There’s one important fact to know in light of recent headlines about Russia’s Air Force bombing US-trained fighters in Syria, which I have pulled from the news from about two weeks ago…
Only four or five U.S-trained Syrian fighters remain on the battlefield against ISIS militants, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East acknowledged Wednesday in the face of withering criticism from senators who dismissed the training program as a “total failure” and demanded a change of strategy.
Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. is looking at better ways to deploy the Syrian forces, but he agreed that the U.S. will not reach its goal of training 5,000 in the near term.
Wall Street Journal:
If the Pentagon shifts course to focus on training small numbers of fighters, it would represent a reversal. The military has criticized the Central Intelligence Agency’s lackluster covert effort to train Syrian rebels as ineffective because it produced too few fighters.
When the Obama administration shifted the main training program to the Pentagon, the military sought to train 5,000 Syrian rebels by year’s end. But the program has been slow to get off the ground and the first group of 54 fighters to enter Syria this summer was quickly routed by rival fighters.
There’s a second important fact. Here’s the Wall Street Journal on the cost of the failed program:
Under one proposal being crafted at the Pentagon, the $500 million train-and-equip program—a core component of the U.S. Syria strategy—would be supplanted by a more modest effort focused on creating specially trained militants empowered to call in U.S. airstrikes, defense officials said.
But at least we had wasted it *before* the Russians bombed the last few guys. Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front took care of that.
Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.
“The Pentagon’s Dangerous Views on the Wartime Press” – The New York Times Editorial Board:
The manual warns that “Reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying”
Authoritarian leaders around the world could point to it to show that their despotic treatment of journalists — including Americans — is broadly in line with the standards set by the United States government.
Even more disturbing is the document’s broad assertion that journalists’ work may need to be censored lest it reveal sensitive information to the enemy. This unqualified statement seems to contravene American constitutional and case law, and offers other countries that routinely censor the press a handy reference point.
You can also read much more at the recent post CPJ: “In times of war, Pentagon reserves right to treat journalists like spies”
Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.
“In times of war, Pentagon reserves right to treat journalists like spies” – Committee to Protect Journalists:
The Pentagon has produced its first Department of Defense-wide Law of War Manual and the results are not encouraging for journalists who, the documents states, may be treated as “unprivileged belligerents.” But the manual’s justification for categorizing journalists this way is not based on any specific case, law or treaty. Instead, the relevant passages have footnotes referring to either other parts of the document or matters not germane to this legal assertion. And the language used to attempt to justify this categorization is weak at best.
At 1,180 pages long and with 6,196 footnotes, the manual includes vague and contradictory language about when and how the category of “unprivileged belligerents” might be applied to journalists. It ignores the most relevant cases where the U.S. military detained war correspondents and accused them of being — using the term coined by Pentagon officials in the 2000s — “unlawful combatants,” without producing evidence or bringing even one accused journalist to trial. The manual mentions international human rights treaties and declarations, but ignores the most important one, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which deals most clearly with the right to free expression and the press.
The manual devotes attention to “classes of persons” who “do not fit neatly within the dichotomy” between combatants and civilians, and replaces the term “unlawful combatants,” which U.S. officials used to refer to terrorist suspects held under extra-legal circumstances in the wake of September 11, 2001 attacks, with “unprivileged belligerent.”
“Unprivileged” means the suspect is not entitled to the rights afforded to prisoners of war under international law and can instead be held as a criminal suspect in a category that includes suspected spies, saboteurs, and guerrillas.
Read the full report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Due to elections violence and continued risk of coup during the 2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis, State Department and DOD pull the plug on Burundi for military and non-military security aid. The huge US peacekeeping training program is halted:
In response to the abuses committed by members of the police during political protests, we are suspending all International Law Enforcement Academy and Anti-Terrorism Assistance training that we provide to Burundian law enforcement agencies.
Recognizing that Burundi’s National Defense Force has generally acted professionally in protecting civilians during protests, the United States continues to value our partnership with the Burundian military and urges them to maintain professionalism and respect for the rule of law.
However, due to the instability caused by the Burundian Government’s disregard for the Arusha Agreement and its decision to proceed with flawed parliamentary elections, the United States is unable to conduct peacekeeping and other training in Burundi. As a result, the United States has suspended upcoming training for the Burundian military under the Department of Defense’s Section 1206 Train and Equip program, as well as training and assistance under the Africa Military Education Program.
We remain deeply concerned that the current crisis will further hamper our ability to support the important contribution of the Burundian military to international peacekeeping.
To get a sense of scale for this news, as previously noted on AFD, via The Wall Street Journal:
After Nigeria — a country 18 times more populous — the U.S. trained more soldiers in Burundi than any other sub-Saharan African country between 2007 and 2014, according to publicly available data from the U.S. State Department. In the first nine months of 2014, 6,298 soldiers from the tiny country went through courses including advanced special operations, language classes and counterterrorism studies.
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