US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made waves on Friday when he expressed his dissatisfaction with decades of failed diplomacy towards North Korea and mentioned that the US would consider “all options,” including military strikes.
To be fair, the US has always considered all options.
If any nation in the world threatens another, the US, with its global reach, considers a range of diplomatic, economic, and even kinetic options to shape the situation.
But defense experts say a military strike against North Korea is unlikely for a number of reasons.
“There is no plausible military option,” Jeffrey Lewis, founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk told Business Insider. “To remove the North Korean government is general war.”
North Korea has a large amount of massive fixed guns trained on South Korea. | KCNA
Because North Korea has missiles hidden all across the country, there’s simply no way to quickly and cleanly remove the Kim regime from power or even neutralize the nuclear threat, according to Lewis.
“This is not a case where you’re striking a nuclear program in its early stages,” said Lewis, who noted that North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons for more than a decade. “The time to do a preemptive attack was like 20 years ago.”
Last September, the country tested a nuclear weapon some estimates suggest was more powerful than the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima.
While North Korea’s nuclear threat has grown, according to Lewis, massive artillery installations hidden in the hills and trained on South Korea’s capital and most populous city, Seoul have long been a problem.
But artillery and shelling is nowhere near as destructive as nuclear weapons. If North Korean artillery fired on Seoul, South Korea would counter attack and suppress fire.
“It would kill a lot of people and be a humanitarian disaster,” Lewis said of a North Korean artillery strike on Seoul. “But that’s nothing like putting a nuclear weapon on Seoul, Busan, or Tokyo. North Korea’s ability to inflict damage has gone way up.”
As Tillerson accurately stated, diplomatic efforts to quash North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have failed for decades. The US’s patience has been understandably tried by the recent missile launches clearly intended as a saturation attack, where a large volume of missiles would overwhelm US and allied missile defenses.
However, there is a way out. China recently floated a North Korean-backed proposal for the US to end their annual military drills with South Korea and, in return, North Korea would stop working on nukes. The US flat out rejected the offer, as they have in the past.
“The onus is on North Korea to take meaningful actions toward denuclearization and refrain from provocations,” Mark Toner, the acting spokesman for the State Department, said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
Toner suggested that comparing the US’s transparent, planned, defensive, and 40-year-old military drills in South Korea with North Korea’s 24 ballistic missile launches in 2016 was a case of “apples to oranges.”
North Korea’s position is “not crazy,” according to Lewis. There is a long history of serious military conflicts beginning under the pretense of military exercises, as Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia did.
“The reality is that the US forces are there, we say they’re there for an exercise, but you can’t take that as a promise, you have to treat it as an invasion,” said Lewis.
Instead, Lewis suggested that part of the purpose of the military exercises has always been to make sure the US and South Korea can capably execute their war plans, but the other purpose has always been political — to reassure South Korea.
Meanwhile, each year the Foal Eagle exercises, where the US and South Korea rehearse their war plan for conflict with North Korea, grow in size. Lewis said that reducing the exercises could go a long way towards calming down North Korea.
If diplomacy and sanctions continue to fail, the consequences could be disastrous.
“North Korea wants an ICBM with a thermonuclear weapon. They’re not going to stop cause they get bored,” Lewis said.
The US and North Korea are currently locked in strategies to “maximize pain” on the other party, according to Lewis. The US holds massive drills in part to scare North Korea, while North Korea tests nukes to scare the west.
Without some form of cooperation between the two sides soon, diplomacy will continue to fail until it fails catastrophically. And that makes military confrontations, though unlikely, more viable every day.
In January 2008, the Army began the process of removing drill sergeants from Advanced Individual Training, and replacing them with platoon sergeants. One decade later, the reverse transition has begun with the first wave of noncommissioned officers graduating March 8, 2018, from a 10-day conversion course qualifying them to wear the drill sergeant identification badge.
In the past, noncommissioned officers who trained to be AIT platoon sergeants attended the first six weeks of the nine-week long drill sergeant school before splitting off to learn other things, such as attending the master resilience course.
According to officials, although AIT platoon sergeants proved effective and provided “ready Soldiers for the nation,” the return of drill sergeants is expected to “improve the standards and discipline” of new Soldiers.
Making the transition is mandatory for those who have graduated from the AIT platoon sergeant course on or after Jan. 21, 2017. Platoon sergeants who have between 13 to 18 months of time can volunteer to extend for an additional year to become eligible.
Master Sgt. Christopher Foley, 1st Engineer Brigade operations sergeant major, said the brigade has 27 platoon sergeants at installations across the country, 15 of which are here at Fort Leonard Wood. “(As a whole,) 15 must attend training; six are in the option window, and six do not have enough time remaining,” Foley said. “Two within that option window have already volunteered and will incur a third year of duty.”
(U.S. Army photo by Terrance Bell)
Foley added that the brigade has already had three of their Fort Leonard Wood platoon sergeants attend the course, making the transition to drill sergeant. The brigade plans to have all eligible platoon sergeants converted by July 2018.
Staff Sgt. Ericka Kong-Martinez with Company A, 554th Engineer Battalion, is one of those recent graduates. She has spent one year as a platoon sergeant and, after volunteering to extend for a year, will spend the next two as a drill sergeant.
“It’s a good opportunity to see the difference between both roles,” Kong-Martinez said. “Now I see the difference in trainees’ reactions from a platoon sergeant to an actual drill sergeant. They react a lot faster when a drill sergeant addresses them.”
She added, “the discipline level is higher. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”
Here, the 3rd Chemical and 14th Military Police brigades, together, have approximately 38 platoon sergeants that will also transition or be replaced.
In the end, approximately 600 current platoon sergeants across the Army will make the conversion to drill sergeant. All are expected to be in place by the end of the fiscal year.
The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.
Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.
Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.
The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.
As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.
The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.
The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.
As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.
An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.
“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”
As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.
He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.
“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”
Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.
From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.
“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.
There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.
“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”
The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.
When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.
It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.
At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.
“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”
Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.
Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”
“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”
They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.
At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.
Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.
“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”
With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.
Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.
Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.
“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”
But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”
Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.
The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.
“Are you serious?” Russell replied.
Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.
Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.
As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.
“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.
Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.
“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.
Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.
“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.
But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”
Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.
“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.
Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.
“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.
He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.
Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.
“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.
The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.
During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.
Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.
That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.
Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.
“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”
Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.
Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.
Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.
One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.
Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.
“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.
Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”
Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.
The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.
“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”
The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.
Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.
Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.
Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.
Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.
After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.
“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.
The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.
Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.
“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”
The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.
The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.
“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.
He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.
Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.
Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.
As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.
Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.
Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.
As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.
The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.
Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.
Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.
“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.
The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.
“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”
Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.
As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.
“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.
When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.
“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.
Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.
Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.
The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature
Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby
Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles
Major Stephen C. Reich
Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III
Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.
The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.
Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.
Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.
The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.
Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.
For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.
The Summer Olympics Games may be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil but all eyes are on Peru this week as security forces from 20 nations compete at Fuerzas Comando, a friendly military skills competition where the top special operations forces and police forces from the Western Hemisphere compete for the coveted Fuerzas Comando Cup.
Along with the U.S. and Colombian delegations, teams from the nations of Argentina, Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay will compete in this year’s event. The U.S. team is represented by elite Green Berets from the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group.
The U.S. is looking to finally bring home the gold after coming in second place each of the previous two years, losing to the Colombian special operations team. Colombia has won the last three Fuerzas Comando competitions and has won seven times overall since the games were established in 2011.
Sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and executed by U.S. Special Operations Command South, the annual event aims to improve cooperation, knowledge, and interoperability between participating countries. It’s broken down into two parts: an assault team competition and a sniper team competition. Each event is scored and evaluated by judges from each of the 20 participating nations to provide a fair and balanced evaluation of all the participating nations.
The team who wins each event wins 200 points. The team with the most points by the end of the week-long event wins the title of Fuerzas Comando champion. These are the events in which the teams will be judged:
This event consists of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 2-mile run.
2016 Competition Update: The Guatemala Team place 1st in this event and were awarded 200 points. They were followed by Mexico and Honduras. The U.S. team placed 14th in this event.
A series of tests assessing the marksmanship abilities of the assault team members using both rifle and pistol from various distances. Each of the events is timed.
Competitors must run long distances with heavy objects and drag large mannequins across various stations on a firing range and then engage stationary targets. The team with the most successful hits wins 200 points.
This event consists of getting across a large body of water in a raft, run 3 miles with their rucks, swim with full military gear and weapons, and then sprint to a pistol marksmanship range and engage targets.
The obstacle course consists of a series of stations such as a rope climb, horizontal ladders, wall climbs, and rappelling tall towers to test each individual’s strength, endurance, and balance.
Competitors compete in a 12-mile ruck march with full military equipment. Team with the fastest time wins the event.
Combat Assault (Shoot House)
Each nation’s assault team moves through a shoot house to clear several targets. Teams must eliminate all threats located inside and rescue a hostage dummy. Each team must carry their hostage back to the finish line to successfully complete the event.
Sniper concealment and Mobility
Move within a range observe and engage a target while remaining undetected. They must return to the starting point without being seen by the judges. The teams have 90 mins to complete this event.
Sniper Unknown Distance Shoot
Competitors engage targets from various distances, 300 to 800 meters. The team who hits the most targets wins the event.
The exercise ends with a multinational friendship airborne jump. To stay updated on the day-to-day results and scores on the competition, follow https://www.facebook.com/USSOCSOUTH/
The identity of the pilot has not been released, pending a 24-hour period following notification of family members.
Officials said the cause of the crash is under investigation.
Speaking at a think tank event in Washington, D.C., on Friday, the Corps’ top aviation officer, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, offered thoughts and prayers for the families of the pilot, adding that he didn’t have all the details about the incident.
While Marine officials have testified this year that readiness challenges have resulted in significant reductions in flight hours for Marine pilots across nearly every aviation platform, Davis said he did not believe that was a contributing factor in the tragedy.
“I track [flight hours] each week. This particular unit was doing OK,” he said. He said he did not believe that reduced flight hours had made squadrons less safe, but he said the Corps was “not as proficient as we should be” in its aviation component.
This is the second fatal Hornet crash for the Marine Corps in the last 12 months. In October 2015, a Marine pilot was killed when a 3rd MAW F/A-18C aircraft attached to Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 232 crashed near Royal Air Force airfield Lakenheath in England during a flight from Miramar to Bahrain.
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock is a legend of Marine Corps history. One of the most lethal snipers in history, he even repeatedly succeeded in killing snipers sent to hunt him. In one of his last missions on a tour in Vietnam, he crawled nearly two miles to kill a Vietnamese general and escape.
Check out WATM’s podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss the legend of Gunny Carlos Hathcock:
When the mission came down, he didn’t have all the details but he knew tough missions at the end of a tour were a recipe for disaster. Rather than send one of his men, he volunteered for the mission himself.
“Normally, when you take on a mission like that, when you’re that short, you forget everything,” Hathcock said in an interview. “Ya know, tactics, the whole ball of wax, and you end up dead. And, I did not want none of my people dead, and so I took the mission on myself.”
Hathcock was flown towards the objective, but was dropped well short of the target so he wouldn’t be given away. He made his way to a tree line, but still had 1,500 yards to move from the tree line to his final firing position. So, he started crawling.
“I went to my side. I didn’t go flat on my belly, because I made a bigger slug trail when I was on my belly. I moved on my side, pretty minutely, very minutely. I knew I had a long ways to go, didn’t want to tire myself out too much.”
As he crawled, he was nearly discovered multiple times by enemy soldiers.
“Patrols were within arm’s reach of me. I could’ve tripped the majority, some of them. They didn’t even know I was there.”
The complacency of the patrol allowed Hathcock to get 700 yards from his target.
“They didn’t expect a one-man attack. They didn’t expect that. And I knew, from the first time when they came lolly-gagging past me, that I had it made.”
The talented sniper made his way up to his firing position, avoiding patrols the whole way and slipping between machine gun nests without being detected.
He arrived at his firing position and set up for his shot.
“Seen all the guys running around that morning, and I dumped the bad guy.”
Hathcock took his shot and punched right through the chest of the general he was targeting. At that moment, he proved the brilliance of firing from grass instead of from the trees.
“When I made the shot, everybody run the opposite direction because that’s where the trees were,” he said. “That’s where the trees were. It flashed in my mind, ‘Hey, you might have something here.”
Per his escape plan, Hathcock crawled to a nearby ditch and crawled his way back out of the field. For the first time in four days, he was able to walk.
“So, I went to that ditch, little gully, and made it to the tree line, and about passed out when I stood up to get a little bit better speed.”
The Air Force initially halted deliveries of the Boeing 767 airliner-based tanker planes for two weeks in early March 2019. At the time, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Will Roper, told reporters that debris such as tools was left in parts of the plane that could be a potential safety hazard, Defense News reported.
According to Reuters, the Air Force decided to halt deliveries again on March 23, 2019.
“The Air Force again halted acceptance of new KC-46 tanker aircraft as we continue to work with Boeing to ensure that every aircraft delivered meets the highest quality and safety standards,” a USAF spokesperson told the Air Force Times in an emailed statement. “This week our inspectors identified additional foreign object debris and areas where Boeing did not meet quality standards.”
A KC-46 Pegasus flies over the flightline of the 97th Air Mobility Wing.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy Wentworth)
“Resolving this issue is a company and program priority — Boeing is committed to delivering FOD-free aircraft to the Air Force,” Boeing told Business Insider in a statement. “Although we’ve made improvements to date, we can do better.”
“We are currently conducting additional company and customer inspections of the jets and have implemented preventative action plans,” the Boeing statement went on to say. “We have also incorporated additional training, more rigorous clean-as-you-go practices and FOD awareness days across the company to stress the importance and urgency of this issue. Safety and quality are our highest priority.”
Boeing commenced deliveries of the KC-46 tanker in January 2019. The plane was originally slated for delivery to the Air Force in 2017. However, development delays pushed the plane’s entry into service back.
The KC-46 is expected to replace the USAF’s aging fleet of Boeing 707-based KC-135 tankers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Super Bowl LIII was the stuff of… well, not legends, exactly — even though the Patriots did become only the second team in NFL history to win six Super Bowls. Whether you were rooting for Brady to cement his GOAT status or hoping the Rams could headbutt him into history, fans from both sides were a little disappointed by the early action in the game.
Here are some of the best memes to come out of the wait, the 4th-quarter fireworks, and the Super Bowl ads:
On the ad side, Bud Light had a few great ones, Stella Artois had an awesome one with Jeff Bridges as The Dude, Harrison Ford and his dog taught everyone about failed Alexa prototypes, and Microsoft showed off their adaptive controllers.
Kia’s ad debuted their swimming SUV, for some reason.
To be clear, no, Kia isn’t releasing a swimming SUV. But their ad about the Kia Telluride showed the small town in Georgia that makes the car and then showed someone driving the car into a river like they didn’t want it anymore (and, yes, it more likely be the Coast Guard than Navy).
A government chemist testified Oct. 5 he found traces of the banned VX nerve agent on two women being tried in Malaysia on charges of murdering the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader.
The testimony was the first evidence linking VX to Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam, who are accused of smearing the nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in a brazen assassination inside a crowded airport terminal inKuala Lumpur on Feb. 13.
Raja Subramaniam, who heads the government’s Center of Chemical Weapon Analysis, said he found VX in its pure form and VX precursors on Huong’s white jumper and found a degraded product of VX on Huong’s fingernails.
Huong was seen on airport surveillance videos wearing a white jumper emblazoned with the big black letters “LOL,” the acronym for “laughing out loud.”
The chemist, who is the only Malaysian with a doctorate in chemical weapons analysis, said laboratory tests also detected VX acid, a degraded product of the nerve agent, on Aisyah’s sleeveless T-shirt.
He said VX will degrade once it is exposed to the atmosphere, and even faster when it is in contact with water, leaving degraded products of VX.
“The presence of VX precursors and VX degradation products confirms the presence of VX itself,” he told the court.
Raja also confirmed that he found VX on Kim’s face, eyes, clothing, and in his blood and urine.
Aisyah and Huong have pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, which could bring a death penalty if they are convicted. They have not testified but their defense has said the women were duped by suspected North Korean agents into believing they were playing a harmless prank for a hidden-camera TV show.
Raja earlier described VX as the “deadliest nerve agent created” and literature showed that 10 milligrams could be fatal. He said VX is oily and difficult to detect because it is colorless and odorless, and can be easily transported in a water bottle. He said Malaysia’s airports do not have the special equipment needed to detect VX.
Raja also said rubbing VX on the eyes and neck would be the fastest way to kill a person, compared to splashing or spraying the chemical. He said VX doesn’t evaporate quickly, making it a strategic choice because a person could be targeted without affecting the surroundings. It takes six days for a drop of VX to evaporate, he said.
He agreed with the prosecutors’ assertion that Kim didn’t inhale VX because no nerve agent was detected on a nasal swab.
The trial is to resume Oct. 9, with the judge, lawyers and the two suspects visiting Raja’s laboratory to see VX-tainted samples from the two women before they are formally submitted as evidence. This came after Raja told the court it would be safer to view the samples in the lab because the VX may still be active.
Gooi Soon Seong, lawyer for Siti, told reporters that detection of VX on the women was not enough to convict them.
“If I have the knife, it doesn’t mean I killed the person. They must have other stronger evidence,” he said.
He also said Raja was inconsistent and shouldn’t be afraid to open the VX-tainted samples since he testified VX could easily be washed off and doesn’t evaporate quickly.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, Huong’s lawyer, said the defense has another explanation of why VX was present on the Vietnamese and would reveal this later.
The VX-tainted evidence from Kim’s body and clothing was presented in court Oct. 4 in sealed plastic bags, and the lawyers and court officials wore surgical masks and gloves as they viewed it.
Earlier witnesses have testified Kim quickly suffered symptoms of chemical poisoning and died from acute VX poisoning within two hours of the attack.
VX is banned by an international treaty as a weapon of mass destruction but is believed to be part of North Korea’s chemical weapons arsenal. Kim was the eldest son in the current generation of North Korea’s dynastic rulers but was believed to have been cast out by his father and had lived abroad for years. He reportedly never met current leader Kim Jong Un, who is widely believed to have perceived his older sibling as a threat and targeted him for assassination.
The trial is being closely watched by the Indonesian and Vietnamese governments, which hired the defense lawyers for both women.
The Marine Corps reportedly has a saying: “Hunting tanks is fun and easy.”
Popular Mechanics cited that statement last September, but it’s now more true than ever.
That’s thanks to one cool cluster bomb that can take out 40 tanks in one pass.
A September 2016 report by Stars and Stripes noted that while many countries have signed a treaty banning the use of cluster bombs, the United States is not among them.
The fear of a major Russian ground force carrying out an invasion has long dominated NATO. In the Cold War, they were likely to come through the Fulda Gap. Today, the Baltics are seen as the likely flashpoint.
However, the U.S. has long anticipated that it would need a way to counter a large number of enemy tanks.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, production of the BLU-108 submunitions used by the CBU-97 started in 1992. Ten of these are carried in each CBU-97, and this bomb can be carried by any plane from an A-10 Thunderbolt to the B-1B Lancer. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the debut of the CBU-105 in Operation Iraqi Freedom caused surviving enemy tank crews to surrender.
Designation-Systems.net notes that with the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser kit, aircraft can drop this bomb, now called the CBU-105 from up to ten miles away, and be no further than 85 feet from their aimpoint.
Anyone who’s been hip to military media for the past few years probably knows the second largest air force in the world is the U.S. Navy’s air forces. What people may not know about is the old fleet of United States ships floating around out there with the prefix USAF instead of USS.
The U.S. Air Force has its own navy – but no, it is not the second largest navy in the world. The U.S. Navy isn’t even the second largest, by the way. More on that some other time.
“Bigger” doesn’t translate into “better” by any means.
Now, does the Air Force field anything that could actually rival the naval forces of another country? No, of course not. The Air Force Navy is a very specific fleet with very specific missions. For example the USAF Rising Star is the air service’s lone tugboat, used for the two months of the year that ships near Greenland’s Thule Air Force Base can access the port there – 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Thule is the northernmost deepwater port in the world.
The tugboat is needed during the critical summer resupply period on Greenland, aligning huge cargo ships, moving tankers into position, and helping pump fuel to the base. It also pushed icebergs away from the area in which these big ships operate.
The USAF Rising Star tugboat.
The rest of the USAF’s current fleet operates in the Gulf of Mexico out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Tyndall is home to the 82d Aerial Targets Squadron, a unit that still flies the F-4E Phantom fighter plane. Only these converted F-4s have a special mission. Flying in groups of three, one acts as a chase plane and another two, unmanned drone planes flying with advanced countermeasures. These two are actually converted into drones and destined to be full-scale aerial targets for the Air Force. That’s where the ships of the USAF “Tyndall Navy” come in.
Tyndall’s three 120-foot drone recovery vessels are used in the Gulf of Mexico to recover the wrecks and assorted bits and pieces from the waters below the Air Force’s “Combat Archer” aerial target practice training area. At its peak, the USAF had a dozen or so ships in the water, each with a designated role in supporting Air Force operations. At one point, the Air Force had so many ships, the Coast Guard might have been envious.
I recently read an article that posed an interesting question: Does the Army need airborne? The short answer is no. The long answer is we need the capability; there is a small fraction of operations where an airborne assault might be the only way to go, but we don’t need as much “airborne” as we currently have.
Bear with me. I know there are some seriously butt hurt people right now reading this. The tactic has value — limited, but still some.
The unit as an organized structure that practices the airborne tactic has no value — zero, nada, and zilch. The reason is simply the risk; a new person jumping one time is just as much at risk as a veteran jump master on his 1,000th jump.
The singular benefit of airborne operations is to get troops on the battlefield when there are no other means available and when those same troops might secure the means themselves.
WWII was a perfect example. The night of June 5, 1944, airborne operations began to place large numbers of troops behind German lines to tie up reinforcements trying to reach the Atlantic Wall fortifications and prevent the beach invasion.
It was known and accepted that those airborne troops were effectively lost and might never be recovered as a unit. We routinely accept injury in airborne operations that would be unacceptable in other training, all for a tactic that has limited utility.
Had the beach landings failed, the airborne teams would have been cut off and without support. At best they could have surrendered; at worst, they would be dead. This was not an assumption. This was a specific and recognized outcome of the invasion.
For all the vaunted legend of the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne, the fact is that the units had little cohesion, fought mostly in small numbers, and took several days to re-form into fighting units. Unity of command was not lost; it was impossible to obtain from the beginning.
I am not denigrating the men of the 82nd and the 101st. I am saying any unit could have accomplished the same tasks without any special training involving parachute operations. The difficulties would have been the same.
Soldiers were intermingled between companies, battalions, brigades, and divisions as the confusion of the battlefield worked its magic. Fortunately Americans took advantage of the confusion and managed to win the day.
In that one demonstration on the field of battle, they proved that Airborne was not “all the way” and that the technique of vertical envelopment of the battlefield has a limited utility best used sparingly and only if you are ready to lose those involved.
Which is why for the next sixty years the activities in wartime were expressly limited. In part, we had other means, but ultimately it became clear that this is a tactic that only serves its use in specific operations or as an act of desperation.
The operational characteristics, fully published in FM3-99 Airborne and Air Assault Operations, show the limitations clearly. Even during peacetime, the physical threat to personnel from the jump alone is high.
In fact, regardless of the number of jumps a person has, the risk to life and limb is the same each time they jump. The experience they receive does not affect the process once they exit the aircraft. The senior commanders are just as exposed to risk as the privates.
They are at the mercy of the weather. And that alone can render an entire operation a failure.
With the risk being the same for a jump master with 1000 jumps or the cherry on his first jump, we can say, from a risk management standpoint, we don’t need Army Airborne.
We can still, when the need arises, utilize airborne operations. All risk being equal, there is no difference to the mission to drop an entire unit using a small cadre of experienced personnel while the rest of the personnel just straps on the parachute and falls.
I know it works. This was also proven in WWII by the same units. Many of those men had no training in parachute operations. They were taught to put it on and they got in the plane and jumped into combat.
We don’t need units like the 82nd or battalions like the 1/501st. We need each unit to have a small cadre of jump masters and if the military decides to utilize personnel on an airborne operation, the cadre will ensure everyone is suited up and rigged, and then push them out the door.
There is no reason to have a specialized unit with nifty hats just to practice a tactic that is not really necessary. All they do is fall. They don’t have to open the parachute because the static line does that. While the appropriate parachute landing fall (PLF) might be worthwhile to prevent injury, it is not really worth the effort of a 3 week school just to teach that.
Airborne school teaches the PLF and weeds out those too scared to jump. Other than that, it does not teach you anything particular.
Putting on the parachute does not require training beforehand — the jump master is responsible for making sure you put in on right anyway. Rigging your equipment is not an experience-based skill. Just wrap it up using a pictogram and you are done.
We don’t need specialized airborne units. Airborne, as practiced by the 82nd AA, was obsolete at the end of WWII.
The Army just doesn’t want to admit that because it looks good. But none of them want to admit that the casualties, from the jump and from war, would make any airborne operation a risky adventure.
They know it; they just don’t want to talk about it.
In combat, a unit that sustains 15% casualties is still combat capable but only marginally. What gain do we have from a military unit that could receive those losses from entering combat before they face the enemy?
The jump alone could cause that damage, and this does not include the fact that it could be the senior command leadership, key weapons vital to the mission, or any number of critical items lost on the drop.
Those are the risks not once, but every time a jump occurs. It is not cost effective to maintain a unit that faces those risks every time just for practice. It would be better to only pull out this operation when necessary.
If we are going to accept the potential risk, it is not any more dangerous to accept a leg unit that did an airborne operation as a onetime act of desperation.
Airborne pride is an expensive attitude for a military tactic of desperation. It is time to close the books on that chapter.
We can still use the tactic — but we don’t need to enshrine the idea behind it.
A month later, Malaysia — another major economic ally, and home to many ethnic Chinese — ignored Beijing’s requests to deport a group of Uighurs imprisoned in the country.
Most prominently, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a consortium of 57 countries which calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” — noted in December 2018 “disturbing reports” of China’s Muslim crackdown.
It said it hoped China “would address the legitimate concerns of Muslims around the world.”
Pakistan’s federal minister for religion, Noorul Haq Qadri, in 2017.
(FLBN / YouTube)
In countries where world leaders haven’t stood up to China, there are prominent protests.
Prominent politicians and religious figures in Indonesia — the country with the highest proportion of Muslims in the world — are urging the government to speak up. It has so far refused to do so,saying it that it didn’t “want to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country.”
People have been particularly vocal in Kazakhstan, as many ethnic Kazakhs are said to be imprisoned in the China’s camps. The government in June 2018 said “an urgent request was expressed” over the welfare of Kazakhs detained in China, but there have not been any significant updates.
Western powers like the US, UK, and UN have criticised Beijing over its actions in Xinjiang in the past.
But the criticism of Muslim nations shows a turning tide in the world’s attitude to China, said Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director.
China has long batted away Western criticism, with state-run Global Times tabloid describing Western critics as “a condescending judge” in 2018. China’s foreign ministry said a reported investigation by western diplomats into the Uighur issue was “very rude.”
Richardson said: “When governments like Indonesia or Malaysia … or organizations like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation speak up, China can no longer dismiss concerns about Xinjiang being some kind of Western conspiracy.”
“That’s very encouraging.”
The world is paying attention
The rising tide of outrage against China comes as more and more of the country’s human rights record was brought to light in 2018.
In summer 2018 journalists, academics, and activists were taken aback by the disappearance of the Chinese “X-Men” actress Fan Bingbing, who Chinese authorities detained and kept from the public eye for three months over accusations that she evaded taxes.
The New York Times also featured a story about the Xinjiang detention camps on its front page for the first time in September 2018:
Richardson said: “Increasingly, governments are seeing the way in which China uses thuggish tactics at home and overseas on governments and citizens, and are starting to realize it’s time to push back against it.”
“Three months ago, if you were to tell me there would be critical language coming out of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, I would have suggested it was unlikely,” she said.
Next comes action
Muslim countries’ speaking up against China over the Uighurs is a significant first step, but is not likely to do much by itself.
Countries now need to take concrete action to punish or persuade China to end their crackdown on the Uighurs, Richardson said.
“The question now is what everybody is willing to do,” she said. “Talking and putting in consequential actions are two different things. That’s where the game shifts next.”
Countries will also have to be “mindful that China will fight it tooth and nail,” she added.
Members of the Muslim world could demand independent access into Xinjiang to investigate reports of the detention camps, for example.
Another form of punishment could come in the form of sanctions, or cancelling contracts.
Richardson, the Human Rights Watch director, noted that the latest spate of accusations against China came at a time when multiple Muslim countries started reassessing their economic ties with Beijing.
Demonstration in Berlin for Uighur human rights.
Malaysia axed billion of Beijing-backed infrastructure projects August 2018. Egypt’s talks with a Chinese building company for a billion development also broke down this week, Bloomberg reported. Neither of those cancellations were over the Uighur issue.
A group of US bipartisan lawmakers in November 2018 introduced the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (“Uyghur” is an alternative spelling). The act urges the White House to consider imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the Uighur crackdown, as well as banning exports of US technology that could be used to oppress Uighurs.
Chinese cash could be hard to quit
Whether Muslim countries follow suit remains to be seen, however. China is the largest trading partner of 20 of the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, according to Bloomberg.
Pakistan, whose religious minister criticized China’s Uighur crackdown in 2018 is also one of the largest recipients of Chinese aid and infrastructure contracts.
In December 2018 its foreign ministry rowed back the religious minister’s comments, accusing the media of “trying to sensationalize” the Xinjiang issue, Agence France-Presse reported.
Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, also appeared to echo Beijing’s line on the detention camps, saying that some Pakistani citizens who were detained in Xinjiang were “undergoing voluntary training” instead.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.