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Pentagon’s Policy On Tracking Troops’ Personal Weapons: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 02:32 PM PST

U.S. troops are allowed to carry personal weapons for their protection on stateside military facilities, but the Defense Department has no idea how many service members are actually packing.

The issue of whether service members should be allowed to bring their personal weapons onto military bases came up during President Trump's Feb. 23 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he cited the July 2015 attacks in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that killed four Marines and a sailor as a reason why more troops should be armed.

"We're going to look at that whole military base gun-free zone," Trump said. "If we can't have our military holding guns, it's pretty bad. We had a number of instances on military bases. You know that. So we want to protect our military."

So far, the Defense Department has not been told to make any changes to its policy that allows troops to carry concealed weapons if they meet all federal, state, and local laws and other eligibility requirements, said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The policy does not apply to troops overseas.

When that policy went into effect in November 2016, it clarified how commanders at individual military installations can allow their troops to carry privately owned firearms – whether concealed or open carry – for self-protection, Davis told Task & Purpose.

Those commanders are not required to tell the Pentagon which of their troops have permission to bring personal weapons on base, said Davis, who is not aware of any plans to create a federal database of personnel who carry privately owned weapons on military facilities.

"Since it's done at the local level, it's not being tracked by DoD," Davis said. "The local installations keep track of that."

Having the Defense Department keep track of how many troops carry their personal weapons on bases for protection would require the Pentagon to compile information from local commanders and verify its accuracy, he said.

Davis also emphasized that commanders do not give troops permission to carry their privately owned firearms on base  indefinitely.

"Written permission will be valid for 90 days or as long as the DoD Component deems appropriate and will include information necessary to facilitate the carrying of the firearm on DoD property consistent with safety and security," the policy says.

So while President Trump wants to ensure all service members can protect themselves from terrorists, it appears that no one in the Pentagon will know for the foreseeable future how many troops have applied for and been granted permission to bring their guns to work.


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The post Pentagon's Policy On Tracking Troops' Personal Weapons: Don't Ask, Don't Tell appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Switzerland Has A Stunningly High Rate Of Gun Ownership — Here’s Why It Doesn’t Have Mass Shootings

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 11:41 AM PST

Switzerland hasn’t had a mass shooting since 2001, when a man stormed the local parliament in Zug, killing 14 people and then himself.

The country has about 2 million privately owned guns in a nation of 8.3 million people. In 2016, the country had 47 homicides with firearms. The country’s overall murder rate is near zero.

The National Rifle Association often points to Switzerland to argue that more rules on gun ownership aren’t necessary. In 2016, the NRA said on its blog that the European country had one of the lowest murder rates in the world while still having millions of privately owned guns and a few hunting weapons that don’t even require a permit.

But the Swiss have some specific rules and regulations for gun use.

Business Insider took a look at the country’s past with guns to see why it has lower rates of gun violence than the US.

Switzerland is obsessed with getting shooting right. Every year, it holds a shooting contest for kids aged 13 to 17.

Switzerland is obsessed with getting shooting right. Every year, it holds a shooting contest for kids aged 13 to 17.Wikimedia Creative Commons

Zurich’s Knabenschiessen is a traditional annual festival that dates back to the 1600s.

Though the word roughly translates to “boys shooting” and the competition used to be only boys, teenage girls have been allowed in since 1991.

Kids in the country flock to the competition every September to compete in target shooting using Swiss army service rifles. They’re proud to show off how well they can shoot.

Accuracy is prized above all else, and a Schutzenkonig — a king or queen of marksmen — is crowned.

Having an armed citizenry helped keep the Swiss neutral for more than 200 years.

Having an armed citizenry helped keep the Swiss neutral for more than 200 years.Keystone/Getty Images

Alpine herdsmen in Toggenburg, Switzerland.

The Swiss stance is one of “armed neutrality.”

Switzerland hasn’t taken part in any international armed conflict since 1815, but some Swiss soldiers help with peacekeeping missions around the world.

Many Swiss see gun ownership as part of a patriotic duty to protect their homeland.

Most Swiss men are required to learn how to use a gun.

Most Swiss men are required to learn how to use a gun.REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Swiss President Ueli Maurer pauses during a shooting-skills exercise — a several-hundred-year-old tradition — with the Foreign Diplomatic Corps in Switzerland on May 31, 2013.

Unlike the US, Switzerland has mandatory military service for men.

All men between the ages of 18 and 34 deemed “fit for service” are given a pistol or a rifle and trained.

After they’ve finished their service, the men can typically buy and keep their service weapons, but they have to get a permit for them.

In recent years, the Swiss government has voted to reduce the size of the country’s armed forces.

Switzerland is a bit like a well-designed fort.

Switzerland is a bit like a well-designed fort.Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Switzerland’s borders are basically designed to blow up on command, with at least 3,000 demolition points on bridges, roads, rails, and tunnels around the landlocked European country.

John McPhee put it this way in his book “La Place de la Concorde Suisse”:

“Near the German border of Switzerland, every railroad and highway tunnel has been prepared to pinch shut explosively. Nearby mountains have been made so porous that whole divisions can fit inside them.”

Roughly a quarter of the gun-toting Swiss use their weapons for military or police duty.

Roughly a quarter of the gun-toting Swiss use their weapons for military or police duty.AP/Keyston, Lukas Lehmann

In 2000, more than 25% of Swiss gun owners said they kept their weapon for military or police duty, while less than 5% of Americans said the same.

In addition to the militia’s arms, the country has about 2 million privately owned guns — a figure that has been plummeting over the past decade.

In addition to the militia's arms, the country has about 2 million privately owned guns — a figure that has been plummeting over the past decade.REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Members of an honor guard of the Swiss army.

The Swiss government has estimated that about half of the privately owned guns in the country are former service rifles. But there are signs the Swiss gun-to-human ratio is dwindling.

In 2007, the Small Arms Survey found that Switzerland had the third-highest ratio of civilian firearms per 100 residents (46), outdone by only the US (89) and Yemen (55).

But it seems that figure has dropped over the past decade. It’s now estimated that there’s about one civilian gun for every four Swiss people.

Gun sellers follow strict licensing procedures.

Gun sellers follow strict licensing procedures.REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Daniel Wyss, the president of the Swiss weapons-dealers association, in a gun shop.

Swiss authorities decide on a local level whether to give people gun permits. They also keep a log of everyone who owns a gun in their region, known as a canton, though hunting rifles and some semiautomatic long arms are exempt from the permit requirement.

But cantonal police don’t take their duty dolling out gun licenses lightly. They might consult a psychiatrist or talk with authorities in other cantons where a prospective gun buyer has lived before to vet the person.

Some lawmakers in US states including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are considering a similar model.

Swiss laws are designed to prevent anyone who’s violent or incompetent from owning a gun.

Swiss laws are designed to prevent anyone who's violent or incompetent from owning a gun.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Nina Christen of Switzerland at the Olympic Games in Rio in August 2016.

People who’ve been convicted of a crime or have an alcohol or drug addiction aren’t allowed to buy guns in Switzerland.

The law also states that anyone who “expresses a violent or dangerous attitude” won’t be permitted to own a gun.

Gun owners also have to prove they can properly load, unload, and shoot their weapon and must pass a test to get a license.

Switzerland is also one of the richest, healthiest, and, by some measures, happiest countries in the world.

Switzerland is also one of the richest, healthiest, and, by some measures, happiest countries in the world.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Switzerland was ranked fourth in the UN’s 2017 World Happiness Report.

The Swiss were applauded for high marks on “all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance” the report’s authors wrote.

Meanwhile, according to the report, happiness has taken a dive over the past decade in the US.

“The reasons are declining social support and increased corruption,” the authors said.

But the Swiss aren’t perfect when it comes to guns.

But the Swiss aren't perfect when it comes to guns.Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Switzerland still has one of the highest rates of gun violence in Europe, and most gun deaths in the country are suicides.

Around the world, stronger gun laws have been linked to fewer gun deaths. That has been the case in Switzerland, too.

Around the world, stronger gun laws have been linked to fewer gun deaths. That has been the case in Switzerland too.REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

A police officer at Geneva’s airport.

After hundreds of years of letting local cantons determine gun rules, Switzerland passed its firstfederal regulations on guns in 1999, after the country’s crime rate increased during the 1990s.

Since then, more provisions have been added to keep the country on par with EU gun laws, and gun deaths, including suicides, have continued to drop.

As of 2015, the Swiss estimated that only about 11% of citizens kept their military-issued gun at home.

Most people aren’t allowed to carry their guns around in Switzerland.

Most people aren't allowed to carry their guns around in Switzerland.REUTERS

Hunters at a market in central Switzerland offer their fox furs.

Concealed-carry permits are tough to get in Switzerland, and most people who aren’t security workers or police officers don’t have one.

“We have guns at home, but they are kept for peaceful purposes,” Martin Killias, a professor of criminology at Zurich University, told the BBC in 2013. “There is no point taking the gun out of your home in Switzerland because it is illegal to carry a gun in the street.”

That’s mostly true. Hunters and sports shooters are allowed to transport their guns only from their home to the firing range — they can’t just stop off for coffee with their rifle.

And guns cannot be loaded during transport to prevent them from accidentally firing in a place like Starbucks — something that has happened in the US at least twice.

More from Business Insider:

The post Switzerland Has A Stunningly High Rate Of Gun Ownership — Here’s Why It Doesn’t Have Mass Shootings appeared first on Task & Purpose.

America Will Never Win The War In Afghanistan

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 09:26 AM PST

According to an in-depth investigation conducted by BBC News reporters in late 2017, the Taliban fully control four percent of Afghanistan's districts and "have an active and open physical presence" in 66 percent of the remaining ones. They found that roughly half of the Afghan people "are living in areas that are either controlled by the Taliban or where the Taliban are openly present and regularly mount attacks."

These findings should give pause to observers who believe that the United States is, or will presently be, poised to turn the tide in Afghanistan enduringly. There are currently fourteen thousand U.S. troops stationed there, up from 8,500 when President Trump took office, and the Army is recommending that the president authorize the deployment of an additional one thousand troops. For much of 2011, by comparison, there were nearly one hundred thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan. While that earlier surge did reduce the Taliban's control and extend that of the Afghan government, neither trend lasted. It is difficult to see how the present force would be able to accomplish what one nearly seven times as large could not; it would be unlikely to have more than marginal impact, and even then for only as long as the deployment was sustained.

The United States has now been at war in Afghanistan for over sixteen years, at a cost of over $1 trillion; Atlantic Senior Editor Krishnadev Calamur noted last month that the Taliban "now controls . . . more territory than at any point since the U.S.-led invasion"; and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported this past November that both the level of opium production and the area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached record highs in 2017.

Such realities invite a rigorous interrogation of the rationales for America's continued involvement there. Steve Coll, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and author of a new book on U.S. efforts to counter terrorism in South Asia, observes that policymakers have yet to answer essential questions, such as "Why is the United States in Afghanistan? What interests justify its sacrifices? How will the war end?" Instead, it would appear that the United States has accepted, or perhaps resigned itself to, a kind of circular logic, one whose power will only grow with time: the longer that U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan, the more self-evident it should be that the United States has vital national interests there.

If, as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan concluded this past November, the conflict in Afghanistan "is still in a stalemate," and the United States is unable and/or unwilling to specify the conditions under which its forces would begin to draw down, then it is effectively committing itself to staying there in perpetuity. Some observers contend that the United States would embolden the Taliban by announcing a timeline for withdrawal. Having fought U.S. troops for over sixteen years, though, the organization has proven itself to be frustratingly resilient and adaptable; so long as the United States has forces deployed there, the Taliban will likely be able to recruit a steady flow of fighters.

Following a recent attack by the group that killed at least ninety-five people and injured 158 others, President Trump ruled out negotiations with its leadership. His sentiment is understandable. Unfortunately, though, concludes Laurel Miller, who served from June 2013 to June 2017 as the State Department's deputy and then acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, America's "only realistic exit strategy" is "a negotiated settlement."

Pakistani support, in turn, remains essential to the achievement of such an outcome. The administration's threat to cut off up to $2 billion in military assistance to Islamabad is unlikely to achieve its intended results for at least two reasons. First, despite the turbulence that has marked U.S.-Pakistan ties since 9/11, U.S. troops remain dependent on transit through and overflight of Pakistani territory as a lower-cost alternative to supply line arrangements that would traverse Iran or Central Asian countries. Richard Olson, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan from 2012 to 2015, explains that "[w]ithout Pakistani cooperation, [the U.S.] army in Afghanistan risks becoming a beached whale." Second, in large measure due to China's resurgence, the United States has significantly less leverage over Pakistan than it did in the 2000s. Under the auspices of its "One Belt, One Road" initiative, China has promised to investsome $62 billion into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. While Islamabad cannot expect a blank check from Beijing—the latter is concerned that its growing influence over the former could increasingly make it a target for organizations such as the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba—it can count on less diplomatic pressure and greater economic support.

This past August, President Trump stated that victory in Afghanistan would entail "attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge." While that conception is part of what he contends to be a new, more aggressive strategy, it actually suggests a more discomfiting conclusion: the best the United States may be able to do in Afghanistan is maintain a protracted stalemate.

Ali Wyne is a policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

This article originally appeared on The National Interest.

Read more articles from The National Interest:

The post America Will Never Win The War In Afghanistan appeared first on Task & Purpose.

You’re Gonna Want To Read This Twitter Thread About A Convoy, An Ambush, And A Good Dog

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 07:40 AM PST

Are you a fan of downrange dog stories? Did you laugh at General Order No. 1’s injunction against pets? Then, brother, do I have a story for you. Well, I don’t — but Twitter’s resident Powerpoint sapper and occasional T&P contributor, Angry Staff Officer, has quite the Iraq story, as related to him by a forward observer. If someone isn’t working on the screenplay already, there’s no justice in this world:

That’s a good dog, Trackpad. Very good dog!

The post You’re Gonna Want To Read This Twitter Thread About A Convoy, An Ambush, And A Good Dog appeared first on Task & Purpose.

The Unique Role Our Combat Veterans Can Play In Reducing American Gun Violence

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 07:15 AM PST

Veterans, especially those have been in combat, are in a unique position nowadays. Our country has give them an elevated place in our culture, for reasons both good and bad. And gun violence is something to which they bring personal experience and knowledge. These are people who, unlike the president, did not avoid military service. They have paid dues and earned the right to be heard.

I think that his new combination of concerned combat vets and outraged high school students is both unexpected and powerful, and may possibly finally lead to some results.

The post The Unique Role Our Combat Veterans Can Play In Reducing American Gun Violence appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Letter From Iraq: The Battle Of Mosul May Signal The Return Of The Decisive Battle

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 06:44 AM PST

The battle of Mosul, in which the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the U.S.-led coalition defeated the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), has generated a lot of discussion since its completion in July of last year. The battle, which raged for the nine months (October 2016 to July 2017), provides many opportunities to examine as it relates to modern and future warfare. The battle's decisiveness and the consequences of that decisiveness are striking to consider.

It is important to note that the ISF consists of more than just the Iraqi army. The ISF included forces from the Ministry of Defense (i.e. army forces), the Ministry of the Interior (i.e. various police forces), the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Units from all components of the ISF participated in the battle, but the standard-bearers were the Iraqi Army's 9th Division (Armored), the CTS, and units from the Federal Police, to include the 5th Federal Police Division. The PMF, a legally sanctioned wing of the ISF since 2014, has raised some eyebrows because it contains some Iranian-backed militias. It played a significant role in the counteroffensive against ISIS, providing upwards of 16,000 personnel through the battle of Mosul.            

Historically, decisive battle was characterized as military action that had a direct impact on the will of military and/or political leaders to continue with a given course of action. In other words, an event was thought to be decisive if it caused leaders to change their plans and pursue a different path. Napoleon Bonaparte's battle of Austerlitz is an instructive example of a decisive battle—the battle was so disastrous for the Russo-Austrian coalition that both heads of state ceded their political objectives against Bonaparte and accepted his terms of peace.

The Mosul battle was decisive because it resulted in operational and tactical change. Before it, ISIS fought conventionally, seeking to engage the ISF in battles of attrition. In Mosul, ISIS threw everything it had into the fight, in an effort to destroy the ISF and inflict enough collateral damage that the international community and coalition support for the offensive would collapse.

It was not clear as the fight ended in Mosul whether ISIS still had an appetite for large-scale conventional actions. But in the following months it became clear, as ISIS mounted only desultory operations in Tal A'far, Hawijah, and along the Euphrates River Valley. None of those encounters amounted to much than skirmishes. Thus Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi was able to announce in December of last year that that the organization had been militarily defeated.

To be sure, ISIS did not formally accept terms of surrender like that of the Russo-Austrian alliance following its defeat at Austerlitz in December 1805. But it has tacitly acknowledged its defeat by reducing the scale of its operations and tactics, engaging in small-scale guerrilla activities in Iraq. It also is likely has moved its focus to other areas such as North Africa or the Philippines.                

Also, the battle of Mosul should not be seen in isolation. Even as it fought in Iraq, ISIS was also engaged in large battles of attrition in Syria. The battles of Raqqa and Aleppo, similar in the scope and scale of Mosul, yielded many of the same results.

Viewed collectively, one can assume that ISIS realized that its twin goals of defeating the ISF and Syrian pro-regime forces, supported by the U.S.-led coalition and Russia, respectively, was no longer a fight it could win. Therefore, the organization adjusted its strategy, operational approach, and its tactics in order to maintain existence. Similar to other efforts to retain and regenerate power, ISIS adopted a strategy of evasion across Iraq and Syria and is employing an economy-of-force to maintain an active posture, while rebuilding itself.

It is also important to note the difference between guerrilla activities and insurgencies. Some observers believe that ISIS has transitioned to an insurgency. However, that view overlooks the political aspect of insurgencies. For a movement to be an insurgency it must seek to overturn an extant political entity; whereas guerrilla action is oriented on an enemy, and does not seek to overturn an existing political institution. ISIS, post-Mosul, seeks to continue to exist as an organization but not to usurp the Iraqi government; this is also appears to be true in Syria given its limited ability to project physical force.         

To conclude, it appears that in a period of limited war, decisiveness has returned to the battlefield. The battle of Mosul — a hard-fought win for the government of Iraq and its coalition partners — signaled the end of ISIS's physical army. While the ideology lives on, the organization's physical ability to resist was blunted, at least temporarily, in Iraq. The question remains as to whether or not ISIS will pick up the pieces of its shattered empire, and if Iraq and its partners will be able to capitalize on the decisiveness of the battle of Mosul.

Amos Fox is a U.S. Army officer and served as a planner with the Combined Joint Force Land Component Command (CJFLCC)-Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, Iraq.  The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

The post Letter From Iraq: The Battle Of Mosul May Signal The Return Of The Decisive Battle appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Trump Pushes To Allow Troops To Carry Personal Weapons On Bases

Posted: 26 Feb 2018 05:15 AM PST

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

President Donald Trump said Friday that he would review policies that keep troops from carrying personal weapons onto military bases.

“If we can’t have our military holding guns, it’s pretty bad,” Trump said in a wide-ranging speech to the annual Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Maryland, “and I’m going to look at that whole policy on military bases.”

“So we want to protect our military. We want to make our military stronger and better than it’s ever been,” Trump continued in the speech, in which he also renewed his call for allowing trained teachers and military retirees to carry concealed weapons in schools.

Schools and military bases currently are “gun-free zones” that are easy targets for deranged shooters such as the one in Parkland, Florida, who killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, Trump said.

Defense Department policy mainly has been that base security is the province of military police. In most cases, troops are required to leave their personal weapons at home or check them at the gate in an effort to prevent accidental shootings and discourage suicides.

“We had a number of instances on military bases, you know that,” Trump said in his speech, apparently referring to active shooter episodes.

In making the case for personal weapons on military bases, Trump appeared to be referencing the July 2015 incident in Chattanooga, Tenn., where four Marines and a sailor were killed.

The shootings occurred at a recruiting storefront in a strip shopping mall and at a U.S. Naval Reserve Center some miles away. But Trump said the victims “were on a military base in a gun-free zone.”

The victims were Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40; Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 35; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist; Lance Cpl. Squire D. “Skip” Wells, 21; and NavyPetty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26.

The FBI and local police said that Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez carried out a drive-by shooting at the recruiting center and then drove to the U.S. Naval Reserve Center, where he was killed in a shootout with police.

Then-FBI Director James Comey later said that Abdulazeez was “motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda.”

“You know the five great soldiers from four years ago, three of them were world-class marksmen,” Trump said in his account of the incident. “They were on a military base in a gun-free zone.”

“They were asked to check their guns quite far away. And a maniac walked in, guns blazing, killed all five of them. He wouldn’t of had a chance if these world-class marksmen had — on a military base — access to their guns,” Trump said.

In his 2015 Senate confirmation hearing to become Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley was asked about the Chattanooga shootings and said that “in some cases I think it’s appropriate” for recruiters to carry weapons for self-defense.

He said that arming recruiters was complicated by a patchwork of state laws but “I think under certain conditions — both on military bases and in outstations, recruiting stations, reserve centers — we should seriously consider it.”

Then-Lt. Gen. Milley was commander at Fort Hood, Texas, in April 2014 when Spec. Ivan Lopez opened fire, killing three soldiers and wounding 12 others before killing himself.

Numerous lawmakers then called for allowing troops to carry weapons on base, but Milley said at a news conference that he didn’t support the idea.

“I don’t think soldiers should have concealed weapons on base,” he said.

More from Military.com:

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