Tuesday, August 31, 2021


"Final Troops Withdraw from Afghanistan, Ending Evacuation -- and the War" by Stephen Losey and Steve Beynon, Military.com 8/30/2021

The U.S. military's evacuation from the main airport in Kabul has ended -- along with the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan.

U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie said Monday the last C-17 Globemaster III took off minutes before midnight Kabul time -- the beginning of Aug. 31, which was the United States' deadline for withdrawal.  For the first time since late 2001, weeks after the Sept.  11 attacks, there are now no U.S. service members in Afghanistan.

"There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure," McKenzie said.  "We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out, but I think if we'd stayed another 10 days, we wouldn't have gotten everybody out that we wanted to get out."

Reports of celebratory gunfire from the Taliban surfaced online after the final C-17 took off from Kabul.

The final weeks of the war were among the military's hardest, as thousands of troops rushed in to hold Hamid Karzai International Airport as the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed with shocking speed and the Taliban rapidly filled the void.

The unprecedented airlift effort to rush to safety Americans and Afghan allies -- the largest noncombatant evacuation operation in U.S. military history -- saw some 123,000 people evacuated in all.  Since Aug. 14, more than 79,000 civilians were ferried out by the U.S. military on one flight after another -- primarily C-17s, their massive cargo bays at times packed with hundreds of refugees.

The evacuation effort saw the last flag-draped coffins from the war arrive at Dover Air Force Base in DelawareThe final U.S. casualties came Aug. 26, when a suicide bomber struck at the airport's Abbey Gate, packed with U.S. troops and many Afghans trying to get through.  The bomber killed 13 troops -- 11 Marines, a sailor and a soldier, wounded more than 20 other troops, and killed or wounded hundreds of Afghans.

It marked one of the deadliest days of the war for the U.S., with less than a week to go, and brought the final toll of service members killed there to 2,461.  There were also more than 20,000 troops wounded in Afghanistan.

"My heart is broken over the losses we sustained three days ago," McKenzie said.

The Islamic State's Afghanistan branch, ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attack.  The U.S. responded with two drone strikes: one on Friday that killed two people the military claimed were ISIS organizers, and one on Sunday it said targeted a car in Kabul carrying explosive material intended for another attack.  The latter airstrike may have resulted in up to 10 civilian casualties, according to reporting by The New York Times that was not immediately disputed by the Pentagon.

ISIS-K and the Taliban are in the midst of their own war, prompting a pseudo-alliance between the U.S. and the Taliban, who have been killing one another for 20 years.  McKenzie described the Taliban as "pragmatic," saying the terror group had a vested interest in the U.S. leaving quickly, thus motivating it to try and facilitate a smooth withdrawal by securing areas outside of the airport.

He added that diplomatic efforts to help remaining U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave will continue, though the military's role in the evacuation process is done.

Just as the evacuation began, the desperation of some Afghans hoping to escape impending Taliban rule caused an accident that pushed the White House to send in more troops to secure the airfield.  On Aug. 16, many desperate Afghans ran onto the airport's grounds and surrounded a C-17 that had just landed to unload equipment.  The C-17's crew, concerned about the crowd of people approaching the aircraft, opted to take off again.  Afghans ran alongside the plane and clung to its sides, some falling to their deaths, and the body of one Afghan was later found in the aircraft's landing gear.

Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson were among the last U.S. officials to leave Afghanistan.  They departed on the final C-17 flight, covered by what McKenzie described as "overwhelming U.S. airpower overhead, should there have been any challenge to our departure."

At the peak of the airlift last week, C-17s were taking off roughly every 45 minutes, and more than 19,000 people were flown out on a single day.  On average, the military evacuated more than 7,500 civilians per day, McKenzie said.

The U.S. military evacuated more than 6,000 American civilians, which the Pentagon said represented the majority of those who wanted to leave.  The military estimated that only a few hundred wishing to leave remain.

McKenzie said the civilian evacuation ended about 12 hours before the final withdrawal.  Some equipment was brought out on the final flights, but other equipment -- such as the Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar, or C-RAM, system and various aircraft and vehicles -- was left behind permanently disabled.

The sudden collapse of Afghanistan's American-backed government, and the emergency evacuation triggered by the deteriorating security situation, have drawn both political attacks for opponents of the Biden administration, and finger-pointing within.  Roughly 2,500 U.S. troops had remained in Afghanistan when the Trump administration left office, a number the Biden administration reduced to about 650 before the Taliban easily conquered Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden quickly mobilized 6,000 troops, including the 10th Mountain and 82nd Airborne Division, to secure the airport and aid in the evacuation that followed.

"No words from me could possibly capture the full measure of sacrifices and accomplishments of those who serve, nor the emotions they're feeling at this moment," McKenzie said.  "But I will say that I'm proud that both my son and I have been a part of it."

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

MILITARY.COM - Afghan War, Green Beret Ryan Hendrickson

"Afghanistan: The War That Made War Normal" by Stephen Losey, Military.com 8/23/2021

Green Beret Ryan Hendrickson didn't see any massive fireball from the improvised explosive device that nearly took his right leg during his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.

He didn't even really hear an explosion -- just a "pop" in his damaged ears.

But there was one thing he could hear, loud and clear, as he lay on the ground in a cloud of ammonia and with bones sticking out of his shattered leg: The Taliban, celebrating and congratulating one another over intercepted radio traffic, on what they thought was the death of an American soldier.

The memory of their laughter drove Hendrickson over the following 18 months, as he defied the odds to save his leg, recover both physically and emotionally, and then in 2012 return to Afghanistan for several more deployments, eventually earning a Silver Star.

"My mindset was, you bloodied me up, and you hurt me, but you didn't beat me," Hendrickson, who retired as a sergeant first class in 2020, said in an August interview.  "And I'm coming back."

Hendrickson was just one of many who experienced trauma, but he signed up to head back into a campaign still going years after his injury in what became a new normal -- 20 years of constant war.

The war in Afghanistan -- by far the longest in U.S. history -- is all but over, aside from the frantic evacuation of tens of thousands of Americans, Afghans and other civilians from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

But it has changed the U.S. military, in ways that will linger.  Those who saw the war up close -- including veterans of Afghanistan and current and retired generals and senior officials -- agree that the war didn't break the military.  But it did bend it, testing the men and women sent to fight, and the weapons and hardware they relied upon to survive in Afghanistan's harsh regions.

Retired Gen. Joe Votel, who headed both U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command, saw "the fraying of the force" that resulted from the numerous deployments special operators shouldered.

After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, continual war became a regular part of life for the military, even normalized, in a way it never had before -- or was meant to.  When death, trauma, family separations and other sufferings inherent to conflict became part of the day-to-day, the effects on the military extended to everything from family strife to physical and mental wounds.  In some rare cases, most notoriously Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' 2012 massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, that shift to the mundane included a blurring of morality and the lines separating the good guys from the bad.

It led the military to refine the ways it fights and resulted in unprecedented advancements in tactics, technology, medical treatments and equipment.

But it also took a significant toll on the force.  There were 2,448 U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan, and at least 20,722 wounded, some of whom will deal with those injuries for the rest of their lives.  For some of the troops who deployed, it led to trauma, struggles with mental health and moral injuries, and strained family lives.

That is a price the military has not yet fully reckoned with; it is still struggling to figure out how to do so.

"When you deploy people into continuous combat operations, they're going back to Afghanistan, or back to Iraq, or they've been there multiple times, sometimes they have a tendency to develop the attitude that, 'I have done this before, I know what I'm doing,'" Votel said.  "And so they become a little bit detached from the situation.  And that's where you begin to have some of these challenges.  People forget about the human aspect of this.  ...  They forget that they're dealing with people on the ground."

The act of taking a life, or firing weapons where civilians are nearby -- the sorts of moral decisions that can be incredibly difficult -- became normal.

"The things that aren't supposed to be routine, become routine, and then you begin to think of them as routine," Votel said.  "That's something you really have to guard against."

The Toll of the Conflict

The war exposed some of the military's vulnerabilities, including the alarming growth in deaths by suicide, which have claimed more than four times as many troops and veterans post-9/11 than actual combat -- and how special operators' long and repeated deployments affected them and their families.

In January 2020, in the wake of multiple troubling and embarrassing incidents, Special Operations Command released a "comprehensive review" of its force that concluded the community had grown a culture that prioritized deployments and getting the job done above all else, leading to an environment where ethical lapses could happen.

Votel said the Ranger Regiment dealt with this problem by more aggressively telling Rangers to "sit this one out."

It's often not easy for them to receive the message that they should skip a mission.

"That's why these people join; that's what they want to do," Votel said.

Russell Parker, a Marine Raider who repeatedly deployed to Afghanistan and retired as a lieutenant colonel in June, said there's no question deployments take a toll on families.  He was in Afghanistan nearly 11 years ago when his daughter was born, while a family friend was by his wife's side.  He met his daughter after he got home, but then left again on another deployment just after her third birthday -- and he said his deployment burdens were light compared to others he served with.

"If you're a guy or gal who's deployed every 12 or even 24 months, for six to 12 months, that's a whole lot of missed birthdays," Parker said.  "Which leads to a huge burden on the stay-at-home spouse.  ...  And either the family can absorb that, or over time, they decide we just can't [and] they have to move on without you."

It was the special operations community and the Air Force that were most consistently called upon to fight on Afghanistan's rocky, dusty terrain, and in the skies above.  The cost of that near-constant combat added up.

Aside from the initial invasion of Afghanistan and periodic surges, such as former President Barack Obama's surge that began in 2009 and relied heavily upon conventional forces, special operations troops bore the heaviest burden of the war, said Wesley Morgan, journalist and author of "The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan's Pech Valley."

The reliance on special operations forces in Afghanistan was, in many ways, a double-edged sword, Morgan said.  It dealt a significant amount of wear and tear on them, physically and mentally.

But Afghanistan was also a crucible for special operations, in which forces like the Rangers grew in size, responsibilities and capabilities.

The special operations force is "simply unrecognizable from what it was before," Morgan said.  "It's so much larger, its capabilities are so much greater.  Its combat experience is so much greater, by orders of magnitude, than anything that was there before.  And by the same token, of course, the wear and tear is greater as well."

Special operators were in Afghanistan practically constantly from 2001, training Afghan troops, building relationships with village leaders, and going on missions against everyone from the Taliban to al-Qaida to the Islamic State offshoot ISIS-Khorasan.

That "never say no" mindset carried a significant price, in deaths, woundings and the mental toll of deployment after deployment.

The military didn't see "complete, total meltdowns" in special operations organizations due to the high pace of deployments, Votel said -- partly because it recognized the stress it was placing on troops and took steps to better control deployments.

"Maybe we should have done that earlier, a little bit more effectively early on," Votel said.  "But I don't think we brought organizations to their knees."

For decades, the military culture had been reluctant at best to encourage troops to look after their mental health properly.  Parker said the tremendous mental health needs caused by the war in Afghanistan -- along with shifting generational attitudes toward mental health -- forced a sea change in how the military addresses it.

Programs such as Preservation of the Force and Families -- which brought psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals into direct contact with special operators to help them deal with the pressures of deployment and the injuries they sustained -- helped, Parker said.

Now if someone is in trouble, he said, "it's all hands on deck.  I've got a military family life coordinator, I've got a social worker, I've got a psychologist, I've got a chaplain, I've got an MD -- pick a modality of treatment, and I've either got them sitting around the table with me to advise me on that person right now ... or I have the ability to reach out and find the discipline I need.

"We saved lives with that," Parker said.  "We literally arrested suicide[s], right before they happened by getting these reviews done."

War as Opportunity

Perpetual combat wore on both man and machine, but it also served as an unprecedented testing ground.  The conflict spurred extraordinary advancements in many elements of fighting war -- everything from tactics and technology, to how the military talks about and treats both mental health and physical wounds, which helped save Hendrickson's leg and allow him to return to the battlefield.

"I don't think there's any question that tactical-level, individual soldier, Marine, sailor, airman, skills are light years beyond where they were when I joined the Marine Corps in 1994," Parker said.  "The advances in equipment, the advances in capabilities, the advances in tactics, techniques and procedures ...  you almost can't discuss them in the same conversation."

Things like drones went from military afterthought to critical hardware.

"Look at drone technology and where we [were] in 2001, and where we've ended up," Votel said.  "You see more and more effort now, of people reaching out and really grabbing onto technology and helping them leverage our ability to pursue our national security objectives."

Over the years in Afghanistan, the Air Force refined its process for delivering airstrikes, with munitions guided to their targets by troops on the ground.  Scores of Air Force award citations since 2001 describe the heroism of airmen under heavy fire, simultaneously calling in airstrikes while firing back at Taliban or other foes, sometimes as they helped wounded teammates or while they themselves were injured.

Morgan said the growth of a generation of Army soldiers who came in shortly before or after 9/11, many of whom deployed repeatedly to Afghanistan, has resulted in a cadre of battle-tested leaders, the likes of which have not been seen since Vietnam.

"Afghanistan comes up over and over and over and over again," Morgan said.  "The sheer length of experience that certain parts of the Army, in particular light infantry units and the Rangers, have had in Afghanistan really means that for all of these senior leaders, for the infantry in particular, Afghanistan has been a formative experience at many points in their careers and lives.  ...  If you have stayed in the Army, you've done Afghanistan."

Hendrickson points to the considerable strides made in medical care -- particularly in treating trauma and saving severely damaged limbs -- that resulted from the war, and saved his own leg.

After his teammates rescued him -- and after hearing the Taliban's rejoicing at his wounding -- Hendrickson flew to the hospital at Landstuhl Air Base in Germany.

When they transferred him to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, he was warned he likely would lose his leg.

"I just had a chunk of meatloaf down there," Hendrickson said, not to mention E-coli from the Helmand RiverHe tried to prepare himself emotionally for life with one leg by placing his undamaged left leg outside his hospital bed covers, and hiding his right leg up to the knee with the blanket.

His right leg will never again be what it once was.  But the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis, or IDEO -- a brace that provides more support to his damaged leg -- allows him to run, carry heavy loads of gear on a march, or drag wounded teammates out of the line of fire.  Without that brace, which he wore on his deployments beginning in 2012, he might have had to have his leg amputated if he wanted to do much beyond walking around the house.

"So many people are getting a second chance at saving a limb," he said.

Flying Aircraft to the Edge

The strain of the war also began to materialize on the Air Force in recent years, as airframes showed their age and airmen found it harder and harder to keep them flying.

The B-1B Lancer bomber in particular, which now has an average age of more than 33 years, became "overextended" in the Middle East, Air Force Global Strike Command head Gen. Timothy Ray said in 2019.

"We saw issues in the B-1 because we're just beating the heck out of them, deploying them, deploying them," Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten told lawmakers during his nomination hearing in August 2019.  At that time, Hyten said, just six B-1s out of the fleet of 62 were fully mission-capable.

Though those numbers recovered somewhat, they were still far from where they should be.  In 2019 -- the latest year for which statistics are available -- the Air Force recorded a 46% mission-capable rate for the B-1, meaning at any given time, less than half of the fleet was ready to fly and carry out missions.

While that problem may not have been as severe in other airframes, it was a common issue throughout the fleet in recent years as the Air Force conducted a sustained air war, Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, who was head of Air Combat Command until his retirement in 2017, said in a July interview.  Fighters, bombers, surveillance aircraft, tankers -- practically no type of aircraft was unaffected.

"We flew the wings off of every platform, whether it was AWACS, or JSTARS, or Rivet Joints, or F-15s and F-16s, or B-52s, or KC-135s and KC-10s," Carlisle said.  "Did we run them ragged in the Middle East?  Yeah.  Did they step up?  More than you can ever imagine.  What our young women and men did in uniform across all the services is extraordinary."

In an Aug. 13 interview, Ray acknowledged the toll so much air combat has taken on his bombers -- but said it's what they were meant to do.

"The safest place for an airplane to be is parked, but that's not why we have them," he said.  "It's a very old fleet.  What really should impress you is that the team can keep it going, when I think this challenge would have crushed any other Air Force.  ...  It was difficult, [but] we saved American lives."

Ray said that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown has taken significant steps to balance how the service uses its aircraft by better prioritizing missions.

"We can do anything; we just can't do everything," Ray said.

But the military's continual need for surveillance in the Middle East led the Air Force to make trade-offs on modernization that might not be what's necessary in a war against a major power, Carlisle said.

With the U.S. military's primary foes in the late 2000s being the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents, he said, there was little need for an advanced fighter with stealth capability -- but a tremendous need for drones that could linger over areas and either watch or strike.

"Every corner of the Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria campaign wanted a Reaper overhead to give him the ...  'unblinking eye,'" said Carlisle, who after retiring became president and CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association, which counts defense contractors among its members and describes itself as a nonprofit group looking to educate the public on aspects of national security.

So in 2011, the F-22 Raptor fighter was canceled, with only 186 of the originally proposed 750 stealth aircraft now in the fleet.  Meanwhile, the Air Force set a punishing pace for airmen to fly MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, which in 2015 briefly hit a high of 65 combat air patrols per day -- a crushing operations tempo, and a significant investment in resources and manpower.

That balancing act made sense at the time but might not pay off in a war against China, Carlisle said.  The Predators are now retired, and Reapers -- though capable drones -- would be slow and easy pickings for Chinese radar and anti-aircraft systems.  Meanwhile, an F-22 restart is not in the cards.

A Second Chance in a Long War

After Hendrickson nearly lost his leg, he made jokes about being a pirate with a peg leg the following Halloween.  But underneath, he was wracked with guilt and feelings that he had let his brothers in arms down by not being there anymore.  The chances of him walking unassisted again were against him, let alone serving as a Green Beret in combat.  He began replaying in his mind his steps before the explosion, Monday-morning quarterbacking, and filled up with self-directed anger.

On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, Hendrickson and his unit launched a mission to clear the Chutu Valley in Uruzgan province, along the Helmand River.  Early on the next day, as the sky began to lighten, his team moved toward its first set of compounds, which were known to be used by the Taliban.

The team's interpreter had exposed himself to danger, so Hendrickson went over to the compound to pull him back.  Something moved fast and caught Hendrickson's eye -- he wasn't sure if it was an animal or a person running -- and he took a step forward in the entryway to see what it was.

His right foot stepped on a pressure plate, and the IED detonated.

He didn't feel anything -- not at first.  He hit the ground and couldn't figure out what had happened.  The dust and ammonia from the explosive swirled and made it impossible to breathe.  If he didn't stand up and get out of there, he thought, he would suffocate to death.

"My brief time on an ODA [Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha] was cut short because I decided to peek around that corner, like an idiot," Hendrickson said.  "Then rage sets in -- 'I'm so stupid, why did I do that.'"

Depression set in, and at times, thoughts of suicide even crossed his mind.

But he pushed through his depression, and spent all of 2011 rehabilitating, motivated in part by his memory of the Taliban celebrating, and a question his dad asked him: When he is an old man and looks back, will he be ashamed because he allowed the injury to define him?  Or will he be proud because he used the challenge to make himself stronger?

He returned to Afghanistan alongside his fellow Green Berets -- with his leg in his IDEO brace -- in March 2012.  On another deployment in February 2016, he rallied his team and fought back against a heavy Taliban ambush in Baghlan Province, through machine-gun, rocket-propelled grenade, sniper and mortar fire, ultimately receiving the Silver Star for his bravery.

Hendrickson first joined the Navy four years before 9/11.  He deployed to the Persian Gulf, and later moved to the Air Force and deployed to Iraq.  He finally transferred to the Army, became a Green Beret, and deployed to Afghanistan for the first time with the Seventh Special Forces Group in May 2010, during the surge.  He continued with deployments to Afghanistan after nearly losing his leg, with the war still going while he rehabbed, and he wore the uniform until January 2020.  In his more than 22 years of service, 18 came during years of war.

Like many service members, Hendrickson doesn't describe his combat experience, or even his injury, in terms of shock.  They're points that are part of his long history serving in the military, the sorts of experiences that could be recounted by numerous other service members forged in a generation of combat.

They're the new normal.

And Hendrickson views even the near-loss of a limb as having a silver lining.

"Getting blown up was one of the best things that's happened to me," he said.  "I used it [the leg situation] to my benefit.  Yeah, I got some cool scars and whatnot.  But I've become a better man because of the situation I went through."

Monday, August 23, 2021

OPINION - Gerson and Capehart 8/20/2021

"Gerson and Capehart on Afghanistan, school mask mandatesPBS NewsHour 8/20/2021

SUMMARY:  Washington Post columnists Jonathan Capehart and Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the politicization of mask mandates in Florida’s schools, and around the country.

Judy Woodruff (PBS NewsHour):  Americans watched this week as troubling scenes unfolded in Afghanistan and the Delta variant continued its deadly sweep across the country.

Here to talk about the implications of this are Jonathan Capehart and Michael Gerson.  That is Jonathan Capehart and Michael Gerson, both columnists — I had to repeat myself — both columnists for The Washington Post.


Judy Woodruff:  It's very good to have both of you.  David Brooks, we should say, is away.

Welcome to you, Michael.

Michael Gerson, Washington Post:  Thanks.

Judy Woodruff:  But, Jonathan, let me start with you.

Afghanistan all over the news this week.  We just keep watching these heartbreaking, disturbing pictures of people outside the Kabul Airport.  We have now heard from the President several times this week.  What do you make at this point of how the President and his team are handling this?

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post:  It seems as though the President and his team are trying to do a better job of explaining and also a better job of explaining and handling the situation in Kabul than they did in the opening hours of this.

It is horrifying to see people so desperate that they would hang on to a roaring Air Force jet down the runway.  The video I woke up to this morning of I guess it was a Marine pulling a baby out of the crowd and over the barbed wire, heart-wrenching.

But I think what we saw on Monday with the President's speech, what we saw today in the East Room with the President's remarks and taking questions from the press is a President who is resolute in the decision that he made, the horrifying images and the news that we keep getting notwithstanding.

And when I look at the President and listen to him, two things come to mind.  One is, he is where the American — unfortunately, he is where the American public is and has been for years, which is, they have long wanted the United States out of Iraq, despite polling…

Judy Woodruff:  Out of Afghanistan.

Jonathan Capehart:  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  Out of — yes, thank you, Judy.  ....Out of Afghanistan.

So that's one.

Two, when he speaks as — about this issue, most people look at him as a commander — the commander in chief.  But when I look at him, I see a commander in chief who is the father of late service member.  So this is not foreign to him.  He has a child who went to war.  And, as commander in chief, he has to send men and women, sons and daughters, into war.

And the last point I will make on this, that's important, because only 1 percent of the U.S. population is involved in some way in the military.  This is something that former Secretary of Defense Bob [Robert] Gates used to hammer away at…

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

Jonathan Capehart:  … that we — more people need to be involved in defending this country.

And so I put all of that out there as a way of trying to at least, in some way, put the President's — I call it resoluteness — I think a lot of other people might call it stubbornness — on this issue into some context.

Judy Woodruff:  How do you piece together what you see this week?

Michael Gerson:  Well, I was kind of collecting the historical analogies that people were using this week.

And you had the Bay of Pigs by Leon Panetta, the former head of — White House Chief of Staff.  I heard the fall of Saigon, obviously, Dunkirk, which would be a little better outcome.  Also, from the British, the Suez crisis, in which Eisenhower really abandoned his allies.

There's a deep feeling of abandonment.  So, it's not a — when you have those examples, it's not a great week.  And some of the attributes, the best things about who this President is, his empathy, his competence, his way with our allies, seemed inoperative at the first part of this week.

In fact, I think that there's some damage done here to the President's reputation, basically because he was elected as a steady hand.  The purpose was to be a contrast to the constant drama of the Trump years.  These were people that are supposed to be a highly professional team, highly effective group of people.

And when you squander something that's central to your public identity, I think that it hurts.

Judy Woodruff:  And no question what you're saying about the President.

At the same time, Jonathan, as we heard from Sarah Chayes in her interview a few minutes ago with William Brangham, there's a lot more to this story.  There's a lot of history here.  We're going to be dissecting this for a long time.

And yet we still have to explain to ourselves, how did it happen?  How did it happen?

Jonathan Capehart:  Right.  How did it happen?

Craig Whitlock, our colleague at The Washington Post, in 2009 wrote a story that's now a book called "The Afghanistan Papers," where he happened upon transcripts of a series of interviews that were done with service members with the — I think it was the Office of Inspector General, where they never — they weren't talking to a reporter.

They were talking to colleagues, where they were perfectly blunt about the mismanagement, how horrible things were going, how the generals were saying one thing to the American public, a rosy picture, painting a rosy picture, and yet what was happening on the ground was the complete — was the complete opposite.

What we're finding out today, The Wall Street Journal had a story about this cable that came from State Department employees in Kabul saying directly, in the dissent channel, hey, this is not going well.  The situation is deteriorating.

And the State Department spokesperson said, yes, the secretary of state saw it.  He took it under advisement.  He may have made comments on it.

So the idea that they did not see this coming, I think to Michael's point….

Judy Woodruff:  Yes.

Jonathan Capehart:  …..  really dings the President on the competence issue, on the experience issue.

How could someone running for President on the record that Biden — that the President has, botch something like this so royally?

Judy Woodruff:  And picking up on that, Michael, I mean, Congress is going to be asking those questions, we think, as early as next week.

Michael Gerson:  No, that's absolutely true.  I think there are going to be a lot of questions about the how we got here, because this was a fiasco of planning.  And there were unforeseen elements here.

I would say one thing, though, having been in the White House in some moments like this, that I would like to maybe push back a little bit.  It's hard.  When you're in one of these moments — I saw in the interview with Stephanopoulos this week, where that…

Judy Woodruff:  With the President.

Michael Gerson:  Right — mentioned the example of the plane that you were talking about, the image.

And the President's response was, that was four or five days ago.  It was two days ago.  But it feels like four or five when you're in that kind of environment.

You have limited information, have to make real-time decisions.  So I respect people that do this job as well.  It's not — it's not hard — it's not easy.

Judy Woodruff:  There's going to be a lot of dissecting and questions asked and demanding of answers.

I also want to turn to the story that we just saw John Yang reporting on, Jonathan.  And that's this raging debate around the country about mask mandates.  You have got the Delta variant out there.  You have got parents worried, educators worried about teachers and students.  You have got a number of governors, Republican governors, who are starting to impose mandates.

But then you have got governors in Florida and Texas, Arizona, Republicans, saying no.  And they're getting into fights with school boards.

Explain the arguments here.  I mean, who's got the right argument at this point?


Jonathan Capehart:  I think that's a leading question.


Jonathan Capehart:  Look, the Republican governors, Governor Abbott [Texas] and Governor DeSantis in Florida, should be ashamed of themselves, what they are doing.

They are playing with people's lives.  They are playing politics with people's lives.  When you have teachers saying, please let us make the decision, don't stop us from making — requiring children to wear masks, it's not a matter of just the children's health.  It's the teachers' health as well.  It's the health of the school community.

And the idea that these governors are actually getting in the way, and the President not naming them, but saying, if you're not going to do the right thing, then at least get out of the way.  And, instead, they are hurling themselves in the middle of this, playing politics.  Maybe there's 2024 ambitions out there, but while they're playing politics with the lives of the people in their states and with children's lives, and it's outrageous.

Judy Woodruff:  And you do have parents, as we heard in John Yang's report, Michael, who are resisting.

Michael Gerson:  No, I think that's true.

I mean, Republicans have a very difficult circumstance here.  Basic public health measures, things like masking and this — vaccine requirements, these are not absurd or great violations of individual liberty — they're just the normal way that you oppose disease — have become deeply controversial in a significant portion of the Republican coalition.

It's as though you have — an important part of your coalition is just saying, well, we think that trash collection is a socialist plot, and, therefore, we oppose it.

It's a an extraordinary circumstance.  These people are responding to very weak real social pressures, the Republican governors, or political pressures.  They're making absolutely terrible decisions.  But I think the Republican coalition has some serious issues here, when that's what your demand is, that it's treated like a culture war issue, when in fact it's a public health issue.

Judy Woodruff:  And you do have Republican governors, Jonathan, like, what, Asa Hutchinson

Jonathan Capehart:  Right.

Judy Woodruff:  … in Arkansas, who has changed his mind.  I mean, he's openly said I should have done this sooner.

Jonathan Capehart:  Right.

And he's the only one really we can name, when it should be more than just Governor Hutchinson.  It should be — President, former President Trump should come out there and say, get the vaccine, wear a mask.  If you love me, I need you to hang around for whatever I might do, but at least to be a part of the solution, and not continue to be the problem, because one of the reasons why masks have become such an issue, vaccine — getting the vaccine has become such an issue, is because Donald Trump made it a political issue.

Judy Woodruff:  And then you have members of Congress, Michael, who have made a big deal out of the fact they have been required in the House of Representatives to wear masks.

And a number of them are saying:  I won't do it.

You now have senators, prominent — three prominent — well, they're all prominent.


Judy Woodruff:  All three — but three United States senators have — who have been vaccinated have come down with breakthrough infections.

Michael Gerson:  I think some of it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what public health is.

I mean, this is the kind of issue where we all succeed or fail together.  You know, the goal here is the aggregate good.  And talking about rights-based language in this context is really a misunderstanding of what the issue is.

Judy Woodruff:  Well, it's hard to believe some of what we're seeing out there.

Michael Gerson, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both.

Jonathan Capehart:  Thanks, Judy.

Michael Gerson:  Sure.  Thank you.

CALIFORNIA - Burns, Generational Destruction

"‘Nearly every acre’ in California has potential to burn, state fire official warnsPBS NewsHour 8/19/2021


SUMMARY:  Hot, dry conditions continue to fuel over a dozen wildfires in California, mostly in the state's northern quarter.  Fire officials said they were seeing a "generational destruction of forests."  Six of the seven largest fires on record in California have happened in 2020 or 2021, and at the current rate, fires this year are expected to burn more land than they did last year.  Lisa Desjardins reports.

POLICE REFORM - Qualified Immunity

"Can qualified immunity and police accountability coexist?  Two experts weigh inPBS NewsHour 8/18/2021

My answer, NO!  You either enforce the law on everyone or there is no law.


SUMMARY:  Qualified immunity protects police from lawsuits if they harm people while on the job.  Advocates want it to end, but dropping it from police reform talks may make it hard for a final bill to pass Congress.  Lisa Desjardins discusses it with Joanna Schwartz, professor of law at UCLA, and Lenny Kesten, a partner lawyer in Boston who has represented hundreds of police officers in civil rights cases.

2021 THE 19th SUMMIT - U. S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland

"Sec. Haaland on the significance of Native American representationPBS NewsHour 8/16/2021


SUMMARY:  The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom focused on stories of gender and politics, kicked off their Represents Summit Monday featuring various keynote speakers who will explore why representation matters in all areas like democracy, politics, sports, culture and more.  NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins will be interviewing Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland about the significance of her role.  Here's a sneak peak.

AFGHAN WAR - The Bad Ending

BACKGROUND:  The War in Afghanistan was a conflict that lasted from 2001 to 2021 following the United States invasion of Afghanistan, when the United States and its allies drove the Taliban from power in order to deny al-Qaeda a safe base of operations in Afghanistan after the '9/11' Attack.  It was the longest war in United States history, surpassing the Vietnam War by roughly five months.  After the initial objectives were completed, a coalition of over 40 countries (including all NATO members) formed a security mission in the country called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, succeeded by the Resolute Support Mission (RS) in 2014) of which certain members were involved in military combat allied with Afghanistan's government.  The war mostly consisted of Taliban insurgencies fighting against the Afghan Armed Forces and allied forces; the majority of ISAF/RS soldiers and personnel were American.

Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban, then-de facto ruling Afghanistan, hand over Osama bin Laden.

COMMENTS:  The problem with this war started in 2003 when George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other military officials took their eyes off the ball, Afghanistan, and focused on their paranoid obsession with Iraq and Saddam Hussein and shifted American military effort Iraq.

G.W.'s father, George H. W. Bush, conducted the Gulf War (Kuwait) against Iraq, with Arabs as part of the coalition, because he listened to the Arab nations that Saddam Hussein's war with Iran kept Iran occupied and prevented them from taking actions against Arab neighbors, including Afghanistan.

G.W. Bush should have totally focused on Afghanistan and left Iraq alone, all our military effort in Afghanistan would have been concentrated where it should have been.  My 'crystal ball' is no better than anyone else's, but I would guess America would not have been fighting a 20-year war in Afghanistan if this mistake hadn't been made.



"Inside the desperate, dangerous scramble to evacuate Kabul as Taliban seizes controlPBS NewsHour 8/16/2021


SUMMARY:  Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban and the frenzy for Afghans and diplomats trying to flee the country reached a fever pitch Monday.  Additional U.S. troops are on their way to help with evacuations as the Taliban retake power 20 years after the American invasion.  Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul, and congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports on the U.S. response.



"Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is an ‘American catastrophe,’ H.R. McMaster saysPBS NewsHour 8/16/2021


SUMMARY:  To examine the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and how it impacts U.S. interests, Judy Woodruff speaks to retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.  He was National Security Advisor during the Trump administration and also served as a military officer in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012, heading up a task force focused on combating corruption.  He is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.



"Does the fallout in Afghanistan hurt American credibility?PBS NewsHour 8/16/2021


SUMMARY:  To examine the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and how it impacts U.S. interests and credibility, Judy Woodruff speaks to Laurel Miller, former deputy and then acting U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2017.  She's now director of the Asia program at the International Crisis Group.



"Taliban leaders promise softer rule, but their actions send a different messagePBS NewsHour 8/17/2021


SUMMARY:  As the Taliban cemented their hold on Afghanistan Tuesday and spoke in detail about plans for the country, evacuations resumed.  The top American general in the Middle East visited the Kabul airport to observe U.S. operations, now with nearly 4000 troops on the ground.  But there is still fear about what the future may bring.  With support from the Pulitzer Center, Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul.



"Can the Taliban be trusted to keep their promise of reasonable rule?  Two experts weigh inPBS NewsHour 8/17/2021


SUMMARY:  To make sense of the Taliban's plans for Afghanistan, Lisa Desjardins speaks to Ali Jalali, a former Minister of the Interior who served in the Afghan National Army.  He's now a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.  And Torek Farhadi, an analyst and former advisor to the governor of Da Afghanistan Bank, ex-senior economic advisor to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.



"Despite Taliban promises, Afghan women fear losing their freedoms and livesPBS NewsHour 8/17/2021


SUMMARY:  The plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, many of whom gained new freedoms over the past 20 years, is now among the most important priorities now that the Taliban have taken over.  With the help of author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Stephanie Sy tells us the story of a woman who persevered under the Taliban, flourished over the last 20 years, and escaped the Taliban's return just 48 hours ago.



"Chaos, cries for help outside Kabul airport as Taliban crack down on protestersPBS NewsHour 8/18/2021


SUMMARY:  Protests against the Taliban turned deadly as the insurgents-turned-rulers of Afghanistan shot into crowds in two cities.  In Kabul, the airlift of American, allied and Afghan civilians continues as more American troops land at the airport and desperate crowds remain outside.  Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul — with the support of the Pulitzer Center — about the fear and hopelessness in Afghanistan.



"Taliban interrogating women activists, creating a ‘climate of fear and intimidation’PBS NewsHour 8/18/2021


SUMMARY:  William Brangham discusses the future for Afghan women under Taliban rule with Rina Amiri, who focused on conflict resolution in Afghanistan for the United Nations and the U.S.; now a senior fellow at New York University's Center for Global Affairs.  And Nura Sediqe, a public policy fellow at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and member of the Afghan-American coalition.



"Thousands of Afghans can’t access the airport.  Those who can recall Taliban threats, abusePBS NewsHour 8/19/2021


SUMMARY:  As more American and allied flights leave the capital of Afghanistan Thursday, an ever-growing panic descends on the city.  More American troops and marines arrived, but despite U.S. efforts, Taliban fighters are hindering movement toward the Kabul airport, leaving thousands of civilians trapped.  With support from the Pulitzer Center, Jane Ferguson reports on the situation in Kabul.



"Evacuating Afghans who helped U.S. a ‘high priority,’ national security official saysPBS NewsHour 8/19/2021


SUMMARY:  For a senior perspective from the Biden administration on the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and U.S. response and support of evacuation efforts, Judy Woodruff is joined by Jon Finer, the Deputy National Security Advisor.



"What went wrong in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?  Two lawmakers weigh inPBS NewsHour 8/19/2021


SUMMARY:  As more American and allied flights are leaving the capital of Afghanistan Thursday, an ever-growing panic descends on the city.  More American troops and marines arrived, but despite U.S. efforts,Taliban fighters are hindering movement toward the Kabul airport, leaving thousands of civilians trapped.  With support from the Pulitzer Center, Jane Ferguson reports on the situation in Kabul.



"Frustrated by ill-prepared evacuation plan, anxious Afghans rush airport gatesPBS NewsHour 8/20/2021


SUMMARY:  The U.S. says it has assurances from the Taliban that evacuations of Afghans who want to leave the country can continue after the withdrawal deadline of August 31st.  But the Taliban continues to harass and impede passage throughout Kabul.  Even with more evacuation flights out, throngs of people desperate to flee keep trying.  Jane Ferguson reports from Kabul, with support from the Pulitzer Center.



"The U.S. ignored corruption within the Afghan government.  Did that lead to its fall?PBS NewsHour 8/20/2021


SUMMARY:  As the Taliban faces protests and dissent across Afghanistan, William Brangham explores the collapse of the country's government — built and supported by the U.S. and allies for 20 years.  For a deeper perspective, Brangham speaks with Sarah Chayes, who covered the fall of the Taliban after 9/11 for NPR and served as advisor to several senior U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan.



"Afghans desperately try to flee; U.S. evacuation continuesPBS NewsHour 8/21/2021


SUMMARY:  Chaos at Kabul airport continued as thousands of Afghans desperately tried to flee the country.  At the same time, at least 17,000 people have been evacuated from the country, 2,500 of them American nationals.  The Taliban came a step closer to taking over officially as the group’s co-founder and political leader Mullah Baradar arrived in Kabul to begin talks about forming a new government.  NewsHour Correspondent Jane Ferguson reports with support from The Pulitzer Center.



It is a sad day for America and a tragic day for Afghans.  Ala be with them.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

FINAL COUNTDOWN - USS Nimitz in 1941

"How the Navy Stole the Show In a Movie About the USS Nimitz Going Back in Time to 1941" by Blake Stilwell, Military.com 8/4/2021

Ever wonder how history might have been different if the U.S. Navy had a modern supercarrier when the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor?  You (apparently) aren’t alone.  The 1980 film “The Final Countdown” (almost) shows us how it might have gone down.

Today, the USS Nimitz is the oldest-serving aircraft carrier in the world, first being launched in 1972.  Even today, it is one of the largest warships afloat.  In 1979, when “The Final Countdown” was filmed, it was something the Navy was excited to show off, so it agreed to fully support the movie.

The plot of “The Final Countdown” is pretty simple, especially for a movie about time travelWhile on a routine cruise, the carrier and its F-14 Tomcats experience an electrical storm and somehow find themselves transported back to Dec. 6, 1941, but aren’t immediately aware of that fact.

The ship loses radio contact with its command at Pearl Harbor, and Capt. Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas) is led to believe that the installation was destroyed by a nuclear first strike from the Soviet Union -- because whose first thought would be that they accidentally went back in time?

Yelland starts to suspect when aerial reconnaissance images come back showing the U.S. Navy’s Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor.  The suspicion intensifies when two F-14 Tomcats are dispatched to intercept a surface contact and instead watch a civilian yacht get strafed by Japanese Zeros.

The Zeros make their way toward the Nimitz, and we finally get to see the anachronistic Hollywood portrayal of F-14s taking down 1940s-era Japanese fighter aircraft.  Sadly, this is as close as we get to watching the Nimitz litter the ocean floor with the Japanese fleet.  Spoiler alert: Yelland decides to attack, but the time-travel storm returns and sends the ship back to 1980.

Not only is there a lot of sexy shots of the Nimitz in this movie, but other Navy aircraft, especially the F-14 Tomcat, get shown off as well.  Admittedly, the F-14 sequences are more inspirational than anything you’ll see in “Top Gun” (fight me).  It was practically the Navy’s movie, highlighting everything that is Forged by the Sea.

Sailors from the carrier (some sporting totally legal 1979-era beards) were used as extras and received acting credits.  Apart from the F-14, nine other aircraft were used or featured in the film in some way.

But the filming wasn’t completely free from incidents.  At least one film crew was tossed down the Nimitz runway by the sheer power of being too close to a Tomcat takeoff.  The Zeros used in the film were replicas whose lives were nearly cut short when the propeller planes got caught in the wake of an F-14’s jet wash.

The movie didn’t get great reviews, but the Navy sure did.  Even famed film critic Roger Ebert noticed that “the biggest element of interest is the aircraft carrier itself” and liked the depiction of Navy life aboard the Nimitz more than the story itself.

After the reel-life production of “The Final Countdown,” the USS Nimitz had to get back to real life, cruising to the Persian GulfIts next assignment was an attempt to rescue the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Iran Hostage Crisis.