House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington - We Are The Mighty
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House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington

In a unanimous vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow WWII-era Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally (R-Az.), a former A-10 pilot who flew missions over Iraq.


House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
McSally, pictured, preparing to distribute BRRRRRT.

“The WASPs opened the door for people like me being able to serve,” McSally said.

The women were denied burial rights when the Army reinterpreted a bill from the 1970’s. The decision excluded the WASPs, who ferried combat aircraft and trained male pilots from 1942-1944. The female WWII pilots were not considered active duty troops under the reinterpretation despite having since received the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as benefits under the VA system.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington

Space at Arlington is becoming increasingly scarce as time goes by. The acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy insists only Congress can change the internment rules. The bill now goes to the Senate, where similar bills have been introduced.

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From Odysseus to Odierno, ‘Warrior Chorus’ revives the classics

Peter Meineck is a New York University professor who had the idea to get American combat veterans – from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – to read classical literature. These are the Classics, with a capital C, stories from the ancient Mediterranean worlds of Greece and Rome. They are filled with tales of great wars, the men who fought them, their voyages home, and what they found when they got there. These are the tales of warriors whose names echo through history: Odysseus, Philoctetes, Ajax, Hector, and many more.


House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington

Who better to read and interpret them now than the warriors of today? The combination of modern warriors and Classical terminology is what gives Meineck’s project its name: Warrior Chorus. In a Greek tragedy, the chorus was a group of players who would comment on the main action. They could simply talk or they could sing and dance. It’s an apt summation of what veterans do at Meineck’s Warrior Chorus. The veterans relate to the stories very differently than a Classics student, or even someone with a Ph.D.

“The veterans interpret the stories based on their own experience of service,” says Nathan Graeser from the University of Southern California’s Department of Social Work. USC is an important partner in Warrior Chorus.  The success of the program at New York’s Aquila Theatre (where Meineck is the founder and Artistic Director) earned a large grant for its work from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s now a national initiative focused on three regional centers in New York, Austin, and Los Angeles. USC is the partner bringing it to Southern California.
“This is about a public conversation with these classics,” Graeser says. “To engage in a deeper conversation about how the ethics and dilemmas of war are still in existence and how we see those through our current veterans, from Vietnam and further on.”

Graeser is not just a social worker but also a member of the Armed Forces. As a chaplain in the National Guard, he sees the power of service and the need to make the unique experiences more meaningful to those in the military.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A classical Greek Chorus as depicted on pottery from the era.

“The [Classical] chorus is interjected throughout a story. It doesn’t advance the story at all. It’s something that just comments on everything happening in the story,” Graeser explains. “The Warrior Chorus is really a way for warriors to one, have a voice in the public but also to offer some insights and their own perspectives to the public as a public.”

After the study period, the students produce live stagings, readings, workshops, lectures, and other presentations of their reflections based on their study of the books and their own interpretations. Warrior Chorus is centered around four themes, each of which are particularly insightful for present-day veterans to focus on and repaint their own understanding. They develop their own interest within the program and are guided by Warrior Chorus scholars. The most important aspect is that veterans present their own interpretation through their unique skills and interests.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A Warrior Chorus performer at the Aquila Theater in NYC

“Those that serve in today’s context, where the majority of people have not served, get back and now they are able to share their voice and be the modern day chorus,” He says. “Their’s is a definitive commentary on what it’s like to serve.”

The Los Angeles program is nearly finished with its study period and its veteran students will soon be creating their classical pieces for public consumption.

“I have been amazed at the great sense of solidarity between [the veterans] them as they’ve explored,” Graeser recalls. “As they’ve put pieces together in their own lives based off of what had happened 3,000 years ago, they come to say to themselves thing like: ‘No one ever listens to your story when you come home. Crazy. Oh my gosh, it’s always been this way.’ There’s something wonderfully normative about that, that they just feel like they’re suddenly in good company.”

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This famous guerrilla leader captured the general hunting him

Confederate Col. John S. Mosby was one of the world’s greatest guerrilla leaders, deploying cavalry against Union forces in lightning raids. In one impressive raid, he even managed to kidnap the Union general who commanded forces sent to stop him.


The engagement took place in March 1863, when Mosby was new to his command. He and his men were interrogating prisoners when a Union deserter laid out the location of the brigade’s picket lines and other defenses.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
John S. Mosby and his Rangers. (Photo: Public Domain)

As it turned out, the Union 2nd Vermont Brigade had moved camps, but its general decided to stay at a local doctor’s house about three miles from his closest regiment. It was the 2nd Vermont that had so often sent its cavalry forces to try and catch Mosby — and Mosby saw an opportunity to end the harassment.

Mosby created a daring plan to slip through the nearby picket lines and kidnap both Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton, the commander of 2nd Brigade, as well as the colonel who commanded the brigade’s cavalry regiment.

The Confederate forces launched their operation on the night of March 8. Mosby and 29 others followed the Union deserter through the picket lines, then cut carefully though the forest toward Fairfax Courthouse. They arrived without incident and went into action.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Union Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton with other Union soldiers. (Photo: Matthew Brady, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

They cut the telegraph wires and captured the operator as well as most of the guards in the area. They attempted to grab the cavalry colonel but learned that he had been called to Washington.

But the general was there — and he was woken by Mosby spanking his back.

“There was no time for ceremony, so I drew up the bedclothes, pulled up the general’s shirt, and gave him a spank on his bare back, and told him to get up,” Mosby later wrote.

As the general tried to understand what was going on, Mosby asked him, “Do you know Mosby, General?”

The General replied, “Yes! Have you got the rascal?”

“No,” said Mosby. “He’s got you!”

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Union Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton was captured by Confederate forces before his commission could be voted on by the Senate. (Photo: Matthew Brady, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Stoughton was captured with three other officers, a number of enlisted men, and at least 55 horses. When President Abraham Lincoln was told of the event, he supposedly said that he could always make a new brigadier general in five minutes, “but those horses cost $125 apiece!

Surprisingly, both the men of the 2nd Brigade and officers in nearby units had predicted that Stoughton would be captured if he didn’t move his headquarters, and Stoughton himself expressed concern about the thin manning of the picket lines.

The deserter stayed with Mosby’s Rangers for a year before he fell in combat.

Stoughton’s fall was, for obvious reasons, very quick. His capture was an embarrassment for the nation and his rank had not yet been confirmed by the Senate as a brigadier general. Lincoln withdrew his nomination. When Stoughton was traded back to Union lines two months later, he found that he had no military rank or position.

He left the military and died within a few years.

Mosby would go on to become a legend and survive the war. He later supported the Republican Party and was made consul to Hong Kong by President Ulysses S. Grant.

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14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times

The cacao seed was used as currency in pre-colonial times to trade for goods and services. It’s a little hard to imagine that the deceptively simple bean that comes out of the Theobroma Cacao tree could have a value greater than gold. Yet, when you consider the indigenous creation myth across various Mesoamerican cultures, you can see why it was held in high esteem.

Food of the Gods

Behind the fruit there are reasons that made it especially valuable at the time. In mythology “his arrival” is attributed to Quetzalcóatl. The story goes that he brought it to earth to show men a food that was not disdained by the gods.

Diego Perez, Editor, Dinero en Imagen

For the European settlers engaging in trade, nothing could be more advantageous: trade goods for chocolate and sell it across the Atlantic to the aristocracy at a high price. To the traders from Spain, England, Italy and the American colonies, cacao was in high demand, and since it was also a currency, money literally grew on trees.

The word cacao means “food of the gods.” At 50,000 years old, it is one of the oldest words in the world. Its origins stem from South America and travel into Central America up to Mexico. It was consumed as a drink by the Aztec nobility and was a universal currency across North, Central and South America. Theoretically, if you could travel in the Americas, the cacao would have been the Dollar of the ancient world.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
You guys remember when Scrooge McDuck had so much gold he could dive into it like a pool? (Wikimedia Commons)

Inflation resistant

Growing cacao today is a challenge, but was even more so in pre-colonial times. Cacao plantations are small operations of up to five acres to prevent the spread of disease and pests. However, the plant is very sensitive and growers are mentally prepared to lose their whole crop yield – because it happens often. Hazards like too much wind or too much water can kill trees younger than two years old.

Many varieties of cacao exist, and they can be grouped into three general divisions: forastero, criollo, and trinitario. Forastero varieties are most commonly used in commercial production, whereas criollo varieties are very susceptible to disease and are not widely grown. Trinitario is a hybrid of the forastero and criollo varieties and produces a flavourful bean that is used in high-quality dark chocolate.

L. Russell Cook, President, Chocolate and Confectionery Division, W.R. Grace & Company, New York City, 1965–73. Author of Chocolate Production and Use

For the first five years of their lives, the flowers and budding cacao seeds are trimmed. This is done to ensure the most nutrients and energy are used to grow and strengthen the tree. It is at this five-year mark when the seed pods can be harvested. When harvesting the cacao pods workers cut them off instead of ripping them off. The pods will grow again during the next season in the same location, so harvesters are careful to cause as little damage to the branches as possible.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Sweet, high-maintenance, worth a lot of money… they’re basically J-Lo (Wikimedia Commons)

The tree is also susceptible to pests such as the broad mite, flower-eating caterpillars, helopeltis and the yellow peach moth. Growers must trim excess branches and leaves to make sure it is as healthy as possible and energy isn’t diverted from essential areas. All of this, frankly, is a pain in the a** even with today’s technology, so one can appreciate how valuable the seeds were before modern agricultural practices.

Another benefit of the cacao seed as currency was that since it was biodegradable, it prevented hyperinflation by disintegrating after one year or so. However, the seeds are bulky and can get destroyed by accident when transported over long distances.

What could you buy with cacao seeds?

1 bean equals one tamale, large sapote fruit, or 20 small tomatoes.

3 beans equals a turkey egg or an avocado

3 beans equals one fish in a maize husk

30 beans equals a small rabbit

100 beans equals a female turkey or a rabbit

120 beans for shrunken beans

200-300 beans a male turkey

Additionally, in Mayan civilization you could buy:

8 to 10 equal for the services of a prostitute

10 seeds equal a rabbit

100 to 500 seeds for a male slave

1000 seeds for a female slave

You could also pay your taxes in cacao seeds and your debts. I’m submitting 10 lbs of cacao seeds to the IRS in lieu of income tax. I’m sure that will go over well.

Feature image: photo by Stefan Kuhn from Pixabay

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98-year-old grandmother wrote 7,000 letters to troops

Alleen Cooper’s son Larry was serving in Vietnam during that war — and, like many mothers who children have served in wartime, she set him letters. Her son returned from the war, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she hasn’t stopped writing.


In fact, according to WHNT.com, her son was not the first serviceman overseas to get a letter. She began writing troops during World War II.

“A lot of soldiers don’t get any mail at all,” Larry Cooper told WHNT.com, adding that Mrs. Cooper’s mission is personal.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Air Force Staff Sgt. Beatriz Baum works alongside Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Misty Parker during a scramble to unload more than 5,000 lbs. of mail slated for delivery to service members deployed to Joint Task Force Horn of Africa at the postal center at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. (U.S. Air Force photo/Daren Reehl)

According to WGNTV.com, since she started keeping count six years ago, Mrs. Cooper, a 98-year-old grandmother from California, has written over 7,000 letters by hand, and all of them have been unique and at least four pages long. And let’s just repeat the fact that she’s been doing this since World War II, folks.

Just prior to Memorial Day weekend, she connected with one of the servicemen she had written, Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Cantos. When Cantos deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, his unit had no internet access. Their only lifeline was what gets derisively called “snail mail.”

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
One of the many certificates Mrs. Cooper has received from troops she has written to. (Video screenshot from WGNTV.com)

“She would always send us clippings and jokes. She would tell us about her day,” Cantos told WHNT.com.

One of the other troops who received a letter was a wounded soldier in the hospital. He had lost an ear, and needed to get a new one.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A poster from the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the VFW, urging people to write to servicemen. (National Archives)

“All of the time I think of these people and their families at home,” Mrs. Cooper told WHNT.com.

These days, she will admit her hands are getting tired. But she will keep writing the troops for as long as she can.

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These are the former KGB bodyguards protecting Kim Jong-un from harm

Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader who lives in constant fear of assassination, has reportedly hired Russian ex-KGB bodyguards to protect him in case of an attempt on his life.


Japan’s Asahi Shinbum reported that Kim hired about 10 former KGB counter-terrorism agents to train his bodyguards on how to detect and respond to terrorist attacks.

The KGB, the former Soviet Union’s main security and spy agency, had decades of practice in defending high-value targets against attempts at regime change.

The source told Asahi Shinbum that Kim was particularly scared of US advanced-weapons systems, like the Gray Eagle drone the US is set to operate in South Korea in 2018.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
An MQ-1C Gray Eagle armed with Hellfire missiles revs up before taking flight. DoD Photo by 1st Lt. Jason Sweeney.

However, it’s unclear how counter-terrorism bodyguards could protect Kim against a drone high in the sky raining down bombs.

South Korean media has reported that the US and South Korea have been working together on a “decapitation force” to kill the North Korean leader in the event that Pyongyang becomes intolerably aggressive.

Kim has a history of going to extreme measures to shore up his reign over North Korea, with some reports saying he killed his half-brother Kim Jong Nam to thwart a Chinese-backed coup attempt.

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This is how Harry Truman’s prize swords were stolen from his Presidential Library

Presidential libraries aren’t usually the prime targets for well-executed heists, but in the case of Harry Truman’s located in Independence, Missouri, some of his rare collectibles weren’t well secured.


On the early morning of March 24, 1978, Truman’s library had one security guard stationed at the north end and he noticed a questionable woman walking around across the street — keeping the guard’s concentration (a decoy).

Related: Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

Less than 10-minutes after the guard noticed the mysterious lurking female, an additional car pulled up near the south gate of the library and the “break-in” commenced as the thieves broke through a pane of glass to gain entry.

As the alarm sounded, the singular guard dashed at full speed toward the disturbance, 100 yards away from his post to discover that the thieves had padlocked the door from the other side where the thief was about to take place.

As the guard shook the door and yelled at the burglars, he heard the sounds of glass shattering as it fell to the floor.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A view of the broken glass in the lobby exhibit case where swords and daggers were stolen. (Source: Truman Library)

The thieves took the merchandise they appeared to be after and made their escape all within less than 45-seconds after the initial alert. The rare daggers and swords that were stolen were gold and jewel encrusted art from Iran and Saudi Arabia.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
The items were the museum’s most valued items. (Source: History Channel/ Screenshot)

At the time of the robbery, the net worth of the stolen items was valued at 1 million dollars.

According to the Examiner, this case is still under investigation.

Check out the History Channel‘s video reporting on the classic capper.

(History Channel, YouTube)

Also Read: This was the RAF’s insane plan to steal a Nazi plane

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Army sends Carl Gustav to the weight control program

The Army just invoked Army Regulation 600-9 on one of its crew-served weapon systems. As a result, the M3 Multi-Role Anti-Armor Anti-Personnel Weapon System, also known as Carl Gustav, will be lighter and a little shorter.


According to a presentation at the 2017 Armament Systems Forum hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, the new M3E1 will be like the current generation of Carl. According to militaryfactory.com, the M3 recoilless rifle fires anti-armor, illumination, smoke, anti-building, and anti-personnel rounds. But the Army figured Carl could do better.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A Soldier tests the M3E1 Multi-role Anti-armor Anti-personnel Weapon System, also known as Carl Gustav. (US Army photo)

So, after the Army said to the M3, “Lose some of that weight, Carl!” here’s what happened after a lot of RD work, some of it from Sweden, according to an October 2016 US Army release.

The M3E1 comes in about 28 percent lighter. It is also 2.5-inches shorter. But Carl Gustav isn’t quite being the proverbial Carl this time — the M3 went and added something else from its visit to the fat farm: a new fire-control system.

The new system combines a laser-range finder with an optic for close-range shooting. The original versions of the M3, first introduced in 1991, used a 9mm spotting round that is a ballistic match with the 84mm round for the purposes of range-finding. As you might imagine, this wasn’t exactly the most practical method in a battlefield.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A paratrooper shoulders a Carl Gustav M3 84mm recoilless rifle while his partner optically measures the distance to a target during a certification course on Fort Bragg, N.C. (US Army photo)

Now, why is this so important? After all, Army infantry units already have the FGM-148 Javelin for anti-tank purposes, and it is a very deadly anti-tank missile. Furthermore, the M134 shoulder-fired rocket is similar.

Well, the Army added the M3 for units headed to Afghanistan a few years back, and made it a permanent part of the platoon’s arsenal last year, according to Military.com. The M3 actually offered the best of both worlds. It was cheaper than the Javelin, but it also was re-usable, as opposed to the M134.

Not bad, considering the first Carl Gustavs were built in 1948. It just goes to show that a good system can be updated and provide decades of service.

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This is what Mongol MREs looked like

It is believed that Napoleon who coined the phrase “An army marches on its stomach.”


The adage was as true then as it was in ancient times, and for the Mongols who traveled thousands of miles to conquer and plunder, eating was a daunting task.

Because of their lineage as nomads and herders, the Mongols perfected how to travel light and still be able to fill their bellies. Sure they lived off their conquered lands, but between engagements they had their own version of berserker Rip-Its.

For Mongols on the move, the food they carried was usually dried. The hordes would carry dehydrated foods like dried meat, dried curd, and 10 pounds of milk dried down to a paste.

Take the dried milk for instance. To make it, the Mongols would evaporate the milk in the sun in which it turned into a chalk-like substance that made it easy to transport. Once mixed with water, the dried milk paste turned into a low-carb fatty and quite possibly the world’s first protein shake that would suppress his appetite.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
The Mongols used mares milk to build their version of a protein shake

Another use of the milk was turning it into an alcoholic drink known as ” kumiss” or “airagh.” This was their preferred drink and was made from mare’s milk. Rubruck mentions that the Mongols made kumiss by using “a great quantity of milk, which is as sweet as cow’s as long as it is fresh, they pour it into a big skin or bottle, and they set to churning it with a stick prepared for that purpose, and which is as big as a man’s head at its lower extremity and hollowed out; and when they have beaten it sharply it begins to boil up like new wine and to sour or ferment.”

But when winter arrived, food became scarce for the horses, so they drank up all the milk themselves. With the lack of dairy, the Mongols sought other foods — ones that at time appeared stomach churning. The diet of a Mongol warrior involved just about everything that walked or crawled. According to Marco Polo:

They live off meat, milk and game and on Pharaoh’s rats (marmots or jerboa), which are plentiful everywhere in the steppes. They have no objection to eating the flesh of horses and dogs and drinking mare’s milk. In fact they eat flesh of any sort.

According to the 13th-century traveler Giovanni da Pian del Carpini:

They eat dogs, wolves, foxes and horses, and, when in difficulty, they eat human flesh. Thus, when they attacked a particular Chinese city, and their emperor himself conducted the siege, they found after they had besieged it a long while that the Tartars had used up all their supplies and did not have enough for all the men to eat, so they took one of every ten men to eat. They even eat the afterbirth which comes out of a mare with the foal. Furthermore, we saw them eat lice. They would say, ‘Why should I not eat them when they eat my children and drink their blood?’ We actually saw them eat mice.

If rations really got low, Marco Polo states that on “occasion they will sustain themselves on the blood of their horses, opening a vein and letting the blood jet into their mouths, drinking till they have had enough, and then staunching it.” However, a Mongol warrior knew not to do this or to drink from the horse too long. Horse blood was the last resort.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Dogs, horses, bugs…even people sometimes made up the Mongol horde diet. (Photo By Matthew Paris – Chronica Majora, Public Domain)

Mongols lived on what we call today a paleo diet, but calling it “ketogenic” diet sounds more accurate, as it consists of high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbs. Such a diet based on protein leaves one full. Moreover, the Chinese who ruled the Jin Empire in northeastern China noted to their surprise that no puff of smoke came from the Mongol encampment and noticed that the warriors were able to survive off little food and water for long periods.

What the Chinese soon learned is that their soldiers could not go as long as the Mongols due to their dependence on carbs. Without a steady amount of carbs to stay energized, the Mongols could go for a few days before hunger set in since their bodies used the fats and proteins as energy. Overall, the Mongols were not fussy eaters as the accounts show.

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This Irish woman shot and almost killed Mussolini in 1926

Benito Mussolini was a bad person. I don’t think there’s any argument against that. The Italian dictator is one of the biggest mass murderer in history. Moreover, his fascist totalitarian regime inspired Adolf Hitler whom he later aligned with and helped plunge Europe into WWII. Naturally, there were plenty of people who would have liked to assassinate Mussolini while he was in power. Four assassination attempts were made, but only one came close to succeeding.

Violet Gibson was born in 1876 to an affluent Anglo-Irish family. Her father was Lord Ashbourne, a senior Irish judicial figure. During her youth, Gibson served as a debutante in Queen Victoria’s court. She grew up often traveling between London and Dublin. However, she was described as a sickly child who suffered from hysteria, what we would call a physical and/or mental illness today.

When Gibson was in her mid-20s, she converted to Catholicism. Later, she moved to Paris where she worked for pacifist organizations. She became passionate about both religion and politics. It was a combination of these factors that led her to make the attempt on Mussolini’s life in 1926.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Gibson’s mug shot (Italian Ministry of the Interior)

On April 7, 1926, the Italian dictator delivered a speech to a conference of surgeons in Rome. He was walking through the Piazza del Campidoglio when a “disheveled-looking” 50-year-old Gibson approached him. However, as she raised her pistol to Mussolini’s head, he turned to look at a chorus of students who began singing in his honor. As a result, Gibson’s first shot only grazed the bridge of Mussolini’s nose. Although she fired a second shot, the bullet lodged itself in the barrel. Gibson was pounced on by the crowd before she could fire a second shot.

Gibson was dragged away by police and deported back to England. Doctors declared her insane and her family placed her in a Northampton mental asylum. She remained there until her death in 1956 at the age of 79. Although her family distanced themselves from her at the time, her surviving family members are making pushes to have her remembered as a political hero rather than an insane person. After all, she almost killed Mussolini.

Although the Italian dictator survived his close call with Gibson’s gun, the event was an outrage to him. “He was very misogynistic, as was the entire fascist regime,” said historian Frances Stonor Saunders said of Mussolini. “He was shocked to be shot by a woman. And he was shocked to be shot by a foreigner. It was a kind of injury to his great ego.” You never want to be on the bad side of an angry Irish woman with a pistol.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Mussolini wearing a bandage after getting shot by Gibson (Public Domain)
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Can ‘The Punisher’ outmatch ISIS in the Philippines?

While the world focuses on Syria and Iraq, the menace of Islamic State is quietly expanding into Southeast Asia.


Eight thousand miles from the Middle East frontline, the Philippines has become the region’s main transit hub for Jihadists traveling to Syria, complete with a network of terror training camps.

Not that this is widely known – even by those living in the country. Contrasting against strong-armed efforts in Malaysia and Indonesia, the Filipino government – preferring to label terrorists as ‘criminal gangs’ or ‘bandits’ – has appeared weak.

Until now, that is. Enter the new president: Rodrigo Duterte.

Known as “Duterte Harry” or “the Punisher” after allegations of vigilante killings to cut crime in the city of Davao, where he served as mayor, the President’s pledges include dumping a hundred thousand gangsters’ corpses in the Manila Bay. Gangs, bandits or terrorists – the growing number with affiliation to Islamic State warrant his immediate focus.

Myriad Militant Problem

Terrorism is nothing new to the Philippines. Separatists, Communists, Islamists have all utilised the southern island of Mindanao and the surrounding Sulu Sea archipelago as a remote safe haven for decades.

Today’s is a myriad militant problem riddled with competing interests, egos and continual splits.

The plethora of rival groups plays into the hands of more entrenched and radical elements with a global agenda and deeper financing. Islamic State has taken up where Al-Qaeda left off in building links to militias such as Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Justice Movement.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Bangsamoro Justice Movement, led by Usman Basit (tauntingly unmasked), is among local groups allied to Islamic State.

Islamic State’s motive in the region is clear. The Philippines is the only immediately viable launch pad for its Southeast Asia aspirations. Obtaining a foothold here would facilitate a satellite province, or wilayat, endorsing the Islamic State’s objective of a “borderless sphere of influence in Asia.”

Quite how this ambition plays out will be determined in part by a political decision looming June 30 on autonomy for the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao.

Amidst all the infighting, groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been supporting the legal process to create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

The aspiration for the Bangsamoro Basic Law has significantly reduced terrorism in Mindanao. For now, the region’s separatists are likely to resist ties to Islamic State for fear it could derail progress toward autonomy. Any failure to enact the law, however, is almost certain to trigger a resurgence of attacks and a search for scale.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington

Islamic State has demonstrated an ability to seize opportunities offered by regional extremist conflicts. It operates by first requiring a proposal detailing the local militia’s governance strategy. The next stage is identifying a collectively chosen leader.

Among its quarrelsome Filipino members – whose rival leaders have on occasion ordered their men to shoot at each other – this is likely to be the biggest sticking point in any affiliation with IS.

Nevertheless, the potential rewards for both side are big enough to motivate solutions. The porous nature of maritime routes into Malaysia and Indonesia, and a lack of security around the Mindanao islands, offers Islamic State extensive supply and logistical routes.

Despite declarations to the contrary from the Philippine government and security agencies, Islamic State has already made in-roads to some of the local jihadist groups in Mindanao.

Black Standard

A stronghold of conservative Sunni Islam, the Mindanao people are largely impoverished, long politicised, disenfranchised and aggrieved. They’re a Muslim minority in a country that is 87% Roman Catholic. Parts of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago once belonged to the Islamic Sultanate of Sulu, founded in 1405 – a reference point not lost on Islamic State’s recruiters. The Black Standard synonymous with al-Qaeda and now Islamic State has been seen with the words ‘Islamic State of Mindanao and Sulu’ on several videos and social media pages of Filipino extremists this year.

The area is fertile ground for Islamic State’s efforts to spread its Salafist ideology, and can become a base for further allegiances across Southeast Asia. Such ties are already taking root, as demonstrated by the attacks on Jakarta in January, the arrest of suicide bombers during planning phases in Kuala Lumpur the same month, and the ongoing internment of suspected jihadists across Malaysia since the middle of last year.

Should the Bangsamoro Basic Law pass on June 30, turning the region historically referred to as Bangsamoro, or ‘region of the Moros,’ into a politically autonomous province, then Islamic fundamentalism will be championed by lawful separatism. It should help to slow the local aspirations of Islamic State.

Failure to ratify, on the other hand, could be a catalyst for resurgent separatist terrorism. As in the past, Mindanao could become a total no-go zone for the government. Without doubt, this would serve to benefit the plethora of radical jihadist militants and their aspirations, including Islamic State.

The new President has expressed support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law and wants to move toward federalism to bring peace to Mindanao.

If he can achieve this, the Punisher would warrant a new name: the Peacemaker.

But such rational thinking might be too much to expect. This is, after all, a president who publicly entertained rape fantasies and called Pope Francis a ‘son of a whore’ after the papal entourage tied up traffic in the already-busy streets of Manila last year. His unapologetic stance toward the Vatican, though distasteful toward many of his Catholic constituents, may be an indication of his refusal to back down from the more existential threat posed by Islamic State.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
Phill Hynes

The authors of this report are Phill Hynes and Hrishiraj Bhattacharjee, analysts at ISS Risk, a frontier and emerging markets political risk management company covering North, South and Southeast Asia from its headquarters in Hong Kong.

 

 

Check out more in-depth reporting and analysis from Frontera News here.

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New virtual reality lets operators simulate jumps into combat

American special operators are using a new virtual reality trainer to simulate their air insertions before they jump, allowing them to conduct near-perfect rehearsals over and over before the actual mission.


PARASIM incorporates a harness tailor-made to parachute manufacturer’s specifications, a virtual reality headset, and a digital environment using weather simulation and satellite or map imagery. All of this put together allows operators to create custom mission profiles and then practice them.

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A jumper descends to the Earth in a PARASIM virtual reality simulation.(Photo: PARASIM)

“If I need to insert a SEAL team in Syria tomorrow night, all I need is a latitude and longitude,” David Landon, president and CEO of Systems Technology Inc., told Defense News. “So by the time they actually make the jump, they’ve already done it. There are no surprises.”

House votes to allow female WWII pilots to be buried at Arlington
A city in the PARASIM virtual reality environment as viewed through an avatar’s night vision. (Photo: PARASIM)

The system can even handle multiple jumpers in a single simulation, allowing a unit to virtually jump as a team and work together to make the proper insertion to the target area.

Every military branch in the Department of Defense has purchased the system, according to Systems Technology Inc.’s website.

 

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Goodbye Ivan! US expels 35 Russians, shutters 2 spy stations over hacking allegations

The United States says it is expelling nearly three dozen Russian diplomats as it announced new economic sanctions and other punitive measures in response to alleged Russian hacking during the presidential election.


The moves, announced on December 29 by the White House, had been widely publicized ahead of time, including by President Barack Obama in an interview earlier this month.

But the moves also come less than a month before Obama leaves office and his successor, Donald Trump, assumes the presidency. Trump has repeatedly brushed aside intelligence assessments and White House statements about the alleged Russian hacking, raising the question about whether the new sanctions will remain in place after his inauguration on January 20.

A White House statement said two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York, believed to be involved in intelligence gathering, were ordered closed, and 35 Russians, identified as intelligence operatives, were being expelled from the country.

Additionally, nine top officials and entities associated with the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, and the main Russian security agency, the FSB, were being hit with new financial and travel sanctions.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in a statement.

The CIA, the FBI, and the broader U.S. intelligence community have concluded that hackers, likely operating with the authority of the highest levels of the Russian government, broke into Internet servers and e-mail accounts belonging to the U.S. Democratic Party, and other officials during the election campaign.

On December 9, The Washington Post reported that the CIA had determined the intent of the Russia hackers was to help Trump win the presidency, not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.

The New York Times also reported that intelligence officials had concluded Russian hackers accessed Republican Party computers but didn’t release potentially damaging e-mails or other materials.

That led analysts to conclude that the intent of the Russian hacking was to in fact help propel Trump to the White House. He ultimately prevailed in the November 8 election, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Those conclusions have been repeatedly dismissed by Trump. In a December 11 television interview, he asserted that the CIA conclusions were being used by Democrats to undermine his electoral victory.

But Trump has also faced growing pressure in Congress, including by top Republican lawmakers, who have called for a full inquiry into the extent of Russian hacking.

At least three separate Senate committees are slated to launch investigations in January.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it was behind any hack of the Democratic Party or U.S. electoral systems, though President Vladimir Putin has also made cryptic comments suggesting possible involvement of Kremlin officials.

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