A “small number” of Colombians detained in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse had previously received US military training, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
“A review of our training databases indicates that a small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past U.S. military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian Military Forces,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman told The Washington Post.
It’s unclear how many Colombians had the training as well as when the training to place, though Colombia is a US military partner and its military members have received training and education for decades, The Post reported.
Hoffman told The Post that the Pentagon is reviewing its training databases.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The US military killed at least 23 civilians in 2020, according to a new report from the Department of Defense, a steep decline from previous years as offensive operations were significantly reduced during the pandemic. Another 10 civilians were likely injured, the department said.
In 2017, by contrast, the US military said it had killed nearly 500 civilians.
But independent observers said the actual number of civilian casualties is once again likely far higher than the US is willing to admit. The monitoring group Airwars, for example, estimates that a minimum of 102 civilians were killed by US operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Chris Woods, director of the group, said he welcomed the report, which is mandated by Congress and released annually.
“We remain concerned, however, that DoD estimates of civilian harm once again fall well below credible public estimates, and call on officials to review why such undercounts remain so common,” Woods said in a statement. “Civilians surely deserve better.”
The report itself, which the department releases annually, acknowledges that there are many more claims of innocent people killed than the military itself deems credible.
In Afghanistan, according to the report, the US military received 165 reports of civilian casualties related to operations in 2020. Of those, seven were deemed legitimate, resulting in approximately 20 civilian deaths and five injuries.
Airwars, by contrast, estimates that at least 89 civilians were killed and another 31 injured.
It often takes years for the US to admit civilian casualties occurred.
In November 2020, a spokesperson for US Central Command told Insider that an internal review found two civilians had indeed been injured from an airstrike in Yemen that took place some three years earlier.
In Somalia, the US also admitted last year to killing two civilians in a February 2019 airstrike after insisting for months that the victims were “terrorists.”
The latest report itself notes that an additional 65 civilians were killed between 2017 and 2019, with another 22 injured, beyond the numbers previously reported.
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, accused the Biden administration of obscuring the full toll of US military operations.
“The grossly inadequate official accounting for the costs and consequences of the United States’ lethal actions abroad prevents meaningful public oversight and accountability for wrongful deaths and perpetual war policies,” Shamsi said. “Civilian victims, their families, and the American public deserve far better than this.”
Every day, scores of US military commands reach millions with posts aimed to inform and inspire: videos of valor, motivational photos, and, yes, puppy pics.
The military has codified the rules for managing these official accounts. But sometimes these social-media pros – even those at the four-star command responsible for the US’s nuclear weapons – fail miserably.
Here’s a rundown of some of the military’s most embarrassing, troubling, and dumb social-media mistakes in recent years.
US Strategic Command, which oversees the US nuclear arsenal, sent out an unintelligible tweet on March 28, 2021 that went viral before it was deleted.
The post simply said: “;l;;gmlxzssaw.”
In a follow-on tweet, STRATCOM wrote: “”Apologizes for any confusion. Please disregard this post.”
The blunder received lots of humorous responses on social media, including a retired US Army lieutenant general.
An “administrator” used Fort Bragg’s official Twitter account to send explicit sexual messages to an OnlyFans creator.
The Army installation initially claimed the account was hacked before deleting not just the tweets but its entire Twitter account. The base later acknowledged that the tweets were sent by one of their own.
Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) deleted a March 25, 2020 tweet making light of the coronavirus.
The tweet, which featured a picture of a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, read: “Know what else has CV that isn’t #COVID19? #CV22uesday!”
The tweet was deemed to be in poor taste given the devastation the virus had caused. An AFSOC spokesman told Military Times that “we recognize it was in poor taste and have taken it down and apologize to anyone offended.” He added that the command will “review how this happened and act accordingly.”
Questions about COVID-19?
The Army put out a post on March 21, 2020 as part of an Army COVID-19 question and answer series that was considered racist and offensive. “Why did the man eat a bat?” the post asked. The answer, which was accompanied by a picture of a man shrugging, was “it wasn’t because he was thirsty.”
The Instagram post appears to have been referencing early reports that the coronavirus outbreak originated from the consumption of bats in China, which have fueled insensitive comments and jokes.
“This is simply unacceptable. We do not know how #COVID19 first infected humans but racism has no place in our Armed Forces,” Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth wrote on Twitter in response.
The social media manager responsible for the post, which, in addition to offensive content, also included inaccurate coronavirus information, was fired.
On March 6, 2020 the Defense Department flubbed a #KnowYourMil moment, when it tweeted out an image of Utah National Guard M109 Paladins but wrote: “Ready to roll out the big guns! The tanks of the @UTNationalGuard are lined up and ready to participated in #AfricaLion.”
Paladins are tracked and have large cannons, but they are not tanks. The Utah National Guard responded to the tweet, writing, “Guys … the M109 Paladin is a 155mm turreted self-propelled howitzer.”
Remembering the Battle of the Bulge with a picture of a Nazi that massacred US troops
In a move that drew significant criticism, the official Facebook pages of the Army 10th Mountain Division, the 18th Airborne Corps, and the Department of Defense all shared the picture of a Nazi responsible for the murder of more than 84 American prisoners of war in Dec. 16, 2019 posts commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a fierce WWII battle.
The posts were later deleted. The Army said that it “regrets” that the image was included in the post that was shared on social media.
On November 20, 2019, the Department of Defense’s official Twitter account shared this stunning image of an armored vehicle firing at a training exercise with the tag, #KnowYourMil.
The only problem — they named the wrong armored vehicle.
That’s a Stryker armored vehicle firing its 105mm gun, not a Paladin self-propelled howitzer, as the DoD tweet identified it. One easy way to tell them apart is that the Paladin is a tracked vehicle like a tank. Strykers have wheels.
‘The last thing #Millennials will see if they attempt the #area51 raid today’
On Sept. 20, 2019, the Pentagon’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) tweeted out a warning to millennials planning to attend the “Storm Area 51” event that day, suggesting it was going to bomb them.
“The last thing #Millennials will see if they attempt the #area51 raid today,” the tweet read. The accompanying image was a B-2 Spirit bomber, a highly-capable stealth aircraft built to slip past enemy defenses and devastate targets with nuclear and conventional munitions.
The tweet prompted some backlash online, and the next day, DVIDS deleted the offending tweet and sent out a new one explaining that “last night, a DVIDSHUB employee posted a tweet that in NO WAY supports the stance of the Department of Defense.”
US Strategic Command, which oversees the US’s nuclear arsenal, rang in 2019 with a reminder that they’re ready, at any time, to start a nuclear war.
Playing off the image of the ball dropping in New York City’s Times Square, STRATCOM’s official account posted a tweet that included a clip of a B-2 dropping bombs. The command apologized for the message.
In May 2018, the internet was debating whether the word heard on a short audio recording was “Yanny” or “Laurel.” Then the US Air Force joined the debate, referring to a recent strike on Taliban.
“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the official US Air Force Twitter account said.
The A-10 gunship carries a fearsome 30mm cannon used to destroy buildings, shred ground vehicles, and kill insurgents. It can fire so rapidly — nearly 3,900 rounds a minute — that the sound of each bullet is indistinguishable from the previous one, blending into a thundering “BRRRT.”
The US Air Force apologized for the tweet and deleted it, acknowledging it was in “poor taste.”
Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth didn’t mince words on Thursday when reacting to Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s recent comments about women in the military.
“F— Tucker Carlson,” Duckworth, who is an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, tweeted. “While he was practicing his two-step, America’s female warriors were hunting down Al Qaeda and proving the strength of America’s women.”
“Happy belated International Women’s Day to everyone but Tucker, who even I can dance better than,” she added. “…and we all know it was his female partner who did all the hard work.”
On Tuesday’s episode of his primetime show, Carlson accused President Joe Biden of trying to feminize the military and making a “mockery” of the armed forces.
“So we’ve got new hairstyles, maternity flight suits,” said Carlson. “Pregnant women are going to fight our wars.”
“It’s a mockery of the US military,” he added. “While China’s military becomes more masculine … our military needs to become, as Joe Biden says, more feminine – whatever feminine means anymore, since men and women no longer exist.”
Carlson went on: “The bottom line is, it’s out of control and the Pentagon’s going along with this. Again, this is a mockery of the US military and its core mission, which is winning wars.”
The primetime star drew swift backlash and ridicule over his remarks. Military women who are pregnant are exempted from arduous duties and deployments, and the services have strived to make the uniforms they wear more comfortable as one part of a campaign to keep more mid-career women in the service. Women make up approximately 16% of the armed forces.
There is little love lost between Duckworth and Carlson. In 2020, Carlson questioned the Democratic senator’s patriotism and called her “deeply silly.” Duckworth is a former US Army helicopter pilot who lost two of her legs after a 2004 rocket propelled grenade struck her aircraft in Iraq; Carlson was rejected by the CIA after college and has not served in uniform.
After Carlson’s broadcast, the US Army’s official Twitter account blasted out several tweets featuring photos of women serving in different roles in the military.
“We still have a lot of work to do to make our military more inclusive,” the department’s spokesperson told reporters. “What we absolutely won’t do is take personnel advice from a talk-show host or the Chinese military.”
It’s a dark trend for new, post-9/11 US heads of state: Usually, within the first weekend, the new president, having inherited a global war on terror, orders the military or an intelligence agency to end someone’s life with an airstrike. To adversaries, it demonstrates resolve; to allies as well as critics, it demonstrates that there will be continuity, no matter which party controls the White House.
President Joe Biden, it appears, has been different. Under his watch, there has been just one declared US airstrike: a February 9 attack in Iraq that, the military claims, “resulted in the deaths of two Daesh terrorists.”
And in stark contrast to his immediate predecessors, there have been no immediate reports of civilian casualties – this, following months of escalated US attacks, from Central Asia to Africa, during his predecessor’s last couple months in office.
Clandestine operations, by their nature, cannot be ruled out. What we know for sure, though, is that “there have been zero local or official reports of US drone or other strikes in Somalia, Libya, Yemen, or Pakistan so far under Biden,” Chris Woods, director of the monitoring group Airwars.org, told Insider.
Biden’s forerunners, Republican and Democrat alike, both carried out US military operations that were both well-publicized and fraught, the demonstration of American power resulting in the death of innocents.
Former President Barack Obama ordered his first drone strike within 72 hours of taking office; that attack, aimed at the Taliban and carried out by the CIA, missed its mark, killing three Pakistani civilians and gravely wounding a child. The tactic would come to define Obama’s legacy, boots on the ground replaced by unmanned aerial vehicles, American lives protected at a cost borne by others.
Former President Donald Trump oversaw his first drone strike on January 20, 2017, the day he was inaugurated. A spree of attacks took place in Yemen, culminating a week later in a botched raid that killed an 8-year-old girl and other civilians. Over the next four years, Trump would go on to bomb the country more often than any of his predecessors combined – not counting ramped up US support, just rescinded, for the Saudi-led war against the nation’s Houthi militants.
Biden is no peacenik. In the US Senate, he backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And there is no reason to believe a lull amid a pandemic and other domestic crises will evolve into a policy of unilateral disarmament.
Nicholas Grossman, a professor of international relations at the University of Illinois and author of a book on drone warfare, wonders if the apparent pause in most US military operations is the aftermath of his predecessor’s outgoing escalations.
“Under Trump, the US ramped up drone strikes in Somalia, though that escalation was already happening in Obama’s final year,” Grossman told Insider. According to data from the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, there were 43 airstrikes in Somalia targeting the extremist group al-Shabaab, during Obama’s two terms in his office, including 16 in his last year. During Trump’s single four-year term, where a focus on rhetoric led many falsely to label him a principled isolationist, there were 208 such airstrikes, including 14 in his final six months.
There have been previous gaps in US strikes, Grossman noted; a lot or a little can happen in three weeks. It’s also possible, he said, that this is something more: “the Biden administration is pausing while reviewing the strategy.” Relatedly, “it’s possible the US military and intelligence agencies launched a few strikes at the end of Trump’s term in anticipation of that pause.”
Alternatively, “it’s also possible that those January strikes did real damage to al-Shabaab as intended, and for that reason there either isn’t a need or a good opportunity at the moment,” Grossman said.
Critics of the US-led war on terror hope the apparent moratorium signals something greater.
“If there is a pause in airstrikes overall, we hope it’s due to a reassessment of the United States’ strategy,” Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security With Human Rights program at Amnesty International, told Insider, “and a recognition that past strikes have not succeeded in ending attacks by armed groups, but have instead killed and injured thousands of civilians.”
US Navy Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber, the first Black woman to lead the US Naval Academy as a brigade commander, described the country’s reckoning with racial tensions as an eye-opening experience and said there was still “a lot of room for progress.”
“It’s a good thing that we’re opening up the conversation, and it’s a good thing we’re working through initiatives to address the issues,” she told Insider.
Of the 1,194 midshipmen enrolled in the academy’s graduating class of 2024, only 78 are Black Americans.
US Navy Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber, the first Black woman to lead the US Naval Academy as a brigade commander, described the country’s reckoning with racial tensions as an eye-opening experience and believed there was still “a lot of room for progress.”
Barber, an Illinois native and a senior at the academy, recently became the first Black woman to lead and represent the student body during its 175-year history. The mechanical engineering major is expected to graduate this year and join the Marine Corps as a commissioned officer.
Black Americans make up one of the least-represented races at the academy and US military’s officer corps. Of the 1,194 midshipmen enrolled in the academy’s graduating class of 2024, only 78 are Black Americans.
As a brigade commander for a semester, Barber’s role is to liaise between the roughly 4,000 midshipmen and the commandant of the academy, similar to a class president at a civilian university.
According to Barber, being the brigade commander is a “great opportunity to set the tone for how we develop leaders,” and that in order to help navigate midshipmen to the fleet, leaders have to come to terms with racial disparities in the country.
“The fact of the matter is, here in the military, we’re in the business where we can’t afford to have any discriminatory biases at all,” Barber said. “We can’t afford to have any racism because of the fact that people’s lives are at stake and we need to maximize our potential as a fighting force.”
Following the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May 2020, senior military leaders responded to the unrest by opening up a discussion about racial injustices.
US Navy Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, issued a fleet-wide message in June, “about the murder of Mr. George Floyd and the events that we have all watched on TV for the last several nights.”
“We’ve watched what is going on, we can’t be under any illusions about the fact that racism is alive and well in our country,” Gilday said in his message. “And I can’t be under any illusions that we don’t have it in our Navy.”
Like other military leaders, Gilday launched a task force this year to examine racial injustices ranging from recruitment demographics to the administration of military justice.
“I’ve been in the Navy for a long time and I’ve had a lot of experiences,” Gilday added. “Something I have never experienced and something I will never experience is that I will never walk in the shoes of a black American or any other minority. I will never know what it feels like when you watch that video of Mr. Floyd’s murder.”
Barber said the ongoing conversation about race was necessary in the Navy, because midshipmen are not necessarily exempt from “unraveling perceptions that maybe we had earlier on, before we rose our right hand … to support and defend the Constitution.”
“For me, as a leader, setting a tone with that attitude is going to make all the difference for how we continue to operate as a force generations down the line,” Barber said.
“I think we’re getting there. This was a very eye-opening and catalytic year for a number of reasons. And the fact is that some of these issues in our country … are just not discussed,” she added. “They are always there. And they are always just as harmful as they were back when we had issues like extreme segregation.”
“I think that it’s a good thing that we’re opening up the conversation, and it’s a good thing we’re working through initiatives to address the issues.”