Newest security worry: Trump without Mattis

National security leaders fear that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is on his way out — and that Donald Trump’s next Pentagon chief will be far more subservient to the president’s unilateral and bombastic whims.

Mattis was instrumental in pulling back on Trump’s vow to “carpet bomb” ISIS or pull troops from Afghanistan. He moderated the U.S. military response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and openly opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal.

Now Trump’s reverence for the retired four-star general has worn thin, and Mattis is widely expected to depart his post sometime after the November elections, according to multiple Pentagon and administration officials with knowledge of personnel discussions. And that’s fueling anxiety among officials of both parties who have viewed him for almost two years as a force for stability.

"Secretary Mattis is one of the only reassuring figures in the Trump administration, and I don’t Continue reading “Newest security worry: Trump without Mattis”

Trump urged to visit troops in combat zones

President Donald Trump should visit U.S. troops in wars zones to get a firsthand view of military operations and show gratitude to the thousands of American soldiers serving in harm’s way, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee advised Wednesday.

Nearly two years into his presidency, Trump has yet to visit troops deployed to Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama.

And in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, he expressed his view that it is not “overly necessary” to do so, even as he has intensified the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and committed additional troops to the war in Afghanistan despite personal misgivings.

That stance was seen Wednesday by some critics as a break with tradition and dismissive of the men and women in uniform.

“It should be done by the president, not just to get an Continue reading “Trump urged to visit troops in combat zones”

FBI checking envelopes sent to Pentagon for ricin

At least two envelopes sent to the Pentagon are suspected of containing the deadly poison ricin, military spokesmen said today.

The envelopes were flagged for investigation Monday at a mail screening site near the Pentagon, Col. Rob Manning said in statement, and “were taken by the FBI this morning for further analysis.”

“All USPS mail received at the Pentagon mail screening facility yesterday is currently under quarantine and poses no threat to Pentagon personnel,” Manning said.

Spokesmen wouldn’t say who the envelopes were addressed to, and stressed that they never entered the Pentagon itself. Ricin is a deadly poison produced from castor beans.

Russia’s military dalliance with China

The Russian military is wrapping up its largest military exercise of the post-Cold War era in Siberia, a set of drills that includes Chinese troops. But the war game represents a shallow partnership of convenience, not a burgeoning alliance against the United States, former government officials and Russia experts say.

Russian government-controlled media have trumpeted the drills as the biggest exercise in decades, involving 300,000 troops practicing to defend against maritime and aerial attacks and spreading combat lessons learned in Syria. Some 3,000 Chinese personnel are also participating.

The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching the five-day-long exercise that began Sept. 11 and which have involved helicopter and parachute landings by Russian infantry forces. Satellite images also show formations of armored vehicles assembled for a parade viewing, which President Vladimir Putin attended.

But people with direct experience studying the Russian military up close warn against taking Moscow’s Continue reading “Russia’s military dalliance with China”

Navy re-establishes Atlantic fleet to check Russia

The U.S Navy on Friday formally reactivated the Cold War-era naval command it relied on for decades to confront adversaries in the waters off North America — the latest in a series of efforts to check Moscow’s military expansion.

The move comes as Russian submarine activity surges in the Atlantic.

The 2nd Fleet in Norfolk, Virginia, which was deactivated in 2011, will once again be assigned ships, aircraft and Marine landing forces for potential operations along the East Coast and in the North Atlantic, where melting Arctic ice has also heightened the competition for natural resources.

“We as a Navy, as a nation, have not had to confront such peer competitors since the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago," one of the Navy’s top officers, Fleet Forces Command chief Adm. Chris Grady, said during a ceremony in Norfolk aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

“Our Continue reading “Navy re-establishes Atlantic fleet to check Russia”

Whatever happened to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?

The troops waging America’s 17-year-old war in Afghanistan are confronting a puzzle: What has become of the enemy who drew them there?

Al Qaeda, the group whose Sept. 11 terrorist attacks provoked the U.S. invasion in 2001, has shrunk to relative obscurity among the military’s other missions in Afghanistan, supplanted by newer threats such as a local branch of the Islamic State. And it is a matter of debate how much Al Qaeda’s remaining Afghan presence still focuses on launching attacks overseas, according to current and former military officers and government officials, experts, and Afghans from areas where the group operates.

Only a small portion of the 15,000 American troops in Afghanistan are involved in the counterterrorism mission that the military calls its “core objective” there. Even fewer of those are hunting al Qaeda, whose presence in the country has dwindled after years of drone strikes. Instead, U.S. Continue reading “Whatever happened to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan?”

U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was part of CIA operation

An Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan earlier this month was part of a secret program that helps the CIA hunt down militant leaders, according to three former special operations soldiers who knew him.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, 32, a longtime member of the 1st Battalion of 75th Ranger Regiment, died on July 12 “of wounds sustained as a result of enemy small arms fire” in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktiya province, the Army announced the next day.

But he was part of a team of Army Rangers supporting the CIA in an intensifying effort to kill or capture top militant targets, even as the broader U.S. military mission focuses on training and advising Afghan security forces.

“They’re pretty active to say the least,” said a former special operations officer with detailed knowledge of the program, which previously went by the code name Omega and now goes by ANSOF. Continue reading “U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was part of CIA operation”

Trump’s impulsive decrees weigh on Pentagon

President Donald Trump’s flare for the unpredictable has taken a toll on his defense leaders, handing them orders and major policy shifts with little or no notice — ranging from his transgender ban, a military parade and a separate Space Force to his musings about reducing U.S. troop strength in Europe or intervening in Venezuela.

This week added the specter that another capricious decree may be in the works, when the Russian military reported that President Vladimir Putin and Trump had reached a private agreement at their Helsinki summit to join forces to rebuild war-torn Syria. Such a deal would mark a major change for the U.S. troops battling the Islamic State, who are barred by law from cooperating with Russian troops fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime.

The top U.S. commander in the region, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told reporters he has received "no such Continue reading “Trump’s impulsive decrees weigh on Pentagon”

Feds don’t have enough beds for migrant families

The Trump administration has pledged to warehouse migrant families together. But at the moment, it has no place to put them.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday calls for the Homeland Security Department to keep migrant children in custody with their parents during criminal proceedings for illegal entry and subsequent immigration proceedings. But the cases of asylum-seekers caught at the border can take months or years to resolve — and the federal government has only 3,326 beds for detained families in three facilities, according to a 2017 watchdog report.

The Border Patrol arrested 9,485 family members in May alone.

The hurdles are "pretty significant,” said John Sandweg, former acting ICE director under President Barack Obama. “They’re going to have to build some family detention centers quickly.”

Trump’s executive order calls on the Defense Department to “take all legally available measures” to provide detention space for Continue reading “Feds don’t have enough beds for migrant families”

Pentagon suspends Korea ‘war-game’ planning for August

The U.S. military has “suspended all planning” for a joint military exercise with South Korea that was scheduled for August, the Pentagon announced today.

The move comes a week after President Donald Trump pledged to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he would halt joint “wargames” on the Korean peninsula, calling them “provocative.”

In a departure from the military’s usual language, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White referred to the exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, as a “defensive ‘wargame’” in her statement, parroting Trump’s earlier description.

Some 17,500 American forces participated in last year’s iteration of Ulchi Freedom Guardian, including 3,000 troops who deployed to South Korea specifically for the exercise.

“We are still coordinating additional actions. No decisions on subsequent wargames have been made,” White said.

She added that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser John Bolton plan to meet at the Continue reading “Pentagon suspends Korea ‘war-game’ planning for August”

Republicans buck Trump on Korea troop pullout talk

Republicans and defense experts are warning that President Donald Trump’s idea of pulling American troops from South Korea would undermine stability across Asia and weaken the U.S. against China.

One GOP senator, Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, is pushing legislative language touting the importance of the U.S. military presence in deterring North Korean aggression — in contrast to Trump’s repeated calls for withdrawing American forces someday. And other Republicans have sounded that theme since Tuesday’s summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, where the president expressed a desire to eventually “bring our soldiers back home.”

“There’s a reason we’ve had a U.S. presence there, and it’s always served its purpose,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), a former Air Force B-1 bomber pilot, said in an interview Wednesday. Stewart said U.S. forces should leave only if something happens to ease the threat from Pyongyang, such as a future peace Continue reading “Republicans buck Trump on Korea troop pullout talk”

U.S. kicks China out of military exercise

The United States has revoked an invitation to China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy to participate in a naval exercise, the Pentagon announced Wednesday, citing Beijing’s destabilizing moves in the South China Sea — including deploying weapons and other military equipment on contested islands and artificial reefs.

China announced in January that it had accepted a U.S. invitation to participate in the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise, the world’s largest international maritime wargame.

The PLA Navy contributed five ships to the last one, in 2016, which included the militaries of 26 nations. China first participated in 2014, when it sent four ships along with an uninvited spy ship that skirted the exercise area.

“As an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan of the Marine Corps Continue reading “U.S. kicks China out of military exercise”

Medal of Honor recipient faced allegations of excessive force

President Donald Trump is presenting the nation’s top military honor on Thursday to a retired SEAL Team 6 operator who epitomizes the heroism of his unit, but also some of the lingering questions surrounding the secretive U.S. military special operations forces in Afghanistan.

Retired Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt Slabinski will receive the Medal of Honor at the White House for his actions in the 2002 battle of Takur Ghar. The award is a product of the Pentagon’s effort to recognize the heroism of service members in the war against terror, part of a multi-year push to review more than a thousand lower-level valor medals for possible upgrades.

In one of the first ground battles of the war against Al Qaeda, Slabinski led a reconnaissance element of Team 6 that came upon a group of heavily armed militants. After one of the Team 6 operators fell from a Continue reading “Medal of Honor recipient faced allegations of excessive force”

Pentagon claims Green Berets went rogue in Niger ambush

The Army special operations team that came under lethal attack last October in the African nation of Niger was initially conducting an unauthorized kill-or-capture mission whose true nature it concealed from higher headquarters, the Pentagon confirmed for the first time Thursday.

The findings of a monthslong probe highlight key inconsistencies with the public explanations at the time that it was a training mission gone horribly wrong when 12 American and 30 Nigerien soldiers were ambushed in the remote village of Tongo Tongo and four Americans killed — and not a combat operation.

To what extent the inaccurate information that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other top officials provided flowed from the inaccurate information the Pentagon now says the team itself provided to its superiors is not clear.

But in a statement, Pentagon press secretary Dana White said Mattis has "concluded there are institutional and organizational issues, not isolated to this Continue reading “Pentagon claims Green Berets went rogue in Niger ambush”

Pentagon claims Green Berets went rogue in Niger ambush

The Army special operations team that came under lethal attack last October in the African nation of Niger was initially conducting an unauthorized kill-or-capture mission whose true nature it concealed from higher headquarters, the Pentagon confirmed for the first time Thursday.

The findings of a monthslong probe highlight key inconsistencies with the public explanations at the time that it was a training mission gone horribly wrong when 12 American and 30 Nigerien soldiers were ambushed in the remote village of Tongo Tongo and four Americans killed — and not a combat operation.

To what extent the inaccurate information that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other top officials provided flowed from the inaccurate information the Pentagon now says the team itself provided to its superiors is not clear.

But in a statement, Pentagon press secretary Dana White said Mattis has "concluded there are institutional and organizational issues, not isolated to this Continue reading “Pentagon claims Green Berets went rogue in Niger ambush”

Former Joint Chiefs head fears Trump will lash out if North Korea summit fails

The potential for a war between the United States and North Korea will deepen if the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fails, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned Tuesday.

Retired Adm. Mike Mullen told Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies he is “encouraged by the fact that the two leaders are going to talk" and gives Trump “a lot of credit for moving the needle on this.”

But Mullen, who served as the top military officer under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said he worries that Trump’s public tone on North Korea in recent months — including "casually threatening a nuclear holocaust over Twitter” — spells trouble if the summit does not succeed.

"If the talks do fall apart, the failure is likely to stir the president’s most bellicose and aggressive instincts," Continue reading “Former Joint Chiefs head fears Trump will lash out if North Korea summit fails”

Trump’s Afghanistan strategy stymied by vetting of local troops

The plan to turn around the war in Afghanistan may already be running into quicksand.

An extensive effort aimed at weeding out Taliban sympathizers and terrorist infiltrators from the Afghan army has slowed the work of a new unit of 1,000 military advisers, whose deployment was billed as a key part of the strategy President Donald Trump authorized in August.

The U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade — a pillar of the strategy, and created with this kind of mission in mind — arrived in Afghanistan in March and assumed its mission last month. But partly because of the decision to vet so many partners, the brigade has not yet been able to link up with Afghan army battalions across the country, according to military officials and contractors involved in the effort.

“They’ve got to screen everybody who’s going to be working directly with the [brigade],” said an Continue reading “Trump’s Afghanistan strategy stymied by vetting of local troops”

Pentagon: U.S. strike on Syria achieved its limited objectives

The U.S.-led cruise missile strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities Friday night destroyed their intended targets and did not provoke a feared response from Russian forces in the country, military officials said Saturday.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie described the operation as a success that would “set the Syrian chemical weapons program back by years.” He said it would also deter further chemical attacks on civilians, like the one the Pentagon believes Bashar Assad’s regime conducted a week ago.

Defense Department spokesperson Dana White stressed during the news conference that the operation “does not represent a change in U.S. policy, nor an attempt to depose the Syrian regime,” however.

“We’re still conducting a more detailed damage assessment, but initial indications are that we accomplished our military objectives without material interference from Syria,” McKenzie said. He noted Continue reading “Pentagon: U.S. strike on Syria achieved its limited objectives”

Aides try to focus Trump on Syria after raid

National Security Adviser John Bolton was supposed to lead a White House meeting of the president’s national security team on Monday afternoon, but a surprise visitor showed up and took the reins instead: Vice President Mike Pence.

The vice president doesn’t often attend the White House’s Principals Committee meetings, which are typically led by the national security adviser, but Pence guided Monday’s discussion as President Donald Trump’s senior aides debated how to respond to a gruesome chemical weapons attack in Syria, according to four senior administration officials.

Pence’s attendance wasn’t listed on his public schedule. While some meeting attendees viewed his appearance as an attempt to upstage Bolton on his first day as national security adviser, others saw it as an effort on the vice president’s part to offer as a steadying hand as Trump confronts a thorny national security dilemma with a foreign policy team in flux and amid Continue reading “Aides try to focus Trump on Syria after raid”

Coats: Haspel’s CIA record will be declassified ‘as much as possible’

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on Wednesday that he expects to "declassify as much as possible" from the background of Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s controversial pick to lead the CIA.

Haspel’s close involvement in the use of harsh interrogation tactics on detained terrorism suspects has raised concerns among senators in both parties and cast a cloud on her confirmation prospects to lead the spy agency, where she is currently deputy director.

As political pressure mounts on intelligence officials to release more information about Haspel’s past, particularly her supervision of a CIA "black site" in Thailand, Coats offered relatively vague assurances.

"We want to declassify as much as possible without jeopardizing someone’s what we call sources and methods," Coats told a gathering of defense reporters. "Every effort will be made to explain fully what her role was."

Whether that explanation will be enough to get Haspel across Continue reading “Coats: Haspel’s CIA record will be declassified ‘as much as possible’”