Matt Danzer

Obama Delays Afghanistan Troop Drawdown, Leaving War to Next President

"Reversing policy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will prolong the 14-year-old U.S. military engagement there, effectively handing off the task of pulling out troops to his successor," Reuters reports.  

"Obama said Afghan forces were not yet as strong as they needed to be given a 'very fragile' security situation and the United States will maintain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016. Obama had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small U.S.-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before he leaves office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and will be based at four locations - Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar."  

Obama Likely to End Up as a War President

Joshua Keating argues that with President Obama likely to keep U.S. military forces in Afghanistan through the end of his presidency, "Obama can no longer portray himself credibly as an ender of wars."  

"According to the New York Times, the most popular option currently on the table at the White House was one proposed by Gen. Martin Dempsey last year that would keep 3,000 to 5,000 troops in the country on a counterterrorism mission... Keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan into 2017 and likely beyond the end of his presidency would be a strange coda for a president who came into office vowing to wind down the Bush administration’s wars."  

As U.S. Airdrops Arms to Syrian Rebels, Kurds Accused of War Crimes

"US forces airdropped small arms ammunition and other supplies to Syrian Arab rebels following the start of Russia's air campaign in the country," Vice News reports, "as the release of an Amnesty International report documenting evidence of alleged war crimes by the YPG, a Kurdish militia which is an American ally."  

"One military official said the American arms drop, by Air Force C-17 cargo planes in northern Syria on Sunday, was part of a revamped US strategy announced last week to help rebels in Syria battling Islamic State (IS) militants. A US source told CNN that 50 tons of ammunition on 112 pallets were dropped to a coalition of rebels groups vetted by the US, known as the Syrian Arab Coalition. The group is fighting alongside the Kurdish YPG as part of a new rebel grouping around 3,200-strong known as the Democratic Forces of Syria."  

Outgoing Army Secretary Blasts Congressional Budget Politics

"On Monday, Army Secretary John McHugh criticized his former fellow lawmakers for not providing clear and predictable funding for the U.S. military," Defense One reports. "McHugh also had strong words for Beltway types who favor a smaller force with a smaller budget."  

Marines Having Trouble Retaining Newer Recruits

"Fewer first-term Marines are signing on for a second re-enlistment compared to this time last year, prompting manpower officials to ask commanders to redouble efforts to encourage young enlisted troops to stay in the Corps," according to Marine Corps Times .  

"As of Oct. 5, just over 33 percent of targeted first-term boat spaces were filled compared to 53 percent at the same time last year... Manpower planners also prefer to have far more submissions than boat spaces so they can choose only the best qualified Marines. But re-enlistment intent is on the decline across the enlisted ranks, according to the results of the 2015 EAS Enlisted Retention Survey. Of the more than 4,200 Marines who took that survey, 38 percent said they were unlikely to sign on for another term, up 7 percent since 2013. Respondents listed civilian job opportunities, a lack of job satisfaction and pay as some of the top reasons influencing their decision to leave the Corps."  

Obama Shifts Strategy on Training Syrian Rebels

"The Obama administration on Friday abandoned its efforts to build up a new rebel force inside Syria to combat the Islamic State," according to The New York Times , "acknowledging the failure of its $500 million campaign to train thousands of fighters and announcing that it will instead use the money to provide ammunition and some weapons for groups already engaged in the battle."  

"Defense Department training sites across the Middle East, including ones in Turkey and Jordan, will soon suspend almost all operations, officials said, in favor of a revamped program that briefly screens Arab rebel commanders of existing Syrian units before equipping them with much-needed ammunition and, potentially, small arms... The decision to scuttle a central piece of President Obama’s strategy for confronting extremists in Syria was made after mounting evidence that the training mission had resulted in no more than a handful of American-coached fighters."  

Algorithm Could Help Robots Predict Human Actions

Defense One reports on a new algorithm researchers are developing that "opens the door to software that can guess where a person is headed—reaching for a gun, steering a car into armored gate—milliseconds before the act plays out."  

"Researchers, Justin Horowitz and James Patton undertook the work under a National Institutes of Health Grant... The idea was to help robots help humans — by taking the steering wheel when a driver makes a bad decision, or perhaps activating an exoskeleton when a patient with a weak arm reaches for an object. But the algorithm, broadly speaking, might also help fly a plane or anticipate the next move by a suicide bomber or gunman."  

Is Putin's Syria Intervention Meant to Teach a Lesson

Ivan Krastev : "Is Russia in Syria simply for the sport of watching a humiliated President Obama? Is damaging the value of American power the only purpose of Russia’s 'spoiling'? It’s more accurate to say that the Kremlin is in Syria for pedagogical reasons: It wants to teach Americans a lesson, and a valuable one. It wants to show that America should either be prepared to intervene in any civil war that follows a troubled revolution inspired by its lofty rhetoric, or it should quit goading people to revolt."  

Landmark Cybersecurity Could Reach Senate Floor Soon

"Be­fore the Sen­ate ad­journed for the sum­mer work peri­od, law­makers agreed to bring up the Cy­ber­threat In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, or CISA, after they re­turned to Wash­ing­ton in Septem­ber," according to Defense One .  

"The bill has been await­ing Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s green light to re­turn to the floor since then but was put aside in favor of oth­er press­ing is­sues like budget ne­go­ti­ations and Pres­id­ent Obama’s nuc­le­ar deal with Ir­an... The bill would set up in­cent­ives for the private sec­tor to share cy­ber­threat in­form­a­tion with oth­er com­pan­ies and with the gov­ern­ment, which sup­port­ers say will boost cy­ber­se­cur­ity for all in­volved. Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates have cri­ti­cized the bill, however, for what they see as lax pro­tec­tions for per­son­al data."  

Defense Authorization Bill Passes Senate, Headed for Likely Veto

"The Senate has moved the annual defense policy bill one step closer to passage and President Barack Obama’s desk, where he has promised to veto it," according to Defense One .  

"But the Senate advanced the fiscal year 2016 bill, known as the NDAA, by a vote of 73 to 26. Twenty-one Democrats voted for the $612 billion bill, despite the Obama administration’s opposition to what they call a 'gimmick' — using the Pentagon’s war chest, the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, or OCO, to increase military spending while skirting the budget caps. Only one Republican, presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, Ky., voted nay. The vote on final passage — which could come as soon as Wednesday — will likely see less Democratic support. But Tuesday’s count suggested proponents have comfortably secured the necessary 67 votes, or two-thirds majority, to override Obama’s veto."  

Top Commander in Afghanistan Recommends More Troops Stay for Longer

"The U.S. Army general leading the 14,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan made a plea on Tuesday to leave American forces in Afghanistan longer to train the faltering Afghan security forces," Paul McLeary reports, "a move that would require President Barack Obama to scrap his December 2016 timeline for withdrawing the last U.S. troops from the country."  

"Afghans still 'cannot handle the fight alone' without American close air support and a special operations counterterrorism force to hit Taliban leadership, Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee... Campbell said he has provided the White House a variety of options on troop strength, but he hedged when asked specifically how many of the 9,800 American troops should remain in Afghanistan and for how long."  

NATO Issues Warning After Russian Warplanes Escorted Out of Turkish Airspace

"NATO warned Russia to stay away from Turkey on Monday after the Turkish air force intercepted a Russian warplane that strayed into its airspace from Syria," The Washington Post reports, "underscoring the heightened risk of a wider conflagration as Russia escalates its intervention in the Syrian conflict."  

"Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Russian ambassador had informed him that the incident was a mistake, but it nonetheless contributed to the sense that Moscow’s intervention in Syria had added a dangerously unpredictable new dimension to the war... U.S. officials called the Turkish airspace violation a deliberate provocation and the kind of unpredictable act they have worried about since Russia began its military buildup in Syria last month."  

Investigation of Airstrike Against Kunduz Hospital Raises Additional Questions

AP reports on the developing story of how a U.S. airstrike targeted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.  

"Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire requested the U.S. airstrike that killed 22 people at a medical clinic in northern Afghanistan over the weekend, the top commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan said Monday... The strike wasn't sought by U.S. forces, Gen. John F. Campbell said at a hastily arranged Pentagon news conference."  

Right and Wrong Ways to "Train-and-Equip" Foreign Forces

Rosa Brooks : "The United States has spent untold billions training, equipping, and advising fighters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, only to see the beneficiaries of that investment run for the hills at the earliest opportunity... If I had to pinpoint the single most important reason recent U.S. train-and-equip efforts have failed, I’d say it’s this: We consistently fail to understand that other people want to pursue what they see as their interests and objectives, not ours."  

"We go into complex foreign conflicts with a profound ignorance of history, language, and culture; as a result, we rarely understand the loyalties, commitments, and constraints of those we train. Sure, we undertake 'vetting,' but it’s remarkably shallow: If there’s no evidence of actual collaboration or affiliation with groups we don’t like, and no evidence of participation in egregious human rights abuses, a trainee or military unit is good to go. People fight and die for what they care about. When fighting for U.S. interests is convenient or lucrative — and not too dangerous — they’ll fight for what we care about, too. But when push comes to shove, there’s no particular reason for an Iraqi Sunni to keep fighting the Islamic State when cutting a deal offers a greater likelihood of his family’s long-term survival."  

Pentagon Resumes Survey of Colorado Facilities for Potential Guantanamo Replacement

"A Pentagon team tasked with finding potential alternatives inside the United States for Guantánamo captives is resuming its site survey in Colorado," Miami Herald reports.  

"The White House notified state and congressional politicians that a team would inspect a now empty state facility, Colorado State Penitentiary II, as well as a federal prison 10 miles away adjacent to the Florence 'supermax' prison...now holding 405 inmates, many of them convicted terrorists. They include former Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani, 41, convicted of the East Africa embassies bombings; Ramzi Yousef, 47, the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, serving life for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; ‘Unibomber’ Ted Kaczynski, 73, and FBI agent turned spy Robert Hanssen, 71."  

CIA Undergoes Major Reorganization

"The CIA unveiled a radically altered org chart on Thursday," according to The Washington Post , "formally unveiling the first new directorate in 50 years, completing a sweeping realignment of its ranks of spies and analysts, and unleashing an avalanche of new acronyms."  

"Perhaps the most ambitious addition is the Directorate of Digital Innovation, which is responsible for helping the CIA adapt to evolving technologies and is the first new directorate at the agency since 1963. The unit is led by a career analyst, Andrew Hallman, who previously served as a briefer to President George W. Bush... The CIA also identified 10 new 'mission centers,' which will combine analysts and operators in hybrid units focused on specific parts of the world or security threats. Most track longstanding CIA alignments, with centers devoted to weapons proliferation, for example, and the Near East. The centers are largely modeled on what for years had been known as the CTC, the counter-terrorism unit that mushroomed in size after the Sept. 11 attacks and became a paramilitary entity with its own fleet of armed drones."  

Understanding the Putin Doctrine

Steven Lee Myers offers insight into the motivations behind Russia President Vladimir Putin's intervention in Syria.  

"On the night of Dec. 5, 1989, Vladimir V. Putin, then a lieutenant colonel in the K.G.B., watched with alarm as thousands of East Germans in Dresden swarmed the riverside compound of the dreaded secret police, the Stasi... East Germany soon ceased to exist, as did the Soviet Union following the abortive putsch in August 1991, suffering from an affliction that Mr. Putin described as 'a paralysis of power.'... That diagnosis has been a driving force in his consolidation of political power, and it does much to explain Russia’s forceful intervention last week to bolster the besieged government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad."  

Pentagon Voices Worries Over Defense Industry Mergers

Defense One looks at Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Frank Kendall's concerns that mergers between major defense companies will reduce market competition.  

"The Pentagon’s top arms buyer worries that Lockheed Martin’s upcoming $9 billion acquisition of Blackhawk helicopter maker Sikorsky is part of a bad trend in which large defense firms get bigger and competition wanes... Pentagon leaders have been expecting an uptick in industry mergers for several years. In 2011, Ash Carter — then the acquisition chief, now defense secretary — warned that the Pentagon would not support mergers among the biggest companies."  

Russian Airstrikes Target CIA-Backed Syrian Revels

"Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, catching U.S. and Western officials off guard and drawing new condemnation as evidence suggested Moscow wasn’t targeting extremist group Islamic State, but rather other opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime," The Wall Street Journal reports.  

"One of the airstrikes hit an area primarily held by rebels backed by the Central Intelligence Agency and allied spy services, U.S. officials said, catapulting the Syrian crisis to a new level of danger and uncertainty. Moscow’s entry means the world’s most powerful militaries—including the U.S., Britain and France—now are flying uncoordinated combat missions, heightening the risk of conflict in the skies over Syria."  

American Ground Forces Assist Afghans in Battle for Kunduz

"American Special Operations troops and on-the-ground military advisers from the NATO coalition joined Afghan forces trying to retake the northern city of Kunduz from Taliban militants Wednesday," according to The Washington Post .  

"Personnel from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan were on a mission near the Kunduz airport, where hundreds of Afghan troops had gathered after retreating from the city, when they were engaged by insurgents and called in an airstrike... The increased support from the coalition comes amid growing signs that Afghan forces are struggling to repel the Taliban fighters, who were able to seize Kunduz in a lightning strike Monday, dealing a major blow to Afghanistan’s Western-backed government."