David McCampbell might be the Navy’s “Ace of Aces,” but there is one pilot who might not have McCampbell’s kill total, but who arguably performed a more notable feat. That pilot was Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa.
Vejtasa didn’t start out flying fighters. Early in 1942, he flew the SBD Dauntless and saw action during the Battle of the Coral Sea. On May 7, 1942, he took part in the attack on the light carrier Shoho, helping put that ship on the bottom. He received the Navy Cross for his part in that attack. The next day, while trying to protect USS Yorktown (CV 5) and Lexington (CV 2) from a Japanese attack, his SBD got jumped by seven Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. Vejtasa emerged from that engagement with three kills, two using the SBD’s two forward M2 .50-caliber machine guns. The third came when Vejtasa rammed the Zero, slicing off a wing. That earned a second Navy Cross.
Fast forward to October 1942. Vejtasa was now flying the F4F Wildcat, having been transferred from the SBD after his exploits at the Coral Sea. During the strikes the Japanese launched, he shot down two Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers and five Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo planes. It was a performance that arguably kept USS Enterprise (CV 6) from joining USS Hornet (CV 8) as hulks. Vejtasa got his third Navy Cross for his performance.
Vejtasa achieved all this in two days in the SBD and F4F. The former wasn’t even intended to fight the Zero, but Swede took down three. The F4F, while a good plane, was nowhere near the F6F Hellcat that McCampbell flew. The F6F had the benefits of insights gained from the Akutan Zero (an intelligence coup for the United States).
Vejtasa would share credit for a Kawanishi H6K “Mavis” flying boat during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal with three other pilots. It would be his last aerial victory, making his score 10.25 kills. Vejtasa’s kills are all the more impressive when you consider that in 1942, Japan still had many of the outstanding pilots who had flown the raid on Pearl Harbor.
Vejtasa would be sent back to the United States after the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was asked to test-fly the Vought F4U Corsair and angered Vought by handing them a list of changes that the “Ensign Eliminator” needed. After that, Vejtasa was sent to train the many pilots who were needed to fly the planes off of the carriers that would form Task Force 58 and Task Force 38. After the war, Vejtasa would spend most of his career as a test pilot, and even got some stick time on the F-4 Phantom before he retired.
“Three Kings” looks at what would happen if Army reservists and a retiring special forces officer decided to steal millions of dollars in gold under the nose of their headquarters.
Before we get started, we didn’t count each individual case of “accountability” issues in this movie because it simply comes up too often to list each individual problem. But, the movie centers on the idea that a staff officer, two mid-career noncommissioned officers, and a private could disappear into the desert for hours with a Humvee, M60, and some M16s and pistols, and return hours later with no one noticing.
No actual soldier would have thought this plan would work. Sergeants are being yelled at, asked a question, or assigned a task every five minutes. No way they could disappear for hours and no one would notice.
Plot impossibility aside, there were 33 technical errors that made us grind our teeth.
1. (1:10) Sgt. 1st Class Barlow asks whether or not the unit is shooting at Iraqis. As a sergeant first class with a small element, he is probably the senior-most enlisted soldier in this scene. He should be the one who knows the rules of engagement. Also, what patrols really go outside the wire without briefing the RoE? The Army Reserve sometimes does dumb stuff but damn.
2. (1:35) Barlow wants to ascertain whether a person has a weapon. First of all, the guy was literally waving it through the air multiple times, silhouetting it to where Barlow should be able to tell the exact kind of Kalashnikov it is. Secondly, instead of just looking he flips his iron sites to the pinhole site (which it should’ve been on in the first place). This would actually make it harder to see if the enemy had a weapon.
3. (4:50) A major wouldn’t call his superior “colonel.”
4. (5:08) Major Gates is wearing his skill badges incorrectly. Army Regulation 670-1 says that when four skill badges are worn on the Desert BDU, the first three are worn above the U.S. Army tape and the fourth is worn on the pocket flap. Gates has two above the tape and two on the pocket flap. The colonel’s badges are, surprisingly, in the right spots though the spacing looks a little iffy.
5. (5:30) That colonel must be very busy if he’s going to let an ass-chewing wait until morning.
6. (7:09) Holding your weapon close to a prisoner is begging to have it stolen and used against you, but the private does it with nearly every prisoner.
7. (9:42) The colonel puts on his hat to get in a helicopter. This is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. Also, does he really not need armor to fly outside the wire? He better hope that cease fire is super secure.
8. (12:40) Night vision in Desert Storm didn’t blur peripheral vision, it blocked it. Also, during the day, the image would be blown out and the light could ruin the device.
9. (12:50) Soldiers don’t salute indoors and rarely salute while deployed.
10. (17:30) No one notices the soldiers shooting rounds at footballs? And no one noticed them leaving base without armor or helmets?
11. (27:18) Major remembers that he saw soldiers guarding a well. Why didn’t he put two and two together while he was still in the village?
12. (28:30) What the hell is with the dune buggy? The Army doesn’t have those. And there is no way the security in the country is so good that a commander would let a soldier leave the base alone with two civilians. A single Humvee would have been unlikely to be released as well, even with a Special Forces officer “commanding” the movement.
13. (40:13) Multiple weapons can be heard charging, but the soldiers are only switching off their safeties.
14. (43:50) They see a tank and Pfc. Vig pulls a light anti-tank weapon. These guys are civil affairs reservists. It’s guaranteed that guy does not know how to use that weapon. It’s pretty shocking that he even has it.
15. (45:55) The reservist knew exactly where his LAW was, but not the mask that should have been strapped to his leg.
16. (46:05) Vig survives a massive mine blast at only a few meters. Nope.
17. (48:30) CS gas is not uncomfortable in heavy clouds, it is debilitating. Even tough soldiers tear up, cough heavily, and struggle for breath.
18. (49:20) “Where’s Troy?” would not be answered with, “We have to get out of here.” A missing soldier is a huge deal and this is their best chance to fix it.
19. (51:07) The rebels are not taking a tank. They’re taking an armored personnel carrier. You are a damn soldier and should know better.
20. (57:14) “Get the maps, check their radio transmissions. Maybe we’ll get their positions.” So, the colonel thinks he’ll find his rogue special forces major by checking the radio traffic. That makes sense. He lied about where he was, who he was taking to, and what he was doing, but he definitely called and gave his real position on the radio.
21. (1:08:55) A special forces officer is leading a massive foot movement of rebels and lets them silhouette themselves on top of a ridge.
22. (1:15:15) The colonel is personally leading the search for missing soldiers. A subordinate officer should really be in charge and reporting up to him.
23. (1:22:50) Vig was once again way too close to an explosion to live.
24. (1:21:55) This helicopter manages to fire on the rebels three times and not hit anything until the third pass. Then, all of a sudden he kills a few people with almost every run, culminating in flying sideways while gunning a guy down. Are they badass pilots or incompetent? Pick one.
25. (1:26:15) What are the triggering mechanisms on these footballs? The first went off when it was shot, which C4 is not designed to do. The second went off on a timer. The third one went off when it impacted a helicopter. A timer makes sense but the other two need some explanation.
26. (1:30:40) When you shoot a guy to make sure he’s dead, you should really put at least one in his skull. Then he won’t shoot your buddy through the lung in exactly 59 seconds.
27. (1:32:55) Where was Maj. Gates hiding every item needed to perform a needle chest decompression?
28. (1:33:50) No, a needle chest decompression will not treat a shot up lung so well that you can just release the tension with the valve every few minutes. It makes it to where you can leave the valve open and barely breath as you are immediately moved to a hospital.
29. (1:37:45) If the colonel is special forces, it’s pretty weird that he’s commanding a unit in conventional forces.
30. (1:39:30) Put up your troop strap, morons. I know you’re a bunch of thieves, but you still need to be safe.
31. (1:40:30) There is never a good reason to leave your most casualty-producing weapon unmanned.
32. (1:41:00) Maj. Gates says only American soldiers carry guns. That’s probably offensive to the French special forces soldier who is saving his ass.
33. Epilogue: Everyone who wasn’t killed has a happy ending with new jobs and a peaceful existence after they are honorably discharged. No. A soldier was killed and a humvee and M60 are missing along with a few M16s and M9s. No. You all went to jail.
Emergency rescue workers on Friday continued their search for four soldiers who went missing after their truck overturned in a rain-swollen creek at Fort Hood, an official said.
Five soldiers died in the vehicle accident at the sprawling Texas base and three others were rescued and taken to an Army medical center, where they were listed in stable condition and expected to be released later in the day.
That’s according to Maj. Gen. John Uberti, deputy commanding general III Corps and Fort Hood, who held a press conference Friday morning in front of a main gate to the base, one of the service’s largest installations and home to more than 41,000 active-duty soldiers.
“Our priority has been, since the first report of this incident and continues to be, the search for our four missing teammates,” Uberti said.
Due to the storm, commanders were in the process of closing roads on the post on Thursday when a 2.5-ton truck known as a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle overturned in a fast-flowing creek during a training exercise, according to The Associated Press. The flatbed truck is regularly used to carry troops.
The portion of road on the northern edge of the base near Owl Creek where the truck overturned hadn’t flooded in previous storms, Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug told reporters, according to AP. A “swift-water rescue call” came in around 11:20 a.m. local time.
Three bodies were recovered during initial rescue operations and two more were located later in the night. The Army hasn’t yet identified the victims, pending notification of next of kin.
The four missing soldiers were from the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. The search for them continues and involves ground, air and dog teams from base, local and state agencies.
“I’d also like to thank the many emergency services personnel, not only Fort Hood emergency services, but the state and local community emergency services personnel who have so willingly come forward and have professionally been searching for our soldiers,” Uberti said.
The base’s Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the American Red Cross are accepting donations to assist Fort Hood families affected by the tragedy. For more information, call the center at Fort Hood Family Assistance Center at (254) 288-7570 or (866) 836-2751 or contact the Red Cross at (254) 200-4400.
Super Bowl commercials that honor military veterans aren’t new, and odds are they’re not going anywhere because dammit they’re effective.
The 2017 Hyundai Super Bowl commercial is no exception. Troops stationed in Poland were treated to a surprise when Hyundai gave them a special Super Bowl screening experience. What they didn’t know was that a few of their family members were also getting a treat.
While the service members watched the game in fully immersive, 360-degree live streaming pods, their families joined them via a Super Bowl LI box suite, complete with huggable high-tech teddy bears (wearing the uniform of the day) and cameras that allowed the family members to livestream with their heroes.
Hyundai teamed up with director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor) to shoot, edit, and broadcast the event.
“I’m honored to have worked on this project with the troops and [Hyundai] for the Super Bowl. Thank you for your service, and thank you for letting me be part of this,” Berg said.
You’d think that employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs would be spending every bit of their time on the job helping America’s veterans. But that may not be case — some of them may instead be working on “union business.”
Worse, there may be no way to know how much time they have spent on their outside work for federal employee unions.
According to a report by Government Executive, the VA has no standardized method of tracking how much “official time” is spent by government employees on union activities like mediation. The Office of Personnel Management website defines “official time” as “paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees.”
The report noted that 350 of those employees are working full-time on union activities, and that almost 1.1 million man-hours were spent on official time in Fiscal Year 2012.
A 2015 Government Accountability Office report done at the request of House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) casts doubt on those reported figures.
The GAO said, “the data VA provided were not sufficiently reliable to determine the amount of official time used by VA employees and the purposes for which it was used for the period of our review.”
The biggest reason for the lack of reliability was due to the fact that the VA had no standardized means to track the amount of “official time” used by employees of that agency.
The report noted that the VA had arrangements with five unions: the National Association of Government Employees; the American Federation of Government Employees; National Nurses United; the National Federation of Federal Employees; and the Service Employees International Union.
Government Executive reported that the VA had agreed to resolve the time-tracking issues.
US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US forces in the Middle East, said on Wednesday that he believes Iran was behind missile strikes on US Navy ships fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen.
“I do think that Iran is playing a role in some of this. They have a relationship with the Houthis, so I do suspect there is a role in that,” said Votel at the Center for American Progress, The Hill’s Kristina Wong reports.
Iran does have a history of harassing US ships in the Persian Gulf. In January, Iran even went to the extreme length of taking US sailors captive after their ships broke down in Iranian national waters.
While experts have indicated to Business Insider that Iran likely supplied the Houthis with the missiles used in three separate attacks on US Navy ships, Votel’s comments mark perhaps the first time a US official has laid the blame on Iran.
After the US struck the radar sites used by the Houthis, an armed uprising battling the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi,Iranian vessels rushed to the waters off of Yemen under the premise of protecting “trade vessels from piracy.”
If Iran does prove to be behind the missiles attacks, it’s possible that the US’s limited and defensive strikes have not addressed the larger problem.
Remember those days back in the barracks playing hours of GoldenEye? Well, grab your battle buddies and license-to-kill because GoldenEye: Source, an unofficial and free remake of the N64 classic GoldenEye 007, has received its first major update in more than three years.
While there’s no single player campaign, the remake features 25 maps, 28 weapons, and 10 game modes. GoldenEye: Source has been a labor of love for the creators for the past decade, and that reverence for the original game shines through in the attention to detail evident in the trailer.
The remake runs on Valve’s Source engine — the same used for Counter Strike and Half-Life — so while the graphics aren’t quite Skyrim quality, it’s still a major facelift. The “choppers” look like actual hands instead of pork chops, and that should be enough. The option to use a keyboard and mouse or modern gamepad will also be a breath of fresh air for anyone who’s recently dusted off the old N64-console and tried to stumble through the original GoldenEye‘s outdated control scheme.
Special operators are often America’s 911 call, flying to the scene of emergencies and safeguarding American interests while outnumbered and sometimes outgunned. Years of training and military exercises hone them into deadly weapons.
But it takes a lot of logistics to get the premier warfighters from their home bases or staging areas and into the fight, ready to kill or be killed on America’s behalf. Here’s a glimpse of the process:
1. Step one of deploying special operators is preparing gear and recalling personnel.
2. Operators and support personnel rush vehicles and other gear to loading areas. The exact makeup depends on the planned mission.
3. The vehicles are secured for transport. Often, this means the gear is going into planes. Gear that will roll off is secured to the plane itself while gear that will be airdropped is typically secured to a pallet.
4. Operators sometimes take part in securing their gear since it guarantees that it will come out as expected on the objective.
5. Once the gear is ready to go, the personnel have to get strapped in. While these guys are strapping on parachutes, some missions require they run off the ramp on the ground instead.
6. Attention to detail is critical since any mistake on the objective can cost lives.
7. While MC-130Js are one of the more famous planes for special operators, there are plenty of other aircraft that will do the job, such as this MC-12.
8. Or Black Hawks… Black Hawks are good.
9. Of course, operators on the ground like to have fire support, and they can’t be guaranteed artillery on the ground. So they’ll often fly in with extra firepower as well.
10. The AC-130s can bring everything from 20mm miniguns to 105mm howitzers. The typical modern armament is 25-105mm cannons. Jets and helicopters can bring the boom when necessary.
11. And then the operators get to work, grabbing bad guys, ending threats, and chewing bubble gum.
Ted Meyer is a Los Angeles-based artist, curator, and patient advocate who has been coloring the lives of those with traumatic injuries for 17 years with his project called “Scarred for Life: Mono-prints of Human Scars.”
“The whole idea is to tell their story by making a beautiful piece of art from their scar” Meyer said. “I do a print off their body and then I try to work in some of the details of what happened to them into the painting that I do over the print.”
Meyer is comfortable around hospitals because he was born with an enzyme deficiency that doctors believed would cut his life short. Fortunately, a treatment was found, and the breakthrough radically changed his life and artistic focus.
“I met a woman who was using a wheelchair with a broken back,” he recalled. “We had a long conversation one day and she told me I should keep doing my art because I still had a lot to say about it.”
He called the woman to do a print of her scars, and the public’s reaction to the artwork received was very different from that received by his paintings.
“People would come up to me after seeing the work and show me their scars,” Meyer said. “They take their shirt off, pull down their pants or lift up a dress, everybody wanted to tell me. That was seventeen years ago and I’ve been doing this since.”
Originally, Meyer shied away from printing veterans’ wounds. Though he comes from a family with military tradition, he didn’t feel he had the credentials to do it.
“I’m not in that world,” he said. “There’s a couple of other veteran projects and usually they have a much closer relationship to it than I do.”
That all changed a few years ago. Someone close to Meyer returned from Iraq after several tours as a helicopter pilot and killed himself.
“I thought I should approach this subject by letting people tell their stories, because he never told any of us that he was struggling,” Meyer said. “Apparently, he had some damage in his jaw from shrapnel, and they wouldn’t let him fly because the jaw was deteriorating.”
So Meyer decided to tell veteran stories, but that has created a different problem: He needs more veterans to become works of art. He was offered an exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, but he couldn’t find enough scarred vets to participate so he had to postpone the show indefinitely.
“I think it was very systemic of the fact that a very small percentage of people fight over there,” Meyer said. “It’s a different culture and these are people who have a different sense of what being patriotic and being an American and defending us is.”
One of Meyers’ subjects, Jerral Hancock, is missing an arm, is paralyzed, and burned.
“Almost his whole body is scarred from burns,” Meyer said. “He had a lot of texture, so I went in and I have his tank that he had been in sort of marching across, rolling across his scar. I try to give it a narrative, but also make it a beautiful piece of artwork.”
“It was cool seeing war and our scars put to art, and it was an interesting experience going through Ted’s art,” Hancock said. “I would recommend it to other vets because it helps show the reality of war for those who don’t understand the sacrifices made.”
Working with wounded warriors changed the way Meyer sees the veteran community. A man who spent his life with people in physical and emotional crisis gained an appreciation for a new group he’s never known and relates that experience to the world.
“They’ve given a tremendous amount and don’t feel bitter about it,” Meyers said. “There’s a moral integrity to that I find lacking most everywhere else.”
Meyer has an upcoming show for his “Scarred for Life” project at Muzeumm Gallery in Los Angeles from February 6th through March 1st. If you’re a veteran with scars and a story you’d like turned into art, contact Ted Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seattle Seahawks rookie long-snapper Nate Boyer may be a long shot to make the team’s final 53-man roster, but overcoming long odds is nothing new to the 34-year-old former Green Beret.
Boyer admits he was “stoked” the first time he saw a No. 48 jersey hanging in his locker at the Seahawks training facility, but he quickly re-focused on the task at hand.
“I’m really excited to be here and I am taking advantage of every second,” he said after meetings at the Seahawks training facility. “I am training as much as they will let me, and on my own I am doing things to get myself to where I need to be to have a legitimate shot at competing for the job. It is work, fun work, but I am considering it like a job.”
Though multiple teams contacted him at the conclusion of the NFL draft, Boyer says it was a “no-brainer” to sign with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent.
“In some ways, I didn’t make it easy on myself, but I never do,” said Boyer, a University of Texas graduate who will have to unseat a veteran long-snapper to earn a place on the Seattle roster. “This is the best team in football. Everything is built around toughness and grit. They like guys with a chip on their shoulder. In that sense it’s ideal for me, but at the same time it means I am competing with guys with the same mindset who have done it at a high level for a long time.”
Boyer served six years in the Army, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, before deciding in 2010 to walk-on to the Texas football team. At the Longhorns’ tryout, Boyer had two strikes against him. He was 29 years old – a decade older than most first-year college students – and, more importantly, he never had played a down of high school football.
What he lacked in skills, Boyer made up for in grit, determination and leadership, so much so that then-Longhorns coach Mack Brown was willing to give the undersized athlete a chance as a walk-on safety.
“You always want to give back to our military guys,” Brown explained. “We thought it would be great to give him a shot. He was older and we thought his leadership skills would be good for our team.”
Boyer red-shirted his first season and played in one game on special teams the following year as a redshirt freshman. When Boyer asked Brown about his chances of ever playing in the Longhorns’ secondary, the coach pulled no punches and told the 5-11, 195-pound athlete he did not have the skills to crack the game-day lineup.
“He wasn’t as talented as a lot of players on our defense,” Brown explained. “We had a lot of great players at that time in our secondary.”
Boyer told Brown his goal was to make an impact on the field, but the head coach had his doubts that could happen. Brown said he told Boyer, “You are helping us out. You are being a good teammate.”
For Boyer, that wasn’t enough. The Longhorns were graduating two long-snappers, and Boyer decided he would win the job to replace them. There was one obstacle to overcome, however. Boyer had never snapped a football. Undeterred, he taught himself to deep snap and won the starting job in 2012, playing in the final 12 games as the snapper on point-after-touchdowns and field goals.
Though Boyer had joined the 19th Special Forces Group of the Texas National Guard and spent the summers of 2013 and 2014 deployed to Afghanistan, he continued to refine his deep-snapping skills while deployed by snapping into goal posts and creating a target out of plywood.
Boyer says he had no doubt he would find a way to contribute to the Longhorns’ success.
“To do anything great you have to sacrifice an incredible amount,” Boyer said. “You have to be willing to give up things, so during any time off I had overseas, I would go snap a football for a half-hour instead of watching an episode of ‘Entourage’ or playing video games. Other guys sit around and B.S., and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what I wanted meant every spare moment I had was going to be focused on football and extra time in the weight room.”
Boyer ultimately played in 38 consecutive games for the Longhorns, recording more than 500 snaps for Texas without one bad snap.
Boyer was a two-sport athlete (baseball and basketball) at Valley Christian High School in Dublin, Calif., which did not field a football team. However, Boyer says he learned the true meaning of teamwork while in the military. He also credits his Special Forces experiences with providing lessons in trust and selflessness that laid the foundation for him to become one of the oldest athletes to play Division I college football.
“You have to have trust in your teammates in the military, especially when you are deployed and working with a Special Forces team,” the former staff sergeant said. “You have to trust that they are going to do their job, and then you do your job and everybody stays in their lane. Everything is all about serving for the guy next to you, that selfless mindset. That’s why I eventually was able to play college football even though I was 29. I knew what it would take and what I would have to sacrifice to make it happen.”
A would-be filmmaker, Boyer is following a unique script for his own life. After graduating high school in 1999, he worked on a fishing boat in Southern California and did other odd jobs to fund month-long backpacking trips across Europe. After September 11th, he participated in relief work in the Darfur region in Sudan, an experience that motivated him to join the military.
“I had gained this patriotism and realized how fortunate we are for what we have,” said Boyer, who received a Bronze Star for service in Iraq in 2008.
At Texas, Boyer excelled on the field and in the classroom. He earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology in 2013 and received a master’s degree in advertising in December 2014, earning first-team academic All-Big 12 honors following the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.
While Boyer’s goal one day is to make films that spotlight “unsung heroes” and “situations that need attention,” the next act in his own football life story is continuing to be written.
“I think he’s going to be able to hit somebody,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said of his newest Seahawk, who has added 25 pounds since leaving college. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have a guy come to the program with his background. We cherish competitors, we cherish tough guys, we cherish guys that can overcome odds, and he’s done all that. We’ll see what happens. Gresh [starter Clint Gresham] better get ready.”
While he’s more famous for being “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War and was the first man outside of the Soviet Union to learn of Premier Joseph Stalin’s death.
The Man In Black passed the message up the chain and returned to work. Cash’s job already required that he have limited off-post privileges and contact with locals. Still, he couldn’t discuss what happened with even his close friends.
The rest of the world would soon learn of Stalin’s death and the ascent of Georgy Malenkov.
Cash, meanwhile, would leave the service honorably just over a year later and return to Texas where he had trained. He married his first wife the same year and signed with Sun Records in 1955.
He played the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time the same year.
Over the following 48 years, Cash wrote thousands of songs and released dozens of albums before his death in September 2003 at the age of 71.
During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 29, Votel said U.S. forces may need to increase “all-weather fire support” — military terminology for artillery support.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia coalition, made up mostly of Kurdish and Arab fighters, is leading the ground offensive to capture Raqqa away from the control of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh, with the help of the U.S.-led international coalition.
“We have recognized that as we continue to pursue our military objectives in Syria, we are going to need more direct all-weather fire support capability for our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Votel told the committee. “We have not taken our eye off what our principle mission is, which is to advise and assist and enable our partners. Help our partners fight, but not fight for them.”
There are about 1,000 U.S. special operations forces, Marines, and U.S. Army Rangers in northern Syria helping train and support local militias as they work to surround and isolate Raqqa before launching the offensive to take the city.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces have almost completed the isolation phase of Raqqa operations and will, in the coming months, begin operations to seize Raqqa, dismantling a key node in ISIS’ external operations network,” Votel told the Committee.
The U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State on March 30 said the Islamic State’s annual revenue decreased from an estimated $1.9 billion in 2014 to $870 million last year.
The SDF on March 26 captured the Tabqa airbase as they approach to seize the Tabqa dam, the largest dam in Syria which is a key source of electricity for the region.