Wednesday, January 21, 2015

From ISIS to Russia, Grading Obama's Declarations at the State of the Union - U.S. News & World Report

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From ISIS to Russia, Grading Obama's Declarations at the State of the Union - U.S. News & World Report 
Russia - Google News
From ISIS to Russia, Grading Obama's Declarations at the State of the Union - U.S. News & World Report
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The year 2014 proved to be a whirlwind of national security and warfare, following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the Islamic State group’s spread across Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, and the continuation of previous U.S. expeditions through combat forces on the ground in Afghanistan as well as armed drones over Pakistan and Yemen.
President Barack Obama dedicated slightly more real estate in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night to these issues than before — a change for a commander-in-chief whose signature policies focus on domestic issues.
Check out the president’s report card on some of his more declarative statements regarding his administration’s national security and defense policies:
“Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.”
(Grade: B-)
The Afghan government has made significant advances in adopting the U.S.-imposed democratic system. After weeks of delays and continued bickering, new President Ashraf Ghani successfully put together a new cabinetdespite the awkward power-sharing agreement with former rival Abdullah Abdullah, now serving as the country’s No. 2. 
However, Obama’s classification of the end of the war in Afghanistan is incomplete and misleading. The official combat mission did end by December 2014, according to the schedule he put in place in the spring of 2013, but that has done little to stem combat on the ground. Attacks by the Taliban, including in the capital Kabul, have spiked in recent weeks and prompted Obama to amend the original limits for the planned 9,800 troops who would still be there this month.
Roughly 1,000 more U.S. troops are to remain in Afghanistan. And Obama has extended their mandate from solely a training mission to, once again, having the authority to conduct direct action missions against enemy forces on behalf of the Afghans they’re training.
This mission will be particularly important as U.S. military officials weigh the complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State group. Afghan leaders say the extremist network, there known by the Arabic acronym “Daish,” has already begun to recruit within their borders.
Obama also masked the fact that U.S. troops have returned to Iraq, following boasts at the State of the Union last year that all American forces had withdrawn after 2011. As many as 3,000 have now returned and will serve in advisory and training roles this year.
“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance.”
(Grade: D)
Perhaps it would be fairer to classify this as “incomplete,” since the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria has only been operating for roughly six months. But to indicate the Islamic State group is on the run is not a complete rendering of the situation on the ground.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been able to push the Islamic State group forces out of some positions in Iraq around the Sinjar region of Nineveh province, according to an analysis from the Institute for the Study of War. However, the extremist fighters’ withdrawal into the adjacent Hasaka province in Syria has created at least one “permissive zone.” The Islamic State group maintains control there so completely that it serves as a safe haven for rearming, resupplying and redeploying stronger than ever, the institute says.
The Islamic State group has not lost any key terrain in Syria and now reportedly controls up to one third of the country, according to The Daily Beast. The war, which Obama has devoted considerable effort to keep at arms length, also strayed from a strict air campaign
over the weekend, following reports that Canadian special forces got into a direct firefight with their Islamic State group opponents. The commandos were serving as combat controllers, identifying targets and calling in air strikes from war planes overhead. Obama has so far restricted U.S. forces from any such mission for fear of violating his staunch policy against redeploying American combat “boots on the ground” to either country.
“Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.”
(Grade: B+)
Joint sanctions from the U.S. and the E.U. as a direct result of Russia’s perceived aggressive actions in and around Ukraine have caused the economy of the Eastern power to crumble.
The ruble has plunged amid falling oil prices internationally and shrinking confidence from foreign investors that Russian markets are anything but a risky bet. This follows targeted sanctions against key members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and trusted oligarchs, as well as broad sanctions against its energy and banking sectors.
"What he has brought back is terrible economics of the old Soviet Union in a way. The Soviet Union was a fourth world economy with nuclear weapons,” Paul Sullivan, an economics professor at the National Defense University,told U.S. News in December.
Russia’s rhetoric has become more conciliatory in recent weeks, while maintaining that the U.S. has acted confrontationally.
“We call on our American partners to return to the path of constructive mutual activities on bilateral issues as well as on the world arena where our countries carry great responsibility," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday, according to state information service Sputnik News.
Obama also strayed away from his formal remarks regarding Russia on Tuesday night, adding a line about “front line states.”
An advance copy of his speech included the line, “Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength.”
The president actually said, “Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, as we were reinforcing our presence, with the front line states, Mr. Putin’s aggression, it was suggested, was a masterful display of strategy and strength. That’s what I heard from some folks.”
It’s unclear whether Obama planned the change or simply misspoke, but the slight change is notable. So far the U.S. has dedicated the bulk of its military support to exercises in Poland and the Baltic nations, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all members of NATO since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren announced Jan. 12 that 550 U.S. troops and 75 Stryker fighting vehicles from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment based in Germany would deploy to these Eastern countries to conduct “enhanced training due to increased regional tensions.”
But other countries along these so-called front lines who aren’t NATO allies haven’t received the same kind of support. Moldova, and its heavily ethnic Russian region of Transnistria, and others expressed public concerns last year that Russia may incite separatist movements there, as it reportedly has in Ukraine.
“I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.”
(Grade: C)
Regardless of the legal authorities to deploy them, the use of drones by the U.S. military is at an all-time high.
“I’ve been in the Air Force for 36 years. Demand has never gone down,” said Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, to a group of reporters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia last November. The base serves as one of the military’s main hubs for managing drone flights and processing information gleaned from them. “We have more missions than we have money, manpower or time.”
Armed strikes also remain a key feature of the Obama administration, significantly more so than the previous administration. The rate of deadly strikes in Pakistan, for example, soared from five in 2007 to 35 to 2008 to 117 in 2010, according to The Long War Journal, which tracks the data. There were 24 drone strikes in Pakistan in 2014, and two so far this year.
Similar campaigns exist in countries such as Yemen, where as many as 540 have been killed since 2002 by drones, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which also tracks them. U.S. drones have killed up to 33 in Somalia.
“We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed.”
(Grade: C)
The Pentagon unveiled its plan last week to train certain elements of the Syrian opposition, which has remained roiled in a brutal and bloody civil war against the regime of President Bashar Assad since the beginning of 2011. The program will be led by Army Gen. Michael Nagata, whose biography in special operations units is blacked out by anonymous references to “Special Mission Units.”
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have offered space for training camps to develop these haphazard forces into some sort of organized army. But many questions remain, including whether these fighters will be willing to leave their homeland war zone for training elsewhere, the likelihood that the U.S. can produce military forces after similar efforts failed in Iraq, how they will be able to vet these fighters to ensure they are not aligned with some sort of extremist force, and whether the U.S. and its allies can trust that they will return to Syria to fight the Islamic State group, not their original enemy, Assad.
That last point is further complicated by repeated public calls from Turkey for the ouster of the Syrian president.
“The purpose of the training is to get them to defend their communities, to go on the offensive against ISIL, and to help work towards a political solution in Syria. That is what they will be trained to do,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said last week of the general’s recent meetings with his Turkish counterparts. “Part and parcel of that training will be good military leadership. Their military leadership. We've talked a lot about boots on the ground. Indigenous boots on the ground matter the most. And so we want Syrian moderate opposition to be trained for those three purposes and to lead themselves to those ends.”
As many as 1,000 U.S. troops are deploying to Syria in the coming weeks to prepare for this training mission.

From ISIS to Russia, Grading Obama's Declarations at the State of the Union - U.S. News & World Report

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U.S. News & World Report

From ISIS to Russia, Grading Obama's Declarations at the State of the Union
U.S. News & World Report
The year 2014 proved to be a whirlwind of national security and warfare, following Russia'sincursion into Ukraine, the Islamic State group's spread across Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, and the continuation of previous U.S. expeditions through combat ...

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