Today is our 404th day back in Iraq.
There have been no new casualties.
We find this morning's Cost of War passing through: $ 1,629, 504, 250, 000 .00
America is on the move again - this time, we're sending Air Force personnel into Turkey to fight ISIS.
Since we were already there in force, this can't be counted as another country where we have troops on the ground...but nevertheless, their role is about to be greatly expanded.
The U.S. will be sending more Air Force personnel and aircraft to Turkey to combat ISIS but plans for a no-fly zone over the Syria-Turkey border remain on hold, Pentagon officials said Monday.
"We're holding ongoing consultations with the Turks," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, but currently "we have no plans for imposition of a no-fly zone."
At a Pentagon briefing, Davis said that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was reviewing the options that came with Turkey's surprise announcement last week permitting the U.S. to use the Air Force base at Incirlik, Turkey, for strikes against ISIS in Syria, but decisions were weeks away.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, said at the Aspen Security Forum last week that the use of Incirlik could give him more "flexibility" in SOCOM operations inside Syria, but Davis said only operations by manned aircraft and drones out of Incirlik were currently under consideration.
When asked about the deployment of more troops to Turkey, Davis said "We're talking about logistics -- berthing and force protection and things like that." He declined to say how many additional troops would be sent to Incirlik and possibly three other airbases in Turkey, but added that "you would need to have more people to do more operations."
"We're actively talking about what forces or capabilities might be based out of Turkey and how we can do joint operations with the Turks," Davis said.
Currently, about 1,700 mostly Air Force personnel are based at Incirlik, according to Defense Department statistics.
Turkey, a NATO ally, in the past has put restrictions on the number of personnel at Incirlik and limited use of the base against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to unarmed surveillance flights.
The use of Incirlik and Turkish territory in the war on terror also has traditionally been politically sensitive for the Turks. In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to use Turkey as a transit to set up a northern access route against the forces of Saddam Hussein.
But at least Turkey is an actual ally, and even signed the NATO charter. We know who we're dealing with there, even if they remain ambivalent about our presence. It's a little different than being inside Iraq. Even though there aren't technically "boots on the ground", who we have to work with there isn't easily defined
. "Quagmire" may actually be too gentle a term for what the situation is. "Clusterfuck" would be more accurate.
The steady growth of Shiite militias in Iraq is making it increasingly difficult for American forces deployed there to determine exactly which Iraqi forces they are supporting, experts say.
The official line from Defense Department is that the U.S. will support operations involving both the Iraqi army and some militia forces that are operating "under command and control of the Iraqi government."
But the Pentagon wants to avoid providing direct support for anti-Islamic State militia forces loyal to Iran, a longtime enemy, a reflection of the deeply opaque and tumultuous politics of the Middle East.
"I love this line, 'We only want to support the militias under the command and control of the Iraqi government.' You can't really look at it that way. There is a lot of fuzzy gray area in that zone," said Phillip Smyth, an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"It's not some binary situation like people keep trying to make it out to be," Smyth said.
The chain of command in Iraq has frayed since the Islamic State's battlefield victories last year inspired the creation of the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, a loose-knit patchwork of mostly Shiite militias with scattered loyalties to leaders in both Iraq and Iran.
The PMF are not part of Iraq's Ministry of Defense, which has close ties to the U.S. military after years of receiving money and training from Americans. Instead, the PMF militias operate — technically — under Iraq's Ministry of Interior, which has direct links to Iran.
The head of the Ministry of Interior, Mohammed Salem Al-Ghabban, is a Shiite who was imprisoned under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime and later lived and attended a university in Tehran, the capital of Iran. He is a member of the Badr Organization, a Shiite political party with close ties to Tehran.
For many factions of the PMF, it appears that their chain of command leads to both the Iraqi and Iranian government.
"There's a formal line that says, 'We work for the [Ministry of Interior of Iraq], but there is also an informal line with these groups that have pledged loyalty to Tehran and the Ayatollah Khamenei," said Rick Brennan, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp. who has worked extensively with U.S. forces in Iraq over the past decade.
"It's a shadow military operating side by side, if you will, with the Iraqi government forces. But these are the forces that the U.S. says it will not support. It becomes very difficult when you try to identify where the units that we'll be supporting are," Brennan said.
"What [U.S. Central Command] is trying to do is to focus on providing support to the Ministry of Defense and the brigades that are fighting ISIS," Brennan said, referring to the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.
It's not clear which force — the U.S.-aligned Iraqi Army or the PMF forces tied to Iran — is larger or more powerful.
The PMF militias are now estimated to number up to 120,000, experts say.
Let's shift back home now. You're well aware of the daily veteran's suicide rate of about 22 per day. It's a tragic end and perhaps even a coping mechanism for many that have seen and done too much. But think about this - many of those daily suicides are repeat attempts. They've reached the end of the road, but perhaps one last intervention might save them and get the help they need. Now imaging calling the VA for help and being told to call somebody else
...or worse, going off into voice-mail land. Maybe a slight technology change could help.
Simple changes in the Veterans Administration’s phone system could help save the lives of suicidal callers who reach out for help, local advocates say.
The nation’s second-largest agency is making changes this month to its voicemail system at hospitals where South Jersey vets are treated that will immediately connect patients in crisis to counselors.
“Before that, you’d call the main number and they would ask you to call another number,” said veteran Joe Griffies, of Middle Township.
Griffies lobbied U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, about the VA’s outdated phone system, because of his concern for veterans who commit suicide at rates much higher than the general public. As many as 22 veterans kill themselves every day, according to VA statistics.
The rate of suicide among veterans is believed to be about twice that of civilians, even though veterans make up just 10 percent of the general population.
“When someone is in that state of mind, they’re not going to go to great lengths for help,” said U.S. Marine veteran Joseph Walters, of Upper Township.
“In that moment, they’re asking for help. Any obstacle to getting that help is reason to stop seeking it,” he said.
Walters spent a year recovering at a VA hospital in 1968 after he lost his left leg to a bullet wound in Vietnam. He saw many despondent soldiers during that time. His family and his own hopeful nature helped him recover from his trauma and go on to lead a successful career as a Dennis Township school teacher, he said.
“My family was a great inspiration,” he said. “And after I met my wife, she kept me focusing on what I wanted in life.”
But for veterans without this support system, depression and loneliness can be debilitating, Beth Walters said.
“If people call in for help, that help should be there for them,” she said.
The new program is called “Press 1, Save 1,” designed to put distraught veterans in touch with mental-health professionals quickly.
The new automated system is going live this week at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia. Callers can connect to a crisis line at the push of a single button.
You never now - sometimes small changes can make a big difference.