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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Showing posts for "Military Operations"

Why a Syria Safe Zone Still Won’t Work or Protect Civilians

by Micah Zenko
Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on February 4, 2016. (Ismail/Reuters) Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on February 4, 2016. (Ismail/Reuters)

Respected former U.S. diplomats Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey published a Washington Post op-ed today, calling on the U.S. military to lead the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria. The authors propose, “to locate it over twenty-five to thirty miles south of the Turkish border….Its central purpose would be to help local forces drive out the Islamic State and to provide a haven for civilians until the war can be brought to a close.” Burns and Jeffrey further acknowledge some of the difficulties involved with their proposal, admitting that, “the United States would have to deploy U.S. soldiers on the ground inside Syria along the Turkish border in order to recruit the majority of the zone’s soldiers from Turkey and other NATO allies, as well as the Sunni Arab states.” This safe haven would be further protected by a no-fly zone operating primarily out of Turkish airbases. Read more »

Guest Post: What Happens if the Battlefield ‘Goes Dark’?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters) A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters)

Aaron Picozzi is a research associate for the military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The United States has recently enjoyed the tactical benefit of fighting enemies incapable of matching the technological prowess of the U.S. military. The use of modern weaponry against relatively antiquated forces has led to successful operations on the battlefield, particularly against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The U.S. military’s high-tech upper hand relies upon the leverage of these technological disparities, and in turn, has fostered an inflated level of combat supremacy. This problem resonates from foot soldiers to the highest level commanders and planners. Read more »

How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2015?

by Micah Zenko
Smoke and flames rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014. (Pfaffenbach/Reuters) Smoke and flames rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014. (Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

The primary focus—meaning the commitment of personnel, resources, and senior leaders’ attention—of U.S. counterterrorism policies is the capture or killing (though, overwhelmingly killing) of existing terrorists. Far less money and programmatic attention is dedicated to preventing the emergence of new terrorists. As an anecdotal example of this, I often ask U.S. government officials and mid-level staffers, “what are you doing to prevent a neutral person from becoming a terrorist?” They always claim this this is not their responsibility, and point toward other agencies, usually the Department of State (DOS) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where this is purportedly their obligation internationally or domestically, respectively. DOS and DHS officials then refer generally to “countering violent extremism” policies, while acknowledging that U.S. government efforts on this front have been wholly ineffective. Read more »

Chuck Hagel’s Revealing Insight Into Obama’s Syria Strategy

by Micah Zenko
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walks during a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia on January 28, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters) Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walks during a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia on January 28, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters)

Last week, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave his first extended interview since resigning as Pentagon chief in November 2014. The curated interview with Foreign Policy is worth reading in its entirety, if for nothing else than the insights into how White House officials and staffers micromanaged Department of Defense decisions; Hagel claims that staffers would call generals “asking fifth-level questions that the White House should not be involved in.” (This would not be the first or last White House charged with this degree of oversight.) Read more »

Presidential Candidates Use of Force Tracker

by Micah Zenko and Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich (OH), former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), former governor Jeb Bush (FL), Governor Chris Christie (NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pose before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15, 2015. (Becker/Reuters) Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich (OH), former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), former governor Jeb Bush (FL), Governor Chris Christie (NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pose before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15, 2015. (Becker/Reuters)

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

Presidential campaigns are largely consequence-free environments unburdened by the pressures and responsibilities that come with actually sitting in the White House. A candidate can say or pledge to do anything no matter how troubling, costly, or unlikely. The one policy recommendation that every presidential candidate has strongly endorsed during this election cycle—with differing degrees of scope and intensity— is the use of military power. With the sixteen-month war against the self-declared Islamic State stalemated and the percentage of Americans naming “national security and terrorism” the top federal government priority having nearly doubled since April, appeals to force have played an unusually significant role this presidential campaign. This is unsurprising, since military force remains the most responsive, fungible, and destructive foreign-policy tool that a candidate can propose. Unfortunately, the military options put forth may sound tough, but they are rarely articulated in a concrete and actionable manner, which makes it difficult to evaluate the wisdom of the proposals. Read more »

From No Boots to Nightmare Fuel in Syria

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Orly airport near Paris, France, on December 1, 2015. (Gaillard/Reuters) President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Orly airport near Paris, France, on December 1, 2015. (Gaillard/Reuters)

Yesterday, while being interviewed by Norah O’Donnell of CBS News, President Barack Obama made a revealing statement about the careful manner in which U.S. military interventions are made. O’Donnell asked Obama if he was going back on his word by authorizing an expansion of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria with the deployment of what the Pentagon calls a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.” The president earnestly replied, “You know, when I said no boots on the ground, I think the American people understood generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert.” Read more »

Guest Post: Obama, Don’t Cross the Rubicon in Syria

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A member of al-Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province on May 29, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters) A member of al-Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province on May 29, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters)

Bogdan Belei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

On his way to Rome in 49 BCE, Julius Caesar paused before crossing the Rubicon. With only a single legion under his command, and outnumbered two to one by Pompey’s legions, the general faced the serious threat of defeat if he committed his forces to invade Rome. Ultimately, Caesar led his army to victory and solidified the Roman Empire. But the decision to fight his opposition was driven by the reality that Caesar had only one alternative to victory: surrender. Read more »

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 »

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 »