Trump making efforts to protect security of troop movements despite calls for transparency

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Noel Echevarria, 821st Contingency Response Group aerial porter, marshals Iraqi military personnel from an Iraqi air force C-130J Super Hercules at Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq, Nov. 19, 2016. The 821st CRG is highly-specialized in training and rapidly deploying personnel to quickly open airfields and establish, expand, sustain and coordinate air mobility operations in austere, bare-base conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan)

The American public didn’t learn about a recent Marine deployment into Syria until after the fact. The public also didn’t learn about the 82nd Airborne’s mission in Iraq until days after the deployment.

Neither of those deployments was announced once they had been made, a departure from the practice of the Obama administration, which announced nearly all, conventional force deployments.

The Los Angeles Times reports the Trump administration has stopped disclosing significant information about the size and nature of the U.S. commitment, including the number of U.S. troops deployed in either country.

It looks like ‘candidate’ Trump and President Trump are in lock step — making Operational Security (OPSEC) and the element of surprise a top priority.

“In order to maintain tactical surprise, ensure operational security and force protection, the coalition will not routinely announce or confirm information about the capabilities, force numbers, locations, or movement of forces in or out of Iraq and Syria,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman.

The National Security spokesman under Barack Obama argues public release of troop deployments to the world is more important than potential risks it can create.

“The position of the Obama administration was that the American people had a right to know if servicemen and women were in harm’s way,” said Ned Price, National Security Council spokesman under Obama. “It’s truly shocking that the current administration furtively deploys troops without public debate or describing their larger strategy.”

Not only are more forces being sent to quell radical extremism, American forces are nearer to the front lines in both Iraq and Syria than they have been since the war against Islamic State began nearly three years ago.

The Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel confirmed the Marine deployment into to Syria for the first time publicly this week. He responded to a question at a congressional hearing from a member of the House Armed Services committee who asked whether there were additional Americans inside the country.

“They have deployed,” Votel said, saying there are likely more troops headed for deployment.

The Pentagon tells the L.A. Times it’s reshaping the way it releases deployment information.

“The coalition commander’s intent is that ISIS be first to know about any additional capabilities the coalition or our partner forces may present them on the battlefield,” Pahon said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Although the Pentagon is going to continue to report troop strength, Pentagon officials acknowledge, however, that the number significantly understates the size of the U.S. troop presence because it does not include troops that are deployed on what the military considers a “temporary basis.”

Military analysts say keeping deployment information out of the mainstream could be justified in the name of troop safety.

“Broad contours of an operation should be debated openly, and publicly understood, but specific raids or other modest changes in capabilities and deployments should not be telegraphed in advance,” Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution in Washington told the L.A. Times.

Anyone who has forward deployed or spent countless hours doing computer based OPSEC training may agree there needs to be debate on deployment specifics, but those debates are best conducted in a secure location. Nevertheless, officials of previous administrations said that approach limits the debate over military policy.

“Syria is a complicated environment, so if you’re sending Americans in harm’s way over there, people need to know what the overarching goal is,” said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of Defense under President Reagan and current fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

“It’s important to have a public debate,” he said. “Congress must have a role in deciding what happens next, otherwise this is a slippery slope.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday that a new use of force authorization could be up for debate once the White House solidifies its strategy for combating Islamic State.

“They’re developing an ISIS strategy. They sent one to the president a month ago; he hasn’t accepted it. When they finish that, we plan to have hearings on all of these issues,” Corker said. “My guess is after that, we may in fact try and do an AUMF,” he said, referring to an authorization for use of military force.

The L.A.Times reports Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the appetite in Congress has grown for taking a fresh look at the issue.

“The world’s changed a bit,” Tillis said. “The nature of the threat’s changed too.”

That would be an important step, said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

“I do not think it is right for the U.S. military to become involved in the Syrian civil war based on the 9/11 AUMF,” he said. “I voted for that AUMF as a House member. I never imagined that vote being used to justify U.S. ground troops in Syria in the year 2017. And I don’t think anyone else who voted in favor of it did either.”

Trump’s position on the two fronts isn’t much different than Obama’s. Obama’s “light-foot approach” was making a difference. The Islamic State lost most of the territory it once held in Iraq and almost a third of what it held in Syria, reports CNN.

“The Obama strategy wasn’t failing, but it was slow,” James F. Jeffrey, a former ambassador (and former Army officer) who’s advising the administration, told L.A. Times writer Doyle McManus. “This is more — not only more troops, but more willingness to use them. It’s a change of maybe 20 percent — but it’s an important 20 percent.”

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  • Jim Verchio is a staff writer for Popular Military. As a retired Air Force Public Affairs craftsman, Jim has served at all levels. From staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, he has more than 30 years experience covering military topics in print and broadcast from the CONUS to Afghanistan. He is also a two time recipient of the DoD’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award for journalism excellence.

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