Fifteen years ago today, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four American planes, used them as guided missiles, brought down the World Trade Towers, severely damaged the Pentagon, and four terrorists were overpowered by Americans over a field in Pennsylvania. The suicide terrorist attacks killed 2,996, caused more than $100 billion in damages and stole America’s innocence.
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According to a new Pew Research Center poll, the 9/11 attacks continue to be a powerful memory for Americans: 91 percent of adults remember exactly where they were or what they were doing when they heard about the terrorist attacks.
So how has the 15–year “war on terror” changed America? Looking back and forward, can Americans really believe they are safer?
First a bit of history, the “war on terror” rightly started in the tribal nation of Afghanistan. Brand-new President George W. Bush summoned his top advisors to the Oval Office and chose Cofer Black, former CIA whiz, to implement a devastating retaliation for the nearly three thousand deaths. Black offered no mercy and told the rookie president that this effort required a few hundred specially trained military forces, 110 CIA officers, direct firepower, a bunch of money and his plan would end with what Black called – using an old Angola War expression – “when this is all over, the bad guys are going to have flies walking across their eyeballs.”
After 10 weeks, Black and his stealth-fighting machine proclaimed victory. All the Taliban cities, as well as their government, had been toppled.
In a 2013 Men’s Journal interview Black was asked if he briefed the Russians about the impending attack and how the Ruskies responded to his plan. They said, “You’re really going to get the hell kicked out of you.” Black replied, “We’re going to kill them – we’re going to put their heads on sticks… and you know what, the Russians loved it! After the meeting was over, two senior Russian officials, whom I will not name, said to me, ‘Mr. Black, finally America is acting like a superpower!’”
The follow through earned Black and the US the respect that had been sorely lacking.
The success should have ended there. But as we know, it didn’t. Bush ensnared the country into an ill-defined and ill-conceived “war on terror” that continues today.
Whether you agree with the “war on terror” or not, the consequences are very real and very alarming. With the advent of comprehensive counterinsurgency, COIN or nation-building, thanks General Petraeus, the taxpayers have spent trillions of dollars in a region made up of tribal nations.
Case in point, in a recent interview, Commander of Afghanistan US and NATO Forces, General John Nicholson told PBS the war’s progress is tedious. “We’re trying to build an airplane while in flight, OK? So they’re fighting a war while we’re trying to build an army. This is very hard,” he explained.
It must be said that the “war on terror” falls under the asymmetrical category. The sneaky “stateless” armies must be defeated with clear goals and end-state solutions. It’s here where the most powerful armed forces on the planet have stumbled.
In his book the Field of Fight, retired Army three-star General Mike Flynn describes the best way to defeat marauding radical Islamic terrorists. Flynn says to win the battle against radical Islam we must destroy the jihadi armies, kill or capture their leaders, discredit their ideology, create a 21st-century alliance and must hold countries, like Saudi Arabia, accountable for supporting terrorism.
“The best plan gives you the most options at the last possible minute. Right now we don’t have the best plan. A real strategic discussion about what it is that we are trying to achieve. Is it the defeat of radical Islam? It has to be beyond that and that’s where an alliance of nations has to get it together,” Flynn said.
It cost Osama bin-Laden roughly $500,000 to bring down the Twin Towers and Pentagon. In return, the US has suffered tens of thousands of casualties and flushed away trillions of dollars into the Middle East black hole. Plus, hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners have died and more than 12 million of refugees are now stateless. Newt Gingrich said this week the US has failed so badly in the Middle East that we are giving the number one state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, $1.7 billion in cash, just like a drug cartel.
“So 15 years after 9/11, we’re not winning. We’re not winning in Afghanistan. We’re not winning in Iraq. We’re not winning in Syria. We’re not winning in Libya. We’re not winning in Yemen,” Gingrich emphasized (mimicking Donald Trump). He’s right.
One reason for the protracted war may be the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. American arms and technology companies export, firearms, fighter jets, tanks, as well as Patriot Missile batteries.
The big winner in the Department of State’s 2017 budget includes $5.7 billion for Foreign Military Financing. The main recipients of the proposed budget will be Israel ($3.1 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion), Jordan ($350 million), Pakistan ($265 million), and Iraq ($150 million).
While the Middle East tops the list, funding for Africa in 2017 will double from last year. Due to ISIS’ expansion into Africa, countries like Mali, Somalia, and Nigeria will see an influx of American weaponry. But why do American leaders want to militarize the African continent? Of course, the prominent argument is; “if the US doesn’t do something then other countries will do it.” However, no other country on the planet finances military sales like the US.
The US and its band of misfit coalition partners have implemented a massive military build-up on the Arabian Peninsula and Israel. Let’s take a look at the military arsenal provided to a few coalition partners, most of which are also classified as human rights violators according to the State Department (link to other FMS article).
For the last three years, the US has provided tens of billions of dollars in military weaponry through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to the United Arab Emirates (UAE); population 5.6 million, Qatar; population 2.1 million, Kuwait; population 2.7 million and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA); population 27.3 million.
The US has also provided both offensive and defensive weapon systems – some are designed to protect against airborne missile retaliation and air attacks. For example, the US supplied Qatar ($9.9B), Kuwait ($4.2 billion), and UAE ($1.1B) with Patriot anti-missile systems and UAE also acquired a $6.5B theater anti-air defense (THAAD) system. This type of weaponry typically protects against missile attacks from such weapons as SCUDs and the MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems) like the 880 launchers the Islamic Republic of Iran operates. The MLRS has a range of approximately 300 kilometers, making it easily capable of reaching any of the Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, and even KSA.
America also sold KSA $6.7 billion worth of KC-130 aerial refueling tankers, the UAE $4 billion and KSA $6.8 billion of munitions including “bunker buster bombs,” (typically used to attack harden targets like nuclear facilities); Qatar a $1.2 billion early warning radar suite; KSA $1.3 billion for 30 patrol boats for use in the Gulf of Hormuz; KSA $4 billion to upgrade its national guard; Qatar spent $3 billion on Apache Longbow attack helicopters used for special operations insertions. The list also includes the Globemaster long-range air transport planes, Javelin missiles, F-18’s and F-16’s, and Sidewinder anti-air missiles.
Also for last few years, the US has been quietly aiding the rebel insurgency in Syria trying to overthrow the Iranian-backed government of Bashir al-Assad. There have been multiple news reports, (including this report) that the US provided weapons collected from deposed Libyan Dictator Qaddafi and moved them through its CIA clearinghouse in Turkey to supply al-Qaeda-linked extremist groups opposing the Assad regime. It’s worth pointing out that both Qatar and KSA have been major supporters of the anti-Assad insurgency that evolved from a national rebellion and morphed into a major jihadi operation.
Details of this massive military build-up can be found on the Department of State (DoS) website. The DoS oversees Government-to-Government defense transfers through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and is implemented through DoD’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Interestingly, “(I)n addition to FMS, the Department of State also issues export licenses to US companies providing defense articles and services through our Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) efforts, usually after an intensive interagency review to ensure that exports further US foreign policy and national security interests,” a State Department official said. However, “Export license information is not disclosed by the Department due to restrictions under the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations, but general information is released from DCS.”
According to the State Department, in the case of either FMS or DCS, the United States takes into account political, military, economic, arms control, and human rights conditions in making decisions on the provision of military equipment and the licensing of direct commercial sales to any country, in accordance with the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, the Arms Export Control Act, and relevant international agreements
“Review and monitoring are an integral component of the process for US- origin defense articles delivered to any recipient nation. This is to make sure that those articles are being used in the manner intended and are consistent with our legal obligations, foreign policy goals, and values,” a Senior State Department official said.
And both State and Defense argue that Middle Eastern countries have agreed to work toward US security interests and abide by President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine.
However, looking at the current Middle East conflicts finds every country focused on sectarian protectionism, especially since the Obama administration has seemingly checked out. It is essential that this high-tech arsenal provided to foreign nations by US defense contractors be carefully monitored. The consequences of equipment falling into the wrong hands can be deadly, as it was for flight MH17 in Ukraine.
As the impact of ISIS’ offensive continues to sink in, US intelligence officials contend ISIS did not just randomly explode on the scene in 2014, they claim to have been reporting to high-level government officials the rise as well as the expansion of ISIS since 2012. This murderous organization is largely fueled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk testified before a Committee claiming, “The ISIS’ operations are calculated, coordinated and part of a strategic campaign led by its Syria-based leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
“This was a very clear case in which the US knew what was going on but followed a policy of deliberate neglect,” said Vali Nasr, the Dean of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a former State Department adviser for the Middle East. During its assault in the region, ISIS received protection from KSA and Qatar. Both nations warned the US not to interfere with ISIS’s march to conquer northwestern Iraq and its turn west toward Syria and Jordan. America obeyed and ISIS gobbled up the region and spoils of war that included American tanks, helicopters, and artillery.
Many military experts said the opportunity to strike ISIS came and went when the 7,500-man Islamic Army crossed the wide-open Damascus-Baghdad Highway.
Military generals said the terror group was vulnerable to air attack with minimal collateral damage concerns. In the end, ISIS got its free passage from Mosul to eastern Syria with US inaction, which was tantamount to acquiescence.
“We oppose all foreign intervention and interference. There must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, not by us or by the US, the UK or by any other government. This is Iraq’s problem and they must sort it out themselves,” Saudi Prince Mohammed told the UK Telegraph. Just in case that bad intel was on the horizon, the Saudis immediately moved 30,000 combat troops to protect its border with Iraq.
Many Middle East policy experts say the Sunni’s view of ISIS as an Iraqi Sunni revolution against their Shiite oppressors is myopic and portends a broader Islamic war between Sunnis and Shiites.
From the US perspective, the ISIS campaign presents a myriad of conflicts. Qatar and KSA are major recipients of billions of dollars worth of US weapons through FMS, yet their direct support of ISIS, a terrorist group, means Qatar and KSA meet the definition of state sponsors of terrorism and should be banned from participation in the military program. Nevertheless, the end user certificates and export licenses are routinely approved by the State and Defense Departments, including an $11 billion sale to Qatar. (The Pentagon has refused multiple efforts to release the end-user agreements to this reporter as requested under FOIA.)
Furthermore, Qatar, KSA, and Kuwait are listed as Tier 2WL (Watch List) and Tier 3 under U.S. anti-trafficking in humans reports, which require a waiver by President Obama stating the sale is in national security interests. To the outside world, the US ostensibly appears to be violating its own anti-terrorism and anti-trafficking laws to provide sophisticated weapons systems to these human rights violators.
The infusion of military-grade weapons in the region only portends much more war. The war between the Sunnis and Shiites has grown more contentious due to the dysfunction of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916. Essentially the Agreement drew a twentieth-century map that granted control of Syria, Lebanon and Turkish Cilicia to the French and Palestine, Jordan and areas around the Persian Gulf, Baghdad to the British. That was followed by the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that outlined a “Kurdistan” as an entity by Şerif Pasha, who represented the Society for the Ascension of Kurdistan (Kürdistan Teali Cemiyeti). That promise was never kept and it’s doubtful the Kurds, who are Caucasian or Indo-European and not Arab, will wait another 100 years to establish their own country, one that will control its destiny through its own oil and revenues from oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea.
The complexity of the middle east today reflects Winston Churchill’s description of Russia in October 1939: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” Perhaps Russia is the key to the Middle East today.
Neither agreement ever took into account the tribal nature of the region that will continue to dog the Middle East until new maps emerge, or complete Armageddon is achieved. Until that day, America will continue to find itself under the threat of attack from a region that really doesn’t offer the US much. So are we safer after 15 years of war? Stay tuned!
© Copyright 2016 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved
President Obama said that the Department of Veterans Affairs will begin the process of making it easier for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to get the treatment and benefits they need.
“Just as we have a solemn responsibility to train and equip our troops before we send them into harm’s way, we have a solemn responsibility to provide our veterans and wounded warriors with the care and benefits they’ve earned when they come home,” Obama said in a weekly radio address.
“We also know that for many of today’s troops and their families, the war doesn’t end when they come home,” Obama admitted. “Too many suffer from the signature injuries of today’s wars: post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury (TBI). And, too few receive the screening and treatment they need.”
For many returning war veterans they “have been stymied in receiving benefits” because they had to produce a plethora of paperwork and prove they suffered a traumatic event that caused PTSD. The President insisted that streamlining the process would “help both the veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, along with generations (veterans from other eras), who have served and sacrificed for the country.”
However the Chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) says soldiers shouldn’t prove they have PTSD, but they should have to prove they don’t. The Congressman has worked tirelessly on these issues and believes the military is letting down the soldiers by not decompressing these guys once they return from the battlefield.
The new PTSD regulations will relieve veterans from proving a single wartime moment that caused the hopelessness and fear. Now veterans only need to show evaluators they served in a region where there would be cause to fear the reprisal of terrorist attack.
“I don’t think our troops on the battlefield should have to take notes to keep for a claims application. And, I’ve met enough veterans to know that you don’t have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war,” Obama said.
The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Barry Searle concurs; “This requirement seems to be a step backward in an otherwise commendable move by the VA. Private healthcare providers should be given the opportunity to work with veterans and diagnose those who suffer from PTSD.”
Searle points out that if the VA has real concerns about the treatment methods of PTSD assessment standards, “it should create a certification process for private practitioners that would satisfy its requirements.”
If the government opened up returning veterans to the Tri-Care health program, which is similar to a PPO health care plan, the private sector doctors could alleviate the backlog for PTSD/TBI treatment.
“When the VA makes claims they have enough doctors on staff to take care of the PTSD cases they are wrong. I just went to the La Jolla, CA VA and they said there was a hiring freeze for psychiatrists,” Filner said. “It’s baloney; we don’t have enough psychiatrists to treat these guys and girls.”
One congressional analysis reportedly put the cost of the new changes at $5 billion
A senior department official said the price tag is “relatively small.” Under the older system bureaucrats claimed veterans eventually received the treatment they needed and hoped the new “stealthy process” would speed up the wait time. White House Senior staffers said the new process should also bring the cost of treating PTSD down.
The Veterans Affairs Department Secretary, Eric Shinseki complimented the new PTSD treatment process and said the new directive was another critical step forward in providing an easier process for combat veterans seeking health care treatment and disability compensation. The new VA regulation was published in the Federal Register last week.
“This nation has a solemn obligation to the men and women who have honorably served this country and suffer from the often devastating emotional wounds of war,” Secretary Shinseki said. “This final regulation goes a long way to ensure that veterans receive the benefits and services they need.”
By publishing a new regulation in the Federal Register it clears the way for the VA to simplify the process for a veteran to claim service connected PTSD immediately. In return the VA reduces the evidence needed if the trauma claimed by a veteran is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the veteran’s service.
Shinseki said the science-based regulation relies on evidence that concludes a veteran’s deployment into a war zone is link enough to increase the risk of developing PTSD.
Looking back at PTSD pitfalls
In the past, VA claims adjudicators were required to corroborate that a non-combat veteran actually experienced a stressor related to hostile military activity. The new rule simplifies the development that is required for these cases and will make it easier for those serving to receive the treatment they have been denied in the past.
However, it’s Rep. Filner’s view that the military “has a much deeper problem.” Filner also alludes to the stigma attached to PTSD. “The military doesn’t want to know the full extent of the problem; they just don’t want to know.”
Nevertheless the VA expects this new rule will decrease the time it takes the VA to decide access to care.
Shinseki claims there are more than 400,000 veterans currently receiving compensation benefits that are service connected for PTSD. Congressman Filner challenges this number and believes the number is much greater than anyone is willing to admit and the VA could not handle an influx in veterans coming forward.
In the private sector, PTSD has been a medically recognized anxiety disorder that can develop from seeing or experiencing an event that involves actual threatened death or serious injury to which a person responds with intense fear, helplessness or horror, and is not uncommon among war veterans.
Filner says he has been trying to encourage the military to add an eight week decompression course for all soldiers to attend. “Right now the veterans coming home are asked two questions to self assess a PTSD problem. On top of that many of the Commanding Officers tell them to mark no on the questionnaire so they can get home faster,” Filner explained.
The program Filner describes could take place at their home base with brothers in arms, family members and trained clinicians. “This would be a good dovetail with job training classes as well,” he said.
The costs led to the new VA regulation
The process of change within the giant bureaucracy that is Washington D.C. came about in part by testimony of Barton F. Stichman, Joint Executive Director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program.
“Under current law, VA has to expend more time and resources to decide PTSD claims than almost every other type of claim. A major reason that these claims are so labor intensive is that in most cases, VA believes that the law requires it to conduct an extensive search for evidence that may corroborate the veteran’s testimony that he experienced a stressful event during military service,” Stichman testified to at the House Veterans Committee.
“According to the VA, an extensive search for corroborating evidence is necessary even when the medical evidence shows that the veteran currently suffers from PTSD, and mental health professionals attribute the PTSD to stressful events that occurred during military service.”
“Often there is no corroborative evidence that can be found – not because the in-service stressful event did not occur – but because the military did not and does not keep detailed records of every event that occurred during periods of war in combat zones,” he concluded.
Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs conducted the hearing to discuss the compensation owed for mental health. The hearing addressed the difficulties veterans encounter when they are required to prove stressors in order to receive service-connected compensation for PTSD that occurred as a result of their military service.
A different outcome for British soldiers with PTSD
When looking into PTSD issues in other countries, a report shows the British soldiers are far less likely to demonstrate symptoms of PTSD. Why?
While the numbers of U.S. soldiers suffering PTSD land somewhere in the 20-30 percent range, depending who you talk to, only four percent of British soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan exhibit symptoms of PTSD even though both countries’ warzone veterans have seen comparable levels of violent combat, according to an English study.
“This is truly a landmark study, in its size and rigor, and the findings are surprisingly positive,” said Richard J. McNally, a psychologist at Harvard, told the New York Times. “The big mystery is why we find these cross-national differences.”
Researchers for the British study analyzed answers to mental health questionnaires given to Royal Army, Navy and Air Force members. The results showed that approximately 20 percent suffered some form of mental health issues, including moderate anxiety and depression. Another 13 percent admitted to drinking heavily. However, few were diagnosed with PTSD.
Once researchers began to dissect reasons for the PTSD discrepancies, possible reasons included the use of reservist soldiers and differences in ‘dwell time.’
The mental health study found British reservists were more likely to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Another factor that could determine the successful processing of PTSD may be the fact that British troops serve six-month tours and do not spend more than 12 months in combat in every 36 months.
As far as their American soldier counterparts, U.S. military personnel, depending on their service, can serve more than 12 months at a time with only a single year in between combat deployments.
Living with the aftermath of TBI and PTSD
A common thread soldiers share is their fear of losing loved ones; “Will they still want me.”
It’s a legitimate fear as many end up losing their significant others once the hard work of rehab, reality sets in and they learn their lives will never return to pre-deployment fitness.
“I was in a coma for 12 days and now I’m like a six-year-old in a man’s body,” says S. Sgt., Jay Wilkerson, U.S. Army barracks, Iraq. He suffers from a closed-wound head trauma commonly known as TBI one of the signature wounds of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.
“Sometimes I can’t remember my own kid’s names… I feel stupid, but my brother helps me. My son’s name is Manny and my daughter is Precious,” Wilkerson tearfully repeats.
His grueling treatment schedule includes memory groups, cognitive-skills training, physical therapy as well as psychology appointments; “All these appointments are meant to build me up and get me where I used to be.”
The Army soldier acknowledges that war is war and no medals will bring him a normal life again, but at least he is making the effort and hopes to regain a sense “normalcy.”
That life of “normalcy” often includes using nonprofit groups like Help Wounded Troops or Wounded Warrior Foundations. They step in when the Veteran Affairs and Department of Defense fall short.
It’s not unusual for wounded veterans to seek financial help while waiting for benefits to kick in. Many soldiers don’t know there are advocacy organizations out there that can assist them with the mountain of paperwork the VA requires. During the sometimes lengthy paperwork process military families can lose their homes, cars and jobs.
These nonprofit organizations provide soldiers with money to pay for rent, electricity, food or even car payments. Without the support from a generous American population these wounded warriors may otherwise fall through the cracks and disappear into homelessness.
The bottom line for the VA to consider is the need to speed up an effective TBI/PTSD treatment program. The process must ensure that there are no military service members left behind or undertreated.
Just as there have been technological breakthroughs in medical treatments, there have been significant advancements in treating TBI and PTSD. The all-volunteer troops serving in a long Middle East war deserve to be treated with the best PTSD/TBI protocol available and then the treatment plan needs to be individually tailored to meet each soldiers needs, according to Dr. Mark Wiederhold who has developed a new virtual-reality based PTSD program.
This often proves the private-sector lays claim to the most up-to-date treatment methods.
However, the VA bureaucracy doesn’t act quickly enough or at all when providing the best care for returning war veterans. One program with a stellar record is Mt. Sinai hospital in New York City. Their TBI treatment employs a rigorous-daily cognitive therapy without the use of drugs.
Another highly-successful, private sector PTSD treatment facility is located in San Diego, California. The Virtual Reality Medical Center uses virtual reality computer generated programs with physiological readings to monitor soldier’s reactions to incidents that cause them severe anxiety. The success for the $4-6 thousand program is 85 percent. However, the doctors running the virtual reality retraining sessions are working overtime to find ways to improve their success rate to more than 90 percent.
Side affect of war – suicide among soldiers on the rise
Army suicide statistics just released leave military officials trying to reverse a grim trend in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
A recent report showed that 32 soldiers killed themselves in June; it is the highest number of suicides in a single month since the Vietnam era. At least 21 took their lives while on active duty and the other 11 were inactive National Guard or Army Reserve.
The Army admits seven of the soldiers killed themselves while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There were no trends to any one unit, camp, post or station,” Col. Chris Philbrick said, of the Army’s suicide prevention task force. “I have no silver bullet to answer the question why.”
With no solutions on the horizon Philbrick said his department will: “look for opportunities we have been facing in terms of the challenges in the Army and continue to prevent these events from taking place.”
There is no doubt that streamlining the TBI/PTSD screening process is a step in the right direction, but what returning war zone soldiers really need is their quality of life.
Oftentimes when soldiers are separated from military service they lose extra-combat pay, housing allotments and their Tri-Care health insurance. The loss of income can split families apart, especially if there is a serious injury to contend with.
A country at war must live up to all the promises they offer military personnel. These brave soldiers should not have to lose their quality of life along with any means to earn an honorable income for their families.
America has done better, but as the “War on Terror” enters its ninth year, it must do better- the all volunteer forces are not expendable on any level.