Today is our 4,804th day in Afghanistan, and our 167th day in Iraq.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,350
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,127
There has been a third casualty
in our return to Iraq, but it's unclear if he was heading for a combat mission at this time.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 584, 967, 400, 000 .00
Let's dive right in. We'll start today in Afghanistan. As we all know, "combat operations" are supposed to end in just under a month, on December 31, 2014. But since leaving is never really leaving (See Germany, Japan, Korea, etc.) the Pentagon has issued a new set of rules
regarding what will be considered "combat" after January 1.
New rules for the 9,800 U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan next year will let commanders order airstrikes or night raids on Taliban forces who pose a significant threat to the Afghan government, defense officials said.
The rules came in an order recently signed by President Obama that clarified the authorities U.S. military commanders will have after the official end of the combat mission in December.
The new rules appear to signal an incremental expansion of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan next year.
Six months ago, Obama announced plans to leave 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for 2015 and limit their primary missions to two — training and advising the Afghan military and using a small cadre of special operations troops to target al-Qaida "remnants."
With the official end of the combat mission requiring a new set of policies and legal authorities, Obama has approved the details of precisely who U.S. military commanders can target. In some cases, it may be Taliban insurgents.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday that U.S. troops would continue targeting some, though not all, Taliban militants, and may also provide field-level support for Afghan security forces.
"We won't target Taliban just merely for the sake of the fact they're Taliban and quote-unquote 'belligerents,' " Kirby said.
However, he added: "Should members of the Taliban decide to threaten American troops or specifically target or threaten our Afghan partners in a tactical situation, we're going to reserve the right to take action as needed. If they pose a threat directly to our troops or to the Afghan security forces, certainly then they become fair game at that point."
U.S. forces also may provide "enabling support" for the Afghan military, which may include airstrikes, medical evacuations or logistical aid.
"Clearly we know there is going to be some need for some enabling support," Kirby said.
Military officials emphasize there are no plans to change the troop levels that Obama committed to Afghanistan in his May announcement, which amount to 9,800 American troops in 2015 and about half that in 2016. Obama's policy will withdraw virtually all U.S. forces from Afghanistan before he leaves office in January 2017.
And we'll shift gears a little bit and head straight for Iraq. We've been reporting that moving cost of war total every week for 9 years now. That represents an awful lot of treasure that's been diverted from our shores to the war zone. As such, there's going to be a mountain of waste along the way. I present the next two stories back-to-back, so you decide if that's been well spent.
First, we have 50,000 phantom soldiers on the Iraq army payroll
An investigation into corruption in the Iraqi army has revealed that there were 50,000 false names on its payroll.
Known in the military as "ghost soldiers", they either did not exist or no longer reported for duty, however their salaries were still paid.
A statement from the PM's office said the payments have been stopped.
Correspondents say rampant corruption in the Iraqi army is seen as one of the reasons why it has struggled to contain Islamic State militants.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, quoted by AFP news agency, said the investigation began when the latest salary payments were made.
"Over the past few weeks, the prime minister has been cracking down to expose the ghost soldiers and get to the root of the problem," said Rafid Jaboori.
It is thought that the salaries were siphoned off by corrupt officers.
An unnamed officer told AFP that the 50,000 names include soldiers who had deserted or were killed in recent fighting.
The US has spent billions of dollars trying to build up the Iraqi army.
And one from Afghanistan....remember those jets we bought for the Afghans and abandoned "in place" because they couldn't maintain them? It looks like there's more of them sitting there.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Embraer rolled its first A-29 Super Tucano attack plane out of its Jacksonville facility to grinning politicians and military brass in September as part of the U.S. Air Force's contract to supply Afghanistan with its own ground-support capability.
Now, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) questions whether the 20 planes — and the $429 million of taxpayers' money — will be wasted.
Inspector General John F. Sopko noted his concerns in a letter dated Nov. 12 to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force.
Sopko is concerned the Afghans don't know how to operate or maintain the aircraft and sending them to the country is futile.
"I am concerned that this program could be affected by training and maintenance problems similar to those identified by SIGAR in prior inquiries concerning programs to provide aircraft to the Afghan military," Sopko wrote. "Given the important role that this program is intended to play in developing the Afghan military's air capability and the hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars at stake, I request a briefing for my staff on the LAS program at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia."
The U.S. Air Force's Light Air Support (LAS) program is just one arm of a multi-pronged approach to supply the Afghan military with aircraft.
The "prior inquiries" Sopko mentioned came during a previous investigation into government efforts to put aircraft into Afghan hands. That investigation led to Sopko's June 2013 report with the lengthy, but damning title: "Afghan Special Mission Wing: DOD Moving Forward with $771.8 Million Purchase of Aircraft that the Afghans Cannot Operate and Maintain."
We'll stay with the aviation theme to close today, but these aircraft at least have a USAF painted on the side. Have you heard about the ongoing debate among the Pentagon brass and some GOP senators? There's an awesome, but now obsolescent combat aircraft that the Pentagon wants to retire, but the GOP wants to keep alive. So what's the best thing for aging, expensive, hard to maintain aircraft? Why, send them to war!
A-10s are back to fighting in Iraq.
Several A-10s from the 163rd Fighter Squadron of the Indiana Air National Guard have deployed to southwest Asia to support Operation Inherent Resolve, along with other operations. The A-10s were previously deployed to Afghanistan, but have moved to southwest Asia to focus on the fight against the Islamic State group.
The deployment includes about 300 airmen, the Indiana National Guard said when the squadron first went to Afghanistan in September.
The aircraft arrived over several days from Nov. 17-21, according to Air Forces Central Command.
The Warthogs are the first combat aircraft for the newly reactivated 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, The unit was deactivated in early 2012 after operations ended in Iraq. The unit provided overwatch for the last convoys out of Iraq.
The Indiana Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing is one of the units slated to lose their A-10s under the Air Force's proposal to retire the fleet. Under Air Force plans, which are being blocked in Congress, the unit would receive F-16s in 2019.
And we'll stop here for today.