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 Policy"

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 »

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 »

How Obama Goes to War (Syria Version)

by Micah Zenko
Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they walk on a frontline in Mork town on March 8, 2015. (Ashawi/Reuters) Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they walk on a frontline in Mork town on March 8, 2015. (Ashawi/Reuters)

 

On September 16, 2014, there was a brief exchange regarding the nascent war against the self-declared Islamic State—totally unnoticed at the time—between the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the secretary of defense: Read more »

What Will Obama Do for Syrian Rebels?

by Micah Zenko
Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they walk on a frontline in Mork town on March 8, 2015. (Ashawi/Reuters) Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they walk on a frontline in Mork town on March 8, 2015. (Ashawi/Reuters)

Without any formal announcement from Washington, the United States became further militarily committed to the civil war in Syria last week. It was reported that the first wave of a few dozen U.S.-trained Syrian rebels had crossed the Jordanian border into Syria on July 12. They were reportedly instructed to integrate themselves into other rebel units in order to increase the opposition forces’ overall combat effectiveness. Commander Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokesperson, wrote that rebels are expected to “coordinate with other moderate opposition forces to build trust between organizations that are countering ISIL.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Whack-a-mole, Sugary Drinks, and Libya

by Micah Zenko
Cans of soda are displayed in a case at a convenience store in San Diego, California on February 13, 2014. (Hodgson/Reuters) Cans of soda are displayed in a case at a convenience store in San Diego, California on February 13, 2014. (Hodgson/Reuters)

Guest Post: The Rise of the Islamic State in Yemen

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
People stand next to wreckage at the site of a June 29, 2015, car bomb attack in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, that was claimed by Islamic State and killed twenty-eight people. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters) People stand next to wreckage at the site of a June 29, 2015, car bomb attack in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, that was claimed by Islamic State and killed twenty-eight people. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

Samantha Andrews is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Today’s reported car bombing in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, is further evidence that, while the self-declared Islamic State may currently be the underdog in the jihadi rivalry unfolding in Yemen, it is steadily becoming stronger. Political instability resulting from the Houthi uprising, and subsequent Saudi-led intervention, has created a power vacuum in which the Islamic State is exerting its influence. Combined with its recent string of deadly attacks in Yemen and increase in affiliate groups, the group poses a direct challenge to Yemen’s largest jihadist group—al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Read more »

Comparing the Islamic State Air War with History

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at their joint news conference at the Pentagon on July 1, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters) U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at their joint news conference at the Pentagon on July 1, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters)

With President Barack Obama visiting the Pentagon to assess progress in the U.S.-led air campaign against the self-declared Islamic State, which enters its twelfth month this week, it is a good time to evaluate a main criticism of the air war: not enough bombs are being dropped. Policymakers, retired military officials, and pundits offer a variety of reasons for this lack of airstrikes. Some claim that Washington-created rules of engagement are restricting whole categories of targets (particularly oil convoys heading to Turkey), others that military lawyers conducting collateral damage estimates are prohibiting strikes that might cause unwanted harm, or that there are no U.S. joint tactical air controllers on the ground to call in precision strikes. Read more »