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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The advent of sound recording deep-sixed this age-old thought experiment and offered a definitive answer: Yes! I’ve got another one for you, though: if you water-torture someone at a secure military compound and no one... Read More
“Training.” It sounds so innocuous. It also sounds like something expected of a military. All professional soldiers undergo some sort of basic training. Think: calisthenics, negotiating obstacle courses, and marksmanship. Soldiers require instruction, otherwise they’re little more than rabble. Sometimes soldiers from one country even train the troops of another, imparting skills from the basic... Read More
Except in the Pentagon’s Report
The U.S. military is finally withdrawing (or not) from its base at al-Tanf. You know, the place that the Syrian government long claimed was a training ground for Islamic State (ISIS) fighters; the land corridor just inside Syria, near both the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, that Russia has called a terrorist hotbed (while floating the... Read More
It was nearly sunset on Easter Saturday when I met Marie Dz’dza. She was sitting on a set of steps in a hospital compound in the town of Bunia. Near her was her mother, Jesinne Dhewedza, and her niece, six-year-old Irene Mave. Two weeks earlier, I might have noticed any number of things about them... Read More
America's Forgotten Vietnamese Victims
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A Simple Equation Proves That the U.S. Armed Forces Have Triumphed in the War on Terror
4,000,000,029,057. Remember that number. It’s going to come up again later. But let’s begin with another number entirely: 145,000 -- as in, 145,000 uniformed soldiers striding down Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the number of troops who marched down that very street in May 1865 after the United States defeated the Confederate States of America. Similar... Read More
Special Ops, Generational Struggle, and the Cooperstown of Commandos
Raids by U.S. commandos in Afghanistan. (I could be talking about 2001 or 2018.) A U.S. drone strike in Yemen. (I could be talking about 2002 or 2018.) Missions by Green Berets in Iraq. (I could be talking about 2003 or 2018.) While so much about the War on Terror turned Global War on Terrorismturned... Read More
The Global Growth of U.S. Special Operations Forces
Early last month, at a tiny military post near the tumbledown town of Jamaame in Somalia, small arms fire began to ring out as mortar shells crashed down. When the attack was over, one Somali soldier had been wounded -- and had that been the extent of the casualties, you undoubtedly would never have heard... Read More
Pentagon Documents Detail Dystopian Dangers
For almost 20 years, U.S. drone warfare was largely one-sided. Unlike Afghans and Yemenis, Iraqis and Somalis, Americans never had to worry about lethal robots hovering overhead and raining down missiles. Until, that is, one appeared in the skies above Florida. But that’s a story for later. For now, let’s focus on a 2017 executive... Read More
Pentagon Watchdog Calls Out Two Commands for Financial Malfeasance
2017 was a year of investigations for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). There was the investigation of the two-star commander of U.S. Army Africa who allegedly sent racy texts to an enlisted man’s wife. There was the investigation into the alleged killing of a Special Forces soldier by Navy SEALs in Mali. There was the inquiry... Read More
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From Afghanistan to Somalia, Special Ops Achieves Less with More
At around 11 o’clock that night, four Lockheed MC-130 Combat Talons, turboprop Special Operations aircraft, were flying through a moonless sky from Pakistani into Afghan airspace. On board were 199 Army Rangers with orders to seize an airstrip. One hundred miles to the northeast, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters cruised through the darkness toward Kandahar,... Read More
In June, an American Green Beret was reportedly strangled to death in Mali by U.S. Navy SEALs, allegedly in connection with a shadowy money-skimming scheme. (The military is currently investigating.) In July, The Intercept, the London-based research firm Forensic Architecture, and Amnesty International revealed that a drone base used by U.S. forces in Cameroon was... Read More
Elite Commandos Deployed to 149 Countries in 2017
“We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in October. That was in the wake of the combat deaths of four members of the Special Operations forces in the West African nation of Niger. Graham and... Read More
U.S. Commandos Are a “Persistent Presence” on Russia’s Doorstep
“They are very concerned about their adversary next door,” said General Raymond Thomas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), at a national security conference in Aspen, Colorado, in July. “They make no bones about it.” The “they” in question were various Eastern European and Baltic nations. “Their adversary”? Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Thomas, the... Read More
Who Makes the Story Possible?
We were already roaring down the road when the young man called to me over his shoulder. There was a woman seated between us on the motorbike and with the distance, his accent, the rushing air, and the engine noise, it took a moment for me to decipher what he had just said: We might... Read More
Last year, an internal report commissioned by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency that oversees Voice of America and other U.S. government-supported foreign news outlets, examined the “perception of U.S. international media in Afghanistan.” This study, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, concluded that Afghans saw U.S.-backed media as “useful” and... Read More
A Rare Pentagon “Success” Story
Winning! It’s the White House watchword when it comes to the U.S. armed forces. “We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war and, if required, to fight war and only do one thing -- you know what that is? Win! Win!” President Donald Trump exclaimed earlier this year while standing aboard... Read More
“Through the National Revolution its people were purged of alien diseases and America became American again.” So ends A Cool Million, Nathanael West’s now largely forgotten skewering of classic American rags-to-riches stories. Beginning like a pluck-and-luck Horatio Alger tale, West’s very own “Ragged Dick” -- Lemuel Pitkin -- is mercilessly brutalized over the course of... Read More
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Globe-Trotting U.S. Special Ops Forces Already Deployed to 137 Nations in 2017
The tabs on their shoulders read “Special Forces,” “Ranger,” “Airborne.” And soon their guidon -- the “colors” of Company B, 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group -- would be adorned with the “Bandera de Guerra,” a Colombian combat decoration. “Today we commemorate sixteen years of a permanent fight against drugs in... Read More
“The wandering scribe of war crimes” is how TomDispatch regular Ann Jones once described me. Indeed, for more than a decade, across three continents, I’ve been intermittently interviewing witnesses and victims, perpetrators and survivors of almost unspeakable atrocities. I can’t count the number of massacre survivors and rape victims and tortured women and mutilated men... Read More
Secret U.S. Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across That Continent
General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy. “I would just say, they are on the ground. They are trying to influence the action,” commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa. “We watch what they do with great... Read More
U.S. Special Operations Forces Deploy to 138 Nations, 70% of the World’s Countries
They could be found on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, supporting local militia fighters, and in Mukalla, Yemen, backing troops from the United Arab Emirates. At Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia, they assisted local commandos in killing several members of the terror group al-Shabab. Around the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Rai in northern... Read More
America’s Elite Troops Partner with African Forces But Pursue U.S. Aims
Al-Qaeda doesn’t care about borders. Neither does the Islamic State or Boko Haram. Brigadier General Donald Bolduc thinks the same way. “[T]errorists, criminals, and non-state actors aren’t bound by arbitrary borders,” the commander of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) told an interviewer early this fall. “That said, everything we do is not organized around recognizing... Read More
“Did China ask us if it was OK to... build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!” tweeted President-Elect Donald Trump after shatteringnearly 40 years of U.S.-China diplomatic protocol by having a telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. The call -- the first official contact... Read More
Rebirth of a Nation?
“So is he going to win?” The question washed over me as I slumped in my hard plastic chair. I had passed the day walking through a town where most homes lay in ruins and human remains were strewn across a field, a day spent looking over my shoulder for soldiers and melting in the... Read More
Recently, I was asked a question about Kill Anything That Moves, my history of civilian suffering during the Vietnam War. An interviewer wanted to know how I responded to veterans who took offense at the (supposed) implication that every American who served in Vietnam committed atrocities. I think I softly snorted and slowly shook my... Read More
Death and Life in the Lost Town of Leer
LEER, South Sudan -- There it is again. That sickening smell. I’m standing on the threshold of a ghost of a home. Its footprint is all that’s left. In the ruins sits a bulbous little silver teakettle -- metal, softly rounded, charred but otherwise perfect, save for two punctures. Something tore through it and ruined... Read More
Last month, near the end of the first presidential debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton laid a masterful trap for her Republican rival. Reminding viewers of Donald Trump’s frequent crude comments about women, she mentioned “a woman in a beauty contest,” and then unpacked the story of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. “And he called this... Read More
U.S. Special Operations Command Details Dismal U.S. Military Record
Winning: it’s written into the DNA of the U.S.A. After all, what’s more American than football legend Vince Lombardi’s famous (if purloined) maxim: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”? Americans expect to be number one. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion,... Read More
Keeping Track of U.S. Special Ops in Africa
Sometimes the real news is in the details -- or even in the discrepancies. Take, for instance, missions by America’s most elite troops in Africa. It was September 2014. The sky was bright and clear and ice blue as the camouflage-clad men walked to the open door and tumbled out into nothing. One moment members... Read More
America has been committed to supporting the veterans of its wars since long before it had “United States of” in front of it. “It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire... horrible was the stink and scent thereof,” William Bradford wrote after soldiers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony massacred a... Read More
When AFRICOM Evaluates Itself, the News Is Grim
It’s rare to hear one top military commander publicly badmouth another, call attention to his faults, or simply point out his shortcomings. Despite a seemingly endless supply of debacles from strategic setbacks to quagmire conflicts since 9/11, the top brass rarely criticize each other or, even in retirement, utter a word about the failings of... Read More
Imagine a secret government facility buried deep in the bowels of a mountain; a deluxe bomb shelter -- encased within dense, almost fissure-less rock -- for top government officials to ride out doomsday. I did. A lot. I spent an inordinate amount of time as a child reading everything I could find about a top... Read More
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The Charmed Life of David Petraeus
I ran into David Petraeus the other night. Or rather, I ran after him. It’s been more than a year since I first tried to connect with the retired four-star general and ex-CIA director -- and no luck yet. On a recent evening, as the sky was turning from a crisp ice blue into a... Read More
AFRICOM Clams Up After Commander Peddles Contradictory Statements to Congress
General David Rodriguez might be a modern military celebrity -- if he hadn’t spent his career ducking the spotlight. After graduating from West Point in 1976, he began his long march up the chain of command, serving in Operation Just Cause (the U.S. invasion of Panama) and Operation Desert Storm (Iraq War 1.0) before becoming... Read More
I can’t tell you exactly why I clicked on the article, but it was probably the title: “The Double-Tap Couple.” To me, a “double tap” is the technique of firing two gunshots in quick succession or employing two strikes in a row, as when U.S. drones or Hamas carry out attacks and then follow-up strikes... Read More
Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), recently made a startling disclosure to Voice of America (VOA). AFRICOM, he said, is currently mulling over 11 possible locations for its second base on the continent. If, however, there was a frontrunner among them Cheadle wasn’t about to disclose it. All he would say... Read More
What Trumps the Horrors of a Hellscape? The Donald!
LEER, South Sudan -- I’m sitting in the dark, sweating. The blinding white sun has long since set, but it’s still in the high 90s, which is a relief since it was above 110 earlier. Slumped in a blue plastic chair, I’m thinking back on the day, trying to process everything I saw, the people... Read More
“‘Do not go into Iraq. Do not attack Iraq’... I said it loud and clear, ‘You’ll destabilize the Middle East.’” So the ever-prescient Donald Trump recently recalled of his role in the months before the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq. An apparently committed anti-war activist in the lead-up to that conflict, he proudly... Read More
Will American “Successes” Lead to More Iraqi Military Failures?
There’s good news coming out of Iraq... again. The efforts of a 65-nation coalition and punishing U.S. airstrikes have helped local ground forces roll back gains by the Islamic State (IS). Government forces and Shiite militias, for example, recaptured the city of Tikrit, while Kurdish troops ousted IS fighters from the town of Sinjar and... Read More
Predators and the “Neutralization” of 69 People in Iraq and Syria
On October 7th, at an “undisclosed location” somewhere in “Southwest Asia,” men wearing different types of camouflage and dun-colored boots gathered before a black backdrop adorned with Arabic script. They were attending a ceremony that mixed solemnity with celebration, the commemoration of a year of combat that left scores of their enemies slain. One of... Read More
AFRICOM’s New Math, the U.S. Base Bonanza, and “Scarier” Times Ahead in Africa
In the shadows of what was once called the “dark continent," a scramble has come and gone. If you heard nothing about it, that was by design. But look hard enough and -- north to south, east to west -- you’ll find the fruits of that effort: a network of bases, compounds, and other sites... Read More
In an effort to attack Taliban fighters, an air strike by a U.S. plane killed dozens of civilians in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In the wake of the attack, an American general responded in unequivocal fashion. “I take this possible loss of life or injury to innocent Afghans very seriously,” he said. “I have ordered a complete... Read More
America’s Elite Forces Deploy to a Record-Shattering 147 Countries in 2015
They’re some of the best soldiers in the world: highly trained, well equipped, and experts in weapons, intelligence gathering, and battlefield medicine. They study foreign cultures and learn local languages. They’re smart, skillful, wear some very iconic headgear, and their 12-member teams are “capable of conducting the full spectrum of special operations, from building indigenous... Read More
After the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, L. Paul Bremer III, the top American civilian official in occupied Iraq, took a bold step. He dissolved Iraq’s military, deciding to replace Saddam’s 350,000-man army with a lightly-armed border protection force that would start with 12,000 troops and eventually peak at around 40,000... Read More
2015 Proves to Be Record-Breaking Year for the Military’s Secret Military
You can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals. Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter or sweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, theyinstruct, yell, and cajole as skinnier men playact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular... Read More
U.S. Special Ops Missions in Africa Fail to Stem Rising Tide of Terror Groups, Coups, and Human Rights Abuses
"Africa is a challenging place today and one that, if left unattended, is likely to be the birthplace of many more challenges in the future,” Army Secretary John McHugh said recently. Since 9/11, in fact, the continent has increasingly been viewed by the Pentagon as a place of problems to be remedied by military means.... Read More
The first prime-time Republican primary debate of 2015 was an eye-opener of sorts when it came to the Middle East. After forcefully advocating for the termination of the pending nuclear deal with Iran, for example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unleashed an almost indecipherable torrent of words. “This is not just bad with Iran,” he insisted,... Read More
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Every now and then, in the quieter days of summer, it feels good and appropriate to feature old friends no longer with us. In that spirit,TomDispatch recently offered an excerpt from Mirrors, the idiosyncratic, late-in-life masterwork of world history by Eduardo Galeano, who died this April. Today, we turn to someone... Read More
I’ve read a few official documents in my time -- minutes, memoranda, reports, briefings, you name it. They tend to be opaque and filled with acronyms, jargon, and government-speak. Often the soulless work of marginally talented bureaucrats, they can make for dreadful reading. Then, of course, there are the exceptions. “This memorandum addresses the matter... Read More
About Nick Turse

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University's Center for the United States and the Cold War. A paperback edition of his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books) was published earlier this year. His website is NickTurse.com.


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