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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‘Fat Leonard’ probe expands to ensnare more than 60 U.S. Navy admirals suspected of corruption

The Washington Post reports: The “Fat Leonard” corruption investigation has expanded to include more than 60 admirals and hundreds of other U.S. Navy officers under scrutiny for their contacts with a defense contractor in Asia who systematically bribed sailors with sex, liquor and other temptations, according to the Navy.

Most of the admirals are suspected of attending extravagant feasts at Asia’s best restaurants paid for by Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based maritime tycoon who made an illicit fortune supplying Navy vessels in ports from Vladivostok, Russia to Brisbane, Australia. Francis also was renowned for hosting alcohol-soaked, after-dinner parties, which often featured imported prostitutes and sometimes lasted for days, according to federal court records.

The 350-pound Francis, also known in Navy circles as “Leonard the Legend” for his wild-side lifestyle, spent decades cultivating relationships with officers, many of whom developed a blind spot to his fraudulent ways. Even while he and his firm were being targeted by Navy criminal investigators, he received VIP invitations to ceremonies in Annapolis and Pearl Harbor, where he hobnobbed with four-star admirals, according to photographs obtained by The Washington Post.

The Justice Department has filed criminal charges against 28 people, including two admirals, since Francis was arrested in an international sting operation four years ago. Those cases comprise the worst corruption scandal in Navy history, but they represent a fraction of a much larger list of Navy officials under investigation but whose names have been mostly kept secret.

In response to queries from The Post, the Navy recently confirmed that it has been reviewing the conduct of 440 other active-duty and retired personnel — including 60 current and former admirals — for possible violations of military law or federal ethics rules in their dealings with Francis and his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

That is double the number of admirals whom Navy officials said were under investigation last year (The Navy has about 210 admirals on active duty). [Continue reading…]

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Air Force says it failed to follow procedures, allowing Texas church shooter to obtain firearms

The Washington Post reports: The Air Force says it failed to follow policies for alerting federal law enforcement about Devin P. Kelley’s violent past, enabling the former service member, who killed at least 26 churchgoers Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Tex., to obtain firearms before the shooting rampage.

Kelley should have been barred from purchasing firearms and body armor because of his domestic violence conviction in 2014 while serving at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Kelley was sentenced to a year in prison and kicked out of the military with a bad conduct discharge following two counts of domestic abuse against his wife and a child, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.

“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database,” Stefanek said in a statement released Monday. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have directed an investigation of Kelley’s case and “relevant policies and procedures,” she said. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Law enforcement officers investigating the mass shooting at a church that killed 26 people here said on Monday that “a domestic situation” within the gunman’s family may have motivated the killing.

“The suspect’s mother-in-law attended this church,” Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said during a news conference Monday morning. “We know that he had made threatening texts and we can’t go into detail into that domestic situation that is continuing to be vetted and thoroughly investigated.”

“This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs, it was a domestic situation going on,” Mr. Martin added. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon says to eradicate North Korea’s nuclear weapons would require ground war (in which millions would die)

Newsweek reports: A ground invasion by the U.S. military is the only way to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In late September, Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Ruben Gallego, both Democrats and veterans of the U.S. military, sent a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis highlighting their concerns about the prospect of war with North Korea. They requested a detailed report on the potential consequences of such a conflict.

“We’re just trying to get the administration to explain to the American people what a war in North Korea would look like,” Lieu said. “People need to understand if there is military conflict in North Korea we would be going to war against a nuclear power.”

Mattis issued his response via the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which was sent to Lieu on October 27 and obtained by Newsweek. “The only way to ‘locate and destroy — with complete certainty — all components of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs’ is through a ground invasion,” said the response, written by Rear Adm. Mike Dumont.

This is the first time the U.S. military has made this assertion, according to Lieu, who’s concerned too many are under the false impression the U.S. could easily neutralize North Korea’s nuclear arsenal via a military strike such as the one Trump ordered against the Assad regime in Syria back in April. [Continue reading…]

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Kurdish revolutionaries defeated ISIS in Raqqa. Will the U.S. soon abandon them?

Luke Mogelson reports: In August, in the living room of an abandoned house on the western outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, I met with Rojda Felat, one of four Kurdish commanders overseeing the campaign to wrest the city from the Islamic State, or isis. Wearing fatigues, a beaded head scarf, and turquoise socks, Felat sat cross-legged on the floor, eating a homemade meal that her mother had sent in a plastic container from Qamishli, four hours away, in the northeast of the country. In the kitchen, two young female fighters washed dishes and glanced surreptitiously at Felat with bright-eyed adoration. At forty years old, she affects a passive, stoic expression that transforms startlingly into one of unguarded felicity when she is amused—something that, while we spoke, happened often. She had reason to be in good spirits. Her forces had recently completed an encirclement of Raqqa, and victory appeared to be imminent.

The Raqqa offensive, which concluded in mid-October, marks the culmination of a dramatic rise both for Felat and for the Kurdish political movement to which she belongs. For decades, the Syrian state—officially, the Syrian Arab Republic—was hostile to Kurds. Tens of thousands were stripped of citizenship or dispossessed of land; cultural and political gatherings were banned; schools were forbidden to teach the Kurdish language.

Qamishli, Felat’s home town, has long been a center of Kurdish political activity. In 2004, during a soccer match, Arab fans of a visiting team threw stones at Kurds, causing a stampede; a riot ensued, during which Kurds toppled a statue of Hafez al-Assad, the father and predecessor of Syria’s current President, Bashar. Government security forces subsequently killed more than thirty Kurds. Amid the crackdown, a new Kurdish opposition group, the Democratic Union Party, organized and recruited clandestinely.

In 2011, when anti-government protests began spreading throughout Syria, Felat was studying Arabic literature at Hasakah University. The daughter of a poor farmer, she’d begun her studies late, “for economic reasons,” she told me. Along with several dozen other students, Felat left the university and returned to Qamishli. Within a week, Felat, who’d harbored ambitions of attending Syria’s national military academy and becoming an Army officer, had joined the Democratic Union Party’s militia, the Y.P.G. After a day of training, she was issued a Kalashnikov.

Felat expected to fight the regime. But, as the anti-government demonstrations evolved into an armed rebellion and insurrections broke out in major cities, Assad withdrew nearly all the troops he had stationed in the predominantly Kurdish north. The Democratic Union Party allowed the regime to maintain control of an airport and of administrative offices in downtown Qamishli. Arab opposition groups decried the arrangement as part of a tacit alliance between Assad and the Kurds. Islamist rebels began launching attacks in northern Syria, and the Y.P.G. went to war against them. “Many Kurdish families brought their daughters to join,” Felat told me. “Many women signed up.” She described her female compatriots as “women who had joined to protect other women” from extremists and their sexist ideologies. [Continue reading…]

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Will Congress ever limit the forever-expanding 9/11 war?

The New York Times reports: A Navy SEAL, killed alongside civilians in a January raid on a village in Yemen. Another SEAL, killed while accompanying Somali forces on a May raid. And now four Army soldiers, dead in an ambush this month in Niger.

These American combat deaths — along with those of about 10 service members killed this year in Afghanistan and Iraq — underscore how a law passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has been stretched to permit open-ended warfare against Islamist militant groups scattered across the Muslim world.

The law, commonly called the A.U.M.F., on its face provided congressional authorization to use military force only against nations, groups or individuals responsible for the attacks. But while the specific enemy lawmakers were thinking about in September 2001 was the original Al Qaeda and its Taliban host in Afghanistan, three presidents of both parties have since invoked the 9/11 war authority to justify battle against Islamist militants in many other places.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as lawmakers renew a debate over whether they should update and replace that law, revitalizing Congress’s constitutionally assigned role of making fundamental decisions about going to war.

But even as the Trump administration moves to ease some Obama-era constraints on counterterrorism operations, political obstacles to reaching a consensus on new parameters for a war authorization law look more daunting than ever. [Continue reading…]

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Mattis says threat of nuclear attack by North Korea accelerating

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday the threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating.

In remarks in Seoul with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at his side, Mattis accused the North of illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear programs — and vowed to defeat any attack.

Mattis said North Korea engages in “outlaw” behavior and that the U.S. will never accept a nuclear North.

He added that regardless of what the North might try, it is overmatched by the firepower and cohesiveness of the decades-old U.S.-South Korean alliance.

“North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbors and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs,” he said, adding that U.S.-South Korean military and diplomatic collaboration thus has taken on “a new urgency.”

“I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s military minders are also his preeminent political enablers

Mark Perry writes: For many of America’s senior military officers, retired Gen. John Allen’s speech endorsing Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention back in July of 2016 was a kind of tipping point. Allen’s rousing address, coupled with one given by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for Donald Trump at the Republican convention, spread waves of discomfort through the U.S. officer corps, many of whom thought Allen and Flynn had gone too far. “The military is not a political prize,” former J.C.S. Chairman Martin Dempsey wrote in a high-profile critique two days after Allen’s appearance. “Politicians should take the advice of military leaders but keep them off the stage.”

Allen and Flynn’s appearance, and Dempsey’s letter, set off an under-the-radar debate about the proper role of retired military officers in American political life that has been deepened by President Trump’s appointment of several former and current high-ranking officers to key policy positions in his administration. Far from being “off the stage,” the president has put the military front-and-center in his administration: retired Marine Gen. James Mattis heads up the Pentagon, retired Gen. John Kelly is the White House chief of staff and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (who is still in uniform) is Trump’s national security adviser, having replaced Flynn.

Richard Kohn, a respected expert on civilian-military relations at the University of North Carolina, points out that Trump’s critics have welcomed the appointments because Mattis, Kelly and McMaster are viewed as “the adults in the room” who can “can keep Trump on the right policy track, can kind of fence him in.” But, he warns, there’s a problem with that view. “We’re putting all three of them in an impossible squeeze,” he says. “By tradition and experience they are supposed to be subordinate, to follow orders, yet here we are hoping that they can somehow manipulate the president—to keep him from saying and doing things that he shouldn’t. Is that really what we want the military to do? It sets a bad precedent and it’s dangerous.”

There’s one key constituency who agrees with that last thought: Former top military leaders, many of whom are deeply conflicted over the political role their colleagues are playing. [Continue reading…]

The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this administration as the indispensable “adult supervision” Trump requires, is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for his presidency — exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this kind of Teflon political protection.

Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the executive branch of government.

If Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster were to jointly resign, I predict that the Trump house of cards would instantly collapse — no need for impeachment or the conclusion of the Mueller investigation.

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Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious misconduct

USA Today reports: Since 2013, military investigators have documented at least 500 cases of serious misconduct among its generals, admirals and senior civilians, almost half of those instances involving personal or ethical lapses, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Many cases involve sex scandals, including a promiscuous Army general who led a swinging lifestyle, another who lived rent-free in the home of a defense contractor after his affair fell apart and another who is under investigation for sending steamy Facebook messages to the wife of an enlisted soldier on his post.

Yet despite the widespread abuses, the Pentagon does no trend analysis to determine whether the problem is worsening, nor does it regularly announce punishments for generals and admirals — all public figures, USA TODAY has found. Senior officers found to have been involved in adulterous relationships, a violation of the military’s code of justice, have been reassigned with no public notice and allowed to retire quietly, in some cases with full honors.

Industries ranging from tech to finance to Hollywood have been roiled by sexual harassment and assault scandals that have led to the ouster of top executives and calls for reform. The accusations this month against film producer Harvey Weinstein by dozens of women have reportedly prompted criminal investigations in the United States and United Kingdom, along with his removal from the company he founded.

In the military, as with the Weinstein case, sexual harassment by top brass in many cases is considered an open secret, documents show. Yet many stay quiet, and efforts on Capitol Hill to reform the system and call senior officers to account have often failed.

Instead, the military has often closed ranks. The Pentagon doesn’t publicly discuss most cases, though USA TODAY has identified several, including five since 2016 that have involved senior officers in the Army, Air Force and Navy. Nor does the military seem interested in getting to the root of the problem. In 2014, then-Defense secretary Chuck Hagel created an office to investigate ethical problems among senior leaders. It was shuttered two years later without determining the depth of the problem, a task Hagel gave it when he opened the office. [Continue reading…]

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What should U.S. military commanders do if a president’s orders are legal but also crazy?

Scott D. Sagan writes: U.S. military officers are trained to follow orders from political authorities, unless they are clearly unconstitutional. The Constitution, however, says nothing about what to do if a president’s orders are legal but also crazy. This leads to bizarre situations, such as the response that Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, gave when he was asked at a seminar at the Australian National University in July if he would launch a nuclear strike against China “next week” if Trump ordered him to do so. The admiral should have said that the hypothetical scenario was ridiculous and left it at that. Instead, he answered, “Yes.”

Trump’s volatility has produced a hidden crisis in U.S. civil-military relations. In 1974, during the final days of Richard Nixon’s presidency, when Nixon had become morose and possibly unstable, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General George Brown, that if Nixon gave military orders, Brown should contact Schlesinger before carrying them out. Schlesinger’s action was extraconstitutional but nonetheless wise, given the extraordinary circumstances. The U.S. government faces similar dangers every day under Trump. Mattis and senior military leaders should be prepared to ignore belligerent tweets, push back against imprudent policies, and resist any orders that they believe reflect impetuous or irrational decision-making by the president. Their oath, after all, is not to an individual president; it is to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The Constitution’s 25th Amendment lays out procedures on how to relieve an impaired president of his responsibilities. If senior military leaders believe at any time that Trump is impaired, they have a duty to contact Mattis, who should then call for an emergency cabinet meeting to determine whether Trump is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and thus whether to invoke the 25th Amendment.

One similarity with the Cuban missile crisis is that those Americans who think the United States should attack North Korea exaggerate the prospects that U.S. military action would succeed and underestimate the costs of a war. In 1962, the CIA and the military assumed that there were no nuclear weapons in Cuba and, on that basis, recommended air strikes and an invasion. But the intelligence assessment was wrong. Well over 60 nuclear warheads, gravity bombs, and tactical nuclear weapons had already arrived in Cuba, and one missile regiment was already operational by the time the Joint Chiefs were advising military action. Any attack on Cuba would almost certainly have led to nuclear strikes on the United States and against invading U.S. forces.

Today, U.S. intelligence finds itself once again in the dark. It does not know the status of North Korea’s warheads or the locations of its missiles. For example, when the North Koreans successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in late July, it came as a complete surprise to the United States and demonstrated that North Korea can now build such missiles, store them, take them out of storage, and launch them, all before the United States could react. Yet U.S. military leaders have failed to pour cold water on the idea of a U.S. first strike. Instead, they have added fuel to the fire.

Consider the complaint expressed by General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Aspen Security Forum in July that “many people have talked about the military options with words such as ‘unimaginable.’” Dunford insisted that, to the contrary, “it is not unimaginable to have military options to respond to North Korean nuclear capability. What’s unimaginable to me is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado…. And so my job will be to develop military options to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Dunford should have reinforced deterrence. Instead, he created a redline that Kim may have already crossed.

The military’s job is to come up with options. That involves thinking the unthinkable. But it is also military leaders’ responsibility to offer brutal honesty to political leaders and the public. When it comes to the current conflict with North Korea, that means admitting that there are no military options that do not risk starting the most destructive war since 1945. [Continue reading…]

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One in four American troops sees white nationalism in the ranks

Military Times reports: Nearly one in four troops polled say they have seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow service members, and troops rate it as a larger national security threat than Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new Military Times poll.

The troops were surveyed about one month after white supremacist groups and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Critics of Trump have accused him of emboldening groups who wish to discriminate against minorities, through both his public comments and policies. [Continue reading…]

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Senators stunned to discover U.S. has 1,000 troops in Niger

The Daily Beast reports: The death of four U.S. Special Operations Forces troops in Niger has generated a raucous conversation about how presidents should comfort bereft Gold Star families.

But, quietly, it’s fueling a more difficult debate than whether a phone call or a letter suffices in the aftermath of tragedy; mainly, why were U.S. troops in the country in the first place, and does Congress need to exert more authority when it comes such deployments?

Many lawmakers assiduously duck these questions. But on the Sunday shows, several were forced to address them in the aftermath of four soldiers dying under still-mysterious circumstances near the small town of Tongo Tongo. In the process, two powerful Senators tacitly admitted that they hadn’t even known the extent of U.S. involvement in Niger in the first place.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the chamber’s most hawkish members, told host Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he didn’t know until recently that a thousand U.S. troops are stationed in Niger. [Continue reading…]

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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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