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 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)

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.

Read More Show Less

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."

Read More Show Less

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!"

Read More Show Less

It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.

But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.

Read More Show Less

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea's border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday.

A Reuters reporter in Crimea, which Russian annexed from Ukraine in 2014, earlier on Sunday saw coastguard boats pulling the three vessels through the Kerch Strait toward the Black Sea where they could potentially be handed over to Ukraine.

Read More Show Less