Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We're Abandoning Them - We Are The Mighty
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Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

airaslt (powers w elders) A U.S. Army company commander uses one of his interpreters to consult with tribal elders in a village in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan following an air assault. (Photo: Ward Carroll)


It was early morning, still dark at Fort Bragg when one of my teammates called from Afghanistan with bad news.

“Both Juma and Ish have been killed,” he said, without any attempt to hide the fact that he’d been crying.

It was May 2006, and the bulk of our unit was one month away from another deployment to Afghanistan. Two of our best interpreters had been stopped at a Taliban checkpoint. A fighter recognized them. He knew they’d been working with the Americans. Their bodies were found the next morning, brutally tortured and mutilated.

Also Read: This Powerful Film Tells How Marines Fought ‘One Day Of Hell’ In Fallujah 

I went numb as the words continued through the phone. I scrambled for a note pad to try to capture all the information. It was too much to process. As soon as everyone mustered in the team room, I broke the news. The impact was immediate. To us, it was no different than losing a fellow American soldier.

Congress has authorized 8,750 visas for Afghan interpreters, but only 1,982 have been issued through December, according to the Los Angeles Times. Thousands of interpreters are in jeopardy as the State Department tries to clear the logjam of applications for the Special Immigrant Visa.

The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, which also assists Afghan refugees, told the Times the SIV process is “prohibitively complicated, bureaucratic and opaque.” The group ran into the same problem at the end of the Iraq War when only slightly more than 6,500 out of 25,000 visas were issued to Iraqi interpreters.

As a Special Forces officer with eight deployments, I can tell you without a doubt that Afghans who have risked their lives, families and futures are going to be left behind to face horrific consequences, like Juma and Ish did, for aiding the United States.

This will have a lasting impact on future wars and U.S. strategic interests. As American forces track terrorists in the Arabian Peninsula and across the African continent, we will need local assistance at many levels, specifically interpreters. Leaving our Afghan allies to die is a clear warning to anyone who would even think about assisting the US in its foreign policy or strategy that unless you are on the Department of State or CIA payroll, you will be left to die.

Interpreters are our eyes and ears when deployed. They know the local customs, cultural norms and religion. They can see when things are out of place and they understand the nuisance of the villages and tribes. When American forces arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, we knew nothing. Our interpreters have kept us safe and even helped us fight. But they also became part of our units, teams and families.

Take Jerry for example.

Jerry (a nickname we gave him) was my personal interpreter during Operation Medusa, the largest Coalition operation in ISAF history. A 22-year-old kid, he emulated our speech, dressed in our uniform and even chewed neswar, the Afghan version of Copenhagen, like the other members of the team.

Prior to the mission, he had gotten married. We told him he could sit this operation out since we knew it was going to be very dangerous and he was a newlywed.

“I don’t think so, my brother,” he said in Pashtu.

Jerry liked to make me practice my Pashtu so that I understood what was being said in tribal meetings behind my back. I remember him smiling like a Cheshire cat, his short thick beard and black curly hair sticking out from under the Special Forces ball cap I had given him as he said, “If you go, I go. If you die, I die.”

Two months after the battle, we were maneuvering thru a village when the vehicle Jerry was riding in struck an IED. As I approached the mangled truck, the first thing I saw in the dirt was Jerry’s burned ball cap.

I turned to go call in a Medevac. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jerry struggling to stand against a mud wall. In spite of the fact that he had been blown nearly 30 feet in to the air, he was holding his broken weapon and pulling security.

His scrawny legs wobbled in misery. He was bloody and covered in dirt. He lived up to his promise to die with us. I made the commitment then and there that I would not leave him, nor the others interpreters like him behind.

Since I left Afghanistan in 2012, Jerry has been attacked in his mosque, moved his family nearly a dozen times and survived being shot three times. His last email to me was a desperate plea.

“I’m 24-hour in house not coming out like jailer, bro,” he wrote. “Thanks again for keeping asking me, brother. I wish I didn’t have my two daughters suffer if I die. I would be (in) paradise if I see you in the State with my Family. Please help us.”

I’ve written letters, emails, and made hundreds of phone calls trying to pry loose a half dozen applications of interpreters I worked with in Afghanistan. I feel betrayed by the American immigration policy and the deadly double standard it represents. We will accept immigrants who snuck across our borders illegally but not heroes who have served our nation and its cause.

Afghan Interpreters are throwing themselves at the altar of freedom only to be left to die. To State Department bureaucrats, these men are pieces of paper, but to thousands of American soldiers, they are brothers in arms.

They should be allowed to live in peace and freedom. They’ve earned it.

NOW: The Mighty Taps: 9 Famous Veterans Who Died In 2014

OR: Brigade Combat Team Is Headed To Iraq To Do Everything But Engage In Combat 

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5 heroic movie acts a military officer would never do

Hollywood loves to use the military in its movies. You can’t blame Tinsel Town because they’re awesome. But on occasion, film directors and screenwriters tend not to identify the fine line between theatrical and practical.


Americans thrive on celebrating the actions of a war hero that saves the day (in slow motion of course) with the perfect Hans Zimmer underscore playing over the calibrated speakers. It’s emotionally driving.

Veterans can see through the bulls*** and know when our favorite characters go a little too far. So check out these heroic movie acts that an officer would never do (probably).

1.  Rhodey finds Tony

In Jon Favreau’s 2008 “Ironman” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is kidnapped by a terrorist group and forced to build one of his deadly signature missiles the “Jericho.” Instead, the brilliant engineer creates the Mark 1 suit, defeats the first act villain and escapes.

 

Then, Rhodey (Terrance Howard) just so happens to show up finding Tony walking out and about in what appears to be a very large desolate area after spending three months in captivity. That’s quite a lot of missions he’d have to fly to save his missing bestie. With the odds that this was his first search and rescue mission, he should buy a lottery ticket.

2. Leave no man behind

Owen Wilson stars as a jokester Naval aviator who gets shot down and must fight to stay alive as he’s pursued by some pretty bad boys in Bosnia. Then, Rear Adm. Reigart, played Lex Luthor (I mean  Gene Hackman) risks everything — including his command — to fly out and rescue one of his men in “Behind Enemy Lines.”

That’s what we call heroic.

3. “You can’t handle the truth!”

Audiences love courtroom dramas and that’s why Hollywood continues to produce them.

In Rob Reiner’s 1992 hit “A Few Good Men,”  Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) go toe-to-toe in the climatic third act of discovering the truth of who ordered the “code red.”

Let’s face it – real or not, it’s a freakin’ awesome scene!

4.  Engage – Engage!

2005’s “Rules of Engagement” stars Samuel L. Jackson playing Terry Childers, a Marine colonel who after successfully evacuating an American ambassador and his family in Yemen from an invading crowd orders his men to turn their sights on the invaders to end the fight — which contained women and children.

 

Also read: 35 technical errors in ‘Rules of Engagement’

5. Buzzing the tower

Tom Cruise plays Maverick in Tony Scott‘s “Topgun,” which was a hugely successful film in 1986 and helped sell tons of aviator sunglass. Admit it, you bought a pair.

After an epic battle with a Topgun instructor named Jester (played by Michael Ironside), Maverick gets a hair up his a** and decides to buzz the air control tower.

 

A pilot could totally lose his flight status for this prank.

Can you think of any others? Comment below.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These five female vets get really real about women serving in combat roles

WATM hosted groups of veterans to answer several questions about their time in the military. The vets kept it real when responding to topics ranging from relationships to recruiters.


Editor’s note: If you have ideas for questions that you’d like to see a group of veterans answer, please leave a comment below.

 

 

 

Music courtesy of Jingle Punks:

I Can Be Your Home-JP – Western Youths

Anyone Else-JP – The Beards

Articles

An FBI translator married the ISIS terrorist she was investigating

Rogue FBI translator Daniela Greene stole off to Syria and married the Islamic State terrorist she was supposed to investigate.


Federal records state that Greene, who had a top secret security clearance, lied to the FBI about her reason for traveling to Syria. She also told her ISIS husband he was under investigation, CNN reports.

The man’s name is Denis Cuspert. He started off as a German rapper and eventually moved to Syria to join the Islamic State, adopting the name Abu Talha al-Almani.

Greene joined him in Syria but quickly realized she had made a terrible mistake and fled back to the U.S. It’s not clear how she traveled into Syria or how she managed to escape from deep inside the country.

John Kirby, a former State Department official under the Obama administration, told CNN that in order to enter ISIS territory in Syria, Greene likely would’ve needed the authorization of top ISIS leaders, as ordinary people risk “getting their heads cut off.”

She was immediately arrested upon returning to the U.S., at which point she served two years in prison and was released the summer of 2016.

Since she no longer works at the FBI, she’s taken a job as a hostess at a hotel lounge.

Her story has never been told until now.

The trouble began when she was assigned to monitor Cuspert due to her fluency in German. Cuspert had converted to Islam in 2010 and ended up in Egypt and Libya in 2012.

In 2013, he made the jump to Syria and later appeared in a 2014 video in which he pledged allegiance to ISIS .

Although it’s unclear how the relationship between Greene and Cuspert formed, Greene completed an FBI travel authorization form, saying she was traveling to Munich for vacation. Instead, she flew to Istanbul, Turkey, and went to a city close to the Syrian border, at which point a third party brought her over the border.

She then married Cuspert.

Before she left Syria, she told an unidentified person in the U.S. what a horrible mistake she had made.

“Not sure if they told you that I will probably go to prison for a long time if I come back, but that is life. I wish I could turn back time some days,” she wrote on July 22, 2014, to the unidentified person.

The Pentagon thought it had killed Cuspert in an airstrike in October 2015, but Cuspert in fact survived.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Veteran gets his diploma 76 years after missing graduation to fight in WWII

A Chicago veteran missed his graduation day in 1944 serving in World War II. But on June 13, 2019, he walked across the stage, officially graduating with the Class of 2019.

William Wagner, 94, was drafted during the last half of his senior year at Tilden High School on Chicago’s South Side, ABC7 reported.

“They told me to take history and civics to get my diploma,” Wagner told ABC7. “I went to the draft board and they said, ‘Punk you got a number, you got to go.'”


WWII veteran graduates from Tilden High School at age 94

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On June 12, 1943, a date he said he can easily recall, he joined the Navy, serving as a cook onboard the USS Yosemite, whose company repaired ships destroyed in the war, according to ABC7.

Forrest Wagner, the WWII vet’s son, arranged for the school to send him the diploma, which came a day before William Wagner’s birthday on March 7, ABC7 reported. The diploma then became his birthday present, complete with balloons and a graduation cap.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

USS Yosemite.

“How awesome is that for a young teenager to sit back and put his country before his own wants and needs,” Forrest told ABC7. “What he scarified for me and my brothers and sisters, and then also for his country, I believe I will never be able to repay.”

William told ABC7 that walking across the stage at this year’s graduation ceremony came at a close second as the best moment in his life, with the first being his marriage.

“Seventy-six years,” William said. “It took me that long to get my diploma, instead of going through four years.”

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

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Founder of organization that assists families of the fallen receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them
(Photo: Andrew Harnik, Alaska Dispatch News)


Bonnie Carroll, the founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at a ceremony held in the East Room of the White House on November 24. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Carroll founded TAPS after her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992, TAPS provides comprehensive support to those impacted by the death of a military family member. The organization’s programs like Good Grief camps and National Military Survivor seminars have brought effective comfort and care to families of the fallen since 1994, most acutely in the years since 9-11.

“This is a tremendous honor,” Carroll told WATM immediately following the ceremony. “It’s a recognition of American respect and reverence for all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and the families they loved and left behind.”

Sixteen others were recognized by President Obama during the event including entertainers James Taylor, Gloria Estefan, and Barbara Streisand, baseball legend Willie Mays, lawmakers Shirley Chisholm and Lee Hamilton, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, composer Stephen Sondheim, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

“It was wonderful to meet [the other awardees],” Carroll said. “Gloria Estefan lost her dad in the Army, so she’s kind of a TAPS kid. And Steven Spielberg was telling me about a project he’s working on to bring awareness to those dealing post traumatic stress and veteran suicide. So this was a tremendous opportunity to meet those who’ve made a difference in the county and also take our work forward.”

Carroll is also a retired major in the Air Force Reserve. She serves on the Defense Health Board and co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces.

“From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” President Obama said during the ceremony.

For more about the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors go here.

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Japan bombed the US mainland during World War II hoping to start a forest fire

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them


Japan conducted a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 that ultimately brought the United States into World War II.

What most people don’t know is that Japan conducted two surprise attacks on the U.S. mainland less than a year later, with the goal of starting wildfires. Now known as the Lookout Air Raids, beginning on Sep. 9, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Oregon, assembled a seaplane, and pilot Nobuo Fujita took off toward the Oregon forests.

Here’s what happened next, according to the Los Angeles Times:

At 6:24 a.m. Mr. Howard Gardner, a forestry service observer on Mt. Emily reported seeing an unidentified seaplane come from the west, circle and return toward the sea. He described the plane as a single-motored biplane with a single float and small floats on the wing tips. The plane appeared to be small and of slow speed. It had no lights, no distinct color and no insignia was visible. It is possible that a plane of this type might have been carried on a submarine.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the best time to start a fire since the area was so damp. While Fujita did successfully drop his bombs and start a small fire, it didn’t turn into the hoped-for wildfires that would take valuable resources away from the war effort.

Three weeks later, Fujita gave it another try with two more bombs, and once again, he was unsuccessful.

In his obituary in 1997, The New York Times wrote:

A quiet, humble man who in his later years was deeply ashamed of his air raids on the United States, Mr. Fujita eventually forged a remarkable bond of friendship with the people of Brookings, the small logging town whose surrounding forests he had bombed. Last week, as he lay dying, the town council of Brookings hailed Mr. Fujita an ”ambassador of good will” and proclaimed him an ”honorary citizen” of the town.

His mission was unsuccessful but he was hailed as a hero back in Japan. And Fujita did earn his place in history as the pilot flying the only enemy aircraft that has ever bombed the U.S. mainland.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The ‘Raptors’ are elite Chinese police arresting protesters in Hong Kong

On the front lines of the unrest in Hong Kong are the Raptors, an elite subdivision of the Hong Kong Police Force. Their official name is the Special Tactical Squad, but that moniker doesn’t really cover everything the Raptors do, from crowd control and riot control to clearing roadblocks and infiltrating disruptive groups. The STS was created in the midst of chaos and will be there whenever Hong Kong descends back into it.


Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

The Special Tactical Squad was formed in 2014 in the middle of the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, a civil unrest that was a response to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’ efforts to undermine the democratic system in Hong Kong. The police response to the 100,000 protestors that flooded the city’s streets was underwhelming. They had no apparatus in place to handle such protests. The Raptors were created to contain the widespread protests and were deployed in 2016 during the “Fishball Revolution” and are again deployed on the streets.

Every time the Chinese government tries to impose its will on the city of Hong Kong, its people crowd the streets in massive protests, and the Raptors are called in. The latest protests see upwards of a million people protesting in the streets in 2019.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

Around the Police Tactical Unit, which the Special Tactical Squad is a part of, they’re called the “Removal Team,” as they’re usually tasked with removing debris and clearing roadblocks, as well as removing unruly protesters. For the last, the local media call them “The Professional Removal Team.” When the Hong Kong police are overwhelmed, the Raptors special training and gear are able to work over crowds in sizes that regular police forces just couldn’t manage. Now they’re doing much more than responding to civil unrest – they’re actively preventing it.

People close to the organized protests say Raptors officers went undercover in protest groups to undermine the most radical protesters. On Aug. 12, Raptors arrested 15 organizers in a carefully coordinated decoy operation to remove the most violent of rioters. The Raptors are now being comprised of counterterrorism officers, which probably explains the shift in tactics on the ground. Protestors with a violent past can now be arrested in secret.

The Raptors would usually have just done battle with those protesters. Times sure have changed.

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Latest missile test shows US can knock Kim’s missiles from the sky

The US military shot an incoming missile out of the sky in a successful intercept test Aug. 30.


The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launched an SM-6 interceptor to bring down a medium-range ballistic missile off the coast of Hawaii, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

The missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. Using the on-board AN/SPY-1 radar, the destroyer detected and tracked the missile.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them
The USS John Paul Jones. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Crossley.

“We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase,” MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said in a statement. “We will continue developing ballistic missile defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves.”

The Aug. 30 test marked the second time an SM-6 interceptor has been used to intercept an MRBM. The military has conducted three tests in total, but during a test in June, the interceptor failed as a result of human error. A sailor on the USS John Paul Jones triggered a self-destruct sequence by mistake.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launches a Standard Missile 6 during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system. Photo from US Navy.

The US military’s latest intercept test comes just two days after North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan in an unusually-provocative missile test. The North warned that it will continue firing missiles into the Pacific Ocean, adding that the recent test was a “prelude” to possible strikes on or around Guam.

The US has lost a few Aegis destroyers in recent months, hindering missile defense in a volatile region. Both the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain were damaged severely after collisions with merchant vessels in June and August. The two accidents killed seventeen American sailors. The US military still has numerous missile defense assets — from Patriot interceptors to Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems — in the area though.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US-Taliban peace talks end with ‘real strides made’ but no deal

The longest round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban has ended with “real strides” being made but without an agreement on troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on March 12, 2019.

“The conditions for peace have improved. It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides,” Khalilzad said on Twitter, adding that another round is possible later this month after the 16 days of negotiations in Qatar’s capital, Doha.


But Khalilzad said “there is no final agreement until everything is agreed.”

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have been attempting to hammer out the details of the framework agreement reached in January 2019.

The main disagreements are over four interconnected issues, including the Taliban breaking off ties with groups designated as terrorists by Washington; the timetable of a U.S. military withdrawal; a cease-fire in Afghanistan; and an intra-Afghan dialogue that would include the Taliban and government representatives.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said negotiators made “meaningful progress” during the talks.

The spokesman said the Taliban agreed that peace will require agreement on counterterrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, and a cease-fire.

“Progress was achieved regarding both these issues,” said a Taliban spokesman, referring to the U.S. troop withdrawal and assurances that foreign militants would not use Afghanistan’s territory to stage future terrorist attacks.

Neither side mentioned any progress made on reversing the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with the government in Kabul. The militant group says the Western-backed government is a U.S. “puppet” that must be toppled.

Afghan Chief Executive: Foreign Troops Still Needed ‘Until War Over’

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The Afghan government has been angered and frustrated at being sidelined at the peace talks.

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told RFE/RL that he was skeptical of the Taliban’s motives and urged Washington to keep troops in the country until a formal settlement that includes the Kabul has been signed with the militants.

Abdullah also said Afghans were “concerned” that the Kabul government has been sidelined from the talks in Qatar but insisted it had not caused a rift with Washington.

“Unless the Afghan government has direct negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan people have the right to be concerned,” Abdullah, who is the de facto prime minister in the national unity government, said in an interview in Kabul on March 12, 2019.

“The Taliban wants to use these peace talks for political and propaganda purposes instead of using this as a step towards peace,” he added.

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to pull out the roughly 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan and has tasked U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad with reaching a settlement with the militants.

During a round of talks in Doha in January 2019, U.S. and Taliban negotiators reached the basic framework of a potential peace deal in which the militants would prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan in exchange of a withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

But Abdullah urged Washington to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan until a comprehensive peace settlement is reached between the United States, the Taliban, and Kabul.

“The Taliban wants foreign troops to leave Afghanistan,” he said. “It’s also the demand of the Afghan people. But our opinion, and that of the Afghan people, is that until the war is over and peace is restored, there is a need for the presence of these troops.”

U.S. and other foreign troops have been in Afghanistan since an October 2001 invasion that brought down the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, who launched the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the agenda for Mattis’ Indo-Asia-Pacific tour

Strengthening ties with allies, increasing defense capabilities in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and discussions about the threat of North Korea are among the topics Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will contend with on his trip to the region, he told reporters traveling with him yesterday.


The secretary arrived in the Philippines on Oct. 23. He laid out his agenda for the trip during an in-flight news conference.

Mattis will meet with Philippine officials before taking part in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministerial set for Oct. 23-25. That meeting is at the former Clark Air Base.

“One of the first things I’m going to do when I get there is commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists,” he told reporters. “It was a very tough fight, as you know, in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines battled forces allied under the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Marawi. Coalition forces helped the Philippine troops with intelligence, advice and logistic support. While small pockets of terrorists remain, the government declared the city liberated Oct. 17.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them
Marawi, Phillipines, sits on the northern bank of Lake Lanao. The tiny country is surrounded by the Phillipine, South China, Sulu, and Celebes Seas, and the Pacific Ocean to the east. (image Chrisgel Ryan Cruz)

ASEAN

The association has been in existence for almost 50 years and is a force promoting peace and stability in the region. It is a forum for the nations to discuss issues among themselves and hash out ways to cooperate that brings prosperity to the region, Mattis said. The meeting also marks 40 years of friendship and cooperation between ASEAN and the United States.

“ASEAN provides an international venue, giving voice to those who want relations between states to be based on respect, not on predatory economics or on the size of militaries,” he said. “ASEAN nations have demonstrated that they can listen to one another, they identify opportunities to increase defense cooperation for their own security and seek shared solutions to shared concerns. The U.S. remains unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN.”

The secretary will take advantage of his time at the meeting to visit with his regional counterparts, he said. In addition to meeting Philippine counterparts, Mattis is scheduled to meet with representatives of Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

He will also hold trilateral talks with Japanese and South Korean defense officials.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them
Signalman Seaman Adrian Delaney practices his semaphore aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) during an at-sea training evolution with the Royal Thai Navy tank landing ship Her Thai MajestyÕs Ship (HTMS) Prathong (LST 715) during the Thailand phase of exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). (U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 3rd Class Alicia T. Boatwright.)

North Korea

Mattis said the regional disturbances created by North Korea will be on the agenda at ASEAN. He said will also emphasize the shared values the nations of the alliance have, the territorial sovereignty of the nations and the need for “freedom of navigation through historically international waters and fair and reciprocal trade.”

Related: This is why Mattis isn’t losing sleep over threats from North Korea

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mattis will lead the official U.S. delegation to the funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016. The royal cremation rite ends the period of mourning for the country — one of America’s treaty allies in the region. “He was understandably beloved by his people and a proponent of our strong Thailand-United States relationship,” the defense secretary said.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

After the ASEAN meeting ends, Mattis will move on to Seoul, where he and South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo will co-chair the 49th annual Security Consultative Meeting. “There, we will underscore our ironclad commitment to each other,” Mattis said.

North Korea is a threat to the region and globally, defense officials have said. Two unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions have isolated the state from the rest of the world. The U.N. acted after North Korea detonated nuclear devices and flew an intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan. During his meetings in South Korea, the secretary said he will discuss reinforcing diplomatic efforts to return to a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

The defense leaders will also discuss “how we are going to maintain peace by keeping our militaries alert while our diplomats — Japanese, South Korean and U.S. — work with all nations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Garbage collection in Syria is crucial to fighting ISIS

Just a few years ago, I was a diplomat working on the Turkish-Syrian border. My job was managing the U.S. government team responsible for delivering aid to Syrian towns and cities loyal to the Syrian opposition.

These were towns that had turned against President Bashar al-Assad when the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East and Assad ordered his army to shoot peaceful civilians protesting against him.


Now I’m retired from the Foreign Service and teaching international relations at the University of Washington in Seattle, where my students struggle to understand why the U.S. never seems to learn from past mistakes in the conduct of our foreign affairs.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

University of Washington in Seattle.

Given recent decisions and announcements by President Trump about withdrawing much of our aid and our troops from northern Syria while the civil war continues and the Islamic State Group, or “IS,” still threatens, it’s a timely question.

Stability and local services

To understand what’s at stake in Syria, it’s helpful to look at Iraq.

More than 15 years after the U.S. invaded Iraq and eight years after the U.S. said it was leaving the country, Iraq is unstable. Five thousand U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq today, tasked with shoring up the still struggling Iraqi armed forces.

One of the reasons for the instability is the U.S. decision in 2003 to dismiss nearly all leaders of the Iraqi civil service when it toppled dictator Saddam Hussein because they were members of Hussein’s Baath Party.

With much of the civil service gone, local services like water and electricity fell apart and essential public employees fled. That left a perfect vacuum for extremist groups like IS to exploit by taking control of essentially ungoverned territory. The U.S. continues to pay the price for this avoidable decision today.

If the U.S. cuts off support for communities inside Syria that oppose Bashar al-Assad and fly the Syrian Opposition flag, and withdraws American troops from the fight against IS – as President Trump has announced – we will be making the same mistake again. We’ll be creating a vacuum our enemies can exploit.

Keeping local officials on the job

The U.S. has supported these communities since 2012. I directed the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government aid from 2012 until 2016, as head of the team known as the Syria Transition Assistance Response Team.

Syrian refugees will never go back home if their towns can’t offer the basic services they enjoyed before the war.

Our simple strategy was that when peace returns to Syria, key local officials would still be on the job, ready to reconnect their communities to the national systems that provided services before the war.

Thus would begin the long, difficult process of reuniting Syria.

The money and supplies my team and I delivered helped keep important local officials on the job so they wouldn’t give up and flee their country to seek refuge in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, like millions of others before them. These were experienced civilians who could keep the water and power on, manage the sewers and clean the streets.

We helped them with small stipends – a portion of their former salary – because the Syrian government had stopped paying them. And we provided equipment they needed to do their jobs: garbage trucks, generators, water tanks and fire trucks. We helped teachers, doctors and local police with small stipends, supplies and equipment, too.

Nothing was more satisfying for me than seeing videos of a new garbage truck that we sent from Turkey removing piles of garbage from the streets of Saraqib or one of the new ambulances we provided tending to innocent civilians injured in the latest barrel bombing in Aleppo.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

International aid paid for the rehabilitation of an unreliable electricity grid in a town near Aleppo, Syria in 2015.

(Syria Recovery Trust Fund, Author provided)

It’s in everyone’s interest to keep civil service workers on the job, paid something and equipped. That will help put Syria back together again someday and deny ungoverned space for IS and other extremist groups. The last thing the U.S. and countries in the region need is for Syria to disintegrate into warring regions, like Iraq and Libya today.

International aid

Other countries joined the effort to rebuild Syria, notably the U.K., the Netherlands and Denmark. Still more countries are contributing to an international fund based in Jordan that helps the same communities; my team cooperated closely with this effort.

Stopping this funding means jeopardizing Syria’s future at the worst possible time, just as the conflict appears to be coming to an end. I believe that reuniting the country should be the priority now.

Syria’s neighbors, especially Turkey, long supported the U.S. approach because it kept Syrians in Syria, diminishing the flood of refugees to Turkey.

Of course, the Syrian government and its supporters, Russia and Iran, opposed our aid. The assistance we gave sustained communities that the government and its allies continue to bomb into submission and surrender, particularly in Idlib province.

But the aid President Trump cut, sometimes called stabilization assistance, goes to local civilian officials, working to help the sick and wounded and keep children in school.

Afghan Interpreters Risked Their Lives For Us — Now We’re Abandoning Them

Larry Bartlett, senior adviser for the Syria Transition Assistance Response Team meets with members of the Civil Administration of Manbij, Syria, in August 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Izabella Sullivan)

An opening for IS

Similarly, withdrawing U.S. troops sent to Syria to eliminate IS – when our own count suggests at least 1,000 IS fighters remain there – may serve short term political ends, but will likely come back to haunt the U.S. and Syria’s neighbors.

President Trump may worry about the price tag for rebuilding Syria, once the war ends. He is right to be concerned. The cost will be enormous and arguably the U.S. should not spend a dime.

The old adage – you broke it, you fix it – applies to the Syria conflict. I believe we should let Syria, Russia and Iran pay the billions it will take to fix what they broke – the infrastructure of bombed-out cities and towns.

The modest U.S. investment in local communities that the White House cut off – 0 million, not billions – could have helped prevent the collapse of communities in the future.

So, what do I tell my students in Seattle?

I remind them that they are our future leaders. I tell them that if we are not to repeat the mistakes of my generation, they should study and learn from history, and avoid short-term fixes to disentangle the U.S. from future foreign interventions.

“Silver bullets” don’t work – and usually force us to return later, at a greater cost.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

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