Under 9/11 Edit Air Force Can Recall 1K Retired Pilots

President Bush signed the Executive Order under the emergency powers act to recall retired officers. Other presidents have done the same. President Trump amended GW Bush’s executive order removing the caps of 25.


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force says it doesn’t plan on using new flexibility under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump to address a pilot shortage by recalling retired pilots.

Ann Stefanek, the chief of Air Force media operations, said Sunday the added power provided by Trump is appreciated but the Air Force does not “currently intend to recall retired pilots.”

*** There still is a major issue with the number of flight ready aircraft and the shortage of Predator drones including drone controllers.


The Trump administration is giving the Air Force the option to return through voluntary programs as many as 1,000 retired pilots to active-duty service, the Pentagon announced.

Through an executive order signed Friday, the measure gives the service more leverage as it attempts to combat the growing pilot shortage in its ranks.

“The Air Force is grateful for additional authority as it works to address its pilot shortage,” Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen said in a statement.

“We can’t provide specific details about how we will implement this new authority until we receive guidance from the secretary of defense [Jim Mattis],” Yepsen said.

“However, as the Air Force pursues a variety of initiatives to counter the shortage, it will take care to balance new accessions with voluntary programs for retired and senior pilots to ensure the service maintains a balance of experienced aviators throughout the coming years,” she said.

Officials stress that returning to active duty is strictly voluntary, and the service does not intend to implement a stop-loss measure.

“This is an amendment to an existing authority we already had,” an Air Force official told Military.com on background Friday.

“We have authorities for a whole bunch of things — doesn’t mean we use them,” the official said during a telephone call.

And the measure may not be as advantageous as it may seem.

“To recall pilots to active duty, we have a zero sum game … the training pipeline is finite,” the official said.

“A [pilot] training seat is a training seat. I don’t think this will do us some good unless you can bring people on for staff jobs [too],” the official said.

That’s because — even with the latest measure — the service doesn’t intend to put older pilots back in the cockpit.

“We can’t get 20-plus years out of an old guy the way you could with a new guy,” the official said.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have said the service was 1,555 pilots short by fiscal 2016, including 1,211 total force fighter pilots.

As a result, the Air Force laid out plans earlier this month to welcome back retired pilots into active-duty staff positions.

The service, through the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program, or VRRAD, encourages pilots who had held a job in the 11X career field to apply before Dec. 31, 2018.

In an effort to address the increasing pilot shortage, Wilson in July signed off on the program, which aims to fill flight staff positions with those who have prior pilot experience and expertise, thus allowing active-duty pilots to focus on training and missions.

Pilots under the age of 60 who retired within the last five years in the rank of captain, major or lieutenant colonel can apply for VRRAD. The Air Force wants to fill 25 positions for an active-duty tour of one year.

Other initiatives the service is — and has repeatedly been — trying: bonuses.

The Air Force this summer announced it is increasing its flight incentive pay and aviation bonus programs — with bonuses of up to $455,000 over 13 years for some fighter pilots.

The bulk of initiatives come at a time when the Air Force is losing many pilots to the commercial aviation industry.

The Fate and Strategy on the Afghan War, Decided at Camp David

Trump must decide if he wants to continue on the current course, which relies on a relatively small US-led NATO force to help Afghan partners push back the Taliban, or if he wants to try a new tack such as adding more forces — or even withdrawing altogether.

“Heading to Camp David for major meeting on National Security, the Border and the Military (which we are rapidly building to strongest ever),” Trump said on Twitter ahead of his Friday afternoon arrival.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had initially promised to provide a new plan for Afghanistan by mid-July.

But Trump appears dissatisfied by initial proposals to add a few thousand more troops, and the strategy has been expanded to include the broader South Asia region, notably Pakistan.

In a sign of Trump’s frustration, the president reportedly told Mattis and General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they should replace General John Nicholson, who heads up US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Mattis has come to his general’s defense, saying this week he “is our commander in the field. He has the confidence of NATO, he has the confidence of Afghanistan, he has the confidence of the United States.”

More here.  

Media preview

In the past year (6/30/2016 to 6/30/2017) 17 US service members died in Afghanistan, and 41 DOD contractors.

One big topic of discussion will be the recent proposals to privatize the war in Afghanistan presented by two different businessmen, Eric Prince and Stephen Feinberg.

Under Prince’s plan, the viceroy would be a federal official who reports to the president and is empowered to make decisions about State Department, DoD, and intelligence community functions in-country. Prince was vague about how exactly this would work and which agency would house the viceroy, but compared the job to a “bankruptcy trustee” and said the person would have full hiring and firing authority over U.S. personnel. Prince wants to embed “mentors” into Afghan battalions. These mentors would be contractors from the U.S., Britain, Canada, South Africa—“anybody with a good rugby team,” Prince quipped. Prince also wants a “composite air wing”—a private air force—to make up for deficiencies in the Afghan air capabilities.

“The adults hate it,” said a congressional aide who has seen the plan, referring to McMaster, Mattis, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Mattis acknowledged that his analysis of the problems in Afghanistan is correct, Prince claimed, while disagreeing on his recommendations. On Monday, Mattis confirmed in a press gaggle that the contracting proposals were under consideration. A Pentagon spokesperson didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Feinberg, on the other hand, has met with Trump, as well as with Kushner. One senior administration official said Feinberg has met more than once with Trump in the Oval Office. Through his investment firm Cerberus Capital, Feinberg controls the huge military contractor Dyncorp. He is also a confidant of Trump and has known him from business circles since before Trump became president. Feinberg was considered for a czar-type position overseeing an intelligence review earlier this year, but the idea was stymied by a vehement backlash from the intelligence community. Feinberg does not have an intelligence background.

Feinberg is proposing ideas similar to Prince’s; Prince said the two were 95 to 98 percent in agreement, though “he wrote his thing, I wrote mine.”

A source close to the situation said Feinberg had been asked to submit a “strategic recommendation” for Afghanistan that is “materially different with respect to the use of independent contractors from the plan Erik Prince proposed.”

Sean McFate, a Georgetown professor and former DynCorp contractor, described Feinberg’s plan for contractors as “more status quo. He wants to take the current mission and just make it bigger.”

One of the issues raised by Prince’s plan is that U.S. law prohibits using contractors for combat operations. The workaround is that instead of being categorized under Title 10 of the U.S. code, it will be housed under Title 50, making it subject to the same regulations as intelligence operations. This has sparked concerns about transparency, but appeals to some in the secretive intelligence community.

Critics say Prince’s plan will lead to a moral and legal quagmire, as contractors from around the world fighting in place of U.S. forces present a host of possible problems. What happens if a Canadian, for example, kills an Afghan civilian while fighting as a contractor under the leadership of the American “viceroy”? What if the contractors get in a real bind—does the U.S. send our military in to help them? Read the full text here for additional names and context.

CENTCOM Cmdr. Votel Explains What is Ahead in the World

CentCom commander Votel steels for next chapter in world’s most dangerous region

TAMPA — As the man in charge of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel oversees American military operations in 20 nations that comprise the world’s most dangerous and complex region.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, sat down for an interview Wednesday with the Tampa Bay Times in his office at MacDill Air Force base. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, sat down for an interview Wednesday with the Tampa Bay Times in his office at MacDill Air Force base. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

A Minnesota native and former commando chief with 37 years in the service, Votel helps develop plans to battle Islamic State, the Taliban and other jihadis. All the while, he must navigate challenges from the Russians and Iranians, political tensions among U.S. allies, and the regional fallout of the enduring Arab-Israeli strife.

On Wednesday, Votel, 59, sat down with the Tampa Bay Times in his office at MacDill Air Force Base for a rare one-on-one interview to talk about his 16 months on the job. He discussed a wide range of issues over nearly an hour.

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Among the highlights: Iraqi forces will need to shift from combat mode to security mode to protect against a shrinking ISIS, the military is expanding its work with the Russians against a common enemy, and the Iranian regime remains the most destabilizing influence in the CentCom region.

Talk about the new authorities you have been given under the Trump administration.

The president has granted authority down to the secretary of defense (allowing) us to be more agile and more responsive to a very complex, developing situation. We want to enable our people forward with all authorities and decision-making capability they have and I think we have done that. And that’s certainly been reinforced by the new administration but frankly it’s something we started under the old administration.

Can you offer an example of how that’s worked?

Sure, the most pertinent example is Mosul. We are advising, accompanying, assisting, enabling Iraqi forces all around that city. That means providing (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) support for them, fire support for them, and in order to provide that most effectively, you really have to allow our advisors that are with them to make those decisions, to be responsive, to take advantage of opportunities we see, to help forestall advances by the enemy. We can’t make that decision back at a centralized in Iraq and certainly not back at here in Tampa or Washington or anywhere else.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi — dead or alive? And does it matter anymore?

I have no idea. I have nothing to tell me one way or the other. I certainly have seen all the reporting on it. I guess in one extent it does matter. I hope that he is (dead), frankly. I think it could be viewed as another blow to them. That said, we’ve been doing this long enough to know that leaders are killed and we’ve killed plenty of them. And that there’s always somebody who is going to step up into those positions so we shouldn’t think that just killing Baghdadi is the key here. He can be replaced. So in that regard, it may not matter as much.

After the fall of Mosul and defeat of ISIS, how can Iraq come together with so many divergent interests?

In many ways this is the hard part of what we are doing here. The political aspect of this, the humanitarian aspect of this, is always more difficult than the military things, so this is the challenge before us. The political side always takes a bit longer. As we went into the fight in Mosul, we had very good cooperation between the government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. Absolutely vital for success was the ability of leaders to come together and set aside their differences for a period of time to beat ISIS. I consider that to be a very successful approach here, and it has given the ability now, as we move into the more difficult political aspects, a way to address that. Certainly there are things that are going to have to be addressed. It won’t be easy, but there’s a basis for doing it.

On Sept. 27, the Kurds will hold a referendum about independence. How much of an additional challenge is that?

Being able to have the Kurdish Regional Government and the government of Iraq work together on Mosul was a key factor in the overall success of this, so I’m concerned the referendum could add a little friction into the remaining operations here that could effect things. But I am very trustful in our diplomatic efforts to address that I know there are things ongoing here. The timing may not be best for what we still have left to be done here but I am hopeful that with our engagement we will minimize that.

How concerned are you about ISIS 2.0 and what can be done to prevent that?

I think we should all be concerned about that. One thing we have learned about this organization is that they are adaptive. I think what we’ll see now is smaller cells, we’ll see stay-behind elements, we’ll see pockets that will begin to take on more of an insurgent-guerilla type approach as opposed to an Islamic army that we saw back in the beginning. We have to be prepared for that, so that some of the things that we will do as we look to that is we will look to adjust some of our coalition training efforts for the Iraqi security forces to ensure that can move from doing large-scale operations like they have been doing in places like Mosul to now doing wide-area security operations, where they have to go out and have to address a network, address small elements. We really need to return to that.

Classic Special Operations Forces missions?

More of what perhaps we have seen in the past, and an important point is keeping the pressure on. The people of Iraq should take great pride in what they have accomplished and the coalition should take great pride in what they’ve enabled, but we can’t rest on our laurels. There’s still a lot of fighting left to do, a lot left to be done in the city of Mosul. There’s certainly a lot more to be done in Ninewa and across the country and in Syria as well. So we should reflect on what we’ve accomplished but we have to stay on this more until its over.

How do you engage the Sunnis?

That has to come through the government of Iraq. I think the prime minster, a very good man, recognizes the importance of that and hopefully he will continue to do that. It is pretty noteworthy to watch him up in city of Mosul, which is largely a Sunni city, and how well he was received up there and how he reached out and did all that. These are all the earmarks of a leader at war. He was performing as the commander in chief. I would also highlight that one of the things again on this point of the prime minister as commander in chief, one of the things he was absolutely strident on throughout this, was as we conducted the operation in Mosul, was ensuring that we did everything we could to protect that population up there, a population that was largely Sunni. And this was a horrible, challenging fight up there, and certainly, there have been civilian casualties. But I will tell you, through the prime minister’s leadership and his direction to his leaders and our support for them, I think we should be very proud of the way we conducted ourselves.

The battle for Raqqa is now on. How long will that take?

We are not going to make any time estimates on this. You just watched what took place in (Mosul), a city of 1.6 million, 1.7 million people. It took nine months. Raqqa is probably 300,000 to 400,000 people, but it’s in an area that again has had a long time to prepare and the forces we are operating in Syria are different than the forces we are operating with in Iraq. We’re not talking about the Iraqi army that has ministries to lead it. Now we are talking about a much more indigenous force made up largely of Syrian Arabs and Kurds — and Kurds are part of that indigenous force. They don’t have all the trappings of a big army, so I think it is important for people to understand the context of what we are doing here. A large city, an indigenous force, a well-prepared enemy. And by the way, an enemy now that has suffered a significant defeat, so they are running out of space there. We would expect they are going to fight harder, and more aggressively than they are and a large part of that is going to be exploited again. So I think it is going to be a challenging fight and it will take months.

Talk about the cease fire in southern Syria. How’s that working and what do you have to do?

Obviously, I would tell you we are paying very, very close attention, but there are no immediate equities for CentCom or the Department of Defense. That’s still very much being worked out. We have not been told to do anything with respect to that.

What are your thoughts on working with the Russians?

The word we use is not cooperation, but it is deconfliction and that is principally what we are doing. I have characterized this interchange as being very professional military to military interchange and I think trust certainly has to be earned over time here. But I will tell you the deconfliction line that we have had in place and has become more robust over time, meaning that not only do our air components talk to each other but (Army Lt. Gen. Stephen) Townsend (in charge of the ground war against Islamic State) now has the ability to talk to his counterpart.

As the White House looks at other options for working with Russians in Syria, are you comfortable sharing intelligence with them?

We don’t share any intelligence with them. I’m not authorized to do that. That’s not the nature of the relationship.

If the White House said it wanted some sharing of intelligence with the Russians, would you be comfortable with that?

If we are directed, we certainly would.

Talk about Iran and your concerns about their influence in the region.

I think Iranian influence is significant in the region, and as I have said and others have said, Iran is perhaps the most destabilizing. I should say the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people. I want to make sure I call a distinction between that. The Iranian people are culturally rich and deep and have a place in the region here, but the Iranian regime and their activities, particularly those under the Qods Force (special forces) element I think are the most destabilizing factor in the region long-term.

As the battle space shrinks and so many groups are fighting over the same dirt, and nations outside your region get involved, like Turkey and Israel, how concerned are you about something going wrong?

This is always present and when you look at the layers of complexity in a place like Syria, you’ve got extremists, a civil war, you’ve got ethno-sectarian challenges, whether Arabs and Kurds or Sunni and Shia or Turks and Kurds. Then there is the influence of state actors like Russia and Iran and you have legitimate concerns from a country like Turkey, for example. They have a very legitimate concern about terrorism that emanates from organizations like the PKK and other things there that I think are a concern. The concern for us is that when we do things, they have second or third order of effects that trip over into these other layers of complexity and really make things much more difficult to work. And that’s why I think the importance of deconfliction lines, the ability to talk, to make sure that, hey, this is what we are doing, here’s where we are focused — it has allowed us to prevent escalation, escalatory events, in some situations. I think it has been very, very, very vital.

The situation with Syrian Kurdish allies must be particularly vexing given the Turkish feelings towards them and the fact that they are also among the best fighting forces as allies.

We certainly acknowledge the Turkish concern. I think as you’ve seen, (Defense) Secretary (James) Mattis and a variety of others do and we support it 100 percent. Our intention is to be as transparent and as clear in terms of what we are doing here as we can be and I think that is working for us and again that’s another way of helping work through this complexity.

What additional complexities do the Israelis, who’ve fired on Syrian regime targets, present?

You just highlighted the complexity. One of the underlying challenges of course has been not only the Israeli-Palestinian issue but the Israeli-Arab issue that is an underlying current for a long time in this particular theater, so it certainly adds another level of complexity on top of all the blankets of complexity we have here that we have to be cognizant of. And again, we have to communicate and make sure people understand what’s happening here so I think it does highlight it.

Given the shared concern about Iran, do you see greater cooperation between Israel and Sunni nations in the region?

I think there is an opportunity, certainly, for that and I think that’s probably a better question for Israel or the other nations there to answer. But we certainly would encourage that.

Lets talk about the situation between Qatar and the nations blockading it. You have to work with all those nations. How is it going?

There have been some impacts, they’ve been mitigable to this particular point, but it is concerning to us. I’d prefer as a military man to see these differences addressed in a different way than perhaps they are now, through dialogue and discussion as opposed to some of the approaches that have been chosen. Nonetheless, that’s been done and we are where we are here, so I am grateful to our Department of State to get out there and help us work through some of these things and do that and help minimize the impact of what’s going on.

You said there are some impacts. What are those impacts?

The impacts are it potentially takes people’s focus off the common things we really want to be working on, like Iran, for example. It creates a disunity among a group of people that we rely on here. And again, to this point, these have been very mitigable in terms of what we are doing, so it is not significantly impacting what we are doing. But over time I think perhaps it could.

In a worst case scenario, what could that be?

At the very extreme of this it could be more direct action between these parties. The other thing more probable is it could lead to more lack of cooperation. I mean, we rely on all these partners. It’s no surprise that we have a big airbase in Qatar that supports our operations across the region, so we rely on that to make sure we can pursue our objectives and the common objectives here. I am concerned long-term a rift like this can, I think, effect relationships.

Let’s shift to Afghanistan, where there are still nearly 9,000 U.S. troops with plans to send more. Can the Afghans handle the fight?

What you seen over last couple of years is that the Afghan security forces are in the lead. They have been able to deal with the situations they are dealing with (like) attempts by the Taliban to come in and take over major urban areas. We’ve seen the Afghans be able to get after that and to take areas back and to prevent some of that. Where they’ve tried to expand into areas that are of importance to the Afghan government, around the capital — to the north, on the south, out in the east and in some areas they’ve been able to do some operations to take that — they’ve had, I think some success against the ISIS elements that exist in Afghanistan so they’ve done that. The Afghans have taken a lot of casualties. They’ve paid a very, very heavy price for that and they are engaged every day. And so that toll that takes over time is significant and it’s resulted in a situation where there is a bit of a stalemate here and so what we have to look at is how we help them move forward over that

Can you talk about your recommendation to the president for new troop levels in Afghanistan and what do you want those troops to do?

A: I won’t talk about what my specific military advice was up the chain of command that is still under consideration, so it is really inappropriate for me to talk about my specific (recommendations). I am satisfied that both (Army) Gen. (John) Nicholson (commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan) and I have had our ability to have input into the process and I am confident that the chain of command will take that on board and make some decisions here in terms of that. But that’s still underway here right now.

Can you talk about what the additional troops should do?

I think what we have to do is look at how we optimize the successes that the Afghan security forces have achieved, so I think one of the bright spots that you see in the Afghan security forces is their special operations capability. I think we need to look at how do we enable that more in the future. They’ve been very good. They’ve been the principle response force They’ve been a key element here to the fight as we’ve moved forward. So how do we double down on that aspect? Another aspect of that has been the budding Afghan air force. It’s not very big. It’s not as capable as it needs to be. But it has demonstrated some capability. On one of my most recent visits was down to the south part of the country, I was able to talk among the corps commander and what he was telling me about was how some of the aircraft that we have been able to get to them, the A-29s, have been very, very successful at doing close air support. Afghan air force supporting Afghan forces. This is good. We need to double down on that. The Afghans are in the process of moving their border control forces from ministry of the interior over to the ministry of defense. That’s a good move. That’s a very positive move. We need to look at how we can support that. The Afghan police have certainly had challenges and so we have to look at how we help them perform more of their appropriate police functions in holding area.

The Taliban has made significant gains. How confident are you that the Afghans can defend themselves?

I think I am confident, with our sustained assistance, I think they can. I think a very good factor here has been President (Ashraf) Ghani, and he does have a long-term vision. He’s laid out a four-year approach here for how he kind of sees things he’s done for the coalition and I think the response from the NATO partner and others has been very, very good in terms of that. As I think I’ve commented to you, I’m a soldier who went to Afghanistan in as early as October of 2001. I was in the first wave. I went there, so I want to be hopeful for Afghanistan. I want to see them succeed. But it’s going to take something — we’re turning a big ship here and there are challenges. There are challenges of corruption, there are challenges with bad governments, challenges of disenfranchisement, all kinds of things that have to be addressed. And we have to stay focused on all of those things. It isn’t just about fire power, and advisors and things like that. It’s addressing all of these other things and making this a professional force and doing things we talked about with (non-commissioned officers) here. It really is about a very comprehensive approach. It is going to take time and we have to be able to sustain that over time. We’ll be able to mitigate the troop levels and other things based on the situation and stuff like that. I’m confident that we can make decisions on that, but what’s important is the sustained support.

Do you see sustained support in the form of continued U.S. troop presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq and for how long?

I think as long as it takes. But again, these enter into policy decisions so I don’t want to get out ahead of the policy makers. But from my perspective, as a military man and CentCom commander, I think when we provide assistance we have to be prepared to sustain that. We can’t just come in and do something and leave. You know we did that in Afghanistan in the past and we saw what happened as a result of that. We did that in Iraq and we saw what happened as a result of that. So I think we have to be cognizant of paying attention to the lessons of the past here and trying not to repeat those things.

Anything else you want to add?

I think in the wake of a great success like Mosul here, the thing I want the people of Tampa and the American people to recognize is that we are very, very proud of our partners in Iraq and all the coalition partners. They should continue to be proud of how our country is being represented. They should be very, very proud of the men and women we have out there, doing our nation’s bidding. I certainly am.

Mosul Liberation, Raqqa Next, A View in History

War is an ugly thing is clearly an understatement.

Then there is Aleppo, Syria.

WashingtonPost: In 1165, Benjamin of Tudela, a medieval Spanish Jewish traveler, approached the city of Mosul on the banks of the Tigris. A visitor, even a thousand years ago, could marvel at its antiquity. “This city, situated on the confines of Persia, is of great extent and very ancient,” he wrote in the chronicle of his journey. He gestured to the adjacent ruins of Nineveh, which had been sacked 15 centuries before his arrival.

Mosul, perched in Mesopotamia’s fertile river basin, was a walled trade city at the heart of the proverbial cradle of civilizations, linked to caravan routes threading east and other venerable urban centers like Aleppo to the west. It’s a city that has endured centuries of war and conflict, devastation and renewal. And even a millennium ago, though they couldn’t fathom its later uses, people were aware of Mosul’s great natural resource: Oil.

“To the right of the road to Mosul,” noted another 12th century Arab traveler, “is a depression in the earth, black as if it lay under a cloud. It is there that God causes the sources of pitch, great and small, to spurt forth.”


Mosul in the Middle Ages

In the wake of the First Crusade, which led to a string of Christian Crusader states taking root along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, Mosul became one of the main staging grounds for the Muslim riposte. At the time, the city was ruled by Seljuks, a Turkic tribe that had settled across swathes of the Middle East.

In 1104, an army led by the Seljuk “atabeg,” or governor, of Mosul marched west and routed a Crusader force on a plain close to what’s now the modern-day Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. “For the Muslims, it was an unequaled triumph,” wrote one Arab chronicler. “The morale of the Muslims rose, their ardor in defense of their religion was enhanced.” In 1127, Imad ad-din Zengi became Mosul’s atabeg and went on to forge a regional empire that united Aleppo with Mosul and successfully took the Crusader fortress at Edessa.

Zengi’s dynasty, installed in Mosul, went on to rival both the Christian knights in the Levant and the Caliph in Baghdad. Even when the famed Kurdish general Salah ad-Din, the greatest Muslim hero in the history of the Crusades, took over a vast swathe of the Middle East toward the end of the 12th century, the Zengids of Mosul held out. Their resistance was broken in the following century — not by Crusaders or rival Muslim armies, but the conquering hordes of the Mongols.

Despite all the conflict, the city and its environs would preserve its diverse character and remain home to Muslims, Jews, Christians and other sects, as well as a busy commercial entrepot for all sorts of goods. Though produced much farther east in Bengal, the ultra-soft and light fabric known as “muslin” derives its name from Mosul, because that was the point from which this textile entered the European imagination.

An Ottoman province

By the mid-16th century, Mosul fell under Ottoman control following the successful campaigns of Turkish armies against those of Persia’s Safavid dynasty. Most of what we know as the Arabic-speaking Middle East now ruled by the Ottomans. The Ottoman-Persian rivalry, which included a dimension of Sunni-Shia strife, shaped the region’s geopolitics for centuries. The lands that now constitute Iraq, particularly its rugged north, would be the site of myriad border wars, skirmishes and sieges.

In the early 19th century, Mosul became the capital of an Ottoman vilayet, or province, that stretched over what’s now northern Iraq. After the empire’s collapse, British colonial rulers would stitch together the vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra — a sea port to the south whose environs were home to a mostly Shiite population — into the new nation of Iraq.

A legacy of Sykes-Picot

A British army marched into Mosul in 1918 toward the end of World War I, forever ending Turkish rule in Iraq. The map above, though, depicts a post-war settlement that never came about. The infamous Sykes-Picot agreement — a secret deal hatched in 1916 by the British and French diplomats whose name it still carries — carved up the lands of the Ottoman Middle East between rival spheres of British and French influence. In the initial scheme, Mosul would fall under a French protectorate; the city was seen as more closely linked to Aleppo in Syria than Baghdad at the time.

But the British coveted Mosul’s oil, while the French sought to maintain control of Syria, even though British forces had been the ones to take Damascus from the Ottomans during the war. A deal was struck that gave the British a mandate over Mosul and the French colonial rights over Syria and Lebanon. The Europeans reneged on assurances they had given Arab allies during World War I that they would allow an independent Arab state to emerge. Instead, the political map of the Middle East was shaped by British and French colonial concerns and “Sykes-Picot” became short-hand for a toxic legacy of foreign meddling and domination.

The integration of Mosul into the other vilayets to the south, writes Middle East historian Juan Cole, compelled the “British to depend on the old Ottoman Sunni elite, including former Ottoman officers trained in what is now Turkey. This strategy marginalized the Shiite south, full of poor peasants and small towns, which, if they gave the British trouble, were simply bombed by” the British air force.

The template was set. Iraq, under the rule of a British-installed monarchy, achieved independence in 1932. In a matter of decades, the monarchy would be abolished and, after a series of coups, the authoritarian Baathist party of Saddam Hussein took over. A cadre of Sunni political and military elites went on to dominate a majority Shiite nation until the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The Turkey that never was

In 1920, in its last session, a defeated Ottoman parliament declared in a six-point manifesto the conditions on which it would accept the end of World War I following the armistice in 1918. There are differing versions of the proposed borders of a shrunken Turkish state that the nationalists in the Ottoman parliament put forward — one of them is reproduced above. Some areas indicated would be allowed to hold referendums; others were considered integral Turkish territory. As you can see, though, Mosul was very much part of this vision.

Instead, the Ottoman court signed the withering Treaty of Sevres in 1920, which would have seen what’s now Turkey carved up into various spheres of influence controlled by the West, Kurds, Armenians and others. That never came to pass: Turkish nationalists in the Ottoman army mobilized and eventually forced out foreign forces. In the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey’s modern borders were set.

Mosul, though, was a sticking point, with Turkish nationalists laying claim to it and demanding Britain hold a plebiscite in the region that’s now northern Iraq. That didn’t happen, and after some fitful politicking at the League of Nations, Turkey and Britain eventually agreed to an arrangement in 1926 where Ankara dropped its claim to Mosul and the nearby cities of Kirkuk and Sulaimanyah in exchange for a portion of the region’s oil revenues over the next 25 years.

This history has bubbled up once more in the wake of the Mosul offensive: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, adamant that his country’s forces play a role in the mission, invoked the 1920 document when justifying his nation’s right to be “at the table.” Officials in Baghdad were not impressed.

The chaos of the moment

And here’s the current state of play. Mosul is now at the center of a regional conflagration: It’s occupied by an extremist Sunni organization that rose to power as the Iraqi and Syrian states imploded. An Iraqi government backed by pro-Iranian Shiite militias is seeking to retake the city with the aid of Kurdish peshmerga forces, whose fighters are well aware of their own people’s long, bitter quest for an independent Kurdish homeland. And it’s eyed by Turkey, wary of the growing aspirations of Kurdish nationalists in the region and eager to reassert its own influence in a part of the world that was once under its sway.

Germany’s Secret Bundeswehr

The secret German army, with soldiers from other countries has a variety of duties. There is a growing concern in Europe, but what about NATO? That question goes to President Trump. The secret is, no one is talking about it openly, further there was no real reason given on why VP Pence travel to meet top NATO officials to calm the nerves regarding the viability of NATO due to President Trump. Article 5 remains a large question with European leaders.

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The original Bundeswehr has a scandalous history. Nazi Veterans Created Illegal Army

First, there will be cyber soldiers

The German military (Bundeswehr) on Wednesday is launching a brand new “cyber army” to fight against digital attacks on networks and weapons systems. But some are concerned about how this new unit might engage in cyber assaults itself.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen will announce the new unit in Bonn on Wednesday afternoon. The ministry wants to deploy around 13,500 soldiers and civilian workers by 2021 to protect the Bundeswehr’s networks and weapons systems, but the unit must also be capable of launching their own attacks against hackers.

The Chief of Staff of the new cyber army is Lieutenant-General Ludwig Leinhos, who is an expert in electronic warfare.

Cyber attacks are a growing concern in Germany, with the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) reporting last year that the government’s computer networks are hit by around 20 highly specialized attacks per day.

German intelligence agencies and the BSI last year began work on setting up their own special cyber response teams.

According to broadcaster N-tv, the Bundeswehr’s new cyber soldiers will be on equal ranking with their colleagues in the army, air force and marines – and their new beret colour will be grey.

Parliamentary ombudsman for the Bundeswehr, Hans-Peter Bartels (SPD), warned that the new cyber unit should be kept under parliamentary control, though, as part of their work would entail launching cyber attacks of their own.

Bartels told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Wednesday that the cyber army must seek permission from the Bundestag (German parliament) before launching such assaults.

“Every offensive measure of our constitutionally enshrined parliamentary army needs to have the explicit mandate of the Bundestag,” Bartels said, adding that this policy goes for not only military assaults, but also virtual attacks on the data network of an adversary.

Bartels stressed that the cyber army was desperately needed to protect the Bundeswehr’s computer and weapons systems. But he also criticized the fact that the new unit is only now being created.

“Germany is not a pioneer here,” he said. “One can already learn from the experiences of other countries, like the USA or Israel.”

Second, the conventional forces

Germany is to increase the size of its armed forces amid growing concerns over the security of Europe.

Troop numbers in the Bundeswehr will be raised to almost 200,000 over the next seven years, under new plans announced on Wednesday.

The move comes days after Mike Pence, the US vice-president, called on Nato’s European members to increase military spending.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded Europe pay more towards the cost of its own defence.

The move also comes amid growing concern in European capitals over Mr Trumps’ commitment to Nato, after he described the alliance as “obsolete”.

Under the new plans, Germany will recruit 20,000 more troops by 2025, bringing its total service personnel to 198,000.

That is slightly more than the British armed forces’ current strength of 196,410.

In a statement announcing the plans, Ursula von der Leyen, the defence minister, said: “The Bundeswehr has rarely been as necessary as it is now.

“Whether it is the fight against Isil terrorism, the stabilization of Mali, continuing support of Afghanistan, operations against migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean or with our increased Nato presence in the Baltics.”

The announcement came as Germany deployed tanks and hundreds troops to Lithuania as part of a Nato force to deter Russian aggression.

During the Cold War, West Germany was considered the first line of defence against a Soviet invasion and at its height the Bundeswehr had 500,000 active service personnel.

But in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification defence spending dropped sharply.

Germany ended conscription in 2011 and troop numbers fell to an all-time low of 166,500 in June last year.

Cold War historians described West Germany’s army as “perhaps the best in the world”.

But in more recent years it has been better known for embarrassing equipment shortages that saw soldiers forces to use broomsticks instead of guns on Nato exercises, and use ordinary Mercedes vans to stand in for armoured personnel carriers.

The German air force was forced to ground half of its ageing Tornado fighters last year over maintenance issues, including six that are deployed on reconaissance missions against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in Syria.

There are growing calls for Europe to do more to secure its own defence after Mr Trump described Nato as “obsolete” in an interview in January, and earlier this month Angela Merkel’s government was forced to take the unusual step of denying that it is interested in becoming a nuclear power.

Mr Trump has repeatedly accused Nato’s European members of not paying enough towards the cost of their defence and during the US presidential campaign Mr Trump warned the US may not necessarily come to the aid of Nato allies if they are attacked.

German Bundeswehr Soldiers of the 'battalion of armored infantryman' called 'Panzergrenadierbataillon 122' sit on a wrecker called 'Bueffel' during vehicles wait to be loaded onto a train in Grafenwoehr, Germany, 31 January 2017, before being deployed as part of a NATO force in Lithuania
German Bundeswehr Soldiers of the ‘battalion of armored infantryman’ called ‘Panzergrenadierbataillon 122’ sit on a wrecker called ‘Bueffel’ during vehicles wait to be loaded onto a train in Grafenwoehr, Germany, 31 January 2017, before being deployed as part of a NATO force in Lithuania Credit: LUKAS BARTH/EPA

Mr Pence sought to reassure jittery European allies in a speech at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Monday in which he said the US’ “commitment to Nato is clear”. But he demanded “real progress” in increased European defence spending.

Ms von der Leyen has been attempting to reverse the decline of Germany’s armed forces, and already announced a smaller increase in troop numbers last year. Those targets were revised upwards with Wednesday’s announcement.

It is estimated the increases will cost Germany between around €900m (£760m) a year. But the amount is still far short of the extra €25.4bn Germany would have to spend on defence each year to meet Nato’s annual target of 2 per cent of GDP.

The UK is one of only five Nato members to meet the target at present, along with the US, Greece, Estonia and Poland.

Despite boasting the largest economy in Europe, Germany lags far behind, spending only 1.19 per cent of its GDP on defence in 2016.