Chaos at the Pentagon as military strategy changes with every Trump tweet

Pentagon Run-Down

VIDEO: The US withdraws from Syria, Turkey invades, and the Kurds are caught in the middle

Beloved readers: After a week filled with more twists and turns than this reporter's lower intestines, your friend and humble narrator has no idea where the hell troops are withdrawing from or going to.

In past wars, it was possible to mark the U.S. military's positions with flags on paper maps. But we live in the age of Twitter, and since the commander in chief seems to be visited by the Good Idea Fairy every 15 minutes, there is no way to have an updated map of where U.S. forces are.

With regards to Syria, the U.S. military isn't leaving. It's repositioning forces because the mission has changed from fighting ISIS to protecting the oil. (This also may make the first time a sitting president has not tried to camouflage sending troops to protect oil by claiming the United States was liberating oppressed people.)

On Oct. 20, President Donald Trump tweeted the following Syria update after speaking with Defense Secretary Mark Esper: "We have secured the Oil. Bringing our soldiers home!"

Since Trump referred to the defense secretary as "Mark Esperanto" in his first tweet, this naïve reporter thought that perhaps the bit about securing the oil was also a mistake. But no, the president had actually just issued his marching orders.

The following day, Esper first announced that the Pentagon was in fact considering having troops remain in eastern Syria to prevent ISIS from making money from oil fields. Then on Friday, Esper said that "some mechanized forces" would deploy near Deir ez-Zor to guard the oil fields.

In a nutshell, that means the U.S. troops who were in northeastern Syria are retreating to western Iraq, where they can't stay long because the Iraqi government has given them four weeks to gas up, visit the restroom, and go somewhere else.

Separately, you have mechanized vehicles in Kuwait – possibly M1 Abrams tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles – that will likely have to be transported through Iraq so they can get to eastern Syria. Those vehicles will require support personnel, so the number of U.S. troops in Syria might not change much when all is said and done. (This is called the "Walk Backwards and Say You're Leaving" strategy.)

One reason why your friend and humble narrator is offering so much conjecture is the Pentagon is refusing to say how many troops might remain in Syria. In fact, the entire U.S. military is sworn to secrecy about how many of America's sons and daughters are in harm's way.

For example, defense officials have consistently told reporters that roughly 14,000 U.S. troops were in Afghanistan. Then on Oct. 21, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Austin Miller, announced that "unbeknownst to the public," the number of US troops in Afghanistan had dropped from 15,000 to 13,000 over the past year.

The reason it was "unbeknownst to the public" is because the U.S. military has been hiding the troop reduction, even when reporters have asked if there had been any changes in troop numbers.

Your friend and humble narrator suspects that one reason the military is so opaque about troop numbers is defense officials are getting their revenge on President Barack Obama's national security council, which was so obsessed with the optics of how many troops were in combat zones that the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade sent only 800 of its 2,800 personnel to Afghanistan in 2015 so they could be under Obama's troop cap. (Many of the troops who didn't deploy were aircraft maintainers.)

But there's a more practical reason for the Pentagon to be so obscure: Every time Trump tweets about the military, the Defense Department has to pretend the president's latest missive is all part of a wider plan that has been properly thought out ahead of time.

By giving as little information as possible, the Pentagon hopes to avoid revealing that it is actually reacting on the fly to try to make Trump's latest great idea not end in a total disaster.

Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 14 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.

(Associated Press photo)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed confidence on Sunday in the U.S. military justice system's ability to hold troops to account, two days after President Donald Trump pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.

Trump also restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq.

Asked how he would reassure countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the pardons, Esper said: "We have a very effective military justice system."

"I have great faith in the military justice system," Esper told reporters during a trip to Bangkok, in his first remarks about the issue since Trump issued the pardons.

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On a military base, a black flag is bad news. That means it's too hot outside to do anything strenuous, so training and missions are put off until conditions improve.

As the climate changes, there could be plenty more black flag days ahead, especially in Florida, a new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found. America's military bases could see an average of an extra month of dangerously hot days by mid-century. In Florida, they could quadruple.

Pentagon data shows heat-related illnesses and injuries are on the rise in every branch of the military. Last year, nearly 2,800 troops suffered heatstroke or heat exhaustion, a roughly 50 percent jump from 2014.

"I think most of us, if we hear there are tens of thousands of cases of heat stress in our troops every year, our minds would go to where they were deployed," said Kristy Dahl, a senior climate scientist at UCS and the lead author of the study. "But more than 90% of the military cases of heatstroke happened right here at home."

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In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.

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An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.

This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.

Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "act quickly" to reach a deal with the United States, in a tweet weighing in on North Korea's criticism of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump, who has met Kim three times since 2018 over ending the North's missile and nuclear programs, addressed Kim directly, referring to the one-party state's ruler as "Mr. Chairman".

In his tweet, Trump told Kim, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at a further meeting, signing off "See you soon!"

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