Erik Prince: Trump Considering My Proposal for Afghanistan War

Getty Images/Getty Images/AFP/File MARK WILSON

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, Aug. 16, 2017:

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is considering a plan drawn up by former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince to hire a private army to end the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, Breitbart News has confirmed.

Prince told Breitbart News that the U.S. is assessing his strategy as it debates what to do about the ongoing conflict that has already outlasted two administrations.

“My proposal has been taken up by various federal officials for review as part of their recommendations to the president,” declared the former U.S. Navy SEAL, dismissing claims that his plan involves the full privatization of the war in Afghanistan.

Prince argues that there would be fewer private contractors in Afghanistan under his plan than there are there now.

“There’s already nearly 26,000 private contractors in Afghanistan, that number would go down to about 5,000,” he told Breitbart News. “The American troop levels would go from 9,000 down to 2,000. That’s hardly a privatization of the war. That’s a rationalization and an ending of the war.”

On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis indicated that the Trump administration is, in fact, considering the option of using private contractors in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has already tried both a surge and a drawdown of U.S. forces just to have the Taliban resurge, taking more territory, and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) establish a presence in Afghanistan.

According to the U.S. military, the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is home to the largest concentration of Islamic terrorist groups in the world.

Prince told Breitbart News that U.S. victory in Afghanistan, which he said involves making the region “very, very miserable for terrorists to live and operate,” is attainable, stressing that he can deliver the winning strategy.

Breitbart News has learned that President Trump is unhappy with the plans put forward by the Pentagon and the White House.

Trump is reportedly looking for a novel approach to dealing with the seemingly endless war.

Prince said he believes his plan offers “exactly” what the commander-in-chief is looking for — a new strategy to “ending” the war in Afghanistan.

President Trump has “a real reluctance” to sign up to plans to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, Prince told the Times adding, “A change of course is necessary.”

The Blackwater founder argues that he can achieve victory for the United States using a leaner and cheaper private army of about 5,500 contractors who would train Afghan soldiers and engage in combat against the Taliban, with the assistance of a handful of U.S. special forces and a 90-aircraft private air force, Military Times reported.

Prince has revealed that his plan would cost less than $10 billion dollars a year, as opposed to the estimated $45 billion the U.S. is expected to spend in 2017 alone on its military presence in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has obligated about $714 billion for the war in Afghanistan, which started in October 2001, soon after al-Qaeda attacked the American homeland on 9/11.

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Secretary of Defense Mattis: What’s With the Flip-Flops?

US President Trump with Sec. of Defense General Mattis (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Aug. 16, 2017:

When President Trump chose Marine Corps General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis as his Secretary of Defense, the cheers could be heard from the moon. There was bipartisan praise; social media accounts lit up with his badass quotes and he gave foes of Islamism and Iran plenty to cheer about.

Since then, Mattis’ record has been mixed. At times, we’re left wondering if President Trump accidentally appointed a alien version of Mattis.

Islamism

In 2015, Mattis said to Congress, “The fundamental question I believe is, ‘Is political Islam in our best interest?’ If not, what is our policy to authoritatively support the countervailing forces?”

In a more recent speech to the Heritage Foundation, he said that our strategy is flawed because we have not identified Political Islam as the enemy. He countered the argument that calling the problem “Political Islam” would appear Islamophobic and trigger blowback by explaining that this framework would allow us to identify new and better Muslim allies.

“If we won’t even ask the question [if Political Islam is in U.S. interests], then how do we ever get to the point of recognizing which is our side in the fight? And if we don’t take our own side in this fight, we are leaving others adrift,” he said.

But then…

Qatar

When Arab countries confronted Qatar for sponsoring Islamist extremism and financing terrorism after Trump’s speech in Riyadh, Mattis urged “de-escalation,” an indirect criticism of the Arab countries’ pressure on Qatar.

Mattis speaks positively of the Qatari regime, saying he agrees that terrorism-financing is a problem but, “I believe that (Qatar’s) Prince Thani inherited a difficult, very tough situation, and he’s trying to turn the society in the right direction.”

He defends Qatar as “moving in the right direction” on stopping the financing of terrorism and claims that this is “not black and white.”

Yet, the overwhelming evidence says otherwise.

Right in the midst of the clash between Qatar and other Arabs, Mattis signed a deal to sell 36 F-15 fighter jets to Qatar for $12 billion. A Qatari official boasted that “this is proof that U.S. institutions are with us, but we never doubted that. Our militaries are like brothers. America’s support for Qatar is deep-rooted and not easily influenced by political changes.”

Muslim Brotherhood

In his speech to the Heritage Foundation, Mattis identified the Muslim Brotherhood as an adversary of the U.S. He argued for a stronger partnership with the Egyptian government and complained about the widespread perception among Egyptians that the U.S. was on the Brotherhood’s side.

But then…

He reportedly opposes designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization because of the U.S. military base in Qatar.

He also tried to pick a top ally of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Anne Paterson from the Obama Administration, for the top civilian post in the Pentagon (which is the fourth highest position overall).

His choice of Paterson, one of the Americans most detested by Egyptians, resulted in heavy criticism. He did not relent. Mattis fought for her until he ultimately had to withdraw his selection.

Iran

Mattis is very hawkish on Iran. He describes Iran as the “single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” even more so than ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

President Obama fired him in 2013 because of his belief that the U.S. should bomb targets in Iran.

In 2011, after U.S. troops in Iraq were targeted with Iranian munitions, he wanted to retaliate against Iran itself, such as by launching a raid against an oil refinery or power station. He argued that tough action would minimize the chances of actual war.

He also requested covert operations to kill or capture Iranian operatives involved in terrorism and seizing Iranian shipments to terrorists in Yemen and Syria and elsewhere. He especially wanted military retaliation after the U.S. foiled an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to America in which the Iranians were planning to blow up a diner in Washington D.C.

Mattis boldly said in March that U.S. efforts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal are not working. He favors negotiating with Iran, but wants to couple it with tougher sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

But then…

Mattis supports keeping the nuclear deal with Iran, partially because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”

He is also concerned that scrapping the deal will result in Iran dashing towards developing nuclear weapons or at least the necessities for them. From his point of view, at least the deal significantly restricts Iran’s nuclear weapons activity for the time being.

Mattis also wanted to give a top Pentagon post to Michele Fluornoy, the Obama Administration’s Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, but she turned it down. Flournoy was widely assumed to be Hillary Clinton’s choice for Secretary of Defense if she had won.

I was initially alarmed by Fluornoy in 2009 when Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks was appointed as Flournoy’s advisor. I went through Brooks’ articles and found that she is a hyper-partisan extremist.

One of her columns illogically argued that Al-Qaeda was “little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs” and said the U.S. response to 9/11 had made Al-Qaeda into an actual threat. She blamed Israel for its war with Hamas. She opposed the surge that turned Iraq around.

She was so hyper-partisan that she dismissed evidence that Iran was arming Sunni terrorists in Iraq as Bush Administration propaganda. She even claimed that President Bush was conspiring to launch an unnecessary war against Iran—which obviously never happened—and that he is “psychotic” and should be put into a straightjacket.

As a senior Pentagon official, Fluornoy had this radical columnist as her advisor for two years (afterwhich Brooks was promoted). And Mattis, as Secretary of Defense, felt Fluornoy was deserving of a senior post as his deputy.

ISIS

Mattis is undoubtedly doing a good job in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria. His strategy is based on “annihilation” — encircling ISIS so its fighters can be captured or killed. The strategy takes longer to implement and is probably costlier, but it’s better than shuffling the jihadists from one area to the next until they move outside of Iraq and Syria to commit attacks elsewhere.

The pace of ISIS’ defeat has “dramatically accelerated” according to the State Department’s envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS. Notably, that envoy is a holdover from the Obama Administration. About one-third of ISIS’ territorial losses have happened under the Trump Administration.

Mattis says our performance has improved because lower-level commanders are being allowed to make decisions instead of being hamstrung by micromanagement from the top. The U.S. has also succeeded in getting more financial and military commitments from partners.

Syria

Mattis is realistic about the risks of regime change in Syria and of arming Syrian rebels, warning the U.S. could end up “arm[ing] people who are [our] sworn enemies.” However, he is not pro-Assad and still sees Assad’s downfall as a desirable objective.

“The collapse of the Assad regime … would be biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years,” he said.

 Israel

Mattis seems to be of the belief that it is in America’s interests to distance itself from Israel.

He has said:

“I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”

Mattis also seemed to believe that Israeli settlement construction was a primary cause of the conflict with the Palestinians. He warned that Israeli was headed towards “apatheid” if it wasn’t stopped.

“If I’m Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid…That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country,” he said.

The previously mentioned Anne Paterson, who Mattis hoped to give the top civilian post in the Pentagon to, was not only a strong friend to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. She was also been very adversarial towards Israel.

Afghanistan

In 2013, Mattis wanted 13,600 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan.

It is not known what Mattis is currently advocating or what President Trump will decide to do. President Trump’s campaign rhetoric indicates he would favor a strategy that involves as close to a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces as possible.

Mattis bluntly states that the U.S. is “not winning” in Afghanistan as the Taliban gains ground, thanks to Pakistani, Iranian and Russian aid. And the Taliban and Al-Qaeda should not be seen as separate entities, as Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has sworn his allegiance to the Taliban chief.

Mattis apparently believes that at least a small troop increase is necessary. In June, President Trump authorized Mattis to send up to 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan. The Pentagon had hoped to add up to 5,000 U.S. troops to the Afghanistan battlefield. The additional forces were not sent, presumably because Trump changed his mind.

Towards the end of July, it was reported that Trump rejected the Afghanistan strategy put forth by National Security Adviser McMaster. Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson opposed presenting it to Trump because it lacked clear benchmarks for progress.

Trump instead is looking at a plan to privatize the war by hiring 5,500 contractors and a 90-strong private air force. It is being pitched by Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater.

One’s judgement of Mattis’ performance on Afghanistan comes down to whether U.S. policy makers are willing to continue the U.S. military engagement in the country. For those who argue against it, they better have a plan to deal with the massive jihadist haven that is likely to follow and explain what our leaders should do when images of brutality and news about the end of girls’ education cover our TV screens.

U.S. Military Infiltrated By Alien Recruits?

Front Page Magazine, by Michael  Cutler,  Aug. 3, 2017:

On August 1, 2017, Fox News reported the worrying headline, “Pentagon investigators find ‘security risks’ in government’s immigrant recruitment program, ‘infiltration’ feared.”

Military bases are among the most sensitive facilities to be found in the United States. Classified materials, weapons and, of course, our members of the armed forces, can all be found on every military base. Time and again, we have seen terrorists in the Middle East carry out “insider attacks” by joining the military or police and then, when the opportunity presents itself, turn their weapons on their trainers and other soldiers.

Military training is highly prized and sought after by terrorists and criminals. Many terrorists travel around the world to attend terror training camps. Undoubtedly, the training our military recruits receive is a quantum leap above anything that terror training camps provide. Additionally, our soldiers learn the “playbook” employed by our military forces on the battlefield.

The thought that foreign terrorists may have successfully infiltrated our military and gained access to all of the above is highly disturbing, to put it mildly. One recruitment program, known as MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to National Interest), has especially raised serious concerns in this context. Under this program, according to the Defense Department:

The Secretary of Defense authorized the military services to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered to be vital to the national interest. Those holding critical skills – physicians, nurses, and certain experts in language with associated cultural backgrounds – would be eligible. To determine its value in enhancing military readiness, the limited pilot program will recruit up to 5,200 people in Fiscal Year 2016, and will continue through September 30, 2016.

The Fox News report on MAVNI began with this excerpt:

Defense Department investigators have discovered “potential security risks” in a Pentagon program that has enrolled more than 10,000 foreign-born individuals into the U.S. armed forces since 2009, Fox News has learned exclusively, with sources on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon expressing alarm over “foreign infiltration” and enrollees now unaccounted for.

After more than a year of investigation, the Pentagon’s inspector general recently issued a report – its contents still classified but its existence disclosed here for the first time – identifying serious problems with Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), a DOD program that provides immigrants and non-immigrant aliens with an expedited path to citizenship in exchange for military service.

Defense Department officials said the program is still active but acknowledged that new applications have been suspended.

First of all, it is extremely important to not forget the honorable and dedicated service of many foreign nationals who have served in our nation’s military.   Many have made the ultimate sacrifice to safeguard America and Americans, while others have suffered grievous injuries. Those are facts that we must never lose sight of.

However, I ask that you stop and take notice that none of the aliens who participated in MAVNI were illegal aliens. All of the aliens in this program — among whom are those who have apparently gone missing and may have used this program to infiltrate the United States and gain access to military bases and training — were, as a requirement, legally present in the United States.

Nevertheless, even as you read this, Congress is considering the creation of a similar program for illegal aliensunder the auspices of the ENLIST Act (H.R. 60). The term “ENLIST” is an acronym for: “Encourage New Legalized Immigrant to to Start Training.” This dangerous and wrong-headed program would provide illegal aliens who, in the parlance of the open borders/immigration anarchists, entered are “undocumented.”

The cold, hard, irrefutable truth is that these are illegal aliens who entered the United States surreptitiously, without inspection. In other words, they are undocumented. You cannot tell a “good guy” from a “bad guy” without a scorecard.  Undocumented aliens have no scorecards.

If there is a serious problem in vetting aliens who entered the United States with passports and visas, how in the world could our officials begin to vet aliens who evaded the inspections process and prevent the entry of criminals, fugitives and terrorists?

Of course my question is not a really a question in search of an answer, but a rhetorical question. The answer should be self-evident.  There is no easy or effective means of vetting such aliens.

I addressed the threats that these aliens pose to national security and public safety in my recent article, When “Compassion” Endangers National Security. The lack of integrity to the vetting process for aliens who are admitted into the United States has created a deadly nightmare for America and for those who fall victim to crimes and terror attacks that these failures facilitated.

It is this lack of integrity to this vetting process that prompted President Trump to attempt to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States who are citizens of six countries associated with terrorism and whose identities and backgrounds cannot be determined with certainty. Incredibly, the Supreme Court has decided against the President’s law-based Executive Order that the media has described as a “Travel Ban,” refusing to use the actual name of that Executive Order, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.

That very title of that Executive Order makes its purpose crystal clear.  It is a purpose that the vast majority of American’s would undoubtedly accept and, indeed, support. Because of the de-facto censorship of “journalists,” many Americans have likely never heard the actual title of President Trump’s Executive Order. The term “Travel Ban” for citizens of “Six Muslim Majority Countries” has evoked an emotional response from many Americans who have been snookered by the media. Those six “Muslim Majority” countries have been properly identified as having an association with the threat of terrorism.

President Trump has stated that because of his concerns about the entry of potential terrorists and criminals into the United States, he has called for subjecting aliens seeking entry into the United States to “extreme vetting” when they are citizens of certain countries.

Given the unsettling findings of the Pentagon investigators — along with many other findings in the investigations conducted by a long list of other investigative agencies — the entire vetting process for aliens seeking visas and entry into the United States needs to be tightened dramatically.

This problem is not a new one. Back on May 20, 1997, I participated in my first Congressional hearing on the topic of Visa Fraud And Immigration Benefits Application Fraud. That hearing was conducted by the House Immigration Subcommittee and was predicated on two deadly terror attacks carried out in 1993 at the CIA Headquarters in Virginia in January of that year, followed the next month by the deadly bombing at the World Trade Center.

All of the perpetrators of those terror attacks were aliens who had, in one way or another, gamed the immigration system by securing visas through fraud, including the use of aliases and/or counterfeit and altered passports, by making false claims to political asylum or by committing fraud in applications for participation in the massive amnesty program that was an integral part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).

Many terror attacks in the years after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 involved aliens who had entered the United States through ports of entry and then embedded themselves in communities around the United States as they went about their deadly preparations.

Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is far more concerned with head counts on airliners than body counts at the morgue. Consequently, they and their allies in industry, special interest groups, government and the media, have been pushing hard to dismantle our nation’s borders, expand the Visa Waiver Program and flood America with cheap foreign labor, foreign students and foreign tourists.

That Visa Waiver Program, incidentally, should have been terminated, not expanded, after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

The sobering report about possible foreign malevolent infiltrators in our military must serve as a warning and a reminder that, if our leaders err, they must err on the side of caution, putting national security and public safety first.

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Also see:

WINNING: Five Pentagon Successes Under President Trump

Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg

Breitbart, by Kristina Wong, July 19, 2017:

President Trump has placed a high priority on rebuilding the U.S. military and allowing his commanders to make more calls. So far, in the administration’s first six months, successes have been piling up.

Here are the top five:

1. Islamic State Defeat in Mosul

The U.S.-led coalition assisted Iraqi security forces in uprooting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from its stronghold in Iraq, a major strategic and symbolic victory. ISIS had stormed into Iraq the summer of 2014, seizing large swaths of land and establishing Mosul as its de facto capital in Iraq.

Iraqi forces are now moving to clear other pockets of Iraq where there are still ISIS holdouts, with Tal Afar, just west of Mosul, being the next target.

Although the Mosul offensive began under former President Obama, President Trump called for a review of the ISIS war and made two significant changes. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced the changes on May 19 during a Pentagon briefing:

First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.

Secondly, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS. The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.

The fight for Raqqa, the capital of its “caliphate,” is also underway, beginning last month. U.S.-led coalition forces are assisting local Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces on the ground, who now have the city encircled.

2. Diminished Islamic State Presence in Afghanistan

The U.S. military has been keeping ISIS on its back foot in Afghanistan after declaring its presence there in 2015. The U.S. military killed the emir of the terrorist group’s Afghanistan branch, ISIS-Khorasan, last week. Abu Sayed was killed in a U.S. strike in the group’s headquarters in Kunar province on July 11.

“The raid also killed other ISIS-K members and will significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White said.

The military also took out two previous ISIS-K leaders: Abdul Hasib in late April and Hafiz Sayed Khan last July.

White said Afghan and U.S. forces launched a counter-ISIS-K offensive in early March 2017 to drive ISIS from their presence in Nangarhar. In April, the military dropped its largest conventional bomb on ISIS there.

A Pentagon report in June said ISIS-K has declined “in size, capability, and ability to hold territory” between December and May.

3. U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Fleet to Officially Boast Eleven Vessels Again

The USS Gerald R. Ford will join the aircraft carrier fleet – the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier – this month.

It is the first aircraft carrier of a new class in forty years, since the Nimitz-class carriers were commissioned in the 1970s, and will bring the Navy’s carrier count back up to 11 for the first time in five years, in accordance with the law.

Trump has pledged to build a twelve-carrier Navy and this milestone is a big step towards that. It is also symbolic of the president’s plans to rebuild the military.

“After years of endless budget cuts that have impaired our defenses, I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history,” Trump said on the Ford in March.

The administration has proposed a $603 billion defense budget for 2018, $19 billion over what former President Obama had planned.

4. Trump Installing His Team at the Pentagon

The Senate signed off on Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, this week, with an overwhelmingly bipartisan 92-7 vote.

Six Democrats and one independent opposed his nomination: Sens. Corey Booker (NJ), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Ed Markey (MA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The confirmation fills a key policy-making role at the Pentagon. He last served as senior vice president of supply chain and operations at Boeing Company.

Shanahan is taking over for Bob Work, an Obama holdover who had agreed to stay until his replacement could be found.

Normally, his confirmation would be a normal thing, but in this charged political atmosphere, nothing is normal. In addition, Democrats have been stalling confirmation of Trump’s nominees.

His confirmation brings the number of Senate-confirmed appointees at the Pentagon to six, out of 22 nominations so far.

5. Trump Challenging China in the South China Sea

President Trump has begun to challenge China in the South China Sea, sending the U.S. military to sail or fly within 12 nautical miles of land features claimed by China.

The purpose of these operations, called “Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FONOPs), is to make sure China knows the waters remain open to the international community, despite China and other countries’ claims of ownership.

Former President Obama had set a moratorium on such operations in the South China Seabetween 2012 and 2015 out of concern it would upset China.

But Trump has authorized three of these operations so far since May, the same number that Obama conducted in all of 2016.

The first FONOP occurred on May 24 when the destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef.

The second one occurred on July 2 when the USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands.

The third one occurred on July 7 when two B-1B Lancer bombers flew over the South China Sea shortly before Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

US military drops MOAB on Islamic State in Afghanistan

AP

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, April 13, 2017:

The US military dropped the “MOAB,” the GBU-34 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb which is better known as the “Mother of all Bombs,” on Islamic State fighters in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. The strike took place in Achin, the same district where a US special forces solider was killed last week.

From the US Forces Afghanistan press release:

At 7:32 pm local time today, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan conducted a strike on an ISIS-K tunnel complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, as part of ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan in 2017.

The strike used a GBU-43 bomb dropped from a U.S. aircraft. The strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. Forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities.

“As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense,” said General John W. Nicholson, Commander, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K.”

U.S. Forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike. U.S. Forces will continue offensive operations until ISIS-K is destroyed in Afghanistan.

US and Afghan forces have been attempting to clear the Islamic State’s so-called Khorasan province from Achin and several other districts in eastern Afghanistan for nearly two years, but like the Taliban in other areas of Afghanistan, the group remains entrenched. The deployment of the MOAB may indicate a degree of desperation in the fight against the Islamic State in Achin district. This is the first use of such a weapon, which is described as the largest bomb next to a nuke, in Afghanistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.

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14 Obama Holdovers Still at the Pentagon

Drew Angerer – Pool/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Kristina Wong, March 16, 2016:

WASHINGTON – There are 14 Obama holdovers still at the Pentagon, two months into the Trump administration.

Currently, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is the only presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed appointee at the Pentagon, out of 53 such positions.

Obama holdovers are filling four of those positions: Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work remains in his position; Robert Speer is serving as Acting Army Secretary; Sean Stackley is serving as Acting Navy Secretary; and Lisa Disbrow as Acting Air Force Secretary.

The Pentagon said there are 10 other Obama holdovers still serving, but has declined to name who they are or what positions they are filling.

Trump has filled an additional 32 slots for non-Senate confirmed positions, for a total of 33 hires, including Mattis. That number is less than a fourth of the 163 political appointees at the Pentagon on election day.

The White House was expected to announce a handful of names for top political positions at the Pentagon as soon as this week, a defense official told Breitbart News. The White House declined to give a time frame for the announcement.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis on Monday brushed off suggestions it was taking longer than usual to get appointees in:

“You have to remember, eight years ago, we kept our secretary — Secretary [Robert] Gates at the time, so a lot of people stayed on with him, and you didn’t have as abrupt of a transition. For those of us who were around 16 years ago, it was pretty abrupt and we saw positions that went unfilled for many months. It takes time to interview, to find the most qualified candidates, to vet them, to get agreement on them, to send them to the Senate for confirmation.”

Trump has also named picks for Pentagon general counsel and Air Force Secretary, but the Senate has not yet confirmed them.

“There will be more to come. It’s a process,” Davis said.  He said Mattis has “put a lot of names forward that are currently going through the final stages of vetting. We think that there will be multiple announcements coming very soon.”

Civil servants and former defense officials say the lack of political appointees has had an effect on Pentagon’s operations.

One civil servant complained privately that the Joint Staff — military staff who support a body of senior military leaders who advise the president — is running “roughshod” over the Office of Secretary of Defense, according to a former defense official.

The former official said civil servants who are filling leadership roles temporarily don’t want to formulate new policies that get ahead of Trump appointees who may change or disagree with them, and either sit silent in meetings or advocate for previous policies.

It’s not clear how that might be affecting several reviews the Pentagon is currently undergoing, including on the strategy to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), on how to rebuild readiness of the armed forces, and on its nuclear missile defense posture.

Former Obama administration defense official Loren DeJonge Schulman said without a trusted agent from the Trump political team in the building to lead those reviews, it may be a more military-led process.

“There are fewer politicals, there are civilians who are not in power, and President Trump trusts the military more…the [elements] are there to have a more military-led process,” said Schulman, currently deputy director of studies and the Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

“It’s hard to run a strategy review when you don’t have your political leader in place,” she said.

Another official at the Pentagon said it is possible the military is having more influence in policy discussions, but pointed out that at the end of the day, policy decisions go to Mattis, who despite being a retired-four star Marine general, is a civilian.

A spokesman from the Joint Staff said in an email to Breitbart News: “From our perspective, the Joint Staff is being participating, contributing and working collaboratively with OSD fully when, where and how asked,” he said.

Schulman, who first served as a special assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said that what is more worrisome is that the lack of appointees is preventing important work from being done, particularly with foreign partners.

She said, for example,  the prime minister of a small country who is visiting the U.S. may not meet with the president but will often meet with senior defense officials instead.

Now, she said, there is rarely anyone to meet with. Some defense officials have gone overseas to meet with foreign counterparts, but could only sit and listen, not participate or negotiate since they lack policy guidance, she said.

“Any meeting they go to which requires them to have a position or be a part of a negotiation, it either requires them to stay silent, or to rely on the old administration’s policy, or to have to go to Mattis and say, ‘Hey what’s our position on X, Y, and Z,’ and that’s simply not possible for him to weigh in on everything DOD does. That’s why we have political appointees,” said Schulman.

There has also been grumbling from Capitol Hill, with lawmakers complaining there is no one to talk to at the Department.

Schulman said it has always taken awhile for administration to get top appointees in place, such as under secretaries. However, she said under the Obama administration, deputy assistant secretaries put almost immediately in place in priority areas, she said.

“We’re not seeing that here,” she said.

Also see:

Vets say they were duped into helping Saudi Arabia dodge payouts to 9/11 victims

Former US Marine Sgt. Timothy Cord Kim Raff

Former US Marine Sgt. Timothy Cord Kim Raff

New York Post, by Paul Sperry, March 5, 2017:

Agents of the Saudi Arabian government are using US veterans as pawns in a scheme to gut a new law clearing a path for 9/11 families to sue the kingdom for its alleged role in the attacks, several vets complained in interviews with The Post.

“I joined the Marine Corps as a direct result of 9/11, so to be wined and dined by the very people I joined to fight against, that was sickening,” said Timothy Cord, who served as a Marine sergeant in Iraq.

Vets say the Saudi scam involves soliciting them to go on all-expenses-paid trips to Washington — including lodging at the posh new Trump hotel near the White House — to help pressure lawmakers into amending the recently passed bill, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).

Trip organizers Qorvis MSLGROUP, however, are allegedly failing to disclose to participants that the Saudi government is funding the trips through some 75 paid foreign agents it’s hired across the US to oppose the law, which passed unanimously in September.

Vets complain they’re not only being misled but openly lied to. During one recent trip, an organizer denied any “Saudi involvement” in sponsoring the trip, even though federal filings show the organizer has a $100,000 contract with the Saudis and is a registered foreign agent for the kingdom.

In their recruiting pitch to vets, the Saudi lobbyists, who pose as veteran advocates, claim that JASTA exposes them as well as “150,000 [US] military personnel stationed in over 150 countries” to “retaliatory lawsuits” in foreign courts — even though international law experts note that JASTA deals only with the immunity of foreign states, and poses little if any risk to individuals.

Vets felt shock and anger when they found out they were duped into doing “the Saudis’ dirty work,” as one put it.

Thomas J. Hermesman, who was deployed in Afghanistan as a Marine sergeant, joined the Jan. 23-26 trip to Washington flown out of Durango, Colo.,with nearly 50 other vets. “The organizers were definitely keeping stuff from us,” Hermesman said. “We didn’t get the full story. It was pretty shady.”

He said organizers told the vets if they ever traveled again in Iraq or Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, they could be stopped at a checkpoint and taken into custody as a terrorist thanks to JASTA.

A briefing paper for the DC meetings drew some suspicion. In tiny print at the bottom of the second page, it reads: “This is distributed by Qorvis MSLGROUP on behalf of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.”

Former Sgt. Cord said the trip leader, Jason E. Johns, shot down any concerns about Mideast sponsorship as soon as the vets arrived in DC. “He stood up the first night to announce that ‘there are rumors going around about Saudi involvement, and they absolutely aren’t [involved].’ ”

Johns’ bio describes him as president of No Man Left Behind Veterans Advocacy Group. But federal records also list him as a registered Saudi agent making $100,000 to mobilize vets to lobby against JASTA. The primary registrant on his disclosure form is Qorvis MSLGROUP, the Saudi government’s top PR firm in Washington.

“It really pisses me off that vets are being lied to by other vets that are in the Saudis’ pocketbook,” said Cord, who says he wants to alert others in the veteran community that they’re being targeted and set up by the Saudi government. Johns did not respond to requests for comment.

Cord calls the trips to Washington a form of bribery. All travel expenses were covered for his group’s four-day trip — including airfare and taxis, as well as meals and rooms at the $560-a-night Trump International Hotel, where the vets were welcomed with a “reception in The Patton Room.” Even “complimentary drinks will be provided,” the itinerary states.

In exchange, it says, vets were expected to storm Congress and “make members fully aware that veterans have serious concerns regarding JASTA and convince them that JASTA needs to be amended.”

Marine Sgt. David Casler, who was flown in from Sacramento, says a prime target was the House Armed Services Committee. Casler says he and the other vets were warmly received by lawmakers and their staff, some of whom expressed an interest in “fixing” JASTA. “Who is going to turn down a vet?”

President Trump, who strongly supported JASTA during his campaign, would have to sign any amendments into the law.

The head of Qorvis denies he or his Arab client are trying to hide anything from vets they’re recruiting. “My understanding is everything is fully above board and everyone is fully informed of the issues,” Qorvis Managing Director Michael Petruzzello said.

JASTA has cleared a path for two large lawsuits against the Saudi government that could end up in millions of dollars in Saudi assets being seized in a court settlement. The suits will be aided by the recent release of the classified “28 pages” documenting Saudi government officials’ funding and other support for the Saudi hijackers. Saudi Embassy spokesman Nail Al-Jubeir did not return calls seeking comment.

Sperry is the author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”