Saturday, October 24, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, October 24, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Russia allegedly gets an invitation, sex addict Brett McGurk gets a promotion, Barack courts charges of playing the weasel (no, he's not Brett's latest conquest), Congress hears about veterans academic needs, and much more.

Ryan Kaufman:  I served in the U.S. Army from 2000-2003. I was deployed with the First Brigade Combat Team in October 2001 to Kuwait and Afghanistan as a Signal Support Systems Specialist. Upon my return, the proper procedures were not in place to catch what I was dealing with. At 19-years-old, I came home and was afraid of the dark; couldn’t sleep; and had a hard time eating. If the task was not mission critical, I could not find the motivation within myself to complete the task. Two months after I returned home, I caused an accident, almost killing myself and a friend. I was charged with driving under the influence. Everyone, including myself, thought I just had a problem with alcohol. But then I tested positive for marijuana. The Army left me no choice; I was discharged with a General under Honorable Conditions. During this same time period, my mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer of the throat and lungs. She was given six months to live and made it to December 2003. Six months after my discharge, I was homeless. A year prior I was part of the world’s greatest machine, the United States Army. But by December 2003, I found myself walking into a homeless shelter, unable to feed or house myself. I could not comprehend how this had happened. Shortly thereafter, I was granted a couch in a friend’s basement. I wish I had straightened my life out then, but this would not be my last experience with homelessness. In September 2004 I enrolled in college for the first time. My discharge left me without the GI Bill, so I took out Stafford Loans like the rest of the civilian population. I attempted college two more times following this 2004 attempt. I failed out in the first semester each time. Juggling work, relationships, family, and an addiction is not conducive to a learning experience. I would repeat the homeless cycle and enroll in college two more times, in 2008 and 2010. By 2011 I finally found permanent sobriety. After four years of documented VA therapy, and appeal after appeal, I was granted a service connected disability in October 2012. With school constantly on my mind, I immediately applied for the Vocational Rehabilitation/VetSuccess Program, was interviewed, approved, and enrolled in another college, after paying the back balances on my student loans.

August 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect.  This legislation was Congress acknowledging the need for a new GI Bill -- due both to the increase in the veterans population that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were and would be creating and the changing needs since the GI Bill (Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944) was created in response to WWII.

We covered Congressional hearings that led to the legislation in the past.  Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity explored one aspect, the VetSuccess On Campus program (VSOC).

Chair Brad Wenstrup:  The program is in place to provide veteran service members and their dependents with assistance and counseling as they are using their GI Bill or attending school through Voc Rehab.  VSOC is an additional resource for veterans and service members as they transition from active duty to student life and further assist them as they work towards meaningful employment following their military careers.  Each school with a VSOC program has a Voc Rehab counselor in place to assist students attending that school.

Appearing before the Subcommittee were: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Ryan Kaufman (already quoted at the start), Student Veterans of America's William Hubbard, Dr. Lawrence Braue (retired Lt Col, Director of the Office of Veterans Services at the University of South Florida where the first test VSOC was launched in June 2009), the University of Cincinnati's Veterans Programs and Services Manager Terence Harrison and the VA's Jack Kammerer.

As noted, US House Rep Brad Wenstrup is the Subcommittee Chair. US House Rep Mark Takano is the Ranking Member.  He noted some of the issues VSOC can assist with.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Obstacles could include VA benefit issues, questions about where to go for mental health counseling, concerns about financial or legal issues or job market information.  We know from many studies that successful transition from active duty to civilian life requires significant planning and support from the military and the VA.  Transitioning from active duty to campus life can be even more daunting -- especially for first generation college students.  Add the burdens of injury or PTS [Post-Traumatic Stress], and it is not hard to imagine why graduation levels are not as high as we would like them to be  for veterans using their GI Bill benefits. Now this is where the VSOC counselor comes in, however, they are easily accessible on campus so problems are resolved as quickly and as easily as possible.

FYI, the original plan (on Wednesday) for Thursday's snapshot was to highlight this hearing and another VA hearing (this one was in the afternoon, the other started at nine) and note how few press attended and how the dog-and-dog show (Benghazi and Hillary) consumed all the press' attention.  That plan drifted away the minute it was reported Thursday that a US service member had been killed in Iraq.

From Thursday's hearing:

Chair Brad Wenstrup:  Mr. Kaufman, I want to specifically thank you for your service and having the courage to share your incredible story.  It's uplifting and gives us all a lot of hope.  It's clear from your testimony that the Voc Rehab program has really given you opportunities that you need to be successful.  So what do you believe could be done to improve the program and make sure that we have the opportunity to help hundreds, if not thousands, of veterans be successful and have stories like yours -- hopefully, not the first part but the later part?

Ryan Kaufman:  Yes, sir. I thank you for the compliments, Mr. Chairman.  In regards to policy, I would have to defer to any of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's DC policy team.  But, in my experience, the relationship matters.  So the relationship that I with my VR&E [Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment] counselor matters.  And I live in rural America and geographical lines get redrawn on a regular basis and case loads get switched.  And as a -- as a gentleman who struggles with trust, putting me on a new caseload -- just like with my VHA doctors -- throws me for a loop and now I'm having to remember which person to get a hold of, what's their phone number?  Right when I memorize somebody's phone number, it may change to a new individual.  But opening in particular the VSOC counselors to many more campuses -- especially as Mr. Hubbard said from the SVA -- to campuses that don't have a lot of resources would be very beneficial -- especially in my area -- because we're making an investment in the veteran, we're not making an investment in the particular institution.  And our job is to make sure that the veteran is successful.  Does that answer your question, Mr. Chairman?

Chair Brad Wenstrup:  It does.  It's very helpful.  Because I think one of the things that you touched on is important.  You know, as a physician, I always find it important that once in a while I may be able to pinch hit for somebody in my practice but that's a relationship between you and the patient that really needs to be sustained.  Somebody can cover for you once in a while but to really be successful, you need that time and time again to build that bond.  So that input is very helpful to us and that may be something that we need to make sure that we monitor and that we are providing some consistency for people because you're at a point in your life where a lot of things are very inconsistent -- and, let's face it, when you're in uniform, things are pretty consistent so that's a big shift, when you go from that.  You know, I've said during my deployment, "I hate being away from home."  But it was a simple life except for the fact that people were shooting at me.  And from that stand point, I wore the same clothes every day.  So that's a transition and you need some consistency in your life.

The hearing was poorly attended.  The only press report I've found on it is Joseph Morton's report for the Omaha World-Herald.

We'll note this exchange from the hearing:

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Are you a public university or a private university?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  We are a public university.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  And what's your total student enrollment?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Total student enrollment is 48,000 --

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  So 48,000 --

Dr. Lawrence Braue (Con't):  a little over 48,000.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  How many counselors do you have available?  I mean, just generally, your counselors available to the general student population?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  We have one VSOC counselor on campus.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  One VSOC.  But let's just talk about counseling in general, not counseling that's available to veterans.  I want -- I want the Committee to understand the plight of community colleges and public universities in terms of the availability of counselors generally and the general challenge of retention to students who come to public universities.

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Well we have VA counselor, just the one.  We have other counseling services on the campus that are open to all students.  They're not heavily utilized by our student veterans because they just are not experienced with the issues that our student veterans face.  And our veterans won't go to them.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  I understand that.  But what I'm trying to get at is -- I come from the California community colleges and we have such a shortage of counselors generally.  So one of the requirements has been to have every student take a counseling class, they get a one unit for that class. So that the issues a counselor would deal with can be dealt with "more efficiently." And community colleges, for example, have a general issue with retention.  And so what I'm trying to get at is the general counselor shortage. I come from a public school setting where out of 4,000 persons in a freshman class you might have two counselors assigned.  So basically you have a five-hundred-to-one counseling burden. Right?  So I'm just trying to say I don't believe the counseling function in higher education, higher public education, is much better. Probably even more difficult.  The amount of time a counselor will spend with a regular student.  Now I'm just trying to go through this background in order to shine a little clearer light on what the challenges are when we deal with a veteran who has a much more complex set of issue.  So we already have a challenge in terms of retention in the general student population.  Now we're talking about how we address veterans who have been through -- who carry a lot of other issues with them. So my thought is -- So you're telling me this VSOC counselor also has a VR&E caseload of about 50, you say?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  So is that generally the case, Mr. Kammerer, the VSOC counselors also carry -- the VSOC counselors also have a VR&E function?

Jack Kammerer:  That's a good question, sir.  Thank you for asking.  Of the 79 counselors, I work a regular spreadsheet of their  caseload.  We currently do not have a policy that says VSOC counselors cannot touch a traditional caseload.  As Dr. Brau pointed out, we run the gamut from zero up to what I might call a full caseload.  When I testified to the Committee in July, I said our average caseload was about 139 per counselor.  So for FY15, I think that was accurate.  So Dr. Brau's math was about right in my head when he said if his counselor -- if his VSOC counselor -- had 50 cases, that was about 1/3 of the average caseload. We are looking at a policy to limit the caseload of traditional cases, Mr. Takano, the challenge we have is many of the veterans on campus are Chapter 31 clients. Or some of them.  And we need to serve those veterans on campus with Chapter 31 services -- the traditional range of support that our counselors provide. I use the example, in Los Angeles, of the VSOC counselor that serves three -- We have a cluster of three institutions in Los Angeles.  The challenge is, in Los Angeles, the regional office is on the other side of town from those  institutions.  So if we didn't serve those veterans on campus with the VSOC counselor with their Chapter 31, we would either have to have counselors come from across town from the R.O. to the campus or we would have to ask the veteran to come to the RO which is not a good idea in Los Angeles traffic.  So, in many cases, I spoke to a counselor this week who is visiting for other purposes -- who's a VSOC counselor -- and she carried a caseload of 62 cases and she was comfortable with that in her current situation.  So it is a balancing equation, Mr. Takano, in terms of --

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Well --

Jack Kammerer (Con't): -- serving the veterans.

Ranking Member Mark Takano (Con't):  -- here's -- [to the Chair] if I may? -- Mr. Kaufman, I also want to express how moved I was by your testimony.  And thank you for your courage.  And thank you for your service to our country.  Thank you for continuing to serve our country by being so open about your life and the struggles -- and for being such a success.  You'll be -- You already are a hero, you'll be a bigger hero to show -- No, seriously [in response to Kaufman shaking his head "no"], I have veterans in my community dealing with a number of issues and to see somebody get through that is going to be an enormous inspiration to them.  Now tell me about -- You talk about your relationship with your VR&E.  Because you're getting your education benefits through your VR&E, not through 9/11.  VR&E is a much more generous program if you can qualify for it.  You initially went through taking out loans, you didn't really know about your education benefits.  Was it the VSOC counselor that got you straightened out? Is that what happened?

Ryan Kaufman: So, first of all, Mr.  Takano, thank you for the compliments.  It was -- It was actually, it would have been a Mr. Harrison or a Dr. Braue that pulled me to the side and advised me of VR&E.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Uh-huh.

Ryan Kaufman:  And then a year later we got a vital counselor.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Uh-huh.

Ryan Kaufman: What the vital counselor can provide is VA benefit access sooner -- almost immediate  rather than me attempting to contact my VR&E counselor who may have -- especially in September and in January -- when she may have 150 veterans trying to reach her.  This vital counselor, if I'm having benefit issues, backpayment issues or over payment issues, he has the ability to contact the VBA on my behalf and then relay any news from the VBA.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Your story and your challenges are giving me a window into understanding what happens and how people become homeless and how they go through initial mis-steps. I'm concerned about the caseload of VR&E of 50 people to that one VSOC person.  I mean, you have a huge student veteran population. I can imagine that counselor just totally being consumed by those 50 VR&E.  I mean, it's a lot of work.  You hear Mr. Kaufman's story, you see how much time and energy it takes for that trusted person to do their job.  That's just a lot -- 50 cases, 50 people.  I'm not saying all of them will be as intense as Mr. Kaufman but I can imagine that a lot of them are.  So I can't imagine that we don't have a presence on campuses.  That's my thing. Mr., go ahead, Mr. Braue.

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Thank you, sir.  I completely agree. The -- Having this VetsSuccess counselor on campus is essential.  It's absolutely essential. The caseload -- the Chapter 31 caseload that she has does take away from her ability to meet the needs of other people who might need her services.  And it is -- Chapter 31 cases, it can be intensive.  Especially having her on campus, it makes her more accessible than most VR&E counselors who only come to campus once in a while.  So her being on campus, her caseload, the members, the people that she is managing can walk in two or three times a week to see her which then exacerbates the problem of her not being able to reach other people so she's really spending more time on the Chapter 31s than she would if she were not a VR&E -- if she were a VR&E somewhere else.  So that becomes an issue too. 

From reality to the absurd . . .

CIA contractor Juan Cole has the nerve, the temerity to write a piece pondering what if the US had never invaded Iraq.

This would be the same Juan Cole who was a cheerleader for the illegal war during the lead up to it.

No link to Juan, he's paid by the CIA, he doesn't need the web traffic.

The war Juan Cole was so eager for has claimed millions of lives.

Thursday saw the death of yet another person in Iraq -- this time a US citizen.

  • On the tragic death, we'll note this Tweet:

  • NB: WH says POTUS did not sign off on Spec Ops raid that left US solider dead, says it was Def. Sec. Carter's call

  • That may stand as one of the all time cowardly moments for a commander-in-chief.

    The funeral hasn't even taken place and Barack's put out the spin that, "It's not me! It's Ash Carter!"  Shameful.


    Doesn't matter if it's true or not.  Reality Barack and The Cult of St. Barack has never been able to face: When you hold the position of president, you are responsible.  Even if Ash Cater authorizes the raid/rescue, he serves under you and you are responsible.

    Offering some realities, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (Defense One) observes:

    Thursday’s events have thrust have into the public spotlight the rather plastic definitions of war and combat in which Americans have been operating now for a while. We may not by name or distinction be a nation at war, and we may not be a nation whose troops are part of full-scale, on-the-ground combat operations. But the men and women serving in those countries are indeed in a war zone and serving their nation in combat. They are at war whether or not we are as a nation.

    [. . .]

    American forces are in combat. Not saying it out loud allows us—and perhaps our leaders in Washington—to feel we are not a nation at war, even if some of us are serving in battle.

    In other news, the US government insisted Russia not be allowed to take part in air strikes over Iraq.  And the response?

    DEBKA File reports, "The Iraqi government is allowing the Russians to use the Al Taqaddum airbase that is also being used by US troops for operations against ISIS. However, Baghdad has yet to mention the Russian presence at the base, located 74 kilometers west of Baghdad." And Middle East Eye reports:

    The Iraqi government authorised Russia to target Islamic State group convoys coming from Syria, a senior Iraqi official said.
    The authorisation for Russia to target IS inside Iraq comes amid security coordination between Iraq, Russia, Iran and Syria.
    Hakem al-Zamli, chief of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee, told Anadolu Agency on Friday that the measure contributed to weakening IS by cutting off its supply routes.

    Click here for the Andolu Ajansi report.

    Friday, the US Defense Dept announced:

    Airstrikes in Iraq
    Attack, fighter, and bomber aircraft conducted 15 airstrikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government:
    -- Near Kisik, a strike destroyed an ISIL fighting position.
    -- Near Makhmur, a strike destroyed two ISIL weapons caches.
    -- Near Mosul, four strikes struck three separate ISIL tactical units, suppressed ISIL mortar fire, and destroyed five ISIL heavy machine guns, five ISIL fighting positions, and an ISIL tactical vehicle.
    -- Near Ramadi, three strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units, denied ISIL access to terrain, and destroyed seven ISIL fighting positions, four ISIL heavy machine guns, three ISIL mobility obstacles, two ISIL roadside bomb clusters, two ISIL mortar positions, an ISIL building, an ISIL vehicle, an ISIL bomb and an ISIL anti-tank guided missile system.
    -- Near Sinjar, three strikes destroyed 15 ISIL fighting positions and two ISIL command and control nodes.
    -- Near Tal Afar, two strikes struck two separate ISIL bomb-making facilities.

    -- Near Sultan Abdallah, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

    As The Four Tops once pointed out, "It's The Same Old Song."  Patrick Cockburn (Independent) explains:

    The main US-led action after Isis emerged as a powerful force last year has been an air campaign that has carried out 7,000 strikes in Syria and Iraq. But it is clear they have not worked, for inter-linked military and political reasons: guerrilla movements do not present enough targets to be defeated by airpower alone. 

    Finally, the retired general who was an idiot has retired/been forced out of his post as Special Envoy. Idiot?  He was an ambassador now and refused the title preferring to be called "general."  If you don't want the post, don't take it.  Now Brett McGurk will step in as Barack's Special Envoy for Iraq and Syria.  And Brett will get right on the job just as soon as he can pull his dirty dick out of wherever he plugged it last.  (Oh, Gina Chon, you didn't really think he was being faithful, did you?  He cheated on his wife to be with you.  It was fun and exciting, remember?  Now your his wife and it's other women that get to have the fun and excitement of extra-marital affairs with your husband.)

    Friday, October 23, 2015

    The KRG falls apart and, with it, a few myths go under as well

    Problems in the Kurdish Region of Iraq include the central government of Iraq out of Baghdad continuing to deny the KRG their share of the federal funds.  This has led to many government workers -- including teachers -- in the KRG going without payment which has led to protests.

    The protests were an embarrassment for the sitting ruling class of KRG President Massoud Barzani.

    The response has been violence aimed at the protesters.

    There's also the issue of Barzani who agreed some time ago to a two year extension but then, this year, refused to honor that agreement and step aside so someone else could become president.

    Some political forces opposed to Barzani have used the protests and have also fueled tensions and fed violence.

    The political parties are at war and the Kurdistan Region is suffering as a result.

    Some of the above gets noted in the western media.

    Some doesn't.

    Alaa Latif (Niqash) reports:

    In the middle of August, Ahmed Mohammed, became one of the many Iraqis seeking a safer place to live in Europe. He arrived in Germany less than a month after he left Iraq. But Mohammed is a little different from the other refugees on the road. Because the 34-year-old Iraqi Kurdish man was actually a soldier in the semi-autonomous northern region he comes from, a member of the Iraqi Kurdish military known as the Peshmerga. He had served for eight years before he left.
    “When we were fighting the extremists, we were doing so without food or sleep and we had to buy bullets with our own money,” he explains. “It was the craziest time I have ever had. We were defending the nation and we were getting nothing in return.”
    On his Facebook timeline, it still says that Mohammed is a member of the Peshmerga – the Iraqi Kurdish military, whose name translates to “those who face death” in English, and who are a source of great pride for those of Kurdish ethnicity in Iraq. But his last post, written as he arrived in Nuremberg, says: “He was sold for a small amount of money. His nation did this to him, not his love”. Another post says that Mohammed wouldn't want his friends in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the military to follow him along the people smuggling routes to Germany but that he doesn't regret leaving his homeland. “I want to live like a human being,” the ex-Peshmerga wrote.
    Mohammed is not the only member of the Peshmerga to express his concerns. Facebook has plenty of videos by other members of the Iraqi Kurdish military, where they show their empty pockets and talk about stopping the fight against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, who sparked a security crisis in Iraq last June. The Peshmerga are demonstrating how empty their pockets are because of the liquidity crisis currently facing Iraqi Kurdistan, which has its own borders, judiciary and parliament. Ordinary Iraqi Kurdish military men get around IQD700,000 (around US$600) per month, barely enough to feed and house a family in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    And nobody knows how many of the Iraqi Kurdish military are leaving the country, along with what might best be described as a tidal wave of youthful Iraqis who are leaving the country because they've lost all hope that the government can solve any of the political, financial or military crises that beset their homeland.

    The KRG was the peaceful part of Iraq, portrayed as such repeatedly by the press.

    And now the Kurdish political parties are allowing that to disintegrate.

    The Peshmerga has been the elite fighting force of the KRG and the strongest military force in Iraq and now financial issues are causing desertions.

    Was it always going to be only a matter of time before the KRG fell apart and slid into the chaos consuming the rest of Iraq?


    But equally true, if the White House had focused on addressing the root causes of the problems in Iraq, the KRG and the rest of Iraq might be better off now.

    Former prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki persecuted and targeted the Sunnis.

    This has not been addressed by Haider al-Abadi despite his being in office for over a year now.

    Equally true, Nouri was at war with the Kurds.

    Haider has continued this war and continued the practice of making public promises to the Kurds and then refusing to follow up on them.

    As prime minister, Haider al-Abadi has been, at best, Nouri-lite.  At worst?  The same, the exact same.

    One thing the western press has insisted is that the protests speak to a new day in Iraq.

    Why, when Nouri was the prime minister, protesters were beaten, arrested, kidnapped, tortured . . .

    Here's the thing on that -- unless you're NPR or the Washington Post, you're  interest in violence against Iraqi protesters is sudden.

    Because in real time, you didn't say a word.

    Or worse -- yes, there is worse -- you defended or minimized the violence.

    If you're wondering what outlet could stoop so low, the answer is: the New York Times.

    But now that Nouri's gone, they all want to talk about the violence they were silent about in real time.

    Here's the second thing, the violence-free Iraq of today with regards to protesters?

    It's a press creation that really doesn't exist.

    Human Rights Watch notes today:

    Iraqi security forces have repeatedly beaten and violently dispersed protesters during anti-corruption demonstrations since August 2015 without any apparent justification. In some instances, unidentified men in civilian clothes abducted and beat demonstrators. Prosecutors have failed to respond to judicial complaints lodged by victims of these attacks.
    “Men claiming to be intelligence officers are attacking and abducting peaceful demonstrators and prosecutors don’t investigate,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Prime Minister Abadi’s endorsement of the protesters’ anti-corruption demands seems not to have reached the security forces.”
    On September 18, three groups of men in civilian clothes grabbed, beat, and carried off three activists after they left a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, all three activists told Human Rights Watch. The incidents, at about 7:30 p.m., took place between Saadoun and Abu Nuwwas Streets and in plain sight of uniformed Iraqi soldiers operating two nearby checkpoints.
    The men first abducted Ali Hashim, a 37-year-old local activist. A second group beat and then dragged away Imad Taha, 50, who ran toward Hashim’s cries for help. And the third stopped and seized Dhirgham Muhsin, 28, as he went toward where he heard Taha being beaten. All three were forced into a Ford pick-up, blindfolded, and handcuffed from behind, then driven to a building a few minutes away, all three told Human Rights Watch.
    Once there, they were searched and taken to separate rooms. Hashim said that a man who did not identify himself interrogated him while he was blindfolded and bound him, demanding to know whether he and his fellow protesters were members of the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and about an alleged plot to infiltrate Baghdad’s International Zone.
    The interrogator and two accomplices then repeatedly kicked Hashim and beat him on the back with plastic cables, he said, as they ordered him to tell them who was financing the demonstrations. The interrogator separately questioned Taha and Muhsin on the same topics while kicking and beating them.

    The following community sites updated:

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  • Thursday, October 22, 2015

    Iraq snapshot

    Thursday, October 22, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, a US service member is a combat fatality in Iraq, rumors of a coup, and much more.

    Starting with TV:

  • GPS will present a primetime special on America in Iraq. Airs Monday at 9 pm ET on CNN. I'll be holding a Facebook chat on issue noon Monday

  • Long Road to Hell: America in Iraq hosted by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria airs Monday on CNN and CNN International

    That's this Monday.  We'll hopefully have time to note it again.

    Staying with CNN, Barbara Starr reports:

    The information still coming in, very sketchy, but a short time ago, a US official directly familiar with the information told CNN there has been one US military fatality in this hostage mission overnight in Iraq. Apparently US Special Operations Forces were ordered into this mission to rescue a number of Kurdish hostages. We're told the estimate is that some 70 Kurdish hostages were rescued.  The Kurds, of course, are in northern Iraq.  This is a group that the US has -- the US military has especially been working very closely with.  I think it is safe to assume that there were some Kurdish elements there on the ground with the US troops -- they do work hand in hand.  But this would be, to the best of our knowledge, the first US combat fatality on the ground in the war against ISIS.  US troops are not on the ground in combat under President Obama's orders.  They have gone in a couple of times into Syria on the ground for hostage rescue missions, for capturing high value targets, but this is not something that we have yet seen -- a US service member potentially killed on the ground in this war against ISIS.

    James Rosen and Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) add, "It was also the first time that American combat troops have undertaken a ground mission in Iraq since President Obama sent the first of 3,000 troops back there 16 months ago with orders that limited their activities to training, advising and equipping Iraqi soldiers."  Missy Ryan, Mustafa Salim and Thomas Gibbons-Neff (Washington Post) report, "In a pre-dawn operation, soldiers from the Army’s Delta Force, supporting a team of elite Kurdish soldiers, descended on a militant compound in the town of Hawijah, where officials believed that dozens of Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga were being held captive."  DoD noted:

    U.S. Special Forces supported an Iraqi peshmerga operation earlier today to rescue about 70 hostages from an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant prison near Hawijah, Iraq, Defense Department Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters at the Pentagon this afternoon.
    American Special Forces personnel carried out the planned operation at the request of the Kurdistan regional government after learning through intelligence sources that the hostages faced imminent mass execution, Cook said.
    The Special Forces mission was consistent with Operation Inherent Resolve’s counter-ISIL efforts to train, advise, and assist Iraqi forces, he emphasized.
    One U.S. service member and four peshmerga soldiers were wounded when ISIL extremists fired on U.S. and Iraqi forces during the rescue, he said, adding the U.S. service member was medically treated but later died.

    The recovered hostages were placed with the Kurdistan Regional government, Cook said, adding that no hostages died during the rescue to his knowledge.

    Richard Sisk ( observes, "The death of the American, whose service branch was not immediately disclosed, was the first combat fatality suffered by the U.S. in the campaign against ISIS and as such raised questions about the U.S. mission in Iraq and President Obama's pledge not to commit 'boots on the ground' to the fight."

    The death was raised at today's US State Dept press briefing.  It so unnerves the State Dept that they made an error in their transcript (first "MR TONER" below should actually be "QUESTION"):

    MR TONER: I just wondered if you have anything on the operation – rescue operation happened in Hawija by – in cooperation with the Kurdish special forces. Were there any American hostages rescued there?

    MR TONER: Well, you’re talking about, of course, the rescue mission that took place – right, exactly – on the ISIL prison in Hawija, Iraq. My counterpart, Peter Cook, I think is briefing on this shortly or if not concurrently. But in answer to – specific answer to your question, no, I’m not aware that there were any U.S. citizens, which I think you were asking about. Now, understanding was that it was about 70 hostages, 20 of them were members of, we believe, Iraqi Security Forces, and that’s as much information as I have.

    QUESTION: Right. If you have any information on that, was that the first rescue mission operations being conducted by United States forces in cooperation with Iraq? Is that the one – first one in Iraq, I believe?

    MR TONER: I believe it is the first – you’re saying hostage rescue?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MR TONER: I believe it is, but defer to others who know more about that. But I think that’s correct.

    Mark C. Toner had nothing to offer.

    But how could he?

    Isn't this the start -- or at least the public recognition -- of the mission creep so many warned about when Barack began sending US troops into Iraq as 'trainers' in August of last year?

    The Iraq War has not ended.

    Barack Obama will leave the White House in January 2017 with the Iraq War still going.

    This despite his portraying himself as against the Iraq War (only before it started -- check the public record) and thundering "We want to end the war" to the Cult of St Barack over and over in 2007 and 2008.

    "We" apparently didn't include him.

    He had the power to end it.

    He chose not to.

    The Iraq War continues.

    The sink hole that is the war continues to drain lives and money.

    Iraq could be rebuilt so easily for a fraction of what Barack is now spending dropping bombs on the war torn country.

    Tom Bowman (NPR's All Things Considered, link is audio and will also be transcript tomorrow) noted, "The operations raises questions about the role of the estimated 3,000 US forces who deployed to Iraq over the past year.  White House and Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they're only there on a train, advise and assist mission and only working out of Iraqi bases.

    Back to the press briefing.

    QUESTION: Right, okay. I just wondering if you have – you expressed really concern about the media closure in Georgia, I think. I just wondering if you have the same thing in – on Kurdish region, which is the same problem happening there. And I hear there were some communications with the Kurdish officials, including the Kurdish representative office here in Washington with the Iraq desk people, and also in Erbil. So have you got any conclusion why the media offices were closed or shut down by security forces in Erbil?

    MR TONER: Well, I don’t have any updates on the situation or – and I wouldn’t really attempt to speak on behalf of the authorities in Iraqis Kurdistan region. I would say the same general principles apply is that we certainly want to see a full, open, unfettered media exist in any country or any region, including Kurdistan. And we would be concerned, I think, about any restriction in a given region’s or country’s media environment. So we’re always big believers, if you will, in the importance of media access and, as I said, a variety of media outlets. And that’s not just specific to Kurdistan but certainly all over the world. And I’ve said this before and that continues to be our message and is clearly – is our message to – when we speak to authorities about the situation.

    QUESTION: But specifically on this one, you had communication with the Kurdish officials. What did you get from them? Why it happened? I mean, is there anything that you can tell us publicly?

    MR TONER: I don’t, and I don’t want to – as I said, I am very hesitant always to speak on behalf of another government or another – of our interlocutors. I would just allow them to characterize.

    QUESTION: I’m talking about that – your position, because you’ve talked to them, to the Kurdish officials on – specifically on this issue.

    MR TONER: Right.

    QUESTION: And I just wondering what was their response and also what was – do you believe is there any excuse or any way of justification closing – shutting down a media – independent media channel in Erbil?

    MR TONER: Again, without specifically talking about this case, there’s very few occasions or instances that justify shutting down any media outlet, and we can talk about those – I mean, incitement, that kind of thing certainly. But any professional media outlet that’s simply carrying out its mission or its mandate, we would be concerned about shutting that outlet down. But I don’t have anything specifically to say about this case. I just – all I can say is that we’ve made those concerns clear to Kurdish authorities.

    What Toner didn't want to address?  Noted in the Tweet below.

  •  Back to the press briefing.

    QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Iraq?

    MR TONER: Sure thing, sir. Yes, absolutely. Go ahead.

    QUESTION: There are press reports saying that former Prime Minister Maliki and his followers are 
    pressuring the Prime Minister Abadi to resign or to remove him. Did you see these reports?

    MR TONER: Honestly, I have not seen those reports. I’d have to look into that. We believe Abadi is – Prime Minister Abadi is doing a good job in carrying out his mandate, trying to create a more unified and inclusive government in Iraq. But I – I’m not aware of those specific reports.

    How serious are the rumors?

    Congress was told this month that Haider al-Abadi wouldn't last long.

    But most outlets chose to ignore that news.

    missy ryan