Will Racke, DCNF
- Military Times reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz pushed back against the U.S. military’s top general during a conference on Friday.
- When, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military was making progress in Afghanistan, Ziezulewicz criticized him for reciting old talking points.
- The exchange comes amid frustration on the part of the Pentagon press corps over what it says is a lack of transparency about U.S. wars and military operations worldwide.
A veteran reporter lobbed a bit of journalistic skepticism at America’s highest-ranking general on Friday, pushing back when he offered a rosy assessment of the Afghanistan war effort.
The exchange came during Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford’s appearance at the annual Military Reporters and Editors conference in Arlington, Virginia.
In a Q & A session, Dunford said “security has not significantly deteriorated” in Afghanistan and the U.S.-led military coalition there is making “incremental progress over time.”
Those well-worn buzz phrases didn’t sit well with Military Times reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz, who interjected, “2010 called, and it wants its talking points back.”
Ziezulewicz’s response — an unusual bit of sarcasm from the defense press — was noted by many of the Pentagon reporters in the room.
— Dan Lamothe ☠? ? (@DanLamothe) October 26, 2018
— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch_ALM) October 26, 2018
Although Ziezulewicz himself did not comment on his exchange with Dunford, his frank retort likely stems from frustration among the Pentagon press corps about what it sees as a lack of transparency on Afghanistan and the military’s activity in general. Among defense reporters, there is a sense that top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, are closing off access to information that used to be provided as a matter of routine.
Since Mattis took over at the Pentagon, the military has stopped providing troop levels for Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, something it had done regularly in the past. The Pentagon also no longer publishes casualty and force strength data for Afghan security forces, key metrics in evaluating how the war effort is progressing.
Dunford says the information is being withheld at the behest of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, but defense reporters suspect the Pentagon is using that excuse to obscure how the war is going. They have also complained about a lack of access to Mattis and other top Pentagon brass, who interact with the press far less frequently than in previous administrations.
Despite concerns about secrecy, reporters credited Dunford for his candor at the MRE conference, where he answered a wide range of questions about the military’s activities around the world.
“There is often frustrations of late between the Pentagon press corps and senior brass over a lack of access. They’re real,” Washington Post defense correspondent Dan Lamothe wrote on Twitter. “But I’ll say this: Gen. Dunford is taking pointed questions today at
#MRE2018and answering both directly and passionately. Hope others take notice.”
The military journalism conference occurs as the U.S. is directly fighting or supporting at least six wars on three continents, plus dozens of counterterrorism missions at any given time. Under Trump, the war in Afghanistan has stretched into its 18th year with no discernible end in sight, while Washington is preparing for a long-term military intervention in Syria.
In Yemen, the U.S. is supporting a Saudi Arabia-led coalition in its campaign to oust Houthi rebels from power. Washington’s involvement, which includes aerial refueling, surveillance and targeting assistance, is increasingly being questioned amid weekly reports of atrocities committed by coalition forces against Yemeni civilians.
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