TIME Military

U.S. Military Plan For Looming ISIS Offensive Takes Shape

DOD Chief Ashton Carter Travels To Middle East
Jonathan Ernst—Pool/Getty Images New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter begins Monday's anti-ISIS strategy session in Kuwait.

Clearing is relatively easy, but clearing and holding Islamic State territory is the goal

Every U.S. military official says degrading and defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria isn’t a job that can be done by the Pentagon alone. But it also cannot be done without the Pentagon. That’s the bind President Obama finds himself in as he seeks a way to cripple ISIS without putting U.S. combat boots on the ground inside Iraq and Syria (beyond the 3,100 now there to train Iraqi forces and protect the U.S. embassy and other facilities).

So far, the American heavy lifting in the fight against ISIS has come from the skies, where U.S. warplanes have dropped more than 8,200 bombs and missiles on ISIS targets in 2,500 air strikes in Iraq and Syria dating back to August. While Syrian rebels, largely Kurdish, have been able to hold on to the town of Kobani, they haven’t regained any ground. In Iraq, the Pentagon estimates that the Kurdish pesh merga forces have retaken a scant 1.3% of the contested territory ISIS has seized in the past year.

But U.S. officials believe, with sufficient training—and continuing allied airpower—the Iraqi army, Kurdish forces and moderate Syrian rebels will be able to defeat ISIS and take back the territory it seized over the next several years.

The key test of the strategy will come as early as April, when the Pentagon hopes to launch an offensive to retake the northern Iraq city of Mosul, which ISIS seized last June after it drove out the Iraqi army in a humiliating defeat. The Pentagon estimates a 25,000-strong force made up of Iraqi army and Kurdish pesh merga units will be able to overwhelm the up to 2,000 ISIS militants believed to be in control of Mosul. The fight is so vital to validating the U.S. approach that Pentagon officials have made clear that if the Iraqis aren’t adequately trained—and if the aerial bombardment around Mosul hasn’t done enough damage—the assault could be delayed by months.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria represents a villain “right out of central casting, just like in a James Bond movie,” says Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute. It’s an apt analogy: while there’s no doubt these fanatics are murderous thugs, how much of the shadow they’re now casting around the globe is really theirs, and how much is media magnification due to crafty use of their horrific YouTube videos?

For that matter, the anonymous warning from a senior U.S. military official Feb. 19 that the Iraqis could be willing to try to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from ISIS as early as April shows the U.S. and its allies also are playing the perceptions game. While propaganda has long been typical in war, it’s playing an increasing role in the clash between ISIS and the civilized world because the conflict now underway isn’t a traditional war.

In today’s wired world, lone wolves striking in Copenhagen and Paris—or small groups in Afghanistan and Libya—can give the impression of ISIS spreading like wildfire. But that’s misleading because in all those places it represents a sliver of the local populace that, while a clear and present danger to the locals, isn’t a threat to their political control.

THE PENTAGON VIEW

Let’s start with a couple of givens, from the Pentagon’s perspective. First of all, the U.S. military is now engaged in its third war in Iraq since 1991 not because ISIS represents a clear threat to U.S. soil. Rather, it’s simply in keeping with 1979’s Carter doctrine, when that President made clear that the Persian Gulf was a vital national-security interest that the U.S. would go to war to protect. It came on the heels of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the edict was clearly aimed at Moscow’s thirst for petroleum. The flow of oil from the region continues to lubricate the world’s economy, and ISIS, by destabilizing the states in the region, could disrupt it.

Yet if the Pentagon’s top spies disagree over what to do about ISIS, what hope is there for the average citizen to figure it out? “We are in a global war with a radical and violent form of the Islamic religion, and it is irresponsible and dangerous to deny it,” retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn said in a Jan. 20 warning published in Politico. Flynn was pushed out of his job early as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency last August for his management style and views on Islamic terrorism. “There is no cheap way to win this fight,” he wrote, saying the U.S. must treat ISIS, and Islamic groups like it, the way Washington dealt with Germany and Japan in World War II, and the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.

His successor is far less concerned—striking, given that he’s a Marine, a breed rarely given to understatement. While ISIS “can do us harm, they don’t pose an existential threat to the United States,” Lieut. General Vincent Stewart, told the House Armed Services Committee Feb. 3. While the U.S. military could launch more robust attacks against ISIS, Pentagon officials stress that if allied military successes outrun political progress in the region, there will be nothing positive to fill the gap left by ISIS’s destruction. “If I were to map out what ISIL would love to do, ISIL would love to have the United States and western countries out of the region and slowly take apart those other moderate nations who would counter their radical ideology,” Stewart said. “And if they could do that, then they could have a fairly easy opportunity to create the state that they think is appropriate for the region.”

The split over options goes beyond DIA. “If American combat troops are not committed to destroy that standing army, the Islamic State will grow and prosper,” warns retired Marine colonel Gary Anderson. “Young Muslim men world-wide, and some women, are flocking to their banner because they are successfully defying us and mocking us.” Anderson’s solution is nasty, brutish and short. “Go in hard with overwhelming force and destroy their standing army,” he argues. “It would be a relatively short and bloody fight.” Repairing the rubble would be left to the surviving residents.

But that remains a minority view in and around the Pentagon. The measured persistence of the U.S. campaign ultimately will pay off, says a retired four-star general who commanded in Iraq, and was willing to speak only so long as he was not identified by name. “The Americans have shown tremendous patience,” he says, “just as long as there’s not an endless stream of casualties without achieving progress.” While it doesn’t show up on the evening news—ISIS kills Western reporters—the Islamic militants are “getting hammered every day, except when there are dust storms or some other weather event that prevents employment of the intelligence assets,” the retired four-star says. “Imagine the morale in a force where they’re driving down the road and 21 vehicles are taken out very quickly.” Clearing ISIS from Iraq “is doable,” he says; Syria less so until Bashar Assad’s fate is sealed.

ISIS’S ORDER OF BATTLE

The core of ISIS consists of between 25,000 and 35,000 fighters in its self-declared caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria (all of these numbers, Pentagon officials stress, are rough estimates, and can vary from day to day and person to person). About half of them have journeyed to those two ancient lands specifically to fight. Its ranks include about 3,400 from the West, an estimated 150 of them American. The U.S. believes it has killed 6,000 ISIS militants. That suggests the U.S. and its allies have killed about 20% of ISIS’s forces.

Prior to air strikes restricting their massing and movements, ISIS generally operated in motorized companies of about 100 men, largely aboard pickup trucks—and U.S.-built Humvees, once they plundered them from the Iraqi security forces following the fall of Mosul. Their trained units are capable of basic military tactics, along with the ability to plant IEDs and conduct quick raids. “ISIS is a movement that would be hiding in caves if it did not have a professional cadre of trained, internationally recruited professional light infantry occupying towns and cities in Iraq and Syria,” retired Marine Anderson says. “They are very good at what they do, and the rabble of Iraqi/Syrian/Kurdish militias opposing them—and I include the Iraqi army here—is not going to dislodge them, even with American air support.”

WHAT SHOULD OBAMA DO?

Pentagon officials bridle when asked why progress in the now seven-month old campaign against ISIS seems to be moving so slowly. The nearly 2,500 air strikes are small bore compared with earlier air campaigns conducted by the U.S. military. Allied support is spare: U.S. warplanes are responsible for 80% of the air strikes. And the U.S.-led effort to train only 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels a year to reclaim Syrian soil from ISIS has yet to train a single one. So far, the Pentagon has vetted 1,200 of them for training, which is slated to begin next month in Jordan.

There are now 3,100 U.S. troops in Iraq, limited to advising Iraqi troops and protecting the U.S. embassy and other sites. “Our campaign design does not require the introduction of large numbers of U.S. forces,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at Texas A&M University Feb. 19. “The campaign design does not lend itself to the introduction of large forces which will then immediately take ownership of the issues. Rather, it calls for the introduction of a coalition which includes Iraqis, Kurds, Jordanians, Saudis, Emirates, Qataris, because that’s their issue. They are closest to it and have the most at stake.”

This seemingly-slow pacing is deliberate, Pentagon officials say. They want to make sure that whatever they achieve militarily can be backed up politically. “Clearing is easy,” the retired four-star general who commanded in Iraq says privately. “Clearing and holding the land you’ve taken is hard.” That requires a political infrastructure in place to fill the governing gap once ISIS is ousted.

But progress is puny. While Iraq is nearly 170,000 square miles in size (437,000 square kilometers), the Pentagon has assessed who controls only the 73,000 square miles (190,000 square kilometers), or 43%, that it deems to have value because population and infrastructure are there. In the less than half of Iraq assessed by the U.S. military, the U.S.-backed central government in Baghdad controls 30,000 square miles (77,000 square kilometers), or 18%. The Kurds control 22,000 square miles (56,000 square kilometers), or 13%. ISIS controls 21,000 square miles (55,000 square kilometers), or 12%.

A senior Pentagon official says that including all of Iraq in the calculation would give ISIS a greater share of Iraqi territory, but declined to offer an estimate. The U.S. and its allies, primarily the Kurdish peshmerga, have retaken about 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) of territory—about 1.3%—once held by ISIS in northern Iraq.

There’s only one way to take land, and that’s with well-trained ground forces. That’s why retired Marine general Anthony Zinni thinks the time is right for Obama to acknowledge reality and tell the nation he is sending 10,000 American troops into the fight. Zinni ran the U.S. military in the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions as chief of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000, and still has business dealings in the region. He’s just back from a trip to Cairo, and he says he’s hearing a growing willingness among regional powers to put troops on the ground to fight ISIS—so long as the U.S. is alongside them.

Rumbles from Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates all suggest those nations are willing to fight on the ground. “I think this is all designed to try to push the United States to put something on the ground,” Zinni said Feb. 23. “If we put a couple of brigades in, I think you’d get five or six regional countries. And I think you could twist the arms of the French, the Belgians and maybe even the Brits.”

Two U.S. brigades, with their supporting personnel, would total about 10,000 troops. Zinni says the nations in the region are not coordinating their efforts in an effort to lure the U.S. into the fight on the ground. “But they’re getting scared, and have gotten angry at ISIS’s atrocious behavior and they’re willing to step up,” he says. “It would have to be a whole set of bilateral relationships, and we would have to pull it together.

The U.S. would have to act as the catalyst to make this happen, says Zinni, who was an early advocate of sending U.S. ground troops into the fight. “There’s an opportunity now to put a small piece in terms of ground forces in there, and get a lot more from these countries, and be the glue that puts it together,” he says. “There is no unifying structure and no single entity out there that can bring this all together—it has to be the United States,” Zinni insists.

But what about Obama’s pledge to keep U.S. combat boots out of the fight? “They have a moment here and it’ll blow by if they’re not careful,” he says. Obama “could always say that the situation on the ground has changed, and the willingness of the Arabs to stand up to this gives us this moment,” says Zinni, showing why he’s a better general than a politician.

ANOTHER BIG WAR?

But Pentagon officials say Zinni and others advocating a bigger U.S. role in the conflict overlook key questions: While Iraq has allowed 3,100 American troops on its soil, it hasn’t granted permission for a larger force. And those pushing for a special-forces decapitation strikes against ISIS leaders ignore the fact that intelligence on their whereabouts is sparse (it took the U.S. a decade to find Osama bin Laden, and nearly a year to launch the attack that killed him once his suspected lair had been located in Abbottabad, Pakistan).

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said last month that the U.S. push against ISIS has stalled. “The area that they control, have influence, has actually grown and there’s not a lot of prospect in the near term of pushing that back,” he said. He dismissed the President’s options as binary. “I think the President is misleading when he says it’s either sending in a bunch of ground troops or `doing what I want to do’,” Thornberry said. “I do think our approach has to be working with regional allies. They are looking for more U.S. leadership, and part of the challenge is when you place restrictions on what our people can do, how much they can help, then obviously you’re going to be limited.”

Thornberry echoes a GOP refrain: that Obama is leery of using force. “I’m just worried, given the track record, that the President puts political constraints on what we can do rather than just focused on how to get this job done,” he said. “Political constraints are not going to get this job done, even if everything goes well. This is hard enough, even if we don’t tie our own hands.”

Neither the U.S. nor the rest of the world has done a good job convincing young Muslims that ISIS isn’t a good option, Thornberry added. “There is widespread agreement that the ideology is enormously appealing to huge numbers of Muslims, not a majority, but yet especially those in poor economic circumstances, those who feel depressed,” he said. “The appeal of that ideology to those young males in particular is something the world has not come to grips with.”

The international community, Thornberry said, is looking at ISIS through 20th Century eyes. “Part of our problem is that we tend to look at this country by country, and it is not a country by country issue,” he said. “It is a global issue that we’re not dealing with.” How should it be handled? “I’m not going to say an Arab NATO, but some sort of way that countries can work together to confront the ideology as well as what they’re doing on the ground militarily.”

Unlike al-Qaeda, with its plan to create a caliphate, “these guys short circuit that and go right to the caliphate, start behaving like a state, providing social services for their people, send out ambassadors,” Thornberry said. “It just reminds us, we’ve got to be careful about looking at things the way that we want to see them and not seeing what’s really happening.”

The AEI’s Donnelly believes that a determined President could—and should—get a green light from Congress to wage a bigger fight against ISIS. “If the President made the case forcefully, the American people would say, `Hell yea—this is behavior we cannot tolerate,’” Donnelly says. “A President can get what he wants from Congress in wartime.”

But some maintain that Republican calls for a bigger U.S. role—including getting rid of Assad—would likely lead only to a replay of the unsatisfying U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war is increasingly portrayed in political circles as the main alternative to the Obama Administration’s current approach,” the liberal-leaning National Security Network think tank said ina Feb. 18 report. “But…strategies for the United States to fully enter the Syrian civil war would most likely draw the United States into an unwinnable quagmire and unsustainable nation-building project.”

THE CURRENT CAMPAIGN

A U.S. war planner from Central Command expressed confidence in the seven-month old war’s course during a Feb. 19 background Pentagon briefing. “Our mission has not changed in terms of the degradation, dismantle and eventual defeat of ISIL,” he said. “It remains true to form. And it is generally unfolding as we had planned.” But he stressed, as the Pentagon has repeatedly, that the fighting will likely continue well on into the future, with no termination date yet penciled in. “This is going to take time,” he said. “The degrade phase alone we knew would be a long period of time.”

Dempsey estimated Feb. 19 that it would take up to three years for Iraq to regain its territorial integrity (he didn’t offer a timetable for Syria). “But I think the issues will be generational—20, 30 years—because there is an internal conflict within Islam, and within the Arab world, between moderates and radicals that just isn’t going to end because they stop fighting,” he added.

The U.S. strategy is plain: halt ISIS’s advance by pounding it from the air until local ground forces, with some U.S. help, are ready to attack and retake the land, and—most critically—the cities, under its control. The initial goal is to push ISIS out of Iraq, and then go after them inside Syria.

The U.S. and its allies have dropped more than 8,200 bombs and missiles in close to 2,500 air strikes on ISIS targets, roughly split between Iraq and Syria. The weapons range from 20-pound warheads atop Hellfire missiles fired from Predator and Reaper drones, to 2,000-pound GPS and laser-guided behemoths dropped from B-1 bombers and other warplanes.

The U.S. and its allies attack ISIS targets wherever they’re found, Pentagon officials say. But there weren’t that many to begin with, and many have been destroyed. ISIS fighters hide amid civilians in towns, which reduces the chances they’ll be attacked. “Militarily, ISIL is in decline,” the Central Command briefer said. The constant bombardment has curbed ISIS’s plans to expand, and its options. “He’s in the land of `ors’ versus `ands’ now.”

The U.S.-led air strikes, and the Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces, have penned in ISIS. “This is an enemy that we still assess to be in a defensive posture,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Feb. 13. While ISIS boasts of its expanding caliphate, it only represents moves “into more ungoverned spaces in Syria,” he added. “The way you govern is you’ve got to have people to govern. So the population areas are the most important areas that we’re focused on.”

A key challenge will be beefing up the now-disappeared Iraq-Syrian border to keep ISIS out of Iraq once it is pushed back into Syria. Even now, the Central Command briefer said, “the safe havens that he has in Syria, and his ability to migrate back and forth, still gives him that micro-offensive capability” shown by the recent attack on the western Iraqi town of Baghdadi.

Through Feb. 4, allied air strikes had damaged or destroyed 4,817 ISIS targets, ranging from tanks (62) to Humvees (257) to “fighting positions” (752), basically fancy foxholes. The strikes also focused on decapitating ISIS’s command, hitting 26 “leadership buildings” and 102 “HQ buildings.” The list isn’t the kind of “target-rich environment” the U.S. Air Force likes. There are few strategic targets listed—nearly two-thirds are troops, foxholes and the vehicles used to get the troops to those foxholes.

“Those are things that ISIL no longer has,” Kirby told reporters. “They’re gone. They’re destroyed. They can’t use them anymore. And this is an enemy that has a limited ability to reconstitute strength, at least material strength.”

But the notion of ISIS is a hierarchical organization misses a key point. Even as it is under daily attack, it has evolved into “a decentralized, diffused, aspirational social movement that follows few orders and few chains of command,” Dafna Rand, who served on Obama’s National Security Council staff, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Feb. 12.

Syria remains the big issue, just as Pakistan remained a key drag on the U.S. effort in Afghanistan because it offered sanctuary to Taliban militants fighting U.S. troops just across the border. “What we’ve learned from Vietnam forward is you cannot defeat an insurgent group if it has a refuge in a neighboring country,” James Jeffrey, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Feb. 12. “You have to do something about Syria, and you can’t do anything about Syria without having a better policy towards Assad.”

Training sites for the Syrian rebels are being established in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Iraqi Sunnis also are being trained in Anbar province. “It may not be as fast as some would like, but the inclusion of the Sunni tribes, the inclusion of the Sunnis writ large is an absolute critical component to this all working,” the Central Command briefer said Feb. 19. “And the leadership in Iraq is moving in the right direction to accommodate that.”

Military force can’t defeat ISIS by itself. “U.S. military action must be tied to a civil-military strategy that offers the best possible hope of producing a stable and friendly nation as its ultimate outcome,” Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote Feb. 13. “No amount of tactical victories in the field, and no amount of U.S. military force that merely defeats the immediate enemy threat, will create that stability.”

THE NARCISSISTIC VIEW OF WAR

Americans are skeptical of another military mission in Iraq following the years, and U.S. lives, expended in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. But one of the Army’s pre-eminent thinkers urges his countrymen not to take the wrong lessons from those campaigns. “The lesson is not that these kinds of missions are impossible,” Army Lieut. General H.R. McMaster told Time Feb. 19. “One of the key lessons is we made it just about as hard on ourselves as we could have, by not acknowledging the need to consolidate gains in either Afghanistan or Iraq.” McMaster, an incumbent member of the Time 100, says inadequate pre-war planning doomed the effort to preserve the “fragile victory” that the U.S. had achieved in Iraq.

He expresses concern that despite the videos, Americans aren’t paying enough attention to the foe. “I wish we could get the American people more interested in who we’re fighting,” he says, with a touch of exasperation. “When you hear statements like `Americans are weary of the effort,’ and so forth, sometimes we don’t spend enough time talking about the nature of our enemies.”

The Germans hid their death camps during World War II. But that’s not the case with ISIS, who uses video to recruit and instill fear in prospective enemies. “ISIL’s brutality is so apparent now because they’re promoting themselves,” McMaster says. “It’s not our reporting that got the American people to say, `Damn, it’s really worth fighting these guys!’—it’s their own propaganda!” Part of the problem, McMaster says, is that the U.S. public views war through too narrow a lens. “We don’t even focus on our enemies; we talk in terms that sometimes could be criticized as narcissistic,” he says. “We define these conflicts in relation to us, rather than pay due attention to the nature of our enemies, what’s at stake, and why it’s worth the effort.”

RETAKING MOSUL

The first real test for the U.S. and its allies will be the fight to retake Mosul, which ISIS seized from the Iraq army last June. The Pentagon is “still shooting for” an April-May launch of the battle to retake the country’s second-largest city. But that’s optimistic, and “we have not closed the door on continuing to slide that to the right”—into the future—the Central Command official said Feb. 19.

Iraqi forces have conducted 20 smaller ground offensives in recent months, and most of them have been “very successful,” the Central Command official said. Small numbers of U.S. troops—dozens to hundreds—could actually accompany Iraqi forces on that mission, to call in air strikes, gather intelligence, and advise the Iraqi forces. That decision, assuming a late-spring offensive, is only weeks away.

“I would not rule out using American ground troops to take territory if that’s necessary to defeat ISIS,” Jeffrey said. But he would rule out a “long-term American presence on the ground, as we saw in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Vietnam. It does not work.” Obama “is clearly very nervous about the use of military force, particularly ground forces, without a lot of allies, without a lot of legal backing, without the support of you and everybody else,” Jeffrey said at that Feb. 12 hearing. “…he thinks that we have gotten very committed, almost like a drug, to using military force, rather than other means of national power.”

In a bit of psyops, the Central Command briefer detailed just what the up to 2,000 ISIS fighters burrowed into Mosul will face when the fight kicks off. They will total up to 25,000, more than 10 times the defending ISIS force. That’s more than double the historic ratio needed to dislodge and defeat an enemy force in a city. “There will be five Iraqi army brigades, there will be three smaller brigades that will comprise a reserve force,” the Central Command official said. “There will be three pesh[merga] brigades that will help contain from the north and isolate from the west, and then there will be what we’re calling a Mosul fighting force, which will be compromised of largely police and tribal that are being put together right now of mostly former Mosul police.”

There’s no sign yet that ISIS fighters in Mosul are quaking in their boots. And while the Pentagon is guardedly optimistic the U.S. and its allies will prevail, critics have their doubts. “Retaking Mosul is going to be like Fallujah on steroids,” the AEI’s Donnelly says, referring to a pair of bloody battles in that western Iraq city that killed more than 100 Americans. “If I were President, I’d tell Martin Dempsey, `We have to win, and win faster.’ And if that means American boots on the ground, so be it.”

TIME Military

Army: Too Many Regulations Lead to Too Many Lies

The Last U.S. Troop Brigade In Iraq Departs Country After Over Eight Years Of War
Lucas Jackson / Pool / Getty Images U.S. troops getting a last-minute briefing before leaving Iraq in 2011.

Top civilian suggests it’s time to trim the service’s rules

Routine lying by Army officers—forced to tell untruths because of excessive rules and the service’s can-do culture—is leading the Army brass to review the regulatory burden. They’re hoping to return truth-telling to the nation’s biggest military service.

“Are we asking our soldiers to do too much in insufficient time? I do think it’s a legitimate question,” Army Secretary John McHugh told TIME on Tuesday. “I suspect some smart, appropriate housecleaning on our regulatory requirements for training would serve a useful purpose.”

McHugh’s call for a housecleaning comes after a pair of retired Army officers, in a study last week, concluding that fibbing is rampant in the service. While Army officers “respond with indignation at any whiff of deceit,” the study found that within 20 minutes of sitting down to discuss the Army’s integrity they were sharing tales of deception they had told—and were hearing from others wearing Army green.

The Army bureaucracy, Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras concluded in Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession, has piled demands atop officers amid two wars for everything from creating computerized “storyboards” in a war zone whenever a soldier engages the enemy, to sexual-harassment training.

“People did not report enemy contact because they knew the storyboard was useless and they didn’t want to go through the hassle,” one senior officer said.

When it comes to mandatory sexual-harassment training (also required in war zones), one captain said he “called the platoons and told them to gather the boys around the radio and we said, ‘Don’t touch girls.’ That was our quarterly SHARP [Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention] training.” (More officers’ views here.)

Based on interviews with commanding officers, the study concluded that they know their subordinates are lying to them. That nurtures a moral rot that could harm the force. “Tolerating a level of dishonesty in areas deemed trivial or unimportant also results in the degradation of the trust that is vital to the military profession,” say the authors, both now professors at the war college. “Once the bar of ethical standards is lowered, the malleability of those standards becomes a rationale for other unethical decisions.”

Ordering up new requirements—something the U.S. military’s bloated headquarters know how to do—seems to turn the Army from G.I. Joe into your crazy uncle, researchers said. “When it comes to requirements for units and individuals, the Army resembles a compulsive hoarder,” the study says. “It is excessively permissive in allowing the creation of new requirements, but it is also amazingly reluctant to discard old demands.”

Officers interviewed by the authors at several Army outposts said this forces them to prioritize requirements and jettison those they deem less important. “It’s a systemic problem throughout the entire Army,” one officer complained. “We can probably do two or three things in a day, but if you give us 20, we’re gonna half-ass 15 and hope you ignore the other five.”

McHugh, the Army’s top civilian, agreed that there are too many regulations. “I’d be less than shocked if there are those that have outlived their usefulness,” he said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “We need an open discussion about what it means to be an Army officer, what values do you need to display, and how do you display them, which brings us into some of the findings about dishonesty within certain officer ranks.”

McHugh says he plans to discuss the matter with top Army officers, which will likely lead to a weeding out excess requirements so officers won’t have to fudge (at least so much). “What we need to do is take a holistic view,” McHugh said. “I believe, from what I know about the issue right now, that there’s some gains to be made in that area.”

TIME Military

An Extraordinary Pentagon ‘Bull Session’ Over ISIS

DOD Chief Ashton Carter Travels To Middle East
Jonathan Ernst—Pool/Getty Images New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter begins Monday's anti-ISIS strategy session in Kuwait.

New defense chief convenes Kuwait confab to confirm war plans

College, where new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has spent as much time as at the Pentagon, loves bull sessions. That’s just what Carter did Monday, summoning U.S. military and diplomatic brainpower to an unusual closed-door session in Kuwait where some of America’s finest Middle East minds gathered to debate how to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Sure, the more than two dozen attendees sat at a government-issue T-shaped table, complete with their names on placards, instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. But, at the start of his second week on the job, Carter made clear he is as interested in listening as he is in talking. “This is team America,” he declared, before reporters were ushered out of the room.

At the end of the six-hour session, Carter declared ISIS “hardly invincible,” and gave no hint of any major change in U.S. policy, despite calls from some congressional Republicans for more robust military action. “Lasting defeat of this brutal group,” Carter said, “can and will be accomplished.”

No revamped war plan was expected to surface during the session, although Carter said the U.S. needs to step up its social-media duel with ISIS, and that certain unnamed allies need to do more. Rather, aides said, Carter was seeking to dive deeply into the current U.S. strategy, understand its logic and see if it can be improved.

While such sessions often happen without public notice in Washington, convening one abroad — and publicly detailing its purpose and attendees — marks a shift in how the Pentagon is conducting business under its new chief.

Those at the session included Army General Lloyd Austin, who as head of U.S. Central Command, oversees the anti-ISIS campaign, and Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s military chief. Diplomats attending included retired Marine general John Allen, now the White House’s envoy responsible for ISIS, and U.S. ambassadors in the region.

The Pentagon instructed those attending to leave their PowerPoint presentations at home and be ready to face questions from Carter. These kinds of sessions — especially when senior officials are visiting from the capital — often turn into subordinates’ show-and-tell rather than tough questions with frank answers. “We had an incisive, candid, wide-ranging discussion—there were no briefings,” Carter said afterward. “It was the sharing of experience and ideas and expertise and it made me very proud of the American team here in this region.”

Carter, a physicist by training, has spent much of his career lecturing on college campuses, including at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford. Between academic gigs, he also has served tours inside the Pentagon, including as deputy defense secretary from 2011 to 2013.

Carter plainly wants the war on ISIS to end differently than the wars the U.S. launched in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), where battlefield successes turned into nation-building quagmires. “If we are to have a defeat of [ISIS] … it needs to be a lasting defeat,” he told U.S. troops at Kuwait’s Camp Arifjan before Monday’s session began. “What we discuss here, and what I learn here, will be important to me as I formulate our own direction in this campaign and as I help the President to lead it.”

Assuming Carter heard something that could help turn the tide against ISIS, getting the White House to listen to his advice could prove challenging. President Obama’s first two defense chiefs, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, made no secret of their disdain for White House interference in Pentagon planning, and Pentagon officials cited such micromanagement as a problem during Chuck Hagel’s recently concluded tenure.

TIME Military

The Pentagon Spills the Beans: Stupidity, or Strategy?

Dozens of ISIL militants killed in Iraq's Mosul
Emrah Yorulmaz / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images ISIS members set fire to tires Sunday to mask their escape after clashing with Kurdish peshmerga forces outside Mosul.

Lawmakers pounce on disclosures, which have been known for months

Back on Dec. 10, lawmakers wanted to know how many Iraqi troops would be needed to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Brett McGurk, the State Department’s special presidential envoy for defeating the militant group, said a force of 20,000 to 25,000 would be a “reasonable” estimate of its size.

Spring was the goal for the timing of the counteroffensive, assuming the Iraqi army and their Kurdish peshmerga allies had enough troops and training by then. That timetable was a target freely, if privately, expressed by Pentagon officials since late last year, and surfaced in numerous press reports.

So why did a pair of influential Republican senators explode when they heard that an anonymous Pentagon official had relayed those same two key facts to reporters during a background briefing last Thursday?

“Never in our memory can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies,” John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also a member of the panel, wrote President Barack Obama on Friday. “These disclosures not only risk the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces.”

Graham has served as an Air Force lawyer, so perhaps he can be forgiven for hyperbole. McCain, a onetime Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner for more than five years, surely knows better. There is only one way to take an enemy-held city: surround it with overwhelming force, and then attack it until the foe buckles, or choke it until he starves.

Everyone paying attention, on both sides of the fight against ISIS, has known for months that the battle for Mosul is going to be the climactic clash. “Certainly, ISIS knows that Mosul is the center piece of any counteroffensive,” Jack Keane, a retired four-star Army general, told Fox News on Sunday. “They know that. We’ve been knocking off lines of communications and isolating Mosul now for weeks, with air power, too. They know we would like to do that probably before Ramadan or do it after. So, timing is something that they can figure out themselves.”

Both sides also know that it’s better to launch a counteroffensive sooner rather than later, thereby limiting the defenses ISIS can dig and build, which narrows the timeframe down to the spring.

The U.S. military knows that it cannot support its Iraqi allies in that fight without being confident they will prevail. Their training and outfitting will take at least several more weeks. The arrival of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan (June 17) and summer (June 21), pretty much shuts the window on the operation about that time, Pentagon officials say, citing religious sensitivities and heat. By default, that leaves the April-May timeframe cited by the Pentagon briefer Thursday as the soonest the counteroffensive to retake Mosul could be launched if it is to be attempted before fall.

The official from the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, heavily caveated the timing of the Mosul operation in his telephone Q&A with Pentagon reporters from Centcom headquarters in Tampa. “The mark on the wall that we are still shooting for is the April-May timeframe,” he said, implying the timing wasn’t new and wasn’t secret. Beyond that, he said more than once, the U.S. and its allies would delay the assault if the Iraqi forces are “not ready, if the conditions are not set, if all the equipment that they need is not physically there.”

The fact is, the U.S. has routinely telegraphed offensive operations before launching them. There was a flurry of stories detailing the “shock and awe” bombardment that would open the 2003 invasion of Iraq before it began. “If asked to go into conflict in Iraq, what you’d like to do is have it be a short conflict,” Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in response to a question from TIME at a breakfast two weeks before it started. “The best way to do that would be to have such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on the end was inevitable.”

The U.S. military also offered previews of coming destruction before the battle for Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, and in advance of the offensive against the Taliban in Marjah, Afghanistan, in 2010.

Leaking word of such attacks in advance, Pentagon officials say, can convince enemy fighters to abandon the fight. But they concede it can also stiffen the backbone of others. Such a tactic can also encourage the non-ISIS population in Mosul to rebel against the occupiers.

So just how many Iraqi troops will retaking Mosul require? “We think it’s going to take in the range between 20,000 and 25,000,” the Central Command official said Thursday. He wasn’t risking the success of the eventual mission. He was simply echoing what McGurk told Congress more than two months ago.

TIME Drones

How to Defend Against Drones

The U.S. is unprepared to deal with the proliferation of unmanned aircraft now filling the skies.

  • Regulation

    There are many drone no-fly zones around the world, and most operators respect them—but not always. After a drone strayed into White House airspace recently, its maker modified its flight software to ground its products in and around Washington. Experts concede that a determined intruder can get around such precautions.
    Illustration By Jameson Simpson For TIME

    There are many drone no-fly zones around the world, and most operators respect them—but not always. After a drone strayed into White House airspace recently, its maker modified its flight software to ground its products in and around Washington. Experts concede that a determined intruder can get around such precautions.

  • Detection

    To stop a drone, you have to know it's there. A growing number of companies are installing acoustic sensors that listen for the sound of a drone. They are found at sensitive government locations and the estates of celebrities who are leery of airborne paparazzi, but the sensors are confused by other contraptions, like Weedwackers. And they can't do anything to stop intrusions.
    Illustration By Jameson Simpson For TIME

    To stop a drone, you have to know it’s there. A growing number of companies are installing acoustic sensors that listen for the sound of a drone. They are found at sensitive government locations and the estates of celebrities who are leery of airborne paparazzi, but the sensors can be confused by other contraptions, like Weedwackers. And they can’t do anything to stop intrusions.

  • Jamming

    A drone on a nefarious mission needs to be guided, either by GPS signlas or radioed commands from its operator. Electronic jamming can serve those links and doom the mission or even give authorieis control of the drone. But such jamming is usually illegal because it ingerferes with communications ranging from cell phones to airlines.
    Illustration By Jameson Simpson For TIME

    A drone on a nefarious mission needs to be guided, either by GPS signals or radioed commands from its operator. Electronic jamming can serve those links and doom the mission or even give authorities control of the drone. But such jamming is usually illegal because it interferes with communications ranging from cell phones to airlines.

  • Destruction

    Drones tend to be slow-flying and unarmed, which makes them relatively easy to shoot down. But experts fear that future unmanned aircraft could be armed and nimble, like the military's fast, low-flying cruise missiles, making them much harder to detect and destroy.
    Illustration By Jameson Simpson For TIME

    Drones tend to be slow-flying and unarmed, which makes them relatively easy to shoot down. But experts fear that future unmanned aircraft could be armed and nimble, like the military’s fast, low-flying cruise missiles, making them much harder to detect and destroy.

TIME Military

Chinese Military May Not Be the Juggernaut Some Assert It Is

Inside The China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition
Brent Lewin / Bloomberg via Getty Images A Chinese J-31 stealth fighter aircraft performs at a Chinese air show last November.

Pentagon may have to find another prospective foe

Washington can sometimes seem like a bunker, where assorted think tanks regularly lob hand grenades detailing what’s wrong with every nook and cranny of the U.S. military. This week, for a change, one got tossed outlining the fundamental weaknesses of the Chinese military.

This is a big deal. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prospect of a rising Chinese military has been cited as the justification for all sorts of U.S. weaponry. Don’t look to this new 184-page report from the Rand Corp. to change the debate—but it should.

“We have found that the PLA suffers from potentially serious weaknesses,” Rand says, referring to China’s People’s Liberation Army. “These shortcomings could limit its ability to successfully conduct the information-centric, integrated joint operations Chinese military strategists see as required to fight and win future wars.”

That isn’t how the Pentagon sees it. “The dramatic rise of China’s military, the uncertainty about how it will use its growing capabilities and its provocative actions in the region represent our most enduring challenge,” Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told Congress in December.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, has said that Chinese investment in high-tech weapons could alter the strategic balance in the region. When it comes to “technological superiority, the Department of Defense is being challenged in ways that I have not seen for decades, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region,” he told Congress the same month.

The Rand study, requested by the independent, Congressionally-mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, gives a level-headed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army. It stands in contrast to much of the U.S. debate over China’s military (the commission’s next hearing, for example, is on China’s “space and counterspace programs”). For years, the Pentagon has produced its own annual report assessing the Chinese military, a pale echo of the Reagan era’s Soviet Military Power series that hyped Moscow’s martial might beyond reality.

China’s lone aircraft carrier, its production of new jets, and its carrier-killing missile have all been cited as justification for U.S. programs needed to counter them. But using a weapon is just as challenging as building it, and that’s where the Chinese fall short, according to Rand (although it adds that “the PLA also suffers from shortfalls in terms of its combat capabilities”).

“Overall, the PLA has made impressive strides in its ability to perform its assigned missions, including advances in capabilities designed to counter U.S. military intervention in a crisis or conflict in the region, but it still faces a number of serious challenges,” the study concludes. Key weaknesses fall into two categories. The first is the Chinese military’s bureaucracy, which reduces its ability to marry its land, air and sea forces together to wage war. The second is its personnel, who lack the required education and technical know-how needed to operate and maintain a 21st century military, and whose ranks are plagued by “rampant corruption.”

The Chinese, according to Rand, are well aware of their shortcomings. “Chinese military media reports and PLA books and journal articles contain voluminous discussions of the PLA’s problems, which some Chinese writers refer to as the ‘two incompatibles/two gaps,’ a phrase that highlights perceived incongruencies between current PLA capabilities and the demands of winning a local war,” the study says.

There aren’t similar voluminous discussions in American circles assessing the actual threat posed by the Chinese military. Unfortunately, that’s what makes the Rand report so refreshing.

TIME Military

Fighting the Half-In War

Obama Asks Congress to Authorize War Against Islamic State
Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images President Obama discusses his draft resolution seeking congressional support in the war on ISIS flanked by, from left, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Obama opts for a “limited” military campaign against ISIS

Washington irresolution when it comes to waging war has become so feckless that the White House and Congress now engage in a paper chase that lets lawmakers vote on combat without the political risk that would accompany their declaration of war.

That’s why President Obama’s dispatch of his “AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES” is less than the capital letters might suggest. In fact, the draft makes clear that he is only seeking “the limited use of the United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”

The war against ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, makes explicit a Presidential bet: “…in this campaign,” his draft resolution reads, “it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground instead of large-scale deployments of U.S. ground forces.”

His language expressly rules out “the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” In an accompanying letter to Congress, he says U.S. ground troops would be restricted to rescuing downed allied troops, to “take military action” against ISIS leaders, and for “missions to enable kinetic strikes.” Small numbers, in other words.

“With our allies and partners,” Obama said Wednesday at the White House, “we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”

But his draft resolution also acknowledges that ISIS leaders “have stated that they intend to conduct terrorist attacks internationally, including against the United States, its citizens, and interests.”

Hard to understand—if Obama means what he says in that passage—why he thinks it wise to subcontract out the bulk of the responsibility for defeating this threat to America to non-Americans.

Then again, he may simply be appropriating such language because he’s caught in the threat-inflation mindset that has tainted much of the debate over the danger posed by ISIS. Fundamentally, it’s little more than a pipsqueak guerilla army outfitted with pickup trucks, AK-47s and a keen sense of the value of well-produced social-media posts. Congress is just as guilty on that charge, pumping the bellows of war against what basically is a barbarian horde.

“I’m concerned that the president is more focused on threading a political needle here rather than how to be successful in beating ISIS,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN.

If ISIS represents a threat to the nation, perhaps a declaration of war is warranted. If not, perhaps sitting on the sidelines makes more sense. After all, this conflict now roiling the Middle East boils down to a fight between the Shiite (Iran) and Sunni (Saudi Arabia) branches of Islam. Any role played by outsiders is likely to do little to change the ultimate outcome in such a religious war.

The founders of the U.S. intended that waging war would be a joint enterprise, with the President serving as commander in chief after Congress had declared war. Sure, there are times when a chief executive can’t wait, but Vietnam and Afghanistan each dragged on for more than a decade, and Iraq nearly as long, without Congress bothering to declare war (don’t worry, Iraq’ll be able to catch up in this latest iteration).

It may seem to be only a matter of rhetoric, but a declaration of war by the United States packs a profoundly different punch than a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force. It means the nation is committed to victory. The United States was committed to something in Afghanistan, and Iraq the first time around, but it surely wasn’t victory. The public senses this, and, as a result, the nation ends up fighting its wars tepidly.

Obama has made clear he believes he doesn’t need Congress to approve this retooled authorization for the use of military force. After all, he has been bombing ISIS for six months under authorizations passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Both the White House and Capitol Hill get something out of the deal. Obama gets to outline his “limited” military goals. Congress gets to play warlord, without declaring war. The only U.S. party all-in on the conflict, as has become customary, are the young men and women who will risk everything to carry out their nation’s half-hearted orders.

TIME National Security

Kayla Mueller’s Death: Focusing on Names, Not Numbers

Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.
Mueller Family—Reuters Kayla Mueller, 26, an American humanitarian worker from Prescott, Ariz.

As war evolves, U.S. attention shifts to individual losses

There is nothing sadder than the loss of a child. American parents reflexively choked up Tuesday after the White House confirmed the death of Kayla Mueller, 26, who had been held hostage by Islamic terrorists in Syria since August 2013.

Details of her death were scant. A White House aide said her captors, belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, had provided information to the Mueller family, which led the U.S. intelligence community to confirm she had perished. ISIS claimed she had been killed in a Jordanian air strikes last week launched in retaliation for ISIS burning captured Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh to death.

While some intelligence sources expressed skepticism she was killed by a Jordanian bomb, it makes little difference. Mueller was there because people were dying, and she wanted to help. “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal,” she told her hometown paper in Prescott, Ariz., before she was captured. “It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.”

Just like millions of Americans in uniform following 9/11, she volunteered to serve in a war zone, and ended up paying the ultimate price.

Unlike the nearly 7,000 of them, though, there has been intense media focus on her fate since ISIS said she was said she had been killed and her name surfaced, after her family and the U.S. government had kept it secret for 18 months.

There is nothing wrong with that. Individual stories from the war zones—whether that of Jason Dunham, James Foley, Salvatore Giunta, Peter Kassig, Chris Kyle, Steven Sotloff or Pat Tillman—allow us to focus on individual acts. That can shed light on what the nation is doing there, and the progress it is making. Tallying individuals’ sacrifice can lead us to conclude, perhaps in a way raw numbers cannot, whether the effort is worth it.

But, in the same way, raw numbers pack their own kind of punch. Their toll instructs us in how war has changed in our hyper-connected, 24/7 world, and how much, and how willingly, the nation used to sacrifice its young.

An estimated 19,000 Americans died in World War II’s month-long Battle of the Bulge. Storming Normandy cost 16,000 U.S. troops their lives. Gettysburg killed 7,000, on both sides. Korea’s battle of Pusan killed 4,600 Americans. On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed by al Qaeda terrorists, including more than 2,600 Americans. In Vietnam, the Battle of Khe Sanh left more than 700 U.S. troops dead. The Taliban shot down a U.S. Army helicopter in Afghanistan in 2011, killing 30 American troops.

Such numbers have been trending downward. Perhaps we focus on individuals because, thankfully for Americans, our casualties—both military and civilian—in our post-9/11 wars have been historically modest. That doesn’t ease the pain for individual families, of course, but it does mean far fewer families are enduring such anguish.

TIME Military

The U.S. ‘Goldilocks’ Strategy Toward ISIS

F16 fighter jets from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) arrive at an air base in Jordan
Petra Petra / Reuters F-16 fighters from the United Arab Emirates arrived at an air base in Jordan over the weekend, ready to attack ISIS targets.

The Islamic State wants the Pentagon to step up its fight

President Obama is tiptoeing carefully through the minefield that is the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. So far, he has been surefooted, if tentative. But one false step could mortally wound the final two years of his time in office.

He knows it, the Pentagon knows it—and you can bet that ISIS knows it. The challenge is to make sure the American public knows it, if ISIS becomes even more depraved (which is admittedly hard to believe).

Last week featured ISIS’s brutality on display, first with the release of a video purporting to show the murder by fire of Jordanian 1st Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, and then with the claim that U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller had been killed by Jordanian bombs dropped by Amman’s F-16s in retaliation for the Jordanian F-16 pilot’s killing.

Jordan has stepped up its bombing of ISIS targets since the militants killed the pilot, reporting 56 air raids in three days. The United Arab Emirates, which had suspended its air strikes following al-Kasasbeh’s capture, has deployed warplanes to Jordan following his murder. ISIS’s brutality has “galvanized the coalition, unified the coalition,” retired Marine general John Allen, now the Obama Administration’s anti-ISIS chief, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

But what if the murdered pilot had been an American?

The anti-ISIS fervor that has gripped Jordan since the video’s release would pale alongside congressional denunciations of Obama’s steady-as-she-goes policy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. Cable-news commentators would crank up the heat demanding retribution.

As satisfying as such rants might be, they play into ISIS’s hands. “If we want to fight terrorism effectively we must realize that nothing the terrorists do can defeat us,” Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote over the weekend in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “We are the only ones who can defeat ourselves, if we overreact in a misguided way to terrorist provocations.”

That’s the trap ISIS has set for Washington. Given the white-hot rhetoric that Republicans regularly hurl at Obama, it could work. “Too often, what’s missing here in Washington is a sense of perspective,” Susan Rice, the national security adviser, said Friday. The threat ISIS and groups like it pose “are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War,” she said. “We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism in a nearly instantaneous news cycle.”

Rice said the U.S.-led alliance has “taken out thousands of [ISIS’s] fighters, destroyed nearly 200 oil and gas facilities that fund their terror, and pushed them out of territory, including areas around Baghdad, Sinjar, and the Mosul Dam.”

Obama is pursuing what might be called a “Goldilocks” strategy against ISIS — not too hot, and not too cold. He’s ordered air strikes, which has upset some of his fellow Democrats. But he has refrained from expanding the U.S. role, which has distressed some Republicans. He seems dedicated to the dicey proposition of limiting the U.S. to a supporting player (although it has conducted 81% of the air strikes), and letting Iraqis and Syrians take the lead in the battle on the ground against the barbarians who have seized much of their nations. “We can’t police a region that won’t police itself,” Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., told CNN Sunday.

In 2001, the Pentagon was fully on board when President George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan for the shelter its Taliban government provided al Qaeda, which launched the 9/11 attacks. But U.S. military officers were far more skeptical of the need to invade Iraq two years later.

Now, 12 years after the Iraq invasion, there is an abiding skepticism inside the Pentagon about deeper U.S. involvement in its six-month war against ISIS. Few want it expanded into a third major U.S.-led war in the region. But their leeriness is tempered by not wanting the sacrifice of 4,486 American lives in the 2003 Iraq war to have been wasted. Many of them, of course, weren’t yet alive when Vietnam should have purged that urge for waging war nearly a half-century ago.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser