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Author: TriSec    Date: 04/28/2015 10:15:30

Good Morning.

Today is our 313th day back in Iraq.

There have been no recent casualties in either theatre.

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1, 622, 139, 875, 000 .00

That 313 day figure above is something that always seems to be "there". It's not quite a covert war, as everyone knows what is happening and where we are, but it does represent an unauthorized action - we are essentially operating on Presidential whim here. That's not Obama's fault - Kongruss is far to busy opposing ponies or chocolate-chip cookies, or whatever the president happens to like this week. So let's take a little ride-along.

When we left Iraq, they were supposed to be "standing up" and taking care of security and military matters all on their own. We know how that turned out, so we've slowly but surely started sending troops back in. It's not a true deployment, as we understand American troops going to war, but they're in harms' way and are getting shot at, so doesn't that count? The situation we've found upon our return is not good.

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Lt. Col. John Schwemmer is here for his sixth Iraq deployment. Maj. James Modlin is on his fourth. Sgt. Maj. Thomas Foos? “It’s so many, I would rather not say. Sir.”

These soldiers are among 300 from the 5-73 Squadron of the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army, about half of them trainers, the rest support and force protection. Stationed at this old Iraqi military base 20 miles north of Baghdad, they are as close as it gets to American boots on the ground in Iraq.

Back now for the first time since the United States left in 2011, none of them thought they would be here again, let alone return to find the Iraqi Army they had once trained in such disrepair.

Colonel Schwemmer said he was stunned at the state in which he found the Iraqi soldiers when he arrived here. “It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “I was kind of surprised. What training did they have after we left?”

Apparently, not much. The current, woeful state of the Iraqi military raises the question not so much of whether the Americans left too soon, but whether a new round of deployments for training will have any more effect than the last.

Iraq’s army looked good on paper when the Americans left, after one of the biggest training missions carried out under wartime conditions. But after that, senior Iraqi officers began buying their own commissions, paying for them out of the supply, food and payroll money of their troops. Corruption ran up and down the ranks; desertion was rife.

The army did little more than staff checkpoints. Then, last year, four divisions collapsed overnight in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq under the determined assault of Islamic State fighters numbering in the hundreds or at most the low thousands, and the extremists’ advance came as far as this base.

An army that once counted 280,000 active-duty personnel, one of the largest in the world, is now believed by some experts to have as few as four to seven fully active divisions — as little as 50,000 troops by some estimates. The director of media operations for Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, Qais al-Rubaiae, said, however, that even by the most conservative estimates, the army now had at least 141,000 soldiers in 15 divisions.

Most of the American soldiers were intimately involved in training Iraqi forces before, too. “When I left in 2009,” Major Modlin said, “they had it, they really did. I don’t know what happened after that.”

“We used to say that every deployment was different,” Major Modlin said. “But we quickly found out that this time was completely different from any other time. The Iraqis know that this time we’re not going to do it for them, and they appreciate that.”

The 300 American soldiers here, with a smaller number of United States Marines at Al Asad air base in Anbar Province, are the only American soldiers deployed outside Baghdad. But as the military sees it, they do not count as “boots on the ground” since their role is purely to train, advise and assist, as part of a 3,000-person deployment authorized in November by President Obama.

In fact, Master Sgt. Mike Lavigne, a military spokesman (one tour in Iraq and three in Afghanistan), does not like that term at all. “We do not have a single boot on the ground,” he said. “Really, not one.”

But that's just Uncle Sam talking there. The official US Military aren't the only Americans fighting in the region. Ignoring the historical comparison for today, there's no way of knowing how many veterans have journeyed back to Iraq to complete some perceived "unfinished business". While they all have their reasons for going, history may end up comparing them to foreign soldiers in our own history that were hated and reviled while they were on American soil.

BAGHDAD — A decade after his first Iraq tour, former U.S. Marine Jamie Lane has returned to the battlefields of the Middle East to fight a still unvanquished enemy and wrestle with the demons of his past.

The 29-year old from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan served as a machine gunner from 2004 to 2008, mainly in the western Anbar province, where he saw fierce fighting against al-Qaida in Iraq. Now, as a private citizen suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he is back in the region to battle its successor, the Islamic State group.

"In order to aid my recovery from PTSD, I have taken it upon myself to fight on my terms, against an enemy I know is evil," said Lane, who joined Kurdish militiamen in Syria. "It is redemption, in a sense."

He is one of a small but growing number of Iraq war veterans who are making their way back to the Middle East, not as uniformed soldiers, but as individuals waging their own personal battles.

Many describe feeling a sense of unfinished business as they watched the Islamic State group rampage across the country last summer, seizing territory they had fought and bled for during the U.S.-led intervention. Some express remorse for taking part in that war, while others say they are driven by the same sense of moral obligation that brought them here in the first place, joining their fate to that of a deeply troubled country.

Scott Curley, another U.S veteran of the Iraq war, returned to join the Kurdish peshmerga fighters after Islamic State militants in Syria beheaded Peter Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger who had returned to the region to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians.

"I'm just a man with a gun, but whatever little difference I can do," he said. 'There weren't many Western volunteers (with the peshmerga), so I figured I could help here."

A U.S.-led air campaign began targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq in August, helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces to halt the extremists' advance and begin rolling them back. The Pentagon plans to supply some $1.6 billion worth of arms and training to Kurdish and Iraqi forces.

But after more than a decade of inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has no interest in sending ground troops back to the Middle East. And as the vets learned at great cost on their various deployments, territory cannot be won and held by airstrikes and arms deliveries alone.

"I'm not a mercenary or in love with killing people," said Bruce Windorski, a former Army Ranger and ex-police officer now training Kurdish fighters with the Syria-based People's Protection Units (YPG). The Green Bay, Wisconsin native says he would rather see a "random Westerner" fighting alongside the Kurds than another full-scale invasion.

Like all our modern wars, we never seem able to determine where or when to stop. So we keep expanding. Despite their near obsolescence, the A-10 "Thunderbolt" is still an impressive fighting machine, moreso than the "Flying Turd" F-35 slated to replace them someday (maybe.) So of course we're sending the venerable Warthog overseas to fight more terrorists...again without a peep out of our so-called leaders.

About 350 airmen from Selfridge Air National Guard Base are overseas, deployed on an operation in Southwest Asia to eliminate the terrorist group the Islamic State.

The deployment, which includes a dozen A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, is expected to last six months, military officials said today.

Per policy, the deployment was kept under wraps for security reasons. The specific country destination was not disclosed, but there have been no injuries or casualties to date, military officials said.

More airmen and the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft are expected to be deployed later this year from the Macomb County base, with more than 500 airmen in all expected to deploy this year. That's double the number each of the last two years, according to the military.

Finally, since this is ostensibly a veteran's affairs column, let's take a look at what $10 billion might buy the VA.

NEW YORK -- A new program that was supposed to get patients off waiting lists at Veterans Affairs medical centers by letting them switch to private-sector doctors is proving to be an even bigger disappointment than initially thought.

The Veteran's Choice program launched on Nov. 5 with $10 billion in funding and the expectation that it would instantly relieve backlogs at VA hospitals and clinics. But after a hurried rollout that has led to confusion as to exactly who is eligible and what they need to do to coordinate treatment, officials now say only 37,648 medical appointments have been made through April 11.

That figure represents only a tiny fraction of eligible patients. The Choice plan is supposed to be open to patients who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic or who have been told they would have to wait more than 30 days for VA care. As of April 1, there were nearly 432,000 appointments pending in the VA's scheduling system involving a wait that long.

VA leaders have previously acknowledged that few vets were successfully using the Choice program, but the new statistic came as a surprise -- as of mid-March, officials were saying that more than 45,000 appointments had been completed and that participation had been rising.

A VA spokeswoman said data analysts recently corrected that count to exclude duplicate appointments and "incomplete transactions."

The VA has already announced plans to loosen one important eligibility rule and an analysis is underway to pinpoint why utilization has been low.

One important factor is that many vets have a longstanding relationship with caregivers at their local VA and would prefer to stay in the system, even if it means having to wait or drive long distances.

Yet, it is unlikely that vets have been bypassing the Choice program solely due to lack of interest. Since the program's launch, approximately 1 million phone calls have come into a hotline that patients can use to schedule a private-sector appointment, according to the two managed care companies hired by the VA to administer the system.

Those contractors, TriWest Healthcare Alliance and Health Net Federal Services, said many of those calls were from vets who didn't need care right away and simply wanted information. But advocates for veterans have also raised concerns that some veterans interested in the program were deterred by bureaucratic hassles, confusion about procedures or a lack of available, participating doctors.

A survey of about 2,500 veterans conducted over the winter by Veterans of Foreign Wars found that only 19 percent of VA patients who believed they were eligible for Choice care because of a long wait time had been offered the option of getting care outside the VA.

Anecdotal stories also abound about lost paperwork and delays getting bureaucratic approvals needed to schedule private-sector care.

It's tough to say what's worse here - ignoring the past, or being doomed to repeat it.

56 comments (Latest Comment: 04/29/2015 03:51:14 by Will in Chicago)
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