It's almost Olympics time! Every four years, luscious 'soft' targets present themselves to a waiting world for all kinds of mischief and mayhem. Sometimes, there is actual sports competition.
But this year, those winter Olympics are in a place called Pyeongchang, which is about 50 miles from the Neutral Zone.
There have been talks, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when North Korea stated they would attend. They won't attack their own, would they? But if we're following that Romulan example, I wouldn't put it past North Korea to sacrifice their athletes just to make a point.Of course, we're not helping.
The entire region is going to be on a hair-trigger for the next month or so. The slightest mistake here is going to have serious repercussions.
Last week, the Pacific Air Forces announced three B-2 "Spirit" stealth bombers with about 200 personnel have been deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to the Pacific island of Guam.
The statement said the deployment is intended to provide leaders with "deterrent options to maintain regional stability."
But the Guam deployment hits an especially sore nerve and plays on a key vulnerability for Pyongyang, which is probably the message Washington had in mind as it seeks to make sure nothing happens during the Olympics, and also let Pyongyang know its decision to postpone the exercises is not a sign of weakness.
Last year, flights by B-1B bombers from Guam to the airspace around Korea were a major flashpoint, prompting a warning from North Korea that it had drawn up a plan to target the waters around the island with a missile strike that it could carry out anytime Kim gave the order.
The B-2 is the most advanced bomber in the Air Force and can carry nuclear weapons. It's also the only known aircraft that can drop the Air Force's biggest bomb, the 14,000-kilogram (30,000-pound) GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
The B-2 deployment came just days after the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier departed for the western Pacific in what the Navy called a regularly scheduled deployment. South Korean media reports say the carrier and its strike group will reach waters near the Korean Peninsula ahead of the start of the Games on Feb. 9.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, whose home port is just south of Tokyo in Yokosuka, is also in the region, and North Korea has accused the U.S. of planning to send another carrier -- the USS John Stennis -- from Bremerton, Washington.
The Marines announced on Sunday the arrival in southern Japan of the USS Wasp, an upgraded amphibious assault ship that can carry troops and launch the corps' new F-35B stealth fighters. It can carry 30-plus aircraft, including the F-35s, which are designed for vertical takeoffs and landings.
The ships and bombers could figure largely in a U.S. response to any military emergencies during the Games. North Korea may view them as a greater and more imminent threat.
Staying in that general area, we'll take a look into oft-overlooked Afghanistan. It's easy to forget that we still have troops on the ground there, and we're still throwing good money after bad away in what is
probably a shithole. Many programs have been tried to improve Afghan's station in life
- and yet we still fail them on a daily basis.
The Pentagon's $675 million, four-year effort to boost the business sector in Afghanistan was a poorly conceived program that failed to meet its objectives in such projects as cashmere goat farming and pomegranate storage, a watchdog agency said.
About half of the funding for the program went for administrative costs rather than actual projects and, in the end, there were no reliable data to show that the effort "created jobs, facilitated foreign direct investments, increased exports, or increased Afghan government revenues," according to a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The report focused on the DoD's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), which was charged with carrying out economic development projects in Afghanistan from 2010 through 2014.
From the start, it was "clear that TFBSO was unable to accomplish its overall goals. Specifically, the lack of a clear mission and strategy combined with poor coordination, planning, contracting, and oversight led to conflict with [other] U.S. agencies and waste," the report said.
"Furthermore, of the more than $675 million in obligations contained in contracts that we were able to review, TFBSO obligated only $316.3 million to contracts directly supporting projects in Afghanistan. The remaining $359.5 million went to indirect and support costs," SIGAR said.
"TFBSO often attempted to execute projects on timelines that were overly ambitious," the report said, and its managers "often had unrealistic assumptions in project execution and did not account for the realities of operating in Afghanistan."
SIGAR cited as an example the $435,500 contract with the Al Ehsan Construction Company and Tak Dana Dry and Fresh Fruit Processing to construct and equip a pomegranate cold storage facility.
According to contract documents, Al Ehsan completed its construction work for a pomegranate storage "shell building," but "when we visited the site on April 3, 2017, we found no evidence that the shell building existed," SIGAR said.
Finally this morning, a stark reminder that maybe our endless wars here actually are stretching the military to the breaking point. Remember last summer, when it seemed like there was an incident with the US Navy about every other week? Senator McCain demanded changes,
which never occurred, to reduce sailor workload whilst deployed. Instead, the Fleet Commander thinks sailors should work "better", even when fatigued.
This isn't going to end well.
In the wake of two deadly ship collisions in the Pacific last summer, sailor fatigue was cited as a contributing factor to crucial errors that resulted in the disasters.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, astounded by reports of 100-hour work weeks for some ship crews, demanded immediate change, predicting more tragedies if this trend continued.
The Navy has taken steps to get sailors more sleep, implementing new schedules designed to guarantee more consistent rest and ensure sailors have a circadian routine.
But the head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, says sailors also need to get used to working better while sleep deprived or physically worn out.
Davidson oversaw the comprehensive review commissioned by the Navy following the second deadly disaster, the collision of the destroyer USS John S. McCain with a commercial vessel in August. Ten sailors died as a result of the collision.
"One of the things that leaps out is, you've got to be able to handle fatigue. This is about more than just, 'Hey, the routine is too much,' " Davidson said.
"If you saw the investigations directly on what transpired on [destroyer] Fitzgerald and McCain after the collisions, and the leaders that have to cope with fatigue, whether it's the lack of sleep or whether it's the physical exertion of it all, there is some component there that is not robustly tested in the fleet. We really have to take a look at that," he said.
Speaking to Military.com following his talk, Davidson said sailors first of all need to understand fatigue and the effect it has on performance. While the way forward on training to handle fatigue isn't completely clear, he indicated that sailors must come to terms with the fact that they will be asked to fight while exhausted.
"I've got to be able to teach my people that they can't necessarily throw off the pack every day after 16 hours in a combat environment," he said. "They are going to have to figure out how to manage the routine and their people and understand the risk of, who's on watch and, am I going to stand on this watch and you can fight, kind of a protracted action. And oh, by the way, retain sufficient reserve so if you have to do a big damage-control effort, a big resupply of the ship ... that they've got the skills to do that."
Studies have likened the effects of sleep deprivation to being under the influence of alcohol. The longer people go without sleep, studies show, the slower their reaction time and the more impaired their cognitive capabilities.