It’s not bias to ask if Trump and the Pentagon know what they are doing

Pentagon Run-Down
The US withdraws from Syria, Turkey invades, and the Kurds are caught ...

Your friend and humble narrator will never claim to be the smartest person in the room. Recently, for example, this reporter wrote that Conan – the heroic military working dog that was injured on the raid that killed ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – appeared to be a female dog, based on a picture of the canine tweeted by President Donald Trump.

Days later, the head of U.S. Central Command revealed that Conan is actually a male. This reporter apologizes to Conan. My eyesight is not nearly as good as it used to be. (And I really looked.)

More importantly, some readers have voiced objections to last week's column about the erratic and chaotic movement of U.S. forces as part of Operation Turn The F**k Around and Go Back to Syria.

A few of you felt this reporter was being unfair to the president by arguing that Trump appears to be improvising his Syria strategy as events unfold. Others took issue with your normally friendly Pentagon correspondent for criticizing the U.S. military's lack of transparency over how many service members are deployed to Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere downrange.


Kevin Bjornson sent this reporter a quote from Sun Tzu's The Art of War to explain why it is in the U.S. military's best interests to keep troop movements as opaque as possible: "Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack."

Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their insight. This reporter always welcomes feedback from readers, especially on how to do a better job covering the military.

History may yet prove that the Trump administration's Syria strategy was more method than madness, just as former President Richard Nixon is remembered as an accomplished statesman, not the madman that he wanted the North Vietnamese to fear.

While some of you may see my reporting as anti-military or anti-Trump, I assure you that I have no political axe to grind. Journalism is often described as the first draft of history: Messy and incomplete.

For the past 14 years, I've had the honor to tell the stories of U.S. service members who are taking the fight to the enemy. But telling the U.S. military's story has become harder since the Pentagon and combatant commands began treating basic information as if it were nuclear missile launch codes.

During the worst days of the Iraq War, defense officials could tell reporters exactly how many U.S. troops were part of the surge, which was initially supposed to involve 21,500 service members but eventually ballooned to nearly 30,000 troops. (At the time, announcing unit deployments was not seen as an OPSEC violation.)

But when retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis became defense secretary in 2017, the military became paranoid that information that hitherto had been public could help the enemy, including how many aircraft could actually fly and how many troops were being sent downrange.

In fairness to Mattis, he inherited a military that had been crushed by budget cuts, draconian drawdowns, years of non-stop deployments, and relative apathy from President Barack Obama's administration and Congress regarding all of the above.

Pressing the military to release more information is not being biased. It's what reporters do, and that is exactly why Task & Purpose submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to get the valor award citations for special operators who fought heroically during the Oct. 4, 2017 Niger ambush. Their bravery deserves to be reported.

As for Trump, it is also not a personal attack on the president to question whether he is acting logically and responsibly as commander-in-chief. Every president, regardless of political party, has a duty to explain to the American public why their sons and daughters are at war and what the plan for victory is. If we've learned nothing else from the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it's that journalists can't assume that presidents have a plan to deal with the consequences of their actions.

And that is why this reporter will continue to be a thorn in the flesh of both the White House and Pentagon. Readers have a standing invitation to let me know when they feel I am not living up to my obligation to tell the news truthfully and accurately. I may not always agree with you, but I would be a fool not to listen to what you have to say.

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 schogol@taskandpurpose.com or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.

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)

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