TIME Military

The Islamic State Celebrates Its First Birthday

ISIS flag Raqqa
Reuters A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa on June 29, 2014.

The durability of the terror proto-state proves daunting

Military commanders like to say that “quantity has a quality all its own.” It’s a shorthand way of saying that greater numbers of inferior weapons or troops often can beat smaller, superior forces. Given that Monday marks the first birthday of the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, it’s also worth noting that the passage of time, too, has a quality all its own.

The quantity of time counts, as days turn into weeks, and months have become a year. Time isn’t an inert presence, either on the physical battlefield or in the war of ideas. It’s a measure of will, a magnet to attract followers, and a manifestation of reality. Bottom line: persistence produces power.

This isn’t good. The Pentagon has adopted a go-slow approach, with its modest air campaign and turgid training schedule, in part to prod Iraq to do the fighting. That’s fine, so long as you believe ISIS is a slow-growing tumor, confined to Iraq and Syria. But as last Friday’s attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia that killed at least 60 make clear, it’s a malignancy that’s spreading.

“They’ve been able to hold ground for a year,” says retired Marine general James Mattis, who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. “The longer they hold territory it become this radioactive thing, just spewing out this stuff as fighters go there and then come home again.”

“Listen to your caliph and obey him,” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a recording released June 29, 2014. “Support your state, which grows every day.”

Chillingly, al-Adnani issued a call last Tuesday calling on Muslims to mark the holy month of Ramadan by making it “a month of disasters for the kuffar”—non-Muslims. He pledged those carrying out such attacks “tenfold” rewards in heaven in exchange for their martyrdom. Last week’s attacks followed. ISIS took responsibility for the beachfront attack in Tunisia that killed at least 38; an ISIS affiliate claimed credit for the blast at a Kuwait City mosque that took 27 lives; the suspect in the French attack reportedly told police of his ties to the Islamic State after decapitating his employer.

IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency CentreThis map shows where Islamic state and its affiliates are located. The black borders delineate where Islamic State has formally announced a wilaya (province) and the red shows attacks carried out in the name of Islamic State between the declaration of a caliphate on June 29, 2014, and June 22, 2015.

After a year in existence, ISIS continues to keep its grip on the huge swatch of land straddling what used to be the border between eastern Syria and western Iraq. “After awhile, possession is nine-tenths of legitimacy,” Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says of ISIS’s first anniversary. “Just being there, visible, over time gives you more and more influence and ability to create more extremists.”

This represents a new kind of threat. “The Islamic State is not an insurgency like the United States fought from 2003 until its departure from Iraq,” Rand Corp. analyst David Johnson notes in the latest issue of Parameters, the Army’s professional journal. “Rather, it is an aspiring proto-state bent on taking and holding territory.”

The U.S. actually has been fighting ISIS and its forebears for years. “Washington continues to fail to recognize the persistence of this organization going back to the declaration of what was then called the Islamic State of Iraq,” Brian Fishman of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. “We don’t often recognize our long history of fighting ISIS, but we have effectively been fighting this organization for a decade already.”

As ISIS grew and began controlling greater swaths of Iraq and Syria, there was a sense its days were numbered. Following its seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, just over a year ago, Pentagon officials repeatedly said that Iraqi forces, perhaps aided by small numbers of U.S. troops accompanying them to call in air strikes, would take back the city sometime in the first half of 2015. That hasn’t happened. And for every Tikrit that Iraqi forces, aided by Iranian-backed Shi’a militias, have taken from ISIS by military force, ISIS has attacked and occupied a city like Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar province.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and destroy” ISIS last summer, little has changed. “Very little consequential territory has been reclaimed,” says retired general Jack Keane, who served as the Army’s second-ranking officer from 1999 to 2003. “ISIS still enjoys freedom of maneuver to attack at will, whenever and wherever it pleases.”

While the U.S.-led air campaign has led pretty much to a stalemate on the ground, ISIS’s survival has attracted supporters to its ranks, and led others around the world to claim membership. “What we see very frequently in Afghanistan, with respect to [ISIS], is a rebranding of people who are already in the battlefield,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday in Belgium. They’re donning the ISIS label because “they regard as a better replacement for names they’ve had in the past.”

ISIS’s continuing existence is also generating American recruits, according to an alert last month from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. law enforcement agencies shortly after police killed a pair planning to shoot up a “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas. “We judge … that [ISIS’s] messaging is resonating with US-based violent extremists due to its championing of a multifaceted vision of a caliphate,” the agency warned. A key reason for its success in attracting followers, DHS added, is “the perceived legitimacy of its self-proclaimed re-establishment of the caliphate.”

Every day that the undefeated caliphate persists boosts the chances that its followers will strike targets in the U.S. “The most important way to discredit the appeal of their ideology is by military defeat,” Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told that armed services panel hearing last week. “If they’re not holding terrain, if there is no caliphate,” he said. “There is no Islamic utopia.”

TIME Military

U.S. Flag Waves Over 10 Army Bases Proudly Named for Confederate Officers

Puts S.C.’s Confederate-flag flap in perspective

It’s tough to top the historical amnesia that has let the Confederate flag fly over the South Carolina capitol for more than half a century. But the U.S. Army certainly can give Columbia’s banner a run for its money: it operates posts named for nine Confederate generals and a colonel, including the head of its army, the reputed Georgia chief of the Ku Klux Klan and the commander whose troops fired the first shots of the Civil War.

It shouldn’t be surprising. Both the Army and the South are tradition-bound entities that revere their past. Each of the posts was named for a Confederate officer long after the Civil War, including many in the first half of the 20th Century when the U.S. military was rushing to open training posts for both world wars. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday there is “no discussion” underway about renaming the posts.

The Army itself stood firm. “Every Army installation is named for a soldier who holds a place in our military history,” Brigadier General Malcolm Frost, the service’s top spokesman, said Wednesday. “Accordingly, these historic names represent individuals, not causes or ideologies. It should be noted that the naming occurred in the spirit of reconciliation, not division.”

What makes all this especially bizarre is that the Army has always been the service with the most African-American troops. More than one of every five soldiers is black, double the Marines’ enlisted share. Every day, thousands of them salute smartly, preparing to defend the nation on soil honoring their race’s oppressors.

DoD

Don’t blame us, the Army seems to say. While the service traditionally solicited possible names from within its ranks, “unsolicited suggestions for names were also submitted from sources outside the military establishment, and political pressure and public opinion often influenced the naming decision,” the Army says in its history of naming Army installations. “As a result, it was common for camps and forts to be named after local features or veterans with a regional connection. In the southern states they were frequently named after celebrated Confederate soldiers.”

No kidding. All 10 of the bases are located in the Confederacy, stretching from Virginia to Texas. And some of the honored officers, frankly, don’t appear to deserve celebration:

Camp Beauregard, La., honors Louisiana native and Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818-1893, West Point class of 1838). It is a major training site for the Louisiana National Guard. Beauregard was the first brigadier general in the Confederate army. Dispatched to defend Charleston, S.C., his troops began shelling Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, launching the Civil War.

Fort Benning, Ga., honors Brigadier General Henry Benning (1814-1875), a Georgia lawyer, politician, judge and supporter of slavery. The Army established Camp Benning, known as the Home of the Infantry, in 1918; it became a fort four years later 1950 (forts generally are bigger, more permanent installations than camps). “In the wake of Lincoln’s election, Benning became one of Georgia’s most vocal proponents of secession,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. “On November 19, 1860, he delivered a speech before the state legislature urging immediate secession, ending the speech by saying,`[L]et us do our duty; and what is our duty? I say, men of Georgia, let us lift up our voices and shout, “Ho! for independence!” Let us follow the example of our ancestors, and prove ourselves worthy sons of worthy sires!’”

Fort Bragg, N.C., honors General Braxton Bragg (1817-1876, West Point class of 1837). He waged war ploddingly with frontal assaults, and a lack of post-battle follow-through that turned battlefield successes into post-battle disappointments. “Even Bragg’s staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger,” historian Peter Cozzens has written. “His reluctance to praise or flatter was exceeded, we are told, only by the tenacity with which, once formed, he clung to an adverse impression of a subordinate. For such officers—and they were many in the Army of the Mississippi—Bragg’s removal or their transfer were the only alternatives to an unbearable existence.”

Fort Gordon, Ga., honors Lieut. General John Brown Gordon (1832-1904), one of Lee’s most-trusted officers. The post began as Camp Gordon in 1917; it became Fort Gordon in 1956. It is home to the Army Signal Corps and the service’s Cyber Center of Excellence. “Generally acknowledged as the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1872,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia (Gordon denied the charge). “By the time of his death in 1904, Gordon had capitalized on his war record to such an extent that he had become for many Georgians, and southerners in general, the living embodiment of the Confederacy.”

Fort A.P. Hill, Va., honors Virginia native Lieut. General A.P. Hill (1825-1865, West Point class of 1847). The Army created the post six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today it is a training and maneuver center focused on providing realistic joint and combined-arms training. Hill had a frail physique and was frequently ill, attributes some historians believe are linked to the gonorrhea he contracted while on furlough from West Point (an infection that forced him to repeat his third year). A Union soldier from Pennsylvania shot and killed Hill in Petersburg, Va., a week before the end of the Civil War.

U.S. Army, from Fort A.P. Hill’s website

Fort Hood, Texas, honors native Kentuckian General John Bell Hood (1831-1879, West Point class of 1853). The post began as Camp Hood in 1942, becoming a fort in 1950. It is the largest active duty armored post in the U.S. military. Hood was wounded at Gettysburg, losing the use of his left arm. Despite that, he led his troops in a massive assault during the Battle of Chickamauga, suffering wounds that led to the loss of his right leg.

Fort Lee, Va., honors Virginian General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870, West Point class of 1829), the South’s commanding officer by the Civil War’s end. The War Department created Camp Lee within weeks of declaring war on Germany in 1917. The Pentagon promoted it to Fort Lee in 1950. Just south of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, the post is home to the Army Quartermaster School. Lee was the Confederacy’s most renowned general, and his forces inflicted tens of thousands of casualties on Union soldiers’ at Antietam, Gettysburg and Manassas.

Fort Pickett, Va., honors Major General George Pickett (1825-1875, West Point class of 1846), a Virginia native. Pickett’s 1863 charge at Gettysburg has been called “the high-water mark of the Confederacy” before ending up a Union victory. The charge resulted in a rebel bloodbath. Pickett fled to Canada for a year after the war ended, fearing execution as a traitor. Camp Pickett was dedicated on July 3, 1942, at 3 p.m., 79 years to the day and hour of Pickett’s charge in Gettysburg. It became a fort in 1974 and now is a Virginia Army National Guard installation.

Fort Polk, La., honors Lieut. General Leonidas Polk (1806-1864, West Point class of 1827), an Episcopal bishop born in North Carolina. Established in 1941, the post is now home to the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center, which trains thousands of soldiers annually for overseas deployments. Polk fought bitterly during the Civil War with his immediate superior, General Braxton Bragg, of Fort Bragg fame. Before being killed in action in 1864 during the Atlanta campaign, Polk committed one of the biggest blunders of the war. He sent troops to occupy Columbus, Ky., which led the Kentucky legislature to appeal to Washington for help, ending the state’s brief try at neutrality.

Fort Rucker, Alabama, honors Tennessee native Colonel Edmund Rucker (1835-1924) who was often called “general” but never attained the rank (he was known as “general” after becoming a leading Birmingham, Ala., industrialist after the Civil War). Known today as the Home of Army Aviation, Fort Rucker was originally the Ozark Triangular Division Camp before being renamed Camp Rucker in 1942. It became Fort Rucker in 1955.

TIME Military

Measuring War’s Impact on Women

US Marine Cpl. Michelle Berglin (C) assi
ADEK BERRY / AFP / Getty Images A female U.S. Marine on patrol in Afghanistan.

First-ever book on the topic assesses how female troops fare

American women have been marching off to war in increasing numbers over the last generation. Soon, the Pentagon expects to lift its ban on their service in ground combat, its most demanding, dirtiest and bloodiest form. Is this a good thing?

In Women at War, Army veterans Elspeth Cameron Ritchie and Anne L. Naclerio have produced the first book detailing what war does to the physical and mental health of the growing number of women waging it. Featuring contributions from many military and academic experts, the volume doesn’t advocate putting women in the trenches. “Women are already in combat,” says Ritchie, a psychiatrist who earned three combat patches before retiring from the Army as a colonel in 2010. The book also doesn’t wade into the controversy over whether women have the physical strength to accomplish the mission. Instead, it collects widely-scattered data about what combat does to women and puts it in one place to serve as guidance as the number of female soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines slowly rises.

Bottom line: women can do it, but it may not be easy.

Some 2.5 million women have served in uniform since the Revolutionary War, Lieut. General Patricia Horoho, the Army surgeon general, notes in the book’s forward. “Given recent policy changes, by January 2016 it is expected that all military occupations, positions, and units will be open to women,” she adds, “thus ensuring that they will play even larger roles in future military operations.”

The number of women engaged in major U.S. combat operations is steadily growing. They climbed from 770 in 1989’s Panama invasion, to 41,000 in 1991’s Gulf War, to 300,000 in the post-9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. About 15% of U.S. troops today are female. They represented 10% of those deployed to Iraq between 2003 and 2011, and 8% of those sent to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2013 (they were under-represented because they are generally barred from serving in combat units. That also accounts for the fact that they represented only 2.3% of U.S. troops killed in action).

More facts from the book:

  • In the post-9/11 wars, women deployed nearly as frequently as men (1.5 times per male soldier; 1.3 times for females), and for nearly as long (10.9 months per male soldier; 10.5 months per female soldier).
  • Women suffered slightly more psychological problems (15.1%) in the Afghanistan and Iraq war zones than men (14.9%).
  • More men dispatched to the war zones were diagnosed with PTSD (3.9%) than women (3.0%).
  • 15% of the soldiers who had to be medically evacuated out of the war zones for serious mental-health issues were female.

The 40 contributors (including 10 men) write about women’s health on the front lines and the challenges of being a soldier and a mother. “Mothers who deploy may be viewed as uncaring or negligent, rather than serving selflessly and patriotically,” Army psychiatrist Elizabeth C. Henderson writes. “It is more culturally acceptable for men to go to war.”

“I tried to avoid thinking of [my child] most of the time,” a mother deployed to a war zone said. “I had something to do right after every phone call so that I would not retreat to my tent and start crying.”

Women in uniform also are subject to shunning by their male colleagues. “Women who are working in primarily male career fields—or, as in the military, are breaking into previously closed combat positions currently held by males—may suddenly find themselves part of a social group that has difficulty fully accepting or integrating females,” writes Pentagon psychologist Kate McGraw. “The negative impact of this type of behavior may intensify during periods of high stress, such as in combat or deployed locations.”

But experience can ease such trepidation. “I felt tremendous pressure to live beyond reproach, and over time, I have learned that this is an incredibly intense, stressful, and ultimately unsustainable and inhumane way to live,” then-Lieut. Paulette Cazares wrote of her first tour as a doctor aboard a U.S. Navy submarine. “Come the second year and second deployment, I was able to dance in bars at ports of call and enjoy a cigar with the CO and know I was on stable footing.”

She also writes that her time aboard gave her the confidence she needed to save a young female sailor from dying of appendicitis on what was supposed to have been a quiet Thanksgiving. “At the beginning of that deployment, I would never known or had the courage to … demand that a helo move faster,” she recalls. “But a few months at sea made this girl a little saltier than she was when she left San Diego.”

NIKAYLA SHODEEN / U.S. ArmyU.S. Army soldiers, including women, train to become Rangers at Georgia’s Fort Benning.

Being different can pose challenges when nature calls. “In 2011, with all our sophisticated battle systems and unarmed aircraft, women in combat were still wearing diapers because we hadn’t figured out how they could take care of basic bodily functions in the back of an armored personnel carrier or transport vehicle,” Naclerio says. There remains, after a decade of war, ignorance among both military women and their medical advisers about minimizing such issues, she adds. (Only 4.5% of women in Iraq in 2005-2006, for example, were using commercially available female urination devices, which allow women to relieve themselves like men.) Both Naclerio and Ritchie express surprise at how little research has been done to smooth the integration of women into the military.

Sexual assault is a “major issue” in the U.S. military, the book notes, and has received extensive professional and press coverage. But there has been scant attention paid to consensual sex in the ranks downrange. “A taboo area seems to be the sexual desires of women who deploy,” the authors write. “But young women—and most women who deploy are young—do have sexual desires, perhaps heightened by the daily exposure to death and close bonding in the combat zone.” This taboo has led to a dearth of information. “We have very little knowledge of the actual amount of consensual sexual activity that is occurring during deployments between military members because very little research is done on that topic,” writes Navy psychiatrist Ann Canuso. (Think of it as a new version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”) “Studies indicate that as many as 12% of deployed women had an unplanned pregnancy during deployment in 2008.

The dearth of women on the front lines makes them a rarity. But that’s slowly expected to change. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said last month that he wants 25% of Marine recruits eventually to be women, more than triple their current 7% of the corps.

But until that happens (and Marines, both male and female, believe it’s a tall order), women on the front lines will continue to feel like they live in a fishbowl. “My presence there seemed to make everyone stop and stare,” one forward-deployed woman told Canuso of her visits to the gym. Some of their male counterparts acknowledged their role. One told Canuso about the time he was instructing other young men when a female colleague walked by in her workout gear. “We all just stopped and stared at her for almost a full 30 seconds,” he said. “Then I just went back to teaching the men. I never would have done that stateside.”

TIME Military

The Other Body Count in the Battle Against ISIS

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter And Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey Testify On US Policy In Mideast
Mark Wilson / Getty Images Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and General Martin Dempsey testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

The number of Iraqis being trained by the U.S. is more important than the number of militants being killed

Body counts are notoriously inaccurate—and a poor yardstick for measuring progress on the battlefield. Nonetheless, a top U.S. official recently trumpeted the fact that the U.S.-led alliance has killed “more than 10,000” fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria over the past year. That’s despite the fact that the alliance has regained little territory from the wide swaths of Iraq and Syria ISIS has gobbled up since 2013.

But there is another body count when it comes to assessing the war on ISIS that is far more accurate—and far more telling: the Pentagon had expected to train about 24,000 Iraqis to fight ISIS by this fall, but will only manage to train 7,000, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. (He fattened up the bottom line by adding that the U.S. also had trained “2,000 counter-terrorism service personnel”.)

U.S. Military Trains Iraqi Army
John Moore / Getty ImagesU.S. Army soldiers train Iraqi troops in April.

Even under Carter’s plumped-up number, the U.S. military will have achieved only 38% of its training target by this fall. Such a limited goal, and the inability to achieve it, contrasts with the Iraqi security forces that existed when U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011. The U.S. military left behind a 350,000-strong Iraqi army and a 450,000-strong national police force that “was assessed as a relatively well-trained and disciplined force,” according to a recent U.S. report. But it didn’t last. “The soldiers that we helped to train, when [ISIS] came in, they basically took the uniforms off and ran,” Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., told Carter and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This good-guy-trained body count is more important than the bad-guy-killed body count, for several reasons:

— It highlights a strong Iraqi reluctance to get involved in the fight against the Islamic State. “Our training efforts in Iraq have thus far been slowed by a lack of trainees—we simply haven’t received enough recruits,” Carter said. “As I’ve told Iraqi leaders, while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government.”

— It suggests the U.S has had poor intelligence about just how willing the Iraqis are to fight. While Dempsey called the training effort the “centerpiece” of the U.S. strategy, only now is the U.S. getting serious about training Sunni fighters, largely located in western Anbar Province. “We determined that our training efforts could be enhanced and thus are now focusing on increasing participation in and throughput of our training efforts, working closely with the Iraqi government and stressing the focus on drawing in Sunni forces, which, as noted, are under-represented in the Iraqi security forces today,” Carter said.

—It calls into question the placement of the four U.S. training camps currently inside Iraq. The U.S. is dispatching 450 more trainers to Anbar to operate a fifth camp. “The numbers [of trainers] are not as significant as the location,” Carter said. “It’s in the heart of Sunni territory, and I think it will make a big difference in the performance of the train-and-equip program as regards recruiting Sunni fighters.” In fact, he predicted the new camp will be generating new Sunni fighters to battle ISIS within “weeks.”

—It confirms that much of the eight years and $25 billion training Iraqi security forces during the first such effort accomplished little. “At a personal level, the most frustrating part of going back to Iraq in February was seeing so much of what we had fought for and achieved during the surge really gone to waste,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who served four tours in Iraq as a Marine.

—It reinforces Carter’s observation last month that the Iraqi forces driven out of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, lacked the “will to fight.”

So long as the Iraqis lack even the will to sign up to fight, the “long, hard slog” that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted for Iraq 12 years ago shows little sign of speeding up.

TIME Military

Of Two Minds About Fighting ISIS

150528-N-KU391-255
Josh Petrosino / U.S. Navy An E/A-18G electronic-warfare plane readies for takeoff May 26 from the USS Theodore Roosevelt for a mission against the Islamic State.

The military's leery, and two top newspapers disagree

The U.S. has been bombing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) for nearly a year, and its citizens—thanks to no American blood being spilled—are paying scant attention. That’s probably just as well, given the lack of consensus inside the U.S. government on what to do, and on the opposing views of two of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

Here’s a tip: it’s generally a bad idea to expand a shooting war when the government and press are split on its merits, a President’s in the twilight of his tenure, and the public doesn’t care. Even successful air campaigns—remember the 32-week effort that pushed Muammar Gaddafi out of Libya’s presidential tent in 2011?—seem less victorious in hindsight, as the north African “nation” becomes a Petri dish for terrorists (the U.S. launched an air strike early Sunday that reportedly killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist who’d set up shop there, the Pentagon said Sunday).

The U.S. thirst for vengeance on ISIS was fueled by the beheadings of three Americans last year. ISIS wanted deeper American involvement (remember, many of them are suicidal) but Washington refused to bite. While President Obama has pledged to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Pentagon officials lately have been saying “containment” more often. The air strikes have frozen the situation on the ground, which amounts to a de facto containment strategy. Absent a major terror strike linked to ISIS, that could continue indefinitely.

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, one of every three U.S. officers opposed it, according to an informal sampling of opinion at the time. Given that—and the years of turmoil it generated inside the U.S. military, and inside the region to this day—it’s not surprising that U.S. military leadership doesn’t want to wade more deeply into the anti-ISIS fight, as the Washington Post reported Sunday.

“Some of the strongest resistance to boosting U.S. involvement came from a surprising place: a war-weary military that has grown increasingly skeptical that force can prevail in a conflict fueled by political and religious grievances,” the Post said. “Their shift reflects the paucity of good options and a reluctance to suffer more combat deaths in a war in which America’s political leaders are far from committed and Iraqis have shown limited will to fight.”

Actually, it’s not that surprising. The notion that the military chomps at the bit to wage war is usually not the case. Some of its leaders, like Colin Powell, have advocated a series of guidelines (overwhelming force, clear objective) that have acted as a brake, when observed, on U.S. military action. It was the State Department, the Post reported, that pushed for assigning limited numbers of U.S. troops closer to the front lines alongside Iraqi forces to make U.S.-led air strikes more effective.

That schism inside the government has been reflected in recent days in editorials in the New York Times and the Post.

The Times complained Friday that Obama’s decision to dispatch 450 more U.S. troops to Iraq will do little to “change Iraq’s dysfunctional politics.” Iraqi politicians “have consistently demonstrated an inability or unwillingness” to share power and reduce the historic divisions among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, it said. “With each increase,” the Times noted, “the United States is being dragged more deeply into a war that lawmakers have been unwilling to authorize formally.”

The Post‘s Sunday editorial seemed uninformed by that piece on its front page about U.S. military doubts. It said the 450 troops, a 15% increase over the 3,100 already there, are too few to make a difference. “Rather than aiming to destroy the [ISIS], Mr. Obama is focused on limiting U.S. engagement,” the editorial said. “It is well within the capacity of the United States to destroy the [ISIS].”

Well, yes. Just like the U.S. succeeded in destroying Saddam Hussein’s state.

TIME Military

U.S. Adapts ‘Lily Pad’ Strategy to Defeat ISIS in Iraq

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked against the Taliban in Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer likened the expanding American footprint in Iraq Thursday to “lily pads” that will sprout across the pond known as Anbar Province, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria seized the capital last month.

“Our campaign is built on establishing these ‘lily pads’ that allow us to encourage the Iraqi security forces forward,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit in Italy. “As they go forward, they may exceed the reach of the particular lily pad”—leading to the creation of new ones.

While the strategy may be a new one since the U.S. pulled its forces out of Iraq in 2011, it has been done before. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, similar campaigns were carried out, often called “oil spot” or “ink blot” strategies.

Retired Army lieutenant colonel Andrew Krepinevich popularized the oil-spot notion in a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, during the darkest days of the U.S.-led alliance in Iraq. “Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort—hence the image of an expanding oil spot,” wrote Krepinevich, who heads the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Military scholar Max Boot advocated using what he called the “‘spreading inkblot’ strategy” in and around Baghdad in 2007.

It makes sense to establish protected bases in potentially-hostile terrain that can be linked to safer rear areas by air and roads. Each lily pad (or oil spot, or ink blot) gets bigger if its troops succeed in expanding the secure zones around them. Military momentum can lead to the creation of additional lily pads. Ultimately, they all expand until the entire region is free of enemy forces and secure.

Wednesday’s announcement boosts the number of U.S. bases in Iraq to five. “We’re looking all the time to see if additional sites might be necessary,” Dempsey said, although he said the two now in Anbar would probably suffice for that province. “I could foresee one in the corridor that runs from Baghdad to Tikrit to Kirkuk over into Mosul,” he added.

Dempsey detailed the evolving U.S. strategy the day after the White House said it would send up to 450 trainers and advisers to a base near Ramadi in eastern Anbar, within easy range of ISIS attacks. President Obama has pledged to keep U.S. troops out of combat with ISIS, even though allowing small numbers to embed with Iraqi forces to call in U.S. air strikes would make them more effective. The additional forces would push the U.S. troop total in Iraq to 3,550. Any decision to plant additional lily pads could require more U.S. troops in Iraq. U.S. troop strength in the 2003-2011 Iraq war peaked at 158,000 in 2008.

Adding U.S. troops to the Taqaddum military base is significant, Dempsey added, because “it gives us access to another Iraqi division and extends their reach into al Anbar province and gives us access to more tribes.” The U.S. is eager to enlist the Sunni tribes in Anbar in the fight against ISIS, whose members are Sunni. Sending the largely Shi’ite forces in Iraq’s national army to battle Sunnis in the Sunni heartland could inflame sectarian tensions.

Of course, lily pads don’t always thrive. In Afghanistan, they’ve shrunk in recent years. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, warned two years ago that danger was spreading across the country and limiting the places his inspectors could visit to do their jobs. “U.S. officials have told us that it is often difficult for program and contracting staff to visit reconstruction sites in Afghanistan,” he said in October 2013. “U.S. military officials have told us that they will provide civilian access only to areas within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility.”

The Afghan lily pads have continued to shrivel. “Americans can only really travel safely in Kabul, and for most part no travel outside of green zone in Kabul,” one U.S. official said Thursday, speaking of travel in and around the Afghan capital. “Helicopters are needed to travel less than a mile from the embassy to airport.”

SIGAR
TIME Military

Can the U.S. Military Train the Iraqi Army to Victory Over ISIS?

U.S. Army trainers instruct Iraqi Army recruits at a military base on April 12, 2015 in Taji, Iraq.
John Moore—Getty Images U.S. Army trainers instruct Iraqi Army recruits at a military base on April 12, 2015 in Taji, Iraq.

Obama decides to dispatch 450 more to speed things up

The U.S. military likes to say that when it comes to war, the enemy gets a vote. President Obama made that clear Wednesday as he continued to retool his strategy to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. The biggest tweak to U.S. policy was his decision to boost the 3,180 U.S. trainers and advisers in Iraq by as many as 450 additional troops.

The White House has made it clear U.S. troops will be limited to advising and training Iraqi forces and will not be sent into combat against ISIS. “To improve the capabilities and effectiveness of partners on the ground, the President authorized the deployment of up to 450 additional U.S. military personnel to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. But some on Capitol Hill were not impressed by Obama’s reinforcements. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, a senior member of the armed services committee, called them a “knee-jerk reaction” to recent poor showings by the Iraqi army, rather than a “long-term strategy.”

In many ways, this assignment is déjà vu for the U.S. military. They were ordered into Iraq in the wake of the U.S.-mandated dissolution of the Iraqi army following the 2003 invasion, and told to build a new one from scratch. After all U.S. forces left in 2011, the Iraqi army basically fell apart because of the cronyism and corruption that took place under Nouri al-Malaki, Iraq’s prime minister from 2006 to 2014. Over the past several months they’ve begun anew, training more than 9,000 Iraqi troops, with 3,000 more in the pipeline.

Those sectarian splits caused by Malaki’s government sapped the Iraqi forces “will to fight” to save Ramadi from being overrun by ISIS last month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. While training can give troops the skills needed to prevail on the battlefield, training can’t teach will. Nonetheless, U.S. troops who trained Iraqi forces the first time around say Iraqi forces, given decent leadership, are good fighters. They’ve shared their experiences with Army interviewers. The resulting oral histories offer guidance to those U.S. trainers in, or soon headed for, Iraq.

In the initial rebuilding of the Iraqi army, many units suffered from a Saddam Hussein hangover, where the traditional top-down and centralized command structure stifled innovation and initiative. While the passage of time has eased that problem, Iraqi forces remain hampered by their inability to support their forward forces with the intelligence and logistical support that makes for an effective fighting force. That’s less critical for their ISIS foes, whose terror tactics sow fear across wide swaths of Iraq with only hit-and-run attacks.

U.S. officers who trained Iraqi troops the first time around learned they had to adjust their expectations. “As Americans, we tend to look at things through American goggles, but when you’re over there you have to take off those American goggles and put on the Iraqi goggles,” Army Major Dave Karsen explained following his 2006 training tour. “Once you do that it was like, `Oh, you guys are doing fine by Iraqi standards.’ Put those American goggles back on and it’s like, `You guys are 50 years in the weeds. You guys are operating at a 1918 U.S. capability compared to now.’ It’s just a totally different mindset.”

The key lesson for U.S. trainers was that Iraqi troops are trainable. “When an IED event happened, their first reaction early on was what is referred to as the ‘Iraq death blossom,’ where everybody starts shooting in every direction,” Major Matt Schreiber said of his training stint. “That poses a lot of problems for a number of reasons.” But the Iraqis shaped up with training: “If an IED blew up or detonated, despite the damage and the casualties it caused, we were confident that our Iraq army soldiers would respond they way that they were trained.”

“My personal experience with the Iraqis under fire is that they are very brave and they’re not afraid to fight,” Major William Taylor said. “You tend to find that they’re willing to take risks and do things that American soldiers would never do.” He recalled Iraqi soldiers who found an improvised explosive device and watching one of them “poking the IED with a stick.” Such bravery—or foolhardiness—could be wasted without good leadership. But, he added, “when they had good leaders, they would fight very hard.”

Iraqi leadership often left something to be desired. One brigade commander “would conduct an operation if he could get the local media or the national media to come down and videotape him,” Major Mark Fisher said. But he canceled two operations “at the last minute … because the media told him that they could not make it out today, which is a poor reason for canceling an operation.”

TIME Military

Gays in the U.S. Military Are Now Protected Against ‘Witch Hunts’

Such hunts were standard not so long ago

Some labels never lose their sting inside the U.S. military. “Communist,” for example, remains potent, even if the U.S. imports more from Red China than any other country. “Gay” used to be one too, or at least it was when “homosexual” was the commonly-used term. But Tuesday’s announcement by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that gays and lesbians will be protected from discrimination by the Pentagon’s equal-opportunity policy makes clear the Pentagon’s Old Guard has lost the culture war.

Talk about change: less than a generation ago, troops were investigated if commanders suspected they were gay. In fact, superiors often launched what were called “witch hunts” to find gay troops and boot them out of the service. But under the newly expanded equal-opportunity policy, any commander who orders such a hunt will be investigated, instead.

“Discrimination of any kind has no place in America’s armed forces,” Carter said at a Pentagon ceremony celebrating June as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month.” His action adds sexual orientation to race, creed, color, national origin and gender as a protected characteristic that cannot be considered in hiring, firing and promotions. It comes as Carter weighs recommending his openly gay chief of staff, former Air Force undersecretary Eric Fanning, to replace outgoing Army Secretary John McHugh.

It’s hard to overstate how far this debate has come since presidential candidate Bill Clinton declared in 1992 that openly gay men and women should be permitted to serve in uniform. Following Clinton’s election, his proposal generated sharp opposition from U.S. military leaders, including Army General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They were reflecting the views of many of their troops: “At the Marine Corps ball,” one Marine wondered, “will we see homosexual couples dancing and kissing?”

Congress held a hearing in the Navy town of Norfolk, Va., in May 1993 to gauge sailor sentiment toward Clinton’s idea. “There’s going to be a lot of men overboard” because heterosexuals won’t tolerate gays working alongside them aboard ship, warned a sailor from the carrier USS John F. Kennedy. Added a female sailor aboard a sub tender: “There’s going to be a lot of problems—a lot of personal injuries, if not deaths—against gays and lesbians.”

The scare tactics worked for a nation uncertain about the wisdom of integrating gays into a tradition-bound culture like the U.S. military (the fact that it wasn’t an issue for other nations’ militaries never seemed to get much traction inside the Pentagon). Facing strong opposition from both the military and the Congress, Clinton compromised. “The new policy, dubbed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue,’ bars the Pentagon from asking service members if they are gay, but forces gays to hide their sexual orientation or face expulsion,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time. “Gay activists were disappointed by the rules, which are to take effect Feb. 5 [1994]. They fall far short of the opening of the military to gays that President Clinton promised last winter.”

U.S. Army Pfc. Barry Winchell

In some ways “don’t ask, don’t tell,” by locking gays into the closet, only complicated their lives. More than 13,000 were kicked out of the military under the Clinton compromise. And it certainly didn’t protect them, as Pfc. Barry Winchell’s murder at the hands of a fellow soldier in July 1999 showed. “The allegations surrounding Winchell’s life and death suggest that the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, far from being a neat compromise between barring gays and openly accepting them, is being carried out in a way that can create a dangerous atmosphere of intrigue in the ranks,” TIME reported in December of that year. (Winchell’s killer received a life sentence, with the possibility of parole.)

A decade later, the growing acceptance of gay men and women in U.S. society led to a new push by President Obama to end the ban. Yet many of those in uniform remained largely unpersuaded. In 2010 General James Amos, the Marine commandant, worried that openly gay men and women in uniform would be a distraction that could get Marines killed. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” he said. “I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction.”

But society had moved on. Congress and the Pentagon ultimately decided openly gay men and women could serve, beginning in 2011. Lifting the ban became such an event that TIME invited a closeted Air Force pilot to write about the shift. He did so online as “Officer X” in more than 20 columns, before revealing his identity as 1st Lieutenant Karl Johnson, once the ban became history that September.

Then, nothing.

Amid a war in Afghanistan, the relatively few gay men and women who declared their sexuality generated scant attention, and even less hostility. It seemed the nation had bigger foes to fight. Or maybe it had just moved on.

But for others, the battle continues. “We absolutely cannot leave our transgender service members behind,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said Tuesday following the Pentagon’s policy change. “We again urge Secretary Carter to also order a full and comprehensive review to update the outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving openly and honestly.”

TIME Military

Fight Against ISIS Militants Lags Because They’re Nimble … and the U.S. Isn’t

“We have met the enemy, and it is us,” Obama seems to say

President Obama rattled off a list of what has gone wrong in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria during a wrap-up press conference Monday following the G-7 summit in Germany. Although he didn’t come out and say it, he made clear that while ISIS militants are “nimble and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic,” those fighting them — led by his Administration — are not.

Reading between the lines, he also suggested that responsibility for the poor showing thus far can be blamed on the Pentagon, Iraq and Turkey — but not him or his White House staff. It was a deft example of blame shifting that also has the consequence of relegating the presidency to the status of an also-ran.

“We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis,” Obama said, in words that quickly ricocheted around the world. The comment unfortunately echoed one from last summer that sent aides and Pentagon officials wincing: “We don’t have a strategy yet,” he had said in August.

Obama’s remarks generated predictable ire from Republicans. “I fear his incomplete strategy has only emboldened ISIS and put our national security at greater risk,” said Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

More critically, it also sparked concern among retired military officers, increasingly echoing what some of their active-duty counterparts are saying privately. “Did anyone tell him that it’s his job to develop a strategy?” wonders Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine.

The U.S. has been debating its anti-ISIS strategy longer than Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War that drove his forces out, says David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who planned that 38-day air campaign. “In about the same period of time, Saddam had invaded Kuwait with half-a-million forces, and the U.S. had devised a strategy, deployed the required forces to execute it, and eliminated the Iraqi military as an effective force, removing them from Kuwait,” Deptula says. Noting Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s recent complaint that Iraqi forces did not have the “will to fight” for the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, Deptula adds that “it does not appear that our Commander in Chief does, either.”

Read More: Obama Says ‘No Complete Strategy’ for Training Iraqis to Fight ISIS

Obama spoke of ISIS’s resilience following thousands of air strikes led by the U.S. (Monday’s listed here), where ISIS is defeated in one place only to surface in another. “We have made significant progress in pushing back [ISIS] from areas in which they had occupied or disrupted local populations,” Obama said. “But we’ve also seen areas, like in Ramadi, where they’re displaced in one place and then they come back in in another. And they’re nimble and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic.”

Obama went on to contrast those characteristics with the sclerotic response of those battling ISIS. It was those particulars that proved jarring, a full year (as of Thursday) after ISIS troops drove Iraqi forces out of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and 10 months after it began beheading American hostages:

One of the areas where we’re going to have to improve is the speed at which we’re training Iraqi forces … We’re reviewing a range of plans for how we might do that, essentially accelerating the number of Iraqi forces that are properly trained and equipped and have a focused strategy and good leadership. And when a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people.

Bottom line: the Pentagon is the bottleneck.

That is not the way to win friends in uniform. True, the Pentagon has no desire to get involved in another ground war in the region. The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq killed 6,849 Americans, will cost at least $3 trillion, and have achieved few of the goals set by their U.S. architects in exchange for that blood and treasure. In that way, though, the U.S. military is no different from Obama, who was elected promising to extricate the U.S. from those conflicts. Their co-dependency has created a tepid war plan, half-heartedly carried out.

We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment [of Iraqi troops] takes place; how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out … One of the things that we’re still seeing is, in Iraq, places where we’ve got more training capacity than we have recruits.

Bottom line: blame the Iraqis.

Iraq remains a deeply divided society, pitting Sunnis against Shi‘ites against Kurds. With mistrust and bloodlust rampant among them, creating a unified national army to fight ISIS may not be possible in the short term. There was a realpolitik reason Washington tolerated what it often calls autocrats in polite company (known elsewhere in the world as dictators and tyrants) in Egypt, Iraq and Libya. Even when anti-American, they brutally tightened the lid on their sectarian pressure cookers. If the U.S. has decided it’s not wise to keep such potentates in power, it should hardly be surprised when the lids blow off.

The other area where we’ve got to make a lot more progress is on stemming the flow of foreign [ISIS] fighters … We are still seeing thousands of foreign fighters flowing into first Syria and then, oftentimes, ultimately into Iraq … A lot of it is preventable, if we’ve got better cooperation, better coordination, better intelligence, if we are monitoring what’s happening at the Turkish-Syria border more effectively. This is an area where we’ve been seeking deeper cooperation with Turkish authorities, who recognize it’s a problem but haven’t fully ramped up the capacity they need.

Bottom line: it’s the Turks’ fault.

Turkey has performed poorly as the one NATO ally bordering Syria and Iraq throughout the anti-ISIS campaign. But with its own restive Kurdish minority, and fearing Syrian strongman Bashar Assad more than ISIS, it has been content to remain largely on the sidelines.

So there’s a germ of truth in each of Obama’s claims. But that shouldn’t keep the Commander in Chief from looking in the mirror when it comes to assigning culpability for the timorous anti-ISIS campaign and its lackluster results.

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