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War Watch, Day 4: This Syrian Aggression May Or May Not Stand, Man
To quote The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” the widely expected military strikes on Syria are a complicated matter with “a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of ‘what have yous,’ and a lot of strands to keep in my head, man.”
On Thursday, President Trump tweeted that he never provided a timeline for strikes against Syria in response to a suspected April 7 chemical attack.
“Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Trump tweeted. “In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’”
That boast came about a day after Trump tweeted for Russia to “get ready,” because U.S. missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” Officials later said no decisions on a Syria strike had been made when the commander in chief tweeted that.
In fact, Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers today that he will provide the White House with military options against the Syrian regime, but the president has not yet settled on a course of action.
“Today, our president did say that he’s not made a decision,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee. “I will tell you when I leave here I’m going to a meeting — the National Security Council will be meeting on this, and we will take forward the various options to the president.”
When lawmakers pressed Mattis on what legal authority the United States would have to attack Syria, he said the president has the authority to protect U.S. troops in Syria from chemical weapons attacks.
“The use of chemical weapons in Syria is not something we should assume: Well, because he didn’t use them on us this time, he wouldn’t use them on us next time,” said Mattis, who also promised to have the Pentagon’s lawyers provide Congress with a formal reply.
Mattis strongly condemned the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter by a nerve agent in England and the reported chemical attack on Syrian civilians as affronts to civilization. It is in the United States’ best interests that international agreements banning the use of chemical weapons be obeyed, he said.
While he believes the Syrian regime launched a chemical weapons attack on April 7, Mattis said inspectors with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have yet to arrive on the scene. If the regime does allow an investigation, the inspectors will not be able to determine who launched a chemical attack, he said.
“They can only say that they found evidence or did not, and as each day goes by — as you know, it’s a non-persistent gas, so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it,” Mattis said.
Any U.S. military strikes against Syria raise the possibility of a wider conflict with Russia, which has backed the Syrian regime militarily and has troops and private contractors on the ground. Recently, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon has vowed that Russia will shoot down any U.S. cruise missiles launched at Syria.
Mattis declined to speculate about the possibility that Russia would respond militarily to any U.S. strikes on Syria, but he said he was concerned about “how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that.”
(Reuters) - In the summer of 2004, U.S. soldier Greg Walker drove to a checkpoint just outside of Baghdad's Green Zone with his Kurdish bodyguard, Azaz. When he stepped out of his SUV, three Iraqi guards turned him around at gunpoint.
As he walked back to the vehicle, he heard an AK-47 being racked and a hail of cursing in Arabic and Kurdish. He turned to see Azaz facing off with the Iraqis.
"Let us through or I'll kill you all," Walker recalled his Kurdish bodyguard telling the Iraqi soldiers, who he described as "terrified."
He thought to himself: "This is the kind of ally and friend I want."
The US military quietly pulled 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan over the past year without a peace deal
The U.S. military has pulled about 2,000 troops from Afghanistan over the past year, the top U.S. and coalition military commander said Monday.
"As we work in Afghanistan with our partners, we're always looking to optimize the force," Army Gen. Austin Miller said at a news conference in Kabul. "Unbeknownst to the public, as part of our optimization … we reduced our authorized strength by 2,000 here."
"I'm confident that we have the right capabilities to: 1. Reach our objectives as well as continue train, advise, and assist throughout the country," Miller continued.
The New York Times was first to report that the U.S. military had reduced its troop strength in Afghanistan even though peace talks with the Taliban are on hiatus. The number of troops in the country has gone from about 15,000 to 13,000, a U.S. official told Task & Purpose on condition of anonymity.
Separately, the U.S. military is considering drawing down further to 8,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of a broader political agreement, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Oct. 19.
"We've always said, that it'll be conditions based, but we're confident that we can go down to 8,600 without affecting our [counterterrorism] operations, if you will," Esper said while enroute to Afghanistan.
So far, no order has been given to draw down to 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. official said.
After President Donald Trump cancelled peace talks with the Taliban, which had been expected to take place at Camp David around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. military has increased both air and ground attacks.
In September, U.S. military aircraft dropped more ordnance in Afghanistan than they have since October 2010, according to Air Force statistics.
However, the president has also repeatedly vowed to bring U.S. troops home from the post 9/11 wars. Most recently, he approved withdrawing most U.S. troops from Syria.
On Monday, Esper said the situations in Syria and Afghanistan are very different, so the Afghans and other U.S. allies "should not misinterpret our actions in the recent week or so with regard to Syria."
DOHUK, Iraq/KABUL (Reuters) - The Pentagon is considering keeping some U.S. troops near oilfields in northeastern Syria alongside Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to help deny oil to Islamic State militants, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday.
U.S. troops are crossing into Iraq as part of a broader withdrawal from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, a decision that allowed Turkey to launch an offensive against the SDF which for years was a U.S. ally battling Islamic State.