SFTT Military News: Highlights for Week Ending Sep 29, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

Millions Allegedly Enlist in North Korean Military
Kim Jong Un’s media machine reported this week that 4.7 million people offered to enlist in the North Korean armed forces in the days after President Donald Trump promised to “totally destroy” the rogue state—and the new recruits would more than quadruple the size of the nation’s already mammoth military.  State-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said the fresh recruits include students and veterans of all genders.  Read more . . .

General Named to Head Puerto Rico Relief Effort
The Pentagon named a senior general to command military relief operations in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Thursday and the Trump administration sent a Cabinet emissary to the island as U.S. lawmakers called for a more robust response to the crisis. The U.S. territory of 3.4 million people struggled through a ninth day with virtually no electricity, patchy communications and shortages of fuel, clean water and other essentials in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the island in nearly 90 years.    Read more . . .

Russian Ends Zapad Military Exercises in Belarus
Russia finally concluded its quadrennial Zapad-2017 military exercises last week.  The exercises, which were held in Belarus and western Russia for six days, tested Russia’s defensive capabilities against the fictional country of Veishnoriya which had supposedly been infiltrated by western-backed militias. The games were not, as many eastern European leaders and even some US generals feared, used to occupy Belarus, invade Ukraine or for some other deceitful act.  Read more . . .

U.S. Drones Attack ISIS Militants in Libya
Six U.S. air strikes on an Islamic State desert camp in Libya killed 17 militants and destroyed three vehicles, the U.S. military said on Sunday, the first American strikes in Libya since President Donald Trump took office in January. U.S. Africa Command said in a statement that strikes on Friday targeted a camp 150 miles (240 km) southeast of Sirte, a city that was once the Islamic State stronghold in Libya. The camp was used to move fighters in and out of Libya, plot attacks and store weapons, the statement said.  Read more . . .

VA Cited in Controversial Experiments on Dogs
The Department of Veterans Affairs is tightening oversight of controversial medical experiments on dogs after an investigation found surgery failures and canine deaths in research projects at a VA facility in Virginia — findings that spurred a push in Congress to defund the experiments altogether. Nationwide, invasive experiments at three VA facilities are slated to include roughly 300 dogs, including 6-month-old Beagle puppies, and involve surgeries on their brains, spines and hearts by researchers seeking treatments for heart disease and other ailments. All the dogs will be killed when the research is complete.     Read more . . .

VA Report Suggests VA is Lax in Providing Veterans Medical Support
Internal Department of Veterans Affairs data provided by whistleblowers reveals the agency is only filling about half of its capacity to make medical appointments, even as veterans continue to wait an average of at least 30 days before a medical appointment can be scheduled. The VA documents show that between July and September of 2017, the agency only used 51.44 percent of the appointments available across its healthcare system.  Read more . . .

PTSD and Bacteria Link Suggested
There are several factors that influence whether or not people are more likely to develop PTSD. This includes genetics, epigenetics (factors that influence the way genes are expressed into proteins) and the environments that they are exposed to. Newer evidence is showing there may be another factor at play. Studies show that people who suffer from psychiatric disorders have high levels of inflammation in their bodies. Scientists are still unsure of how this inflammation comes about although some studies on animals have suggested the gut microbiome could play a role. They found that exposure to stress changed the gut microbiome of these animals and also resulted in increased levels of immune molecules and inflammation.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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US military withdrawal from Afghanistan battle zone

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The New York Times reported today that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.”

The Times claims that “at least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks . . . and many times more have been wounded, often severely. Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “‘People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

Indeed!  The “compelling” rationale according to US officials is that  “the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.”

Can’t the same be said for the entire war effort in Afghanistan?  Let’s face it, the US is spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan and have suffered 1,483 fatalities with 6,588 wounded in a war that many consider un-winnable.   And how about the tens of thousands of vets suffering TBI and PTSD?   The aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be with us for many more years as our brave heroes recover from the violent effects IED attacks against a ground army that was not provided adequate protective gear.  It is not surprising that over 96% of those wounded are US Army personnel (includes Army Reserves) and the Marines.   It’s the grunt on the ground that is most exposed to the horrors of war.

I do not know if the war is “winnable” or not.  The appropriate question is: “Is it worth it?”  I seem to recall reading an article by Admiral Rickover in which he argued that we use a country’s GNP (gross national product) to determine its political and strategic importance to the United States.   While geo-political and social purists may object to basing one’s political policy on economic relevance, common sense and our huge budget deficits dictate otherwise (let alone the blood and suffering of our young men and women serving in Afghanistan).

Specifically, examine the following three Arab countries in the news today:

  • Afghanistan:    GNP $31 billion, Population 30 million;
  • Egypt:             GNP $445 billion, Population 81 million; 
  • Libya:              GNP $162 billion, Population 6 million.

In the case of Egypt (a country where US aid is only $1.5 billion a year), Egyptian citizens from all walks of life brought down the dictatorship with the benign intervention of the military and very little direct influence by the United States.  Things are certainly more violent in Libya, but the same result can be expected.   While the future is uncertain in both of these countries, the situation is Afghanistan is clear:  the US will continue to prop up a corrupt and largely ineffective Karzai government.   

The question that must be asked:  Wouldn’t the US do better allocating our scarce resources to help shape geo-political events in Egypt and Libya, countries that have more strategic relevance to our country.  Keeping our powder dry – to use a Revolutionary War term – certainly seems far better and far less expensive than having our brave heroes provide police and security services in Afghanistan.  You be the judge.

Richard W. May