TIME White House

See Air Force One’s Transformation Over 70 Years

The US Air Force recently announced a Boeing 747-8 would soon replace the current Air Force One — but from FDR to Obama, U.S. presidents have long flown in style

Huge gray warships used to be the primary way the United States showed its flag around the world. But there was only one problem with that: such flag-waving was limited to seaports, and the vessels’ bristling guns carried a decidedly military message.

In recent decades, the United States of America has waved its flag from the tail of Air Force One, the modified passenger plane that ferries the President and key pieces of his entourage around the globe. Its gleaming fuselage, with its white and light-blue livery, declares the American chief executive is in town, tending to the nation’s business.

Unlike warships, it can deliver the President to any city with a decent airport, at home or overseas, inland or otherwise. And its weapons—defensive in nature, consisting of electronic jammers, designed to thwart attacks, and flares fired from the plane to divert heat-seeking missiles—are hidden from public view.

Read next: Check Out the President’s New Airplane

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TIME Military

Obama’s Awkward Farewell to Hagel

President Obama Attends Armed Forces Farewell Tribute To Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the defense chief's formal farewell ceremony Wednesday. Win McNamee / Getty Images

The President pushed his Pentagon chief, then praised him.

Wednesday afternoon marked another one of those painful spectacles, where someone being forced out of the national spotlight was forced to grin and bear it as the person responsible for forcing him out publicly sang his praises. This time it featured President Obama hailing the brief, two-year tenure of Chuck Hagel, his third defense secretary.

Hagel—who will hang around the Pentagon for weeks until his successor, Ashton Carter, is confirmed—has spent recent days prowling the bowels of the Pentagon, thanking the unseen and unheralded for their work.

Hagel has been saying goodbye to Pentagon workers in recent days. DoD photo

While the two men haven’t spelled out precisely what went wrong, disagreements over policies involving Syria and the detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are often cited. And Hagel’s body language since the White House shoved him out Nov. 24, made Wednesday’s formal sendoff in an Army hall not far from the Pentagon particularly awkward.

Obama: In October of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson traveled to a military base in New Mexico to review a top secret weapons program. And he went down to the White Sands Missile Range and out to the testing grounds. There, out in the desert, the president watched as soldiers demonstrated what would later become the famed Stinger Missile. And one of those soldiers was a 21-year old private from Nebraska named Charles Timothy Hagel. Now, the Secret Service does not usually let me get too close to an active weapons system. It makes them nervous…And let me assure you that I checked with the Secret Service, and Chuck will not be demonstrating any missile launches today…

Thanks to Secretary Hagel’s guiding hand, this institution is better positioned for the future. But Chuck, I want to suggest today that perhaps your greatest impact, a legacy that will be felt for decades to come, has been your own example. It’s not simply that you’ve been the first enlisted combat veteran and first Vietnam veteran to serve as secretary of defense, it’s how your life experience: being down in the mud, feeling the bullets fly overhead, has allowed you to connect with our troops like no other secretary before you.

At least some observers found Obama’s “joke” about Stingers off-key, given the fragging that went on in Vietnam. Hagel, who declined to attend the White House ceremony at which Obama announced Carter as his successor, however, dutifully took the podium and was gracious.

Hagel: Mr. President…thank you for being here today… I will soon leave this job that I have cherished… The opportunity to have been a part of all this is something I could not have imagined when I joined the Army 48 years ago… We’ve made mistakes. We will make more mistakes… One last point. Of all the opportunities my life has given me, and I have been blessed with so many, I am most proud of having once been a soldier.

In the end, everyone was glad it was over.

TIME Military

Military Chiefs ‘Prep the Battlefield’ for Biggest Pentagon Budget Request Ever

Leaders of US military branches testify on military budgets before Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington
General Raymond Odierno (Army), Admiral Jonathan Greenert (Navy), General Mark Welsh (Air Force), and General Joseph Dunford (Marines) warned a Senate panel Wednesday of the dangers they see if their services' budgets are cut. Gary Cameron / Reuters

They're seeking more than a half a trillion dollars

The White House will be seeking $534 billion to run the Pentagon next year when it sends its 2016 budget request to Congress on Monday.

That would be—despite the cries we keep hearing from assorted generals—the largest Pentagon budget in history.

That’s because President Obama is ignoring the budget caps imposed by the legislative legerdemain known as sequestration: he will ask Congress (which, along with the President, imposed those caps in 2011) for $34 billion more than sequestration allows (there’s another $51 billion in the request, exempt from the caps, for waging ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria).

The Pentagon finds itself on the horns of a dilemma: a growing number of congressional Republicans have been more eager to tame spending than fund the military. If the military can’t succeed in loosening sequestration’s grip on the Pentagon’s coffers, across-the-board cuts in personnel, procurement and training are certain.

For four years, the Pentagon and its allies in Congress have fought the budget caps. Their inaction has kept the Defense Department from learning to live within them, and the retooling and reforms such an acknowledgement would require. Their fight continues, which is why the service chiefs trekked to Capitol Hill Wednesday for the umpteenth time to plead with the Senate Armed Services Committee to relax sequestration’s strictures.

The guys on the ground say they’re losing the edge. “The number one thing that keeps me up at night is that if we’re asked to respond to an unknown contingency, I will send soldiers to that contingency not properly trained and ready,” Army General Ray Odierno said. “We simply are not used to doing that.” His Marine counterpart concurred. “I think I probably speak for all the chiefs, none of us want to be part of, on our last tour on active duty, want to be a part of returning back to those days in the 1970s when we did have in fact a hollow force,” General Joseph Dunford said.

The guys on the water and in the sky—where technology pays its biggest dividends—warned the bad guys are catching up. “We’re slipping behind,” Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, said. “Our advantage is shrinking very fast.”

“We currently have 12 fleets of airplanes that qualify for antique license plates in the state of Virginia,” General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “The capability gap is closing…the people trying to catch up with us technologically…have momentum. If [they] get too close, we won’t be able to recover before they pass us.”

But the chiefs were preaching to the wrong audience: the armed services committee, packed with lawmakers with major defense installations or factories back home, has long been a bastion of pro-Pentagon lawmakers.

How draconian are sequestration’s budget cuts? It’s tough keeping track of how much the U.S. spends on its military, in part because there are several yardsticks to keep track. If you want to boost spending, you use one yardstick; if you want to cut it, you use another.

The U.S. military budget has been creeping steadily upward since World War II, even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

For example, simply using dollars (adjusted for inflation) shows U.S. military spending jumped by 61% from 1998 to 2010. U.S. defense spending in 2010 eclipsed the peak of the Reagan-era defense buildup, designed to defeat the Soviet Union. Military spending has fallen 12% from 2010’s crest. And when you fold in the added funding the Pentagon got to wage the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the drop is a steeper 21%.

This is a problem of the Pentagon’s own making. It routinely took defense dollars that were supposed to be used to fight the wars and used them to buy new hardware and for other, non-war-related expenses. Like any addict, it got used to this easy access to spending euphoria.

That makes withdrawal from such easy money all the tougher: if war funding had been only used for wars, ending the wars would end the need for that money. But seeing as much of the funding bought what should have been paid for by the Pentagon’s so-called “base” budget, weaning itself from its war-fattened budgets is proving painful.

Then there’s another way to measure Pentagon spending: what share of the national economy is dedicated to defense? Since World War II, the nation has spent about a nickel of every dollar created by the U.S. economy on its military, or 5%. It’s now down to about 3.5%. If sequestration remains the law, the Pentagon’s share of the national economic pie will fall to 2.5% by 2019, the smallest slice since the end of World War II.

The share of the nation’s economy dedicated to national defense has been on the decline since World War II. Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

Those who want to spend more on the Pentagon cite this decline as proof the nation is starving the military. That’s only true, of course, if one assumes the enemy is the Gross Domestic Product.

Many Pentagon advocates would like to earmark a fixed percentage of the GDP for the military—4% is often cited— even though the economy has boomed since World War II and there is no link between GDP and the threats facing the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

The challenge for the U.S. military is obvious. The lawmakers, obligated “to raise and support Armies” under the Constitution, are concerned with global instability and terrorism.

But the 13 years, nearly 7,000 American lives and three trillion American dollars spent in Afghanistan and Iraq weigh heavily on their minds. It’s obvious most of them don’t feel that more military money is the answer.

TIME Military

Why the Pentagon Is Honoring the Late Saudi King

CJCS visits Saudi Arabia
Then-Crown Prince—and now king—Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud meets Dempsey in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last June. DoD photo / D. Myles Cullen

What an essay contest reveals about Washington's relationship with Riyadh

You can get whiplash inside the Pentagon. The last time the Defense Department achieved notoriety as a platform for views on Saudi Arabia was in 2002, between the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s when a Rand Corp. analyst told a high-level panel behind closed doors that the kingdom was “active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.” Washington, he said, should declare the Saudis the enemy and threaten to take over the oil wells if they didn’t do more to combat Islamist terrorists (the briefing was 10 months after the 9/11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudi).

The Pentagon quickly distanced itself from Laurent Murawiec’s presentation to the Defense Policy Board. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Saudi Foreign Minister to apologize. Murawiec, who made the presentation on his own time, resigned from Rand several weeks later.

On Monday, the top U.S. military leader, Army General Martin Dempsey, announced the Pentagon would be conducting a “research and essay competition” to honor Saudi King Abdullah, who died Jan. 23 at 90, as “a man of remarkable character and courage.”

Critics pounced.

“I wonder if Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for postings critical of Islam and the House of Saud is eligible to enter?” one posted on Dempsey’s Facebook page. “That’s an essay that might be worth reading.”

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died at age 90
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz in Cairo, Egypt, last June. Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Foreign-policy experts questioned Abdullah’s reputation as a King who pushed for change in Saudi society. “There were persistent stories alleging that Abdullah was a reformer, but no one could ever articulate for me what he actually stood for and wanted. It seemed to me that he wanted what everyone in the Saudi royal family wants — stability and business as usual,” Steven A. Cook, an Arab expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote Monday. “There is no denying that the Saudis under Abdullah had an extremism problem about which they were apparently in abject denial until terrorists started targeting them in 2003. More recently, Abdullah oversaw the beheading of eighty-seven individuals in 2014, mostly poor guest workers that no one cares about. So far this year, which is only twenty-six days old, Saudi executioners have separated ten more people from their heads.”

And you don’t have to rely on ivory-tower scholars. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a secret 2009 memo that Saudi Arabia is an ATM for terrorism. “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she wrote, adding that the King and his government had been reluctant to shut down such cash pipelines.

This is the challenge of the 21st century world. With the end of the Cold War, forces have been unleashed that have toppled dictators along an arc of crisis from Libya to Egypt to Iraq. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy is the key to U.S. policy in the region, and it, too, is a non-democracy that hardly squares with U.S. ideals.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship boils down to quid-pro-petroleum: We need their oil, and they need U.S. military protection. The Saudi military’s F-15 fighters, AWACS aircraft, Patriot missiles, M-1 tanks, Bradley fighting Vehicles and AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships are all U.S.-built and maintained. Absent continued U.S. support — spare parts, upgrades, software — for such an arsenal, Saudi Arabia would find itself defenseless in a matter of months. Shi’ite Iran’s growing clout in the region, just across the Persian Gulf from the kingdom, unnerves the Sunni Saudis.

Dempsey was stationed in Riyadh, a month after earning his first star as a brigadier general, when Murawiec gave his infamous Pentagon briefing. He was overseeing 350 U.S. troops and civilians, and more than 1,000 contractors, as chief of the Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program. The commander of the Saudi Arabia National Guard: none other than Abdullah, who would become King two years after Dempsey left Saudi Arabia.

“In my job to train and advise his military forces, and in our relationship since, I found the King to be a man of remarkable character and courage,” Dempsey posted on his Facebook page Friday. “He will be truly missed and his loss will be felt by his country and ours.”

But don’t confuse the Saudi Arabia National Guard run by the future King, and trained by Dempsey, with the U.S. military’s National Guard.

“Saudi Arabia really has two different armies,” the senior U.S. enlisted man assigned to SANG from 2006 to 2008 wrote in 2009. Then-U.S. Army Sergeant Major James E. Wafe Jr. added:

The Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG) is not like the U.S. National Guard. It is a tribal force forged out of those tribal elements loyal to the Saudi family. The SANG’s mission is to protect the royal family from internal rebellion and the other Saudi army should the need arise.”

That other, “official” army’s rule, Wafe continued, is “to protect the country from external threats, and to serve as a balance against SANG, should the royal family decide to eliminate some clan hostile to the King’s rule.”

Plainly, Dempsey and his troops had their hands full training the Saudi national guard, and balancing its capabilities against those of the Royal Saudi Land Forces.

Wafe wrote of the challenges associated with training SANG’s non-commissioned officers — the sergeants and others that are the backbone of the U.S. military — to fight:

The Western Region really wanted their NCOs to be as strong as our NCO Corp, but the lack of knowledge made them not confident in them and also they thought they couldn’t be taught. We had sergeants that held the same rank and position for years, such as a LAV (Light Armor Vehicle) driver. A lot of times, they made the NCOs serve tea and coffee for the generals. We knew we couldn’t teach the NCOs everything, because of time restraints, so we mainly focused on the basic skills to protect and serve his King. These basic skills consisted of marksmanship with their individual assigned weapons and crew serve weapons, Physical Fitness, Night Vision Goggles, and map reading. Their duty hours were only six hours a day, ranging from 0600-1200; this didn’t give us much time to train … The trend that I observed about the SANG Soldiers is that once they return from their Security Mission, they tend to forget everything and we are re-teaching the same skills over again. This becomes a long drawn-out process and a lot times it feels like we only move the SANG Anny inches and this is a plus when it comes to training …

The Omar bin Kattab Brigade (OKE) is stationed in Taif … The NCOs within this Brigade were even worse than the Western Region. The NCOs here did not have any education and they did not know how to read or write. A lot of our training here was hands-on and that took a while to conduct. The equipment they had there were old and they were lacking tools to keep up the maintenance. The Brigade Commanders did have unit money to spend on equipment, but many of them bought furniture for their office and home, instead of taking care of their equipment. Some of the soldiers did not want to replace their periscopes on their vehicle because it was a battle wound from Desert Storm and they wanted to show off their treasured badge of courage. Overall these NCOs and soldiers wanted to learn, but no support was enforced by their higher command …

The SANG Army took on the U.S. tactical and gunnery manuals, but it takes us a while to translate it into Arabic. One major issue we did realize is that an Arabic word doesn’t really mean the same in English. When the [interpreters] are translating the English version to Arabic, sometimes they have to find the word that means the closest to the English word. This can cause a big problem when it comes to gunneries because when it comes to bullets and safety, we have to be very specific. In Arabic, there can be a lot of gray areas which creates the opening for an unsafe act to happen …

The mentality the Saudi officers is if I am the only one in the organization who knows how to … Then I am important and people have to come to me. If others know what I know … then I have lost my power and importance. So U.S. advisors need to know that training the trainers does not always work … the knowledge is not passed down because ‘Information is Power.’

Wafe, who as an enlisted soldier was more likely than an officer to call ’em the way he saw them, issued guidelines for those U.S. troops who would follow in his footsteps to train SANG forces:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 5.05.19 PM

O.K., so the Saudi monarchy is an archaic autocracy with a U.S.-supplied military dedicated to keeping it in power. Bottom line, as Donald Rumsfeld might have said: You defend your oil with the army you have, not the one you wish you had.

TIME Military

The U.S. Needs a New Yardstick for a New Kind of War

IRAQ-CONFLICT
Buildings burn Saturday during a military operation launched by the Iraqi army to retake positions held by Islamic State outside the village Sharween, north of Baghdad. YOUNIS AL-BAYATI / AFP / Getty Images

America keeps measuring progress on a battlefield that no longer exists

Body counts are never a good a yardstick for measuring progress in a war of ideas. That’s why the Pentagon freaked out Thursday when Stuart Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Al Arabiya News Channel that America and its allies “have now killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq.”

The first counter-fire came, within hours, from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “I was in a war where there was a lot of body counts every day,” the outgoing defense chief, who served as an Army sergeant in the Vietnam War, said in one of his most pungent observations in his two years on the job. “And we lost that war.”

Hagel’s spokesman piled on Friday. “It’s not a metric that we’re going to hang our hat on when it comes to talking to the success of this strategy,” Rear Admiral John Kirby said of the Pentagon’s internal body-count estimate. “This is not a uniformed army with identification cards and recruiting posters.”

While Ambassador Jones added that the 6,000 number was “not so important” in the overall scheme of things, the catnip was out of the bag. That’s because Americans, impatient over wars that drag on (like Hagel’s Vietnam and George W. Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq), crave measurements that suggest progress.

Unfortunately, that metric mindset has little utility in wars against ideology. “I don’t know whether 6,000 [ISIS] people have been killed or not,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “But that is not going to do it.”

That’s because conflicts like the one now underway against the Islamist fundamentalism represented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are not constrained by national boundaries, or the national pressure points that have traditionally been the trigger of wars (and the foundation of ending them) among states.

Without the trappings of formal government—a capital, commerce, standing armies—non-state actors like ISIS or al-Qaeda deny military powers like the U.S. the kinds of targets they prefer. Their allegiance to ideology—be it theology or something else—takes away the fulcrum that victors used to leverage to bring wars to an end.

Industrial powers created industrial militaries, where rear-echelon bean-counters could tote up tanks, ball-bearing factories and troops destroyed—and thereby chart progress, or the lack thereof. But ideological war isn’t industrial in scope. Instead, it’s more like information warfare, where ideas, shared online, create alliances that ripple across borders and oceans.

It took a Detroit to build an industrial arsenal of democracy, with each weapon requiring dollars and sweat to assemble. Today, it merely takes a keyboard to build an ideological alliance, each member a low-cost addition requiring little more than fervor and an Internet connection.

The Administration of George W. Bush concluded the way to prevail after the 9/11 attacks was to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq. Following wars that eventually will cost $3 trillion or more, and at least 6,845 American lives, his successor has decided not to tag along. Instead, President Barack Obama has told the nations involved—those with the most at risk—to step up to the plate to do the fighting, with the U.S. filling the role of best supporting actor.

Some see such a policy as too timid. “The U.S. efforts have always been halfhearted, half-resourced and focused on exit strategies rather than on success,” says David Sedney, who ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia from 2009 to 2013. “We always want to have an exit, and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.” He argues that the U.S. needs to launch nation-building strategies in failed states that currently serve as incubators for ISIS and other groups.

Politicians aren’t calling for such radical action. But some believe the U.S. needs to step up the fight. “We need more boots on the ground,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told CBS on Sunday. “I know that is a tough thing to say and a tough thing for Americans to swallow, but it doesn’t mean the 82nd Airborne. It means forward air controllers. It means special forces. It means intelligence and it means other capabilities.”

The U.S., McCain said, can’t simply direct wars against ISIS and similar foes from relative safety behind the front lines. “For [the Administration] to say, ‘we expect [Iraq and Yemen] to do it on their own,’ they’re not doing it on their own,” he said. “And they are losing.”

The last clear victory scored by the U.S. military was against Iraq in 1991, led by President George H.W. Bush, a Cold War commander-in-chief. It was a bespoke war tailor-made for the Pentagon: Iraq’s massive army stormed into Kuwait, occupied it, and waited for the U.S. and its allies to drive it out.

The world watched that conflict and decided, given Washington’s overwhelming advantages in that kind of war, not to fight it again. Unfortunately, too many Americans seem unaware that the rules have changed. So they continue to want to measure progress in today’s conflicts with yesterday’s yardsticks.

But such yearnings are doomed. Persistence and will, not body bags, are the keys to winning these kinds of wars.

TIME National Security

As Yemen’s Government Falls, So May a U.S. Strategy for Fighting Terror

YEMEN-UNREST-POLITICS
A Shiite Houthi fighter outside Yemen's presidential palace Tuesday. GAMAL NOMAN / AFP / Getty Images

Rebels launch coup against vital U.S. ally

As the nation awaited President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday—and any new decision on how he plans to wage war on Islamic fundamentalism—one of his key approaches seems on the verge of collapse in Yemen.

Shiite Houthi rebels attacked the home of Yemen’s president as they rushed into the presidential palace in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital. Government officials said a coup against President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was underway. “The President has no control,” a Yemeni government spokesman told CNN.

Hadi is a key U.S. ally in the war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but his grip on power has been pounded by Houthi forces over the past four months. Fighting between Hadi’s Sunni government and the Shiite Houthis has created a vacuum that experts fear AQAP will exploit to expand its power base in the increasingly lawless nation.

Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French brothers of Muslim descent, said they carried out their attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, on behalf of AQAP. “Tell the media that this is Al Qaeda in Yemen!” the Kouachi brothers shouted outside the magazine after their massacre.

Washington has cited its relationship with Yemen as breeding success in the war on terror. On Sept. 10, as Obama announced the start of a bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, he heralded his lighter approach to dealing with terror by citing Yemen.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he told the nation from the White House. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” But 11 days later, Hadi’s government was driven from parts of the capital of Sana’a by the Houthis, who have since gained control of several ministries.

“U.S. counter-terrorism policies in Yemen worked in the short term to keep al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from engaging in some attacks on the U.S. that al Qaeda wanted desperately to carry out,” former top Pentagon official David Sedney said Tuesday. “But that short-term success was never accompanied by a long-term strategy, and the result has been horrific—a country that is now in chaos, dominated by groups with diverse ideologies but who share a common theme—they hate the U.S. and want vengeance for the evils they believe we have wrecked upon them.”

The U.S. anti-terror policy in Yemen of a “light footprint”—drones, special-ops units and training for local forces—isn’t working, Sedney says. “The drone strikes and fierce attacks by U.S.-trained and -mentored Yemeni special forces have created hordes of new enemies for the U.S. who see us as supporters of a decrepit, oppressive, and corrupt leadership,” says Sedney, who from 2009 to 2013 ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi meets with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon in July 2013. U.S. Department of Defense

“What is not clear is whether the Administration has learned any lessons as its failures mount,” he adds. “If the only U.S. response is to increase drone strikes and send in more special forces, then we better get prepared for some difficult, violent years ahead.”

Christopher Swift, a Yemen expert at Georgetown University, says U.S. efforts in Yemen have been lackluster. “Our relationships, whether they’re political or military, don’t extend beyond the capital,” he says. “The bad guys are out in the field, far away from the national capital, and to the extent we claim to have relationships out in the bush, they’re based on third-party sources or overhead surveillance.”

U.S. goals in Yemen have always been tempered. “We’ve been playing for very limited, very modest objectives in Yemen,” Swift says. “Yemen is still a place where people who want inspiration, or training, or a place to hide can go. AQAP isn’t going away. The Yemenis are not in a position to make it go away, and we’re not willing to help them defeat AQAP decisively.”

Between 2011 and 2014, the U.S. pumped $343 million into Yemen, largely to fight AQAP. The U.S. is slated to provide Yemen with $125 million in arms and military training in 2015, in addition to $75 million in humanitarian aid, according to the nonprofit Security Assistance Monitor website.

“Despite their aggressive actions against AQAP, the Houthis have continually expressed anti-American rhetoric,” Seth Binder of the Security Assistance Monitor wrote Jan. 9. “And AQAP has used the Houthi’s Zaidi-Shi’a roots, a sect of Shiite Islam, to frame their battle as a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Recent reports indicate the tactic may be working as an increasing number of disenchanted Sunni tribesman are joining AQAP.”

Sedney says the only way of transforming a society like Yemen’s is full-bore nation building, with the time and money required to make it work. “We always want to have an exit,” Sedney says, “and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.”

TIME National Security

Charlie Hebdo Attack Highlights the Challenge of the U.S.-Yemen Relationship

If wars on terror don’t work, does Washington’s “lighter footprint” offer a viable alternative?

There are two basic ways the U.S. has dealt with incubators of terrorism: send in the Army, or send in the drones. Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate that the former is no guarantee of success. The attack on Charlie Hebdo suggests that the latter isn’t, either.

There are good reasons to steer clear. “The U.S. needs to think hard about how much it wants to be in the middle of a shooting match between Sunni and Shia,” says Daniel Benjamin, who spent a lot of time dealing with Yemen as the State Department point man on counter-terrorism from 2009 to 2012.

And there are good reasons to get involved. “I have serious concerns for the future security of the United States and our allies,” says David Sedney, who from 2009 to 2013 ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia. “Al-Qaeda and its offshoots have an agenda of destroying us, and our way of life.”

Then there’s the history of benign neglect. “Going back to my time at Centcom, we always felt we needed to do more to help Yemen build its anti-terrorism capability,” says Anthony Zinni, who ran U.S. Central Command as a four-star Marine general from 1997 to 2000. “The other Gulfies complained that their coast was the source of a lot of transit and the ability of bad guys to come in.”

Things got even worse on Oct. 12, 2000, three months after Zinni stepped down, when suicide bombers in a small boat approached the USS Cole during her refueling stop in Yemen’s Aden harbor. Crammed with explosives, the al-Qaeda-sponsored blast blew a hole in Cole’s hull, killing 17 sailors. “That sort of soured things. The hearings in Congress were all about `Why Yemen—who cares?’” Zinni recalls. “We sort of neglected Yemen, and the outcome is that’s where al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has ended up.”

FRANCE-CRIME-MEDIA-SHOOTING
The Kouachi brothers face police after their killing spree inside the offices of Charlie Hebdo Jan. 7. Anne Gelbard—AFP/Getty Images

Yemen’s fingerprints are all over the slaughter at the French satirical newspaper, the latest in a series of bad events involving an impoverished state tacked on to the bottom of Saudi Arabia, wedged between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Washington has cited its relationship with Yemen as breeding success in the war on terror. On Sept. 10, as President Obama announced the start of a bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, he heralded his lighter approach to dealing with terror by citing Yemen.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he told the nation from the White House. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

But 11 days later, the government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the U.S. partner in its anti-terror fight, was driven from the capital of Sana’a by Shiite-backed Houthis, who have since gained control of several ministries. The U.S. and its Yemeni allies says the Houthis are funded by Iran, which the Houthis deny, although both Iran and the Houthis are virulently anti-American.

Yemen National Dialogue
Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“It’s certainly worrisome when the legitimate government of President Hadi is much weakened by the Houthis occupation of Sana’a and by the increasingly sectarian character of the conflict there,” says Benjamin says, now a foreign-policy scholar at Dartmouth College. “I’m quite worried that this is going to become a southern version of Iraq because the whole region is so inflated with sectarian strife.”

Such violence further hampers American efforts. “It’s got to be harder for the U.S. to operate there, to cooperate with the authorities there, and also to do the training that’s such a key part of our relationship,” Benjamin says.

In fact, Yemen has been falling apart since the 2011 overthrow of Ali Abdullah Saleh, its longtime leader. The resulting unrest has allowed the Sunni-rooted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to occupy much of the southern part of the country.

Four months after the fall of the capital, Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French brothers of Muslim descent, stormed Charlie Hebdo Jan. 7 and killed its editors and cartoonists, before dying in a shootout with French police two days later.

AQAP had trained both men in Yemen in 2011, Reuters reported Jan. 11, quoting anonymous Yemeni sources. The pair met with al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki and spent time in the desert being trained on firearms before returning to France.

U.S.-born Awlaki—who was also U.S.-killed, by a CIA drone strike in Yemen in September, 2011—has been the most inspirational Islamist for those seeking to attack U.S. targets. His legacy includes the failed 2009 underwear bomber over Detroit, the successful Fort Hood attack that same year, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It was in Yemen—where Awlaki resided from 2004 until his death—that he, as the face of AQAP, produced online videos and other media that continue to drive adherents to kill in the name of religion. The Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya has described him as the “bin Laden of the Internet.”

“This whole idea that was pioneered by Awlaki of individual acts of jihad has, in this particular environment in Europe where there’s so much anti-immigrant sentiment, growing Islamophobia, tough economic times, created the ground work for this kind of attack,” Benjamin says.

From Yemen’s perspective, dealing with Washington hasn’t always been easy, either. After an explosion 100 miles east of Sana’a killed suspected USS Cole bombing mastermind Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in 2002, Yemeni officials blamed a car bomb for his death.

USS Cole Attack Suspect Arrested
The USS Cole following the AQAP attack. U.S. Navy/Getty Images

But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz blew that cover story two days later by acknowledging in a CNN interview that a CIA Hellfire missile had killed al-Harethi.

“This is why is it so difficult to make deals with the United States,” Yemeni Brigadier General Yahya M. Al Mutawakel, the deputy secretary general for the ruling People’s Congress party, told the Christian Science Monitor shortly after Wolfowitz spilled the beans. “This is why we are reluctant to work closely with them.” Local outrage forced the U.S. to close its embassy in Sana’a temporarily following the admission.

Back in Paris, “Tell the media that this is Al-Qaeda in Yemen!” the Kouachi brothers shouted outside the newspaper office where they had just carried out their massacre. They’d later tell the driver of a car they hijacked that their actions were driven by a thirst for revenge for Awlaki’s death.

“The leadership of AQAP directed the operation, and they have chosen their target carefully as revenge for the honor of the prophet,” a statement issued by an AQAP spokesman said the day the pair died. U.S. officials said, despite that claim, that there is no clear evidence yet that the Paris attack was ordered by AQAP.

But the group did call for attacking Charlie Hebdo and its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, in Inspire, its English-language magazine, saying he and other journalists were “wanted dead or alive for crimes against Islam.”

There is only so much the U.S. can do to fix the country. “Yemen is a semi-failed state—some people would say its an outright failed state—and as a result its absorptive capacity for dealing with assistance across a broad range of areas is limited,” Benjamin says. “We have done an enormous amount on the security side, as well as on the humanitarian, economic and governance accounts.”

Not everyone agrees. “We’ve mishandled Yemen terribly,” Sedney says. “Al-Qaeda is stronger today in Yemen than it was a year ago.”

The U.S. anti-terror policy of a “light footprint”—drones, special-ops units and training for local forces—isn’t working there, or in Libya, Somalia or the tribal areas of Pakistan, he says.

“That kind of activity can temporarily suppress the threat to the United States and our allies,” Sedney says. “But it doesn’t solve the problem, and it also creates countervailing forces that actually make the problem worse in the long run” because such remote attacks serve to motivate survivors to seek revenge.

Sedney says the only way of transforming a society is full-bore nation building, with the time and money needed to make it flourish. It requires political muscle and popular support, something that hasn’t truly existed since the U.S. helped rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II. “That worked wonderfully for us,” he says.

Since then, “the U.S. efforts have always been halfhearted, half-resourced and focused on exit strategies rather than on success,” Sedney says. “We always want to have an exit, and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.”

Christopher Swift, a Yemen expert at Georgetown University, agrees that U.S. efforts in Yemen have been lackluster. “Our relationships, whether they’re political or military, don’t extend beyond the capital,” he says. “The bad guys are out in the field, far away from the national capital, and to the extent we claim to have relationships out in the bush, they’re based on third-party sources or overhead surveillance.”

U.S. goals in Yemen have always been tempered. “We’ve been playing for very limited, very modest objectives in Yemen,” Swift says. “Yemen is still a place where people who want inspiration, or training, or a place to hide can go. AQAP isn’t going away. The Yemenis are not in a position to make it go away, and we’re not willing to help them defeat AQAO decisively.”

Al-Qaeda’s return to center stage comes a year after it was pushed out of the spotlight by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which has preoccupied Washington and returned U.S. troops to Iraq for the third time in 25 years.

Al-Qaeda wants that spotlight back. “There an internal competitiveness now,” Zinni says. “Everybody wants to outdo the other guy, because it helps with recruiting and funding.”

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agrees with Zinni. “ISIL is inspiring groups that already exist to rebrand themselves, but in rebranding themselves into a more radical ideology,” he told Fox News Jan. 9. “That’s what makes it dangerous.”

Yemen remains a difficult challenge. “Once touted as a relative success story among Arab uprisings, the internationally backed transition process in Yemen has unraveled in the wake of the September 21 Houthi takeover of Sana’a,” April Longley Alley of the nonprofit Middle East Institute wrote in December. “In the north, the balance of power has tipped sharply in favor of the Houthis, a predominantly Zaydi-Shi‘i movement that took control of the capital in September and has since consolidated and expanded southward and along the Red Sea coast. Supporters of the movement see the Houthis as correcting the wrongs of the country’s 2011 transition agreement, which preserved the power and corruption of old regime elites. They praise the movement’s willingness to confront corruption, combat al-Qa‘ida, and fill a security vacuum left by a feckless government.”

But the Saudis, who have poured at least $4 billion in aid into Yemen, view the Houthis as proxies for their mortal enemy, Iran, and could halt the cash flow. “If they do pull the plug,” Alley writes, “it will almost certainly increase hardship for average Yemenis, undermine the new technocratic government formed in November, and raise the prospect of fiscal collapse in early 2015.”

Houthis take control of al-Udayn district in Ibb, Yemen
Houthis have taken over wide swaths of Yemen. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Between 2011 and 2014, the U.S. pumped $343 million into Yemen, largely to fight AQAP. The U.S. is slated to provide Yemen with $125 million in arms and military training in 2015, in addition to $75 million in humanitarian aid, according to the nonprofit Security Assistance Monitor website.

“Despite their aggressive actions against AQAP, the Houthis have continually expressed anti-American rhetoric,” Seth Binder of the Security Assistance Monitor wrote Jan. 9. “And AQAP has used the Houthi’s Zaidi-Shi’a roots, a sect of Shiite Islam, to frame their battle as a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Recent reports indicate the tactic may be working as an increasing number of disenchanted Sunni tribesman are joining AQAP.”

There are near-daily attacks in Yemen now. On Jan. 7—the same day the Kouachi brothers butchered Charlie Hebdo’s masthead—a car bomb killed 40 people seeking to enroll in a police academy in Sana’a. Five suspected al-Qaeda members have been arrested in connection with the blast.

TIME Terrorism

What Those Pentagon Twitter Hackers Posted

The Pentagon
Getty Images

An avalanche of almost-classified info sows confusion

The Pentagon held its breath Monday when Islamic State sympathizers hacked into U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts and began posting internal U.S. military documents on the Twitter feed.

Could this be another Snowden job? Was any of the material classified? After all, they were posting the names, addresses and phone numbers of senior U.S. military officers.

Within an hour, the Pentagon’s sigh was audible. While there was a lot of official-looking, internal documents posted before both social-media accounts were shut down, none of it appears to have been classified.

 

"FOUO" can be found on many released Pentagon documents
“FOUO” can be found on many released Pentagon documents

Many sported the officious-sounding but non-classified For Official Use Only label.

Monday’s bullet-dodging highlights the U.S. government’s preoccupation with secrecy, and its downside: when nearly everything is classified, it can be harder to protect real secrets.

 

Central Command’s feed was back in operation Tuesday. Twitter

Think of the government’s penchant for secrecy like an iceberg: what’s showing above the water line is that tiny share that’s classified Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.

But underwater—where, strangely, you can’t see—are more than 100 different designations that boil down to “Don’t let the public see this.”

…but its feed still featured the CyberCaliphate avatar. YouTube

For example, the non-profit Project on Government Oversight grumbled last year about the Pentagon inspector general’s routine requirement that any member of the public wishing to see some of its more interesting reports file a formal Freedom of Information Act request. “As anyone familiar with the FOIA process knows, turnaround on a request can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years,” POGO’s Neil Gordon noted. “So, it’s reasonable to assume that the DoD IG is indeed trying to bury the report to spare the Pentagon and … its … contractors the embarrassing publicity.”

The varying labels—and each agency’s rules for releasing non-classified information—is confusing, as the Obama Administration itself conceded in 2010:

At present, executive departments and agencies (agencies) employ ad hoc, agency-specific policies, procedures, and markings to safeguard and control this information, such as information that involves privacy, security, proprietary business interests, and law enforcement investigations. This inefficient, confusing patchwork has resulted in inconsistent marking and safeguarding of documents, led to unclear or unnecessarily restrictive dissemination policies, and created impediments to authorized information sharing. The fact that these agency-specific policies are often hidden from public view has only aggravated these issues.

That’s why it wants to toss all those agency-specific labels into the trash and designate them all as Controlled Unclassified Information. Perhaps the reduced profusion of almost-classified labels will help reduce confusion like Monday’s (the Pentagon, of course, has its own process underway for all its non-classified technical data). And having the word Unclassified in the designation should make it clear to even cable-news anchors what’s up.

The Administration plans to issue a proposed regulation to funnel all the labels into that single Controlled Unclassified Information designation this spring. It’s slated to be fully operational in 2018.

Obviously, in addition to craving secrecy, the government abhors alacrity.

Read next: Twitter Hacking Gives Pentagon a Black Eye

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Terrorism

Twitter Hacking Gives Pentagon a Black Eye

Twitter

Embarrassing, sure. But classified info apparently secure

Live by the tweet, die by the tweet.

The latest cyberwar skirmish involves an embarrassing—but apparently nothing more—breach of U.S. Central Command’s social-media accounts by alleged Islamist hackers. Nonetheless, it’s a black eye for the Pentagon, with its multi-billion-dollar preoccupation with cybersecurity.

Centcom is the regional Pentagon command that oversees U.S. military action in 20 nations stretching from Egypt to Pakistan, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Centcom, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., began displaying messages allegedly from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria starting about 12:30 p.m. EST on its Twitter account. At least two ISIS YouTube posts also showed up in Centcom’s account on the video site.

“AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS.” the first apparently non-official Twitter message said (ISIS doesn’t refer to itself as “ISIS,” which immediately led to speculation in the Pentagon and elsewhere that the hackers might not be who they claim to be).

It was followed in quick succession by others. “ISIS is already here, were are in your PCs, in each military base,” a second tweet said. “We know everything about you, your wives and children.”

But a quick review of documents posted suggested they are unclassified. At most, they appear to fall into the category of documents the Pentagon often labels “for official use only,” which are routinely posted on the Internet by the Pentagon itself. Reporters located posted documents involving U.S. military acquisition and strategy on public Pentagon websites.

Twitter suspended Central Command’s account shortly after 1 p.m., with all the prior posts—both legitimate and otherwise—inaccessible.

About 5 p.m. Monday, Centcom issued a statement saying the breaches didn’t affect “operational military networks” and that apparently no classified data was jeopardized. “We are viewing this purely as a case of cybervandalism,” Centcom said. The social-media accounts, it added, “reside on commercial, non-Defense Department servers.”

In an interview broadcast Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that while the Pentagon has an edge when it comes to firepower, it’s merely tied with prospective foes when it comes to cyber warfare. “We don’t have an advantage,” Army General Martin Dempsey told Fox News. “It’s a level playing field, and that makes this chairman very uncomfortable.”

Shortly before the hack began, President Obama was speaking at the Federal Trade Commission on computer security. “This extraordinary interconnection creates enormous opportunities but also creates enormous vulnerabilities for us as a nation and for our economy and for individual families,” he said. “If we are going to be connected, then we need to be protected.”

The White House said that a Twitter hack isn’t the same thing as a major data breach, like Sony recently experienced. “This is something that we’re obviously looking into and something that we take seriously,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

As the Centcom attack unfolded, the Government Accountability Office was issuing a report warning of the soft underbelly of the U.S. government’s dependence on networked computer systems. “To further highlight the importance of the threat, on October 11, 2012, the Secretary of Defense stated that the collective result of attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure could be ‘a cyber Pearl Harbor, an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life,’” the GAO said.

Thankfully, except for a few outfits, social media doesn’t yet constitute “critical infrastructure.”

– With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME Veterans

Killed in Action, Far From the Battlefield

Iraq Archive 2007
Iraq, 2007: Both a VA psychologist and the veteran who allegedly killed him served in Iraq that year. Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images

VA psychologist gunned down by Iraq war vet

If you check the latest toll at icasualties.org, 4,489 Americans died in the Iraq war. But a killing Tuesday at a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in El Paso, Texas, should have pushed that figure to 4,490—one of many additional KIAs in the Iraq war that will never be added to its final tally.

KIA means “killed in action,” and might not seem to apply to the death of Timothy Fjordbak, 63, allegedly at the hand of Jerry Serrato, 48, on the fourth floor of the El Paso clinic at Fort Bliss.

But, unfortunately, it does.

Serrato, 48, had served in Iraq for several months in 2007. He was discharged from the Army in 2009 for undisclosed physical reasons. He worked for a short time at the clinic in 2013, where Fjordbak, 63, was the chief psychologist.

A former employee at the clinic has told the Washington Post that Serrato was upset that the clinic had found his claim of post-traumatic stress disorder unwarranted.

“Although we do not know all the details, what we know of the case suggests anger at the VA for denial of benefits,” says Elspeth Ritchie, who served as the Army’s top psychiatrist before retiring in 2010. “Unfortunately, the scenario of angry patients killing their doctors is way too common, both in and out of the military.”

In October, 2013, Serrato allegedly threatened Fjordbak at a grocery store after Fjordbak didn’t recognize him, the FBI said following the murder. “It was a verbal threat —real or not—his (Serrato’s) perception was some wrong had been committed against him,” bureau agent Douglas Lindquist said.

“I know what you did,” Lindquist quoted Serrato telling Fjordbak, “and I will take care of it.” Fjordbak reported what he perceived to be a threat to local police.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, Serrato went to the top floor of the four-story clinic and killed Fjordbak with a .380-caliber handgun.

Dr. Timothy Fjordbak VA

Fjordbak left a private practice after 9/11 because he wanted to help veterans, officials said. He had served in Iraq for several months in 2007, just as Serrato did. There was no known doctor-patient or workplace relationship between the two men.

Fjordbak was lauded by troops he had treated, as well as colleagues and friends. “His main thing was that he could differentiate between symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury,” Michael Rushton, a U.S. Air Force veteran treated by Fjordbak in November, told the El Paso Times. “It was a five-hour appointment and it was a very comprehensive series of tests. He was amazing and an excellent guy.”

The tragic case highlights the fog that is PTSD. Few PTSD sufferers are violent, and it’s challenging to attribute specific acts to the malady. “Although PTSD is associated with an increased risk of violence, the majority of veterans and non-veterans with PTSD have never engaged in violence,” according to the National Center for PTSD.

Was Serrato mentally ill? Angry over how the VA handled his case? Suffering from PTSD? Or some combination of those factors?

Victoria County, Tex., Sheriff's Office
Jerry Serotta, following a 1997 drunk-driving arrest Victoria County, Tex., Sheriff’s Office

We’ll probably never know. After killing the psychologist, Serrato went into a restroom on the clinic’s third floor and killed himself.

Better up that toll to 4,491.

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