Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Military Won't Reveal Scope of Coalition Ground War Against ISIS

    Since August 2014, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has reported on what quickly became daily coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and later in Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The number of strikes each day has ranged from just a few to as many as several dozen. However, the daily press releases also include the following statement: "Ground-based artillery fired in counter-fire or in fire support to maneuver roles are not classified as a strike as defined by CJTF-OIR."
    While CENTCOM gives detailed reports on the number of airstrikes, intended targets (fighting positions, IEDs, warehouses, mortar positions, erc.), and the apparent success or failure of strikes, CENTCOM does not provide details on strikes involving ground-based artillery.
    When questioned about the frequency of such actions and the conditions under which they take place, a CENTCOM press official replied that CENTCOM does not provide such information because the "use of ground-based artillery for counter-fire and support to maneuver forces reflects the conditions on the battlefield" and too much "detail could potentially provide useful information to the enemy."
    To give an idea of the ground-based activity, however, the CENTCOM official did say that in the thirty days preceding June 13, "[c]oalition artillery has fired four times into the city of Fallujah in support of Iraqi Security Forces operations." During the same time, CENTCOM reported no fewer than eighty-one air strikes in and around Fallujah. The Iraqi armed forces launched an effort to retake Fallujah from ISIL on May 23 backed by coalition strikes.
    CENTCOM did not indicate where the ground-based artillery taking part in the Fallujah operation is located, but in March, the Military Times reported that "U.S. troops in Jordan launched a GPS-guided rocket artillery attack into Syria" using a "truck-mounted, guided-missile system with a range of up to 185 miles." The long range of such ground-based system gives the Obama administration room to continue to assert that the fight against ISIL does not include "boots on the ground" even though coalition forces are clearly part of the ground war targeting the Islamic State.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Email to Hillary Clinton: 'Be a good person like you almost are...'

    After Hillary Clinton ended her time as Secretary of State but before she launched her presidential campaign, Clinton set up a website (hillaryclintonoffice.com) to maintain an internet presence. The site was never fully developed and contained a few links, some contact information, and a few speeches.
    More recently, however, the site has been expanded and now includes a section reprinting emails from supporters. One such email contains what appears to be a somewhat backhanded encouragement to the Democratic frontrunner:
    Well, at least her loves her anyway.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

State Department Press Release on Missing Robert Levinson Contains Typo in 'Tips' Email Address [UPDATED]

    This morning, John Kerry and the State Department commemorated the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Levinson in Iran with a press release reminding Iran that it has "committed to cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson" and calling for information about his whereabouts.
     Secretary Kerry says in the press release that "I want to underscore our commitment to locate Bob and bring him home."
     However, the email address provided in the press release (archived here) contains an extra period after "gov" that prevents possible tipsters from being able to directly respond when clicking on the link:

     Two hours after the press release was posted on Twitter and also emailed to reporters, the error had not been corrected.

UPDATE: At 12:38 PM, the State Department responded to a request for comment with: "Thank you for flagging this inadvertent error. We've alerted our colleagues who manage the website, and we'll make the correction. Our thanks again, and our best wishes."

UPDATE 2: State's first attempt to fix was unsuccessful. Removed wrong period.

UPDATE 3: After another email, State has the correct email address link now.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Trump's New Clothes

    In the classic tale The Emperor's New Clothes, a little boy ends up being the only one to point out the emperor's embarrassing lack of attire. Presidential candidate Donald Trump, on the other hand, has virtually been shouting for months, "I'm buck naked, you fools!", and yet the crowd (at least 30-40% of poll respondents, anyway) continues to envision a beautiful Republican Presidential Robe of the Future. Could any serious candidate really say "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" and it actually be true?
    I've been arguing for months on Twitter that Trump doesn't want to win the Republican nomination, much less be president. Nothing else can account for the deliberately outrageous, self-destructive behavior he regularly engages in on the "campaign trail", a euphemism in Trump's mind for an extended screen test/contract negotiation. Trump is never happier than when he's on camera being Trump, and what better place to do that than on his own show?
    The Apprentice was a triumph for Trump, earning him a reported $213 million dollars over fourteen seasons (granted, Trump is the source of that figure.) Trump will turn seventy in June. Another TV show could carry him well into his eighties and secure the legendary status he desires (after all, what's left after being inducted into the WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, Hall of Fame?)
    Who needs four (or eight) years of constant headaches, having someone else dictate your schedule and itinerary twenty-four hours a day? His tweeted reaction to his Iowa loss ("Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!") is his last ditch effort to sabotage his chances in New Hampshire and grease the skids for a graceful (?) exit from the race and back to the studio.
    The only thing Donald Trump wants less than being elected president of the United States would be the humiliation of being selected as vice president. Trump is a political Peter Pan - he loves being a candidate, but growing up into the adulthood of office-holder would be the equivalent of the-boy-who-wouldn't-grow-up wearing a business suit or punching a clock every day. This is not to say Trump is not disciplined. He's had his share of success and failure and has so far has ended up back on his feet. Sheer force of personality has taken him far. But president? Not even Trump himself wants to go that far.
    But a lucrative, long-term TV contract to showcase his larger-than-life ego and personality? Now you're talking. When the right one comes along, Trump wants nothing better than to call together his senior campaign staff, point his finger at them, and yell, "You're fired!"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Remembering Dad

    During my break from blogging, my father died. As my banner above indicates, he was the inspiration for Speak With Authority, but he was so much more. Here are some edited excerpts from a biography of dad that was read at his funeral:
Jack Bier was born on September 23, 1926 in Belmar, New Jersey, the youngest of three children. 
As a child, Jack was already a business man and entrepreneur. He planned, constructed and then ran his own penny fairs, taxi service and backyard miniature golf course. Sports played a large part in Jack's life--football, basketball and track. On the basketball court, he was so skinny they called him "Bones Bier." 
At age seventeen he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas toward the end of World War II. He supervised the disarming of German soldiers them to prison camps, camps he was placed in charge of. 
After the war he played football at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from the Wharton School of Business. He met Doris Miller, a kindergarten teacher, at church. They fell in love and were married in 1948. Early on, Doris became Jill. Jack and Jill wanted a big family and they got it. God blessed them with five boys and a girl.  
Jack's career included working for Owens Corning Fiberglas, a position he accepted the day before receiving his acceptance into the FBI! J. Edward Hoover missed out on a good man. Jack's financial training and experience, along with his entrepreneurial spirit and God's direction, led him to start up his own company in 1972.  After spending a few years at a large Christian church and school in Memphis, where he resolved a major financial crisis, Jack and his family moved back to New Jersey and launched BAC, Inc. For forty years, Jack served as financial and crisis manager for one church after another, adding many on as regular clients. Today BAC assists dozens of churches across the country. 
Jack was always a people person and was greatly loved and respected by those he served. Besides his ministry to Christian schools and churches, Jack wore many hats in his own church. Over a span of more than fifty years at Haddon Heights Baptist Church, Jack was a college age youth advisor, a Sunday School teacher and the superintendent, a deacon, a counselor and a pastoral search committee member.  
Although raised in a Christian home, Jack did not personally receive Jesus Christ as his Savior until 1955, under the preaching of Lehman Strauss. He became a new creation in Christ, putting off old behaviors and ways of thinking and developing new ones. His goals for his family became centered in Kingdom work. 
Jack modeled practical love for Christ over the many years by devoting time and resources to world missions. Jack and Jill frequently hosted missionaries. After their home began to be an empty nest, Jack converted a bedroom into a "prophet's chamber", so that missionaries on furlough always had a place to stay. He was generous in sharing his vacation home with several pastors and their families, as well as with his own children and their families. For thirty-five years his shore house has been a home away from home for children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  
In April 1994, Jill, Jack's wife for forty-six years, lost her battle with cancer, and Jack lost the love of his life. But God had planned another love for Jack, and on Veteran's Day 1995 he and Lois Speirs were married. Combining both families, Jack and Lois now have forty-three grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren, with a few on the way. 
Jack loved songs about heaven and the return of Christ. On October 28, 2015, he was welcomed into the presence of his Savior. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
I also made some remarks at the funeral about dad as a father on behalf of the children. I closed with this:
Dad and Mom are now both in heaven with Jesus their Lord and Savior. But the legacy left by them both is immense and unless the Lord returns will likely endure for many decades if not longer. The Bier family name was on thin ice there for a while when the third and last child was born in the 20s to the Biers, a skinny boy from Belmar. But now, not only is the Bier name secure for the foreseeable future, but far more important than a name, Dad Bier’s legacy is secure in an ever growing number of solid homes and families reflecting that legacy, and committed to passing it down to yet another generation.
Thanks, Dad, until we meet again.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

TSA: A Record 67 Firearms Found in Carry-on Bags Week of 9/11

    The week including the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that spurred rigorous security procedures and numerous restrictions for air travel, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confiscated a record 67 firearms located in passengers' carry-on baggage. On September 11 alone, ten guns were found. Out of the 67 firearms found during the week, 56 were loaded and 26 actually had a round chambered, ready to fire. (The TSA did not note the position of safety catches on the weapons.)
     Below are photos of some of the guns discovered:

     In addition to the firearms, 19 stun guns were among the prohibited items the TSA found during bag searches. Guns were not the only weapons uncovered this week. Belt-buckle knives and even some throwing stars were confiscated:

In Houston, a container of 16 ounces of black powder, an explosive, was found in a checked bag:

The TSA blog post reporting the week's haul includes some reminders about restrictions on transporting firearms and ammunition:
When packed properly, ammunition can be transported in your checked baggage, but it is never permissible to pack ammo in your carry-on bag. 
You can travel with your firearms in checked baggage, but they must first be declared to the airline.
     The previous weekly record of 65 firearms was set in May 2013. The TSA reported in January 2015, however, that the year 2014 holds the record for most firearms confiscated in a year: 2,202, or about 6 per day.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Three ISIS Drones Have Been Destroyed in Iraq, Syria

   The latest official report of a drone in the possession of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is tucked in an August 3rd press release from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the overseers of the air campaign in Syria and Iraq against the terrorist organization.
     The reference is included in a list of targets from the previous day near the Iraqi town of Ramadi: "[T]hree airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL motorcycle, an ISIL drone, four ISIL vehicles and an ISIL resupply truck."
     A CENTCOM spokesperson told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the "remotely piloted aircraft 'RPA' was destroyed on the ground," but that the coalition was unable to confirm whether or not the drone had been armed.
     This drone destroyed in Iraq in August was the third ISIL drone targeted to date by Operation Inherent Resolve and the most recent hit since June. The only ISIS drone destroyed so far in Syria was located near Raqqah and was targeted on June 26th. CENTCOM reported that "five airstrikes struck three ISIL tactical units, destroying five ISIL excavators, an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL remotely piloted aircraft."
    The first instance of an ISIS drone being taken out by Operation Inherent Resolve was reported by the Daily Beast in the spring of 2015 based on a March 18th press release from CENTCOM. The Daily Beast quoted military officials as saying that "they believe the drone in question is one of several owned by ISIS but that fighters only recently started seeing them appear on the frontlines." At the time, it was believed the drone's mission was one of surveillance, not attack, and was described by military officials as "something that could be bought commercially."
     Although the Daily Beast article was entitled "Is ISIS Building a Drone Army?" and noted that experts have said that "ISIS could convert this kind of technology into something deadly," military officials dismissed the idea: "there [is] a big difference between what ISIS could have purchased off of Amazon.com ... and the Reapers and Predators deployed by coalition forces."
     When asked this week if drone use by ISIS was on the rise, a CENTCOM spokesperson told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that "[c]urrently, there is no assessment indicating an increased use of RPA's [remotely piloted aircraft] by ISIL."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard. Also, The Weekly Standard version of this post was the DrudgeReport's banner headline for about an hour Friday morning: