If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn't get into a car - We Are The Mighty
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If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car


  • Nuclear blasts create fallout, which can harm you with large doses of radiation.
  • Cars offer little protection from fallout.
  • A surer way to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion is to go indoors, stay put, and listen to the radio.

The first thing you’d see if a nuclear bomb exploded nearby is a flood of light so bright, you may think the sun blew up.

Wincing from temporary blindness, you’d scan the horizon and see an orange fireball. The gurgling flames would rise and darken into purple-hued column of black smoke, which would turn in on itself. As a toadstool-like mushroom took shape, the deafening shock front of the blast would rip through the area — and possibly knock you off your feet.

Congratulations! In this hypothetical scenario, you’ve just survived a nuclear blast with an energy output of about 10 kilotons (20 million pounds) of TNT. That’s roughly 66% of energy released by either atom bomb dropped on Japan in 1945.

This scenario may sound far-fetched, but more than 14,900 nuclear weapons exist in the world, and kiloton-class nukes (like the one we just described) are now proliferating in favor of larger weapons. In fact, a 10-kiloton-or-less nuclear detonation by a terrorist is the first of 15 disaster scenarios that the US government has planned for.

No one could fault you for panicking after the sight and roarof a nuclear blast. But there is one thing you should never do, according to Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and radiation expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“Don’t get in your car,” he tells Business Insider — don’t try to drive, and don’t assume that the glass and metal of a vehicle can protect you.

Why vehicles and nuclear survival don’t mix

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Not where you want to be.

Avoiding driving after a nuclear blast is wise because streets would probably be full of erratic drivers, accidents, and debris. But Buddemeier says there’s another important reason to ditch the car: a fearsome after-effect of nuclear blasts called fallout.

Fallout is a complex mixture of fission products, or radioisotopes, that are created by splitting atoms. Many of the fission products decay rapidly and emit gamma radiation, an invisible yet highly energetic form of light. Exposure to too much of this radiation in a short time can damage the body’s cells and its ability to fix itself — a condition called acute radiation sickness.

“It also affects the immune system and the your ability to fight infections,” Buddemeier says.

Only very dense and thick materials, like many feet of dirt or inches of lead, can reliably stop the fallout.

“The fireball from a 10-kiloton explosion is so hot, it actually shoots up into the atmosphere at over 100 miles per hour,” Buddemeier says. “These fission products mix in with the dirt and debris that’s drawn up into the atmosphere from the fireball.”

Trapped in sand, dirt, cement, metal, and anything else in the immediate blast area, the gamma-shooting fission products can fly more than five miles into the air. The larger pieces drop back down, while lighter particles can be carried by the wind before raining over distant areas.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
A simulation of nuclear fallout conditions over Washington DC at different times of the year. | Bruce Buddemeier/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

“Close in to the [blast] site, they may be a bit larger than golf-ball-size, but really what we’re talking about are things like salt- or sand-size particles,” Buddemeier says. “It’s the penetrating gamma radiation coming off of those particles that’s the hazard.”

Which brings us back to why a car is a terrible place to take shelter.

“Modern vehicles are made of glass and very light metals, and they offer almost no protection,” he says. “You’re just going to sit on a road some place [and be exposed].”

Buddemeier says he’s asked people what their knee-jerk response to a nuclear blast might be. It wasn’t comforting.

“There was actually a lot of folks who had this notion — and it may be a Hollywood notion — of ‘oh, jump in the car and try to skedaddle out of town if you see a mushroom cloud.'” he says.

However, fallout is carried by high-altitude winds that are “often booking along at 100 miles per hour,” he says, and “often not going in the same direction as the ground-level winds. So your ability to know where the fallout’s gonna go, and outrun it, are… Well, it’s very unlikely.”

What you should do instead of driving

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
The protection factor that various buildings, and locations within them, offer from the radioactive fallout of a nuclear blast. The higher the number, the greater the protection. | Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Your best shot at survival after a nuclear disaster is to get into some sort of “robust structure” as quickly as possible and stay there, Buddemeier says. He’s a fan of the mantra “go in, stay in, tune in”.

“Get inside … and get to the center of that building. If you happen to have access to below-ground areas, getting below-ground is great,” he says. “Stay in: 12 to 24 hours.”

The reason to wait is that levels of gamma and other radiation fall off exponentially after a nuclear blast as “hot” radioisotopes decay into more stable atoms and pose less of a danger. This slowly shrinks the dangerous fallout zone — the area where high-altitude winds have dropped fission products. (Instead of staying put, however, a recent study also suggested that moving to a stronger shelter or basement may not be a bad idea if you first ducked into a flimsy one.)

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
The dangerous fallout zone (dark purple) shrinks quickly, while the much less dangerous hot zone (faint purple) grows for about 24 hours before shrinking back. Bruce Buddemeier. | Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

“Try to use whatever communication tools you have,” he says. He added that a hand-cranked radio is a good object to keep at work and home, since emergency providers, in addition to broadcasting instructions, will be tracking the fallout cloud and trying to broadcast where any safe corridors for escape are located.

There is only one exception to the “no cars” rule, says Buddemeier: If you’re in a parking garage with your car, the concrete might act as a shield. In that case, you could stay there and listen to a radio inside your car.

If everyone followed these guidelines after nuclear blast, he says, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Upgrades complete for the Air Force’s massive C-5 Galaxies

Lockheed Martin said in early August 2018 that the last of 52 upgraded C-5M Super Galaxy cargo planes had been delivered to the Air Force, finishing the nearly two-decade-long modernization of the service’s largest plane.

Lockheed began work on the Air Force’s Reliability and Re-engineering Program (RERP) in 2001 and turned over the first operational C-5M Super Galaxy, as the latest version is called, on Feb. 9, 2009.


In the 17 years since the RERP effort started, 49 C-5Bs, two C-5Cs, and one C-5A were upgraded, according to a Lockheed release, first cited by Air Force Times. The upgrades extend the aircraft’s service life into the 2040s, the contractor said.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

A C-5M Super Galaxy lands at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, April 4, 2016.

(US Air Force photo)

The program involved 70 modifications to improve the plane’s reliability, efficiency, maintainability, and availability, including changes to the airframe; environmental, pneumatic, and hydraulic systems; landing gear, and flight controls.

The main new feature is more powerful engines, upgraded from four General Electric TF-39 engines to General Electric F-138 engines. The new engines, which are also quieter, allow the C-5M to haul more cargo with less room needed for takeoff.

“With the capability inherent in the C-5M, the Super Galaxy is more efficient and more reliable, and better able to do its job of truly global strategic airlift,” Patricia Pagan, a senior program manager at Lockheed, said in the release.

All together, the RERP upgrades yield “a 22 percent increase in thrust, a shorter takeoff roll; [and] a 58 percent improvement in climb rate,” according to release, which said the modifications give the C-5M greater fuel efficiency and reduce its need for tanker support.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

Airmen and Marines load vehicles into a C-5M Super Galaxy at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2014.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock)

The C-5 stands 65 feet high with a length of 247 feet and a 223-foot wingspan. The upgraded C-5M can haul 120,000 pounds of cargo more than 5,500 miles — the distance from Dover Air Force base in Delaware to Incirlik airbase in Turkey — without refueling. Without cargo, that range jumps to more than 8,000 miles.

The plane can carry up to 36 standard pallets and 81 troops at the same time or a wide variety of gear, including tanks, helicopters, submarines, equipment, and food and emergency supplies.

The first C-5A was delivered to the Air Force in 1970. By 1989, 50 C-5Bs had joined the 76 C-5As that were already in service. Two C-5Cs, modified to carry the space shuttle’s large cargo container, were also delivered in 1989.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

An Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy taking off.

(Lockheed Martin photo)

The modernization push

The Air Force began a C-5 modernization push in 1998, starting the RERP in 2001 with plans to deliver 52 upgraded planes by fiscal year 2018. The remainder of the C-5 fleet was to be retired by September 2017.

But the C-5 fleet has face administrative and operational issues in recent years.

Due to budget sequestration, a number of C-5s were moved to backup status in over the past few years, meaning the Air Force still had the aircraft but no personnel or funding to operate them. In early 2017, Air Force officials said they wanted to move at least eight C-5s from backup status to active status.

“I need them back because there’s real-world things that we’ve got to move, and they give me that … added assurance capability,” then-Air Mobility Commander Gen. Carlton Everhart said at the time.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

A C-5M Super Galaxy taxis down the flight line before takeoff at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Aug. 17, 2015.

(US. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

In the months since, the Air Force’s C-5s have encountered maintenance issues that required stand-downs.

In mid-July 2017, Air Mobility Command grounded the 18 C-5s — 12 primary and six backups — stationed at Dover Air Force Base after the nose landing-gear unit in one malfunctioned for the second time in 60 days. Days later, that order was extended to all of the Air Force’s 56 C-5s, which had to undergo maintenance assessments.

The issue was with the ball-screw assembly, which hindered the extension and retraction of the landing gear. The parts needed to fix the problem were no longer in production, however, but the Air Force was able to get what it needed from the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where unused or out-of-service aircraft are stored.

In early 2018, the nose landing gear again caused problems when it failed to extend all the way for an Air Force Reserve C-5M landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The plane landed on its nose and skidded about three-quarters of the way down the runway. The cause of the accident and extent of the damage were not immediately clear, but none of the 11 crew members on board were hurt.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force delays moving forward with E-4B Doomsday plane replacement effort

The U.S. Air Force is delaying the official solicitation for its E-4B Nightwatch replacement, citing a new acquisition strategy approach.

In an update last week, the service said it recently classified its Survivable Airborne Operations Center, or SAOC, Weapon System program — intended to replace the infamous nuclear command-and control aircraft commonly known as the “Doomsday” plane — as an Acquisition Category 1D program.


That category covers major procurements, typically costing billions of dollars. The “D” classification requires a defense acquisition executive, who reports to the defense or deputy defense secretary, to oversee the program.

Because of the change, the request for proposal “originally planned for release in December 2020 is delayed,” according to the presolicitation notice. The service said additional timeline details would be forthcoming.

Last December, Congress authorized .6 million for the SAOC’s research and development.

The Air Force and the Navy — which oversees the E-6B Mercury fleet, a companion aircraft to the E-4B — want to consolidate the two aircraft’s missions.

The E-4B, also known as the National Airborne Operations Center, can be used by the president and defense secretary to execute operations in the event of a nuclear war; the E-6B “looking glass” aircraft serves as an airborne communications relay between the Pentagon’s National Command Authority and U.S. nuclear submarine, bomber and missile forces.

The Navy keeps 16 E-6B aircraft, which are based on a commercial Boeing 707 and began flying in the early 1990s. The Air Force has four E-4Bs, which are modified versions of the Boeing 747 and have been in service since the 1970s.

Traditionally used by defense secretaries for transport around the world, the aging Nightwatch had to ditch that secondary mission because too many E-4Bs required maintenance, according to a report from DefenseOne. The website noted that the E-4B and the two planes used by the president are among the oldest 747-200s still flying.

Small fleets are a drain on the service because they drive up operational costs, according to a 2019 report, “The Air Force of the Future: A Comparison of Alternative Force Structures,” by Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“[The problem] that the Air Force has right now, which is making its operating costs so much higher, is because they have so many small fleets,” he said.

The E-4B was built to withstand an electromagnetic pulse in the event of a nuclear blast. The Air Force is hoping for the same hardened architecture in its replacement.

“In case of national emergency or destruction of ground command control centers, the SAOC aircraft will provide a highly survivable command, control and communications platform to direct US forces, execute emergency war orders, and coordinate actions by civil authorities,” according to the service’s initial notice, posted last December.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The newest underwater drones can do what submarines can’t

The Marlin is an unmanned underwater vehicle that is currently used in a variety of applications, but primarily for searching for stuff.


You may be wondering – why would you use an unmanned vehicle underwater? After all, we’re paying through the nose for nuclear-powered attack submarines. Why can’t they do they job? It’s a very good question. One of the big reasons is that nuclear attack submarines are primarily designed to sink enemy ships and attack. This requires that they be built very differently.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

The Marlin can be deployed from the surface or from underwater.

(Photo by Lockheed)

Unmanned underwater vehicles, or UUVs (also called drones) are very useful for looking for things on the ocean floor. First of all, you can send them into hostile territory or a dangerous area (like a minefield), and really you just have to worry about the accountants if the drone hits the mine. Second, they can spend a lot of time searching, because they don’t need to take breaks to feed themselves or sleep or other time-consuming human endeavors. Third, because they don’t have to haul around the stuff that humans need to survive and function, they can be a lot smaller.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

The Marlin Mk 2 can operate at depths of up to 1,000 feet, and has a top speed of four knots.

(Photo by Lockheed)

According to information obtained from Lockheed at the 2018 SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland, two versions of the Marlin are available or in the works. One, the Marlin Mk 2, is able to operate at depths of up to 1,000 feet and operate for up to 24 hours. It has a top speed of four knots. The Marlin Mk 3 is much larger, has a minimum endurance of 20 hours, a top speed of five knots, and can operate at depths of up to 4,000 feet. They can be deployed from a surface vessel or from underwater.

These days, when you are searching for something in the ocean, it can take a lot of time. And unlike the character from Finding Nemo, these Marlins won’t give you some snarky sass.

popular

35 years ago, the Challenger exploded. Could it happen again?

In January 1986, the country was buzzing with excitement. Seven astronauts were heading to space, including a civilian. An ordinary teacher, Christa McAuliffe, would be the first average Joe in space. The Challenger shuttle had already completed nine successful missions. This one should have been no different. 

The crew of the Challenger shuttle
The crew of the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle.

Tragically, it was. Viewers looked on in horror as steam and fire began streaming from the shuttle just minutes after launch. The Challenger exploded, killing everyone aboard. So what happened, exactly? More importantly, could it happen again? 

By 1986, NASA had plenty of experience with space flight.

NASA announced the first manned, reusable spacecraft in 1976. They named it a space shuttle. Just five years later, they took the Columbia shuttle for a test spin. It went without a hitch. The Challenger came along in 1983, and again the mission went swimmingly. The shuttle went on to make eight more voyages before 1986.

The 10th voyage included something unique: an average high school social studies teacher. 37-year-old Christa McAuliffe won a spot through NASA’s new Teacher in Space initiative, which aimed to motivate students to set their sights on future careers in technology, science, and space flight. As it turns out, the mission may have had the opposite effect.

The Challenger’s 10th expedition should have been a slam dunk.

The mission was intended to launch on January 22nd from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch was pushed back because of bad weather and technical issues. On the 28th, NASA pushed ahead with the launch. Engineers on the project were uneasy. They spoke up, telling their superiors that some of the shuttle’s components weren’t intended to function in cold weather. The rubber O-rings, in particular, were prone to failure at low temps. The Challenger launched anyway. 

After just 73 seconds, the shuttle exploded over hundreds of onlookers. The families of the astronauts on board watched in horror from the ground, while the rest of the country watched it live on the news. The shuttle landed in the ocean, in pieces. Among a crew of seven, there wasn’t a single survivor. 

The challenger shuttle exploding
The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center.

It was an ordinary expedition. And that was the problem. 

The nation was understandably put off by future space travel. President Reagan launched a commission to find the cause of the explosion in hopes of correcting the issue for future space missions. After analysis by a team of experts that included the famous Neil Armstrong, the commission concluded that the engineers were right. The rubber O-rings that were intended to seal the Challenger’s rocket booster had cracked from the cold. Flames were able to escape the booster, damaging a fuel tank and destroying the shuttle’s integrity. 

The company that designed the boosters, Morton Thiokol, was aware of potential issues. Managers at NASA were also aware of the risks, but after several successful missions, they didn’t take them seriously. 

And that was the problem. The mission was so routine, that the details were largely ignored; even details that spelled out the difference between a historic success and a crushing tragedy.

Could another explosion like the Challenger’s happen? Absolutely.

Have we learned from our own hubris? Hopefully. 

After the Challenger explosion, NASA was taken down a few pegs. They spent two years refining their design before launching a new shuttle, the Discovery. That shuttle went on to carry out several successful missions, which included the construction of the International Space Station, or ISI. 

But in 2003, a second shuttle exploded. The Columbia failed to reenter the atmosphere, disintegrating in mid-air. Once again, all seven passengers were killed. Missions resumed in 2005, but in 2011, the space shuttle program was officially ended. The risk of space shuttle travel was simply too high for the potential reward. 

Knowing human beings, and American human beings, in particular, it’s doubtful that our future in space is over. Space shuttles were risky and experimental, but the astronauts on board knew that. Much like the mountaineers who climb Everest or Lindbergh’s first transatlantic flight, those who explore space are powerfully driven to do so- no matter the cost. 

While Christa McAuliffe paid the ultimate price, her backup, a fellow educator named Barbara Morgan, made it safely to space and back in 2007. The Challenger disaster taught us that when lives are on the line, there’s no room for arrogance. Just a sliver of impatience can be deadly. Teachers in space taught us to keep trying anyway.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Updates to Post-9/11 Gi Bill transfers are coming

The transferability option under the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. The request to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents must be completed while serving as an active member of the Armed Forces. The Department of Defense determines whether or not you can transfer benefits to your family. Once the DoD approves benefits for transfer, the new beneficiaries apply for them at Veterans Affairs.

The option to transfer is open to any member of the armed forces active duty or Selected Reserve, officer or enlisted who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and meets the following criteria:


  • Has at least six years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval and agrees to serve four additional years in the armed forces from the date of election.
If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

  • Has at least 10 years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval, is precluded by either standard policy (by service branch or DoD) or statute from committing to four additional years and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute.
  • Transfer requests are submitted and approved while the member is in the armed forces.
  • Effective July 12, 2019, eligibility to transfer benefits will be limited to service members with at least 6 years but not more than 16 years of active duty or selected reserve service. So service members with more than 16 years of service should transfer benefits before July 12, 2019.

For more information, go to https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_transfer.asp.

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

Articles

This stunning video reveals what it’s like to serve in the Indian Army

Much of the world knows how visually stunning films from India can be, especially since Bollywood produces an incredible number of colorful and evocative films every year. So it makes sense their recruiting videos would be just as visually appealing.


From the Indian Army’s YouTube page, comes a video titled “Indian Army: A Life Less Ordinary,” and it’s quite stunning.

The video gives an interesting look inside a foreign military, showing everything from troops marching, physical training, operating in the mountains, and special operations forces jumping out of airplanes.

YouTube comments, notorious for being so bad they sap people’s faith in humanity (they’re so bad Forbes wrote about them), are overwhelmingly positive, especially among those who appear to be the target age range for joining. Another win for the Indian Army.

It even starts with a little hat tip to famed Revolutionary War patriot captain John Paul Jones.

Check out the Indian Army’s full page of videos. They have some interesting recreations of the ADGPI’s win at the Battle of Haji Pir

NOW: The 15 Best Foreign War Movies

Articles

A US congressman is making AK-47 rifles like the ones he faced in Iraq

A U.S. congressman and former Army infantry officer has started a company that makes an exact replica of the rifle wielded by soldiers he fought against in Iraq.


Dubbed the “Tabuk,” the Iraqi-made AK-47-style rifle remains a rare collectible and cannot be brought back to the United States. However, veterans who want a souvenir of their service in Iraq can get one made in detail to look and act the part.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

And best of all, they have Iraq veteran to thank.

Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell is one of the founders and owners of Two Rivers Arms in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is making the replica Tabuk rifles and other Iraqi-designed arms. Retired from the Army in 2006 after helping lead the mission to capture Saddam Hussein in Iraq during Operation Red Dawn, Russell is now a Republican congressman representing Oklahoma’s 5th district.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Two Rivers Arms co-founder Steve Russell, retired in 2006 after 21 years of service. In that time, he served in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq receiving the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device and Oak Leaf Cluster. While serving in Iraq Lieutenant Colonel Russell’s unit played a key role in Operation Red Dawn, the capture of Saddam Hussein. (Photo from Jorge Amselle)

The replica Tabuk his company makes is a semi-automatic, long-stroke gas piston operated rifle chambered in 7.62×39 mm with a rotating bolt and firing from a detachable 30-round box magazine. And all of the original markings on an Iraqi Tabuk have been replicated to exacting detail.

In the Late 1970s Saddam Hussein ordered his Ministry of Defense to start production on a domestically made variant of the AKM. This was in the middle of the on again, off again war between Iraq and Iran and a reliable supply of small arms was needed. As the Iraqi military already had a good relationship with the former (at that time current) Yugoslavia an easy partnership was formed and tooling and training delivered.

The new Iraqi made AKMs were dubbed the Tabuk and were identical copies of the Yugo M70B1 and M70AB2 rifles.

Russell and his company spared no expense in making the replica Tabuk as close to the ones U.S. troops saw in Iraq as possible. In fact, they’re so authentic looking, Two Rivers Arms-made Tabuk rifles were used in the movie “American Sniper.”

The right side of the rear sight base on the Two Rivers-made rifle is marked “Tabuk” and “Cal. 7.62x39mm” in English just as on the original. Two Rivers Arms took special care to match the style, size and font of all the engravings using original samples. On the left side of the rear sight block is found the same text as on the right but in Arabic.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
(Photo from Two Rivers Arms)

In between the name and caliber designation is the lion circle emblem that appears on all Tabuks. This is supposed to represent the Lion of Babylon standing in front of a pyramid and surrounded by a circle. The lion is standing over a prostrate man and has a saddle on its back as in legend it was ridden by Ishtar the Babylonian goddess of love and war.

A final touch of authenticity is that every rifle comes with an exact reproduction of the Iraqi instruction manual issued to troops and manufactured from an original and hard to find manual. It is of course in Arabic.

The Two Rivers Arms Tabuk replica rifle comes in at about $1,200.

 

Featured

5 reasons why our military mothers are the best

Our mothers put up with so much and they never get the credit or recognition they deserve. They carried us for nine months, spent every waking moment of our first few years diligently caring for us, and tried their best to make us our best. Then, after we turn 18, we go to war and we stop calling.

We rarely ask for their advice and often jump face-first into the very potholes they told us to avoid — and still, they couldn’t be any prouder.


This one goes out to all you lovely military moms out there. This is why you’re the best.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

The “My child is an Airman/Soldier/Marine/Sailor” bumper sticker is far more impressive than any college.

(Photo by Cpl. Mackenzie Carter)

They’re brought into the military life while stuck with civilians

More often than not, our mothers don’t really get a say on whether we join the military. Sure, she’ll be a little disappointed when it finally sets in that their kid isn’t going to be a millionaire brain surgeon who can afford to buy her a beautiful mansion (sorry, mom, but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen with my high-school grades), but they’re still proud of their baby.

Next, they’re sucked into the military lifestyle and there’s no way of backing out. They’ll try to move on as if everything is normal, but they’ll find that their patience with civilian moms will quickly wear thin.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

The pain is all worth it for the moment that plane lands, though.

(Photo by Capt. Richard Packer)

They’re heartbroken almost the entire time we’re gone

Deployments are rough on everyone. In our absence, friends we once knew change entirely and even some lovers fade away. But our mommas will always remain. They’ll never stop thinking of us as their babies.

Sure, most moms can keep their composure in front of others, but there isn’t a moment that goes by that they’re not thinking of us.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

They may not get info on the exact moment you’re landing until just hours beforehand, but you can be certain they’ll be there!

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason)

They go months without knowing if we’re okay

Communications blackouts are no joke. When something major happens, troops will be told to cut off all communication with the folks back home. These blackouts happen without notice.

Not to make everyone feel horribly guilty, but, uh… sometimes we tend to do this accidentally by using our few phone calls back home to check up on our significant other instead of letting our mothers know that we’re doing fine.

Sorry, ma.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

And in return, one of the few gifts we can give back is allowing them to pin rank on our uniforms. It may not seem like much but, to them, it means the world.

(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alana Langdon)

They’re always on-point with care packages

Without exception, care packages are loved and appreciated by deployed troops. It’s always nice when schools, churches, and other organizations send out the standard collection of socks, baby powder, and Girl Scout Cookies, but our moms know how to out-do everyone.

Our moms have read through every single article on the internet about care packages and what to put in them. They’ll toss in home-made cookies, personal photos, and things we’ll actually cherish while deployed. After all, mom knows best.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson)

They do everything in their power to keep you stress-free

If there’s one skill that every mother learns to master over 18+ years of childrearing, it’s how to handle insane and ridiculous problems. Putting out match-sized fires is nothing when they’ve learned to deal with forest fires.

You might realize it, but our moms are our best friends while we’re deployed. They’re our bakers, our financial advisers, our babysitters, our confidants, our emotional rock, and, if you’re like me and had the pleasure of enduring a deteriorating marriage while deployed, our enforcers (my mom is badass like that).

Above all, your mother is the one woman on this Earth who will love you most.

Articles

This filmmaker is the first Post-9/11 vet to be nominated for an Oscar

Henry Hughes deployed twice to Afghanistan as an airborne infantry officer and is now hoping his debut short film, “Day One” will bring home an Oscar on February 28.


If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

Day One, which follows a female Afghan-American interpreter named Feda on her first day of patrols in Afghanistan, is Hughes’ first movie.

“I didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” Hughes told WATM about being nominated for an Oscar for his first film. “It’s a wonderful, serendipitous, golden ticket-type thing.”

In the film, the interpreter and the infantry platoon she works with go to the home of a suspected insurgent. At the house, the mission quickly gets complicated as the insurgent’s pregnant wife goes into labor. The interpreter, the platoon leader, and the insurgent all have to navigate the needs of the mother, the child, and the social and religious customs of Afghanistan.

It’s complicated stuff and very intense.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Henry Hughes and his interpreter purchase items from a stall in Afghanistan during a deployment. (Photo courtesy Henry Hughes)

The story is inspired by real events, and most of the details come from Hughes’ experiences in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He decided to focus on the interpreter instead of the platoon leader so the movie would feel fresh to audiences used to seeing things from a soldier’s point of view.

“On my second tour I had a female interpreter,” he said. “She is an American, an Afghan-American. And I kind of just realized that if I was going to tell a story about our community, about our experiences, we needed a new way to get into it.”

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car

Following this woman who was new to the war gave him a chance to show the dual nature of combat.

“I thought, maybe we hadn’t seen something that was as enlightening as some of the moments in combat felt to me,” Hughes said. “Very sublime, hyperbolic. Where things are beatiful and kind of harsh at the same time. And I thought a way to do that would be to go through this woman who has to deal with both these gender issues and the culture issues.”

Learn more about the movie at its website and check out the trailer below. “Day One” will be available as a streaming movie for rental or purchase March 15th on Vimeo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV3IgCTIDYkfeature=youtu.be

Articles

A judge ruled this veteran is a US citizen. Now he faces deportation to Mexico

A decorated US Marine Corps veteran, who a federal judge ruled was an American citizen, is facing deportation to Mexico in a case that has been criticized as a cruel and extraordinary application of immigration laws.


The US government’s ongoing effort to deport George Ybarra, who is currently locked up in an Arizona detention center, has shed light on the vulnerabilities of foreign-born Americans who have served in the military, along with the deportation threats that can plague even those who are deemed to be citizens and have deep ties to the country.

Ybarra, who was honorably discharged after serving in the Persian Gulf war and earning numerous badges and medals, is facing deportation due to a criminal history that his family says is tied to mental health struggles and post-traumatic stress disorder from his service. While there have been growing concerns about the removal of veterans and the harsh policies of deporting people for minor crimes, Ybarra’s case is particularly troubling to immigrant rights’ advocates given a judge’s acknowledgement that he is US citizen.

“George hopes he will be able to stay in the country he fought for,” Luis Parra, Ybarra’s attorney, told the Guardian. “He is a third-generation [US] citizen … It would be a very extreme hardship for George to have to relocate to Mexico.”

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
George Ybarra during his time as a US Marine. Photo from Tucson Sentinel.

Ybarra, whose story was first reported in the Tucson Sentinel, has a complex immigration and citizenship battle dating back more than a decade, including deportation threats under Barack Obama’s administration.

Ybarra, also known as Jorge Ibarra-Lopez, was born in Nogales in Mexico, just south of the Arizona border, in 1964, according to his court filings. He moved to the US months after he was born, and his maternal grandfather was a US citizen, born in Bisbee, Arizona, his lawyers wrote. Ybarra has long argued that he has “derivative citizenship,” meaning he is a citizen by virtue of his mother’s status.

An immigration judge eventually agreed that there was “sufficient evidence” that the 52-year-old father of five should be considered a US citizen, but the US Department of Homeland Security challenged that decision in 2011 and has since continued to try to deport him, records show.

The deportation proceedings stem in part from a number of criminal offenses, including drug-related charges. He was also convicted of firing two rounds through the front door of his home in Phoenix in 2011 in the direction of two police officers, according to the Sentinel. The paper reported that no one was hurt and that Ybarra said he was suffering from a PTSD-induced episode of delusion at the time and believed federal authorities were coming to “take away” his family.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Attorney Luis Parra. Image from Tucson Sentinel.

Ybarra ultimately served a seven-year sentence in state prison for aggravated assault, but instead of returning to his family after he completed his time, he was transferred into the custody of federal immigration authorities last month. Ybarra and his family now fear he could soon be deported.

Parra argued that Ybarra should be released while the ongoing dispute about his citizenship is resolved. US Citizenship and Immigration Services had previously denied his application for a certificate of citizenship, but there are numerous ways he can have his status formally recognized, according to Parra.

His family has argued that he should get treatment and other government support as a disabled veteran with PTSD.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Photo courtesy of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“He basically has no family in Mexico,” said Parra, noting that Ybarra’s children and grandchildren and other relatives in Arizona are all US citizens. “He has a very supportive family living in the Phoenix area, including his mother, who depends on George.”

Ybarra is distraught and worried about his continued detention, Parra said. In a Sentinel interview last month in an Arizona state prison, Ybarra said, “I’ve got a lot of anger, a lot of anxiety over this. They know I’m a citizen, they know I’m a combat veteran. I don’t see where they’ve ever shown that they care.”

A spokeswoman for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to questions about Ybarra’s case, but said in a statement that the agency “does not knowingly place US citizens into removal proceedings”, adding, “ICE deportation officers arrest only those aliens for which the agency has probable cause to believe are amenable to removal from the United States.”

When ICE does detain US citizens, the statement said, it’s usually because there is a misunderstanding about their status.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Image from Department of Homeland Security.

“The job for ICE deportation officers is further complicated by some aliens who falsely assert US citizenship in order to evade deportation, which is not uncommon,” the statement continued.

A Northwestern University analysis of government data found that hundreds of US citizens have, in fact, been detained by immigration authorities.

Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney and expert on military cases, said the deportation of veterans has been an ongoing challenge under both Obama and Donald Trump, but that she has never seen a case like Ybarra where the government threatens to deport someone ruled a citizen by a judge.

“If you can deport this guy, you can also try to deport all kinds of other people,” she said.

Articles

The Army is deactivating its last long-range surveillance companies (again)

The Army is officially closing down the last of its long-range surveillance companies with the three active duty units slated for closures in January and the four National Guard companies shutting down in 2018.


If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Soldiers with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance) conduct their unit’s deactivation ceremony Jan. 10, 2017 inside the III Corp building at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jory Mathis)

The move comes amid changing Army priorities and a series of computer simulations that decided the units were high-risk, low-reward.

This is the second time the Army has deactivated all of its company-sized, long-range reconnaissance units. It previously removed LRRP companies in 1974 before bringing them back as LRS units in 1981.

According to a Stars and Stripes article, the current deactivations came after Total Army Analysis computer models said that LRS units weren’t in high demand by command teams.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Indiana Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Joseph Barr rolls up the colors of Company C, 2nd Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment during the unit’s designation ceremony to Company D, 151st Infantry Regiment, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Lowry)

But not everyone is happy with the Army’s decision.

Retired Army Special Forces Brig. Gen. John Scales protested an earlier LRS drawdown when he found that computer models claiming that LRS units were at high risk in combat were improperly written. The model unrealistically assumed that any infantry unit that spotted the enemy would engage that enemy force, pitting six-man LRS teams against entire enemy formations.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
David Blow front, left, and another U.S. Soldier were members of a long-range reconnaissance team that conducted cross-border operations in Cambodia and Vietnam in 1971. Blow, a Special Forces soldier, served in Vietnam until the end of U.S. involvement in 1973. (Courtesy photo: U.S. Army)

While the new assessments use different coding that Scales was not privy to, he has voiced concerns that getting rid of LRS units isn’t the best idea.

Scales told the Stars and Stripes about the current LRS drawdowns that, “I worry based on my experience with the model that [long-range surveillance units are] getting shortchanged, and the Army is getting shortchanged.”

This isn’t the first time that the Army has tackled this question, and an earlier batch of LRS deactivations that also resulted from a Total Army Analysis were done against the protest of ground commanders.

From then-Maj. Mark R. Meadows’ 2000 master’s thesis titled “Long-Range Surveillance Unit Force Structure in Force XXI“:

The decision to deactivate these intelligence collection units was not based on a change of doctrine or a change in the mission requirements for LRS. The decisions were not made by one of the two proponents of LRS in order to protect another unit or asset. Quite the contrary, both proponents recognize the importance of HUMINT on the battlefield and support LRS employment and training. As discussed in chapter two, the decision to deactivate all heavy division LRSDs and two of four LRSCs was made over the objection of both proponents and units, by the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations as a result of the Total Army Analysis (TAA) process. Consequently, under the current force structure, there are not adequate numbers of LRS units to effectively execute the potential future missions the Army will face.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Internationally, long-range reconnaissance is still in high demand. German army Upper Cpl. Andre Schadler, a native of Aulendorf, assigned to Recon Platoon, Jager Battalion 292, scans the battlefield for threats with a thermal sight during the first day of training at the Great Lithuanian Hetman Jonusas Radvila Training Regiment, in Rukla, Lithuania, June 10, 2015. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. James Avery, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

While satellites and drones can cheaply provide detailed imagery in an open desert, they struggle to watch the movements of enemy forces through heavily forested and urban areas like those troops would face in a war with China or Russia where enemy units could be dispersed under cover and camouflage.

This is something that Eastern Europe armies know well, leading them to invest in the types of reconnaissance units that the U.S. Army is backing away from.

For instance, in November Lithuania hosted the U.S. Army’s Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leadership Course for the first time in the course’s history.

The European Union is investing more heavily in ISTAR — Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance — units.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
A Romanian IAR 330 Puma helicopter employs perimeter defense while it extracts a joint team of forces from both the 1st Squadron, 131st Cavalry, Alabama Army National Guard, and the 528th Light Reconnaissance Battalion, Romanian Land Force, as they complete a long range surveillance training mission for Operation Red Dragon on June 18, 2015, near Babadag Training Area, Romania. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Shanley)

Indeed, the Swedish Army maintains a force of only 6,000 available soldiers but keeps one ISTAR battalion available.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Army got rid of its dedicated long-range reconnaissance companies. In 1974, it deactivated the last of the old Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol companies. Just four years later, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Lt. Gen. Edward C. Meyer, ordered a classified study to ascertain, among other things, who could conduct the LRRP mission moving forward.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
A paratrooper with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance), looks out of a window of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter before exiting at Rapido Drop Zone Sept. 1, 2016 at Fort Hood, Texas. This was the last jump before the unit’s deactivation ceremony, which occurred Jan. 10, 2017. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Tomora Clark)

By 1979, the Army was writing doctrine for the new “Long-Range Surveillance Units” which were nearly identical to the extinct LRRP companies. But some division commanders saw the need for human eyes on the battlefield as too vital to wait for Department of the Army.

The 9th and 3rd infantry divisions and the 82nd Airborne Division all stood up LRRP units to provide critical intelligence to battlefield commanders. The 82nd divisional LRRP platoon was deployed to Operation Urgent Fury.

Operational commanders may find that they have to again construct their own long-range surveillance units if they still want the capability. The last of the LRS companies are scheduled to deactivate in August 2018.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the most recent soldiers killed in Afghanistan was 5 when the war started

Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”

When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”


He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”

When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”

In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”

He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.

Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.

August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.

Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
President Donald Trump

The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.

Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.

On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.

Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.

Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.

Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.

On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”

Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.

The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.

At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)

Mattis put on spot over attacks

In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.

They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.

At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”

The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.

“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.

“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”

At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”

“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.

“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.

“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.

“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.

For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.

Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’

“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.

Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.

Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.

Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.

Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.

“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.

“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.

Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.

In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”

Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”

Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.

“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”

The strategy — what strategy?

In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.

The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.

The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”

“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”

In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”

“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.

“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.

“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”

Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress

The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.

In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.

“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.

At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.

The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”

In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.

“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.

“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.

‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’

As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.

Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.

In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.

If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, this is why you shouldn’t get into a car
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.

Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.

Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.

The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.

Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.

“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”

Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.

“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.

The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.

Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.

In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.

“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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