ISIS Releases Video of Deadly Ambush on U.S. Soldiers in Niger


By Debbie Gregory.

Last October, some 50 militants affiliated with the Islamic State launched an ambush in Niger against a U.S.-Nigerien patrol, comprised of 12 Americans and 30 Nigeriens, as they were en route to their base. The militants were armed with machine guns, small arms and rockets.

Now a propaganda video believed to have been shot from the helmet of one of the soldiers who was killed has been released by the terrorist group.

Army staff sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, La David Johnson and Dustin Wright and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in the fight.

The video reveals heartbreaking details about the courageous last moments of the four soldiers, although it is edited with multiple cuts that make the full context of the firefight unclear.

The helmet cam portion of the video began with the U.S. forces being pinned down under gunfire next to a tactical truck and a Toyota Landcruiser. Together with a few Nigerien allies, the U.S. soldiers began to move with each vehicle toward colored smoke grenades that had been deployed for cover and to alert air support. Unfortunately, it would be two hours before French jets arrived to provide air support, too late to save these brave men.

As the video ends, the clip cuts to a scene of several ISIS members on motorbikes and other vehicles.

President Trump’s condolence call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson dominated the news for the better part of a week, opening up a rift between the president and the fallen soldier’s family. The family’s congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, jumped into the fray as well, questioning Trump’s treatment of Gold Star families.

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White House Undecided as to the Future of Troops in Afghanistan


By Debbie Gregory.

Despite his displeasure at the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, President Trump has backed away from an option to pull all remaining U.S. forces from the region, days after reports claimed the administration was seriously considering the move as part of its pending plan of action for the 16-year-old war.

Contrary to recommendations from the Pentagon, the Trump Administration had been considering withdrawing all 8,400 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, rather than increasing troop presence, the White House had considered scaling back U.S. presence there, exposing a fundamental divide between the Oval Office and top military officials as to how to proceed in the region.

White House officials have found themselves hindered in the effort to forge a new strategy in a conflict where the U.S.-backed Afghan government is struggling to regain the initiative from insurgent groups, and to find the right level of U.S. military commitment.

In April, U.S. military officials said that 1,500 soldiers would be deployed to Afghanistan in response to attacks by the Islamic State militant group (ISIL or ISIS) as well as the Taliban. ISIS has claimed responsibility for a recent attack on the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul that began with a suicide bomber blowing himself up at the main gate, which allowed the terrorists to enter the building.

On August 2nd, the Pentagon confirmed that two American service members were killed after a Taliban suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy traveling through Kandahar province. The two soldiers were the eighth and ninth Americans killed in Afghanistan this year.

The U.S. military personnel currently in the region are there to “advise, train and assist missions, including counter-terrorism and air support” for local security forces, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.

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DoD to Set Troop Levels

troop levels

By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary James Mattis now has more flexibility in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State after President Trump granted the Pentagon new authorities to determine the number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Syria.

Known as the force management level, or “FML,” the number of troops deployed to either country is sent to Congress, and updated anytime there are major force deployments, which is intended to promote transparency.

“Restoring FML decisions to the Secretary of Defense enables military commanders to be more agile, adaptive and efficient in supporting our partners, and enables decisions that benefit unit readiness, cohesion and lethality,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said

Previously, the White House had retained control regarding setting troop levels under both the Obama and Bush administrations. Previous defense secretaries Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel complained about being “micromanaged” by White House officials on military matters.

Since his Senate confirmation hearings, Mattis has made clear that he is looking for ways to accelerate the campaign against ISIS.

Trump has outsourced a lot of decision making power to other departments. The decision to drop the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, referred to as the “mother of all bombs” on ISIS in Afghanistan, was made by the DoD.

The Pentagon will not routinely announce or confirm information about force numbers, locations, or troop movements in or out of Iraq and Syria.

Air Force Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for U.S. forces for Iraq and Syria said, “With regard to the number of forces that are going into Syria, and their exact locations, what they’re doing, their comings and goings, the exact capabilities we’re bringing in, the coalition is really not going to get into the business of giving play-by-play updates on those, on those capabilities.”

However, other defense officials suggest this move will allow military commanders to be more transparent with both Congress and the public.

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Vets in Congress Back Mattis for Ban Exemptions


By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has requested that President Trump exempt Iraqi nationals, who risked their lives to help American troops in wartime, from the executive order halting immigration from Iraq. Trump’s executive order, published Jan. 27, put an immediate temporary halt to immigration from seven countries, including Iraq.

Mattis has the backing of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, who made a written request in a letter to the president. The letter asks Trump to exempt Iraqi military interpreters, aides and allies from the scope of the order.

The bipartisan letter was signed by Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-California, Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts; and Peter Welch, D-Vermont.

Both Hunter and Kinzinger are veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. Stivers and Moulton are also veterans.

“We made a promise to the men and women who served alongside us on the battlefield, and we must uphold that promise to leave no man behind,” Hunter and Kinzinger said in a joint statement. “We urge the president to honor Secretary Mattis’ requests, and stand up for those who stood by our military and American personnel. For the safety of these courageous individuals and their families, and in the interest of our national security, it’s critical that we make this exception and do so swiftly.”

Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq, has publicly discussed bringing his own interpreter to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa, and has taken an even stronger stance in full opposition to Trump’s executive order.

Moulton warned that closing doors to immigration would fuel antipathy against the U.S. and help Islamic State radicals recruit new suicide bombers.

“His policies literally put our troops’ lives at risk — I’ve heard this loud and clear when I have visited them overseas,” he said. “They also prove he has zero understanding of our country’s values and no intention of defending our Constitution.”

The order caused immigrants currently in transit to be taken into custody, including Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who had reportedly worked for the U.S. government in Iraq for more than ten years. Darweesh was ultimately released.

There are special immigrant visas that were expressly created for Iraqis and Afghans who assisted American troops, so that they could relocate to the United States, acknowledging that their work put their lives and the lives of their  families in peril.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

B-2 Bombers Kill Dozens of ISIS Fighters in Libya


By Debbie Gregory.

Last week, American warplanes unleashed a massive attack on at least two Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL) training camps in Libya, killing an estimated 80 militants.

This was one of the last short-notice military operations ordered by President Barack Obama.

“The fighters training in these camps posed a security risk to Libya, to its neighbors, to our allies in Africa and Europe, and to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.

The airstrikes occurred in a remote area approximately 30 miles southwest of Sirte, a city along the Mediterranean coast that’s been a focus for U.S. forces.

The Department of Defense showed reporters a rare video of surveillance footage of the ISIS fighters as they loaded what appeared to be shells and rocket-propelled grenades into pick-up trucks. A second video showing the camps being bombed was also shown.

The strike was carried out by two US Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers and an unspecified number of unmanned MQ-9 Reapers armed with Hellfire missiles.

U.S. Navy warships equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles were also on standby, but initial reports indicate they were not needed.

“We are committed to maintaining pressure on ISIL and preventing them from establishing safe haven,” Cook said in a statement “These strikes will degrade ISIL’s ability to stage attacks against Libyan forces and civilians working to stabilize Sirte, and demonstrate our resolve in countering the threat posed by ISIL to Libya, the United States and our allies.”

The U.S. has conducted more than 500 airstrikes in Libya since last winter. The last reported U.S. activity there occurred in December, when a contingent of Navy ships carrying Marine attack jets and helicopters left the Mediterranean and returned home.

No women or children were present, and there were no reports of civilian casualties, officials noted.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Attack in US by Islamic State Likely in 2016, Experts Say


By Debbie Gregory.

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified in a rare public hearing on Capitol Hill about intelligence threats facing the nation.

Clapper is almost certain that the Islamic State (ISIS) will continue to launch or inspire attacks on American soil in 2016.

Attacks in the U.S. have included  the May attack on the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas, the July attack on the Navy and Marine reserve center in Chattanooga, TN, and the San Bernardino, CA terror attack in December.

Clapper said that ISIS can “direct and inspire attacks against a wide range of targets around the world” and that the terrorist group has demonstrated ” the threat that homegrown violent extremists also pose to the homeland.”

The horrifying success of unprecedented terrorist attacks in the United States on 9/11 demonstrated that the U.S. government’s threat assessment was wrong. So much of the effort of how to deal with enemies was geared to overseas threats that the Pentagon turned out to be totally unprepared to defend its own headquarters.

Over time, if not significantly degraded, the ISIS threat to the U.S. will become a direct one; that is, an ISIS ability to plan and direct attacks on U.S. soil from the group’s safe haven in Iraq and Syria, just like the group did in Paris

As well as the threat from ISIS and homegrown terrorists, Al-Qaeda, which spawned the Islamic State, remains a danger. Additionally, we need to keep ever vigilant regarding Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

Clapper explained that North Korea has expanded a uranium enrichment facility and restarted a plutonium reactor that could begin recovering material for nuclear weapons in weeks or months.

He also said that Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile capable of posing a direct threat to the United States, “although the system has not been flight-tested.”

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Price Tag for Airstrikes Against Islamic State Hits $5.5B


By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. has won battles, destroyed targets, and saved towns from ISIS, but we might not be winning a war that carries with it a massive price tag.

The air war against the Islamic State group has cost the American taxpayer $5.5 billion, roughly $11.2 million per day. This is a $2 million increase since June, this according to the latest Defense Department data.

The Air Force accounts for $3.75 billion of that cost, totaling roughly $7.7 million/day since the U.S. began launching airstrikes in August, 2014.

In 2015, the Air Force conducted 21,000 sorties over Iraq and Syria, 9,000 of which included at least one weapons release. For the first time, in the last two months of 2015, the Air Force surpassed over 3,100 dropped bombs during Operation Inherent Resolve.

Recently, the U.S.-led coalition blew up a warehouse in Iraq where the Islamic State held millions of dollars in cash, a defense official confirmed.

In November, Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said that munitions from A-10s and C-130s destroyed 116 tanker trucks in what the Defense Department has called Operation Tidal Wave II — a push to limit the Islamic State’s oil revenue.

U.S. allies have stepped up their targeting of the militant group following the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

According to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the United States will convene a meeting next month of defense ministers from 27 countries participating in the fight against the Islamic State. The meeting in Brussels will focus on how each member of the coalition could contribute more to defeating the extremist group, assist with the reconstruction of cities that were held by the Islamic State, and on countering the group’s propaganda.

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USS Harry S. Truman Deployed in Fight Against ISIS


By Debbie Gregory.

The Norfolk-based Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, currently in the Arabian Gulf, is launching airstrikes against Islamic State (IS or ISIS) terrorists, according to the Navy.

The strike group includes guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio and guided-missile destroyers USS Bulkeley, USS Gravely and USS Gonzalez.

The carrier and its crew of approximately 6,000 sailors left Naval Station Norfolk November 16th, on what’s expected to be a seven-month deployment, filling a U.S. carrier absence in the Middle East.

The Truman joins the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle for combined combat operations in Iraq and Syria, the Navy said. France has been an active member of the U.S.-led coalition force since ISIS claimed credit for the attacks in its capital city November 16th.

Originally, the Truman was set to deploy in 2016, but the Navy had it switch deployments with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike), which needed additional time in the shipyard. Ike had a record-setting, 23-month yard period after back-to-back deployments from June 2012 to December 2012, and from February 2013 to July 2013, causing more maintenance than expected.

The Truman provides a wide range of flexible mission capabilities, including maritime security operations, expeditionary power projection, forward naval presence, crisis response, sea control, deterrence, counter-terrorism, information operations and security cooperation. The ship’s embarked air wing is capable of projecting tactical air power over the sea and inland, as well as providing sea based air, surface and subsurface defense capabilities.

The ship’s crew keeps up a lively presence on social media, posting pictures on their Facebook page to keep loved ones up to date with their activities. While it must have been difficult to have them gone for the holidays, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 holiday pictures featuring hundreds of crew members in the “Happy Holidays” photo album.

“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. ”
-President Harry S. Truman

Give ‘Em Hell!

Fighting a “Social Media” Enemy


By Debbie Gregory.

While social media can be a tool of liberation and freedom, it can also be used for the rapid dissemination of harmful information.

Such is the case with homegrown terrorists who support the Islamic State, commonly referred to as IS, ISIS, and ISIL. According to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in some cases, they are “just losers with a keyboard.”

Rather than calling followers to the front lines, ISIS’s social media strategy cultivates them at home in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Asia. And the result can be devastating, as demonstrated by the violent attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California.

Carter called ISIS the United States’ first “social media enemy.” But, the United States will defeat them, he said.

“We have to be ingenious, and that’s why I’m committed to thinking and working and adapting so that we change our techniques and our avenues of attack so they don’t know we’re taking them by surprise, and we’re doing new things to defeat them,” he said. “We’re going to keep doing that until they’re defeated, which they will be.”

Dismantling a website or Twitter feed is a temporary solution, since it’s so easy to create a new one. But in a step to control abuse, Twitter has clarified its definition of abusive behavior that will result in deleted accounts, banning “hateful conduct” that promotes violence against specific groups.

“You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or disease,” according to the revised rules.

The social media company disclosed the changes in a blog post, following rising criticism it was not doing enough to thwart ISIS’ use of the site for propaganda and recruitment.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Drones Seek Out Terrorists: Military Connection

Drones Seek Out Terrorists

By Debbie Gregory.

The CIA and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces have launched a secret drone program designed to hunt down and kill high-value members of the Islamic State (IS).

Among those recently killed was 21 year old Junaid Hussain, a British militant thought to be an architect of the terrorist group’s effort to use social media to incite attacks in the United States. Hussain moved up in the “target list” after his name was linked to one of the two gunmen who opened fire at the Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland in Texas earlier this year.

The collaboration represents a significant escalation of the CIA’s involvement in the war in Syria, enlisting the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) against a militant group that many officials believe has eclipsed al-Qaeda as a threat.

The CTC has been given an expanded role in identifying and locating senior IS figures, with the strikes being carried out exclusively by JSOC. The officials said the program is aimed at terrorism suspects deemed “high-value targets.”

The program is a move away from the president’s stated ambition to end the CIA’s involvement in drone strikes and return the agency to its traditional spy role.

The decision to enlist the CIA and JSOC reflects rising anxiety among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the danger the Islamic State poses, as well as frustration with the failure of conventional strikes to degrade the group’s strength. President Barack Obama’s goal is to “degrade” and “destroy” the jihadist movement, as it continues to control large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

IS poses different challenges, because unlike al-Qaeda, IS has extensive territory, a seemingly endless stream of recruits, and a deep roster of senior operatives, many of whom served in the military of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.