The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly - We Are The Mighty
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The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

The battle to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State terror group is a fight increasingly without front lines.


The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have breached the old city and control about a quarter of the terror group’s de facto capital, say American officials, but holding what has already been seized is proving a struggle.

Disputes between the SDF and some Free Syrian Army militias who have started to participate in the battle isn’t helping the advance, but the biggest obstacle remains the determined defense of IS fighters, who are using similar urban warfare tactics seen in the past nine months in the terror group’s fight to delay the retaking of Mosul by Iraqi security forces.

A month into the Raqqa assault, improvised explosive devices, sniper fire, and the use of an elaborate network of tunnels to mount ambushes — as well as exploiting civilians as human shields — are all being deployed by the militants. IS militants have also been using drones to drop explosives on SDF militiamen.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
SDF fighters at the mouth of a tunnel used by ISIS at Jabar Castle. (Photo from Voice of America.)

A watchdog rights organization says in the assault’s first month it has documented 650 deaths — 224 of them civilians.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that relies on a network of activists for its reporting, 311 IS fighters, including a handful of commanders, and 106 fighters of the American-backed “Euphrates Wrath” forces have died so far.

“In addition, airstrikes left hundreds of civilians injured, with various degrees of severity, some of whom had their limbs amputated, some were left with permanent disabilities and some are still in a critical condition, which means that the death toll is still likely to rise,” the observatory says.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
SDF fighters among the rubble Raqqa. (Photo from Voice of America.)

Long battle ahead

Despite being only a tenth the size of Mosul, US officials say they expect the house-to-house fighting to last several weeks. Estimates on how many militants remain in the city range from between 2,000 to 3,000. Most of them are thought to be from eastern Syria or foreign fighters drawn mainly from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

According to local activists, some Raqqa-born IS fighters have defected and are providing intelligence to the SDF. Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based think tank, and co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” says local fighters have proven less than committed in the battle.

“The Islamic State will likely have to rely on the city’s still likely large population of foreign fighters as well as a new generation of young fighters brainwashed by the group’s ideology who typically fight viciously to the end,” Hassan argues in the current issue of CTC Sentinel, a publication of the West Point military academy.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
YPJ and YPG forces work together. (Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle (CC by 2.0)

Despite the participation of experienced, battle-hardened Kurdish fighters, private security advisers say the SDF doesn’t have the same capabilities and training as the elite Iraqi units who have been confronting IS militants in Mosul since August.

“They are spread much thinner,” one European security adviser told Voice of America. “They are also not as well equipped and lack the armor the Iraqis have been able to use,” he added.

Keeping the advance going, and trying to pin the militants into smaller and smaller pockets, is proving grueling, he said.

On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to declare his security forces had wrested the wrecked city from the Islamic State, despite some continued fighting in at least one west Mosul neighborhood. Some US officials are reckoning IS fighters may be able to hold out in Raqqa for up to three months.

In a bid to disrupt the SDF momentum, IS is now more regularly using suicide bombers driving reinforced vehicles packed with explosives — although not to the same degree as seen in the battle for Mosul. Last week, one suicide bomber managed to destroy a forward HQ used by the SDF.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
A fighter with the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces sits atop a vehicle before a battle. (Photo from SDF via Facebook.)

Civilian casualties

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled, braving mines and savage IS sniper fire. Local activists estimate the number of civilians remaining in the city at about 60,000. They fault the international coalition for failing to have prepared for the handling of large numbers of displaced families.

Civilians have been gathering in nearby camps lacking basic amenities such as healthcare, clean drinking water, and food,” says the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

The group has accused the attacking forces of using a scorched-earth strategy, utilizing indiscriminate aerial bombardment in order to force militants to withdraw. US officials admit there have been civilian deaths but say they are doing all they can to minimize casualties among non-combatants.

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Airman steps up to help the families of San Bernardino shooting victims

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)


On December 2, 2015 Air Force Captain Costas Dracopoulous was on leave in Kyoto, Japan when he got word of the San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people and wounded 22 others. The news got his attention, not just due to the scale of the tragedy, but because San Bernardino is his home town.

And it was even more personal than he originally thought.  When he logged on Facebook he saw messages that a friend of his was among the victims of the shooting.  The friend was also a father of six.

Dracopoulous, who’s currently serving as the flight safety officer for the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron, wanted to do something for his friend’s children along with all the other children left without parents as a result of the senseless tragedy.  After consulting with a chaplain and the Red Cross, he decided the best way to help from afar was to hold a toy drive back at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

While most servicemen overseas are usually the recipients of care packages from home, Dracopoulous was asking the 961st squadron to help pack one going the other way, and a pretty big one at that.

His fellow airmen answered the call. Within a matter of days, they rounded up over 50 toys for the victim’s children. Before shipping, he coordinated with the local police and mayor’s office of San Bernardino to ensure the items would be delivered to the right homes.

“He is an amazing warrior. ” said Air Force Lt. Col. Kyle Anderson, 961st AACS commander. “He has the idea and ideals to push forward and take care of the folks that the tragedy affected.”

“I’m ecstatic that our 961st family supported him, and it also bodes well for the squadron for one of our own to put on an event like that,” Anderson said. “We live in a small world and it shows how a tragedy stateside can affect service members over here.”

In a letter expressing gratitude to Dracopoulous and his squadron, Carey Davis – mayor of San Bernadino wrote the following:

I am proud of the united manner by which our nation has responded to the tragic events that forever impacted several lives. Your willing and generous response to the crisis and your selflessness are greatly appreciated. Thank you for going out of your way and facilitating the process between my staff and your squadron. San Bernardino is fortunate to have the support of individuals like you and your base. Once again, please accept my sincere and personal thanks. Your generosity and your willingness to give have significantly impacted the morale of our staff and community.
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6 times superstition turned the tide of battle

Whether it’s salt tossed over the shoulder after the shaker is spilled or not walking under a ladder, most superstitions are pretty harmless. But sometimes superstitions cause Communist rebels to abandon their camp or a revered Navy admiral to refuse to sail.


Here are 6 stories of wartime decisions that hinged on superstition:

1. Rudolph Hess’s failed diplomatic mission to England happened after a series of dreams.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Rudolph Hess. Photo: Wikipedia/Bundesarchiv Bild

Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess was Hitler’s favorite sycophant right up until he flew himself to Britain on May 10, 1941 to negotiate a peace as Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Historians argue back and forth about whether Hess did his mission under Hitler’s orders or on his own.

But two people were definitely consulted; an astrologer and a dreamer. The astrologer advised that May 10 was a good date to depart while a friend of Hess’s told Hess that he’d dreamed of Hess’s success on three different nights.

It turned out the dreams were wrong. The British captured Hess soon after he landed and kept him in prison for the rest of his life.

2. The feared Red Baron wouldn’t fly without his lucky scarf and jacket.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
(Photo: Public Domain)

Just the appearance of the Red Baron, Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, could change the tide of an air battle.

Credited with 80 victories in the air, he was a formidable aviator who wouldn’t enter the fray if he couldn’t find his lucky scarf and jacket. In spite of this, both the jacket and scarf were shot through, and the Baron was wounded by a bullet to the skull while wearing them.

3. American PSYOPS officers created vampires to vanquish communist rebels.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: Wikipedia

Lt. Col. Edward G. Lansdale was a U.S. Army psychological operations officer sent to help the Philippine government defeat communist rebels. Lansdale capitalized on a history of superstitions in the Philippines, specifically one that centered around the “asuang,” a shapeshifting vampire.

Lansdale and his men circulated a rumor that one was prowling the hills near the communist camps. Then, they waited for a patrol, snatched the last person in it, drained out all of his blood with two needles inserted in the neck, and left the body for the communists to find.

Rebels soon fled the area and the government forces took it for themselves.

4. Grant’s superstitions led to victory.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s success in the Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee led to the Siege of Petersburg from 1864 to 1865 and the Lee’s eventual surrender in Apr. 1865. Grant’s victory came despite the fact that he lost every battle in the campaign.

How? By refusing to retreat or withdraw, decisions that some have chalked up to Grant believing that a person shouldn’t retrace their own steps. Where previous forays into the area by other generals had ended with retreats, Grant was forced by his superstitions to lead his army any direction but back. This kept him and his men in the fight until they were finally able to outmaneuver Lee.

5. British magician Maskelyne may have created a massive scarecrow to scare Italian peasants.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Jasper Maskelyne and his magic act crew in 1950. Photo: Public Domain

The British magician Jasper Maskelyne offered his professional services to his nation when World War II broke out. As Maskelyne was known to exaggerate his actions in the war, tales surrounding him have to always be taken with a grain of salt.

But, his claims from the Allied invasion of Italy suggest that Maskelyne helped the Allies take over rural Italy by building a 12-foot tall scarecrow of fire and metal that convinced some superstitious Italians that the devil was fighting side-by-side with the British. The Italians locked themselves in their homes, leaving the British to continue north unmolested.

6. Adm. Halsey demanded his task force number and sailing date be changed because the number 13 is unlucky.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Task Force 16 during battle in 1942. Photo: US Navy

Adm. William Halsey Jr. was an ensign on the USS Missouri on April 13, 1904 when an accidental fire burned and suffocated 31 men to death. After that, he was very superstitious about the number 13.

So, when he was assigned commander of the new Task Force 13 that was set to sail on Friday, February 13, Halsey sent one of his officers to protest. The command relented and changed the task force designation to 16 while promising that an oiler would be late, delaying TF 16’s departure until Feb. 14.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis issues strong condemnation of Russian aggression

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis strongly condemned Russia’s escalating provocations during a press conference at the Pentagon on March 27, 2018, following the Trump administration’s move to expel 60 Russian diplomats on March 26, 2018.


When asked how he viewed Russia’s latest aggressions, Mattis said, “Attempted murder of a man and his daughter, how’s that for starters,” referring to the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and Skripal’s daughter, Yulia, in Britain. The two remain hospitalized.

Also read: Mattis isn’t sure he can work with John Bolton

Several countries have kicked out Russian diplomats over the attack.”The brazen and criminal attack was an attack on all of us,” Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said March 27, 2018, after expelling two Russian diplomats from his country.

Russia has denied any wrongdoing.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mattis suggested on March 27, 2018, that he is not convinced: “They point out that it can’t be proven who had tried to kill the person in Salisbury,” Mattis said. “They’re doing things they believe are deniable.”

“They take insignia off soldiers’ uniforms and they go into Crimea,” Mattis continued. “They say they have nothing to do with what’s going on with the separatists in eastern Ukraine; I’m not sure how they can say that with a straight face.”

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, triggering a military conflict with Ukraine and economic sanctions from the European Union and the US. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies his troops were in the country, but analysts have long suspected Russian forces of disguising themselves with tactics that include removing identifiable markings from their uniforms.

Related: Mattis doesn’t care about Russia’s ‘unstoppable’ weapons

The March 4, 2018, nerve-agent attack happened as Russia faces diplomatic pressures on multiple fronts, including from the US, where federal investigators are probing its meddling in elections that have stirred political and cultural discord among Americans.

Articles

12 times someone tried — and failed — to kill the US president

Out of 15 U.S. presidents targeted for assassination (that we know of), four were successful. No matter who the “leader of the free world” is, he or she will always have haters. While assassins were successful targeting Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy, here are 12 attempts you may know little about:


1. Andrew Jackson

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
The etching of the 1835 assassination attempt of Andrew Jackson. Image: Public Domain.

Richard Lawrence ambushed Andrew Jackson in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Lawrence shot at him, but his gun misfired. Infuriated, the 67-year-old Jackson proceeded to club him with his old hickory cane. Lawrence pulled a second pistol, and it too misfired. Jackson beat Lawrence senseless until his aides wrestled Lawrence away.

2. Theodore Roosevelt

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Theodore Roosevelt laughing. Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

John Flammang Schrank shot President Roosevelt during a speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1912. Roosevelt continued to give his speech after being shot, even joking about it where at one point he said:

Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best. — Theodore Roosevelt, Address at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 14, 1912

Roosevelt lived with the bullet in him for the rest of his life. Schrank claimed the ghost of William McKinley told him to shoot the President; doctors found him insane.

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Mug shot of Giuseppe Zangara. Giuseppe Zangara killed the mayor of Chicago and attempted to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt. Photo: Florida Department of Corrections

Italian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara attempted to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 15, 1933, during an impromptu speech in Miami, Florida. Five people were hit, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who later succumbed to his wounds. On the way to the hospital, Cermak allegedly told Roosevelt, “I’m glad it was me instead of you,” which was later inscribed on his tombstone plaque. Some speculated it was a mob hit on the mayor and not Roosevelt.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Grave Site Of Assassinated Mayor Anton Cermak. (Photo by Chicago Crime Scenes, Flickr)

“I have the gun in my hand,” confessed Zangara in the Dade County Courthouse jail. “I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” He was sentenced to death by Circuit Court Judge Uly Thompson.

4. Harry S. Truman

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Griselio Torresola (left). Oscar Collazo and his wife (right).

Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola — two supporters of the Puerto Rican independence movement — tried to assassinate President Truman while he was napping on the second floor of the Blair House. Truman was staying at the Blair House while the White House was undergoing renovation. The would-be assassins saw their opportunity because unlike the White House, the Blair House was less secure.

In what was described as “the biggest gunfight in Secret Service history”—27 shots fired over 40 seconds—Terresola and a police officer were killed. Collazo was sentenced to death, which President Truman later commuted to a life sentence.

5. Richard Nixon

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

Samuel Byck attempted to assassinate Nixon on February 22, 1974, by hijacking a plane in hopes of crashing it into the White House while the President was there. Byck carried out his plan with .22 caliber revolver he stole from his friend and a suitcase bomb. His plan was foiled, and the plane never left the Baltimore/Washington International Airport gate. He killed a police officer and committed suicide in the process.

6. Gerald Ford

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

President Ford had two attempts on his life by two women in California in the same month. One by Charles Manson follower Lynette Fromme, who fired a pistol at him in a crowd in Sacramento on September 5, 1975. The second attempt was by Sara Jane Moore in San Francisco on September 22, 1975 — just 17 days after Fromme. Both women were sentenced to life in prison.

7. Jimmy Carter

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Jimmy Carter. (US president photo: Executive Office of the President of the United States).

The Secret Service arrested Raymond Lee Harvey ten minutes before President Carter gave a speech at the Civic Center Mall in Los Angeles on May 5, 1979. The Ohio-born drifter was caught with a starter pistol and blank rounds. Although he had a history of mental illness, the police investigated his claims of being part of a four-man operation to assassinate the president. Charges against Harvey were dropped for insufficient of evidence.

8. Ronald Reagan

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
John Hinckley Jr. Photo: By United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI Field Office Washington) [Public domain]. Ronal Reagan (US president photo: Executive Office of the President of the United States).John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., on March 30, 1981. He fired six shots from his .22 caliber revolver wounding the president and three others. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21. He said the assassination attempt was a love offering to actress Jodie Foster.

Reagan famously joked about it with one-liners to keep the country’s spirits up. “Please tell me you’re Republicans,” he said to the surgeons when he entered the operating room. To an attentive nurse, he said, “does Nancy know about us?”

9. George H.W. Bush

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Saddam Hussein (Photo: Public Domain). George H.W. Bush (US president photo: Executive Office of the President of the United States).

Three months after President Bush left office, Kuwaiti officials foiled a 16-man assassination ring led by the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The perpetrators planned to assassinate President Bush with a car bomb during a speaking engagement at the Kuwait University.

President Clinton responded in kind with 23 Tomahawk missiles against the Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters building in Baghdad. In a televised address to the nation, he ordered the attack to convey three messages, “We will combat terrorism. We will deter aggression. We will protect our people.”

10. Bill Clinton

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Osama bin Laden (Public Domain. Bill Clinton (US president photo: Executive Office of the President of the United States).

Osama bin Laden came close to assassinating President Clinton with a car bomb in the Philippines in 1996. Intelligence agents picked up on the plot via a choppy transmission with the words “bridge” and “wedding” — a terrorist code word for assassination, reported the Telegraph.

The secret service averted the scheme by re-routing the presidential motorcade away from the bridge containing the bomb.

11. George W. Bush

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Robert Picket (US president photo: Executive Office of the President of the United States).

Robert Pickett — a former Internal Revenue Service accountant — fired his handgun at the White House while President Bush was inside. He was shot in the knee and arrested by secret service agents. Pickett was sentenced to three years in prison.

12. Barack Obama

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez mugshot (Photo: Bonneville County Sheriff Dept. President Barack Obama (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez fired his rifle at the White House. The 21-year-old claimed to be the second coming of Christ, and that Obama was the devil. He talked about Nostradamus and receiving a “message through time.” Ortega-Hernandez was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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Chris Kyle’s widow appeals $1.8 million defamation award to Jesse Ventura

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly


Attorneys for Taya Kyle have asked a federal appeals court judge to toss a lower court’s $1.8 million defamation judgment awarded to Jesse Ventura, AP is reporting.

The former Minnesota governor emerged victorious in his lawsuit against “American Sniper” Chris Kyle in July 2014, in which he alleged Kyle lied in his book and in subsequent interviews that he had punched Ventura because he made disparaging remarks about troops in Iraq. The jury sided with Ventura in the matter.

Chris Kyle died before the verdict in Feb. 2013, and the $1.8 million judgment was passed on to his estate.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

Though the jury sided with Ventura, Taya Kyle’s attorneys argue that Ventura’s side acted improperly by telling them the book’s insurance would be “on the hook” for the damages, and not the estate.

From CBS Local Minnesota:

Taya Kyle’s attorney argued that line from Olsen’s closing argument is one of the reasons the appeals court should throw out the award and order a new trial. And on this issue in their questioning, the appeals court appeared to side with Kyle. Chief Judge William Jay Riley even said, “In my experience that was over the line, tell me why we shouldn’t grant a mistrial over that.”

Thirty media companies, including the Washington Post and the New York times, have filed a brief in support of Taya Kyle, arguing the $1.8 million award is excessive and that mistakes were made during jury instructions. In their arguments, Ventura’s attorney stressed that the jury believed Ventura’s witnesses and did not believe Kyle’s.

CBS Local reports there is no time limit for when the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals could make its ruling, but they are usually made within a few months.

“It’s my name and my reputation that I’ve spent 40 years building,” Ventura, a former Navy SEAL, told the Star-Tribune. “If they order a new trial, we’ll go at it again.”

A member of the Navy’s SEAL Team 3, Chris Kyle is considered the deadliest sniper in U.S. history, with more than 160 confirmed kills. He wrote about his life, training, and multiple deployments as a Navy SEAL in his book “American Sniper,” which inspired a movie of the same name released in 2014.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch the Maple Leafs’ tribute to the victims of the Toronto van incident

The Toronto Maple Leafs held a stunning tribute to the victims that died after a van rammed through several pedestrians in Toronto on April 23, 2018.

During the hockey match against the Boston Bruins, the Maple Leafs’ announcer referenced the incident in which a van hit and killed at least 10 people and injured 15.


“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, our first responders, and to all those affected,” the announcer said during the game. “All of Toronto is with you.”

After observing a brief moment of silence, the crowd cheered and sang along in unison with singer Martina Ortiz-Luis for the national anthem.

Around 1:30 p.m. local time, a van jumped the sidewalk and plowed through a busy intersection in downtown Toronto.

Police arrested a male suspect who is believed to have been previously known to Toronto officials. The suspect, identified as 25-year-old Alek Minassian, was arrested after threatening to brandish a firearm. According to law enforcement officials, the incident is believed to have been deliberate.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why the Supreme Court’s ruling on burn pits will have catastrophic effects

Burn pits are, without a shadow of a doubt, the post-9/11 veteran’s Agent Orange. Countless troops have been exposed to the toxic gases given off by the mishandling of dangerous substances, and twelve veterans have died as a direct result of this negligence. Everything from heart disease to lung cancer has been found in veterans who have been exposed to the fumes.

There were over sixty different lawsuits raised against KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton that oversees the waste “management,” and each was struck down in court. A final nail was added to the proverbial coffin recently when the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeals, stating KBR wasn’t liable for their actions because they were under military direction.


The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

The ruling also goes for the Open Air Sewage pits that were constructed by KBR. In the simplest of terms, there were giant ponds of literal human sh*t next to troop housing and no one thought that it was a problem.

(U.S. Navy)

This means that the mishandling of waste, as conducted by KBR, that put the lives of troops and veterans at risk has been permitted by the highest court in the land. Any attempt to seek compensation by those affected will now be struck down using this ruling and Halliburton will remain protected.

Not only is this horrible news for the troops and veterans who’ve been affected by burn pits, but it sets a precedent that protects civilian negligence if done for the U.S. military in a war zone. According to MilitaryTimes, KBR argued that they cannot be sued because they, essentially, were operating as an extension of the military. They also claimed that the only way to control contractors’ actions was through military oversight.

While the burn pits are the subject of the majority of the lawsuits, there are more claims against KBR. One such claim revolves around the wrongful death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Baghdad, Iraq. In January, 2008, he was electrocuted to death while trying to take a shower in a facility constructed by KBR. The plaintiffs argue that KBR was well aware of the shoddy work, but it wasn’t fixed and the troops were not warned.

This case was also dismissed.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it…

It is true that, in the past, the U.S. military has instructed personnel to burn waste in the absence of an alternate method of disposal, but it’s never been done at the scale for which KBR is responsible. There is a massive difference between troops in an outlaying FOB burning an oil drum filled with human waste and the 147 tons of waste burned daily at Balad in 2008.

The U.S. military is by no means blameless in this situation. It did put a “stop” to burn pits in Iraq in 2009, but the Government Accountability Office found 251 such pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq in August, 2010. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking proper steps to right this wrong with the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. If enough people register, our military will be forced to look at the true scope of this problem and act accordingly.

The truth is, there was a better solution to handling the waste, but that was skipped in favor of the most expedient route. Now, countless veterans have terminal illnesses for their actions and the Supreme Court has just given future contractors in the ability to take shortcuts — even if it’s certain to put troops in harm’s way.

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The real purpose behind China’s mysterious J-20 combat jet

The US Marine Corps did not mince words when deploying F-35s to Japan, saying that the “arrival of the F-35B embodies our commitment to the defense of Japan and the regional-security of the Pacific.”


Tensions between the US, US allies, and China have been steadily mounting for years as China builds artificial islands and outfits them with radar outposts and missile launchers in the South China Sea, home to a shipping corridor that sees $5 trillion in trade annually.

One area where the US and China have indirectly competed has been in combat aviation.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
China’s Chengdu J-20. | CDD

In November, China debuted the Chengdu J-20, a large, stealthy jet that some have compared to the F-22 Raptor. But, according to experts, the J-20 is not a fighter, not a dogfighter, not stealthy, and not at all like the F-22 or F-35.

Dr. Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at Australia Strategic Policy Institute, told Business Insider that the “J-20 is [a] fundamentally different sort of aircraft than the F-35.”

Davis characterized the J-20 as “high speed, long range, not quite as stealthy (as US fifth-gen aircraft), but they clearly don’t see that as important.” According to Davis, the J-20 is “not a fighter but an interceptor and a strike aircraft,” that doesn’t seek to contend with US jets in air-to-air battles.

Instead, “The Chinese are recognizing they can attack critical airborne support systems like AWACS (airborne early warning and control systems) and refueling planes so they can’t do their job,” said Davis. “If you can force the tankers back, then the F-35s and other platforms aren’t sufficient because they can’t reach their target.”

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Without tanker planes to refuel, US jets like the F-35 have a severely limited range. | US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brian Burdett

Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula gave a similar assessment of the J-20 to Defense Aerospace Report in November.

“The J-20 in particular is different than the F-22 in the context that, if you take a look and analyze the design, it may have some significant low-observable capabilities on the front end, but not all aspects — nor is it built as a dogfighter,” said Deptula.”But quite frankly, the biggest concern is its design to carry long-range weapons.”

What the J-20 lacks in stealth and dogfighting ability, it makes up for by focusing on a single, comparatively soft type of target. Unlike the US, which has fielded extremely stealthy aircraft, China lacks the experience to create a plane that baffles radars from all angles.

Instead, the J-20’s design makes for a plane that’s somewhat stealthy from the front angle, as it uses its long range and long-range missiles to fly far out and hit tankers and radar planes that support platforms like the F-35 or F-22.

“They’re moving into an era where they’re designing aircraft not just as an evolution of what they used to have, but they’re going into a new space,” said Deptula of China’s J-20 concept.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
A rendering of the Chengdu J-20. | Screenshot via hindu judaic/YouTube

However, the J-20 may still be a long way off.

In November, Justin Bronk, a research fellow specializing in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that the models displayed at Airshow China were not much more than showpieces: “It’s possible that the aircraft that were shown are still instrumented production aircraft,” or planes with “loads of sensors to monitor performance” instead of in a combat-ready formation.

Former F-35 and F-22 pilot Lt. Col. David Berke also questioned China’s progress in an interview with Business Insider, saying “it’s really, really, really hard to make an effective nose-to-tail platform in the fifth gen.”

Far from feeling threatened by the J-20, Berke seemed vindicated that the US’s potential adversaries have worked so hard to counter emerging US capabilities like the F-35.

“If the things we were doing [with the F-35, F-22] weren’t relevant, effective, the competition wouldn’t be worried about trying to match it,” said Berke.

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This is why Cossacks are Russia’s legendary fighting force

For centuries, friends and foes of Russia marveled at the fierce fighting skills of their Cossack Warriors. The Cossacks fought to defend the Russian Czar against any manner of enemies – from Ottoman Turks to Napoleon’s Grande Armée, through a World War, and even against the Bolshevik Red Army.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
The last one had admittedly mixed results.

They expanded the borders of the Russian Empire, conquering Siberia and the Caucasus regions for the Czar, all the way to the Bering Sea – capturing one-sixth of the Earth’s land area. Their martial prowess was unmatched in the region for a long time and they refused to be tied to any master. Even the name “Cossack” in the Turkic languages of the time and area meant “free,” “adventurer,” or “wanderer.”

Cossack loyalty to the Russian Czar was earned over centuries of fighting to maintain that independence. Many Czars were faced with Cossack uprisings and were forced to deal with them in their own ways, from putting down the rebellion or forcibly moving the population to another area of the Russian Empire.

From a young age, Cossacks raised their children to be elite warriors and ethnically Cossack in every way possible. Training could begin in infancy and only ever stop in an actual pitched battle.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Keep your head down!

Eventually, the Russian nobility came to accept the Cossacks, endowing them with certain rights and privileges in the Empire for their continued service in defending Russia’s borders. And they earned those rights, too. After his Grand Armée was forced out of Russia, the Cossacks harassed them all the way back to France. It was the Cossacks who captured Paris and unseated the French Emperor.

When the Empire fell during World War I and the Czar abdicated, the Cossacks were divided between the Red and White factions of the Russian Civil War. They fought primarily for the White (anti-Communist) Russians, which earned them persecution when the Bolsheviks won the war and founded the Soviet Union.

The persecution got so bad, many Cossacks fought for Nazi Germany during WWII.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch these vets tell the real story of what going back to school is like

WATM hosted groups of veterans to answer several questions about their time in the military. The vets kept it real when responding to topics ranging from relationships to recruiters.


In this episode, our group of veterans talks about their experiences going to college after serving in the military.

Editor’s note: If you have ideas for questions that you’d like to see a group of veterans answer, please leave a comment below.

Articles

These are the airmen who fly to the coldest places on Earth

“Pole to pole.”


These three words are the motto of the 109th Airlift Wing – at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York – and though short, it is an accurate synopsis of the unit’s mission.

“We fly missions to Greenland, which is near the North Pole, and Antarctica, which is the South Pole,” said Maj. Emery Jankford, the wing’s chief of training. “So, we literally fly pole to pole.”

During the spring and summer months, the 109th AW operates out of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and flies scientific researchers with the National Science Foundation and their materiel to remote field camps across the Arctic Ice Cap. In the fall and winter months, the unit conducts similar missions out of McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as part of Operation Deep Freeze.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

Antarctica and Greenland are among the coldest, windiest, and most inhospitable places on the globe and they provide a challenging opportunity to demonstrate the reach and flexibility of airpower, the capabilities of the joint force, and the integrated support of active-duty, Guard, and Reserve military personnel.

“Basically, we go from cold to really cold,” Jankford said. “The Greenland operating season helps us train and prepare for when we operate in Antarctica.”

Each year, the 109th AW flies more than 800 hours during the Greenland support season and transports 2.1 million pounds of cargo, 49,000 pounds of fuel, and nearly 2,000 passengers.

“If it got there, we brought it,” said Maj. Justin Garren, the wing’s chief of Greenland Operations.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Air Force aircrews assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing conduct a combat offload of cargo off a 109th Airlift Wing LC-130 Skibird transported to the East Greenland Ice Core Project. US Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. William Gizara

To accomplish this, the unit flies the world’s only ski-equipped LC-130s, called “skibirds,” which allows the planes to land on and take off from ice and compacted snow runways.

“We do have some traditional “wheelbirds” in our unit, but the LC-130s give us the unique capability of being able to land in snowy arctic areas,” Garren said.

While the LC-130s are able to operate without a traditional runway, the arctic environment does present challenges the crews must overcome long before the planes’ skis touch down on the ice.

“Our biggest challenges are weather and navigation,” said Capt. Zach McCreary, a C-130 pilot with the 109th AW.

Because most of Greenland is within the Arctic Circle near the North Pole and Antarctica surrounds the South Pole, there is a lot of magnetic interference when flying in these areas. This interference makes GPS navigation difficult, so the aircrews have to resort to old-school tactics.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Airmen approach DYE-2, an abandoned radar site near Raven Camp that was one of 60 set up during the Cold War as part of an early-warning system that stretched across the far north of Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Greg C. Biondo.

“Our navigators are some of the only ones in the military who still use celestial navigation,” Jankford said. “We still break out the charts and formulas to determine our positions and headings.”

Weather is another challenge. It can change quickly and it can get nasty, so aircrews try to stay as up to date as possible when flying missions.

“We receive regular weather briefings, before we leave and while we’re in the air,” McCreary said. “But there are times the weather changes quickly and you have to react and adapt to it on the fly.”

In some cases, usually with cloud cover, this means landing with limited to no visibility. At times the land and sky blend together with no visible horizon line.

“It’s like flying inside of a ping pong ball,” McCreary said. “Everything is white and it all looks the same.”Capt. Zach McCreary, C-130 pilot, 109th AW

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

In these situations, the aircrew uses a spotting technique where the copilot and loadmasters will look for flags lining the runway and help the pilot line up the aircraft during its approach.

“It’s a very unique airlift wing,” Garren said. “We’re landing on snow and ice, we’re using the sun and stars to navigate, and we’re using our eyeballs to land – I’m not sure there’s another unit that flies like this.”

Because the 109th AW operates in such unique environments, utilizing dated techniques, effective training is only possible within the areas of operation.

“We can only train for these missions when we’re in Greenland and Antarctica,” Garren said. “We can’t train at home, so new crewmembers are learning and being signed off on tasks while they’re landing and taking off from the ice.”

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

The uniqueness of the polar mission is one reason it was given to the 109th AW. Being a guard unit, its members stay in place longer and are able to train, develop, and enhance their skills and experience without having to move or relocate every few years like their active duty counterparts.

“We have guys here who have been flying this mission for 30 years,” Garren said. “That amount of experience is invaluable and the knowledge they pass on to the junior guys is irreplaceable.”

Also irreplaceable are the capabilities of the wing’s unique “skibirds.”

“We can fly into an austere area and land with our skis with no runway somewhere no one has ever been,” Garren said. “That’s why we’re here and that’s what we train to do.”

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes of the week

Memes, memes, memes! Glorious memes! Well, funny memes. Not sure they’re glorious, but they’re worth laughing at.


1. If you’re not sure there’s PT, your first-line leader failed you.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
But if there is PT and you don’t show up, it will still be your first-line destroying you.

2. Army logic (via Team Non-Rec).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Duh, that’s why they wear reflective belts that can only be seen by friendly forces. Wait. They can only be seen by friendly forces, right?

SEE ALSO: Me as ‘vibe coordinator’ and other stories from military transition hell

3. Projecting American force across the gazebo(via Sh*t My LPO Says).

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Keeping the quad safe for barbecues.

4. Good job, airman. Good damn job.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

5. The struggle is real.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

6. Crew chief is mad about cleaning all the glass (via Military Memes and Humor).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
He should be careful sticking his hand out like that. Devil Dogs bite.

7. Chaos 6 was knife-handing before he saw his first knife (via Marine Corps Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
He considered his movement from the womb to the hospital room to be his first amphibious landing.

8. If you wanted to look impressive in PTs, you should’ve joined the Marine Corps (via Coast Guard Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
If you wanted to look sexy on a moped, you were out of luck in the first place.

9. Yeah. Your last unit did everything differently (via Coast Guard Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Luckily, we don’t care about your last unit

10. See? The Air Force does get dirty.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
They only got dirty because they thought it was a mud spa, but they did get dirty.

11. Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Army strong. Har. Har.”

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Really though. It is kind of embarrassing. They could at least make him wear a girdle or something.

 12. The Navy defends their bases with whirling metal blades of death (via Sh*t My LPO Says).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
They’re defending the base against tall grass, but they’re still defending it.

13. Thought you’d make it out without one more NJP? (via Marine Corps Memes)

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Too bad.

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