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Photo of Soldier Raising Cross on Rubble of Mt. Sinjar Church Easter Sunday Goes Viral

Once Iraq’s largest Christian city, Sinjar is perhaps best known as the place where ISIS massacred more than 5,000 Yazidi men and captured 7,000 women for sex slaves in November, 2014. ISIS destroyed churches, buildings and homes. The city was left as a wasteland. But on Easter Sunday, one soldier put Sinjar back on the map with a simple act that went viral on Facebook.

An anonymous soldier carried a wooden cross to the top of what once was Mt. Sinjar Church. He lifted it into place on top of the rubble. His act of faith was captured by a camera and posted on Facebook by Hazem Farraj, a Palestinian-American Christian televangelist. Above the photos, Farraj wrote:

With a rifle on his shoulder, tears in his eyes, he places the cross on the top of the now ISIS destroyed Mt Sinjar Church. What does resurrection look like? This. Happy Easter everybody. #Resurrection #Jesus

The images were re-posted by actor James Woods and other media personalities. As of Wednesday, the post has over 24,000 likes and almost 14,000 retweets.

(For more from the author of “Photo of Soldier Raising Cross on Rubble of Mt. Sinjar Church Easter Sunday Goes Viral” please click HERE)

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I’m an Old Soldier. Now My Son Might Deploy to Syria, and I’m Worried

I was an infantryman. My brother was an infantryman. My father was an infantryman. My grandfather was an infantryman in both World War II and the Korean War. And so on, up through my family tree. I’ve been a soldier in a family of soldiers that has served this country in most of the wars it has fought since its founding.

This week my son deploys to the Middle East. And Donald Trump appears to be changing before our eyes into something none of us voted for. Before long my son could be on the ground in Syria, part of a new American campaign that’s no more likely to produce any good than anything else we’ve done in that troubled part of the world.

Beyond scaring me down on my knees, these facts have forced me to think about America’s legacy in the region. Things are not always as they seem. Remember all the warnings we heard about how Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction? About its ties to the attacks on 9/11? Remember Colin Powell at the United Nations, putting all his credibility, and America’s, on the line, to urge the world to join us? It was based on bad intelligence. Dust in our eyes. Dust in the wind.

The real question now is not whether Assad is a bad guy. Of course he is. But look at the real alternatives. They’re all much worse for religious minorities in the area, including Christians.

Our Broken Promises in Iraq

More important than bad intel from past conflicts, remember the promises we made to Iraq and its people. We swore that we would bring freedom, order, and prosperity. Do we even remember that now?

Iraqis do. With bitterness.

In January I traveled to Iraq and Kurdistan, researching a film I’m making. Its heroes? The one million Christians who were purged from their ancient homeland, right under our soldier’s noses. (Our men were following orders, and the Bush administration never ordered them to prevent it.) I’m documenting these and other religious refugees as they fight for their faith and their families. As they cling to their human dignity in the wasteland we left behind.

As I made my way toward Mosul, I passed through the legacy of our last “humanitarian” intervention. Our last war against a war criminal. Our proud patriots’ achievement stretched out before me as I snaked down the dusty roads: one abandoned settlement after another. Some places with noble and ancient names were now neatly organized piles of rubble.

Here’s what the locals told me: After the U.S. invaded, dissolved their army, fitfully tried to keep order, then finally — under Obama — cut and ran, those towns were captured by ISIS. The men and boys were hunted, the girls kidnapped and raped. The survivors hid out in the hills. Then U.S. airstrikes flattened all the buildings. Then ISIS booby-trapped the rubble and burned whatever was left. And that’s what is left of much of Iraq.

America’s Elite Plays on Our Goodness, But What Results is Evil

While I was still in Kurdistan I finally got overwhelmed. I met with local imams, whose people had suffered alongside the Christians. As The Stream has reported, those groups now fight together against ISIS. They also fight al Qaeda, and its Turkish sponsors and allies. After I heard their stories, I blurted out an apology. “I’m sorry. Americans are sorry that we invaded then abandoned you.”

The imam nodded solemnly, and addressed me with great dignity. “We know that Americans think they are responsible for the actions of their government. We are not so naive. Americans are good people. Your elite must play on your goodness even to do evil.”

A Long Series of Half-Truths & War Propaganda

As responsible citizens, it’s our duty to listen skeptically when men with power call us to war. We owe at least that much to the victims of past mistakes. It has become standard practice in American war-making to take some atrocity, inflate it or invent it and use it to sell a war to the general public. The spurious “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” sold us the whole Vietnam War.

We were sold the first Gulf War in part by the fiction that Iraqi soldiers were yanking premature babies out of incubators in Kuwait. (The “witness” who spoke before Congress was a relative of Kuwait’s ambassador, coached by a PR firm.) There were good reasons for liberating Kuwait. So why did our leaders decide to lie to us? Do they think we can’t be trusted with the truth?

In the three months since I’ve returned to our peaceful shores, I’ve been haunted by what I saw. By the fathers who choked up as they told me what happened to their daughters. By the pastors who were still picking through the ruins of ancient churches. By the ruin left behind by irresponsible politicians. Now I wonder whether my son will risk his life to pile up rubble in yet another country. (For more from the author of “I’m an Old Soldier. Now My Son Might Deploy to Syria, and I’m Worried” please click HERE)

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It’s Official, Pentagon Will Now Keep Troop Count in Iraq and Syria Secret

The U.S. Central Command recently announced that troop numbers in Iraq and Syria will no longer be reported to the public. In its announcement, CENTCOM spokesman Army Col. John Thomas declared that “capabilities, not numbers,” should be the area of focus, and the public will be given general estimates of troop sizes in the future.

Jason Ditz of antiwar.com points out that the Obama administration was already less than forthcoming about the number of soldiers sent to these areas by utilizing a variety of tactics, including “deliberately omitting large numbers of troops from the official count by labeling them ‘temporary.’”

The Pentagon’s announcement comes during a time in which the U.S. military’s recent use of airstrikes is under fresh scrutiny and stands accused of causing deaths of hundreds of civilians in recent weeks, including strikes in Mosul last week that killed an unconfirmed, but reportedly numerous, number of noncombatants.

According to Reuters regarding the strike in Mosul, “Eyewitnesses from Mosul and Iraqi officials have said last week’s strike on Islamic State targets may have collapsed homes where rescue officials say as many as 200 people were buried in the rubble.” Reuters described this event as “one of the deadliest single incidents for civilians in recent memory in any major conflict involving the U.S. military.”

In the Pentagon’s acknowledgment of the Mosul strike and announcement of its investigation into the incident, Army Col. Joseph Scrocca admitted that “we believe a coalition strike contributed in at least some way to the civilian casualties.”

In addition, reports have surfaced alleging that recent U.S. airstrikes in Syria have led to significant civilian deaths. One strike that was launched in northern Syria in mid-March, reportedly targeted at a building “that local officials said was a mosque filled with worshippers at evening prayer” and also resulted in civilian casualties. Another strike by a U.S.-led coalition at a school in Raqqa that was being “used as refugee centre,” according to The Guardian. The Guardian’s report notes that “Over the past eight months, there have been four cases in which US planes or drones have been blamed for mass civilian casualties in Syria.”

The new U.S. presidential administration has unsurprisingly provided little change in its approach to foreign policy and the war on terror; in fact, President Trump is currently considering sending at least 1,000 more troops to Syria. As Ditz noted, the government has long lacked transparency regarding troop numbers in Iraq and Syria, and it appears that CENTCOM may be seeking to avoid further criticism over specific deployment numbers by simply eliminating these reports. However, this increase in secrecy that further places civilians in the dark will undoubtedly exacerbate tensions across the globe in regards to American accountability.

Another troubling revelation from Thomas is the military’s dismissal of making changes to airstrike policy. Thomas stated that General Joseph Votel, the head of CENTCOM, “is not looking into changing the way we operate other than to say our processes are good and we want to make sure we live by those processes.” (For more from the author of “It’s Official, Pentagon Will Now Keep Troop Count in Iraq and Syria Secret” please click HERE)

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US Sending Around 200 More Troops to Middle East, Official Says

Two companies from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division are being deployed to the Middle East to bolster security in either Iraq or Syria at the request of the top American commander in Baghdad fighting ISIS, a U.S. defense official with knowledge of the order told Fox News.

It is not immediately clear where the roughly 200 additonal troops will end up. That decision will be made by Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top commander of the U.S.-led coalition charged with running the war against ISIS on the ground.

The Pentagon was expected to provide more details on the deployment Monday.

In recent weeks, multiple press reports said upwards of 1,000 additional American troops would deploy to Kuwait or Syria to act as a “reserve force.” These reports were said to be inaccurate by multiple Pentagon officials.

“I don’t foresee us bringing in large numbers of coalition troops, mainly because what we’re doing is in fact working,” said Townsend in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters earlier this month. (Read more from “US Sending Around 200 More Troops to Middle East, Official Says” HERE)

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We Should Never Stop Applauding Our Nation’s Military Families

Less than a month after U.S. Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Ryan Owens made the ultimate sacrifice, a joint session of U.S. Congress stood to applaud his wife.

What millions saw on Feb. 28 – the raw, heartbreaking grief on Gold Star widow Carryn Owens’ face as Republicans, Democrats, military leaders, judges and dignitaries clapped for more than two minutes – is already part of American history.

“For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” President Trump said while introducing Chief Owens and his wife to the nation. “Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country and for our freedom – we will never forget him.”

As our collective memory shortens in the social media age, however, how many of us will ultimately remember the story of Carryn and Ryan Owens? After all, as Gold Star wife Nikki Altmann told me after her husband was killed in Afghanistan, “six months from now, people won’t be calling to see how I’m doing.”

In addition to embracing Gold Star wives like Nikki and Carryn, we should be praying for the entire military community. The risks our country’s brave men and women in uniform face in global hotspots like Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Korean peninsula are very real.

Supporting our troops and sharing the stories of our country’s fallen warriors and their families is as non-political as the Fourth of July. Yet as is often the case in this hyper-partisan era, a misguided few chose to besmirch the importance of honoring a Gold Star widow’s tenacity and her husband’s distinguished service.

“Actually, it was the worst moment (of the speech), and that’s saying a lot for Donald Trump,” liberal comedian Bill Maher said on the March 3 episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. The rest of his ill-advised rant is too vulgar to quote on The Stream.

Slate writer Katy Waldman started the final paragraph of this piece with a truly head-scratching sentence: “But what, exactly, did Trump hope to accomplish by illuminating Carryn Owens’ sorrow?”

How about telling the story of a heroic Navy SEAL and his courageous wife, Ms. Waldman?

Every day, I read heartfelt Facebook posts from Gold Star family members with whom I’ve been privileged to become acquainted. In recent weeks, one widow asked for prayers while her young son struggles with only being able to see his departed dad through videos and pictures. Another post was from a mother who carried pride and a heavy heart as a local park was named in honor of her fallen son.

Gold Star family members are real people dealing with extraordinary challenges. After spending the last eight years speaking with hundreds of these remarkable Americans, I can say with certainty that each grieves and copes differently. All are nevertheless joined by the memories of their heroes, who I hope – spurred by two stirring minutes of applause for Carryn and Ryan Owens – will become ours.

“All that remains is the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters,” legendary Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot wrote in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Carryn Owens didn’t ask to become the face or the name of America’s Gold Star community. If given the chance, she would undoubtedly trade those unforgettable two minutes of applause for two more minutes with her husband, who was only 36 years old when he was killed in Yemen.

As Carryn mourns Ryan, let us mourn with her. As a little boy cries out for his dad, let us weep with him. As Nikki Altmann worries that we won’t remember, let us ease her mind by remembering. As a mother celebrates her son’s life, let us also rejoice. As military families pray for the safety of their loved ones, let us pray, too.

Now is our moment to unite in applause of the selfless men and women who step forward every single day to protect us. I, for one, won’t ever stop clapping. (For more from the author of “We Should Never Stop Applauding Our Nation’s Military Families” please click HERE)

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U.S. Military Seems More Ready for Motherhood Than Warfare

On the list on touchy hot-button issues, pregnancy in the military is at the top. The branches are loath to disclose the numbers and costs, not to mention the harm to combat readiness.

Richard Pollock recently got the latest numbers for pregnancy on Navy vessels through a Freedom of Information Act request. In 2016 they were up to an all-time high of 16 percent or 3840 women. About 10% of active duty women are pregnant at any given time. The Marines are at the low end of military pregnancies at 8 percent. Yet to be revealed is how much these thousands of pregnancies are costing per year in wasted training, taxpayer dollars and lack of readiness for combat.

A pregnant active-duty female has several options. She may decide to have an abortion, which will be funded by tax-payers. She may decide, as thousands of women do annually, to exit the military before her service contract’s end. She may decide to have the baby, which will be fully funded.

If she’s on ship or overseas deployment, she’ll be sent back to the states at a cost of roughly $30,000, her expensive military and combat training up to that point rendered useless. If she doesn’t opt to leave the military, the duties she can perform will be increasingly limited as the pregnancy progresses so as not to endanger mother or child. Postpartum she’ll have 18 weeks of maternity leave and up to twelve months to return to fitness standards — timelines that were extended in 2016 from nine and six respectively by then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

Having made policy of feminist ideology, the U.S. military treats pregnancy as “no different than a broken leg,” so in many cases she won’t be replaced. Rather, her spot in her unit will be held open until she’s again fit for duty, leaving her peers with extra work until her return. That is, if she does return.

Unintended Pregnancies Higher Among Military Women

Of course, pregnancy is nothing like a broken leg, but don’t expect those who are pushing for more females in the ranks to concede such an obvious point. There’s nothing comparable for men that renders them non-deployable. And a broken leg doesn’t come with an eighteen-year child-rearing commitment or a taxpayer-funded abortion. The Navy changed postpartum tours from four months to twelve in 2007, which means overall a pregnant sailor is on limited duty for about 21 months. When she is transferred to shore duty, she pushes out others who may be more qualified for those billets, and often cannot perform the duties required.

What’s more, most are unintended. The rate of unintended pregnancy in the Navy as reported by Stars & Stripes was a stunning 74 percent in 2013 and these numbers are only getting higher. Some claim this is due to lack of access to birth control, but practically every kind of birth control is obtainable by military women, including while deployed. Many are simply choosing not to use it.

According to one 2012 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology “[S]urveys of active-duty personnel of reproductive age demonstrate that although 70 to 85 percent were sexually active, nearly 40 percent used no contraception.” The study also found that “women actively serving in the military have lower reported contraception use and higher rates of unintended pregnancy than the general U.S. population.”

According to the Marine Corps’ 2015 combat integration analysis, over a two year period “the number of pregnant lance corporals averaged around 50 per month.This represents 12 percent to 17 percent of medically non-deployable female lance corporals.”

Meanwhile, the Navy Times reports that the Navy is short slightly more than the number of pregnant sailors: “Currently there are 3,898 unfilled billets at sea. …” Policy makers don’t connect the consequences of pushing for more female representation in the ranks and billet shortfalls when many of them become pregnant.

Dangerous Consequences

This greatly harms our readiness to engage our enemies. “Overall, women unexpectedly leave their stations on Navy ships as much as 50 percent more frequently to return to land duty, according to documents obtained from the Navy,” Pollock reports. In 2013 the Globe & Mail reported that “one study of a brigade operating in Iraq found that female soldiers were evacuated at three times the rate of male soldiers — and that 74 percent of them were evacuated for pregnancy-related issues.”

It was the same 3:1 rate, “largely due to pregnancy,” during Desert Shield/Desert Storm according to the 1992 Presidential Commission on Women in the Armed Services. Cohesion built up over months of training, the value of her training and care, and potentially a critical leadership role are all lost, and her peers have to make up her job function. These losses are due to the consequences of consensual behavior (except, of course, in the case of rape). These losses get higher and the readiness gets lower every year.

The Left wants us to pretend that this doesn’t matter. It’s just the cost of doing business with a gender-integrated military. In fact, one of the primary concerns of the heavily feminist Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) was to ensure women are not discriminated against because of pregnancy. Their 2015 report states: “Several formal programs exist to prevent pregnancy-related discrimination and help military women balance their careers with parenthood.” The Air Force even funds a sabbatical program whereby personnel can take one to three years off to have children.

We’re not allowed to acknowledge that pregnancy is antithetical to preparing for and executing warfare, whether it’s combatant ships, combat pilot jobs or ground combat units. But if America knew how much we were spending on pregnancy, prenatal and postpartum care for women who can only serve in a limited capacity for two years, or how much we’re spending to train women who end up leaving the military to have their babies, it might put some things in perspective. For example, early in the Iraq War there were reports of deployed servicemen having to buy their own body armor and protective gear and of inadequately armored vehicles.

Our Marine aircraft are at a mere 30 percent readiness and cuts to training budgets have resulted in fatal flight crashes. Military Times recently reported:

Only three of the Army’s 58 Brigade Combat Teams are ready to fight; 53 percent of Navy aircraft can’t fly; the Air Force is 723 fighter pilots short; and the Marine Corps needs 3,000 more troops. “We’re just flat-out out of money” to address those immediate needs and provide the additional personnel and maintenance funding to plan for the future, Navy Adm. William Moran said…

This is what happens when the top military priority is how the force looks instead of how it functions in wartime. Our priorities have been way out of whack. The new Secretary of Defense James Mattis should take a good hard look at our pitiful state of non-readiness and make changes accordingly. We cannot afford to continue this status quo. Our peer enemies like Iran are doing no such thing. They’re preparing for serious warfare. So should we. (For more from the author of “U.S. Military Seems More Ready for Motherhood Than Warfare” please click HERE)

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New Poll Shows Americans Think Defense Spending Too Low, Military Too Weak

In 1990, with the fall of the Soviet Union and following eight years of military buildup under President Ronald Reagan, the American people seemed to agree: The United States was spending enough on the military.

Fast forward to 2017, and it’s obvious that sentiment has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

A Gallup poll released Thursday found that 37 percent of Americans believe the United States is not spending enough on the military, with 28 percent saying defense spending levels are “about right” and 31 percent saying spending is too high.

Nearly half of those polled (45 percent) also said they believed the U.S. military is “not strong enough,” compared to 11 percent who said the military is “stronger than it needs to be.” This result tracks closely with a Gallup poll from February 2016 in which only 49 percent of those surveyed thought the U.S. military was the most powerful worldwide.

Gallup noted that the 49 percent figure was the lowest recorded number in the polling group’s 23 years of tracking.

The February 2016 poll also showed almost identical numbers on Americans’ opinions of defense spending.

What these polls demonstrate is that the shortfalls facing the U.S. military are not just seen and recognized by military leaders, but by Americans across the nation. Given the state of military readiness and lack of modernization after years of sequestration and budget cuts, it is little wonder that public opinion continues to trend this direction.

In real constant dollars, the Department of Defense’s budget has declined 24 percent since 2011. Meanwhile, our enemies around the world have continued to enlarge their forces, modernize their equipment, and in some cases, engage in aggression against America’s allies.

By any measure, America is not spending enough to sustain its military in these times of increasing global threats.

As The Heritage Foundation reported in its 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength, in the last five years as a result of diminishing budgets and operational overuse, the military has been sorely depleted.

The Army is smaller than it has been since World War II, the Navy since World War I, and the Air Force since its inception in 1947. And it is not just smaller—it is less ready.

Only three of the Army’s 58 brigade combat teams are ready to fight today. One-quarter of naval aircraft are flyable, and the Air Force is suffering from crippling pilot and maintenance personnel shortages.

Major weapon systems are aging and not being replaced. The average age of Air Force aircraft is 27 years old, while the Army has not been able to replace its main battle tank, already 37 years old.

>>>Defense Leaders Agree: US Military Readiness Is at a Dangerous Low

President Donald Trump has proposed a defense budget of $603 billion for fiscal year 2018, which on paper would increase defense spending by $54 billion. However, the Obama administration had already planned to spend $584 billion in 2018, and the military services have already prepared detailed plans to spend that amount.

A 2018 budget of $603 billion is about an $18 billion increase in the defense budget. While this is a welcome down payment on beginning the process of rebuilding the military in the coming years, it will not be enough to regrow the military, rebuild near-term readiness, and begin much-needed modernization programs.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.—who recently released a white paper with his budget recommendations—and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have criticized this increase as insufficient.

Lawmakers would be wise to push for a defense budget of around $632 billion.

The primary purpose of government is to care for and defend its citizens. What Gallup has shown is that those citizens believe the government needs to do more.

Hopefully, Congress and the administration can work together to provide the necessary funds in 2018 to begin rebuilding the military. (For more from the author of “New Poll Shows Americans Think Defense Spending Too Low, Military Too Weak” please click HERE)

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Trump Calls for Defense Funding Boost to Give Military ‘the Tools They Need to Prevent War’

President Trump delivered an address aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford in Newport News, Virginia, Thursday afternoon, calling for a boost in defense spending to continue the United States’ military’s qualitative advantage.

The Ford is a state of the art aircraft carrier. It is the most expensive warship ever built, coming in at a price tag of just under $13 billion. The ship is almost ready for service and has not yet been officially delivered, but that could happen as soon as April. It is powered by two nuclear reactors, equipped with the latest advanced technologies, and can reach speeds of over 34 miles per hour.

“Wherever this ship flies her flag, she will be a symbol of US strength, made in America,” the president said from aboard the supercarrier.

“Our military requires sustained, stable funding to meet the growing needs placed in our defense,” Trump said in Newport News, adding that American fighter jets are “often more likely to be down for maintenance than to be up in the sky.”

“Our Navy is now the smallest it’s been since World War I. That’s a long time ago,” he commented.

Trump called for “modernized capabilities and greater force levels,” and an emphasis on cybersecurity improvements. “This great rebuilding effort will create many jobs throughout Virginia, and all across America,” the president added.

“America has always been the country that boldly leads the world into the future, and my budget will ensure we do so,” Trump concluded. American ships will sail the seas. American planes will soar the skies. American workers will build our fleets.”

The White House has recommended that Congress add $54 billion to the Defense Department budget, according to a draft proposal released Monday

“To keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war — if they must — they have to fight and they only have to win,” the president said in his address to Congress Tuesday night.

Experts have evaluated that the United States military, at current readiness levels, would have difficulty engaging in more than one major conflict without sacrificing resources elsewhere

The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength found that “the consistent decline in funding and the consequent shrinking of the force over the past few years have placed it under significant pressure.”

Readiness levels are trending in the wrong direction, according to the Heritage analysis:

Essential maintenance continues to be deferred; the availability of fewer units for operational deployments increases the frequency and length of deployments; and old equipment is being extended while programmed replacements are either delayed or beset by developmental difficulties.

Moreover, the military index finds that the military has been forced to delay and/or cancel modernization efforts due to budgetary shortfalls. This hurts “America’s ability to shape conditions to its advantage by assuring allies and deterring competitors,” the analysis states.

“As currently postured, the U.S. military is only marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests,” a summary of the report concludes. (For more from the author of “Trump Calls for Defense Funding Boost to Give Military ‘the Tools They Need to Prevent War'” please click HERE)

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Trump’s Defense Proposal Would Boost a Languishing Military

On Monday, President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, announced that the administration will seek a defense budget of $603 billion for 2018—“one of the largest increases in history.”

Trump said nondefense spending would be cut by an equal $54 billion, “the largest proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration.”

The White House characterized the defense bump as a 10 percent increase. Both the percentage increase and the $54 billion figure refer back to the 2011 Budget Control Act caps for fiscal year 2018, which is $549 billion.

As is typical in Washington, nearly everyone can find something to be unhappy about in this proposal. As in most cases, the reality lies somewhere in the middle.

Reasons to View This Announcement Positively

As The Heritage Foundation reported in our 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength, in the last five years, as a result of a diminishing budget and equipment overuse, the military has been sorely depleted. The Army is smaller than it has been since World War II, the Navy the smallest since World War I, and the Air Force the smallest since its existence.

And it’s not just smaller—it’s less ready. As the military service vice chiefs of staff testified in January, only three of the Army’s brigade combat teams are ready to fight today, one-quarter of Navy aircraft are flyable, and the Air Force is suffering from crippling pilot and maintenance personnel shortages.

Major weapon systems are also aging and not being replaced. The average age of Air Force aircraft is 27 years old, and the Army does not have the ability to replace its main battle tank, which is already 37 years old.

U.S. spending on national defense has declined to 16 percent of the federal budget from 32 percent in the early 1980s, constantly being squeezed lower by larger and larger entitlement spending. Similarly, the percentage of gross domestic product spent on national defense has declined to 3.2 percent from 6.8 percent in 1986.

In real constant dollars, the Department of Defense’s budget has declined by 24 percent since 2011. By any measure, America is not spending enough to sustain its military in these times of increasing global threats.

So any proposed increase in military spending is both welcome and sorely needed. Trump’s proposal to increase defense spending is helpful and represents a clear commitment. It is also encouraging that the president is willing to take on this fight to repeal the Budget Control Act caps and increase defense spending.

Just the Beginning

But this increase on its own is insufficient to begin the rebuilding. It simply represents an “on-ramp” to rebuilding.

The Obama administration had already planned to spend $584 billion in 2018 on defense, and the military services have already prepared detailed plans to spend that amount.

A 2018 budget of $603 billion represents an increase of 3 percent, not 10 percent, over the previous administration’s plans. An $18 billion increase will not be enough to regrow the military, rebuild near term readiness, and commence needed modernization programs.

And this recent announcement did not mention the 2018 “overseas contingency operations” account request, which must remain relatively the same as 2017’s in order to make real progress.

Heritage recommends a 2018 defense budget of $632 billion, with the additional implementation of $14 billion in savings we have proposed through various initiatives as well as a similar level of funding for overseas contingency operations.

Fully rebuilding the military will probably require more than can be reallocated from just discretionary spending, and in future years, more sources will be required.

Both Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have correctly pointed out that this 2018 budget will not be sufficient to rebuild the military. Hopefully, working together, Congress and the administration can provide the necessary funds in 2018 and beyond to begin rebuilding the military.

In sum, the announcement of an increased defense budget for 2018 is good news for our military and nation. The deterioration of our armed forces did not happen overnight—it occurred over years, and to now rebuild it will similarly take years.

The president’s proposal is a welcome and necessary first step in that process, but more will be needed. (For more from the author of “Trump’s Defense Proposal Would Boost a Languishing Military” please click HERE)

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Why the First US Military Raid Under Trump Was in Yemen

Decorated U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was tragically killed this weekend in Yemen. The first publicly acknowledged U.S. raid under President Donald Trump did not go as smoothly as planned, though the Pentagon labelled the mission — which reportedly killed 14 militants — a success. According to Reuters, the U.S. special ops mission targeted Abdulrauf al Dhabab, a senior al Qaeda leader.

The mission hit a snag when the SEAL team’s V-22 Osprey endured a “hard landing,” injuring at least three service members. Additionally, the SEAL Team 6 crew unexpectedly faced resistance from multiple female jihadis, which vastly complicated the mission and may have resulted in the deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire. However, according to U.S. Central Command, the SEALs secured “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”

So, was it all worth it? And what brought the nation’s most decorated warriors into Yemen in the first place?

The continuing destabilization of the Middle East nation has created a void filled by the world’s most dangerous terrorists, who use the state to plan missions both domestically and abroad.

Civil War

There is an ongoing civil war in Yemen that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers, militants, and civilians. Much of the country has become a battleground between a Saudi-led coalition (which includes the United States) and Iran-backed Houthi insurgents. Amidst the chaos, a vacuum has been created that has allowed the local Islamic State and al Qaeda branches to flourish, leaving only the U.S. and its allies to check their vast expansion.

AQAP

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is headquartered in Yemen, is without a doubt the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate worldwide. The group has managed to control swaths of territory in Yemen and has a global reach that extends to the United States and Europe.

AQAP, which is tasked with coordinating overseas attacks against America and its allies, was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. in 2010. It has on several occasions managed to infiltrate and carry out terror plots in Western countries. The group urges recruits inside America to “strike at home,” as damaging the U.S. is their most important duty.

Many of AQAP’s devotees are inspired by the late al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the deceased imam who left America after 9/11 to became the leader of the al Qaeda Yemen branch. Several U.S.-based terrorists, including the shooters at Ft. Hood and Chattanooga drew motivation from Awlaki.

The 2009 Christmas Day “Underwear Bomber” — a Nigerian native who planned on bringing down a commercial jet — carried out his orders directly from AQAP. Thankfully, he failed to detonate his explosives.

Additionally, the tragic 2015 mass killings at the “Charlie Hebdo” offices in Paris was the work of AQAP jihadis.

Islamic State-Yemen

ISIS, like AQAP, also controls territory in Yemen, under the name Wilayat Sanaa — or, the Sanaa Province (of the Islamic State). The group, which seeks to impose a worldwide caliphate under its rule, has successfully conducted massive suicide missions, which have killed hundreds and wounded countless more. Islamic State operations in Yemeni provinces are a relatively new phenomenon, but the terror outfit has shown that it can operate and plan major attacks in the country.

U.S. counterterrorism efforts

America’s counterterrorism strategy in Yemen during the Obama administration relied on drone strikes and small, specialized military raids on jihadi compounds inside the country. In 2015, a U.S. drone strike killed AQAP’s No. 2 in charge. As previously mentioned, al-Awlaki was also taken out thanks to a U.S. drone strike.

Whether the strategy has been a success is a matter of debate. Experts have pointed out that targeted killings of AQAP leaders may temporarily weaken the group, but new leaders will emerge as long as the group has a safe haven in Yemen. Therefore, U.S. officials have expanded the mission to, at times, deploy special ops on the ground for aggressive missions on AQAP strongholds.

As details unfold pertaining to the past weekend’s raid in Yemen, what’s clear is that the country has become the perfect environment to plot jihadi terror against the United States. It appears that President Trump has recognized the threat and dedicated his first mission toward helping to eradicate the menace in the Gulf. (For more from the author of “Why the First US Military Raid Under Trump Was in Yemen” please click HERE)

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