Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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How the U.S. Government Condemns or Ignores Indiscriminate Bombing

by Micah Zenko
People walk at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on October 28, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters) People walk at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on October 28, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters)

If you watch U.S. government press conferences, you will occasionally come across a moment of incidental but illuminating honesty. Yesterday, one such moment occurred during a routine press briefing with Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the command element for the war against the self-declared Islamic State. Col Warren was asked about the growing number of disturbing allegations of Russia’s indiscriminate use of airpower in Syria. Just the day before, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “it appears the vast majority of [Russian] strikes, by some estimates as high as 85 percent to 90 percent, use dumb bombs.” Warren echoed Carter’s assessment, claiming that, “Russians have chosen to use a majority of really, just dumb bombs, just gravity bombs, push them out the back of an airplane, and let them fall where they will.” Read more »

Red Team Wisdom From Experts

by Micah Zenko

My book Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy will be “launched” in one week. One lasting impression that I got from reading the red team literature broadly, and speaking with over two hundred individuals in the field, is the vivid and memorable phrases that red teamers use to describe their work. This colorful language was especially remarkable because it was not at all rehearsed; most of the people who I spoke with had never been interviewed about their professional experiences or insights into red teaming. Many red teamers lack public profiles because they are in the military or government (where interviews not controlled by public affairs officers are discouraged), in the private sector (where proprietary concerns and non-disclosure agreements prohibit much real transparency), or have no personal or professional need for attention. Read more »

Red Team Reading List

by Micah Zenko
Stacks of books. (Creative Commons) Stacks of books. (Creative Commons)

In the course of researching and writing my bookRed Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy, over five years, I read (or skimmed) everything I could find about the subject—within the limits of human endurance, book budgets, and the tolerance of the inter-library loan system. In total, this amounted to roughly 150 books or reports that date back decades, with many originating within academic disciplines and industry fields that I had never explored before. While few books speak directly to the subject, many provide the structural reasons why red teaming is often needed through case studies, or offer broad guidance for how red teams—when empowered and used correctly—can improve institutional performance. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2016?

by Micah Zenko
A follower of the Houthi movement raises his rifle during a rally against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on October 2, 2015. (al-Sayaghi/Reuters) A follower of the Houthi movement raises his rifle during a rally against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on October 2, 2015. (al-Sayaghi/Reuters)

Along with presidential campaigns comes an array of what candidates deem the greatest threat to the United States. Senator Ted Cruz said in July, “The single greatest threat to the United States, if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, is that of an electromagnetic pulse,” while Dr. Ben Carson during September’s presidential debate referred to “global jihadists” as an “existential threat to our nation.” Read more »

The Increasing Prevalence of Civilian Casualties From Air Strikes in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko
Zemairy, an Afghan boy, receiving treatment at Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on June 11, 2015 after a mortar exploded in his yard. (Mahr/Reuters) Zemairy, an Afghan boy, receiving treatment at Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on June 11, 2015 after a mortar exploded in his yard. (Mahr/Reuters)

This morning, Gen. John Campbell, Commander, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, provided partial clarity about a U.S. aerial attack in Kunduz, Afghanistan against a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency trauma hospital, which MSF reported killed twelve staff members at least ten patients, while injuring thirty-seven people including nineteen staff members.  Gen. Campbell revealed that the attack was conducted by an AC-130 gunship at the request of Afghan ground forces taking enemy fire: “An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck.” In addition, Campbell announced: Read more »

Kunduz Airstrike and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko

This blog post updated an earlier post, and was again coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was attacked yesterday by air forces several times over the course of a thirty-minute period. The latest MSF communication stated, “At least 16 people died—nine MSF staff, 7 patients from Intensive care unit, among them three children.” Col. Brian Tribus, spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged airstrikes on Kunduz at 2:15 a.m., noting it was the twelfth in that vicinity since Tuesday, against “individuals threatening” Coalition forces, which “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Read more »

Where Are the Women in Foreign Policy Today?

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington September 10, 2014. (Souza/White House Handout via Reuters) President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington September 10, 2014. (Souza/White House Handout via Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

If you follow the republican presidential race, you’ll notice the feud brewing between candidates Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina. Remarking on Fiorina’s capacity to be President, Trump said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” Although Fiorina gave a cool-headed response by releasing an advertisement in which she says she is “proud of every year and every wrinkle,” Trump further perpetuated his faux pas in last week’s debate. “I think she’s got a beautiful face and she’s a beautiful woman.” Read more »

Obama’s War of Choice: Supporting the Saudi-led Air War in Yemen

by Micah Zenko
A man who lost his relatives in a Saudi-led air strike cries at the site of the strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on September 21, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters) A man who lost his relatives in a Saudi-led air strike cries at the site of the strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on September 21, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters)

Six months ago today, the White House announced U.S. support for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen via press release: “President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-led military operations.” As is true for all interventions, U.S. officials offered a buffet of justifications and objectives for backing the GCC side in Yemen’s chaotic civil war. In an earlier piece, I counted seven. Unsurprisingly, these are no longer mentioned by officials. Rather, they call upon all parties in the conflict to halt their fighting, failing to mention that the United States military is one of the parties by providing material support, without which the GCC would not be able sustain airstrikes over Yemen for any period of time. When pushed by reporters about U.S. responsibilities, they reply “we continue to discuss with Saudi authorities….We’re in constant and close communication with them,” or simply deflect, “I would refer you to the Saudis.” Read more »

Cooked Islamic State Intelligence and Red Teams

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama sits next to Commander of Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III during in a briefing from top military leaders while at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida on September 17, 2014. (Downing/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama sits next to Commander of Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III during in a briefing from top military leaders while at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida on September 17, 2014. (Downing/Reuters)

The New York Times has an article that sheds further light upon what is apparently a disagreement within U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) about how successful the U.S.-led war, which is intended to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the self-declared Islamic State, is progressing. Building upon earlier reporting by the Times and The Daily Beast, today’s article explicitly names the senior Iraq intelligence analyst at CENTCOM, Gregory Hooker, and reiterates the opposition of Hooker’s team to the Obama administration’s generally optimistic portrayal of progress in Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). Read more »