Trump, US Military at Loggerheads Over Three American Soldiers

Published November 29th, 2019 - 09:03 GMT
US President Donald Trump serves Thanksgiving dinner to US troops at Bagram Air Field during a surprise visit on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan. Olivier Douliery / AFP
US President Donald Trump serves Thanksgiving dinner to US troops at Bagram Air Field during a surprise visit on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan. Olivier Douliery / AFP
Highlights
Spencer was fired Sunday by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper for working a private deal with the White House to ensure that Gallagher be allowed to retire without losing his SEAL status.

Tensions are mounting between US President Donald Trump and some senior military officials over Trump’s decision to intervene in the cases of three US soldiers accused of war crimes.

"There is a morale problem," and senior officials in the US Defense Department have privately said they are disturbed by Trump’s behavior, a long-serving Pentagon officer has told CNN.

There has been growing concern at the Pentagon over Trump's impulsive, contradictory and sporadic decisions on various issues.

But now there are new and significant worries over Trump's intervention to pardon US troops accused of war crimes, CNN reported, citing multiple military officials and retired officers.

Recently ousted US Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has blasted Trump's intervention as "shocking and unprecedented.”

The extraordinary accusation came in an opinion piece published on The Washington Post’s website Wednesday, three days after he was fired.

Spencer said Trump’s involvement in the case of US Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher demonstrates that the commander in chief “has very little understanding” of how the American military works.

Spencer was fired Sunday by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper for working a private deal with the White House to ensure that Gallagher be allowed to retire without losing his SEAL status.

Spencer had pushed for a review of a controversial Navy SEAL in order to uphold troop discipline and accountability.

Trump had acted against the express advice of the Pentagon's most senior commanders, first to reverse Gallagher's punishment and then to ensure that Gallagher would not lose his status.

A US military jury in July convicted Gallagher, 40, of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of a Daesh (ISIS) detainee while deployed to Iraq in 2017 but acquitted him of murder in the prisoner’s death.

Gallagher was also charged with "nearly a dozen" lesser offenses. He was sentenced to a demotion in rank and pay, but not prison time.

Trump last Friday restored Gallagher’s rank and pay, allowing him to retire on a full pension, while pardoning two US Army officers who were separately accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.

Critics said Trump’s actions undermined military justice and sent a message that battlefield atrocities would be tolerated.

Senior and junior officers were deeply angry after Trump tweeted October 12, "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!"

The concerns about Trump’s war crimes interventions come on top of long-simmering frustrations at the Pentagon, Mark Hertling, a former commanding general of the US Army in Europe, told CNN.

"It may not break, but it sure the hell is being bent by this and increasingly becoming brittle," said Hertling.

"Senior leaders ... if they're confused about what the missions are, what the strategy is, they have to put on a poker face. And sometimes the things they're being asked to do are impossible and go against all of their military experience and knowledge."

Pentagon sources describe meetings in which senior officials have struggled with what they described as the President's mercurial moods, lack of focus, impulsive decision-making and resistance to information that doesn't fit his views.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

 


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