Photos released this week by Agence France-Presse feature American special operations troops wearing the patches of the Syrian Kurdish YPG. The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, are part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who are rapidly advancing toward the de facto ISIS capital at Raqqa.
While friendly forces’ proximity to Raqqa should delight those fighting against ISIS, one ally is not at all pleased with the photos. The Turkish government sees the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization and has been fighting the Turkish government for independence since 1984.
While the United States recognizes the PKK as a terror group, it disputes Turkey’s claim that the YPG is a Syrian extension. Still, Tukish President Erdoğan was probably surprised to see photos of U.S. forces wearing the YPG insignia. The U.S. spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve wrote it off as esprit de corps:
.@MarcShlikoff US Special operators will often wear patched from their partner forces as a sign of #partnership#TalkOIR
Almost 55,000 American troops were lost during the Korean War. One Marine is on a mission to memorialize the heroic legacy of a forgotten generation of heroes. Marine Corps PFC Ruben Sanchez Adame, his uncle, was one of them.
MSgt. Samuel Castro chose to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1999, wanting to be a part of something bigger than himself, he said. A Signals Intelligence and Electromagnetic Warfare Chief, it’s a decision he remains proud of.
Two years after boot camp he knocked on his mother’s door. He was holding his new baby with his wife and proudly wearing his uniform. He was unprepared for her reaction. “She broke down crying and said her brother was a Marine and that he’d died in combat during the Korean War,” Castro said.
The emotional moment would reveal a deep family history of military service that had been kept quiet. Later, other relatives would open up about their own service after being inspired by Castro.
In 2008, he had just returned from his third combat deployment and began retracing and researching Adame’s life. Castro discovered that his uncle had served in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. “I was now stationed back home in Texas and I started to identify potential leads. I found a few names of some living Texas veterans that were with that same unit,” he explained.
Norman Callahan and Ray Broward were two of them. After receiving Callahan’s phone number, Castro said he just picked up the phone one day and called. The men embarked on a two hour conversation examining the similarities and differences of their wars.
“I’d just come back from my third or fourth deployment and had more context of war. Not that I would ever compare my experiences deployed with what occurred during the Korean War but that was one of the key aspects of the conversation with Norm and Ray,” Castro explained. “They had a hard time understanding what war was like in Iraq and Afghanistan but then Ray said something that really stuck with me. He said ‘You fight the war you’re given’.”
Callahan had been making annual trips to Chuncheon, Gangwon Province in an effort to find the missing remains of his fallen comrades. During his final trip in 2006, he brought Adame’s graveyard dirt with him, spreading it on the old battlefield ground. He refused to let his fellow Marines be forgotten.
But the Korean War has been labeled the “Forgotten War”.
World War II divided Korea into two parts after its liberation from Japan by the Soviet Union and the United States. The 38th parallel had Soviet Union communists occupying the northern half and Americans occupying the southern half.
The founding of an independent South Korea would lead to a war that would take the lives of over 5 million people. In June of 1950, the 75,000 soldiers with the North Korean Communist Army invaded South Korea in a surprise attack. America immediately came to their aid with the United Nations following suit not long thereafter.
Although the allied troops eventually pushed forward and it appeared the war was going to end, China entered the conflict without warning and joined North Korea. 140,000 Chinese soldiers would overrun the Marines of Charlie Company in 1951 at the Battle of Horseshoe Ridge in South Korea.
Adame, Callahan and Broward were in the middle of it.
In 2016, Castro and his family were stationed in Okinawa, Japan. During a vacation in South Korea, a friend set up a surprise visit to Chuncheon. “I had gotten the pins for the hill location years ago and we used that to actually find that battle site of Horseshoe Ridge where 1 Charlie Company had basically dug in. They were involved in a level of intensity that is hard to comprehend,” he said.
As a fellow Marine, seeing the environment his uncle was forced to fight in first hand was what Castro called “a nightmarish scene”.
Official records eventually revealed that Adame had been sent to the rear for more ammo just as the Chinese launched an offensive with those 140,000 troops. He never made it to the rear and was never seen again. During the 14-hour battle, the unit lost 60 percent of its Marines. Adame was initially labeled MIA but later changed to KIA. His remains were never found.
Callahan and Broward never forgot the war or Adame. For them, as long ago as it was, it still seemed like just yesterday, Castro shared. On that fateful phone call, both men shared stories of his uncle’s courage.
“It had been so many years later but they had never forgotten Ruben’s name or his face and they were in tears when I was on the phone with them,” he said. “To them, they felt like something was missing because their brethren were never found…They are both gone now but they never gave up. That part more than anything really sticks with me.”
From the discovery of his uncle to the journey through the Korean War battlefield that took PFC Ruben Sanchez Adame, it’s an experience Castro remains grateful for. As America heads into Memorial Day, he was asked what he’d want readers to take away from his story. His response was direct. “No man is truly gone unless he is forgotten.”
It’s not like ISIS didn’t know the attack on Mosul was coming. After all, Mosul is one of the last major cities in Iraq that the group holds. So the radical Islamic fighters prepared for the battle that is now raging on the outskirts of Mosul by doing a few things, including destroying the runways at the vital Qayyarah West Airbase, Iraq.
Qayyarah West sits within Iraq’s Ninawa Province to the south of Mosul and is an obvious logistics base for an attack on the city.
The C-130, one of the military’s most versatile cargo planes, needs at least 3,000 feet of safe runway to make an assault landing. Even then, the short runway lowers the available total weight with which aircraft can land or takeoff.
So the Air Force needed to take a base with no usable runways and get it ready to take in tons of cargo in a short period. A team of engineers from the Air Force flew to the base to attempt the task. They undid two years of ISIS destruction in only three weeks.
The Air Force deployed a small team to assess the damage, then sent the full team to begin repairs. Over the three-week period, the airmen judged which parts of the runway were unsafe for operations, cut out those sections of asphalt, and then fixed just those spots.
“We show up, clear the debris out, get all the junk and everything out of there,” Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyler Charles told a military journalist. “Then we dig down, if we have to, until we hit hard surface ground.”
Once the engineers found hard surface, they ensured everything was level and firm, then rebuilt the section of runway from the ground up. And the airmen completed their work just in time. The first C-130s arrived on Oct. 21, less than a week after the Iraqi Army began their offensive to retake Mosul.
The repaired runway provides a more robust logistical capability for the invasion, allowing more ammunition and other supplies to fly in. And Qayyarah West has served the coalition in other ways as well, such as housing the American Paladins providing artillery support to the Iraqi advance.
The boy just left militia life to enroll in the fourth grade and was no threat to the terror group, a spokesman for the Afghan independent human rights commission told the New York Times.
The boy’s uncle is a former Taliban commander who switched sides to support the Afghan government, along with 36 of his followers, one of which was the young boy’s father. His uncle, Mullah Abdul Samad, was appointed commander of the local police militia and soon became the government’s main force fighting the Taliban in the Oruzgan province. The Taliban laid siege to Samad’s district in 2015. Young Wasil Ahmad’s father was killed in that fighting and so Wasil took command of the garrison’s defense.
“He fought like a miracle,” Samad told the New York Times, adding that Wasil had fired rockets from a roof. “He was successfully leading my men on my behalf for 44 days until I recovered.”
The Mud March, an offensive launched into Virginia by the Union army on Jan. 20, 1863, was the perfect storm of bad luck, poor logistical planning and atrocious weather.
It was a huge operation aimed at striking a mortal blow to the Confederacy that ended up collapsing under its own sodden weight in the mud, with practically no combat to speak of.
Following the disastrous Union defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia on Dec. 13, 1862, morale among Union soldiers and the public was hitting a new low.
The Union Army of the Potomac, under the command of the newly appointed Gen. Ambrose Burnside, had hoped to quickly cross the Rappahannock river at Fredericksburg and race to Richmond, the Confederate capital. The Army of Northern Virginia under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was waiting for them.
The Union suffered nearly 13,000 casualties, mostly in doomed frontal assaults against dug-in rebel troops on Marye’s Heights, who had ideal shelter behind an existing stone wall. The Confederacy had taken less than half as many losses, and the Union army was sent reeling back.
Burnside was desperate to retrieve his reputation, which the slaughter at Fredericksburg had left in tatters. He proposed a bold new offensive against Lee’s left flank, drawing the enemy into the open from their defences where they could be destroyed. January had been mild and dry so far, and the need for a quick victory to make up for Fredericksburg was paramount.
But when the army departed on Jan. 20, a drizzling rain gradually became a total downpour that lasted for days. Pontoon bridges to be laid over the Rappahannock river were delayed by logistical problems and huge traffic jams developed. Two entire corps were misdirected through the same crossroads becoming completely ensnarled.
Artillery and wagons became hopelessly mired in the muddy roads. Hundreds of draft animals dropped dead of exhaustion trying to pull their loads. Some units could move less than two miles a day.
Faced with miserable soldiers shivering in the mud, Burnside decided to lift their spirits by ordering a ration of whiskey issued to the army. But the liquor was distributed a little too freely,and many units started to descend into drunken squalor. A brawl broke out between two regiments with a history of rivalry, leading a third regiment to intervene in an effort to break it up.
The resulting chaos may have been one of the largest fistfights in American history.
All surprise had been lost. Lee and his army were dug in on the other side of the Rappahannock. Confederate scouts and pickets observing the Union army jeered and shouted insults, waving signs emblazoned with “Burnside’s Army Stuck in the Mud” and “This Way to Richmond” with arrows pointing in the opposite direction.
The ill-fated offensive was called off. It was such a fiasco that Burnside was relieved as commander of the army on Jan. 25 and replaced the next day by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker.
Burnside had never wanted the job of replacing general George B. McClellan, his predecessor, believing himself unfit for an army level command. He took it only after being informed that the command would go to Hooker, whom he greatly disliked and distrusted.
Following the disasters of Fredericksburg and the Mud March, Hooker ended up with the command anyway. Hooker went on to face calamity at the battle of Chancellorsville, where his army was routed by Lee despite outnumbering him by over 2-to-1.
The Union Army had faced a string of defeats in the Eastern Theatre, from the first Bull Run to the abattoir at Fredericksburg. But the Mud March shows how bad weather and bad planning can stop even a powerful army in its tracks as effectively as rifles and artillery.
Footage obtained by the British paper The Guardian shows the intense battle that claimed the life of U.S. Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV.
Keating was part of a quick-reaction force that moved in to relieve another group of U.S. advisors supporting the Kurdish Peshmerga when ISIS broke through the Peshmerga’s lines with a massive assault using 20 technicals, car bombs, and a bulldozer.
The efforts of Keating and the other SEALs were successful and the other U.S. advisor team survived, but Keating himself was shot. Though he was medevac’d out, he died of his wounds.
U.S. airstrikes and Peshmerga fighters succeeded in killing 58 of the attacking ISIS fighters, destroying many of the vehicles, and reclaiming the lost territory over the next 14 hours.
As the video below shows, Keating and his warrior brothers rushed to save others despite intense fire against them:
US intelligence officials are under pressure from the White House to produce a justification to declare Iran in violation of a 2015 nuclear agreement, in an echo of the politicization of intelligence that led up to the Iraq invasion, according to former officials and analysts.
The collapse of the 2015 deal between Tehran, the US, and five other countries – by which Iran has significantly curbed its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief – would trigger a new crisis over nuclear proliferation at a time when the US is in a tense standoff with North Korea.
Intelligence analysts, chastened by the experience of the 2003 Iraq war, launched by the Bush administration on the basis of phony evidence of weapons of mass destruction, are said to be resisting the pressure to come up with evidence of Iranian violations.
“Anecdotally, I have heard this from members of the intelligence community – that they feel like they have come under pressure,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who also served as a national security council spokesman and special assistant to Barack Obama. “They told me there was a sense of revulsion. There was a sense of déjà vu. There was a sense of ‘we’ve seen this movie before’.”
However, Donald Trump has said he expects to declare Iran non-compliant by mid-October, the next time he is required by Congress to sign a three-monthly certification of the nuclear deal (known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, or JCPOA). And the administration is pursuing another avenue that could trigger the collapse of the deal.
David Cohen, a former deputy director of the CIA, said it was “disconcerting” that Trump appeared to have come to a conclusion about Iran before finding the intelligence to back it up.
“It stands the intelligence process on its head,” Cohen told CNN. “If our intelligence is degraded because it is politicized in the way that it looks like the president wants to do here, that undermines the utility of that intelligence all across the board.”
In another move reminiscent of the Iraq debacle, the US administration is putting pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to be more aggressive in its demands to investigate military sites in Iran, just as George W Bush’s team pushed for ever more intrusive inspections of Saddam Hussein’s military bases and palaces.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, visited IAEA headquarters in Vienna to press the agency to demand visits to Iran’s military sites. Haley described IAEA inspectors as “professionals and true experts in their field”.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
“Having said that, as good as the IAEA is, it can only be as good as what they are permitted to see,” Haley told reporters on her return to New York. “Iran has publicly declared that it will not allow access to military sites, but the JCPOA makes no distinction between military and non-military sites. There are also numerous undeclared sites that have not been inspected yet. That’s a problem.”
Unlike the case of Iraq and the Bush administration, where there were deep divisions in the US intelligence community over the evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, there is now a general consensus among US intelligence and foreign intelligence agencies, the state department, the IAEA and the other five countries that signed the JCPOA, as well as the European Union, that there is no significant evidence that Iran has violated its obligations under the deal. Tehran scaled down its nuclear infrastructure and its nuclear fuel stockpiles soon after the deal was signed in Vienna.
However, Trump, who denigrated the agreement throughout his election campaign, has appeared determined to torpedo it.
On July 17, the latest deadline for presidential certification of the JCPOA deal required by Congress, the announcement was postponed for several hours, while Trump’s senior national security officials dissuaded the president from a last-minute threat not to sign.
“If it was up to me, I would have had them non-compliant 180 days ago,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal on July 25. He hinted it was his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who had persuaded him to certify the agreement.
“Look, I have a lot of respect for Rex and his people, good relationship. It’s easier to say they comply. It’s a lot easier. But it’s the wrong thing. They don’t comply,” the president said. “And so we’ll see what happens… But, yeah, I would be surprised if they were in compliance.”
Trump said his administration was doing “major” and “detailed” studies on the issues.
Richard Nephew, who was principal duty coordinator for sanctions policy in the Obama administration state department and a member of the team that negotiated the JCPOA said government agencies were producing such studies all the time. He said the difference under the Trump administration was that they were being told the conclusions should be.
“Behind the scenes, there is a huge machine that is pumping up reports and updates and status checks for the administration and Congress,” Nephew, now at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, said. “You have intelligence officers and analysts in a bunch of agencies who spend literally every day scrubbing every single report they have got of what is going on inside Iran trying to find instances of non-compliance.
“What I suspect is happening now is that those intel officers have been asked to go to the cutting room floor, [and are being asked:] ‘What have you forgotten? What have you discounted? What have you said doesn’t really fit and not really relevant?’
“I actually think that’s healthy if it’s an honest question,” Nephew said, but he added: “It seems there is a faction within the administration that is trying to lay the basis for getting out [of the agreement] on the basis of cooked books.”
He predicted that intelligence analysts would resign if they were pushed too hard.
“The intelligence community learned the lessons of Iraq hard,” Nephew said. “And the analysts I know who are attached to this effort I am quite convinced would resign and resign loudly before they would allow… their words to be twisted and turned the way it happened with Iraq.”
Robert Malley, who was a senior US negotiator at the nuclear talks with Iran, said that the Trump administration was discounting the information it was getting from its agencies because it viewed them as the “deep state” or “Obama holdovers.” But Malley predicted it would be harder for Trump to ignore the reservations of US intelligence and US allies and drive towards confrontation with Iran than it was for George Bush to go to war in Iraq.
“The main difference is that Iraq has already happened, which means that both the American public and the international community have seen a similar movie before, and therefore might well react differently than the way they reacted the last time around,” he said.
The other principal avenue of attack on the JCPOA being pursued by the Trump administration has focused on the question of inspections of Iranian military sites. Under the agreement, the IAEA can present evidence of suspect activity at any site to Iran and ask for an explanation. If the explanation is not accepted by the IAEA, Tehran would have two weeks to negotiate terms of access for the agency inspectors. If the Iranian government refuses, a joint commission of JCPOA signatories could vote to force access, andIran would have three days to comply.
“There is a mechanism, a very detailed one and one of the issues we spent the most time on in negotiation,” Malley said. But he added: “There are people on the outskirts of the administration, and who are pushing hard on the Iran file, saying they should be allowed to ask for inspection at any sensitive site for no reason whatsoever, in order to test the boundaries of the agreement.”
During her visit to Vienna, Haley suggested that Iran’s past practice of using military sites for covert nuclear development work was grounds for suspicion. But Laura Rockwood, a former legal counsel in the IAEA’s safeguards department (which carries out inspections), said the US or any other member state would have to provide solid and contemporaneous evidence to trigger an inspection.
“If the US has actionable intelligence that is useful for the IAEA to take into account, and I mean actual and honest intelligence, not fake intel that they tried to use in 2003, then I think the agency will respond to it,” Rockwood, who is now executive director of the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, said. “But if they try to create evidence or if they try to pressure the agency into simply requesting access because they can, I think it will backfire.”
Some analysts, however, believe that the Obama administration was too willing to let Iranian infractions slide and that a more skeptical view of the agreement and implementation is overdue.
“Asking the system for knowledge of violations is different than asking anyone to falsify them,” said David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security. “This is a highly technical subject and the Obama administration downplayed and even hid violations and problems. So, there is a need to establish the true situation and ensure decision makers understand these issues. Spinning this as equivalent to Iraqi WMD claims is not only unfair but highly inaccurate. Certainly, the pro-JCPOA advocates would love to do that.”
Any Iranian objections to new inspections could be cited by Trump if he carries out his threat to withhold certification of the JCPOA in October. It would then be up to the US Congress whether to respond with new sanctions, and then Trump would have to sign them into law, in potential violation of the agreement. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said this week that elements of the program that had been stopped under the agreement could be resumed “within hours” if the US walked out.
Ultimately, Tehran and the other five national signatories to the agreement would have to decide whether to try to keep the deal alive without US participation. The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, suggested over the weekend that if the other signatories remained committed, Iran would continue to observe the deal. It is an issue that would split Europe from the US, likely leaving the UK perched uneasily in the middle.
“As a practical matter, you’re not going to have the rest of the international community, you’re not going to have our allies in Europe, you’re certainly not going to have the Russians and the Chinese coming along with us to reimpose real pressure on the Iranians,” Cohen said. “So you’ll have this fissure between the United States and essentially the rest of the world in trying to reinstate pressure on Iran.”
One of the eight engines powering a Boeing B-52 bomber flying over Minot Air Force Base on Wednesday quite literally fell right off the aircraft.
The unarmed aircraft, which was on a training flight at the North Dakota base, landed safely and none of the crew were injured, an Air Force spokesman told Defense News.
The service has already initiated an investigation into what went wrong. All crew members of a B-52 that crashed in May 2016 escaped without injury, though a 2008 crash killed all six crew members on board.
The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber jet aircraft powered by eight Pratt Whitney engines. It was first introduced in 1955, though it has continually been upgraded and maintained.
The Air Force has just over 75 B-52s still in service today, which are slated to last into 2040, according to Defense News.
The B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber is expected to replace the aging B-52 fleet once it’s introduced some time in the mid-2020s.
General Lori Robinson experienced a meteoric rise through the ranks of the U.S. Air Force. From 2012-2014, she added a star per year to her epaulets. She was the deputy commander of the USAF’s CENTCOM area of responsibility and the vice commander of the U.S. Air Force’s global strike force. She became the first female to command USAF combat forces when she took over Pacific Air Forces, which controls Air Force operations from the United States to the east coast of Asia and from Antarctica to the Arctic Ocean.
Now, she’s poised to make history again in 2016.
The current Air Force Chief of Staff (CSAF), General Mark Welsh III, is set to retire in the summer, and Robinson is on the short list to replace him.
She’s also in the running to head the U.S. Northern Command, which would make her the highest ranking combatant commander, tasked with defending the contiguous United States, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico.
Robinson is also a unique choice because she would be the first non-pilot to be named CSAF. Her experience, however, includes more than 900 flight hours as a “senior battle manager” in the E-3B/C and E-8C aircraft.
“As far as the woman part of it all, I’m the commander at Pacific Air Forces,” Robinson recently said during an interview. “I’m a general of the United States Air Force; I’m an airman, and I happen to be a woman.”
The best-of-the-best in the US and Russian militaries look eerily similar to each other both in appearance and in tactics.
The US Army Special Forces has some of the smartest and most lethal fighters in the world, which could explain why Russia has increasingly modeled its own Special Forces — or Spetsnaz — off its American counterparts.
Those Russian Special Forces most recently infiltrated and took over Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and they are now operating on the ground in Syria. And according to a US military official who spoke with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, they are practically indistinguishable on the battlefield.
That’s not an accident. According to the Journal, Russia’s military chief used a meeting with US Special Operations Command to learn more about how the US operates, in order to more closely mirror his force in Russia. Moscow has also benefited from a framework of understanding signed between the two nations that offered military-to-military exchanges and operational events, orientation at the West Point military academy for Russian cadets, and sharing of ideas among both countries’ combined arms academies.
We decided to look at photos of Spetsnaz in action, along with US Special Forces. It’s sometimes hard to spot the difference.
After US Army soldiers finish their roughly year-long training to become Special Forces-qualified, they don the distinctive green beret for the first time.
Their counterparts in Russia do much the same, though their head gear is crimson. Russia’s Spetsnaz unit modeled their competition for the crimson beret from the US, after a former commander read a book by a former US special forces soldier.
The resemblance between the two nations’ special forces don’t stop there. This US Special Forces soldier looks pretty similar…
… To his Russian counterpart, right down to the helmet, tactical gear, and camouflage uniform pattern. The two nations do, however, use different weapons systems, with the US favoring the M4 rifle, and Russia going with its AK-style.
“From the helmets to the kit, they look almost identical,” a US military official told the Wall Street Journal recently, of Russia’s special forces.
Air Force Capt. Mark Harper was probably worried about the lack of network connections and other technology in 2007 when he was sent to Djibouti, Africa, to take over a staff section there. Unfortunately, his colonel hadn’t gotten the message about Djibouti’s limited network access and ordered Harper and his crew to start making weather podcasts for Djibouti.
A podcast. In 2007. For a group of people with limited internet access. The “Good Idea Fairy” had struck again.
Shocker, it had a limited listenership and the crew wasn’t happy while making it. But since the order came from a colonel, they would need at least a general to shoot it down.
Unfortunately for them, their attempts to sabotage the program in front of a visiting two-star didn’t exactly go according to plan. Check out the whole story, complete with a colonel falling asleep on a grateful captain, in the video embedded above.