Why Obama’s assurance of ‘no boots on the ground’ isn’t so reassuring


A U.S. Marine on patrol. (Rebecca Sell/For The Washington Post)

Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, was an Obama administration appointee at the Defense Department from 2009 to 2011. She is married to an Army Special Forces officer.

Each time I hear President Obama assure us that there will be “no boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria, I think of my husband’s Army boots, lying in a heap in the corner of the downstairs study. They’re covered in fine dust from his latest Middle East deployment, one that came nail-bitingly close to being extended by an unplanned stint in Iraq.

In the end, he wasn’t sent back to Iraq. He came home in July, though a last-minute change in assignments left most of his civilian clothes stranded in some Army transport netherworld. Deprived of his sneakers and sandals, he wore his Army boots pretty much everywhere this summer, even on playground outings with the kids. Watching grass stains from the local park gradually displace nine months of Kuwaiti dust gave me more happiness than I can say.

Even so, I can’t help feeling queasy every time I hear the president pledge that there will be “no boots on the ground” in America’s newest war. I wonder what that pledge really means — and just why we’re supposed to find it reassuring. It’s a pledge that seems to have everything to do with politics and little to do with the imperatives of strategy or security.

Here’s what “no boots on the ground” apparently doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that no U.S. troops will be sent to Iraq or Syria. Reportedly there are already 1,600 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. True, they’re present in an “advisory” role, not in a combat role — but surely one lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan is that combat has a habit of finding its way to noncombat personnel. Enemy snipers and IEDs don’t much care about a soldier’s mission or occupational specialty, and you can bet that fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State would be content with the heads of a few American advisers.

It’s also hard to know what publicly reported troop numbers really mean. When the Pentagon issues a Boots on the Ground report (known colloquially as a “BOG report”), it often excludes military personnel on “temporary duty” in combat areas, even though temporary duty may mean an assignment spanning five or six months. Similarly, Special Operations personnel assigned to work under CIA auspices are often left out of the BOG numbers. This makes it hard to know just who’s being counted when officials say there are 1,600 military personnel in Iraq.

“No boots on the ground” also ignores the many nonmilitary American boots (and shoes and sandals) present in Iraq and Syria. Our Baghdad embassy personnel presumably wear some kind of footwear, as do thousands more civilians working as U.S. government contractors in Iraq. In both Iraq and Syria, scores of American civilians also work for nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian aid groups.

The Pentagon keeps careful count of dead and wounded U.S. troops, but the government doesn’t systematically track dead or injured civilians or contractors (many of whom, of course, are U.S. military veterans). Though few Americans know it, there were often more contractors working for the U.S. government on the ground than there were U.S. troops at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and some estimates suggest that there were as many U.S.-employed contractors who died in those conflicts as there were U.S. troops killed.

Cynics might even suspect that this heavy reliance on contractors was part of an effort to keep those BOG numbers down while outsourcing military risk. After all, no one likes high BOG numbers — the very acronym is suggestive of that most dreaded military outcome, the “quagmire.”

If “no boots on the ground” means playing games with numbers and offloading military risk onto U.S. government civilians and contractors, we should take little solace in presidential reassurances.

And we should feel even less comfort if “no boots on the ground” ends up putting vulnerable local civilians at risk. Remember Kosovo? President Bill Clinton’s refusal in 1999 to put U.S. troops on the ground forced us to rely solely on airstrikes to prevent Serbian ethnic cleansing. To further minimize any risk to U.S. military personnel, we mainly flew sorties at a safe 15,000 feet above the ground. This worked out well for us: Aside from two Americans killed in a helicopter accident in Albania, there were no U.S. fatalities in the 78-day air campaign. It worked out less well for some of the civilians we were trying to protect; in several cases, for instance, NATO pilots mistook convoys of refugees for troop transports, causing scores of civilian deaths.

The primary goal of the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq isn’t civilian protection, but Obama has suggested that this is at least a secondary motivation. In his speech this past week to the U.N. General Assembly, for instance, he asserted that the Islamic State “has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. . . . Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded. . . . The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

It’s hard to argue with the importance of dismantling a “network of death,” but no matter how careful we are, U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq will also end up killing some innocent civilians. Without eyes and ears on the ground, we’re more likely to make tragic targeting mistakes. We have to hope we’ll do more good than harm, but it’s hard to feel confident of that.

Numerous respected military and defense leaders — from Army Gen. Martin Dempsey , current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to retired defense secretary Robert Gates — have argued in recent weeks that ground troops will probably be required if our strategy is to be effective. So far, events seem to be proving them right: In Iraq, seven weeks of airstrikes have done little to push Islamic State fighters out of the territories they control, despite close U.S. coordination with Iraqi army units. In Syria, we have no similar local force with which to coordinate, creating a risk that U.S. airstrikes will increase the chaos without fundamentally reducing the threat to local civilians — or, in the longer term, to the United States.And that’s most worrisome of all — the possibility that our insistence on “no boots on the ground” also offloads present risks onto the future. Relying on airstrikes alone may merely prolong a bloody and inconclusive conflict, or strengthen other actors who are just as brutal as Islamic State fighters, from the regime of Bashar al-Assad to the al-Qaeda-linked rebels of Jabhat al-Nusra.Insisting that we’ll never commit U.S. troops to this fight plays right into every jihadist narrative, reinforcing America’s image as an arrogant but cowardly nation — happy to drop bombs from a distance but unwilling to risk the lives of our troops. Each time we reinforce that narrative, we give jihadist recruiting another big boost.


For a decade, we’ve relied on drone strikes as a top counterterrorism tool in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but a few thousand dead terrorism suspects later, it’s far from clear that we’ve made ourselves safer. If anything, the global jihadist movement appears to have gained strength. As a former Defense Intelligence Agency director, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, recently noted: “In 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries.” Ultimately, our efforts to destroy the Islamic State from afar may similarly spark the creation of even more jihadist groups.

“I will not commit you . . . to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama told troops at Central Command headquarters this month. I appreciate his desire to do right by America’s military personnel: My husband’s boots, like those of so many other members of the armed forces, have already gathered too much dust in too many dangerous places, over too many years. Right now, I want those boots to stay exactly where they are: here, at home.

But I don’t want to trade the safety of U.S. troops today for the safety of our children tomorrow. If Obama’s promise of “no boots on the ground” means we’ll be fighting a war of half-measures — a war that won’t achieve our objectives and that may increase the long-term threat — I’m not sure, in the end, that it’s a promise I want him to keep.

Ukraine: 3,660 Killed, 8,756 Wounded Since April – Kiev Forces Violate International Humanitarian Law, UN Report Says

Global Research, October 08, 2014

Region: Russia and FSU
Theme: Crimes against Humanity, United Nations
In-depth Report: UKRAINE REPORT

ukraine-human-rights-violations.si_-400x224A man reacts near a house damaged by recent shelling by multiple Grad missiles in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, October 7, 2014. (Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov)

Kiev doesn’t have full control of its military and paramilitary forces, who continue to violate the principles of international humanitarian law, highlights the latest UN report on the human rights situation in Ukraine.

The UN has stated that at least 3,660 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since April – including 330 since the ceasefire brokered on Sept. 5.

A total of 8,756 people have been wounded since April, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

The UN statement notes in particular that, despite the ceasefire, “in some areas artillery, tank and small arms exchanges have continued on an almost daily basis, such as in Donetsk airport, in the Debaltseve area in Donetsk region, and in the town of Shchastya in Luhansk region.”

“While the ceasefire is a very welcome step towards ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine, I call on all parties to genuinely respect and uphold it, and to halt the attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure once and for all,” Zeid said in the report.

“For almost half a year, residents of the areas affected by the armed conflict have been deprived of their fundamental rights to education, to adequate healthcare, to housing and to opportunities to earn a living. Further prolongation of this crisis will make the situation untenable for the millions of people whose daily lives have been seriously disrupted,” he added.

A local woman passes by near her residence which was damaged during fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists, in Pervomayskoe near Donetsk September 6, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

A local woman passes by near her residence which was damaged during fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists, in Pervomayskoe near Donetsk September 6, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

A local woman passes by near her residence which was damaged during fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists, in Pervomayskoe near Donetsk September 6, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)

The 37-page report covers the period from August 18 to September 16 and contains testimonial evidence of cases of violation on behalf of Ukrainian military units.

“During the reporting period, international humanitarian law, including the principles of military necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution continued to be violated by armed groups and some units and volunteer battalions under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces,” the report reads.

Specific evidence of “beatings, poor nutrition and lack of medical assistance” are also mentioned in the report, RIA reports. The UN expressed special concern over the “enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment allegedly perpetrated by members of the volunteer battalions,” in particular Aydar, Dnepr-1, Kiev-1 and Kiev-2.

“In spite of a fragile ceasefire over the past month in the east of Ukraine, the protracted conflict continues to kill and wound civilians, and deprive the more than 5 million residents in areas directly affected by the violence of their basic human rights,” Zeid said.

Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov

Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov

The UN in its report urges the Ukrainian authorities to exercise greater control over their own army and groups of armed volunteers, as since the beginning of the so-called “anti-terrorist” operation on August 25 according to the Ukrainian Security Service, over 1,000 people have been detained on suspicion of being “militants and subversives.”

The report also highlights that the civilian population is suffering, in particular, because of the bombing of densely populated neighborhoods with heavy artillery. “Some of the reported cases of disproportionate use of fire in residential areas are committed by Ukrainian armed forces,” stated the document.

“After the announcement of the ceasefire on September 5, the scope and intensity of military operations decreased sharply, but not completely,” the document says, adding that civilians “continue to fall under the cross-fire and cross-bombing.”

The UN also reported an increase of “foreign mercenaries” in the ranks of the armed forces of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s republics, “including citizens of Russia.”

Meanwhile the issue of mass graves recently found near Donetsk was not reflected in the document, TASS reports, as they were discovered outside the period under review and formally not subject to consideration by the rights monitoring mission of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).


The 10 Top Metal Albums of 2012

The french titans

French metal titans Gojira have a huge feature in Metal Hammer

Stolen Babies photographed in Los Angeles on 06/11/12.

Stolen Babies photographed in Los Angeles on 06/11/12.

Stolen Babies
It’s that time of year again. Time to cozy up ’round the fireplace, crack open a brewsky, and duke it out over who had the Best Metal Album of the Year. Without further ado, here they are:

10. CVI, Royal Thunder
The music of Royal Thunder, from Atlanta, GA, is almost not metal — and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a welcome reminder that music can be emotionally resonant without being sonically violent or lyrically graphic. The songs on CVI aren’t any of the things metal fans usually revere: they’re not “complicated” or “fast” or “brutal.” In that sense, this might be the most “challenging” album on this list. It’s more classic psychedelic rock than modern metal, and singer MLNY Parsons is like a dark siren from the ’60s reincarnate. She’s the crown jewel in a band that’s unafraid simply to be themselves. Trends be damned.

9. Resolution, Lamb of God
For over a decade, Lamb of God have been the “it” band in American heavy metal. Resolution is their seventh studio album, and it debuted at number three. At this point in their career, LOG are only competing against the bar they’ve set for themselves. Their groove metal is as powerful as ever, and they are terrifyingly strong live. Much has been said this year about singer Randy Blythe’s manslaughter charges in the Czech Republic; after seeing his astonishing command over the NYC audience at the Roseland Ballroom last month (where there were no fans onstage), we can only say: maybe unstable governments should be afraid.

8. Dethalbum III, Dethklok
Here’s the thing about Dethklok: the lyrics are ludicrous, but the music is no joke. Renaissance man Brendon Small takes on songwriting, guitar, and vocal duties — as though masterminding an animated series on Adult Swim wasn’t enough work already. Add Gene Hoglan (Death, Testament) on drums and Bryan Beller (Steve Vai) on bass, and it doesn’t matter that you’re singing about ejaculating fire: you’re going to sound badass. It’s likely no one in human history has or ever will again compose lyrics containing the phrase “epididymal retention” — except Dethklok.

7. Naught, Stolen Babies
Six years after their debut album (with four of those years spent in indefinite hiatus), Los Angeles band Stolen Babies have arrived back on the scene with more of their wonderfully bizarre cabaret metal. Here’s a fun riddle: what sound do you get when you take twin brothers who’ve played with The Dillinger Escape Plan, a reluctant theatre starlet, and an accordion and mix it with the Talking Heads and Edward Gorey-style illustration? Stolen Babies — and Naught lives in a whimsical world of their creation.

6. Yellow & Green, Baroness
“Beautiful” is a word you don’t often hear used to describe heavy metal, but in this instance, it’s totally appropriate. The third studio album by the Savannah, GA, band, Yellow & Green transcends metal, venturing into folk and psychedelic spaces. While Baroness have always explored genres outside of the “sludge” moniker that’s never done them justice, this record finds them pushing beyond their past efforts into musical territory that’s — gasp! — pretty. The instrumental “Green Theme” — with its shifts from a weeping, atmospheric guitar verse into a blossoming, harmonized guitar chorus — is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music you will hear this year.

5. Years Past Matter, Krallice
Dense and intricately composed, Years Past Matter, by Brooklyn’s Krallice, takes the listener on a journey through six songs, most of which run longer than 10 minutes each. The tracks are titled only by increasing repetitions of the letter “i”, as though someone’s cat applied paw to laptop key, and the results became the song names. (How does one distinguish between songs onstage when reading a setlist of tunes like “iiiiiiiiii” and “iiiiiiiii”?) The album pummels the brain with constantly changing time signatures amidst a wall of multi-layered guitars. Even if we can’t pronounce the songs, we admire the craftsmanship therein.

4. Harmonicraft, Torche
Here’s another metal anomaly: happy metal that’s not power metal. Harmonicraft seems infused by sunshine from Torche’s hometown of Miami. The band have been mislabeled sludge, perhaps due to their Southern origins, but there is nothing swampy about their up-tempo tunes with ample use of major chords (shocking!), which lend a cheerful mood to the album. Somehow it’s heavy and sunny at the same time — a surprising musical juxtaposition that’s refreshing amidst the doom and gloom of typical metal fare.

3. Son of Perdition, Wretched
The chilling, classical-style organ and chorale on “Oblivion,” the opening track of Son of Perdition, sets an intellectual tone for this third album by Charlotte, NC, death metal band Wretched. Yes, we just used the words “intellectual” and “death metal” in the same sentence. Now get this: the main chord progression of the punishing second track follows that of the choral opening. And then there’s a jazz outing in “The Stellar Sunset of Evolution,” a trilogy of instrumentals revealing the breadth of styles these musicians are capable of. It’s a stunning album.

2. Illud Divinum Insanus — The Remixes, Morbid Angel/various artists
Illud Divinum Insanus, the 2012 studio album by Morbid Angel, sucked. Inconceivably, the two-disc album of the same songs, remixed by electronic and industrial artists from around the globe, is fucking phenomenal. It’s as though inserting guitarist and vocalist Trey Azagthoth (one of the OGs of death metal in the ’80s) into electronic subgenres like dubstep has not only transformed one of Morbid Angel’s worst albums into a work of collaborative brilliance (with most of the credit going to the remixing artists); it’s also elevated electronic music into novel realms of darkness. We’d even venture to say it’s created a new genre (deathstep?). There may be metal purists reading this who think we’re kidding. We’re not.

1. L’Enfant Sauvage, Gojira
French technical death metal band Gojira are some of the most highly skilled musicians playing today. Brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier (rhythm guitar/vocals and drums, respectively) write elegant compositions with mind-bending song structures. In performance, their precision and athleticism are elite, rivaling classically trained professionals. The title track alone on L’Enfant Sauvage renders it worthy of this list. Have a listen to the contrasting themes just in that one song — the impenetrable rhythms in the beginning followed by the space created by the lead guitar. No one in metal writes music this complicated yet so perfectly balanced. From beginning to end, this album is peerless.