Tag Archives: Medill National Security Journalism Initiative

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters aids vets with music rehab project

ROCKVILLE, Md. – Roger Waters is directing troops. Literally.

The famous front man has led the British band Pink Floyd for the past half-century. Now he’s leading a practice session in a room filled with wounded military veterans.

MusiCorps, a music rehabilitation program for recovering armed service members, is seeking to expand beyond the 50 recovering veterans now participating in the MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band yearly.

Waters is instrumental in the group’s expansion efforts and is vocal about what needs to happen to grow the project.

“What we need,” Waters said in an interview, “is to find a George Soros or someone out there who will give MusiCorps a few million bucks to support this program because it is hugely humane and worthwhile… We ought to be devoting our resources to looking after these men and all people who need our help.”

The program’s founder, composer Arthur Bloom, said music aids wounded warriors in their recovery.

To get them back in a groove, MusiCorps holds practice sessions and performances with accomplished musicians.

Bloom said he too has greater aspirations for MusiCorps, a project that started out as “an experiment” after meeting an injured serviceman at Walter Reed.

The recovering soldier had lost his leg to a roadside bomb, and was worried that he wouldn’t be able to play the drums again.

Bloom said that moment – eight years ago – inspired MusiCorps, the project that has become his “life’s work.”

Tim Donley, a retired Marine corporal, said he’s experiencing the benefits of the program firsthand.

“I’d say something like MusiCorps is saving lives, which I guarantee it has, and I know it has, and I know it still is,” Donley said in an interview, “but that’s that one-liner and it’s corny and people don’t think you mean that.”

Vimeo / Medill Washington – via Iframely

Waters, a singer, songwriter and bassist, is hosting a benefit concert featuring the MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band on Friday, Oct. 16 at Constitution Hall, to raise money for the program’s future endeavors.

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Army responds to tragic hospital bombing

WASHINGTON– Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sat before lawmakers Tuesday and responded to burning issues facing the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. forces bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz and killed more than twenty innocent people after Afghan forces called for air support. Gen. Campbell called the airstrike an accident and promises transparency as three separate investigations begin.

Taliban forces also raised concerns after the terrorist organization carried out attacks in the city of Kunduz. These issues will extend the mission as the U.S. seeks a transition into an embassy state in Afghanistan, Campbell said.

Vimeo / Medill Washington – via Iframely


Did poor US planning prompt Russia’s rise in Syria?

A witness speaks about strategy in Syria. (Sam Fiske/MEDILL NSJI)

A witness speaks about strategy in Syria. (Sam Fiske/MEDILL NSJI)

WASHINGTON — Russia’s recent airstrikes in Syria are prompting concerns that America is losing power and political influence in the region. And the fact that Russia is reportedly targeting positions that include those held by U.S.-trained rebel factions – but not by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL or ISIS – is widely seen as underscoring the divide between American and Russian strategies.

“I believe Russia will first and foremost protect Assad and its port, and ensure its own continued role and influence,” Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow specializing in national security and defense policy at the Brookings Institution, said in an email, referring to Russia’s naval facility in the Syrian city of Tartus. “Defeating ISIL in the first instance matters less to them.”

Russia’s perceived intent to attack terrorist forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – its historic ally – while focusing less on the Islamic State group alarmed lawmakers this week, who decried what many of them see as America’s lackluster Middle Eastern counterterrorism strategy.

Since last year, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes against the Islamic State group, provided air cover for ground forces like the Kurdish peshmerga, and trained and equipped rebel ground forces. The Pentagon announced Tuesday it had “paused” sending forces it has trained back into Syria after confirming previous reports some of those rebels had traded their U.S.-issued gear and vehicles to extremists in exchange for safe passage through areas they controlled.

But even before that, results had been mixed.

At a hearing Tuesday in Washington, members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade questioned witnesses about the effectiveness of these tactics, particularly the so-called “train and equip” mission.

“The indigenous ground forces in Syria and Iraq are not capable of defeating ISIS,” retired U.S. Army Gen. John M. Keane told the panel. “We are not only failing, we are losing this war. Moreover, I can say with certainty this strategy will not defeat ISIS.”

When done right, training and equipping indigenous forces is considered by some military experts to be an effective strategy for stabilizing a region. In a phone interview, Ben Connable, an analyst for the RAND Corp. and a retired Marine intelligence officer, compared the U.S. training in the Middle East to the French attempts to build a militia force in South Vietnam in the 1950s.

“They were in a hurry. They wanted to get out of Indochina,” said Connable. “So what they did was rush the half-trained force into the field and they were destroyed piecemeal.”

The situation, in Connable’s view, is similar to present-day Syria.

“Just because they went through a training course does not mean they are ready for combat,” he said. “You don’t put a couple hundred newbies into the fight.”

Airstrikes prevent gains by the Islamic State group and eliminate targets, but they have done little to quell the insurgent activities tearing through Iraq and Syria.

“High-value targeting is most effective when it is combined with other counterinsurgency measures,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a witness at the Tuesday committee hearing and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Unfortunately, there are currently no boots on the ground truly capable of implementing a large-scale counterinsurgency strategy.”

America’s inability to develop a successful trained militia in Syria or maintain a concrete strategy allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to criticize the U.S. in an address to the United Nations on Monday and call for a “broad international coalition” to fight ISIS and other terrorists, such as the al-Nusra Front.

The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, offered his concerns that the U.S. won’t achieve one of its principal objectives: removing Assad from power.

“It is a reality,” Keane said in response to Poe’s concerns that Russia’s new tactics will successfully prop up Assad. “I would tell Mr. Putin that I’m going to fly my airplanes where I want, when I want and you’re not going to interfere with them.”

Keane believes that the U.S. will eventually be able to remove Assad from leadership in Syria, with or without the help of the Russians. But with the Russian military now involved, it is not clear how or when that will happen.

Daniel Benjamin, another committee witness, noted Thursday that Russian military support has revitalized the Assad government.

“Whatever shared commitment there was among Western nations that Assad had to go has been essentially rendered moot,” said Benjamin, also a nonresident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. “The diplomacy now has to get going with an understanding that Assad still may go, but not soon and not on the kinds of terms that were envisioned to date.”

Complicating matters is the fact that the Syria-Russia relationship goes well beyond the military alliance.

“There is an emotional connection between the Russian military and Syria,” Connable said. “The Syrian officers married Russian women and the Russian officers married Syrian women. It’s not just a political relationship, it’s a socio-cultural relationship as well.”

Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, said America’s limited military role in Syria is giving Russia an even stronger position of power.

“The fundamental problem is this administration does not know how to cover political objectives with military strategies,” Blank said of the Obama White House, adding that Russia has “a capability to project power in well-defined strategic objectives.”

Russia, which began bombing anti-Syrian government forces Wednesday, has forced the U.S. government to reassess its strategy in the Middle East. Lawmakers and experts who participated in Tuesday’s panel appeared to agree America must revisit its counterterrorism efforts in Syria.

“I think it’s time this administration goes back to the drawing board,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn.

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Senate committee, witnesses; US should provide more aid to refugees

Humanitarian group leaders (right) Dr. Michel Gabaudan of Refugees International, Nancy Lindborg of United States Institute of Peace, and David Milliband of the International Rescue Commitee describe their experience working with refugees from the Middle East over the last few weeks. (Sara Shouhayib/MEDILL NSJI)

Humanitarian group leaders (right) Dr. Michel Gabaudan of Refugees International, Nancy Lindborg of United States Institute of Peace, and David Milliband of the International Rescue Commitee describe their experience working with refugees from the Middle East over the last few weeks. (Sara Shouhayib/MEDILL NSJI)

WASHINGTON – The United States should increase humanitarian aid to people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas of the Middle East and share more responsibility with Europe in admitting refugees, senators and witnesses said at a Foreign Relations hearing Tuesday.

The committee focused on a humanitarian crisis that many are calling, “the worst since WWII.” The emphasis was on Syria and more broadly on how to help refugees return to their battered lands when the fighting ends.

Testifying before the Senate committee, International Rescue CommitteePresident David Milligan said people are fleeing Syria because of barrel bombings attributed to the Assad regime as well as threats from the terrorist group, ISIS.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said he feared circumstances on the ground inSyria are “getting worse, not better. We’re doing nothing to stop the barrel bombing, including that of chlorine gas.”

Witness Nancy Lindborg, the president of the United States Institute of Peace,who has done extensive work in Iraq, said the focus should be on giving refugees a chance to return home. Education, employment and trauma counseling could help refugees rebuild their society, Lindborg said.

“Even if Europe and the U.S. take the most generous amount of refugees possible that will only scratch the surface,” she said. The average displacement for a refugee inside a strife-torn country is 17 years, Lindborg said.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 4 million Syrians have fled the country and 7.6 have been displaced since the conflict began five years ago.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced earlier this month that the Obama Administration would increase the acceptance of refugees to 100,000 by 2017. But that number could change with mounting pressure from the international community as European nations admit more people. The current annual cap of refugee admittance in the U.S. is at 70,000.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said that it all comes down to politics.

“I think the breakthrough honestly has to be Obama and Putin sitting down and reaching an agreement on this,” he said. “I think not any other intervention is going to be effective on this in the long run. We need a political resolution on this.”

Alar Olljum, visiting Fellow in the center for U.S. and Europe at the Brookings Institution, also favors a political solution.

Humanitarian assistance, Olljum said, is only a temporary solution. “The only permanent solution is to have a political settlement to the conflict in that country.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn, said refugees are just like everyone else.

“The images of thousands of men women and children fleeing for safety should challenge every moral fiber within,” he said. “[They] want only to be able to raise their families in dignity and cherish the same values and things that we all care about, and yet we watch them on television in these desperate circumstances.”


Too early to judge the China-U.S. cyber agreement

WASHINGTON — The agreement between the U.S. and China, signed during President Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House last month, aims to stop cyberespoinagee and promote international cyber norms, but many experts say the the four-point plan is symbolic without specifics.

Some called it a “paper agreement,” while some recognized the agreement as major progress but took a “wait-and-see” attitude about how China will honor the agreement.

What is the agreement about?

According to the White House, the agreement covered four aspects of cybersecurity: Providing timely response to assist each other’s cyberinvestigations; vowing not to conduct online intellectual property theft; working together on international norms in cyberspace; and establishing a high-level information-sharing mechanism on fighting cybercrime.

For Christopher K. Johnson, senior China studies adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the most significant component of the agreement was the second aspect on the list: that neither government would “conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property.”

“We can and should expect that the next time the U.S. has releasable evidence of this type of activity emanating from China, the administration will present such evidence to the Chinese, with the expectation that the responsible parties will be prosecuted to the full extent of Chinese law,” he testified at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sept. 29.

However, David Inserra, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argued it was “another paper agreement.”

He said that China had never admitted to engaging in cyberthefts. “They have agreed to stop a behavior that they deny ever engaging in. That doesn’t bode well as an indicator of their future behavior,” he wrote in Daily Signal, a website sponsored by the Heritage Foundation.

Nir Kshetri, management professor at University of North Carolina-Greensboro, said the two countries’ agreement to provide timely responses to requests for information and assistance related to cyberattacks was a major achievement.

“The lack of timely response has been the main point of complaint against each other,” he wrote in an email.

Kshetri gave two examples. “It was reported that in 2010, the FBI office in Beijing forwarded 10 letters through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and received responses to two. Likewise, in 2010, Gu Lian of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security had noted that China received no response in its request for cooperation from the U.S. on 13 cybercrime cases involving issues such as fake bank websites and child pornography,” he wrote.

Inserra was again skeptical. “Will the Chinese help the U.S. investigate the five Chinese military officers that the U.S. charged with cybercrimes last year? Doubtful.”

Why now?

For years, the U.S. and China have blamed each other for cyberespionages and competed in military cybercapabilities. In May 2014, the Department of Justice charged five Chinese military officers with computer hacking and economic espionage against U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries.

In June, The Washington Post reported that Chinese hackers stole personal data from the Office of Personnel Management, affecting about 4 million federal employees.

China denied both accusations and blamed the U.S. for large-scale cybertheft, wiretapping and surveillance activities revealed by Edward Snowden.

Kshetri, said that the two nations view each other as major sources of cyberattacks and a cybersecurity agreement was “a logical way to proceed.”


How will it affect both sides?

Another witness at the Sept. 29 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Melanie Hart, director of China policy at the Center for American Progress, acknowledged that the agreement would not “completely eliminate” cyberespionages from China. But she projected that China might apply new restrictions and require higher-level approvals for cyberspace intrusions targeting U.S. commercial entities and therefore reduce harm to U.S commercial interests.

James Andrew Lewis, senior fellow at Center for Strategic and International Studies, called the agreement “a significant step forward” in another Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sept 30. He said this was the first time the Chinese leaders addressed the issues of commercial espionage.

But he also said, “In talking to administration officials, they know they have wiggle room in the language. They told me they would be watching closely to see how well the Chinese would live up to their commitment.”

“What I was told by (an Obama) administration official is that sanction is still on the table,” he added.

Johnson said economic sanctions are the “most effective punishment” but carries risks. Imposing sanctions is a “naming and shaming” approach that gives China “very little room to react, which is not what we want,” he said. “We want them to change their behaviors.”




PHOTOS: Tea Party Patriots lead rally against Iran nuclear deal at the U.S. Capitol

WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, the Tea Party Patriots (in conjunction with For America, the Zionist Foundation of America and Secure Freedom) staged a rally against the Iran nuclear deal on the U.S. Capitol’s west lawn.  The event, which drew speakers including presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Donald Trump, drew attendees from multiple states who carried signs, donned costumes and/or decked themselves out in all-things red, white and blue.  Here is a reporter’s-eye-view of the event.

White House calls on Congress after Virginia TV shooting

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers questions from reporters at Wednesday's daily press briefing. (Jenny Leonard / Medill NSJI)

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers questions from reporters at Wednesday’s daily press briefing. (Jenny Leonard / Medill NSJI)

WASHINGTON — In the wake of a fatal shooting during a live television broadcast in Virginia, the White House called on Congress Wednesday to pass tougher laws combatting gun violence.

“While there is no piece of legislation that will end all violence,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “there are some common sense things that only Congress can do that we know would have attainable impacts at reducing gun violence.”

Two members of WDBJ 7, in Roanoke, Virginia, were killed in the early-morning attack: reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. The interview subject, Vicki Gardner, was shot but not killed and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

The suspected shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan II, was a former employee at the station, who went by the on-air name of Bryce Williams. Flanagan died later at Inova Fairfax Hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“This is another example of gun violence that is becoming all too common in communities large and small all across the United States,” White House spokesman Earnest said.

Closing the gun show loophole is the most frequently cited “common sense” action that Congress could take, Earnest said. The loophole allows some individuals to purchase firearms at gun shows without going through a background check.

This legislative action, he said, would not alter the United States Constitution in any way, nor would it infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens who are exercising their Second Amendment rights.

“The laws about gun safety in a sparsely populated rural community, I think justifiably, can be different than in a dense urban community like the District of Columbia,” Earnest said.

The most recent legislation seeking tougher gun laws, sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., failed to pass a Senate vote in 2013.

According to a 23-page fax that Flanagan sent to ABC News on Wednesday morning, he “put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15,” and cited racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying as his motivations for the shooting.

“The thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House are with the families of those who were injured or killed in that terrible incident,” Earnest said.

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Experts say retaliation over OPM cyber attacks may be misguided

WASHINGTON — With cyber attacks grabbing the public’s attention, calls for retaliation, especially against suspected state-sponsored intrusions, have escalated.

Critics argue that a passive approach by the U.S. government only emboldens perpetrators. Draw a red line, they urge; the massive Office of Personnel Management breach, in particular, warranted a decisive response by the government.

But on the other side, some experts warn that retaliation, in any form, would be shortsighted, simplistic, and unrealistic, potentially undermining America’s interests. The rules of engagement, even informal guidelines, have yet to be written, they say.

Those advocating hacking back say the OPM breach should have been the final straw. But where to strike? The Obama administration has not openly accused the Chinese government,or any government, of being behind the OPM cyber attack.

The OPM, which handles security clearance for federal government employees, discovered in June that the agency had been hacked. The latest figures reveal that records of 22 million workers were compromised.

But Robert Knake, former head of cybersecurity policy at the National Security Council, said those advocating for hacking back are overreacting.

“It’s bad. But it’s not devastating,” said Knake of the names and Social Security numbers exposed by the breach. “The reason it’s not devastating is that we know about it.”

Speaking at an Atlantic Council panel last week debating the consequences of retaliating for cyberattacks, Knake said identifying the breach offers the opportunity to mitigate the damage. Once armed with this knowledge, the government can use the hack to its advantage, he argued.

For example, in the unlikely event that China uses information gleaned from the breach to identify Americans involved in sensitive activities, Knake said the U.S. could respond with misdirection by changing personnel.

Knake said the leaking of classified National Security Agency information by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, changed the norms in cyberspace.

“We are in the post-Snowden period where the whole world knows the U.S. engages in this kind of [surveillance] activity,” said Knake. “That we have a very strong program. And we got through all those disclosures without … Angela Merkel or anyone else declaring that it was an act of war.”

Fighting cyber espionage requires a different skillset than defending against pre-Internet, traditional Cold War espionage, said Austin Berglas, former head of the FBI’s New York Cyber Branch. “Whatever country is trying to steal our state secrets or international property doesn’t have to have a physical body. They can do it from their own home. There is a cloak of anonymity that people can hide behind to deny the actions.”

Unlike the Cold War when the adversary was clear, there are many more nations engaged in cyber espionage. China, Russia North Korea and Iran have all been suspected as culprits.

Jason Healey, senior fellow, at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative, said that in the Cold War, there was a set of unwritten “Moscow rules” illuminating red lines that would not be crossed.

“It wasn’t a treaty, but there was this sense of where each side could go and if they overstep that, than there might be repercussions,” Healey said at the Aug. 19 panel discussion. “We would never kill a Russian. They will never kill an American spy.”

In contrast, Healey said no set of unifying standards exist for resolving cyber espionage conflicts.

“We have had some cyber espionage cases going back to 1986 where the KGB was spying,” said Healey.

In a telephone interview, Daniel Garrie, founder and editor in chief of the Journal of Law and Cyber Warfare, said countries’ varying attitudes towards cyber warfare make it harder to establish standards between the U.S. and other countries.

“Not only is there no playbook for countries and companies looking to respond to a cyberattack,” said Garrie, “but there are arguably a hundred different play-books, for each country, making the appropriate and permissible response all the more challenging, assuming your legal team understands what sort of action you are seeking to take,”
In some countries, Garrie said hacking is “not per-se illegal and it is certainly not taboo or shameful, in fact, it appears in some countries that such activity is encouraged.”

While it would seem tempting to fighting back against perpetrators aggressively, a tit-for-tat approach in the OPM affair, risks giving rise to many more problems than it would solve.

Winners of the 2015 MRE Journalism Contest announced

Congratulations to all those who submitted their work to the MRE Journalism Contest. Below are the winners, and the judges’ comments.

The Joe Galloway Award

David Wood of Huffington Post for a powerful, fascinating, thoroughly reported, humanized and particularly well-written, well-produced three-part multimedia package examining the prevalence, complexity and impact of “moral injury” that plagues so many who have fought sought since 9/11. “Moral injury is a relatively new concept that seems to describe what many feel: a sense that their fundamental understanding of right and wrong has been violated, and the grief, numbness or guilt that often ensues,” Wood wrote in his introduction to the series. “However we individually feel about the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these enduring moral wounds, to young Americans who fought on our behalf, must be counted among the ultimate costs.”

The James Crawley Award

Lance Bacon, reporter; Andrew deGrandpre, digital news director; Alex Neill, executive editor of Military Times, for their investigation into whether a Marine Corps order that removed Marine Corps Times publications from prime locations at the front of base exchanges around the world was the result of reporting it was doing “detailing whistleblower allegations suggesting the service’s commandant, Gen. James Amos, abused his authority and interfered in several high-profile criminal cases.” The order was eventually rescinded and the papers returned to the prime locations, while further Military Times reporting “obtained and authenticated emails linking Amos to the newsstand move, raised troubling questions about the Marine Corps’ attempt to limit troops’ access to an independent news source.”

Overseas Large Newspapers Category:  Betsy Hiel, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review foreign correspondent Betsy Hiel filed a series of eye-opening, deeply reported stories from Iraq in 2014 detailing the people and conditions as ISIS swept toward Baghdad. One of the first Western reporters on the ground after ISIS invaded, she reported on Christians who found temporary refuge from ISIS in an ancient monastery before fleeing as the terrorist group advanced; she explained Kurdish soldiers’ belief that the next target of ISIS is the United States; and she shed light on the sectarian divisions that stand in the way of achieving peace in Iraq.

Overseas Small Newspapers Category: Drew Brooks, Fayetteville Observer

Drew Brooks’ detailed and emotionally stirring series of stories on the Green Berets from Fort Bragg who led the war effort in Afghanistan for 13 years provided an inside glimpse of the lives of Green Beret soldiers deployed to Afghanistan as well as an analysis of why they ended up in such a dominant role and the toll of large numbers of casualties.

Domestic Large Newspapers Category: Mike Wereschagin, Adam Smeltz and Carl Prine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The two-part series by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review disclosed that emails and documents obtained through a FOIA filed by the paper show that congressional testimony given by Veterans Affairs officials investigating a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that left at least six dead in Pittsburgh was, at the least, obfuscatory and basically contradicted information in the private documents. The work is investigative reporting at its best.

Domestic Small Newspapers Category: This award is shared by Meghann Myers of the Navy Times and Hope Hodge Seck of the Marine Corps Times

Meghann Myers of Navy Times and Hope Hodge Seck of Marine Corps Times separately covered two aspects of a critical gender issues facing today’s military.

Meghann Myers revealed that some of the first women to serve in the submarine force were secretly filmed undressing by their shipmates. The Navy Times story, first reported online, drew immediate attention by Pentagon officials and created national attention.  The commander of the submarine force condemned the tapings as a “breach of trust” and Myers pursued the story and its consequences not only for the sailors but also for the entire service.

Hope Hodge Seck wrote a more complex but equally important Marine Corp Times story about concern that the Marine Corps is under so much pressure to prosecute alleged sexual assaults that the accused are no longer innocent until proved guilty. Sensitive to the reality that sexual assault cases were too easily dismissed in the past, Seck wove actual legal cases with new policy initiatives to explain how the Marines are trying to deal with a significant problem.

Photographer Small Paper Category: Andrew Craft, Fayetteville Observer

Andrew Craft’s collection of domestic and overseas images give a sense of dimension, depth and flexibility as a visual storyteller. Entries included a well-composed, solemnly powerful image of a flag-draped casket being carried; a playful shot of an Army officer horsing around with his young sons before heading on a 9-month deployment and a wide landscape shot of a soldier standing guard over the rugged terrain in Kabul.

Commentary: Marketta Davis, Pensacola News Journal

Marketta Davis is a military brat and military wife whose Pensacola News Journal column, “Military notes,” has an authentic, all-in-the-family tone that is both engaging and enlightening. Writing on everything from stolen valor issues to a 100-year-old veteran reminiscing about World War II, Davis is open in sharing her reactions and feelings and then translating them into larger lessons about military life.

Domestic, Large Broadcast Category: ESPN

ESPN’s compelling Outside the Lines,“Friend Who Fired,” told the story of the Army Rangers involved in the fatal accident that killed Ranger and professional football player Pat Tillman. None of the Army Rangers who fired upon him spoke publicly about the episode until ESPN found Steven Elliott, who agreed to break the silence. William Weinbaum is the producer; Mike Fish and John Barr are the reporters.

Honorable mention: Chas Henry’s Almost Equal: The U. S Military Three Years After Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at 99.1 WNEW radio.

Online Reporting: Jeremy Schwartz, Austin-American Statesman

Jeremy Schwartz’Lost Opportunity” explores the “failure of good intentions” surrounding an expensive, powerful mobile MRI that was believed to be among the most powerful in the world and was planned to scan the brains of troops before, and after, combat, as part of overall traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress syndrome research by the Veterans Administration as part of its $2 billion in yearly research spending. A “fiasco” is what it proved to be, leading to an “inglorious decline” that included no appreciable research, few actual scans, a chronic lack of technical expertise and a key fatal flaw: moving what was to be a portable machine meant for several bases and hospitals required expensive re-calibration after each move, so it stayed put. Now, “The scanner idles 24 hours a day because it’s more expensive to turn an MRI machine off and on than to keep it running.” One use suggested for the unit that houses it: Housing for lab rats. The online package is crisp, well-written and illustrated and nicely designed with intuitive navigation and flow.  Given the topic, it could well have been deadly dull and bureaucratic, but was not in the least; instead, it was driven by good context, insight, perspective and tight writing.

Blogging: Beth Ford Roth, Home Post

Beth Ford Roth’sHome Post” blog entry included a diverse and interesting collection of posts, ranging from whether Marines should be able to roll up their sleeves (wives, the blog says, find this sexy; the Marines declared it is OK again to roll them up); an essay from a dad whose sailor son was lost as sea; and a post about famous people who fought on D-Day.

Why Mosul matters

WASHINGTON – As the Islamic State continues to gain territory in the Middle East, the fall of Mosul, a city of Northwestern Iraq, has been ISIS’ largest victory to date. More than a year after it invaded Iraq’s second largest city, ISIS is still in control of its population of more than one million people.

With nearly daily reports of new land ISIS has conquered, military experts say the U.S. will not successfully counter the Sunni extremist organization without making Mosul a key focus.

The Islamic State’s takeover of Mosul doesn’t mean just a physical dominance over the land and psychological problems for the city’s citizens. An estimated 60,000 Christians fled when the group took over, and those who stayed are under constant intimidation with things like ISIS shutting down schools and destroying rival Shia mosques.

“On a larger psychological scale, which frankly is what’s really hurting our national interest, is that this is not just a problem for Iraq or more for Iraq and Syria,” said Steven Bucci, senior fellow for Homeland Security and Defense Issues for the Heritage Foundation. “It’s a problem for the whole region and is having implications here in the homeland, in that, when an organization like ISIS can stand up to the United States of America and the coalition of its friends, and not be crushed… that’s tantamount to a victory” against the West.

Bucci served as an Army Special Forces officer for more than 30 years and is a former Pentagon official. He believes the U.S. has a vested interest in countering ISIS and needs to take a more aggressive approach because of the movement’s lone wolf attacks brewing in the homeland.

“Their ability to continue to control places like Mosul, to continue to basically thumb their nose at us, even though we dropped bombs on them, continues to allow them to be an incredible recruitment magnet to either get folks to come there and fight with them, or take actions in their homeland like we’ve seen a couple times here in the states,” Bucci adds.

Stabilizing Mosul will be no easy task; it will require re-establishing local leadership and rebuilding a developed city that has almost completely been destroyed. The military force needed to combat ISIS will yield more destruction for the city, but Bucci says things will have to get worse before they can get better. A more aggressive strategy is essential in not only to release ISIS’ tight grip on the Middle East, but to keep the U.S. safe in the future.

“The only way to stop that from happening is to crush them, literally to go in and destroy them,” Bucci said. “They’re not going to negotiate with anybody; they’re not going to make concessions in any way. The only way to remove that magnet is to destroy it.”

If the U.S. does not seriously consider Mosul in its counter-ISIS strategy, Bucci predicts other religious extremists will attempt to take over the city in the future.

“Unless we go in and help them directly, is going to be the Shia militias, which is not necessarily a good thing,” Bucci said. “Their track record of dealing with predominately Sunni population centers has been pretty visible. They get in there and yea, they might chase ISIS out eventually, but their attitude towards their Sunni brothers is colored by the decades of abuse that they got from the Sunnis from under Saddam Hussein.”

As ISIS continues to gain more territory, counterinsurgency strategies must not lose sight of reestablishing Mosul to take back ISIS’ largest victory and control. ISIS will continue to dominate Middle East territories so long as it has a hold on the regions biggest cities. Even with U.S. troops being in the midst of withdrawing from the Middle East, aggressively working to eliminate ISIS is key for both national interest and to keep the homeland safe.