Task & Purpose is a news and culture site geared toward the next great generation of American veterans. We offer an outlet for well-written analysis and commentary on veterans and greater military affairs.The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming to an end, and what results is a new kind of American veteran.
The Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General on Thursday cleared former Boeing executive and current acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan of allegations that he unethically favored Boeing in an official capacity as head of the Defense Department — and the only thing he's guilty of is criticizing the F-35 program for being an expensive disaster.
As part of the the IG inquiry, officials investigated alleged comments Shanahan made regarding Boeing's notoriously unreliable F-35 airframe. In January, Politico reported that Shanahan had actively shit-talked the F-35 in Pentagon meetings; one official even said Shanahan said it was "fucked up" and that Boeing would have done a "much better" job with it.
Well, the IG office found that those comments weren't totally true, per se (emphasis ours):
"Mr. Shanahan told us that he did not say that the F-35 aircraft was 'f---ed up.' He told us that the F-35 aircraft is 'awesome.' Mr. Shanahan told us that he said the F-35 program was 'f---ed up.'"
"[W]e concluded that Mr. Shanahan did not 'repeatedly dump' on the F-35 aircraft in meetings. Rather, we determined that Mr. Shanahan's comments related to the F-35 program and its performance, and were consistent with other comments about problems in the F-35 program made by other senior DoD officials."
When the IG investigators asked Air Force Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, about Shanahan's comments, he said that "many people criticized the F-35 program. I've criticized the F-35 program in public."
A federal judge on Thursday ordered the release of the Coast Guard lieutenant accused of amassing an arsenal of illegal firearms and plotting the assassination of journalists and Democratic politicians, the Associated Press reports.
Lt. Christopher Hasson was arrested on Feb. 15 for illegal firearms and drug possession and described a "domestic terrorist" in a February indictment by federal prosecutors, which alleged Hasson "intend[ed] to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.
But in a mid-April court filing, defense attorney Liz Oyer requested U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Day to release Hasson from custody unless federal prosecutors decided to formally charge her client with domestic terrorism — which, as Day acknowledged Thursday, they had failed to do.
In granting his pre-trial release, Day expressed "grave concerns" about the Hasson based on the evidence presented by federal prosecutors and stated that the accused is "going to have to have a whole lot of supervision," per Time, including electronic monitoring and house arrest.
That evidence included a cache of 15 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammo uncovered in a post-arrest search of Hasson's home, along with a hit list of targets that included including prominent Democratic politicians like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as several high-profile media personalities.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors argued that Hasson's hit list included Supreme Court Justices, and that he was "planning attacks inspired by the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage," according to Bloomberg News.
Hasson is currently awaiting trial on four gun and drug charges, including illegal possession of firearm silencers, possession of firearms by a drug addict and unlawful user, and possession of a controlled substance, according to the Associated Press. He plead not guilty in March; if convicted, he faces a maximum of 31 years in prison.
So, how goes the never-ending war in Afghanistan? According to United States's top government oversight authority there, well, we don't know and can't say.
"Almost every indicia, metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent," said John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), told Wednesday. "Over time, it's been classified or it's no longer being collected ... The classification in some areas is needless."
To be clear, Sopko isn't just saying that the Pentagon has opted to keep more information on the on its progress in Afghanistan classified — he's saying that the Pentagon has outright ceased gathering critical data on whether the United States is actually succeeding or failing after sinking 17 years, 2,400 fallen service members, and $900 billion dollars into a seemingly endless conflict. This isn't just alarming statement coming from a government watchdog, but level of mind-numbing epistemic gymnastics on par with Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns."
Donald Rumsfeld Unknown Unknowns ! - YouTube
To be clear, there are lots of things we know about the progress of the geopolitical albatross known as U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan — and they're all fucking dismal. Here's a depressingly non-comprehensive list:
A June 2018 SIGAR report indicated that the $8.62 billion allocated to fighting the Talbian's highly--profitable narcotics operation was a miserable failure. Indeed, Sopko revealed on Wednesday that the much-hyped year-long bombing of Taliban drug labs under the codename Operation Iron Tempest "didn't have the intended effect of hitting the Taliban's purse and was probably a waste of resources," as Military Times put it.
A October 2018 SIGAR report found that the central government in Kabul only controls or has influence just over 55% of Afghanistan's discrete districts, down from 71% of the country in November 2015 and the lowest point of control since SIGAR even started using districts as a strategic metric.
A September 2018 SIGAR report concluded that United States reconstruction efforts themselves were deeply flawed mostly because the U.S. government "greatly overestimated its ability to build and reform government institutions in Afghanistan as part of its stabilization strategy,." Indeed, Sopko wrote at the time, U.S. programs for rebuilding Afghan civil society "were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians."
However, it's worth noting that the separate issue of increasing over-classification of assessments of Afghan war effort has become well-worn territory for SIGAR. In 2017, Sopko explicitly noted that new restrictions on once-public information on the state of Afghan security forces — including "casualties, personnel strength, attrition, capability assessments, and operational readiness of equipment" — only ends up hurting the watchdog's ability to keep Americans abreast of how their tax dollars are spent.
"More than 60% of the approximately $121 billion in U.S. funding for reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2002 has gone to build up the ANDSF," Sopko at the time in SIGAR's October 2017 quarterly report to Congress. "The increased classification of ANDSF data will hinder SIGAR's ability to publicly report on progress or failure in a key reconstruction sector."
Part of the responsibility, Sopko said, lies with the Afghan government: Long mired by issues of corruption and ongoing spats over political legitimacy, the central government in Kabul in recent years has demanded that certain data on the state of Afghan security forces shared with the Pentagon not be made public.
"I don't think it makes sense," Sopko said on Wednesday, per Defense One. "The Afghan people know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it. The only people who don't know what's going on is the people who are paying for all of this and that's the American taxpayer."
But this allergic reaction to transparency doesn't just belong to Kabul. In January, President Donald Trump complained during a televised cabinet meeting that the public nature of Afghanistan progress reports were probably undermining U.S. reconstruction there.
"What kind of stuff is this?" he told Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on the latter's first full day on the job. "The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it…. I don't want it to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary. You understand that."
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Sopko stopped just short of calling bullshit on the commander-in-chief
"I know this became a big deal at a press conference at the White House about why is this information being discussed publicly," Sopko said. "Well, by law we have to,"
Sgt. Maj. Troy Black is set to become the next Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.
Black — currently serving as Sgt. Maj. of Manpower and Reserve Affairs — will take over as the senior enlisted adviser to the Marine Corps Commandant for Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green later this year, the Marine Corps' announcement on Thursday said. The role is typically a four-year job.
Black will serve as the senior enlisted advisor to the next Marine Commandant, Lt. Gen. David Berger, who still needs to be confirmed by the Senate before taking over for Gen. Robert Neller.
Black enlisted in 1988 and has "deployed extensively," the announcement said. His deployments include Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield, and more. His wife, Stacie, is a retired Marine Corps 1st Sgt.
Throughout his career he's been awarded the Legion of Merit with Gold Star, Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device, Meritorious Service Medal with two Gold Stars, the Combat Action Ribbon with two Gold Stars, and more. He's served as Sergeant Major of Officer Candidates School, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and the 1st Marine Logistics Group, the announcement says.
Green will retire after Black takes over, per the announcement, finishing 35 years of service.
The civilian attorney for a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes has filed a motion in the case accusing the prosecution and investigators of suppressing witness statements that could prove favorable to his client Navy SEAL Chief Edward "Eddie" Gallagher.
Gallagher, a 19-year SEAL, was arrested Sep. 11, 2018 on accusations that he stabbed and killed a wounded ISIS fighter and shot at unarmed civilians with a sniper rifle during his 2017 deployment with SEAL Team 7 to Mosul, Iraq.
But the April 23 motion, which calls evidence for the murder charge "weak," zeroes in on the sniper charges and seeks to have them dismissed since they "are absolutely unsustainable" and "rely solely on debunked hearsay statements," wrote Timothy Parlatore, Gallagher's attorney.
As first reported by Navy Times, Parlatore accused the government of failing to properly comply with discovery and criticizes the chief NCIS investigator with a "large pattern of misconduct" in attempting to minimize evidence that conflicts with "his pre-determined conclusions."
"The Government's misconduct in suppressing exculpatory statements from [two SEAL petty officers] was fortuitously revealed through leaks to the media and [government prosecutor] Capt. Conor McMahon's reflexive, false, and quickly discredited denial raises serious concerns about what other exculpatory materials have also been withheld," Parlatore wrote in a nine-page motion, which was obtained by Task & Purpose.
The defense motion hinges on testimony from two SEAL petty officers, which Task & Purpose will not name since they remain on active-duty. Both were interviewed a second time by NCIS in early January. While previous interviews with both in 2018 were videotaped, the follow-up interviews apparently were not. Instead, they were memorialized in two separate reports, obtained by Task & Purpose, that were based on the investigator's handwritten notes which the defense has not yet seen, Parlatore's motion claimed.
In a report filed by NCIS Special Agent Joseph Warpinski dated Jan. 14, the agent wrote that one SEAL witness stated that he saw Gallagher stab the prisoner as he was being given medical treatment. Warpinski's Jan. 15 report, meanwhile, stated that the other SEAL witness, who was in a sniper tower with Gallagher, observed him firing a shot and later saw an old man on the ground "dying," which led him to believe Gallagher had illegally shot a civilian.
But those reports left out key statements that call into question the testimony of both witnesses, according to Brian Ferguson, an attorney representing both petty officers, in addition to other SEALs and EOD personnel who were assigned to SEAL Team 7 at the time.
In emails obtained by Task & Purpose that Ferguson sent to prosecutors on April 3, the attorney claimed that the two SEAL witnesses interviewed by NCIS on Jan. 10 and 11 were "ordered" to provide testimony despite both objecting to questioning and invoking their right to remain silent, with Ferguson saying as much in previous emails.
Ferguson went on to include statements that would benefit the Gallagher defense that did not appear in Warpinski's January reports, to include prosecutor Cmdr. Chris Czaplak, when talking about apparent SEAL platoon meetings discussing war crimes allegations, stating "words to the effect of, 'my recollection is that the only knowledge you have, if any, is through [the government's primary witness]," which the SO1 said was correct, according to the email.
Another email sent by Ferguson to prosecutors that day included more details that could potentially help Gallagher's defense.
The SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class who was interviewed "stated that he did not witness SOC Gallagher shoot an elderly noncombatant male," Ferguson wrote. "Specifically, I recollect that he said words to the effect of 'I saw a guy on the ground; I didn't see him get shot.' CDR Czaplak then asked SO1 if the guy on the ground was wearing white or if he had blood on him. [The SO1] stated that he could not remember either detail. SO1 then stated that the man tried to get back up, he couldn't, and eventually stopped moving."
Much of that detail is in the NCIS report on Jan. 15, which makes clear the SO1 was with Gallagher in the sniper tower when he witnessed an old man injured — seemingly from a gunshot — but not the actually shooting by Gallagher. But what does not appear in the report, according to Ferguson, are statements disputing whether the government's primary witness ever reported the war crimes to the platoon leader, Lt. Jacob Portier — who has been separately charged for not reporting allegations up the chain of command (which he has denied) — while also mentioning that his memory during the entire period was hazy.
"My recollection of it is not very clear. I know at some point it was brought up... but how that was all presented to me is foggy," the SO1 told prosecutors of an apparent meeting among platoon members to discuss Gallagher's alleged war crimes, Ferguson wrote in the email. "Capt. [Conor] McMahon then asked him to clarify if it was the timeline or the encounter that was foggy. SO1 indicated it was the encounter that was foggy. He also indicated that how or what was discussed during that time was a blur."
"He further clarified the situation at the time was not clear enough to him that he would have told the [Special Operations Task Force] Commander that his chief had killed someone. He stated that his thoughts on the matter were based on hearsay and that he did not have any evidence that SOC Gallagher had stabbed anyone," Ferguson wrote.
Ferguson declined to comment to Task & Purpose.
Parlatore's motion was spurred by reporting on the case by Carl Prine of Navy Times, who called Parlatore to ask about the testimony of the two SEAL petty officers on April 19. At the time of the phone call, Parlatore was seemingly unaware of what Prine was talking about.
"The Defense received a phone call from Mr. Carl Prine, a Navy Times reporter, asking for comments on notes from 'the proffer session,' dated April 2019, which had just been leaked to him, involving SO1 [Redacted] and SO1 [Redacted]. The manner in which Mr. Prine described the materials indicated that they were both exculpatory and far more detailed than any notes or reports which had been previously disclosed to the Defense."
Parlatore then emailed and requested a telephone conversation with government prosecutors to resolve the discrepancy, but the government team denied there were any emails. "There were no proffers or interviews in April with [the two SEALs in question] and the Government," Czaplak wrote in an email to Parlatore on April 20. "Therefore, there is no discoverable material to provide to you. The last interviews of [both SEALs] were in January. Defense received them on 29 Jan 19."
However, as Parlatore wrote in his motion, both Czaplak and McMahon were carbon-copied on an email to Ferguson asking him to share more details of "your April 3 communications," — meaning the email from Ferguson with statements allegedly left out of NCIS reports. Ferguson responded to Parlatore that he would need to ask the government and the court for those materials.
"Prosecutors cannot credibly claim that they misunderstood what defense counsel was asking for," Parlatore wrote. "It is undisputable that in early April 2019, the Government received attorney proffers of witness testimony from Mr. Ferguson and failed to turn them over," he added, referring to a proffer, or an offer from a witness to aid an investigation as long as that information is not used against them.
"Thanks to Mr. Ferguson's revelation that prosecutors did have discoverable material, which they had failed to previously disclose, CDR Czaplak finally sent the relevant emails to the Defense on April 22, 2019," wrote Parlatore.
Officials at Navy Region Southwest, which is overseeing the Gallagher trial, did not respond to a request for comment. Czaplak also did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Task & Purpose.
Parlatore went on to allege that Warpinski, the lead NCIS investigator, had taken handwritten notes that were "later reduced to the typed reports which excluded the exculpatory statements," demonstrating that Warpinski "conducted an extraordinarily poor and deeply flawed investigation."
Those "sanitized reports" characterized the SEAL in the sniper tower as having seen the wounded old man go down shortly after Gallagher had taken the shot, characterized by Warpinski as "moments" or "about a minute," according to Parlatore's motion. Instead, Parlatore claimed in the motion that the SO1 "informed SA Warpinski that it could have been 5 to 20 minutes beforehand and he has no idea whether SOC Gallagher shot the old man."
Warpinski also previously testified of a separate sniper incident in which Gallagher had shot a little girl, but the agent "failed to include any mention of the girl in his reports on interviews with SO1," Parlatore wrote, since the SEAL "told him that he never saw any girl and has no idea where this claim is coming from. SA Warpinski wrongfully chose to omit this from his reports, as he had no other admissible information connecting SOC Gallagher to this alleged shooting."
A spokesperson for NCIS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Task & Purpose. However, NCIS spokesman Adam Stump told Navy Times that all agents "are expected to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct when conducting investigations."
Parlatore indicated in his motion that he wanted the judge to sever the sniper charges and go forward with court-martial on the charge of pre-meditated murder against the wounded ISIS fighter, which Gallagher has steadfastly denied. Gallagher's court martial is set to kick off on May 28.
"The cause of death is a Hellfire missile," Parlatore told Task & Purpose outside the courtroom in San Diego last week. "Massive internal injuries from a Hellfire missile."
WATCH: A Navy SEAL is accused of committing war crimes in Iraq
Now, the Washington Post reports that North Korea demanded the U.S. government fork over roughly $2 million to cover the cost of medical care for Warmbier — and despite furious allegations that the Pyongyang tortured Warmbier to death, the United States reportedly agreed at the time to pay up.
The presentation of the invoice — not previously disclosed by U.S. or North Korean officials — was extraordinarily brazen even for a regime known for its aggressive tactics.
But the main U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier signed an agreement to pay the medical bill on instructions passed down from President Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The bill went to the Treasury Department, where it remained — unpaid — throughout 2017, the people said. However, it is unclear whether the Trump administration later paid the bill, or whether it came up during preparations for Trump's two summits with Kim Jong Un.
In March 2016, North Korea sentenced Warmbier to 15 years in prison with hard labor for allegedly attempting to remove a propaganda sign from a Pyongyang hotel the previous New Year's Day.
The North Korean regime claim Warmbier died after contracting botulism. And while medical examinations of Warmbier didn't conclusively reveal evidence of physical torture, President Donald Trump claimed months after later that Warmbier "was tortured beyond belief by North Korea."
Trump recently previously came under fire from Warmbier's parents earlier this year after stating that he took North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un "at his word" that the latter had no knowledge of Warmbier's harsh treatment.
"Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto," Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a March statement in response to Trump's comments. "Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that."
With Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg gave audiences one of the greatest World War II dramas of all time, and in honor of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, audiences will once again be able to see it on the big screen.
On June 2nd and 5th, entertainment group Fathom Events is bringing Saving Private Ryan to 600 select theaters nationwide for two showings at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Forbes reported on Wednesday.
Thee historical drama follows a squad of Army Rangers tasked with rescuing a paratrooper whose three brothers have all been killed in combat. Led by Tom Hanks' Capt. John Miller, the Rangers set out in search of one soldier among tens of thousands, Day after day, as their mission takes its toll, the men are forced to wonder whether saving one grunt to minimize a family's grief is worth all the risk.
As Task & Purpose previously noted, nowhere does Spielberg dwell on the cost of war more poignantly than in the movie's first scene, a nearly half-hour-long gut-punch as U.S. soldiers storm Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. The moment the ramp drops on the Higgens Boats, German machine gun fire rains down. Of those lucky enough to make it over the side and into the water, some are shot, others drown; of those who make it shore, many are cut to ribbons by artillery fire. The few left alive huddle behind tank traps and debris. That's just the first minute.
"One of the things that really got me about this [scene] was the randomness of death, and the randomness of wounding," Marine veteran Dale Dye, who worked as the film's military advisor, told Task & Purpose in July 2018. "That's there because we wanted people to get the feeling that despite what you see in movies and what you read in books, death in hellacious combat like there was on Omaha Beach can sometimes be very random, and it can be shocking because it's so close."
The scene is a masterpiece because it puts the audience in the center of the action, not as an idle spectator, but as a terrified infantryman whose only chance at survival is to push forward into more carnage, and more death.
It's a style of shooting that Dye calls "asses and elbows," which is "how you tend to see firefights if you're involved in it," he added. "You see the other guy's butt and his elbows, and everybody's down as far as they can get."
"I wasn't there in 1944 in June on Omaha Beach, but seeing that, I somehow felt I was," Dye said of the scene. "It was that transporting. I knew whatever else we did with that film, that sequence was going to live on."
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has gotten the green light and has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Pentagon's Inspector General, which was investigating him for alleged inappropriate favoritism of Boeing — his former place of employment for over 30 years.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) filed the complaint on March 13, saying Shanahan "prodded DOD to increase funding for Boeing-produced fighter jets in next year's budget."
The investigation kicked off shortly thereafter after complaints that Shanahan "allegedly took actions to promote his former employer...and disparage its competitors, allegedly in violation of ethics rules," a DoD IG spokesperson said at the time.
"We did not substantiate any of the allegations," said the IG report, which was released on Thursday. "We determined that Mr. Shanahan fully complied with his ethics agreements and his ethical obligations regarding Boeing and its competitors."
The IG office interviewed a total of 34 people, including Shanahan, for the investigation; they also "reviewed more than 5,600 pages of of unclassified documents and approximately 1,700 pages of classified documents."
One of the allegations was that Shanahan "repeatedly dumped" on Lockheed Martin's F-35, and called it "fucked up." The IG concluded on that point that Shanahan was speaking of the F-35 program, not the aircraft, and that his comments "were consistent with other comments about problems in the F-35 program made by other senior DoD officials."
The Washington Post reported in April that the White House was waiting for the ethics probe to conclude before President Donald Trump took steps to officially nominate Shanahan as Defense Secretary.
When asked by Task & Purpose if Shanahan expected to be nominated soon, given the conclusion of the investigation, his spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino responded: "Who knows, Haley?"
A Pennsylvania man allegedly lied to Northumberland County officials about serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in order to be eligible for veterans treatment court, according to District Attorney Tony Matulewicz.
Keith M. Wilkes, 37, is facing a misdemeanor count of unsworn falsification to authorities. The charges were filed in the Sunbury office of District Judge Michael Toomey.
According to probation officials, Wilkes signed and submitted a treatment court document to court officials in October 2018 indicating that he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2000 to 2006. During a pre-sentence investigation in December 2018, Wilkes verbally told officials he served between 2000 and 2006 in both Japan and Iraq, according to the DA's office.
Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator Kim Sapolis discovered that Wilkes did not serve in the military. In April 2019, Wilkes mailed a letter to Sapolis, confirming he never served in the military, according to the DA's office.
Wilkes was in court for two drug counts, one felony and one misdemeanor. He is scheduled for sentencing on those counts at 9:15 a.m. Monday in front of President Judge Charles Saylor.
The county's veteran treatment court was introduced at the common pleas level in 2011 and at the magistrate level in 2016. Other treatment courts are for drugs, DUI, behavioral health and family.
Treatment court cannot be mandated. Individuals are given the option or can request it themselves. A veterans court is designed specifically for offenders who are veterans. The veteran is paired with a mentor, a veteran in the community who can relate to the defendant's experiences.
A third U.S. service member within a week has died in a non-combat related incident, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday.
Army Spc. Michael T. Osorio, 20, died on April 23 in Taji, Iraq, a Defense Department release says.
No information was immediately available on how Osorio died. The incident is under investigation.
Originally from Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, he joined the Army on July 17 and arrived in Iraq on Feb. 23 as an intelligence analyst with 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division based out of Fort Carson, Colorado.
"The 3rd Armored Brigade would like to extend its deepest condolences to the friends, family, and fellow soldiers of Spc. Michael Osorio," his brigade commander Col. Michael J. Simmering said in a statement.
"Spc. Osorio's dedication to the mission and his unit, made him a valued member of the Iron Brigade. His loss will be felt throughout our formations. We ask that everyone keep the Osorio family in their hearts and prayers as they deal with the tragic loss of their soldier."
Osorio's military awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, and Army Service Ribbon.