The leading candidate to take the helm of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan was killed in a US air-strike on August 10, US forces Afghanistan announced August 13.
Abdul Rahman and three other senior ISIS militants were killed in the strike marking the latest in a series of decapitation strikes by the US on the terrorist group in Afghanistan. The location of the strike reveals that ISIS “appears to be relocating some of its senior leadership from the eastern province of Nangarhar to the rugged, mountainous northeastern province of Kunar,” Long War Journal fellow Bill Roggio noted August 14.
ISIS’s previous leader in Afghanistan, Abu Sayed, was killed in Kunar in a July 11 drone strike. Sayed was only at the helm of the terrorist group for 6 weeks before being killed and was the third head of the group in Afghanistan killed by the US.
ISIS in Afghanistan has morphed from a nascent band of militants in 2015 to a full-fledged threat in the eastern province of Nangarhar. The group controls a relatively small amount of territory but has used it to launch multiple complex attacks on the capital city of Kabul, killing hundreds with its brutal tactics.
“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of ISIS. We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem,” Pentagon Chief Spokesman Dana White declared in a recent interview with Voice of America.
Roggio concurred with White’s assessment saying ISIS “has far fewer resources and personnel, and a smaller base a of support than the Taliban and its allies – has weathered a concerted US and Afghan military offensive in Nangarhar and the persistent targeting of its leaders for nearly two years.”
The Air Force is allowing its pilots, navigators and airmen who wear flight suits to roll up their sleeves whenever they’re not on in-flight duty, according to a new memo.
The latest policy, first published on the popular Air Force blog John Q. Public, mimics what airmen who wear the Airman Battle Uniform are already allowed to do when they’re not performing official duties, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Bryan Lewis.
“The flight suit sleeve policy was updated to align with the Airman Battle Uniform coat [shirt] wear policy,” Lewis said in an email Monday.
The change amends Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel,” which already states in the case of the ABU that “commanders may authorize sleeves to be rolled up on the ABU coat; however, the cuffs will remain visible and the sleeve will rest at, or within 1 inch of, the forearm when the arm is bent at a 90-degree angle.”
“Regardless as to whether the sleeves are rolled up or unrolled, the cuffs will remain visible at all times,” the AFI says.
Similarly, airmen who wear a Flight Duty Uniform or Desert Flight Duty Uniform can roll or tuck their suit sleeves under, Lewis said, and “are now approved to pull the sleeves up to within 1 inch of the elbow using the Velcro, already incorporated in the suit, to hold them in place.”
Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, deputy chief of staff for operations, enacted the change — effective immediately — on Jan. 23, according to the memo.
Airmen “will still be required to have sleeves rolled down to the wrist when performing aircrew duties in-flight,” Lewis said — for example, while flying or on the flight line.
The previous policy for flight suits stated airmen could have their sleeves rolled under “if not performing in-flight duties.” However, the rolled-under sleeve “will not end above the natural bend of the wrist when the wearer’s arms are hanging naturally at their side.”
Lewis could not say if similar provisions for flight suits were made in the past.
The HBO series “Game of Thrones” (or GoT for short) is based in the mythical world of Westeros and Essos, continents of the Known World. Westeros is where most of the storylines in the show take place. The continent of Westeros is broken down into Seven Kingdoms made up of nine regions: The North, The Iron Islands, The Riverlands, The Vale of Arryn, The Westerlands, The Reach, The Stormlands, The Crownlands (King’s Landing), and Dorne.
Essos is located east of Westeros and separated by the Narrow Sea. Each location has its own unique geography and culture.
Many U.S. military bases, located both domestically and overseas, have similarities to the fantasy world of GoT. Here is a list of military bases that could parallel them:
Fort Drum, NY (Castle Black and The North)
Just like The North in GoT, the winters at Fort Drum are cold and harsh. Along with the large amounts of snow each year, Fort Drum, home of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division, is located near the Canadian border.
For those familiar with the show, Castle Black, located on the Wall, is the headquarters of the Night’s Watch, a military order charged to guard the Wall that separates Westeros from creatures who are Beyond the Wall such as the White Walkers. Although we hope our Canadian neighbors don’t turn into mythological undead ice creatures anytime soon, one thing is for sure with the North and Fort Drum: “Winter is coming.”
Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan (The Vale of Arryn)
The Vale of Arryn is home to the Mountains of the Moon, a large mountain range with some of the tallest peaks in all of Westeros. Bagram Air Base is located surrounded by impressive snow-capped mountains ranging as high as 25,000 feet.
In GoT, the Mountains of the Moon are also home to mountain clans who reject and resist the House Arryn (the governing body in Vale). Sounds familiar.
Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (The Riverlands)
The Riverlands is a fertile region known as the Kingdom of the rivers and the hills. It’s located in the center of the continent.
Offutt Air Force Base, home to the 55th Wing, is sandwiched between the Missouri and Platte Rivers in the rolling hills of southeastern Nebraska. The base is smack dab in the middle of the Continental U.S. Both regions may be prone to flooding.
The Pentagon (King’s Landing)
King’s Landing is the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, and the site of the Iron Throne, where the King sits. The Pentagon is the headquarters of the Department of Defense, and it probably has some very impressive office chairs. Both places wield great power and can at times be ruthless. Just seems logical.
Fort Knox, KY (The Westerlands)
Westerlands is rich in gold with mountain ranges and home to the port of Lannisport. Although Fort Knox does not have the exact geographic characteristics of The Westerlands, Knox does have plenty of gold being the home of the Knox US Bullion Depository used to store the U.S. gold reserves.
West Point (Old Town)
Old Town located in a region called the Reach is the oldest city in the Seven Kingdoms. West Point is the oldest active military installation founded in 1802, and home to the U.S. Military Academy, the nation’s oldest military service academy.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (The Iron Islands)
The Iron Islands is a group of seven rocky islands off the Western coast of Westeros. Despite being the smallest region in the Seven Kingdoms, the people of the islands enjoy great mobility due to their ships and superb naval skills.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam is located in Hawaii and is the only U.S. state comprised of islands just like The Iron Islands. The base is a strategic location for operations in the Pacific theater and serves as shore side support to surface ships and submarines for the U.S. Navy Fleet.
National Training Center, Fort Irwin, CA (Dorne)
Dorne is a vast desert land isolated from the rest of Westeros. The NTC, located in the Mojave Desert, is much like Dorne because it is very far from large populated areas.
Military personnel who rotate through NTC feel they are in the middle of nowhere, much like the people of Dorne they feel isolated from the Seven Kingdoms.
Camp Pendleton, California (Vaes Dothrak)
Located in the Essos continent, Vaes Dothrak is a warm land ruled by a fierce tribe of warriors called the Dothraki. Camp Pendleton, located near San Diego, is home to the famed I Marine Expeditionary Force. Both forces need to rely on a great fleet to cross large bodies of water.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade conduct an airborne operation from a U.S. Air Force 86th Air Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft at Juliet Drop Zone in Pordenone, Italy, June 8, 2017. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projective forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
Oregon Air National Guard Capt. Jamie Hastings, (Left), and Lt. Col. Nick Rutgers (right), assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron, 142nd Fighter Wing, prepare for an afternoon sortie in their F-15 Eagles at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to support the Weapons Inspector Course, June 6, 2017.
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System crew from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade fires a rocket off of the Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. dirt landing strip, June 7, 2017. 62nd Airlift Wing flew a HIMARS from Joint base Lewis-McChord to Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. to off load and fire a six round mission.
Maj. Gen. John Gronski, the deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard for U.S. Army Europe, participates in a ceremony honoring World War II veterans held at the Omaha Beach memorial in St. Laurent-Sur-Mer,, France, June 6, 2017. The ceremony commemorates the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the largest multi-national amphibious landing and operational military airdrop in history, and highlights the U.S.’ steadfast commitment to European allies and partners. Overall, approximately 400 U.S. service members from units in Europe and the U.S. are participating in ceremonial D-Day events from May 31 to June 7, 2017.
U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal technicians assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, and a member of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, dive off the wreck of the Tokai Maru, a sunken WWII Japanese freighter in the Apra Harbor, off the coast of Guam June 9, 2017, as part of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium Diving Exercise (WPNS-DIVEX) 2017. WPNS-DIVEX 2017 is a biennial diving exercise conducted by WPNS nations to enhance cooperation, interoperability, and tactical proficiency in diving operations in support of disaster response.
PHILIPPINE SEA (June 6, 2017) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 1st Class Jesus Garcia stands safety observer as an F/A-18E Super Hornet, from the “Royal Maces” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27 launches from the flight deck of the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
VENTSPILS, Latvia – Marines with 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, transfer Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division and 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, to the shores of Ventspils, Latvia, for a beach-assault training operation during Exercise Saber Strike 17, June 6, 2017. The beach landings took place concurrently between exercise Saber Strike and Baltic Operations. Exercise Saber Strike 17 is an annual combined-joint exercise conducted at various locations throughout the Baltic region and Poland. The combined training prepares NATO Allies and partners to effectively respond to regional crises and to meet their own security needs by strengthening their borders and countering threats.
ADAZI, Latvia – Marines with Alpha Company, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, fire from a M1 Abrams tank during Exercise Saber Strike 17 in the Adazi Training Area, Latvia, June 4, 2017. Exercise Saber Strike 17 is an annual combined-joint exercise conducted at various locations throughout the Baltic region and Poland. The combined training exercise keeps Reserve Marines ready to respond in times of crisis by providing them with unique training opportunities outside of the continental United States.
Seaman Mia Mauro, stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser, prepares to shoot the .50 cal machine gun during a joint gunnery exercise between allied and partner nations in the Caribbean Sea, June 8, 2017 during Tradewinds. Tradewinds 2017 is a joint combined exercise conducted in conjunction with partner nations to enhance the collective abilities of defense forces and constabularies to counter transnational organized crime and to conduct humanitarian/disaster relief operations.
Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Cimbak, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast Guard Sector San Diego, hoists a simulated survivor from the Secretaría de Marina vessel Centenario de la Revolucion to an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a joint search and rescue exercise with the Mexican navy off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico on June 7, 2017. The exercise simulated a vessel fire that required a coordinated international search and rescue effort.
Since the Cold War, the US and Russia have drawn up plans on how to best wage nuclear war against each other — but while large population centers with huge cultural impact may seem like obvious choices, a smarter nuclear attack would focus on countering the enemy’s nuclear forces.
So while people in New York City or Los Angeles may see themselves as being in the center of the world, in terms of nuclear-target priorities, they’re not as important as places in states like North Dakota or Montana.
This map shows the essential points Russia would have to attack to wipe out the US’s nuclear forces, according to Schwartz:
Skye Gould/Business Insider
This map represents targets for an all-out attack on the US’s fixed nuclear infrastructure, weapons, and command and control centers — but even a massive strike like this wouldn’t guarantee anything.
“It’s exceedingly unlikely that such an attack would be fully successful,” Schwartz told Business Insider. “There’s an enormous amount of variables in pulling off an attack like this flawlessly, and it would have to be flawless. If even a handful of weapons escape, the stuff you missed will be coming back at you.”
Even if every single US intercontinental ballistic missile silo, stockpiled nuclear weapon, and nuclear-capable bomber were flattened, US nuclear submarines could — and would — retaliate.
According to Schwartz, at any given time, the US has four to five nuclear-armed submarines “on hard alert, in their patrol areas, awaiting orders for launch.” Even high-ranking officials in the US military don’t know where the silent submarines are, and there’s no way Russia could chase them all down before they fired back, which Schwartz said could be done in as little as five to 15 minutes.
But even a strike on a relatively sparsely populated area could lead to death and destruction across the US, depending on how the wind blew. That’s because of fallout.
The US has strategically positioned the bulk of its nuclear forces, which double as nuclear targets, far from population centers. But if you happen to live next to an ICBM silo, fear not.
There’s a “0.0 percent chance” that Russia could hope to survive an act of nuclear aggression against the US, according to Schwartz.
So while we all live under a nuclear “sword of Damocles,” Schwartz said, people in big cities like New York and Los Angeles most likely shouldn’t worry about being struck by a nuclear weapon.
Mysterious incidents affecting the health of American diplomats in Cuba continued as recently as August, the United States said Sept. 1, despite earlier US assessments that the attacks had long stopped. The US increased its tally of government personnel affected to 19.
The new US disclosures came the same day that the union representing American diplomats said mild traumatic brain injury was among the diagnoses given to diplomats victimized in the attacks. In the most detailed account of the symptoms to date, the American Foreign Service Association said permanent hearing loss was another diagnosis, and that additional symptoms had included brain swelling, severe headaches, loss of balance, and “cognitive disruption.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US was continually revising its assessments of the scope of the attacks as new information was obtained. She said the investigation had not been completed.
“We can confirm another incident which occurred last month and is now part of the investigation,” Nauert said.
US officials had previously said that the attacks, initially believed to be caused by a potential covert sonic device, had started in fall 2016 and continued until spring 2017. Last week, Nauert had said at least 16 Americans associated with the US Embassy in Havana had been affected, but that the “incidents” were no longer occurring.
The evolving US assessment indicated investigators were still far off from any thorough understanding of what transpired in the attacks, described by the US as unprecedented. As the bizarre saga has unfolded, the US has encouraged its diplomats to report any strange physical sensations. So it’s unclear whether some symptoms being attributed to the attacks might actually be unrelated.
Still, the fact there was an incident as recently as August suggested the attacks likely continued long after the US government became aware of them and ostensibly raised the issue with the Cuban government, creating even more uncertainty about the timeline and who was responsible.
Notably, the US has avoided accusing Cuba’s government of being behind the attacks. The US did expel two Cuban diplomats, but the State Department emphasized that was in protest of the Cubans’ failure to protect the safety of American diplomats while on their soil, not an indication the US felt that Havana masterminded it.
US investigators have been searching to identify a device that could have harmed the health of the diplomats, believed to have been attacked in their homes in Havana, but officials have said no device had been found.
One of the diplomats affected had arrived over the summer of 2017 to work at the US Embassy and was later diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms, said a US official, who declined to specify the symptoms that led the diplomat to report the situation.
And in Canada, a government official said that the Canadian government had first learned in March 2017 that one of its citizens was affected. Ottawa had previously confirmed that at least one Canadian diplomat was involved, but had not revealed any timeline for when it occurred or came to light.
Both the US and Canadian officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly.
It’s unclear whether Canadians were intentionally targeted or whether there could have been collateral damage from an attack aimed at Americans, given that diplomats from various countries often live in the same areas of a foreign capital. US officials have said the Americans were targeted in their homes in Havana, not in the Embassy.
Canadian officials have been actively working with US and Cuban authorities to ascertain the cause. A Cuban attack deliberately targeting Canadians would be even more confounding, given that Canada — unlike the US — has long had friendly ties to Cuba.
The American Foreign Service Association, in describing the damage to diplomats’ health, said it had met with or spoken to 10 diplomats affected, but did not specify how many of the 10 had been diagnosed with hearing loss or with mild traumatic brain injury, commonly called a concussion.
Yet the confirmation that at least some diplomats suffered brain injury suggested the attacks caused more serious damage than the hearing-related complaints that were initially reported.
“We can’t rule out new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community,” Nauert said. She added that the embassy has a medical officer and has been consistently providing care to those who have reported incidents.
Asked for further details about what the US had learned about the cause or culprit in the attacks, the State Department said it had no more information to share.
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, typically results from a bump, jolt, or other external force that disrupts normal brain functioning, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Short- and long-term effects can include changes to memory and reasoning, sight and balance, language abilities, and emotions.
Not all traumatic brain injuries are the same. Doctors evaluate patients using various clinical metrics such as the Glasgow Coma Scale, in which a numerical score is used to classify TBIs as mild, moderate, or severe.
“AFSA strongly encourages the Department of State and the US Government to do everything possible to provide appropriate care for those affected, and to work to ensure that these incidents cease and are not repeated,” the union said in a statement.
Reps. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, and Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, traveled to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, over the weekend to meet with the depot’s commander, Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth, about the findings of three command investigations into the death of 20-year-old Muslim recruit Raheel Siddiqui and other allegations of hazing.
Renforth, an infantry officer, took command of the base in June, after three senior leaders had been fired and 15 drill instructors sidelined in connection with the hazing probes.
In a joint announcement Wednesday, Dingell and Issa expressed horror at the findings of the investigation, but optimism that the Corps was moving in the right direction.
“This weekend’s visit was an opportunity to see firsthand the changes that are being implemented to achieve this goal. After meeting with General Renforth and talking with other key members of leadership, drill instructors, and recruits, it is clear that the Marine Corps is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves,” Dingell said in a statement.
“General Renforth has assured me this is personal to him and he is committed to working towards real change to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening in the future,” she added.
Dingell, who has the Siddiqui family in her district and has pressed the Marine Corps for information since his March 18 death, said the immediate changes the service had implemented — including automatically suspending staff who are being investigated for hazing and increasing officer oversight of drill instructors — provided evidence of Renforth’s dedication to eradicate the problems.
“This is just a first step and continued monitoring in the weeks and months ahead will be necessary to ensure these policies have their intended effect,” she said.
Issa, whose district includes the Marine Corps’ West Coast recruit depot in San Diego, called the findings surrounding Siddiqui’s death “nothing short of heartbreaking.”
“Beyond training procedures and safeguards, we must do more to prevent active-duty personnel suicide overall,” he said in a statement. “Statistics released earlier this year show the number of service members committing suicide remains unacceptably high while reserve suicide rates have increased.”
I remain committed to assisting our Marines and all of our services in working to provide all the support they need,” he added.
The results of the three command investigations, reviewed by Military.com on Sept. 8, revealed that the drill instructor whose abuse and harassment of Siddiqui provided “impetus” for the recruit’s death had been previously investigated for hazing another Muslim recruit by throwing him in a clothes dryer and calling him a “terrorist.”
The probes revealed a culture of hazing within 3rd Recruit Training Battalion that stretched back at least as far as 2015 and was only curtailed after a recruit’s family wrote a letter to President Barack Obama in April, a month after Siddiqui’s death.
The Air Force Special Operations Command runs 37 Reaper drones that have just been upgraded with better sensors, upgraded weapons software, and extra fuel tanks so they can kill more targets and watch more objectives on missions against ISIS and other enemies.
Identifying ISIS targets often requires a long information-collection period, and killing them takes a rapid engagement once the kill order is given. The upgraded drones are better at both stages of the hunt.
The sensor ball from the original MQ-9 Reapers was replaced with a high-definition camera. The software that controls the camera was also upgraded to enable automatic detection of threats and the ability to track 12 moving targets at once. Better communications gear was installed to allow ground controllers and others to see the higher quality video coming from the drones.
Reapers can carry up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The upgraded version carries the same munitions but can now fire them in a “super ripple,” firing a missile every 0.32 seconds. The external fuel tanks give the Reaper pilots more time to identify targets, track them, and plan the engagement before firing.
American drones have already had a lot of success in the fight against ISIS. Jihadi John, the British-born militant who conducted many of the Islamic State’s early, high-profile executions, was killed by two Hellfire missiles fired from a drone.
After an intense four-day manhunt, authorities tracked down the two suspects (brothers) who they believed were behind the deadly terrorist attack (one died during a shootout) that shocked the world.
Fast-forward to four years later and something special happened. Staff Sgt. Jose Luis Sanchez, a Marine who lost his left leg during an IED attack in Afghanistan, completed the 26.2-mile run while holding an American flag signed by many service members he was deployed with.
Although Sanchez’s injuries sidelined him, he battled his way back to not only strengthen his mind but his body.
After gaining national attention for the patriotic act, this decorated warrior has become an instant inspiration to those with and without physical disabilities.
During the Cold War, the American nuclear deterrent strategy required coming up with ways to guarantee the survival of nuclear weapons if the Soviets managed a surprise first strike. The surviving devices would then be used to destroy Soviet civilization.
Keeping U.S. nukes out of Soviet crosshairs required a lot of imagination. The Americans had to keep the nukes deeply buried or constantly on the move. Then they had to make sure the surviving devices could be used effectively.
One such scheme was outfitting a full-size Minuteman III Inter-continental Ballistic Missile to fit in the back of a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft, dumping the nuke out the back and triggering the ICBM’s full ignition sequence.
Minuteman III ICBMs carry multiple warheads bound for separate targets. This makes the Minuteman III the ideal missile for the mobile nuclear weapon strategy. At 60 feet long and 78,000 pounds, the missile is easily carried by the gargantuan aircraft.
The C-5 Galaxy’s maximum payload is an amazing 285,000 pounds and the aircraft itself is just under 248 feet long. With an operational range of 5,250 nautical miles, the C-5 can fly from Dover Air Force Base to the Middle East without having to refuel.
Launching a fully functional ICBM out the back of an aircraft inflight might sound crazy, but the Air Force first tested this concept successfully in 1974.
The April 2 attack in Garissa, Kenya, was the deadliest and most heinous atrocity the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab has ever committed.
Gunmen from Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Horn of Africa stormed a university campus in the city, killing 147 people after an hours-long siege. It’s the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in which 224 people were killed.
The terrorist attack demonstrates an ongoing security threat in one of the most stable and prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa — and it shows how jihadist groups can remain dangerous even as they lose territory and leadership.
On Twitter, Colby College political science professor Laura Seay noted the extraordinary sacrifice it requires for a family to even send someone to college in a place so much closer to Kenya’s arid and impoverished eastern desert frontier than it is to just about any of its major cities.
“Today’s loss is immeasurable,” she tweeted.
Al Shabaab didn’t just choose the softest of targets; it attacked a place where it could wipe out as many young, promising, and educated people as it possibly could.
In the Westgate Mall attack in September of 2013, Shabaab struck at the heart of Kenyan business and trade, attacking Nairobi’s famed status as east Africa’s cosmopolitan crossroads. The Garissa attack was even deadlier and perhaps even grimmer in its messaging. Shabaab struck Kenyan society where they knew it would hurt the most.
The Garissa attack is shocking for yet another reason. Al Shabaab has repeatedly struck outside of its safe haven in southern Somalia over the past year, carrying out a series of gun attacks around the coastal town of Mpeketoni, Kenya, that killed over 60 people during the summer of 2014.
It’s retained its external attack capabilities and command structure despite suffering what would seem to be a series of debilitating setbacks. In January, the former head of Shabaab internal intelligence, who had earlier surrendered himself to Somali authorities, publicly denounced terrorism and urged his former colleagues to lay down their arms.
A September 2014 drone strike killed Ahmed Godane, Shabaab’s domineering leader and one of the most-wanted terrorists in Africa. Another drone strike on March 18 killed Adnan Garaar, the head of Shabaab’s external operations and the mastermind of the Westgate attack.
But Shabaab has forged a new model for how declining terrorist groups can remain dangerous, as analyst Clint Watts argued in a World Politics Review article published just before the Garissa massacre.
Shabaab has done nothing but splinter, vacate territory, and lose top leadership since ruling over most of Somalia and nearly all of its capital, Mogadishu, in 2010. Even so, Watts observes that “a sizeable military coalition is still fighting in the Horn of Africa more than four years after the group’s zenith,” a reference to an ongoing African Union military mission in Somalia in which Kenya is a longtime participant.
Shabaab has kept itself intact by retreating into the southern Somali wilderness and refocusing its efforts around large-scale attacks rather than holding or governing massive swaths of territory. Just a week before the Garissa attack, Shabaab killed over 20 people during a raid on a hotel in Mogadishu, including a Somali diplomat.
Even after years of decline, Shabaab has a remote safe haven that’s preserved its ability to pull off large-scale attacks in multiple countries in consecutive weeks.
More worrying is Shabaab’s deep network in neighboring Kenya, which is home to a sizable Somali minority as well as refugees from Somalia’s devastating famine, which had killed over a quarter-million people by 2013 and was greatly exacerbated by Shabaab’s refusal to allow aid groups into areas it controlled.
As Caroline Hellyer wrote for Al Jazeera two weeks before the Garissa attack, Shabaab’s relationship with a “hardline underground group” called al-Hijra gives it a ready-made network in Kenya and Tanzania, allowing it to recruit extremist elements well beyond Somalia.
One grim upshot of the Garissa attack is that it demonstrates Shabaab’s broad operational capabilities in Kenya, East Africa’s cultural, economic, and political leader and a US strategic ally. The region doesn’t have to deal with a Shabaab-ruled Somalia — but it may have swapped that problem for a Shabaab that has even greater ambitions to strike outside of its diminished Somali safe haven.
U.S. Army Special Operations Command is dumping its Android tactical smartphone for an iPhone model.
The iPhone 6S will become the end-user device for the iPhone Tactical Assault Kit – special-operations-forces version Army’s Nett Warrior battlefield situational awareness tool, according to an Army source, who is not authorized to speak to the media. The iTAC will replace the Android Tactical Assault Kit.
The iPhone is “faster; smoother. Android freezes up” and has to be restarted too often, the source said. The problem with the Android is particularly noticeable when viewing live feed from an unmanned aerial system such as Instant Eye, the source said.
When trying to run a split screen showing the route and UAS feed, the Android smartphone will freeze up and fail to refresh properly and often have to be restarted, a process that wastes valuable minutes, the source said.
“It’s seamless on the iPhone,” according to the source. “The graphics are clear, unbelievable.”
Nett Warrior, as well as the ATAC and soon-to-be-fielded iTAC, basically consist of a smartphone that’s connected to a networked radio. They allow small unit leaders to keep track of their location and the locations of their soldiers with icons on a digital map.
They are also designed to help leaders view intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance sensor feeds such as video streams from unmanned aerial systems.
The Nett Warrior system uses a Samsung smartphone worn in a chest-mounted pouch and connected to networked radio General Dynamics AN/PRC-154A Rifleman Radio. Nett Warrior evolved from the Army’s long-gestating Land Warrior program. Army officials began working on that system in the mid-1990s and over the next decade struggled with reliability and weight problems.
The special operations forces’ ATAC and iTAC use a smartphone connected to a Harris AN/PRC 152A radio.
Both radios are part of the Joint Tactical Radio System, but the PRC-152A allows operators to automatically move across different waveforms to talk to units in other services. The Rifleman Radio does not have this capability, the source said.
This is a problem, the source said, because SOF units can communicate with conventional soldiers using Nett Warrior, but it’s only one-way communications. Nett Warrior-equipped soldiers can only receive communications from SOF; they cannot initiate or answer SOF units with the Rifleman Radio, the source said.
Military.com reached out to Program Executive Office Soldier’s Project Manager Soldier Warrior to talk about this problem and to see if it was considering changing to the iPhone and possibly trading in the Rifleman Radio for the PRC-152A.
We received the following mail response:
“PEO Soldier has no response to the questions” posed by Military.com, according to PEO Soldier officials.
The Army does have plans to move the AN/PRC-159 radio as a fix to the one-way communications problem, but that is not supposed to happen until 2020 at the earliest, the source said.
As a short-term fix, the Rapid Equipping Force is looking at fielding Harris PRC-152A radio to units such as the 82nd Airborne Division that make up the Global Response Force, the source said.