Today is our 411th day back in Iraq. It's our third iteration now, as earlier this week marked the 25th anniversary of Iraq invading Kuwait (August 2), which started this entire affair, but I digress.
There have been no new casualties reported.
We find today's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 630, 909, 300, 000 .00
So, with 24 years in the Iraq area, and more than a full year of campaigning against ISIS in our rear-view mirror, what have we got to show for it? Apparently, not much.
WASHINGTON — After billions of dollars spent and more than 10,000 extremist fighters killed, the Islamic State group is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began a year ago, American intelligence agencies have concluded.
The military campaign has prevented Iraq's collapse and put the Islamic State under increasing pressure in northern Syria, particularly squeezing its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa. But intelligence analysts see the overall situation as a strategic stalemate: The Islamic State remains a well-funded extremist army able to replenish its ranks with foreign jihadis as quickly as the U.S. can eliminate them. Meanwhile, the group has expanded to other countries, including Libya, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Afghanistan.
The assessments by the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others appear to contradict the optimistic line taken by the Obama administration's special envoy, retired Gen. John Allen, who told a forum in Aspen, Colorado, last week that "ISIS is losing" in Iraq and Syria. The intelligence was described by officials who would not be named because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
"We've seen no meaningful degradation in their numbers," a defense official said, citing intelligence estimates that put the group's total strength at between 20,000 and 30,000, the same estimate as last August when the airstrikes began.
The Islamic State's staying power also raises questions about the administration's approach to the threat that the group poses to the U.S. and its allies. Although officials do not believe it is planning complex attacks on the West from its territory, the group's call to Western Muslims to kill at home has become a serious problem, FBI Director James Comey and other officials say.
So let's shift gears. It's August, and peak summer camp season. I myself went off to Scout Camp for a week, and there's sports, arts, music, leadership, and all kinds of plain old "fun" camps to send your kids away to for a week, a month, or indeed, the entire summer. So how about sending them off to war camp?
Maybe even paid for by Uncle Sam?
BAGHDAD -- In the steamy Baghdad night, sweat poured down the faces of the Iraqi teens as they marched around a school courtyard, training for battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
This is summer camp in Iraq, set up by the country's largest paramilitary force after Iraq's top Shiite cleric issued an edict calling on students as young as middle-school age to use their summer vacations to prepare to fight the Sunni extremists.
Dressed in military fatigues, 15-year-old Asam Riad was among the dozens of youths doing high-knee marches, his chest puffed out to try to appear as tall as the older cadets.
"We've been called to defend the nation," the scrawny boy asserted, his voice cracking as he vowed to join the Popular Mobilization Forces, the government-sanctioned umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias.
"I am not scared because my brothers are fighting alongside me."
With dozens of such camps around the country, hundreds of students have gone through the training though it is impossible to say how many went on to fight the Sunni extremists since those who do so go independently.
This summer, The Associated Press saw over a dozen armed boys on the front line in western Anbar province, including some as young as 10. Of around 200 cadets in a training class visited by the AP this month, about half were under the age of 18, with some as young as 15. Several said they intended to join their fathers and older brothers on the front lines.
It's yet another way minors are being dragged into Iraq's brutal war as the military, Shiite militias, Sunni tribes and Kurdish fighters battle to take back territory from ISIS militants who seized much of the country's north and west last year. The Sunni extremists have aggressively enlisted children as young as 10 for combat, as suicide bombers and as executioners in their horrifying videos. This month, Human Rights Watch said that Syrian Kurdish militias fighting the militants continue to deploy underage fighters.
Among those training in the streets of Baghdad, 15-year-old Jaafar Osama said he used to want to be an engineer when he grows up, but now he wants to be a fighter. His father is a volunteer fighting alongside the Shiite militias in Anbar and his older brother is fighting in Beiji, north of Baghdad.
"God willing, when I complete my training I will join them, even if it means sacrificing my life to keep Iraq safe," he said.
The training program could have serious implications for the U.S.-led coalition, which provides billions of dollars in military and economic aid to the Iraqi government but has distanced itself from the Iranian-backed militias. The U.S. does not work directly with the Popular Mobilization Forces, but the group receives weapons and funding from the Iraqi government and is trained by the Iraqi military, which receives its training from the U.S.
The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 says the U.S. cannot provide certain forms of military support, including foreign military financing and direct commercial sales to governments that recruit and use child soldiers or support paramilitaries or militias that do.
When informed of the AP findings, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement saying the U.S. is "very concerned by the allegations on the use of child soldiers in Iraq among some Popular Mobilization forces in the fight against ISIL," using an alternate acronym for the militant group. "We have strongly condemned this practice around the world and will continue to do so."
But is is only war, after all. Skipping briefly into Afghanistan, the current commander there thinks the rise of ISIS in that part of the world will further delay our ongoing departure from that country. And remember, any GOP president would instantly reverse that withdrawal, because war.
The lead U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the growing threat of ISIS could delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and Army Gen. John Campbell met Sunday in Kabul with President Ashraf Ghani to discuss the ISIS threat as well as the future manning levels of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"I think we're all having an important discussion on how to address the trans-regional nature of what is clearly a persistent threat (from ISIS) that has to be addressed at a sustainable level of effort over a period of time," Dempsey told reporters traveling with him on what was likely his last visit to U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility as JCS Chairman.
Dempsey, who will be succeeded as JCS chairman in the fall by Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, responded positively to Ghani's suggestion that Afghanistan serve as a hub for regional efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"The major advantage is we've got a willing partner who is asking us not only to help him but allow him to help us," Dempsey said without making any commitments.
Campbell, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said separately that ISIS had evolved from a "nascent" threat in Afghanistan to one that is "probably operationally emergent." He said that Obama's plan to withdraw the 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2016 was formed before the emergence of the ISIS threat.
Currently, the Taliban and ISIS do not threaten to overwhelm the Afghan government but Campbell said that "If we leave and there's no money coming in, years later could that happen? Yeah, maybe," Campbell said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Campbell was to make recommendations to Obama in the fall on the pace of the withdrawals. In his Senate confirmation hearing, Dunford pledged that he would visit Afghanistan soon to confer with Campbell and make his own assessment.
Dempsey came to Afghanistan from Iraq, where he asked U.S. military leaders whether they needed more troops beyond the approximately 3,550 now on the ground in a training and advisory role.
The leaders told him "not now," and also said that they saw no immediate need for putting U.S. advisors or JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) on the front lines with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
Twenty five years is an awfully long time to be going around in circles, isn't it?