TIME Military

U.S. Military Records Longest Period Without a Combat Death Since 9/11

US Army Medevac Tends To The Wounded In Afghanistan
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A U.S. Army doctor monitors a patient inside a MEDEVAC helicopter on June 20, 2010, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

It’s been more than two months since a U.S. solider has died in a combat zone

The U.S. military is currently enjoying its longest stretch without a combat death since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Wednesday marked the 75th day since American forces suffered its last fatality, when two soldiers were killed in Afghanistan’s Parwan province on Dec. 12 after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, reports the Washington Post.

The newspaper tallied the figure following a panel discussion at New York University’s campus in Washington D.C., after the father of a deceased serviceman raised a question pertaining to combat deaths during a Q&A session.

Read more at the Washington Post.

TIME Military

China Now Has More Submarines than the U.S.

China Marks 60 Years Of The Chinese Navy (Getty)
ChinaFotoPress—Getty Images A Chinese Navy submarine participates in an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy on April 23, 2009 in Qingdao of Shandong Province, China.

China is adding subs and sending them farther out for longer periods of time

China now has more submarines than the U.S., though the vessels are inferior to the U.S. fleet.

Vice Admiral Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for capabilities and resources, said the vessels are part of China’s expansion into more geographic areas of operation for longer periods of time, Reuters reports. His comments mark the latest expression of concern from some U.S. officials over the Chinese military buildup.

U.S. military officials have recently sought to highlight China’s growing capabilities in an effort to ensure that the U.S. can maintain its technical edge, though a recent study from the Rand Corp. challenged some of those concerns when it found “potentially serious weaknesses” in the Chinese military.

[Reuters]

TIME Afghanistan

U.K. Paratrooper Honored for Saving U.S. Marine

Handout photograph of VC recipient Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey of the Parachute Regiment
Reuters Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey of the Parachute Regiment is seen in this undated photograph released in London by Britain's Ministry of Defence February 26, 2015.

The Victoria Cross has only been awarded 15 times since the end of World War 2

A British paratrooper was awarded the highest British military honor Thursday for his actions during a firefight in 2013 in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey, 27, is only the third serviceman to receive the Victoria Cross for service in Afghanistan and the fifteenth since World War 2, according to the BBC.

Leakey was with a group of British and American troops who were pinned down on the side of a hill in Helmand province by about 20 insurgents. During the Taliban attack, he ran through heavy fire multiple times to assess the situation, assist the wounded U.S. Marine Captain, and fire on the enemy, ultimately helping the troops regain the initiative. During the battle, 11 Taliban were killed and four were wounded.

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 Crime

Eddie Ray Routh Found Guilty of Murdering American Sniper Chris Kyle

The 27-year-old was sentenced to life in prison

A Texas jury on Tuesday found Eddie Ray Routh guilty of the murder of American Sniper author Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Routh, 27, a former Marine, admitted to killing ex-Navy SEAL Kyle and Littlefield at a shooting range in 2013, but professed his innocence because of supposedly suffering a psychotic break. Erath County district attorney Alan Nash told the jury to ignore Routh’s insanity defense, arguing that his apparent episodes of mental instability were caused by alcohol and marijuana abuse, according to the Associated Press.

“I am tired of the proposition that if you have mental illness that you can’t be held responsible for what you do,” he said.

Routh’s defense attorney Warren St. John insisted that his client was battling schizophrenia, claiming that the mental disorder created a delusion that Kyle and Littlefield were going to kill him.

“He was not intoxicated, folks, he was psychotic,” he said.

The case, heard in Stephenville, Texas, attracted national interest in large part because of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film adaptation of Kyle’s book about his four tours during the Iraq war, with the controversial movie grossing over $430 million worldwide.

Kyle was renowned as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills.

Littlefield’s mother, Judy, expressed her relief at the guilty verdict outside the courtroom, “We’ve waited two years for God to give justice for us on the behalf of our son,” she said in a statement. “And as usual, God has been faithful and given us the verdict we want.”

TIME Military

Marine Who Vanished in Iraq Gets 2 Years in Prison

Marine-Desertion Trial
John Althouse—The Daily News/AP Cpl. Wassef Hassoun is escorted to the courtroom in Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., on Feb. 9, 2015, for the beginning of his court martial trial.

(RALEIGH, N.C.) — A U.S. Marine who vanished a decade ago in Iraq has been sentenced to two years in prison for leaving his post and then fleeing to Lebanon after a brief return to the U.S.

As part of the sentence handed down Monday, Cpl. Wassef Hassoun will have a reduction in rank, loss of pay and a dishonorable discharge.

He was given two years and five days’ confinement.

Earlier in the day, the judge at Camp Lejeune, Marine Maj. Nicholas Martz, had found Hassoun guilty of desertion for his disappearances in 2004 and 2005. He was also convicted of losing his service pistol.

Prosecutors argued that Hassoun made preparations to flee his base in Fallujah in 2004 and told others that he planned to leave.

The defense, meanwhile, maintained he was kidnapped by insurgents and said the prosecution’s case was circumstantial.

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 Egypt

The Real Reason Egypt Is Buying Fighter Jets From France

Dubai Air Show
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A Rafale fighter jet aircraft, manufactured by Dassault Aviation SA, is seen performing an aerial display during the 13th Dubai Airshow at Dubai World Central (DWC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

It has nothing to do with France, and everything to do with the United States

Correction appended Feb. 15, 2015

After twenty years of searching, France has finally found a buyer for its Rafale fighter jet. President Francois Hollande announced on Thursday that Egypt will buy 24 aircraft as part of a deal reportedly valued at 5.2 billion euros ($5.9 billion), and his Defense Minister is heading to Cairo on Monday to sign the agreement.

France has been flying its domestically built Rafale jet since 2006, putting it to the test over countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and most recently in the U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS. But manufacturer Dassault Aviation has struggled to sell it abroad. Deals with Brazil, Libya, Morocco and Switzerland have all fallen through, and negotiations with India and Qatar are ongoing.

Then came Egypt. Hollande said in a statement that Egypt was seeking “aircraft quickly, due to the threats that it faces.” He added, “I believe that, given the current context, it’s very important that Egypt is able to act to uphold stability and to be in security.”

Still, budget-strapped Egypt may appear to be a surprising buyer for the French fighter jet. It already has the largest air force in Africa, and the Rafale, one of the most sophisticated fighter jets on the market, is unlikely to significantly boost its capabilities to combat insurgencies on the ground.

Egypt’s purchase may instead be aimed at diversifying its supply, experts say. The military has traditionally been one of America’s most dependable arms customers thanks to roughly $1 billion in U.S. annual aid that Egypt is largely required to spend on American gear. But Washington suspended aid after the military ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

While U.S. aid has been restored, relations have soured. Earlier this week, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who led the military takeover, hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in Cairo and agreed on a joint plan to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant. By opting for French military hardware, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is again demonstrating that his government doesn’t rely exclusively on the U.S. “Egypt has been so dependent on the U.S. that it is beginning to try to find some kind of contingency arrangement so that it can’t be levered by Congressional pressure to change their policies on dealing with dissidents,” says Anthony Cordesman, Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “You’re sending a message.”

To be sure, Egypt faces security threats on multiple fronts. In the restive Sinai peninsula, Islamist insurgents who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria have launched repeated deadly attacks on the military and oil facilities. On its Western border, a power vacuum in Libya since the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi (thanks in part to French Rafale airstrikes) has given Islamist groups a foothold. Highlighting why Sisi sees them as a threat, a Libyan group with ties to the ISIS kidnapped 21 Coptic Egyptian last month.

But Egypt does not need the Rafale to confront those threats, experts say. The air force already has as many as 230 F-16 fighter jets, Robert Springborg, a professor at France’s Science Po and expert on the Egyptian military, told Le Monde newspaper. The problem is not the lack of planes but the lack of sufficiently trained pilots, he says. And in the Sinai, in particular, American-provided Apache helicopters will be more effective than jets against the insurgency. “One thing is very clear,” says Cordesman. “On the basis of national priorities there is no military urgency to buy more combat aircraft.”

The Egyptian economy, meanwhile, has still not recovered from the tumult that followed the Arab Spring protests that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Sisi’s government has been bolstered largely by some $12 billion in aid from the oil-rich Gulf nations. Thirteen percent of the country is still unemployed, including more than half of the population under 25. The IMF projects that growth will reach 3.8 percent this fiscal year, a step in the right direction, but still well below its average five percent clip ahead of the 2011 protests.

But France has been “desperate” to sell the Rafale after twenty years, Cordesman says. While Egyptian media has reported that Gulf states have funded recent Egyptian military deals, French banks will put up financing for more than half of the purchase price. And though it’s unclear what Egypt is paying per plane, Cordesman says it’s likely that France is already providing a steep discount to Egypt to notch the first sale as it negotiates a much larger order of 126 planes with India. “My guess is that they’re not paying list, or anything like it,” he says.

The original version of this story misidentified the speaker of quotations about Egypt purchasing the Rafale jet from France. It was Anthony Cordesman.

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