Biden’s plan to get out of Afghanistan risks repeating the ‘end’ of the war in Iraq

A US soldier watches a UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter land in southeastern Afghanistan, August 4, 2019.

  • Biden’s plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11 doesn’t comply with the peace deal but is welcome.
  • But Biden has to stick to his plan and refuse to let the end of the war in Afghanistan in 2021 replicate the “end” of the war in Iraq in 2011.
  • Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities.
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In a video address to the nation on Wednesday last week, President Joe Biden announced the 20-year US war in Afghanistan will finally end by September of this year.

It’s not quite the timeline of the pact negotiated with the Taliban by the Trump administration: Biden said he’ll “begin” the final US withdrawal on May 1, which was to be the deadline for its completion, and instead complete it by the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

This doesn’t exactly comply with the peace deal, but it doesn’t discard it, either, and that could prove enough to hold the Taliban to its side of the bargain.

This is excellent news – long overdue, but only made more welcome by two decades of delay. Biden’s brief speech made a cogent case for US departure from Afghanistan, giving weight to his insistence that this plan is to be taken seriously. That weight is, frankly, needed with a war of this length, cost, and chaos.

Indeed, the challenge for Biden over the next four months will be keeping to his own agenda, refusing to let the end of the war in Afghanistan in 2021 replicate the “end” of the war in Iraq in 2011.

Kuwait US soldiers Iraq withdrawal
Kuwaiti and US soldiers close the border gate after the last vehicle crossed into Kuwait during the US military’s withdrawal from Iraq, December 18, 2011.

Biden’s arguments for ending US intervention in Afghanistan were practical and persuasive. He pointed to the futility of Washington’s nation-building attempts and argued for Afghan self-determination and resolution of what is essentially a civil war.

Recounting a trip to the country in 2008, Biden affirmed that “only the Afghans have the right and responsibility to lead their country.”

An endless US war can’t “create or sustain a durable Afghan government,” he said, and we are foolish to continue to try. This is the problem with the conditions-based exit scheme long popular among the bipartisan foreign policy establishment: The conditions will never be met. Thus an ostensible schema for ending the war is in practice a tool to prolong it perpetually, as Biden seems to understand.

The president emphasized the distinction between the war’s initial mission – retribution for 9/11 and “ensur[ing] Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again” – and the aimless mission creep of subsequent years. He promised US counterterror programs would continue to keep Americans safe.

The connection he could have drawn a bit more boldly, however, is that the counterterrorism model of 2001 (invading, occupying, and manipulating a whole country because it hosted terrorist training camps) makes no sense in 2021 (when far more advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities allow the US to monitor and address threats emanating from anywhere in the world).

Army soldiers Iraq withdrawal
Soldiers from the last US military unit to depart Iraq arrive at Fort Hood in Texas, December 21, 2011.

“Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way – US boots on the ground,” Biden rightly said. He should have made clearer that US counterterrorism doesn’t require forever wars either.

That absence is part of what leaves me still a bit skeptical about this plan. In previews of the announcement last week, Biden administration officials told The Washington Post the “goal is to move to ‘zero’ troops [in Afghanistan] by September.”

But a New York Times report the same day revealed “zero” may not mean “zero”: “Instead of declared troops in Afghanistan, the United States will most likely rely on a shadowy combination of clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors, and covert intelligence operatives to find and attack the most dangerous Qaeda or Islamic State threats, current and former American officials said.”

That means this might not be the full withdrawal the remarks suggest. Biden said he wouldn’t pass the responsibility of “presid[ing] over an American troop presence in Afghanistan” to a fifth consecutive president, but that’s only true if we use a deceptively narrow definition of “troops.”

As it stands, it appears Biden’s plan is to keep a small American military presence in Afghanistan indefinitely.


That continuous exposure to attacks from anti-American forces opens the door to future re-escalation, to precisely the “cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan” Biden decried. It opens the door to an “end” of a war unfortunately reminiscent of the Obama administration’s “end” of the war in Iraq in 2011.

There too, ending combat operations didn’t mean going to a true “zero” troop presence. The war re-escalated just three years later when the Islamic State registered as a new regional threat, and it has continued ever since.

“It’s time for American troops to come home” from Afghanistan, Biden said last Wednesday. That’s absolutely correct, and the president should match those words with a full exit that precludes all possibility of resuming our country’s longest war.

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities, contributing editor at The Week, and columnist at Christianity Today. Her writing has also appeared at CNN, NBC, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Defense One, among other outlets.

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4 of the US military’s biggest tank battles were during the same war

Army Abrams tanks Iraq Desert Storm
M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks during Operation Desert Storm, February 15, 1991.

  • Every branch of the US military was involved in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
  • Between the Army and the Marine Corps, that war had some of the largest tank battles the US has ever fought.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the US military was at its finest, liberating Kuwaiti civilians from the forces of an evil dictator.

In every way, every branch of the military and every American ally was on display, showing they could handle anything the enemy might throw at them and coming out on top.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the ranks of US military armor.

Between the Army and the Marine Corps, the battles fought during Operation Desert Storm were some of the largest tank battles the United States ever fought – and among the largest in world history.

1. The Battle of Kuwait International Airport

iraqi tank desert storm gulf war
A Iraqi tank destroyed during the Gulf War.

The biggest tank battle in United States Marine Corps history is also the fastest. It’s also one of the most forgotten battles in history, despite the massive size of the forces involved.

On February 25, 1991, the 1st Marine Division and 2nd Marine Division, along with the Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade, Army Special Forces, and – later – the 4th Marine Division’s 4th Tank Battalion met 14 Iraqi divisions and a field artillery brigade.

The 1st Marines had broken through the Iraqi lines and into Kuwait City, on its way to the airport drove through them and ahead, fighting skirmishes along the way and destroying at least 100 enemy tanks. The 2nd Marine Division would approach from the other side.

One tank unit, Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion woke in the morning to find 35 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks moving to hit them from the front. Outnumbered 3-to-1, the Marines of Bravo Company snapped to, destroying all of them in about 90 seconds. This battle came to be known as the “Reveille Engagement.”

2. The Battle of 73 Easting

m1 abrams tank desert storm gulf war iraq
An Abrams tank in the desert during Desert Storm.

A young Army officer named H.R. McMaster (yes, that H.R. McMaster) was leading a group of nine M1A1 Abrams tanks through the desert at the start of the Desert Storm ground war.

Soon, his tanks came over a hill – and right into the path of an entire Iraqi tank division.

When outnumbered by hundreds, many officers would withdraw or surrender. McMaster plowed through. His troop destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers and 30 trucks in 23 minutes.

They called in other tank troops as they fought and were soon joined by more Americans, more than 840 armored vehicles in all. With the Iraqis knocked out, the Americans were free to engage behind the lines and onward into Kuwait.

3. Battle of Norfolk

T72 battle tank russia destroyed
An Iraqi T-72 main battle tank destroyed in a Coalition attack during Operation Desert Storm.

What happens when American and British Armor meet the Iraqi Republican Guard inside Iraq? Some 1,100 Iraqi tanks destroyed, along with hundreds of artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers and thousands of Iraqi prisoners.

With 12 divisions on the battlefield, this was the second largest tank battle in US history and the largest of the Gulf War.

Two hours after the Battle of 73 Easting, coalition forces advanced to Objective Norfolk, an intersection on Iraqi supply lines and an important hub for moving material. Defending Norfolk was the Tawakalna Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard, which had just been bloodied at 73 Easting.

By the time the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division controlled Norfolk, the Tawakalna Division ceased to exist.

4. Battle of Medina Ridge

us army gulf war tank
A US soldier on top of a tank destroyed during the Gulf War.

For two hours, the US Army’s 1st Armored Division and the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi Republican Guard Medina Luminous Division slugged it out at one of the Iraqi desert’s few landmarks. Around 348 M1A1 Abrams tanks met hundreds of enemy tanks in one of the toughest battles of the war.

The Iraqis, positioned behind the ridgeline, could only be seen directly when US tanks crested the hill. Which would have been an effective defense if it weren’t for the Army’s Apache helicopters and the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs constantly strafing them.

The Iraqis arguably put up the stiffest defense of the war at Medina Ridge, but the loss was still lopsided – four US tanks were destroyed while the Iraqis lost 186.

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Biden has finally found a country the US can rebuild

Highway collapse traffic
A collapsed freeway overpass near downtown Oakland, California, in 2007.

  • The Biden administration has made an ambitious $2 trillion proposal to address the US’s infrastructure problems.
  • That influx of money would be welcome after two decades and billions of dollars squandered trying to rebuild other countries.
  • Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist at Newsweek.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that America’s domestic infrastructure is in utter disarray. Travel down I-95 between New York City and Boston, and you will be lucky not to hit a 5-inch-deep pothole in the middle of the lane.

The United States, the most prosperous country in the world, is now 13th in terms of infrastructure quality, below many of its peers in Europe. Over 20% of its roads are in poor condition. About 127,000 bridges across the US are either structurally deficient or need to be replaced. And as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan showed, even clean water supplies aren’t a given.

The United States, in other words, is in desperate need of investment at home. The alternative is watching as Americans who live in cities continue to suffer from dilapidated highways while their fellow citizens in rural areas are left searching for a basic broadband connection.

The juxtaposition outside US borders is stunning. Over the last two decades, as US infrastructure was worsening, Washington was busy conducting reconstruction initiatives in nations that to this day remain consumed by conflict and led by unaccountable and corrupt governments.

Afganistan Iraq embassy troops soldiers
Afghan policemen stand guard outside the Iraqi embassy in Kabul after an attack, July 31, 2017.

As of December 2020, the US has spent approximately $143 billion of taxpayer money on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.

The projects were designed to kickstart the Afghan economy, introduce a degree of self-sufficiency over the long-term, and ensure ordinary Afghans were able to enjoy the kinds of public goods – accessible water supplies, highways, access to hospitals – that are often taken for granted in the West.

Yet the results, to put it generously, have been poor. $1 billion was devoted to schools in Afghanistan that weren’t even operating. A $8.5 billion program to wean Afghan farmers away from growing poppy was unsuccessful, evident in Afghanistan’s current status as the world’s foremost producer of opium.

As Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko testified to Congress last month, systemic corruption in Afghanistan undermines US-funded reconstruction initiatives to the point of irrelevancy. Of the $7.8 billion in US reconstruction funds SIGAR investigated, just $1.2 billion – 15% – went to their intended purpose.

Many of the buildings paid for by the US taxpayer were left abandoned. Afghanistan still relies on international donors for 80% of its budget; remains dominated by corruption at all levels of government; and is seemingly incapable of exhibiting the slightest degree of responsibility in how it spends US taxpayer money.

US Soldier Selfie Iraq
A US soldier takes a selfie at the US Army base in Qayyara, south of Mosul, October 25, 2016.

The US experience in Iraq isn’t much better. Despite their good intentions, US officials ran into problems on the reconstruction front almost immediately.

After an infusion of $172 million to restore the Baiji power plant after the initial invasion, the plant was only churning out half of its potential output. The United States sunk billions into large and costly projects the Iraqi government was unable to handle or finance.

Schools and prisons funded by Washington were left idle, while water treatment plants in dangerous areas like Fallujah were overbudget and woefully inadequate for the population. Today, Iraq remains a country so riddled with parochialism and multiple power centers that Shia militias are building up their own revenue streams separate from the state.

As US soldiers and aid workers were essentially throwing billions of dollars in the toilet in Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s own schools, roads, and bridges were falling apart.

Total spending on US domestic infrastructure fell between 2007-2017. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US a “C-” on its infrastructure score and estimated that the US economy could lose $10 trillion in GDP by 2039 if Washington failed to plug the infrastructure spending gap.

The Biden administration, like its predecessors, is hoping to solve (or at least mitigate) America’s infrastructure problems with an ambitious $2 trillion proposal that would be paid for over a period of 15 years.

Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Army National Guard soldiers hand out bottled water at a fire station in Flint, Michigan, January 17, 2016.

The plan would dump $600 billion into improving and modernizing ports, railways, bridges and highways. $300 billion would be devoted to supporting domestic manufacturing, while an additional $100 billion would be invested into building up an electric grid prone to occasional outages.

Biden’s initiative will run into steep opposition due to the cost. But leaving the details aside, one can’t help but feel a sense of jubilation that US policymakers are actually showing some interest in investing in America rather than in countries overseas that have proven to be perpetually weak, dysfunctional, and perhaps even immune to US generosity.

Policymakers, lawmakers, and pundits still like to describe the United States as an exceptional nation in a league of its own. But no nation, not even the United States, can thrive if it underinvests in its own communities or takes its eyes of the ball to what is truly important: expanding its own strength domestically.

It’s a lesson the old denizens of the Soviet Union learned the hard way – and when they finally appreciated the concept, it was too late.

America’s source of power overseas is anchored in its prosperity at home. If the US is so keen on nation-building, it should start and end in its own cities and towns.

Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist at Newsweek.

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There are no victories left to win for US troops in Iraq and Syria. It’s time for Biden to bring them home.

Army soldiers Syria Bradley fighting vehicle
US soldiers walk to an oil production facility to meet with its management team, in Syria, October 27,2020.

  • The US still has 3,500 troops in Iraq and several hundred more in Syria.
  • Any benefit the US may get from those deployments is dwarfed by the risks of keeping them there.
  • Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and former US Army lieutenant colonel.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The United States will engage in a “strategic dialogue” with Iraq this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week. The key agenda item, she explained, was the US combat deployment there.

How or whether to extend the operation should not be part of the discussion. Nailing down details of the withdrawal should.

The 3,500 US troops currently in Iraq serve no purpose related to American national security. They don’t have a militarily attainable mission which could be recognized and signal the end of the deployment. The only benefactor is the government in Baghdad and even they are ready to show America the exit.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told reporters in Iraq he is approaching April’s dialogue with Washington as a chance to push for the withdrawal of American troops. He cited what he considered a positive outcome from the June 2020 strategic dialogue with the US in which Iraq “succeeded in reducing the size of the US combat forces in Iraq by 60%.”

In this upcoming meeting, al-Kadhimi added, he will seek the complete “redeployment of [US] forces outside of Iraq.” The administration, however, appeared interested in cooling such talk.

Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Iraq
A US Army crew chief looks over the Tigris River from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq, March 3, 2021.

At the recent press briefing, Psaki sought to “further clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute.” If the troops are not officially engaged in direct combat, some believe, the deployment will be more palatable to the American people.

There is little evidence the US population cares about the nuance, however. Upward of 75% want the troops to return home. Such views are well-founded, as the troops no longer provide even nominal support for US security interests.

The reason troops are in Iraq at all today is because President Barack Obama sent them to help Baghdad fend off the rise of ISIS in the summer of 2014.

When President Donald Trump assumed office, he beefed up the military presence and gave them the mission of helping the Iraqi military (and later Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria) retake the territory ISIS had captured. That mission was completed in Iraq in November 2017 and in Syria in March 2019.

Today ISIS has been driven underground, as is the case with numerous other violent insurgent groups in the Middle East. Though ISIS poses a potential terror threat – as literally scores of other radical groups do – the threat they pose is limited and in any case is not diminished by having a few thousand troops on the ground in either Iraq or Syria.

Lt. Gen. Paul Calvert, commander of the US-led counter-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria, told Defense One that ISIS’s “ability to reemerge is extremely low right now.”

What does concern Calvert, however, are the volatile cultural and political conditions in both countries. “It’s clear to me and people that I’ve talked to [in Iraqi government],” Calvert said, “there’s a significant amount of concern in terms of the possibilities of an internal Shia civil war.” Things in Syria are even worse.

Army soldier M2 Bradley fighting vehicle Syria
A US soldier next to an M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle in northeastern Syria, December 16, 2020.

Aside from the ongoing civil war, operating within Syria are Iranian troops fighting alongside Syrian troops, Russian Air Force bombers striking anti-Syrian targets, Russian mercenaries, Shia militias, Kurdish elements Turkey considers terrorists, and Kurdish groups the US considers allies.

American troops have sometimes narrowly avoided armed clashes with Russian combat troops, Syrian troops, and even its NATO-ally Turkey. In somewhat of an understatement, Calvert said the “level of complexity in Syria is immense and is probably one of the most complex environments I have seen in the 33 years that I’ve been serving.”

Whatever incremental security benefit may exist with US troops being deployed in Iraq and Syria, they are dwarfed by the strategic risk we incur every minute we remain on the ground there.

We are in a sea of civil conflict in Syria and in danger of semi-regular rocket attacks in Iraq. Our military presence cannot influence the political outcome in either country.

The best thing Biden can do for the security of the United States and to preserve the lives of our service members from unnecessary risk at the security dialogue with Baghdad is to withdraw our troops, in full, from both Iraq and Syria as soon as possible.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

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Biden supports Congress scrapping post-9/11 laws that led to ‘forever wars’

Joe Biden
Then-Vice President Joe Biden meets with U.S. troops in Maidan Wardak province January 11, 2011.

  • Biden to work with Congress to repeal post-9/11 laws that gave presidents a blank check to wage war.
  • The White House said they aim to replace the laws with a “narrow” framework that protects the US.
  • There’s been growing bipartisan support in Congress to rein in presidential war powers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden intends to work with congressional lawmakers to repeal laws passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks that effectively gave every commander-in-chief since a blank check to wage war, the White House said on Friday, per Politico.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement said Biden wants to “ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”

The authorizations for use of military force (AUMF) on the table for repeal include the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF. 

The 2001 AUMF was passed only days after 9/11 with overwhelming support in Congress – there was only one dissenting vote. It authorized the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump interpreted this law broadly to conduct military actions across the globe. The 2001 AUMF – the linchpin of the global war on terror – has been used to justify at least 41 military operations in 19 countries. It opened the door for the invasion of Afghanistan, launching the longest war in US history – which has lasted for nearly two decades.

The 2002 AUMF, which was approved in October 2002, paved the way for the US invasion of Iraq. Trump cited the 2002 AUMF to justify a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, a strike that brought the countries to the brink of war. 

The law authorized the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to – (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”

Biden voted in favor of both laws as a senator, later stating it was a mistake to support the Iraq invasion.

During the Trump era, there were growing bipartisan calls for presidential war powers to be reined in. Many in Congress felt they’d abdicated their constitutional role in declaring war via laws such as the military authorizations passed after 9/11.

These sentiments have carried on into the Biden era, with a bipartisan group of senators unveiling a bill earlier this week to repeal the 2002 AUMF as well as a 1991 authorization prior to the first Iraq war (Gulf War). The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, was introduced less than a week after Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria targeting Iran-backed militias. 

Kaine and other lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern about Biden’s Syria strikes, questioning their legality. The Biden administration did not lean on the 2001 or 2002 AUMF in defense of the action. It justified the strikes based on Article II of the Constitution, which designates the president as commander-in-chief of the military, and principles of self-defense under international law. But lawmakers have still expressed anger that congressional approval was not sought prior to the strikes. 

The Biden administration would work closely with lawmakers like Kaine in terms of the effort to repeal the post-9/11 military authorizations. 

“Tim Kaine has been a leader on questions of war powers throughout his time in the Senate,” Psaki said in her statement, via Politico, “and has helped build a strong bipartisan coalition that understands the importance of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.”

A spokesperson for Kaine told Politico the senator “believes that President Biden, who has a deep understanding of both congressional and executive responsibilities, is in a unique position to help America restore balance in how we make decisions about war and peace.” The spokesperson said Kaine is already “in bipartisan discussion with his colleagues and the administration.”

America’s global war on terror has killed over 800,000 people in direct war violence, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project, and the US government places the cost of the vast, convoluted conflict at over $6.4 trillion. The war, which will officially enter its 20th year in October, has also displaced at least 37 million people. Repealing laws like the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF could help bring an end to the war on terror, or at least drastically limit the scope of US counterterrorism operations.

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Top US general in the Middle East says troops were evacuated at just the right moment before a ballistic missile attack so Iran wouldn’t know they left

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, meets with troops at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2019, where America has recently deployed fighter jets, Patriot missile batteries, troops and other systems. (AP Photos/Lolita Baldor)
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East.

A top US general says that the evacuation of US troops at a military base in Iraq before an Iranian ballistic missile attack last year was carefully planned so that Iran would not know that roughly half the troops on base had moved out, but at least one expert says the story is a bit questionable.

On Jan. 8, 2020, just days after then-President Donald Trump ordered the airstrike that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military fired a barrage of ballistic missiles at bases in Iraq hosting US and coalition troops, specifically Al Asad and Irbil.

Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, recently told “60 Minutes” reporter David Martin that “the blood of many Americans is on the hands of Qassem Soleimani.”

The general said that not only had Soleimani been connected to past attacks on US civilian and military personnel, but there was intelligence that he was preparing to strike again at the time a drone struck his convoy.

“I never take killing anyone as an easy decision,” McKenzie said, “but I think the risk of not acting in this case outweighed the risks of acting.” He said that he was “good with the decision” to kill Soleimani.

But, when Soleimani died just outside Baghdad International Airport on Jan. 3, 2020, there was no celebration because McKenzie knew what was likely to follow. “There was no backslapping, no cheering because now I have to prepare to deal with the consequences of the action,” he said.

The risks of retaliation, if not outright war, contributed to the decision of previous administrations not to kill Soleimani.

The US learned of Iranian preparations for an attack hours beforehand, with at least one intelligence assessment indicating that Iran intended to level Al Asad Airbase, but McKenzie, who was monitoring the tense situation from Tampa, Florida, did not immediately start evacuations.

“There’s a bit of an art there, how you do it,” McKenzie said on “60 Minutes,” adding that “if you go to early, you risk the problem that the enemy will see what you have done and adjust his plans.”

The general acknowledged that there is a danger of not acting fast enough though. “If you move too late, you look like (the commanders) at Pearl Harbor,” he said.

The US military says that Iran was collecting commercial satellite imagery of the airbase to monitor US activity the day of the attack, Martin reported.

McKenzie is said to have purposefully waited to evacuate troops on base and reposition aviation assets until the US military had determined that Iran had pulled its last image for the day to ensure Iran’s intelligence was outdated. 

McKenzie said that the Iranians “would have seen airplanes on the ground and people working” in the satellite imagery, but when Iran fired its missiles, that was not the situation on base at all.

Around half the troops at Al Asad had been evacuated and many of the aircraft had been moved. Many of the troops that stayed behind to defend the base took up positions in hardened bunkers.

The US military recently released a new video of the attack taken by an unmanned aerial vehicle. The missiles can be seen slamming into the base one after the other. A total of 11 ballistic missiles hit Al Asad.

US troops who were on the ground thought they were going to die, according to service members who were there and have since shared their experiences, but the attack ended without loss of life.

More than 100 service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries of varying severity, and 29 troops who were wounded during the attack received Purple Hearts.

Although Iran said it purposefully avoided killing US service members, McKenzie told “60 minutes” that had Al Asad Airbase not been properly evacuated, anywhere from 20 to 30 aircraft might have been destroyed and 100 to 150 Americans might have been killed.

McKenzie said that because of the intelligence Iran was relying on for the execution of the missile attack, he believes that “they expected to destroy a number of US aircraft and to kill a number of US service members.”

Jeffrey Lewis, a well-known open-source intelligence analyst who relies heavily on commercial satellite imagery for his research, questioned the Marine general’s story on Twitter Tuesday, calling McKenzie’s claims “bulls–t.”

He argued that the timeline of the general’s story makes little sense, as there is often a significant delay between when photos are taken by commercial satellites and when they are made available, and while aircraft can sometimes, although not often, be seen at Al Asad Airbase, the resolution is not good enough to see people.

Lewis further explained that he cannot find any evidence that any commercial satellite company sold a picture of the base immediately prior to the strike. In Iranian briefings after the attack, Iran showed photos of the base from before the attack, but the satellite images were at least 11 days old.

“Generals make up stories all the time,” Lewis wrote. “I don’t know whether McKenzie made up his tall tale himself or just embellished one that was going around.”

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7,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to regroup in key areas, general warns

iraq coronavirus
An Iraqi policeman directs traffic during COVID-19 testing at the capital Baghdad’s Shorja market on February 22, 2021.

  • ISIS is using lull period caused by the pandemic to regroup, a Kurdish general told the Times.
  • Siwan Barzani said that coalition forces had been forced to suspend training due to COVID-19
  • All the while, ISIS fighters have been infiltrating the civilian population and building up their base again.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Thousands of Islamic State jihadists are using lull period caused by the coronavirus pandemic to regroup in key areas and are threatening a new wave of attacks, a Kurdish general has warned, according to the Times. 

Siwan Barzani, a commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, stationed near the northern city of Arbil in Iraq, told the Times last week that as coronavirus spread throughout the world in March, coalition forces were forced to put much of their activity on hold.

They had to suspend joint raids with Iraqi forces and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces of northern Syria and are now only operating their aircraft at about 80 percent capacity, Barzani said.

On top of this, the United States completed a reduction of its forces in Iraq to 2,500 troops last month – about half the level of less than a year ago. British troops have also been sent home after Camp Taji’s military base, north of Baghdad, was handed over to Iraqi security forces last year. Only 100 British troops remain.

Officials, former fighters, and residents now fear the drawdown is creating a security vacuum in the country, Reuters reported last month. 

ISIS fighters have been exploiting the opportunity to reorganize in Iraq and are, as per the Times, emerging from hiding among civilians to start operating in the country’s mountainous regions again.

“When the liberation started for the whole area, they shaved their beards and posed as civilians, but they were waiting for the opportunity, and slowly they went back to rejoin them,” Barzani said, according to the Times.

“They reorganized themselves quicker because of the pandemic and because there were less Coalition operations. That was something that was good for them but bad for us, of course,” he added.

Barzani estimates that there are now more than 7,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq.

The group is said to have already ramped up its attacks.

According to the Associated Press, at least 20 men and women were killed in the al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria last month. The killings are largely believed to have been carried out by ISIS fighters who are punishing perceived enemies and trying to intimidate those that might not agree with their extremist ideologies. 

“Al-Hol will be the womb that will give birth to new generations of extremists,” Abdullah Suleiman Ali, a Syrian researcher who focuses on jihadi groups, told AP.

“There are several reasons behind the increase of crime, including attempts by Daesh members to impose their ideology in the camp against civilians who reject it,” Ali added.

The jihadist group has also said it was behind a double suicide bombing at a busy second-hand clothes market in Baghdad last month, which injured more than 100 people and killed at least 32.

It was the biggest suicide attack in Baghdad for three years.

At its peak of power in late 2014, ISIS controlled around 42,400 square miles (110,000 square kilometers) in Iraq and Syria, and eight million people were under its rule.

But while the jihadist group might not have control over territories, their dangerous ideologies remain widespread.

Colonel Wayne Marotto, the global coalition spokesman, told the Times: “We’ve defeated them territorially, but we haven’t defeated them ideology-wise and they are resilient, and right now what they’re doing, it’s almost like an insurgency.”

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5 iconic US weapons that helped win the Gulf War

kuwait air force
US Air Force F-16, F-15C, and F-15E fighter jets over Kuwaiti oil fires, set by the retreating Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

  • During the combat phase of the Gulf War in early 1991, the US military quickly demonstrated its superiority on the ground against Iraqi forces.
  • That superiority, and the decisive victory it produced, was due in large part to the quality of a few Cold War-era weapons that the US brought with it to the Middle East.
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America’s ground supremacy in the 21st century is due primarily to the “Big Five” Army acquisition of the 20th century.

These five systems, although designed and procured with fighting the Soviets in mind, first proved their combined might in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm.

Despite being built to stem a communist tide in the Fulda Gap of Germany, these five systems were instrumental in pushing the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait in 1991 and then toppling the Iraqi regime in 2003.

1. M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

Army Abrams tanks Iraq Desert Storm
M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks during Operation Desert Storm, February 15, 1991.

The M1 Abrams is to the Army what the F-15 Eagle is to the Air Force: iconic. Since the Marine Corps divested its tanks in 2020, the Army is now the sole American operator of the Abrams. Built to slug it out with Soviet T-72 and T-80 tanks, the Abrams entered service in 1980 to replace the M60 Patton tank.

Despite being one of the heaviest tanks in modern service, its multi-fuel turbine engine can propel it to a limited top speed of 45 mph. Originally equipped with a 105 mm rifled main gun, the M1A1 tanks that took part in Desert Storm were upgraded to a 120 mm smoothbore main gun that fired an armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot round.

Combined with advanced Chobham composite armor, night vision optics, and modern rangefinders, the Abrams easily outclassed the Iraqi T-55, T-62, and T-72 tanks. Of the nine Abrams tanks destroyed during Desert Storm, seven were destroyed by friendly fire. The other two were scuttled to prevent their capture after being damaged.

Abrams tanks were also used in the Iraq War, where they saw more close-quarters urban fighting in support of infantry house-to-house clearing operations.

2. M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Army soldiers Bradley infantry fighting vehicle Saudi Arabia Desert Storm Gulf War
US Army infantry soldiers pose for a picture with a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the Saudi desert, October 10, 1990.

The M2 Bradley had a troubled development. It was mainly a response to the Soviet BMP infantry fighting vehicles, which served as both armored personnel carriers and tank-killers. The existing M113 armored personnel carrier lacked offensive capabilities in its troop-carrier configuration and was too slow to keep up with the new M1 Abrams tank.

The Bradley was given the M242 25 mm autocannon for its main gun and a compliment of two TOW anti-tank missiles. To increase its survivability, it was also outfitted with spaced laminate armor. However, in making the Bradley more lethal, the Army sacrificed the vehicle’s cargo capacity, and it could only carry six passengers in addition to its crew of three.

Still, the Bradley served as an excellent scout and fighting vehicle during Desert Storm. During the 100 hours of ground combat, the Bradley actually destroyed more Iraqi armored vehicles than the Abrams. Twenty Bradleys were destroyed – three by enemy fire and 17 by friendly fire.

During the Iraq War, the Bradley proved to be more vulnerable to IEDs and close-quarter RPG attacks and was given upgraded reactive armor. Though Bradley losses rose, crew and passenger casualties remained relatively light.

3. AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter

Army AH-64 Apache helicopter Desert Shield
An AH-64 Apache gunship over Saudi Arabia during Operation: Desert Shield, August 24, 1990.

Designed to replace the Vietnam-era AH-1 Cobra, the AH-64 Apache entered service with the Army in 1986. Armed with the M230 30 mm chain gun and capable of carrying a combination of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 2.75-inch rockets, the Apache was built as a tin-opener for Soviet tanks.

Its first action was in Panama during Operation Just Cause. Gen. Carl Stiner, the operation’s commander, praised the Apache for its ability to deliver precision fire. “You could fire that Hellfire missile through a window from 4 miles away at night,” he said. It also was the Apache that fired the first shots of Operation Desert Storm. On January 17, 1991, eight Apaches flew over the desert at low altitude and destroyed an Iraqi radar station. The attack opened a gap in the radar network that allowed the first Coalition air strikes to hit with surprise.

Two-hundred and seventy-seven Apaches took part in the war and destroyed 278 tanks in addition to numerous other Iraqi vehicles. One Apache was lost after it was hit by an RPG, though the crew survived. A deadlier threat to the Apache was the desert sand. Built to fight in Europe, the early Apaches had no engine filters for the fine particulates. Ground crews came up with the ingenious solution of covering up the engines with pantyhose on the ground.

With the addition of advanced optics and weapons management systems, the Apache has become one of the deadliest battlefield implements of the 21st century.

4. UH-60 Black Hawk Medium-Lift Utility Helicopter

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Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, then head of US Central Command, exits a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to visit Kuwait military headquarters, April 11, 1991.

The UH-60 Black Hawk entered service in 1979 to replace the Vietnam-era UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the Huey, as the Army’s tactical transport helicopter.

Designed to carry 11 combat-loaded troops, the Black Hawk was more survivable than the Huey thanks to its run-dry gearbox, redundant subsystems, armored seats, shock-absorbing landing gear, and ballistically tolerant fuselage. It was first used during the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and saw action again during the invasion of Panama in 1989.

During Desert Storm, the Black Hawk was instrumental in carrying out the largest air assault mission in US Army history with over 300 helicopters involved. During the war, two Black Hawks were shot down on February 27, 1991 during a combat search and rescue mission.

The Black Hawk has since been upgraded with electronic countermeasures, modern navigation systems, and in the case of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s Direct Action Penetrator, M134 7.62 mm miniguns and Hydra 70 2.75-inch rockets. Two stealth versions of the Black Hawk also helped to deliver the Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden during Operation Neptune Spear in 2011.

5. MIM-104 Patriot Missile

Patriot missile Gulf War Desert Storm
A Patriot anti-aircraft missile battery in Saudi Arabia, January 1, 1991.

The MIM-104 Patriot is a surface-to-air missile that replaced both the MIM-14 Nike Hercules High to Medium Air Defense missile and the MIM-23 Hawk medium tactical air defense missile. Though it entered service in 1981, the Patriot was unproven in combat when it deployed to the Middle East in 1990.

In addition to its anti-aircraft mission the Patriot was also called upon to intercept Iraqi Scud and Al Hussein missiles. Over the course of the war, Patriot missiles attempted to engage over 40 Iraqi missiles. On February 15, 1991, President George H.W. Bush visited Raytheon’s Patriot missile plant and praised its success in the Middle East: “Patriot is 41 for 42: 42 Scuds engaged, 41 intercepted!”

The President’s claim of a 97% success rate was challenged by independent investigations into the Patriot’s effectiveness and a government investigation into a failed Scud intercept that resulted in the deaths of 28 American soldiers. The latter was blamed on a one-third of a second deviation in the system’s internal clock due to it being in operation for over 100 hours.

Still, the Patriot remains the primary anti-ballistic missile system for America and its allies and is expected to remain in use until at least 2040.

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