombing may have been revenge for botched U.S.-led operation

The Guardian reports: The man who killed more than 300 people with a truck bomb in the centre of Mogadishu on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia’s army whose home town was raided by local troops and US special forces two months ago in a controversial operation in which 10 civilians were killed, officials in Somalia have said.

The death toll from the bombing now stands at more than 300, making it one of the most devastating terrorist attacks anywhere in the world for many years. On Tuesday remains of victims were still being brought out of rubble spread over hundreds of square metres.

Investigators believe the attack on Saturday may in part have been motivated by a desire for revenge for the botched US-led operation in August.

Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack but a member of the cell detained by security forces has told interrogators the group was responsible, one security official told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military to begin drills to evacuate Americans from South Korea

The New York Times reports: The United States military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, as the two allies began a joint naval exercise amid heightened tensions with North Korea.

The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday and is aimed at preparing American “service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,” the United States military said in a statement.

It has been conducting similar noncombatant evacuation exercises for decades, along with other joint military exercises with South Korea. But when tensions escalate with North Korea, as they have recently, such drills draw outsize attention and ignite fear among South Koreans, some of whom take them as a sign that the United States might be preparing for military action against the North.

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly warned that it opposes a military solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis because it could quickly escalate into a full-blown war in which Koreans would suffer the most. [Continue reading…]

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Amid Trump’s ambiguity on North Korea, is the U.S. practicing for war?

The Associated Press reports: White House chief of staff John Kelly said Thursday that North Korea can’t be allowed to develop the ability to strike the U.S. but the threat is “manageable” for now.

Jim Schoff, a former senior Pentagon adviser for East Asia policy, said it doesn’t appear “U.S. policymakers think we’re on the brink of all-out war.”

But he added that doesn’t mean the administration is bluffing or has ruled out some kind of limited strike in response to a North Korean provocation. He said most telling were the repeated B1-B bomber flights, which he said were not intended just to signal U.S. resolve, but to practice making the long flight from the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam where they are based, and “to get a feel for what kind of air defenses North Korea has and how we see them react.”

Trump on Tuesday discussed with military chiefs, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, “a range of options to respond to any form of North Korean aggression or, if necessary, to prevent North Korea from threatening the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” the White House said.

“If we made a decision to strike a few strategic targets in North Korea it could happen very quickly,” said Rob Givens, a former Air Force brigadier general who served as deputy assistant chief of staff for operations of U.S. Forces Korea. He said unless the U.S. decided to undertake a visible military buildup to deter Pyongyang, the public was unlikely to see an attack coming. [Continue reading…]

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Demonstrating his status as a moron, Trump said he wanted to see a tenfold increase in nuclear arsenal

NBC News reports: President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room.

Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the build-up. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

The July 20 meeting was described as a lengthy and sometimes tense review of worldwide U.S. forces and operations. It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a “moron.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump touts military option for North Korea that generals warn would be ‘horrific’

Foreign Policy reports: The United States can’t rule out military options for North Korea. There’s no military solution to North Korea. Diplomacy is our best bet with North Korea. Don’t waste time with diplomacy.

The world is reeling from the contradictory messages President Donald Trump and his administration are churning out on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threat. That includes Trump tweeting on Oct. 1 that Rex Tillerson, his own secretary of state, was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate an end to the North Korean conflict, and tweeting on Oct. 7 that after 25 years of failed talks, “only one thing will work!”

In the midst of the policy whiplash from the top, the Pentagon and State Department are quietly chugging away at the ground level, where the foreign policy of Trump’s Twitter feed is competing with foreign policy of the rest of the U.S. government.

U.S. military leaders, in particular, continue to insist that any engagement with the North Koreans must be led by the country’s diplomats. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea ‘hackers steal U.S.-South Korea war plans’

BBC News reports: Hackers from North Korea are reported to have stolen a large cache of military documents from South Korea, including a plan to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Rhee Cheol-hee, a South Korean lawmaker, said the information was from his country’s defence ministry.

The compromised documents include wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.

They also include reports to the allies’ senior commanders.

The South Korean defence ministry has so far refused to comment about the allegation.

Plans for the South’s special forces were reportedly accessed, along with information on significant power plants and military facilities in the South.

Mr Rhee belongs to South Korea’s ruling party, and sits on its parliament’s defence committee. He said some 235 gigabytes of military documents had been stolen from the Defence Integrated Data Centre, and that 80% of them have yet to be identified. [Continue reading…]

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Afghan president, U.S. general vow to unleash ‘a tidal wave of air power’ to defeat Taliban

The Washington Post reports: With a just-delivered Black Hawk helicopter sitting on a military runway behind him, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, vowed Saturday that “a tidal wave of air power is on the horizon” in the war against Taliban insurgents and that “this is the beginning of the end for the Taliban.”

Moments later, a second new Black Hawk descended and hovered over the runway as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani praised the nation’s air force pilots as “the real champions” of the 16-year conflict. Now that a new Afghan-U. S. military effort will triple the country’s air force capacity and double its special operations forces, he declared, “terrorists will not triumph here.”

The elaborately staged ceremony at Kandahar Air Base marked the formal launch of an ambitious plan to modernize and expand the Afghan air force over the next five years. A variety of U.S. military aircraft including 159 UH-60 Black Hawks are being supplied by the United States, and a new cohort of Afghan combat pilots are being trained — or retrained after years of flying Soviet-era choppers — by American military and civilian advisers. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. defense secretary breaks with Trump in backing Iran nuclear deal

The Guardian reports: The US defense secretary, James Mattis, has backed the nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is in the interests of national security to maintain it, breaking with Donald Trump and potentially making it harder for the president to withdraw from the deal.

The timing and nature of Mattis’s remarks are particularly significant because Trump has threatened to withhold certification of the 2015 international agreement in a report to Congress due on 15 October . Under the relevant legislation, the administration has to certify whether Iran is in material breach of the agreement, or if the deal is not serving the national interest.

Mattis was asked at a hearing of the Senate armed services committee whether he believed it was currently in the US national security interest to remain in the agreement.

After a significant pause, the defense secretary replied: “Yes, senator, I do.”

At the same hearing, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford agreed that Iran was abiding by the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which he said had delayed Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Last week, Dunford said the US should uphold the agreement, in the absence of a clear Iranian breach, or risk losing credibility when it came to signing future agreements. [Continue reading…]

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Almost two weeks after being devastated by Hurricane Maria, a surge of aid finally starts arriving in Puerto Rico

The New York Times reports: A surge of fuel and food supplies and federal government personnel has begun to arrive in Puerto Rico, the governor of the storm-battered island said Sunday morning.

Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló told reporters that over the next two days, more than half a million barrels of diesel fuel and nearly a million barrels of gasoline would reach Puerto Rico. The fuel is badly needed to power emergency generators and to distribute food and other supplies across the island.

Mr. Rosselló said that the Defense Department had increased its footprint on Puerto Rico to 6,400 people, from roughly 4,600 two days earlier, with more coming, and that other federal agencies were also sending more staff to aid in the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, which smashed through the island on Sept. 20.

The Trump administration’s response to the disaster has become a heated political issue. Some Puerto Rican officials, including the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, have made televised pleas for a faster and more robust response. Others, like the governor, have spoken more positively about federal efforts. [Continue reading…]

The Hill reports: The number of Puerto Ricans without access to drinking water has risen sharply, the Defense Department announced on Saturday.

Fifty-five percent of the population did not have access to drinking water, the Pentagon said in a Saturday press release. [Continue reading…]

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Army Corps: Puerto Rico looks a lot like Iraq in 2003

Vox reports: Most of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents are still in the dark, nine days after Hurricane Maria engulfed the island.

The storm’s 150 mph winds and a 20-inch cascade of rain created a vast humanitarian crisis, with residents now scrounging for food, clean water, and fuel to keep cool in the sweltering heat.

The damage is especially stark for Puerto Rico’s energy network, which was struggling with bad finances and poor maintenance even before the hurricane swept through.

And for Col. James DeLapp, commander of the Recovery Field Office for Puerto Rico at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the scene on the ground — and the challenge ahead — looks lot like what the Army Corps faced after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

“We had a very similar situation following the opening of the Iraq War,” said DeLapp. “This is very reminiscent of that type of effort.” [Continue reading…]

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If North Korea fires an ICBM, the U.S. might have to shoot it down over Russia

Patrick Tucker writes: If Pyongyang fires a missile at the United States, its most-likely trajectory would take it over the North Pole. A U.S. attempt to shoot down that missile would probably occur within Russian radar space — and possibly over Russia itself. “It’s something we’re aware of,” Gen. Lori Robinson, who leads both U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said Wednesday. “It’s something we work our way through.”

By year’s end, the U.S. will have deployed 44 ground-based interceptors, or GBIs: 40 at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. If deterrence fails, those interceptors would be the last line of defense against a North Korean missile. Each incoming ICBM might be met with four or more GBIs.

Last week, Joshua Pollack told an audience at the annual Air Force Association conference in Washington D.C. that the most probable intercept route aims the U.S. GBI “into the teeth of the Russian early warning net.”

The actual route will depend on the incoming missile’s course and speed, and just how quickly the U.S. system can react. Pollack, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, elaborated in a subsequent writeup of his presentation. “Defending a West Coast target…means engaging the attacking [reentry vehicle] above the Russian Far East. Yikes.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. Army takes over massive mission to save Puerto Rico

The Daily Beast reports: The U.S. Army will take over recovery operations in Puerto Rico, Col. Jorge Santini of Puerto Rico’s National Guard state command told The Daily Beast. The announcement is expected Thursday afternoon.

U.S. Northern Command appointed Army Brig. Gen. Richard Kim on Wednesday to oversee operations. The Army will oversee every facet of the massive mission and coordinate with the National Guard, FEMA, and Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s office, Santini said. Approximately 2,600 U.S. military personnel and Guard members are currently involved in Hurricane Maria relief efforts, the Pentagon said.

“We need more manpower, more resources, more help, quickly and efficiently,” Santini said. “We needed to federalize the recovery plan.”

Ret. Gen. Russel Honore, who led the military effort in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, told NPR on Thursday morning and far more troops are needed.

“Puerto Rico is a bigger and tougher mission than Katrina,’ Honore said, adding 20,000 federal troops and 40,000 National Guard were under his command. Honore said twice as many are needed for Puerto Rico.

“We started moving about four days too late,” Honore said. [Continue reading…]

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