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"

Does U.S. Foreign Policy Spur National Security Threats?

by Micah Zenko
CIA Director John Brennan listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Director of National Intelligence Office to mark its 10th anniversary on April 24, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters) CIA Director John Brennan listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Director of National Intelligence Office to mark its 10th anniversary on April 24, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters)

Yesterday on “Face the Nation,” CIA Director John Brennan made an unnoticed but significant acknowledgement about the conduct and consequences of U.S. foreign policy and the ongoing war on terrorism. Asked whether President Obama “seems to be just trying to buy time here, that he’s not ready to make a full commitment here in this war on terrorism and basically is just trying to keep things together well enough that he can leave it to the next president to resolve it. Do you see that?” Brennan responded: Read more »

Is U.S. Foreign Policy Making Americans Less Safe?

by Micah Zenko
FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters) FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials increasingly warn of the threat of “lone wolf” individuals attempting terror attacks within the United States. These potential perpetrators are characterized as externally motivated, but predominantly self-directed in plotting and attempting acts of politically and/or ideologically motivated violence. They need not travel to purported foreign “safe havens” to receive training or guidance, nor be in direct contact with terrorist organizations based abroad. Rather, their inspiration, in large part, appears to stem from the principles and narratives promoted by Islamist jihadist groups. Read more »

Nine Months of Coalition Air Strikes Against the Islamic State

by Micah Zenko
A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters) A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters)

Today marks the nine month anniversary since the start of the U.S.-led air campaign, later named Operation Inherent Resolve, against the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. The air war, which Secretary of State John Kerry then described as definitively not a war, but rather “a heightened level of counterterrorism operation,” shows no sign of ending. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in March, “The enemy is now in a ‘defensive crouch,’ and is unable to conduct major operations.” The Pentagon has released a series of maps that purportedly detail the loss of territory under control by IS. However, the number and competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces required to ultimately defeat IS militants on the ground, and then control, secure, and administer newly freed territory, are lacking. In an unnoticed indicator found in the prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, two U.S. Air Force lieutenant generals acknowledged: “These combat operations are expected to continue long-term (3+ years).”   Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Strikes, Nation-building, and the U.S. Aviation Inventory

by Micah Zenko

Elisabeth Bumiller, “Soldier, Thinker, Hunter, Spy: Drawing a Bead on Al Qaeda,” New York Times, September 3, 2011.

In Mr. [Michael] Vickers’s [top adviser to then-secretary of defense Leon E. Panetta] assessment, there are perhaps four important Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan, and 10 to 20 leaders over all in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Even if the United States kills them all in drone strikes, Mr. Vickers said, “You still have Al Qaeda, the idea.” Read more »

Yemen: The Worst Reason for War

by Micah Zenko
People stand on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike, launched by the Saudi-led coalition targeting Houthi militia, near Sanaa Airport in Yemen on March 31, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters) People stand on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike, launched by the Saudi-led coalition targeting Houthi militia, near Sanaa Airport in Yemen on March 31, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

The excellent New York Times journalists David K. Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim have an article tacking stock of the nine-day old Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi and Houthi-affiliated fighting forces in Yemen. On the evening of the first airstrikes, the White House revealed that the United States was aiding this intervention: “President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-led military operations.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Yemen, Islamic State, and MDGs

by Micah Zenko
Shiite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 26, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters) Shiite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 26, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

Lt. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski and Lt. Gen. James M. Holmes, “Presentation to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, House of Representatives,” U.S. Department of the Air Force, March 26, 2015, p. 16.

All three mission areas (Stand-Off, Direct Attack, and Penetrator munitions) in the Air-to-Surface munitions inventory are short of inventory objectives. Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and SDB weapons along with Low Observable platforms are force multipliers in a highly contested environment and their shortage could increase friendly force attrition driving a much higher level of effort enabling the attack of other critical targets. Read more »

How the U.S. Military Thinks About Complexity

by Micah Zenko
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

If you routinely read Pentagon reports, speeches, hearings transcripts, and news articles, you occasionally come across an assumption or claim that stands out. Yesterday, the Pentagon released a news article that summarized a speech given by Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. David Goldfein at the Brookings Institution. The article included the line: “Last year was the most complex year since 1968, the general said.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Exports, Somalia, and JFK’s “Ordinary Mortals”

by Micah Zenko

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room, U.S. Department of Defense, February 18, 2015.

Rear Adm. Kirby: These are actually proscriptions in place that we will follow and we will expect anybody that receives these systems to follow…It’s in our best interest to be able to have this kind of control, supervision, and scrutiny over the potential delivery of these systems because it’s a ubiquitous, now, capability. Not every nation has the same sophistication at it as we do, but this is a technology that’s not going away. So, it suits our interests, and I think it should suit the American people’s interests to know that we’re going to be involved, from soup to nuts, on how these systems are eventually transferred. Read more »

Obama’s New ISIS Strategy: Reflecting Reality

by Micah Zenko
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. (Bruch/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. (Bruch/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

In his September 10 address to the nation, President Obama declared America’s war aims with regards to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL): “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” I wrote several pieces that pointed out how this was an unrealistic and unachievable strategic objective. Just as Presidents Bush and Obama previously vowed to “eliminate” or “destroy” several militant or terrorist organizations, and failed completely each time, I believed that it was a certainty that the United States would not destroy ISIS. My opinion was, in part, informed by conversations with State Department and Pentagon officials and staffers who unanimously thought that the “destroy” objective was unobtainable and should never have been articulated with such a maximalist term. Read more »

Guess Who’s Bombing ISIS?

by Micah Zenko
UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond hosts a meeting with coalition members to discuss the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 22, 2015. (Nicholls/Courtesy Reuters) UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond hosts a meeting with coalition members to discuss the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 22, 2015. (Nicholls/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, the New York Times reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspended airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in December, “citing fears for its pilots’ safety after a Jordanian pilot was captured.” The article states that the UAE will not participate until U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft are based in northern Iraq, rather than Kuwait where they reportedly are now, so they can respond faster to execute a combat search-and-rescue operation to recover a downed pilot. The reason those V-22s are not in northern Iraq is that the airbases located there cannot be adequately secured from the potential threats from ISIS rocket, mortar, and small-arms attacks. Raising the overall level of the security of an airbase, including the approach and departure corridors, in order to station such a valuable air asset would require an estimated three to four hundred American troops. Read more »