Today is our 4,734th day in Afghanistan, and our 96th day back 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: 2,346
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,127
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 567, 198, 650, 000. 00
So we've been bombing Iraq for a few weeks now, and news is just breaking that we've started dropping bombs on Syria this morning. The question remains, is it doing any good? The answer seems to be "NO".
BAGHDAD — After six weeks of American airstrikes, the Iraqi government’s forces have scarcely budged the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country, in part because many critical Sunni tribes remain on the sidelines.
Although the airstrikes appear to have stopped the extremists’ march toward Baghdad, the Islamic State is still dealing humiliating blows to the Iraqi Army. On Monday, the government acknowledged that it had lost control of the small town of Sichar and lost contact with several hundred of its soldiers who had been besieged for nearly a week at a camp north of the Islamic State stronghold of Falluja, in Anbar Province.
By midday, there were reports that hundreds of soldiers had been killed there in battle or mass executions. Ali Bedairi, a lawmaker from the governing alliance, said more than 300 soldiers had died after the loss of the base, Camp Saqlawiya. The prime minister ordered the arrest of the responsible officers, although a military spokesman put the death toll at just 40 and said 68 were missing.
Sunni Iraqi men, who took up arms alongside security forces to defend the town of Dhuluiyah from the Islamic State militant group, held a position last week. Credit Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“They did not have any food, and they were starving for four days,” a soldier who said he was one of 200 who managed to escape said in a videotaped statement that he circulated online. “We drank salty water; we could not even run.”
Behind the government’s struggles on the battlefield is the absence or resistance of many of the Sunni Muslim tribes that officials in Baghdad and Washington hope will play the decisive role in the course of the fight — a slow start for the centerpiece of President Obama’s plan to drive out the militants.
The Sunni tribes of Anbar and other areas drove Qaeda-linked militants out of the area seven years ago with American military help, in what became known as the Sunni Awakening. But the tribes’ alienation from the subsequent authoritarian and Shiite-led government in Baghdad opened the door for the extremists of the Islamic State to return this year.
The foundation of the Obama administration’s plan to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is the installation of a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who has pledged to build a more responsive government and rebuild Sunni support. But, though at least some Sunni Arabs are fighting alongside the army in places like Haditha, influential Sunni sheikhs who helped lead the Awakening say they remain unconvinced.
“The Sunnis in Anbar and other provinces are facing oppression and discrimination by the government,” said Mohamed el-Bajjari, a sheikh in Anbar who is a spokesman for a coalition of tribes. “This government must be changed to form a technocratic government of nonsectarian secular people, or the battles and the anger of the Sunni people will continue.”
It seems to me that there's no "right horse" to pick in this battle. No matter what we do, we're only going deeper into tribal divisions and centuries of dispute that will continue long after the last bomb falls from an American plane.
But that's just one area of conflict we're poking around at. Because of the goings-on with ISIS, our ex-Soviet friend has dropped out of the news recently. But Ukraine is still battling Russia, and there are actually American "boots on the ground" there, something unthinkable a quarter-century ago. Oh, we were "observing" an exercise
, but it was a show of force to Mr. Putin.
YAVORIV, Ukraine — After watching a series of war games on Ukrainian soil, U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh warned Russia on Friday about testing the resolve of an alliance that stands ready to guard against aggression in the region. “If anyone questions the United States’ commitment to security in the Black Sea region, they might want to take a look at what is happening at Rapid Trident 14,” said McHugh, who, along with top U.S. uniformed commanders, was in Ukraine to observe the first major exercise in the country since tensions with Russia spilled over earlier this year.
There are 1,300 international troops taking part in the U.S. Army Europe-led Rapid Trident exercise in western Ukraine, including 200 soldiers from the Vicenza, Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade. The decision to send U.S. soldiers into Ukraine, which has been in a virtual state of war since Russia’s annexation of the country’s Crimea peninsula, should also serve as a reassuring signal to allies rattled by unrest in the country, McHugh said.
“The United States’, our partner nations’, attempt to demonstrate our commitment to a people, a cause, a nation, is offered in different ways,” McHugh said. “But none of those ways speaks more clearly, more affirmatively about our commitment than when we send our men and women in uniform to train alongside nations that you’re seeing here today.”
As the first week of Rapid Trident draws to a close, soldiers from 15 countries have been working on their combat skills, in particular how to deal with unconventional threats in urban environments. Ukraine, as a non-NATO member, doesn’t enjoy the collective security guarantee that comes with alliance membership: the NATO bedrock principle that an attack on one is an attack on all. But training partnerships with the U.S. and other allies help prepare Ukrainian troops for the fight in the east, Ukrainian officers said.
“It goes without saying this event is very important. It is the epitome of our security for the future,” said Lt. Gen. Anatoliy Pushniakov, land forces commander for the Ukrainian army. “This increases our combat readiness.”
Finally today, while I can't quite bring myself to call this "Nazification", the arming of our civilian police continues. I've written about this plenty recently, but this one gave me pause. Now Boston is a college town, and there are many "Campus Police" departments all over our city...even two here within blocks of my house. (Bentley College and Brandeis both have forces independent of the City of Waltham.) But is this really necessary?
Read it carefully; it's not colleges with this gear - it's the freakin' Public Schools.
LOS ANGELES — School police departments across the country have taken advantage of free military surplus gear, stocking up on mine resistant armored vehicles, grenade launchers and scores of M16 rifles.
At least 26 school districts have participated in the Pentagon's surplus program, which is not new but has come under scrutiny after police responded to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, last month with tear gas, armored military trucks and riot gear.
Now, amid that increased criticism, several school districts say they'll give some of the equipment back, while others plan to keep the rifles they received. Nearly two dozen education and civil liberties groups sent a letter earlier this week to the Pentagon and the Justice and Education departments urging a stop to transfers of military weapons to school police.
The Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation's second largest school district covering 710 square miles and enrolling more than 900,000 students — said it would remove three grenade launchers it had acquired because they "are not essential life-saving items within the scope, duties and mission" of the district's police force.
But the district plans to keep the 60 M16s and a military vehicle — known as an MRAP — used in Iraq and Afghanistan that was built to withstand mine blasts.
District police Chief Steve Zipperman told The Associated Press that the M16s are used for training, and the MRAP, which is parked off campus, was acquired because the district could not afford to buy armored vehicles that might be used to protect officers and help students in a school shooting.
"That vehicle is used in very extraordinary circumstances involving a life-saving situation for an armed threat," Zipperman said. "Quite frankly I hope we never have to deploy it."
Law enforcement agencies around the country equipped themselves during learner budget years by turning to the Pentagon program, which the Defense Department has used to get rid of gear it no longer needs. Since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, school districts increasingly participated.
Federal records show schools in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, Texas and Utah obtained surplus military gear. At least six California districts have received equipment, state records show.
I haven't got a witticism to end with today...there have been a couple of recent blogs about the direction America seems to be headed, and I can only think 'the wrong one'.