Twelve days of silence, then a swipe at Obama: How Trump handled four dead soldiers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Twelve days of silence, then a swipe at Obama: How Trump handled four dead soldiers

During a news conference at the White House on Oct. 16, President Trump claimed that “most” American presidents, including Barack Obama, didn’t call families of soldiers who were killed in action. Former members of the Obama administration said this is false. (Reuters)
 October 18 at 8:36 AM
On Oct. 4, the day four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were gunned down at the border of Niger and Mali in the deadliest combat incident since President Trump took office, the commander in chief was lighting up Twitter with attacks on the “fake news” media.The next day, when the remains of the first soldiers reached Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Trump was assailing the “fake news” and warning the country of “the calm before the storm.” What storm, he never did say.Over that weekend, as the identity of the fourth soldier was disclosed publicly and more details emerged about the incident, Trump was golfing and letting it rip on Twitter about Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the NFL, North Korea, Puerto Rico and, again, alleged media bias.But a president who revels in providing color commentary on the news said nothing about what happened in Niger for 12 straight days — until Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House, where he was asked by a reporter to explain his uncharacteristic silence.

In his answer, Trump said in his defense that he had written personal letters to the soldiers’ family members, and he then tried to use the issue to gain a political advantage. Trump leveled false accusations at his predecessors, including former president Barack Obama, saying they never or rarely called family members of service members who were killed on their watch, when in fact they regularly did.

President Obama salutes as an Army team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Oct. 29, 2009. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

As anger swelled, Trump continued to attempt to bolster his broader claim Tuesday by invoking the death of Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, the son of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly who was killed in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan.

The White House has not explained why Trump took so long to comment publicly about the Niger ambush, but officials said Tuesday that he was regularly briefed on the incident during that period. They declined to provide details.

The White House did not receive detailed information from the Defense Department about the four dead soldiers until Oct. 12, and that information was not fully verified by the White House Military Office until Monday, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the internal process.

At that point, the official said, Trump was cleared to reach out to the four families — both in letters that were mailed Tuesday and in personal phone calls to family members that day.

“He offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family’s extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, and Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, died from wounds sustained during an ambush Oct. 4, 2017, in Niger. All three Soldiers were assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) on Fort Bragg. (U.S. Army/U.S. Army)

In his call with Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, Trump told her, “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway,” according to the account of Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who was riding in a limousine with Johnson when the president called and heard the conversation on speakerphone.

Wilson recalled in an interview with The Washington Post that Johnson broke down in tears. “He made her cry,” Wilson said. The congresswoman said she wanted to take the phone and “curse him out,” but that the Army sergeant holding the phone would not let her speak to the president.

The White House neither confirmed nor denied Wilson’s account. “The President’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private,” a White House official said in a statement.

But in a Twitter post Wednesday, Trump claimed Wilson “totally fabricated” her account of his call to the widow. Trump went on to back up his assertion by insisting he has “proof.”

“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” Trump wrote.

Wilson stood her ground. Speaking on an MSNBC, she called Trump’s call “horrible” and “insensitive.”

“She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name,’” said Wilson.

Leon Panetta, who served as defense secretary and White House chief of staff under Democratic presidents, said Trump should have more quickly conveyed the “deepest regrets of the country for the families that lost their loved ones.” He put some of the responsibility for Trump’s slow response on his staff.

“Somebody screwed up here, okay?” Panetta said. “You don’t let that amount of time pass when our men and women in uniform have been killed.”

Trump did not serve in the military — he sought and received several draft defermentsduring the Vietnam War — and has drawn pointed criticism in the past for his comments about military heroes.

As a presidential candidate, Trump mocked the service of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and feuded with the Gold Star parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

And on his first full day as president, Trump used a speech before the Central Intelligence Agency’s wall of stars honoring intelligence officers who died in service to air his personal grievances, including about the media coverage of the size of his inaugural crowd.

Peter Wehner, an adviser and speechwriter in President George W. Bush’s White House, said communicating empathy and compassion has been for Trump like speaking “a foreign language.”

“Part of being a president is at moments being pastor in chief, dispensing grace and understanding and giving voice to sorrow, tragedy and loss,” Wehner said. “But he’s a person who’s missing an empathy gene.”

Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Bush and McCain, said he was surprised by Trump’s 12-day silence on the Niger attack.

“There is no issue too small for him to comment on,” Schmidt said. “He tweets at all hours of the morning and night on every conceivable subject. He has time to insult, to degrade, to demean always. But once again, you see this moral obtusity in the performance of his duties as commander in chief.”

Still, the brother of one of the fallen soldiers, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, said he and his family have not been bothered by Trump’s comments.

William Wright said Tuesday afternoon in an interview that his parents were expecting a phone call from the president soon and that his family would consider it a “great honor” to speak with him. If Trump had called earlier, Wright said, the family would not have been ready for it.

“It’s not something we’re upset by, and it’s not something we are offended by,” Wright said. “This is a devastating experience to go through, and we have been blessed with a lot of support. It’s our hope that everyone can rally around the families of the fallen soldiers.”

Sanders defended Trump’s Monday comments, saying the president was not criticizing his predecessors “but stating a fact” that presidents sometimes have called family members, sometimes have sent letters and other times have met in person.

Inside the West Wing, Trump’s advisers have been furious with what they consider unfair criticism of their boss’s comments leveled by former Obama staffers. Privately, they have accused the media of assuming the worst in Trump — jumping to a conclusion that he does not respect military members because he waited so long to comment on the four killed Green Berets. One top aide argued that a “tone and veil of hate” has defined the coverage.

With the war against terrorism continuing well into its second decade, the number of battlefield deaths has greatly declined, making the loss of four soldiers on a single day all the more significant. So far in 2017, about 30 service members have died, compared with at least 346 hostile deaths in all of 2009 and 456 in all of 2010, which were Obama’s first two years in office.

Wartime presidents historically have wrestled with how often they reach out to the bereaved, which is an important part of leadership, and how they maintain their own emotional health by not letting personal grief overwhelm their judgment, said Eliot A. Cohen, a senior State Department official in the Bush administration.

“If Franklin D. Roosevelt had personally contacted the family members of every service member who fell in World War II, he would have been so overwhelmed emotionally he could not have made any decisions,” Cohen said.

Panetta said each president has his own way of expressing condolences. “The most important test is whether it comes from the heart,” he said. “It’s not so much whether he decides to do a letter or a phone call. You don’t do this by the numbers. You do it by what you think can most appropriately reflect the nation’s concern.”

This month’s deadly operation in Niger was unusual and highly sensitive, and the military has not yet disclosed many details. It was something of a surprise that the Special Forces unit came under fire — and the remains of one of the fallen soldiers, Johnson, 25, were not recovered until two days afterward.

Marine Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters Oct. 12 that the ambush marked the first time in at least six months that the U.S. military had faced enemy fire in the region.

McKenzie said the operation was meant to be an outreach effort in which the U.S. soldiers went out alongside local forces; it was “not designed to be a combat patrol.” But he defended the support the soldiers had, saying that there was a “pretty good level of planning” and that French forces responded within 30 minutes with helicopter air support.

The general said the Pentagon believes there is some connection to an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group in the attack.

U.S. Africa Command first disclosed late Oct. 4 that U.S. troops had come under fire in Niger. The command confirmed the following morning that three U.S. soldiers — Staff Sgts. Bryan C. Black, 35; Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39; and Wright — were killed.

On Oct. 6, the Pentagon disclosed that U.S. troops also had recovered the remains of Johnson. The military did not explain how Johnson was separated from other U.S. forces in the mission, a development that rarely occurs in a military that prides itself on never leaving service members behind on the battlefield.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Oct. 11 that he “completely rejected” any notion that the rescue effort for the unit was slow, and he promised that the military will examine the operation.

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“We’re not complacent,” he said. “We’re going to be better.”

Sanders twice extended thoughts and prayers on behalf of the administration to the family members of the dead soldiers — in her press briefings on Oct. 5 and 6 — but Trump issued no statement echoing his press secretary.

Bonnie Carroll, who founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, said she has had good experiences with several presidents when it comes to mourning the loss of fallen service members.

“While there is no one way to acknowledge the death,” she said in a statement, “what is important for the family is that the president acknowledges the life and service of their loved one, and expresses gratitude on behalf of the nation.”

Alex Horton and Brian Murphy contributed to this report.

Mali’s Capital Of Bamako: Shots Fired, Luxury Hotel Under Attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Shots were fired Sunday at a luxury resort near Mali’s capital city of Bamako, according to a tweet from the UN Mission to the West African country.

The tweet reads: “shots fired at Le Campement #Kangaba, tourist camp in the suburbs of #Bamako #Mali.”
Reuters, sourcing a spokesman at the Security Ministry, reported that the resort came under attack by gunmen. He had no further details of the attack but said it was still going on, Reuters, reported.
The EU Training Mission in Mali tweeted a statement that they were aware of the attack and were assessing the situation.
Earlier this month, the US Embassy in Bamako had issued a travel warning on its website, saying there was an increased security threat to Westerners.
“The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens of a possible increased threat of attacks against Western diplomatic missions, places of worship, and other locations in Bamako where Westerners frequent. Avoid vulnerable locations with poor security measures in place, including hotels, restaurants, and churches,” the warning said.
Le Campement is located on the outskirts of the capital, about 30 minutes from downtown Bamako. The resort is popular with Western tourists and expatriates who use its facilities to host business meetings and team-building exercises.
The grounds include a hotel, bars, restaurant, spa and swimming pools. The resort also offers live entertainment and several outdoor activities, including bike rides and kayaking on the Niger River.

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

France has killed more than 20 militants hiding in a forest near the border between the West African countries of Mali and Burkina Faso this weekend, its regional force said in a statement.

The operation followed the death of a French soldier nearby earlier this month. It involved both air and ground strikes, the statement said. It did not identify the militant group.

Mali has been regularly hit by Islamist militant violence, despite a 2013 French-led operation to drive them out of key northern cities they had seized. It extended a state of emergency by six months this weekend.

But violence in its southern neighbor, Burkina Faso, began to intensify last year with an attack in the capital that killed dozens. Burkinabe officials believe a new Islamist militant group called Ansar al-Islam led by a local preacher was using the Foulsare Forest as a base for launching attacks elsewhere.

France has deployed some 4,000 soldiers to fight Islamist militants in the region.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Larry King)

Trump Was Right to Strike Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Opinion

Trump Was Right to Strike Syria

President Trump’s air strikes against Syria were of dubious legality. They were hypocritical. They may have had political motivations.

But most of all, they were right.

I’m deeply suspicious of Trump’s policies and competence, but this is a case where he is right and Barack Obama was wrong. Indeed, many of us believe that Obama’s worst foreign policy mistake was his passivity in Syria.

But Trump changed US policy 180 degrees after compelling photos emerged of children gassed in Syria. Should a president’s decisions about war really depend on the photos taken?

Here’s why I believe he was right.

Since the horrors of mustard gas during World War I a century ago, one of the world’s more successful international norms has been a taboo on the use of chemical weapons. We all have an interest in reinforcing that norm, so this is not just about Syria but also about deterring the next dictator from turning to sarin.

For an overstretched military, poison gas is a convenient way to terrify and subdue a population. That’s why Saddam Hussein used gas on Kurds in 1988, and why Bashar al-Assad has used gas against his own people in Syria. The best way for the world to change the calculus is to show that use of chemical weapons carries a special price — such as a military strike on an airbase.

Paradoxically, Assad may have used chemical weapons because he perceived a green light from the Trump administration. In recent days, Rex Tillerson, Sean Spicer and Nikki Haley all suggested that it was no longer American policy to push for the removal of Assad, and that may have emboldened him to open the chemical weapons toolbox. That mistake made it doubly important for Trump to show that neither Assad nor any leader can get away with using weapons of mass destruction.

Look, for a Syrian child, it doesn’t matter much whether death comes from a barrel bomb, a mortar shell, a bullet, or a nerve agent. I hope Trump will also show more interest in stopping all slaughter of Syrians — but it’s still important to defend the norm against chemical weapons (the United States undermined that norm after Saddam’s gas attack by falsely suggesting that Iran was to blame).

Critics note that Trump’s air strikes don’t have clear legal grounding. But Bill Clinton’s 1999 intervention to prevent genocide in Kosovo was also of uncertain legality, and thank God for it. Clinton has said that his greatest foreign policy mistake was not intervening in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide; any such intervention also would have been of unclear legality — and the right thing to do.

There are risks ahead, of Russia or Syria targeting American aircraft or of Iran seeking revenge against Americans in Iraq. War plans rarely survive the first shot, and military interventions are easier to begin than to end. But as long as we don’t seek to topple Assad militarily, everybody has an interest in avoiding an escalation.

Many of my fellow progressives viscerally oppose any use of force, but I think that’s a mistake. I was against the Iraq war, but some military interventions save lives. The no fly zone over northern Iraq in the 1990s is one example, and so are the British intervention in Sierra Leone and French intervention in Mali. It’s prudent to be suspicious of military interventions, but imprudent to reject any use of force categorically.

Want proof that military interventions in the Middle East can work? In 2014, Obama ordered air strikes near the Syria-Iraq border against ISIS as it was attacking members of the Yazidi minority. Those US strikes saved many thousands of Yazidi lives, although they came too late to save thousands more who were killed or kidnapped as slaves.

In Syria, the crucial question is what comes next.

There’s some bold talk among politicians about ousting Assad from Syria. Really? People have been counting on Assad’s fall for six years now, and he’s as entrenched as ever.

Moreover, if this was a one-time strike then the larger slaughter in Syria will continue indefinitely. But I’m hoping that the administration may use it as a tool to push for a ceasefire.

The New York Times

Suicide Bomber Strikes Chinese Embassy: Kills Only Himself

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News Paper)

Suicide bomb hits Chinese embassy

A suicide car bomber rammed the gates of the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek yesterday, killing the attacker and wounding at least three other people.

Officials from both countries described the assault as a terrorist act, and Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev ordered the government to take extra counter-terrorism measures in the capital and regions, his office said in statement.

China condemned the attack and urged Kyrgyz authorities to “quickly investigate and determine the real situation behind the incident.”

“China is deeply shocked by this and strongly condemns this violent and extreme act,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Hua said China strongly condemned the terrorist attack and said terrorism was “a public enemy of the international community,” as well as the most serious threat in the region.

The spokeswoman said China was ready to cooperate with Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the region to fight terrorism and maintain regional safety and stability.

Stressing that China opposes terrorism in any form, Hua said China would continue to ensure the safety of the Chinese people and institutions in other countries.

A Kyrgyz Interior Ministry spokesman said the car exploded inside the compound. Police cordoned off the embassy and adjacent area, and the GKNB state security service were investigating the bombing that occurred at about 10am.

Three embassy staff suffered minor injuries and had been taken to hospital, but no organization claimed responsibility.

At 9:32am, the explosive-laden van started ramming the embassy door and crashed into the compound. The driver immediately detonated the explosive device packed in the van, causing a powerful explosion.

“As a result of the explosion, only the suicide bomber terrorist died. Security guards were injured,” Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Jenish Razakov told reporters.

The wounded have suffered minor injuries, and are currently being treated at the hospital. The bomber was blown into pieces, and local police are trying to identify the assailant using DNA extracted from remains of the attacker.

The explosion also caused damage to the embassy’s east door and walls, as well as buildings next to the Chinese embassy.

The embassy compound and the area in the vicinity are currently under police blockade. Bomb disposal experts are working on the scene.

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Muslim former Soviet republic of 6 million people, routinely detain suspected militants linked to Islamic State, which actively recruits from Central Asia.

A Turkish official said in June that one of three Islamic State suicide bombers involved in the deadly attack on Istanbul’s main airport was a Kyrgyz national.

Attacks on Chinese missions abroad are rare but in 2015, an Islamist militant attack on a hotel in Mali killed three Chinese citizens, and in Pakistan, Chinese workers have occasionally been targeted by what police say are nationalists opposed to China’s plan to invest tens of billions of dollars in a new trade route to the Arabian Sea.

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