Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast.

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 1, 2009

Jeremy Scahill (h/t: Alternet)

Iraq US TroopsSome anti-war analysts find hope in President Barack Obama’s address at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina on Friday, in which he appeared to spell out a clear date for withdrawal from Iraq.

“I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011,” Obama said in a speech that quickly generated headlines announcing that an end to the occupation is on the horizon. As far as rhetoric goes, Obama’s statement seems very clear. But in reality, it is far more complicated.

Obama’s plan, as his advisors have often said, is subject to “conditions on the ground,” meaning it can be altered at any point between now and 2011. Underscoring this point, a spokesperson for New York Rep. John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Obama “assured [McHugh] he will revisit the tempo of the withdrawal, or he will revisit the withdrawal plan if the situation on the ground dictates it. … The president assured him that there was a Plan B.”

Despite Obama’s declarations Friday and the celebrations they have sparked on the liberal blogosphere, the Pentagon certainly seems to believe its forces may well be in Iraq after 2011. NBC’s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszeswki reported on Friday that “military commanders, despite this Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that all U.S. forces would be out by the end of 2011, are already making plans for a significant number of American troops to remain in Iraq beyond that 2011 deadline, assuming that Status of Forces Agreement agreement would be renegotiated. And one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years.”

Some have suggested that such statements from the military are insubordination and contrary to Obama’s orders, but they could also reflect discussions between the White House and the Pentagon to which the public is not privy.

Then there’s the monstrous U.S. embassy unveiled last month in Baghdad, the largest of any nation anywhere in the history of the planet and itself resembling a military base. Maintaining this fortified city will require a sizable armed U.S. presence in Baghdad and will regularly place U.S. diplomats in armed convoys that put Iraqi civilian lives in jeopardy.

Whether this job is performed by State Department Diplomatic Security or mercenaries from the company formerly known as Blackwater (or else a corporation more acceptable to the Obama administration), the U.S. will have a substantial paramilitary force regularly escorting U.S. VIPs around Iraq — a proven recipe for civilian deaths and injuries. Obama’s speech on Friday did not even address the question of military contractors — a crucial omission given that their presence rivals that of U.S. troops by a ratio of over 1-to-1.

Finally, the Status of Forces Agreement, which supposedly lays out a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, contains a gaping loophole that leaves open the possibility of a continuation of the occupation and a sustained presence of U.S. forces well beyond 2011, “upon request by the government of Iraq.” Article 27 of the SOFA allows the U.S. to undertake military action, “or any other measure,” inside Iraq’s borders “In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq.” Could this mean an election where the wrong candidate or party wins? What is the definition of a threat?

The Democrats’ Response

Earlier in the week, when details of Obama’s official Iraq plan began to emerge, expressions of surprise poured from the offices of the congressional Democratic leadership over his intention to keep a force of 35,000 to 50,000 troops in the country beyond 2010.

“When they talk about 50,000, that’s a little higher number than I anticipated,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was “particularly upset” according to the New York Times and did not understand “the justification.” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., exclaimed, “Fifty thousand is more than I would have thought.”

The response from the Democratic power brokers was embarrassingly disingenuous. Obama said early on in his presidential campaign that he intended to keep behind a “residual force” of the scope he laid out. Those who have long protested this aspect of his plan were marginalized and ignored in both the corporate media and the Obama campaign.

The same Democratic leaders expressing their disappointment ignored the credible voices of dissent for years while supporting the occupation through votes and funding. That they would wait to express their dissent until long after it would actually have had an impact is one of the best examples of what has been so wrong with the Democrats’ role from the beginning of President George W. Bush’s declaration of war against the world and his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

If Pelosi, Reid, et al., really had a problem with a 50,000 troop residual force, they certainly had ample time to say so when Obama was running for president.

On Friday, however, these same Democrats welcomed the announcement that combat missions would be out by 2011. Reid praised Obama’s plan, while cautioning that we “must keep in Iraq only those forces necessary for the security of our remaining troops and the Iraqi people.” Following Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune, key Senate Republicans praised Obama’s plan as well, while reminding everyone that it was an outgrowth of the Bush administration.

“It is encouraging to see the Obama administration embrace the plan of Gen. David Petraeus that began with the successful surge in 2007, and continues shifting combat responsibilities to our Iraqi allies,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Adopting the Bush Narrative

Beyond the headline-generating news, Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune delivered a number of lines — wrapped in laudatory rhetoric — that could have been delivered by Bush himself.

“I want to be very clear,” Obama told the military audience. “We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime — and you got the job done.” Perhaps it bears remembering that “removing Saddam” was justification two or three offered by the Bush administration after the WMD fraud was exposed.

“We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government,” Obama went on, “and you got the job done.” (The idea that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki regime is either sovereign or a government is hotly debated in Iraq.) “And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life — that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.”

As much as could be said about this, perhaps the best response was delivered on Friday by Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks, who knows the situation in Iraq about as well as any journalist.

“We won’t know for 10 or 15 years whether we actually did something right, even in removing Saddam Hussein,” he said on MSNBC. “We may very well end up with a strongman, stronger than Saddam, closer to Tehran and certainly will be anti-American. That’s in some ways the best-case scenario if that country holds together.”

Regardless of what happens down the line, the world knows the truth about the lies that both Democrats and Republicans promoted in support of Bush’s war against Iraq. Rather than inspire hope among Iraqis, the U.S. occupation has devastated their country and opened Iraq’s gates for unprecedented violence and instability in their country and the region.

Obama, the candidate, used to riff on these truths on the campaign trail. The contradiction between President Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune and his rhetoric before he was elected should serve as a warning to those who take his words at face value. But more important, combined with his plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, Obama’s adoption of key lies from Bush’s Iraq narrative should be seen as a dangerous indicator of things to come.

Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Did You Know 200,000 Vets Are Sleeping on the Streets?

Posted in Afghanistan, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 3, 2009

New American Media

veteran1SAN FRANCISCO – Roy Lee Brantley shivers in the cold December morning as he waits in line for food outside the Ark of Refuge mission, which sits amid warehouses and artists lofts a stone’s throw from the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco.

Brantley’s beard is long, white and unkempt. The African-American man’s skin wrinkled beyond his 62 years. He lives in squalor in a dingy residential hotel room with the bathroom down the hall. In some ways, his current situation marks an improvement. “I’ve slept in parks,” he says, “and on the sidewalk. Now at least I have a room.”

Like the hundreds of others in line for food, Brantley has worn the military uniform. Most, like Brantley, carry their service IDs and red, white and blue cards from the Department of Veterans Affairs in their wallets or around their necks. In 1967, he deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. By the time he left the military five years later, Brantley had attained the rank of sergeant and been decorated for his valor and for the wounds he sustained in combat.

“I risked my life for this democracy and got a Bronze Star,” he says. “I shed blood for this country and got the Purple Heart after a mortar blast sent shrapnel into my face and leg. But when I came back home from Vietnam I was having problems. I tried to hurt my wife because she was Filipino. Every time I looked at her I thought I was in Vietnam again. So we broke up.”

In 1973, Brantley filed a disability claim with the federal government for mental wounds sustained in combat overseas. Over the years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied his claim five separate times. “You go over there and risk your life for America and your mind’s all messed up, America should take care of you, right,” he says, knowing that for him and the other veterans in line for free food that promise has not been kept.

On any given night 200,000 U.S. veterans sleep homeless on the streets of America. One out of every four people — and one out of every three men — sleeping in a car, in front of a shop door, or under a freeway overpass has worn a military uniform. Some like Brantley have been on the streets for years. Others are young and women returning home wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, quickly slipping through the cracks.

For each of these homeless veterans, America’s promise to “Support the Troops” ended the moment he or she took off the uniform and tried to make the difficult transition to civilian life. There, they encountered a hostile and cumbersome bureaucracy set up by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a best-case scenario, a wounded veteran must wait six months to hear back from the VA. Those who appeal a denial have to wait an average of four and a half years for their answer. In the six months leading up to March 31st of this year, nearly 1,500 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claims would be approved by the government.

There are patriotic Americans trying to solve this problem. Last month, two veterans’ organizations, Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare, filed suit in federal court demanding the government decide disability claims brought by wounded soldiers within three months. Predictably, however, the VA is trying to block the effort. On December 17, their lawyers convinced Reggie Walton, a judge appointed by President Bush, who ruled that imposing a quicker deadline for payment of benefits was a task for Congress and the president-not the courts.

President-elect Barack Obama has the power to end this national disgrace. He has the power to ensure to streamline the VA bureaucracy so it helps rather than fights those who have been wounded in the line of duty. He can ensure that this latest generation of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan does not receive the bum rap the Vietnam generation got. Let 2008 be the last year thousands of homeless veterans stand in line for free food during the holiday season. Let it be the last year hundreds of thousands sleep homeless on the street.

Military to Deploy 20,000 Soldiers For Homeland Security

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 1, 2008

Washington Post

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates

The U.S. military expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon officials.

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department’s role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts, defense analysts said.

There are critics of the change, in the military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law restricting the military’s role in domestic law enforcement.

But the Bush administration and some in Congress have pushed for a heightened homeland military role since the middle of this decade, saying the greatest domestic threat is terrorists exploiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to domestic response — a nearly sevenfold increase in five years — “would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable,” Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a catastrophe prompted “a fundamental change in military culture,” he said.

The Pentagon’s plan calls for three rapid-reaction forces to be ready for emergency response by September 2011. The first 4,700-person unit, built around an active-duty combat brigade based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was available as of Oct. 1, said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command.

If funding continues, two additional teams will join nearly 80 smaller National Guard and reserve units made up of about 6,000 troops in supporting local and state officials nationwide. All would be trained to respond to a domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive attack, or CBRNE event, as the military calls it.

Military preparations for a domestic weapon-of-mass-destruction attack have been underway since at least 1996, when the Marine Corps activated a 350-member chemical and biological incident response force and later based it in Indian Head, Md., a Washington suburb. Such efforts accelerated after the Sept. 11 attacks, and at the time Iraq was invaded in 2003, a Pentagon joint task force drew on 3,000 civil support personnel across the United States.

In 2005, a new Pentagon homeland defense strategy emphasized “preparing for multiple, simultaneous mass casualty incidents.” National security threats were not limited to adversaries who seek to grind down U.S. combat forces abroad, McHale said, but also include those who “want to inflict such brutality on our society that we give up the fight,” such as by detonating a nuclear bomb in a U.S. city.

In late 2007, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed a directive approving more than $556 million over five years to set up the three response teams, known as CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces. Planners assume an incident could lead to thousands of casualties, more than 1 million evacuees and contamination of as many as 3,000 square miles, about the scope of damage Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005.

Last month, McHale said, authorities agreed to begin a $1.8 million pilot project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through which civilian authorities in five states could tap military planners to develop disaster response plans. Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia will each focus on a particular threat — pandemic flu, a terrorist attack, hurricane, earthquake and catastrophic chemical release, respectively — speeding up federal and state emergency planning begun in 2003.

Last Monday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered defense officials to review whether the military, Guard and reserves can respond adequately to domestic disasters.

Gates gave commanders 25 days to propose changes and cost estimates. He cited the work of a congressionally chartered commission, which concluded in January that the Guard and reserve forces are not ready and that they lack equipment and training.

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