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"

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 »

Guest Post: Setting the Boundaries in the South China Sea

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters) A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea July 15, 2014. (Petty/Reuters)

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

Tensions between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea are rising and a miscalculation or miscommunication risks an outbreak of hostilities. Earlier this month, satellite imagery revealed that China is constructing its third airstrip in the disputed Spratly Islands, an archipelago of 750 reefs, cays, and islands claimed—in whole or in part—by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. This news follows a tense summer, during which China deployed oil rigs in disputed waters and naval standoffs between China and Vietnam culminated in a ship ramming. Beijing’s construction establishes a permanent Chinese base in disputed waters, with airstrips that could be used to launch military missions against regional rivals. China has so far only used them to conduct surveillance missions, but this alone has increased tensions and resulted in political disagreements with the United States. As the intensity and frequency of disputes over territory in the South China Sea increase, the situation has the potential to escalate into militarized conflict. Read more »

Guest Post: Closing the Rhetoric-Reality Gap on R2P

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Migrants from Syria walk along a road in the village of Miratovac near the town of Presevo, Serbia on August 24, 2015. (Djurica/Reuters) Migrants from Syria walk along a road in the village of Miratovac near the town of Presevo, Serbia on August 24, 2015. (Djurica/Reuters)

Bruce W. Jentleson is a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the 2015-16 Kissinger chair at the Kluge Center in the Library of Congress.

Jenna Karp is a Duke University senior studying public policy and global health and an intern in the State Department Foreign Service Internship Program. 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 »