Today is our 4,307th day in Afghanistan.
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: 2,241
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,098
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 458, 167, 550, 000. 00
We'll start this morning alongside the United States in the shadows. Our government does many things "in secret", some things for expediency, some things for security, but of course all things "in the name of the people". Do you think fighting a war in the shadows
belongs on that list?
The Obama administration earlier this year expanded its secret war in Somalia, stepping up assistance for federal and regional Somali intelligence agencies that are allied against the country's Islamist insurgency. It's a move that's not only violating the terms of an international arms embargo, according to U.N. investigators. The escalation also could be a signal that Washington's signature victory against al-Qaeda's most powerful African ally may be in danger of unraveling.
Just last year, Obama's team was touting Somalia as unqualified success. "Somalia is a good news story for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself," Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters last October at the New York Foreign Press Center. Carson praised African forces, principally Uganda and Kenya, for driving the terror group al-Shabab out of the Somalia's main cities, Mogadishu and Kismayo. "The U.S.," he boasted, "has been a significant and major contributor to this effort." Indeed, the United States has emerged as a major force in the region, running training camps for Ugandan peacekeepers destined for battle with Somalia's militants, and hosting eight Predator drones, eight more F-15E fighter jets, and nearly 2,000 U.S. troops and military civilians at a base in neighboring Djibouti.
But despite the array of forces aligned against it, Al-Shabab is demonstrating renewed vigor. "The military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communications ability," according to a report by the U.N. Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea. "By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources."
"At present, al-Shabaab remains the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia," the report adds. "The organization has claimed responsibility for hundreds of assassinations and attacks involving improvised explosive devices, ambushes, mortar shelling grenades and hit and run tactics."
Not coincidentally, perhaps, American involvement in the region is again on the rise, as well. Last year, according to the U.N. group, the United States violated the international arms embargo on Somalia by dispatching American special operations forces in Russian M-17 helicopters to northern Somalia in support of operations by the intelligence service of Puntland, a breakaway Somali province.
(The U.N. Security Council in 1992 imposed an embargo "on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Somalia" The embargo was eased in March, 2013, allowing for the transfer of weapons, equipment or military advisors for the development of the federal government's security forces. But the Somali government is required to inform the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee when it receives foreign military assistance.)
Two U.S. air-charter companies linked to American intelligence activities in Somalia have increased the number of clandestine flights to Mogadishu and the breakaway province of Puntland by as much as 25 percent last year.
Ponder that for a while....but in the meantime we'll head right back to the United States for updates on a couple of stories we've been following in this space. The sex-assault crisis in the military shows no signs of abating, despite what passes for our best efforts. A few cases have made it to trial, but it seems that President Obama may have stuck his foot in a couple of them due to some remarks he made.
I'm not sure I understand entirely, but apparently there is something called "command interference" that is affecting the impartiality of the trial.
Two sexual assault courts-martial for Navy men at Pearl Harbor are now postponed because of a comment made by President Barack Obama.
The trial issues — related to a statement by Obama, the commander in chief, that sexual assault perpetrators should be dishonorably discharged — potentially amount to “unlawful command influence” and are part of a spate of military cases nationwide in which the defense is being raised.
The fear is that court-martial boards, aware of such statements from superiors, would be swayed to give the defendant less than a fair trial and that the public would view any convictions and discharges as the boards merely following orders.
In one of the Hawaii cases, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernest Johnson, a crew member on the destroyer USS Russell, was scheduled to go on trial June 17 on charges that he sexually assaulted another male sailor who was asleep or intoxicated, according to court records. The alleged assault happened Sept. 9.
Obama’s comment came May 7, the day the Pentagon reported that the estimated number of military personnel victimized by sexual assault had surged by about 35 percent over the past two years.
In answer to a reporter’s question, Obama said: “I have no tolerance for this. I expect consequences. So I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training but folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
Three days later Johnson’s defense counsel sought to dismiss all charges due to “unlawful command influence.”
Cmdr. Marcus Fulton, a Navy judge at Pearl Harbor, refused to dismiss the case but concluded there was apparent unlawful command influence by the president. As a remedy, he removed from possible consideration bad-conduct and dishonorable discharges in the event of a conviction.
The government prosecution appealed the decision to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, which halted Johnson’s impending trial.
Fulton issued a similar finding — and a similar stay in proceedings — in a sexual assault case involving Seaman Javier Fuentes Jr., a member of Patrol Squadron 47 at Kaneohe Bay, according to the appeals court.
Fuentes was accused of assaulting a woman on Maui on June 30, 2012, who “was incapable of consenting to the sexual act due to impairment by an intoxicant,” according to a Navy charging document.
In the wake of high-ranking military commanders’ stern words about sexual assaults in the military, defense attorneys have seized on those statements to claim unlawful command influence.
More than 60 Marine Corps defendants used the defense after Gen. James Amos, the commandant, made a comment in 2012 that he was “very, very disappointed” when court-martial boards don’t expel those found guilty of sexual assault. And Obama’s
May 7 utterance now has been cited in more than a dozen cases, according to news reports.
In the Johnson case, Fulton found that a member of the public “would not hear the president’s statement to be a simple admonition to hold members accountable.”
The public “would draw the connection between the ‘dishonorable discharge’ required by the president” and a punitive discharge approved by a military court.
“The strain on the system created by asking a convening authority to disregard this statement in this environment would be too much to sustain public confidence,” Fulton said.
Johnson’s counsel sought to show influence by other senior military leaders’ comments about sexual assault, but Fulton ruled those out.
Unlawful command influence, or improper interference with the court-martial process, is forbidden under Article 37 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Fulton added that appellate courts have called it “the mortal enemy of military justice.”
Fulton admitted it is not entirely clear that Article 37 applies to the president as the commander in chief.
The prosecution, in seeking to reverse Fulton’s ruling, said Obama is “not subject to” the military justice code, but also noted that the issue is “decidedly not settled.”
Finally this morning, we'll touch briefly on the economy. Not the big picture, but a wee snapshot of life under the sequester. Remember the runup to the start date, when everyone was all gloom and doom? There were no immediate effects, but as we go deeper into our austerity measures, things are adding up. For some folks out there it is entirely gloom and doom, but where's the media now?
JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — The audience gasped in surprise and gave a few low whistles as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered the news that furloughs, which have forced a 20 percent pay cut on most of the military’s civilian workforce, probably will continue next year, and it might get worse.
“Those are the facts of life,” Hagel told about 300 Defense Department employees, most of them middle-aged civilians, last week at an Air Force reception hall on a military base in Charleston.
Future layoffs also are possible for the department’s civilian workforce of more than 800,000 employees, Hagel said, if Congress fails to stem the cuts in the next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.
On the heels of the department’s first furlough day, and in three days of visits with members of the Army,Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Hagel played the unenviable role of messenger to a frustrated and fearful workforce coping with the inevitability of a spending squeeze at the end of more than a decade of constant and costly war.
The fiscal crunch also lays bare the politically unpopular, if perhaps necessary, need to bring runaway militarycosts in line with most of the rest of the American public that has struggled economically for years.
“Everybody’s bracing for the impact,” Army Master Sgt. Trey Corrales said after Hagel spoke with soldiersduring a quick stop at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Corrales’ wife, a military civilian employee, is among those furloughed, and they have cancelled their cable TV and started carpooling to work to save money.
“The effects of the economy have started to hit the military,” Corrales said. “It was late in coming to us.”
The furloughs have hit about 650,000 civilian employees but also have slowed health care and other services for the uniformed military, which has stopped some training missions and faces equipment shortages due to the budget shortfalls. Troops were told this month they will no longer receive extra pay for deployments to 18 former global hot spots no longer considered danger zones.
Troops already are facing force reductions, and the Army alone has announced plans to trim its ranks by 80,000 over the next five years.
Officials agree that the military has undergone cycles of expanding and shrinking of the force over generations. Hagel said this time is different, and worse, however, because of what he described as a “very dark cloud” of uncertainty hanging over the Pentagon as Congress considers whether to reverse $52 billion in spending cuts that are set to go into effect in 2014.
At the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., Hagel told an estimated 100 civilians gathered in a bustling jet maintenance hangar that the military had not been prepared for the $37 billion in cuts that took effect this year, forcing the furloughs. While he said he was deeply sorry for the strain the crunch has put on families, he said he would not slash troops’ training or other readiness budgets any further to prevent huge gaps in national security.
“I’m sure you realize how disruptive the furlough is to our productivity. So I’m hoping that we’re not going to do it again next year,” Elizabeth Nealin, a research and engineering manager at the navy base’s fleet readiness center, told Hagel.
“Have you planned for a reduction in force?” Nealin asked bluntly.
Hagel said if the $52 billion cut remains in place, “there will be further cuts in personnel, make no mistake about that.”
“I don’t have any choice,” he said.