US hospital strike stuns; Saudis blame US intel in Yemen; Doubts on ‘building partner capacity’; Syria’s endgame, featuring Iran; and a bit more…

War crime? Leaders of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) accused U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan of possible war crimes for killing 22 staff and patients in a deliberate airstrike on the Kunduz hospital this weekend.

Investigations underway. President Barack Obama offered condolences and said the incident would be investigated. “The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment as to the circumstances of this tragedy.”

“There will be accountability,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter, on his way to Europe Sunday, “if that is required. The situation there is confused and complicated.”

Not good enough. MSF is raging and wants an independent investigation. More from Reuters. So does former WaPo war correspondent-turned-activist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who tweeted: “Someone at @ResoluteSupport should be court martialed for @msf air strike. After 14 yrs, fog of war is BS excuse.”

“Not fit for living.” Kunduz is off-limits, its public health director said. “Decomposing bodies littered the streets and trapped residents said food was becoming scarce,” Reuters reported Monday.

What the hell happened? American forces were in the area and they “did report that they, themselves, were coming under attack,” Carter said. U.S. special operations forces called in air support for Afghan fighters, according to unnamed U.S. officials.

More to come. Pentagon reporters are traveling with Carter, who said, “We will get the facts.” Usually the SecDef talks to traveling reporters every day on an overseas trip, so expect him to face a lot of heat on what otherwise is a cakewalk European workcation, including Spain, Italy, Brussels and the UK.  

Forgotten war, forgotten death. The Kunduz tragedy came two days after a C-130J crashed on takeoff from Jalalabad, where U.S. special operators have run Af-Pak counterterrorism ops for years. DOD gave the names of the six airmen who died in the crash, but not those of the five contractors, some of which emerged anyway through local press accounts. It’s a reminder that private military contractors remain in the fight, shona-ba-shona. And when they go down, few Americans know how or why. All will be mourned.

Obama: “We are reminded of the sacrifice brave Americans and our Afghan partners make each and every day in the name of freedom and security.  Their willingness to serve so selflessly will not be forgotten.”

How’s that Saudi-led campaign in Yemen workin’ out for ya? After killing more than 130 civilians at a wedding in Yemen last Monday with yet another errant airstrike, Saudi officials said, hey, we were relying on the coalition, and specifically the United States, for targeting intelligence.

No U.S. role in targeting. The National Security Council’s spokesman Ned Price on Friday flatly denied U.S. culpability for the airstrikes gone awry in Yemen and demanded their investigation. “The United States has no role in targeting decisions made by the Coalition in Yemen. Nevertheless, we have consistently reinforced to members of the Coalition the imperative of precise targeting.”

Still, Yemen burns with Washington’s blessing. The “middle child of Middle East conflict” war is happening exactly how Washington wants. If it wasn’t, the Obama administration would do something different there, right? This is the one conflict in the Middle East where regional forces are doing the (overt) fighting. Saudis, Qataris, Emiraties and more…and it’s not going well. At all.

In fact, how are any foreign fighters workin’ out for ya? The Obama administration constructed its global security strategy atop a pillar called “building partner capacity.” That’s milspeak for teaching foreigners to fight for themselves. It was the basis for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan—to train up and leave behind force that could hold its own. Remember “Afghan good enough?” Well, suddenly everybody’s a critic, this weekend, including Obama, who said “It has not worked the way it was supposed to.”

Teach a man to fish—unless they just won’t fish. The U.S. has spent billions trying to stay out of another Iraq War, and the outcome today looks ghastly. “Our track record at building security forces over the past 15 years is miserable,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry, in this New York Times look at those efforts. The Times says every training program from Casablanca to Kabul has failed, except a bright spot in Somalia. It sparked a wave of weekend armchair quarterbacking, as in the Washington Post (“Why Foreign Troops Can’t Fight Our Fights”), and a rant from our friend Rosa Brooks over at FP. Her bottom line, “We consistently fail to understand that other people want to pursue what they see as their interests and objectives, not ours.”

Still worth trying. We note that Defense One contributor Derek Chollet defended the training programs in Syria and elsewhere, which he helped build, in this Sept. 22 column. “This does not mean that we should throw up our hands and quit,” wrote the former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

Obama finally loosens the dogs? After reports the White House team was reconsidering its Syria plans, the NYT reported Sunday that Obama had signed an order to allow the Pentagon to arm Syrian rebels directly and increase airstrikes from Turkey. That’s still not the no-fly zone called for by his critics—including Hillary Rodham Clinton, but not Sen. Bernie Sanders.  

Defense One LIVE: On Tuesday, October 6—join DOD acquisition head Frank Kendall as he keynotes “The State of Defense Acquisition” in Crystal City, Va. Catch the full agenda and register for your spot right here.


From Defense One

U.S. looks more and more resolved Iran will play in Syria’s endgame. “There’s room to work with the Iranians,” says former U.S. ambassador to Syria Edward Djerejian in a very good explainer of Russia’s moves in—and America’s options out. Hint: it looks a lot like what the U.N. wanted long ago.

Judge Putin’s actions, not that U.N. speech. “The thing about Vladimir Putin is, it really doesn’t matter what he says,” writes King’s College Russia Institute Director Samuel Greene.

So goes Iran… Whatever future the U.S. has in the Middle East—and that Americans are willing to finance—look to Iran, argues Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. If states are going to regain power from terrorist groups, Iran many not deserve a seat at the table, but the U.S. may not have a choice.

Flip-flopping on encryption. “There is a crying need for this kind of data protection,” said Mike McConnell, former DNI and NSA director, who now wants dual encryption that allows law enforcement into private databases.

Coming to AUSA next week? Wanna escape the convention center? Then slide over to Defense One LIVE’s Cocktails and Conversation with U.S. Army Europe commanding general, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges; CNAS’ Paul Scharre; and our Executive Editor Kevin Baron to chat about the new era of land warfare, from Russia to ISIS. It’s Tues., Oct. 13, 5 p.m. at Busboys & Poets, 1025 5th St., NW, of all places. I know, right?

Gen. Milley to Summit! New Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is the latest confirmed featured guest at the Defense One Summit 2015: The Age of Everything, coming Nov. 2. Milley is the second Joint Chief on the roster, joining CNO Adm. John Richardson. Stay tuned for more speaker announcements. And space is filling up, so register today.

Welcome to the Monday edition of The D Brief, from Kevin Baron and Defense One. Like what you see? Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Want to improve political debates about national security issues like the Iran deal? Make better predictions. These are all contests about predicting the future, says noted psychologist Philip Tetlock, writing in the New York Times with Peter Scoblic. With a fundamental disagreement about what will happen as a consequence of action, either the deal prevents Iran from gaining a weapon (the Obama administration position) or it hastens it (the opposition), both sides are working off the bases of assumption.

How to fix it? Force people to make more specific predictions, even if they are wrong. “If people feel they will be held accountable for their views — then they tend to avoid cognitive pitfalls such as overconfidence and the failure to update beliefs in response to new evidence,” Tetlock and Scoblik write. Tetlock is best known for his work on the IARPA-funded Good Judgement project, a multiyear effort to identify cognitive biases and other forecasting pitfalls in the context of national security questions, or a sort of crowdsourcing intelligence experiment. His work, with decision scientist Barbara Mellers and Don Moor, to teach people to become “super forecasters” showed that, with time and training, many participants could outperform even CIA analysts.

NGA gets a deep dive in a series of articles by our old friends over at Suzanne Kelly’s new shop, the Cipher Brief. Start with this Q&A with NGA Director Robert Cardillo.  

Slowest…storming the beaches…ever. Marines out in California called out the cameras to watch them release some very small but very important—wait for it—tortoises. The Tortoise Research and Captive Rearing Site even has its own military acronym: TRACRS. But if that’s too slow for you, here’s some video of very fast Russian Su-34 jets in Syria, with their iconic red stars painted over.  

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