Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Veterans Affairs Backlog at Historic Low; The Americans Who Leave Home to Fight ISIS

by Janine Davidson
The sign in the front of the headquarters building at the Department of Veteran Affairs is seen as a man walks past in Washington, May 23, 2014. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters) The sign in the front of the headquarters building at the Department of Veteran Affairs is seen as a man walks past in Washington, May 23, 2014. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Veterans Affairs case backlog drops below 100,000—an historic firstRoughly 98,500 of the 363,000 pending VA claims are now backlogged, defined by cases that have been pending for more than 125 days. Although the number is still high, it represents a remarkable turnaround from two years ago, when the number of backlogged cases peaked at 613,000. Average processing time has fallen from 282 days to 105 today.

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Tensions Rise on the Korean Peninsula; Charting the Human Cost of Post-9/11 Interventions

by Janine Davidson
An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014.  ( Staff Sgt. John Bainter/U.S. Air Force/Flickr) An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014. ( Staff Sgt. John Bainter/U.S. Air Force/Flickr)

Tensions rise on the Korean peninsula.  North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire and harsh rhetoric this week, reflecting rising tensions between the Pyongyang and Seoul. The latest clash began after the North fired into the Demilitarized Zone in an attempt to silence loudspeakers that have recently begun to broadcast anti-North messages.  The South responded with its own artillery, placed its military on high alert and warned the North against “rash acts” that would result in more severe punishment from the South. The North, which is also protesting the current annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, has threatened strikes deeper South if the loudspeakers are not removed by Saturday.  There are approximately 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

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Retired Admirals and Generals Weigh in on the Iran Deal; The Families that ISIS Foreign Fighters Leave Behind

by Janine Davidson
An activist holds a banner during an event of delivering more than 400,000 petition signatures to Capitol Hill in support of the Iran nuclear deal in Washington July 29, 2015. (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters) An activist holds a banner during an event of delivering more than 400,000 petition signatures to Capitol Hill in support of the Iran nuclear deal in Washington July 29, 2015. (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)

A group of thirty-six retired generals and admirals have released an open letter urging support for the Iran nuclear deal. The group, representing retired leaders from every branch of the military. Their argument, in part: Read more »

Seventy Years Since the Day That Changed Everything; A Saudi Ground War in Yemen

by Janine Davidson
Hiroshi Harada, a 75-year-old atomic bomb survivor and former head of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, stands near a red ball indicating where the atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima city, at the museum in Hiroshima, western Japan, March 26, 2015. (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters) Hiroshi Harada, a 75-year-old atomic bomb survivor and former head of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, stands near a red ball indicating where the atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima city, at the museum in Hiroshima, western Japan, March 26, 2015. (Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday marked the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke at the remembrance ceremony, noting “To coexist we must abolish the…ultimate inhumanity that is nuclear weapons. Now is the time to start taking action.” These calls for disarmament are in line with those of survivors of the attack—like Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived the strikes on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki—who have long called for nuclear disarmament. Paul Ham, writing for the Atlantic, explores the bureaucratic mechanisms that ultimately led to the selection of Hiroshima and Nagasaki over other potential targets, and the ensuing annihilation of roughly 200,000 people.

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The End of Mullah Omar; Turkey’s Complex New Front in the Anti-ISIS Fight

by Janine Davidson
An armed man escorts others carrying the coffins of the victims of Monday's bomb attack in Suruc, during a funeral ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, July 22, 2015. (Murad Seze/Courtesy Reuters) An armed man escorts others carrying the coffins of the victims of Monday's bomb attack in Suruc, during a funeral ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, July 22, 2015. (Murad Seze/Courtesy Reuters)

After a long hiatus, Defense in Depth is back, wrapping up an eventful week:

Mullah Omar, the elusive and now erstwhile Taliban leader, has been dead for years, as the Taliban has now confirmed to western media. The BBC originally broke the story on Wednesday, citing sources that claimed Omar died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013. While Omar has been incorrectly reported dead many times before, multiple corroborating statements suggest that this time is for real. His successor has already been appointed; observers are concerned Omar’s death could spell the end of a negotiated peace with the Taliban. While it remains to be seen whether the Taliban will splinter in wake of this news, so far, the insurgents’ summer offensive against the Afghan government continues unabated.

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Islamic State’s One-Year Anniversary Marked by Global Terror; New Challenges for U.S. “Train & Equip”

by Janine Davidson
Messages and flowers are placed at the beach of the Imperial Marhaba resort, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia, June 29, 2015. The gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire at the Tunisian hotel last Friday with a rifle he had hidden in an umbrella, killing 39 people including Britons, Germans and Belgians as they lounged at the beach in an attack claimed by Islamic State. (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters) Messages and flowers are placed at the beach of the Imperial Marhaba resort, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia, June 29, 2015. The gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire at the Tunisian hotel last Friday with a rifle he had hidden in an umbrella, killing 39 people including Britons, Germans and Belgians as they lounged at the beach in an attack claimed by Islamic State. (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters)

My Fourth of July long weekend reader:

Worldwide terror as the self-declared Islamic State celebrates its first anniversary. Three attacks attributed to the Islamic State struck three different continents within three hours last Friday. In France, a brutal decapitation preceded an attempted destruction of an industrial gas factory in Grenoble. A bombing of a mosque in Kuwait left twenty-seven dead and over 200 wounded. Meanwhile, a one-shooter rampage at a Tunisian seaside resort killed thirty-nine and wounded roughly thirty-five. At least twenty-seven British nationals number among the dead, making it the worst mass-casualty event for Britain since the “7/7” London tube bombings in 2005. This as the Islamic State claims a wave of attacks in the Sinai Pensinula that have killed at least thirty Egyptian soldiers.

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The Battle for Kunduz; NATO Defense Spending Declines for Third Straight Year

by Janine Davidson
Afghan forces prepare for battle with Taliban on the outskirts of Kunduz city, northern Afghanistan June 21, 2015. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Afghan forces prepare for battle with Taliban on the outskirts of Kunduz city, northern Afghanistan June 21, 2015. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

On Monday, Taliban forces closed within four miles of the city of Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan. If they capture the city, it will be the first time the Taliban has controlled a city away from the battlefields in the southeast of Afghanistan since 2001. Also on Monday, seven Taliban fighters launched a coordinated assault on the parliament building in Kabul that left two dead and thirty-one wounded.

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What It Would Take to Embed U.S. Troops in Iraq; Chinese Hack of OPM “Worse than Snowden?”

by Janine Davidson
A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in Singapore in this January 2, 2014 photo illustration. Picture taken January 2, 2014. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters) A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in Singapore in this January 2, 2014 photo illustration. Picture taken January 2, 2014. (Edgar Su/Courtesy Reuters)

A renewed debate over U.S. “boots on the ground” in the fight against the self-declared Islamic State. In a Wednesday hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey reiterated that “winning” in Iraq will rest on the capacity and political will of the Iraqi government. They did not, however, rule out the ground presence of U.S. troops as Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTACs).

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450 More U.S. Troops to Iraq; Many European Citizens Reluctant to Uphold NATO Defense Guarantee

by Janine Davidson
Iraqi soldiers train with members of the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq, in this U.S. Army photo released June 2, 2015.  (Sgt. Cody Quinn/U.S. Army/Courtesy Reuters) Iraqi soldiers train with members of the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq, in this U.S. Army photo released June 2, 2015. (Sgt. Cody Quinn/U.S. Army/Courtesy Reuters)

More U.S. advisers are on their way to Iraq. As the Wall Street Journal reports, President Obama requested additional military options against the self-declared Islamic State following the fall of Ramadi in mid-May. The result will be 450 new U.S. advisers, deployed to Al Taqqadum air base in Iraq’s Anbar Province. In return, the White House has sought assurances from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that he will incorporate thousands more Sunni fighters into the official, Shia-dominated Iraqi security apparatus.

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Ukraine Braces for “Invasion;” Burial of Fallen U.S. Guardsman Denied by Arlington Cemetery

by Janine Davidson
A member of the Ukrainian armed forces holds a tattered Ukrainian national flag at his position near the town of Maryinka, eastern Ukraine, June 5, 2015. Ukraine's president told his military on Thursday to prepare for a possible "full-scale invasion" by Russia all along their joint border, a day after the worst fighting with Russian-backed separatists in months. (Gleb Garanich/Courtesy Reuters) A member of the Ukrainian armed forces holds a tattered Ukrainian national flag at his position near the town of Maryinka, eastern Ukraine, June 5, 2015. Ukraine's president told his military on Thursday to prepare for a possible "full-scale invasion" by Russia all along their joint border, a day after the worst fighting with Russian-backed separatists in months. (Gleb Garanich/Courtesy Reuters)

Following Russian-backed separatist attack on Maryinka, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenkso warns of “full-scale invasion” from Russia. Ukraine has massed 50,000 troops in the east to respond to new incursions by an indeterminate number of separatists and 9,000 Russian soldiers. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter convenes a closed-door meeting of two dozen generals, ambassadors, and other senior leaders to assess American strategy in the region.

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