The State Department has fired six employees at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan for allegedly using or possessing prohibited drugs, a particularly troubling infraction given the years-long U.S. effort to eradicate opium production in the country.
A senior State Department official said those who were embassy employees were fired and others who were contractors were released from their contracts.
The official declined to say what led to the investigation, but the Wall Street Journal reported it was launched after a person was wandering about in a state of confusion.
A State Department official told Voice of America News on March 30 the fired workers “were found to have been using or in possession of prohibited substances.”
Opium production in Afghanistan is a major source of income for the Taliban and other insurgents.
Afghanistan is the source of more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin. Despite global efforts to stem the flow of narcotics, the United Nations says production reached near record levels in 2016.
The United States has spent more than $8 billion on drug interdiction in Afghanistan since the start of war against the Taliban in 2001.
A real-life Captain America saved the day after a car crash in North Carolina on Tuesday.
Capt. Steve Voglezon was driving down the road when he noticed a car on fire, so he did like any soldier/superhero would do: He sprang into action, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and helped rescue three people from the wreck.
The catastrophic scene unfolded on a rural road. Heavy smoke and flames filled the air when three people were trapped inside two vehicles. John Spurrell lives nearby, and helped rescue one driver before shooting video on his smartphone.
“That’s the Army guy, Steve. He’s quite a hero,” Spurrell said as he points at his phone.
Quite fittingly, Voglezon can be seen in the video wearing a Captain America t-shirt. Because, of course he would.
“I grabbed one of the fire extinguishers and we smashed out on the back window and the driver’s side window. …. there wasn’t a real plan, I just had tunnel vision,” Voglezon told ABC News. “If I had not been a soldier, I would not have known what to do. The Army has helped a lot. I was just at the right place at the right time. People do this every day at the fire department. I wasn’t alone out there, there were at least 10 of us in the community working together.”
The three people who escaped the accident suffered only minor injuries.
A Russian fighter jeopardized the safety of the airmen aboard a US Navy surveillance plane during an “unsafe” intercept over the Mediterranean Sea June 4, 2019, 6th Fleet said in a statement.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 intercepted a US Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft off the coast of Syria, making multiple passes near the American plane. The second of the three interactions “was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-35 conducting a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk,” the Navy said.
The intercept lasted 28 minutes.
“This interaction was irresponsible,” 6th Fleet explained, adding that the US expects Russia to abide by international standards. “The U.S. aircraft was operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity,” the Navy further stated.
A US Navy P-8 Poseidon.
(Photo by Darren Koch)
Russia has denied engaging in any form of misconduct. “All flights by Russian aircraft were conducted in accordance with international rules for the use of airspace,” the Russian defense ministry argued, according to Russia’s state-run TASS News Agency.
Moscow claims that it detected an air target in international waters above the Mediterranean approaching its Tartus naval base, in Syria; Russia has supported Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s brutal civil war. The Su-35 was dispatched from Hmeymim Air Base to identify the aircraft. The Russian defense ministry said that the aircraft returned to base after the US aircraft changed course.
Last year, the US Navy accused the Russian military of conducting two “unsafe” intercepts above the Black Sea.
In one incident in January 2018, a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter closed to within 5 feet of a US Navy EP-3 Aries aircraft before crossing directly in front of it. In November 2018, the Russians again got “really close” to another US aircraft.
“There’s just absolutely no reason for this type of behavior,” a Department of Defense spokesman said at the time.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
There’s a new company vying to build the Army’s new family of helicopters, and the gyrocopter design is at least as radical as the compound helicopters being offered by Sikorsky or the tilt-rotors that Bell is building.
The company, Skyworks Global, has a history of producing gyrocopters. These look a bit like helicopters, but they’re much less complex, are often more efficient, and cost a lot less. But they have a big weakness against helicopters: they can’t traditionally take off or land vertically.
That would leave a lot of upgrade money for the company to strap on sensors, a more powerful engine, and other upgrades and still stay way below the Army’s planned million per aircraft to replace the Black Hawk by 2030.
The aircraft is known as a VertiJet, and while it looks like a traditional helicopter, the physics are quite different. Basically, a traditional helicopter has a powerful engine that powers the main rotor—the spinning, horizontal blades mounted on top of the aircraft—as well as an anti-torque rotor that keeps the rest of the aircraft from spinning. The main blades produce lift and allow the helicopter to fly.
On a gyrocopter, the big blades on top of the aircraft don’t receive any engine power. Instead, power is delivered to a rotor at the front or rear of the aircraft. That sends the aircraft forward and feeds air over the blades. That air spins the blades, and that generates the lift that sends the aircraft skyward.
This has some serious advantages for the military. First, air generally flows up through a gyrocopter’s rotors instead of down, eliminating brownouts and improving pilot visibility near the ground. But there’s a severe downside, the gyrocopter has to get good forward speed before it can take off, and it can’t hover.
Skyworks turned to a 1950s experiment to fix the vertical takeoff problem. Their design feeds air up through the rotor and out of the blade tips during takeoff, causing the blades to spin like a traditional helicopter’s would during takeoff or hover. Since this is achieved with compressed air instead of engine power, they don’t need to add a transmission or masthead.
Even with Scaled Composites’ skill at rapidly developing prototypes, it’ll be pretty late to the game for the Future Armed Reconnaissance program to produce a new armed scout. But other Army programs could be a good fit, and the Marine Corps is looking for helicopters or helicopter-like aircraft that can keep up with the V-22 Osprey. Skyworks has not said what programs it will compete for with the new push.
For decades in the early 20th century, the military only flew balloons and piston-powered planes. In World War II, the first helicopters joined the war effort. Over 45 years later, the V-22 became the first tilt-rotor aircraft to enter military production. Now, there are two new aircraft designs in consideration, the compound helicopter and the gyrocopter.
The skylines over military bases are about to get a lot more interesting.
Movies and TV shows often portray military leaders as harsh and demanding all the time, but Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin say this is a misrepresentation. In their book, “The Dichotomy of Leadership,” they explain that a good leader has to be aggressive, but not too aggressive. It’s all about balance.
Jocko Willink: One of the things that you might see in the media is that some mission is going to come down and the front line troops are going to get told exactly what’s gonna happen and exactly how they’re gonna execute the mission. That doesn’t happen, and it doesn’t work. The military operates with a very decentralized command, so a lot of times it’s the mid-level guys that are coming up with the mission and how they’re gonna execute the mission. And they’re actually briefing up the chain of command. That’s what Leif and I did. We would brief up the chain of command and tell our boss how we were going to do something. And then, our boss would give us the support that we needed to go out and execute.
One of the better examples that kind of gets leadership right is Band of Brothers, which is an HBO miniseries that focused on Easy Company, 1st of the 506th, or actually 2nd of the 506th, and centered around a character named Dick Winters, who was just an outstanding leader. And if you watch the way he leads his men, compared to the way some of the less savory characters lead their men in that series, you’ll see the exact kind of leadership that we talk about in “The Dichotomy of Leadership.” He’s close to his guys, he’s not too close. He’s aggressive on the battlefield, but he’s not over-aggressive. So he takes risks, but he doesn’t take worthless risks that won’t gain anything. He’s a great example of a leader and he’s a guy that we definitely look up to, and try and emulate as leaders as well.
As we work with companies and with leaders over the last several years, we saw that one of the biggest weaknesses they had was trying to deal with something that we call the dichotomy of leadership. And what that is, is these are opposing forces that are pulling leaders in opposite directions, that a good leader has to try and balance those opposing forces out. So for instance, as a leader, you can’t get too emotional about things because then you make bad decisions, but on the other hand you can’t just stay completely detached and have no emotions, otherwise, no one will follow you. You can’t be hyper-aggressive. You can’t be over-aggressive, but at the same time, you can’t be not aggressive enough. You have to find that balance in the middle.
Leif Babin: People have a fundamental misunderstanding of what military leadership is like, and I think they look at guys like me or Jocko and think that we’re gonna be the guys that yell and scream and smash people down, and frankly that doesn’t work. That doesn’t work in any type of leadership scenario, doesn’t work in the military, doesn’t work in the business world, doesn’t work anywhere.
Willink: One of the biggest problems that new leaders have, is they think they should know everything. They think to themselves, “I’ve gotta know everything, everyone’s watching me and they’re judging me, and if I don’t know everything they’re gonna think less of me.” And so what they do is they go in and they try and act like they know things that they don’t know. The best possible thing you can do as a new leader, if there’s something that you don’t know, is raise your hand and say: “Hey guys, I’m new at this. Do you know a better way to do this?” or “Do you know how to do this?” or “Can you give me a hand?” That doesn’t lower people’s respect for you, it actually increases their respect because they think you’re not going to try and pull the wool over their eyes. You’re gonna actually ask for help when you need it. You’re a humble leader, and that’s going to come across a lot better and it’s going to work out better in the long run for you ’cause you’ll learn more, you’ll know more, and you’ll be more respected by your team. So don’t worry about saying I don’t know something, it’s perfectly fine. You just showed up, no one expects you to know everything. Relax, and ask some questions.
Babin: Another very common problem that we see with leaders is that leaders look at the specific problems that they’re facing, and they think it’s unique. And they think their problems are harder than everyone else’s problems. It’s a very common problem, I fall into that trap as well, and you can’t do that as a leader because what you’re really doing is you’re making an excuse. You’re making an excuse when you say, “Well, it’s harder for me than it is for other people. I have it tougher here. It’s easier for them.” Or “This other team in this situation that’s able to perform better.” And you can’t do that because as long as you’re making an excuse for yourself, an excuse for your team, you’re never going to actually solve the problems that are causing you to not perform the way you should, and therefore you’re going to keep repeating those same mistakes. And you’re gonna ultimately lead to failure. So, stop giving yourself that excuse, realize that your problems are no different than anybody else’s problems, step up, find a way to solve those problems and win.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
For over 40 years, some variant of the Patton family of tanks served America. From the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, and through the deserts of the Middle East Patton tanks bested America’s enemies time and again.
In 1950, the first Patton tank, the M46, entered service. The M46 was originally based on the WWII M26 Pershing heavy tank. However, after extensive redesigns and improvements, it received its own designation and a new namesake — Gen. George S. Patton, a hero of WWII.
The M46 was armed with a 90mm main gun, a .50 caliber machine gun, and two .30 caliber machine guns, one mounted coaxially, the other forward-firing in the hull.
The arrival of the Patton into service was just in time as in June of that year North Korea, armed with formidable Russian T34 tanks, rolled across the 38th Parallel into South Korea. Fighting alongside WWII-era M4 Shermans and the M26 Pershings it was meant to replace, the M46 would see heavy combat in Korea.
The first M46 tanks landed inside the Pusan Perimeter in August 1950 as part of the 6th Tank Battalion. They would prove critical in the defense. More M46s landed at Inchon with the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Tank Battalion.
In an attempt at psychological warfare, the tankers of the 24th Infantry Division’s 6th Tank Battalion painted tiger faces on their tanks thinking it would demoralize their superstitious Chinese adversaries.
By mid-1951 the Patton tanks had replaced all M26 Pershings in service in Korea. However, the M46’s own shortcomings had already led to the development of a replacement — the M47 Patton.
Though the M47 was introduced in 1952, it would be too late for it to see combat in Korea. However, the M47 was important because even though it shared design features and components with the M46 Patton, it was considered America’s first all-new tank design since WWII.
The M47, though, was just an interim design while engineers completed work on its successor, the M48 Patton. The M47 would never see combat but the M48 would be a workhorse of American and allied armored units.
Like its predecessors, the M48 also mounted a 90mm main gun; it was the last tank to do so, but had significant improvements in armor and performance.
The M48 was also introduced too late to see combat in Korea, but just over a decade later the Marines would take it to Vietnam. Soon, Army units were bringing their own Pattons to the fight.
Due to the nature of the conflict, the M48s did not often have the chance to go toe-to-toe with North Vietnamese armor. One of the few instances of tank combat came during the NVA assault on the Ben Het Camp where elements of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment were stationed. The American Pattons easily defeated the NVA’s PT-76 tanks and BTR-50 APCs.
More often than not though, the M48s were relegated to infantry support — a role they excelled at. The Patton’s ruggedness allowed it to absorb a good amount of damage and its 90mm main gun was a welcome addition against dug-in enemies. A favorite of the troops was the Patton’s canister rounds, which acted like a giant shotgun through the jungle, cutting down man and tree alike.
A number of M48s were also converted to M67 “Zippo” tanks that mounted flamethrowers for dealing with stubborn Vietcong and NVA soldiers.
The Patton was also one of the few vehicles that could withstand the landmines that were employed against American forces. As such, it was often used as a route clearance vehicle to “sniff out” the explosive devices.
While the M48 was slogging it out in Vietnam, the next in line of the Patton family of tanks was coming into service with the American military: the M60 Patton, the M48s eventual replacement.
The M60 was the final tank in the Patton family line and America’s first Main Battle Tank. It mounted a modern 105mm main gun, a .50 caliber machine gun for the commander, and a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun.
The M60 also was the basis for the M60 Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge and the M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle, both of which were deployed to Vietnam alongside the M48s.
The M60 itself would not be deployed to Vietnam, but would be a mainstay of American armored formations, particularly in Europe.
One of the more interesting developments of the M60 Patton was the M60A2. Derisively known as the “Starship” because of its overly complex technology, the M60A2 mounted the same 152mm gun/missile system as the M551 Sheridan. A redesigned turret and an abundance of new technology gave the A2 variation a distinct look. However, the design was an overall disappointment and it was quickly retired.
Despite entering service some 30 years’ prior, the M60 Patton would not see significant combat until the end of its service history during the Persian Gulf War. Outfitting Marine tank battalions, the M60s performed admirably.
The Marines’ M60s spearheaded the assault to liberate Kuwait. In the fighting for Kuwait City, the M60 bested its original rival, the Soviet T62, time and again while sustaining only one tank lost to combat and no casualties. Marines manning Patton tanks destroyed over 100 Iraqi tanks and numerous other vehicles in the fighting.
Shortly after the Gulf War the M60 Patton was retired from combat service in favor of the new M1 Abrams. The last Pattons would return to Germany, the final resting place of their namesake, where they acted as OPFOR at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels before they too were retired in 2005.
Legendary Canadian actor Christopher Plummer was arguably one of the greatest actors post-WWII. Beginning his career in 1946, Plummer remained an active thespian throughout his life. He is best known for his role as Captain George von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Plummer was also a go-to actor to play historical figures like Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington in Waterloo, Emperor Commodus in The Fall of the Roman Empire, and Kaiser Wilhelm II in The Exception. On February 5, 2021, Plummer died at the age of 91.
Born in Toronto, Ontario on December 13, 1929, Plummer was a direct descendant of Sir John Abbott, Canada’s third Prime Minister. He was inspired to take up acting after watching Laurence Olivier’s Henry V and became an apprentice at the Montreal Repertory Theatre where William Shatner also acted. In 1946, Plummer performed his first role as Mr. Darcy in a school production of Pride and Prejudice.
In 1953, he appeared on television, both Canadian and American, and Broadway. Plummer acted mainly on stage and did not appear on screen for six years after 1958. His return to film was as Emperor Commodus in 1964’s The Fall of the Roman Empire. The next year, Plummer would see his film career soar to new heights with The Sound of Music.
Despite it being his best-known role, Plummer once described The Sound of Music as “so awful and sentimental and gooey.” Aside from working with Julie Andrews, Plummer recounted that he found all aspects of making the film to be unpleasant, going so far as to nickname it “The Sound of Mucus.” Still, he acknowledged the film’s importance in retrospect. “But it was a very well-made movie,” he said in a 2009 interview , “and it’s a family movie and we haven’t seen a family movie, I don’t think, on that scale for ages.”
Classic military film enthusiasts will be most familiar with Plummer for his roles in the war epics Battle of Britain from 1969 and Waterloo the following year. In Battle of Britain, Plummer plays Canadian pilot Squadron Leader Colin Harvey, one of the first allied characters audiences are introduced to. In Waterloo, he takes on the role of the legendary British hero, Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley who ended the Napoleonic Wars by defeating the French Emperor in the titular battle.
Christopher Plummer went on to act through the century and right up to his death. One of his last on-screen appearances was in a 2020 episode of Jeopardy! as a clue presenter. His final movie role is as a voice actor in the yet-to-be-released animated film Heroes of the Golden Masks.
Plummer died peacefully in his home with his wife by his side from complications following a fall. “The world has lost a consummate actor today and I have lost a cherished friend,” said The Sound of Music costar Julie Andrews. “I treasure the memories of our work together and all the humor and fun we shared through the years.” Plummer’s legacy is immortalized on screen in over 100 films and in the hearts and minds of his fans around the world.
Holding over 12-million gallons of water, the “MASK” — which stands for “maneuvering and seakeeping” — is one of the largest man-made indoor oceans in the world. It is located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland.
The massive water containment measures 240-feet wide and 360-feet long and houses the ability to recreate real oceanic-like characteristics to help design future Naval vessels.
The facility can custom manufacture mini-ships for on-site testing. (Images via Giphy)
We know the key facts of what happened on April 18, 1943. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M Betty attack bomber was shot down by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flown by Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr., marking the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of World War II.
But it took a bit more training to get the most out of the P-38.
Lockheed helped out in this regard by making a training film, using expertise from their production pilots. The takeoff procedure was different, mostly in not using flaps. The plane also was very hard to stall.
The plane did have limitations: A pilot needed to have a lot of air under him, due to both the compressibility that early models suffered, and the speed the P-38 could pick up in a dive. The pilot couldn’t stay inverted for more than 10 seconds, either.
The film also showed some P-38s modified as trainers. The film shows one trainee being shown how to deal with propellers running wild. The pilots were also trained to feather props.
The P-38 was surprising easy to fly as a single-engine plane. The film shows Tony LeVier, a noted test pilot, simulating an engine failure during takeoff.
The P-38 was a superb fighter, even if the Mustang, Hellfire, and Thunderbolt got most of the press. Put it this way, America’s top two aces of all time, Maj. Richard Bong and Maj. Thomas McGuire, flew the P-38 plane in World War II and combined for 78 confirmed kills.
The training film is below. Now you have a sense of what it was like to fly the plane that killed Yamamoto.
U.S. Army recruiters are offering bonuses worth up to $40,000 to new recruits who sign up for the infantry by Sept. 30, 2019, as part of an effort to reverse a shortage of grunts for fiscal 2019.
The drastic increase in bonus amounts for recruits in 11X, the infantry military occupational specialty, went into effect in mid-May 2019, according to U.S. Army Recruiting Command officials, who said that the service still needs to fill about 3,300 infantry training seats by Sept. 30, 2019.
“We saw this coming in May; we immediately went to the senior leadership and said, ‘look, we need to max out the bonuses for 11Xs,'” Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of Army Recruiting Command, told Military.com.
“If you sign up to be 11X and you sign a six-year commitment — ,000.”
Before May 2019, the maximum bonus amount for infantry recruits was ,000 for a six-year commitment.
A U.S. Army Ranger from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment speaks with a Soldier-in-training during a 12-mile ruck march at infantry One-Station Unit Training, Fort Benning, Ga., April 18, 2019.
Last summer, the Army ran a pilot at Fort Benning, Georgia that resulted in the service extending infantry one station unit training (OSUT) from 14 weeks to 22 weeks. The extended infantry training is designed to give soldiers more time to practice key infantry skills such as land navigation, marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, fire and maneuver and first aid training.
The bonus increase is just a small step in the Army’s effort to meet its recruiting goal for the active force of 68,000 soldiers by Sept. 30, 2019. The Army launched a multi-faceted recruiting strategy October 2018 after the service missed its 2018 recruiting goal by 6,500 soldiers.
U.S. Army recruits practice patrol tactics while marching during U.S. Army basic training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)
New recruits signing up for the infantry can also get ,000 for a three-year enlistment, ,000 for a four-year enlistment and ,000 for a five-year enlistment, Recruiting Command officials said.
But these new bonuses won’t last long, Muth said.
“You’ve got to ship in August and September,” Muth said, explaining that infantry recruits must enter OSUT at Benning by the end of this fiscal year.
“If you ship in October, you don’t get the bonus.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Taiwan is planning a series of new, large-scale combat drills to boost military readiness for the possibility of armed conflict with mainland China.
Taiwan’s military announced Jan. 9, 2019, that new drills are “being drafted based on newly adopted tactics for defending against a possible Chinese invasion,” according Maj. Gen. Yeh Kuo-hui, chief of the Ministry of National Defense’s Operations and Planning Division, the Associated Press reported, citing Taiwan’s official Central News Agency.
2019’s exercises will include a month of combat readiness training in the first quarter, another month-long live-fire exercise in the second quarter, joint anti-landing operations in the third quarter, and joint anti-airborne maneuvers in the fourth and final quarter, Focus Taiwan reported.
China claims absolute, indisputable sovereignty over Taiwan, an autonomous democratic territory perceived in Beijing as a renegade province. “We make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures” to achieve reunification, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned in a message to the island.
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China has an 3-million-member army and the world’s second largest defense budget. Taiwan lacks the numbers, but it does have a technologically capable fighting force, which the island hopes could repel a Chinese invasion.
Beijing has previously warned Taipei that efforts to bolster its military capabilities are pointless.
“I want to stress that it is a dead end to deny reunification by using force,” Wu Qian, spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry, stated in late December 2018, stating that the People’s Liberation Army will continue to conduct exercises and operations near Taiwan.
The Chinese military carried out 18,000 military drills in 2018 and China’s armed forces are expected to continue to ramp up training in response to perceived threats to Chinese national interests. Taiwan’s military is doing the same.
“We want to assure citizens that the military is constantly beefing up its combat preparedness and stands ready to fight for the survival of the Republic of China (Taiwan),” Taiwan’s military spokesman Chen Chung-chi said recently.
In 2019, for the first time ever, the Council on Foreign Relations listed Taiwan as a potential flashpoint on its annual Preventive Priorities Survey, although it was ranked as a Tier II concern beyond other possible conflict zones, like the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
U.S. and Taliban officials have agreed in principle to the “framework” of a peace deal, The New York Times quotes U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as saying after five days of talks between the militant group and the United States in Qatar.
Both sides have said “progress” had been made in the talks aimed at ending the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan.
“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” The New York Times quoted Khalilzad as saying on Jan. 28, 2019, in an interview in Kabul.
In the framework, the militants agree to prevent Afghan territory from being used by groups such as Al-Qaeda to stage terrorist attacks.
That could lead to a full pullout of U.S. combat troops, but only in return for the Taliban entering talks with the Afghan government and agreeing to a lasting cease-fire.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
The Taliban “committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals,” Khalilzad was quoted as saying.
“We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out,” he added, according to The New York Times.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to fend off a resurgent Taliban and other militant groups.
The Taliban has so far refused to hold direct negotiations with Afghan government officials, whom they dismiss as “puppets.”
In separate comments made at a meeting with the Afghan media in Kabul on Jan. 28, 2019, Khalilzad said, “I have encouraged the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government. It is our policy to get to intra-Afghan talks.”
The militants have said they will only begin talks with the government once a firm date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops has been agreed.
In a televised address on Jan. 28, 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to enter “serious” negotiations with the government in Kabul and “accept Afghans’ demand for peace.”
“Either they join the great nation of Afghanistan with a united voice, or be the tool of foreign objectives,” he told the militant group.
Ghani spoke after Khalilzad briefed him and other Afghan officials in Kabul on the six-day talks he held with Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital, Doha, January 2019.
The president’s office quoted Khalilzad as saying he had held talks about the withdrawal of foreign troops and a possible cease-fire, but nothing was agreed upon.
“The U.S. insisted in their talks with the Taliban that the only solution for lasting peace in Afghanistan is intra-Afghan talks,” Khalilzad said, according to a statement.
“My role is to facilitate” such talks between the insurgents and Kabul, Khalilzad was quoted as saying.
The U.S. envoy said on Jan. 26, 2019, that the United States and the Taliban had made “significant progress,” adding that the Doha talks were “more productive than they have been in the past.”
He also emphasized that the sides “have a number of issues left to work out,” and that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that while there was “progress” at the meetings, reports of an agreement on a cease-fire were “not true.”
Mujahid also said in a statement that talks about “unresolved matters” will continue.
Until the withdrawal of international troops was hammered out, “progress in other issues is impossible,” he insisted.
Another round of peace talks between the Taliban and the United States was tentatively set for Feb. 25, 2019, the Reuters news agency quoted a Qatari Foreign Ministry official as saying on Jan. 28, 2019.
Russian dissident activist Pyotr Verzilov and those close to him are under around-the-clock protection by German police while he receives treatment for a suspected poisoning, his former wife says.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk art collective Pussy Riot who has a child with Verzilov, said in an interview with Current Time TV that police in Berlin implemented the security measures after a friend of the activist reported being followed by unidentified men.
“They sleep in the same building as police, and if they go somewhere, then it’s only in a police minivan,” Tolokonnikova told Current Time TV, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, on Sept. 25, 2018.
Verzilov, 30, fell ill in Moscow on Sept. 11, 2018, with symptoms that his friends say included diminished eyesight and an inability to speak or move.
After his initial treatment in the Russian capital, he was transferred to the Charite hospital in Berlin, where a doctor told a news conference that “it was highly plausible that it was a case of poisoning.”
Tolokonnikova, who returned to Moscow on Sept. 23, 2018, after visiting Verzilov at the Berlin hospital, said the German police protection came after Verzilov’s friend, Hunter Heaney, noticed unidentified men following him in Berlin on two separate occasions.
“We don’t know who it was. I didn’t see anyone. There is speculation that it could have been officers of Russian security services or people affiliated with them who then leaked the photographs of us to the REN-TV network,” Tolokonnikova said, adding that she was buying underwear for Verzilov at the time the images were taken.
Heaney, a friend of Verzilov who has visited the activist in the hospital, told RFE/RL that he noticed two men watching the front door of his apartment in central Berlin on Sept. 22, 2018.
The following day, he saw one of those men in the passenger seat of a red compact car “that pulled out on a deserted street I had just walked down and doubled back…to come in my direction and sped off as I looked closely in the windows,” Heaney said in an e-mail.
Heaney, who said he provided information about the car to police, confirmed that he and others close to Verzilov are now under constant police protection.
Verzilov on Sept. 25, 2018, posted his first lengthy tweet since he fell ill, writing: “I’ve been relatively conscious now only for the past three days, and before that it was like being in a black hole.”
“I am spending my days in the friendly company of wonderful poisons. But not polonium-210 or Novichok, but something new and surprising,” he added.
Novichok is the Soviet-developed toxin that British authorities say Russian operatives deployed in the March 2018 poisoning of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in southern England. Radioactive polonium-210 caused the 2006 death of former Russian security agent Aleksandr Litvinenko in London.
Another doctor at the Charite hospital, Karl Max Einhaeupl, said that there was so far no other explanation for Verzilov’s condition other than poisoning and that there was no evidence that the activist was suffering from a long-term illness.
He added that the symptoms indicate a disruption of the part of Verzilov’s nervous system that regulates the internal organs, but that the substance responsible for the poisoning hasn’t been yet determined.
Tolokonnikova said it remains unclear precisely how or when Verzilov might have been poisoned and that his associates did not notice anything suspicious before he fell ill.
“That tells us that most likely this operation was not carried out by idiots, but rather with relative sophistication,” she told Current Time.
Tolokonnikova said she believes Verzilov’s alleged poisoning may be linked to an investigation he was working on into the the killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) in July 2018.
Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko were killed on July 30, 2018, in the C.A.R., where they were working on a documentary about the possible activities there of a shadowy Russian paramilitary group with alleged Kremlin ties.
Tolokonnikova said that the day before he fell ill, Verzilov, publisher of the Russian news outlet Mediazona, received a report from an associate in the C.A.R. investigating the killings.
“As far as I know, [Verzilov] is interested in pursuing this investigation further, because the current report is far from finished,” she said.