WASHINGTON — It appears that U.S. Strategic Command will soon be back in the hands of a Navy officer.
Vice Admiral Charles Richard has been tapped to serve as the next head of StratCom, which oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal and is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination next week. Richard, an Alabama native, previously served as StratCom’s deputy commander.
“As a former deputy commander of StratCom, Admiral Richard understands the responsibilities of the command and its mission well,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said Thursday in a press release. “With threats from Russia and China continuing to grow, nuclear deterrence is becoming more important than ever and StratCom requires experienced and capable leadership.”
Fischer is the chairwoman of the subcommittee that oversees U.S. strategic forces.
Richard will succeed the current commander, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who was confirmed by the Senate last month as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A graduate of the University of Alabama, Richard earned master’s degrees with honors from the Catholic University of America and the Naval War College, according to the Navy.
Richard served in the Navy’s submarine service for more than 30 years and assumed command of Submarine Forces last year at a ceremony in Norfolk, Virginia.
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During that ceremony, he talked about the importance of U.S. capabilities under the waves.
“We are back in a world that is in the midst of major power competition, something that we have not seen in many decades,” he said. “And in that competition, our strength undersea is a key advantage that we have.”
Richard also urged the men and women serving under him to prepare for battle.
“It is only by being prepared for battle that we can hope to avoid it,” he said. “And if we cannot, our nation expects and demands victory. We shall not fail.”
DES MOINES — The Marine Corps on Thursday corrected the identity of a second man in the iconic photograph of U.S. forces raising an American flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
After questions were raised by private historians who studied photos and film of the event, the Marines said in a statement that one of the six men who raised the flag was not Pfc. Rene Gagnon, as had long been believed, but Cpl. Harold P. Keller, noting that Gagnon did help obtain the flag.
Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal shot the iconic photograph atop Mount Suribachi during the 1945 battle between American and Japanese forces on Iwo Jima.
“Regardless of who was in the photograph, each and every Marine who set foot on Iwo Jima, or supported the effort from the sea and air around the island is, and always will be, a part of our Corps’ cherished history,” the Marines said.
In 2016, the Marines corrected the identity of another man in the photo after historians raised questions, initially in a 2014 World-Herald column that laid out their case, including research by Omaha amateur historian Eric Krelle.
NBC News, which broke the news on the Marines’ latest correction, reported that Keller died in 1979 in Grinnell, Iowa. The Marines didn’t provide details about Keller, but NBC interviewed his 70-year-old daughter, Kay Maurer, of Brooklyn, Iowa.
Although Maurer said her father kept a framed Rosenthal photo showing 18 Marines on the summit of Mount Suribachi with the flag in the background, he never mentioned his role in the historic event.
“He never spoke about any of this when we were growing up,” she said. “We knew he fought in the war. We knew he was wounded in the shoulder at one point. ... But he didn’t tell us he helped raise the flag on Mount Suribachi.”
Maurer said that when she would ask her father about the photo, “he would say something like, ‘That group raised a flag.’ ”
The Battle of Iwo Jima began on Feb. 19, 1945, and lasted 36 days, with about 70,000 Marines fighting 18,000 Japanese soldiers. More than 6,500 U.S. servicemen died, and about 20,000 were wounded in the battle on the tiny island, which is about 660 miles south of Tokyo and is now officially called Iwo To.
Most of the Japanese soldiers were killed.
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The island was seen as vital to the war effort because Japanese fighter planes based there were intercepting American bombers.
Rosenthal shot the photo on Feb. 23, 1945, as the battle raged on.
He didn’t get the men’s names, but after the photo was celebrated in the U.S., President Franklin Roosevelt told the military to identify the flag raisers.
The Marines initially identified the men as John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Harlon Block, Michael Strank and Franklin Sousley.
All were Marines except for Bradley, who was a Navy corpsman.
After two amateur historians raised questions about the identities, a Marine panel found in 2016 that a flag raiser long believed to be Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John Bradley was actually Marine Pfc. Harold Schultz of Detroit. Bradley had helped in an earlier flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, and his role took on greater significance after his son, James Bradley, wrote a best-selling book about the flag raisers, “Flags of Our Fathers,” which was later made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
The two historians were Omahan Krelle and an online buddy from Ireland, Stephen Foley, who started researching the iconic photo in their free time on their computers and came to the same conclusion, which the Marine Corps eventually acknowledged.
The latest questions were raised by historians Foley, Dustin Spence and Brent Westemeyer.
Their findings were confirmed by a board that was formed by the Marines and was aided by FBI investigators.
The Marines noted that Gagnon played a significant role that day. After an initial flag-raising, he was responsible for bringing the second, larger flag that is depicted in the photo to the mountaintop, and returning the first flag for safekeeping.
“Without his efforts, this historical event might not have been captured, let alone even occurred,” the Marines said.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The U.S. and Turkey agreed Thursday to a cease-fire in the Turks' deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, requiring the Kurds to vacate the area in an arrangement that largely solidifies Turkey's position and aims in the weeklong conflict. The deal includes a conditional halt to American economic sanctions.
After negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hailed the five-day ceasefire as the way to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey's invasion. He remained silent on whether it amounted to a second abandonment of America's former Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after President Donald Trump suddenly announced that he was withdrawing the U.S. military from the area. Trump was widely criticized for turning on the Kurds, who had taken heavy casualties as partners with the U.S. in fighting Islamic State extremists since 2016.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the U.S. had accepted the idea of a "safe zone" long pushed by Turkey, and he insisted that Turkish armed forces will control the zone in far northeastern Syria. He also made clear that Turkey will not stop at a previously limited zone, and he said Turkish control of the Syrian side of the border must extend all the way to the Iraqi border.
The commander of Kurdish-led forces in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, told Kurdish TV, "We will do whatever we can for the success of the cease-fire agreement." But he said the agreement was "just the beginning," adding that "the Turkish occupation will not continue."
Trump had no reservations, hailing "a great day for civilization."
"Everybody agreed to things that three days ago, they would have never agreed to," he told reporters. "That includes the Kurds. The Kurds are now much more inclined to do what has to be done. Turkey is much more inclined to do what has to be done."
Trump seemed to endorse the Turkish aim of ridding the Syrian side of the border of the Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey deems to be terrorists but whom the U.S. has relied on for years. "They had to have it cleaned out," he said.
Leading U.S. lawmakers were less pleased than Trump.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the Republicans' presidential nominee in 2012, said he welcomed the cease-fire but wanted to know what America's role in the region would be and why Turkey was facing no consequences for its invasion.
"Further, the cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally," he said on the Senate floor.
It was not clear whether the deal means that the U.S. military will play a role in enabling or enforcing the cease-fire. Pence said the U.S. would "facilitate" the Kurds' pullout but did not say if that would include the use of American troops.
As Pence was speaking in Ankara, U.S. troops were continuing to board aircraft leaving northern Syria. Officials said several hundred had already departed, with hundreds more consolidated at a few bases waiting to move out.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump confidant who has criticized the president's pullout, said he thinks U.S. troops will be needed to implement and enforce a halt to the fighting.
"There's just no way around it," he said. "We need to maintain control of the skies" and work with the Kurds.
While the cease-fire seemed likely to temporarily slow legislation in Congress aimed at punishing Turkey and condemning Trump's U.S. troop withdrawal, lawmakers gave no sign of completely dropping the measures.
Shortly before the announcement of the pause in hostilities, Graham and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced legislation that would bar U.S. military aid to Turkey, seek to curb foreign arms sales to Ankara and impose sanctions on top Turkish officials unless Turkey withdraws its forces. In contrast with Pence's description of a limited safe zone, the deal would effectively create a zone controlled by the Turkish military that Ankara wants to stretch for the entire border from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, though the agreement did not spell that out. Turkish forces control about a quarter of that length, captured in the past nine days.
The rest is held by the Kurdish-led forces or by the Syrian regime's military, backed by Russia, which the Kurds invited to move in to shield them from the Turks. None of those parties has much reason to let Turkish forces into the area.
Brett McGurk, the former civilian head of the administration's U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State, wrote on Twitter that the deal was a gift to the Turks.
"The US just ratified Turkey's plan to effectively extend its border 30km into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground." He also called the arrangement "non-implementable."
Like many of his fellow Kurds, Bashar Karim risked his life in a troubled part of the world to help the U.S.
Like many of his fellow Kurds and fellow Americans, Karim — now a U.S. citizen living in Lincoln — is shocked, confused and worried about President Donald Trump’s decision to abruptly pull troops out of northern Syria.
Like the world watching, Karim is experiencing whiplash: fear of a coming slaughter as Turkey began striking northern Syria; relief at Turkey’s agreement to a five-day cease-fire to give the Kurds a chance to withdraw; questions about what’s next.
“What does this mean?” Karim asked Thursday afternoon about the just-announced cease-fire. He wanted to know if Kurds who had fled to Iraq could return to their homes in northern Syria. He wanted to know who was going to be in charge with the U.S. out and Kurdish fighters expelled. He wanted to know, bottom line, can Kurdish people live in peace?
Everything feels up in the air as the U.S. forces retreat.
“We viewed them as a friend, we viewed them as an ally,” Karim said of the U.S. “I’m begging everyone, urging everyone, if you have the power to do anything to help us, please help us.”
It’s a message Karim and fellow Kurds living in Nebraska are trying to take as far as they can. On Wednesday, Kurds delivered hundreds of letters to the Omaha and Lincoln offices of Reps. Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry, pleading for their intervention.
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Both Republicans, joined by Rep. Adrian Smith, a Republican who represents western Nebraska, voted with a bipartisan majority in the House on Wednesday to condemn the president’s pullout. The resolution, which passed 354-60, is symbolic but puts outrage expressed by foreign policy experts and members of both political parties on the record.
The local Kurds are also planning to demonstrate in front of the State Capitol in Lincoln on Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. Karim said the hope is to raise awareness and build support for this cause. He said it’s important to know that Nebraskans include immigrants and refugees and people like him who served the U.S. military abroad.
The Kurds are a persecuted, stateless ethnic group who live in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They are known for being fierce fighters and loyal U.S. allies and were instrumental partners during the American invasion of Iraq.
Karim, who is from northern Iraq, served as a Kurdish translator in the early years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He helped the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division. His help was so valuable that he was rewarded with a visa that allows people who served the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan to immigrate to the United States. These visas are hard to get and not guaranteed.
Karim brought his wife and two small children to Virginia in 2011 and returned to Iraq, where his life was always at risk, to care for his cancer-stricken father. He returned to the U.S. in 2014. His family has lived in Lincoln, where a number of Iraqi émigrés now live. Karim said the Kurdish community in Nebraska numbers about 100, with most living in Lincoln. Karim likes Lincoln, calling it a quiet city and a nice place to raise a family.
Karim works for Lutheran Family Services as a federally accredited representative for immigration legal services. He and his wife have since had two more children.
We met Wednesday in The Center Mall at 42nd and Center Streets, where Lutheran Family Services has an international center to help refugees and immigrants. The office gave a clear view of the Omaha VA Medical Center to the north.
Karim considered his position as a Kurdish American, a helper to the U.S. military and a beneficiary of an American promise. Then he looked at the latest headlines about Trump, who on Wednesday doubled down on his decision to withdraw from northern Syria. The U.S. had maintained a presence of just over 1,000 troops, a thin but important line of defense for the Kurds against Turkey.
Trump said Wednesday that the conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish people “has nothing to do with us” and that his decision to withdraw troops was “strategically brilliant.” He said the Kurds were “not angels.”
Turkey views the Kurds in northern Syria near the Turkish border as a threat and long wanted an opportunity to have a bigger buffer. Kurds in Turkey have waged war for autonomy.
U.S. government officials and foreign policy experts say the sudden pullout from northern Syria exposes the Kurds, who are vulnerable and overmatched militarily by Turkey to the north and by the Russia-backed, repressive Syrian regime of Bashar Assad to the south. Assad’s late father, who also presided over the killing of thousands of his countrymen, let the Kurds establish relative autonomy in northern Syria decades ago.
Trump’s move, many foreign policy experts and lawmakers say, creates opportunities for U.S. enemies Iran and Russia and the newly defeated Islamic State. Captured Islamic State fighters are now fleeing from prisons in northern Syria, and the concern is that the chaos will empower and revive the brutal group. The U.S. had barely left one base before the Russians moved in.
Vice President Mike Pence, after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara, announced Thursday that Turkey had agreed to a cease-fire, the Associated Press reported. The agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought: removal of the Kurdish forces from the border “safe zone.”
“This is what we get?” Karim asked. “We say, ‘The U.S. is our best ally, our best friend.’ They leave us. There are big consequences for this decision.”
A humanitarian crisis will be among the first. Two days after Trump announced the pullout, Turkey launched an offensive. Civilians started fleeing — as many as 160,000 as of Tuesday. News reports described roadside executions of Kurdish fighters.
“It’s devastating. It’s sad. It’s horrible,” Karim said. “We are in shock. We are just normal people that would like to live our lives, raise our families, live in peace.”