Inspired by his favorite hero Audie Murphy, Pfc. John Baker, an assistant machine gunner, found himself getting ready to battle enemy forces in the Tay Ninh Province, South Vietnam, in the fall of 1966.
Assigned to Company A of the 27th Army infantry, Baker’s unit was sent out on a mission to help support a sister company trapped by an aggressive and well-supplied Viet Cong force.
Shortly after Baker and his unit arrived at the combat zone in the early morning, intel reports suggested that the enemy had grown to nearly 3,000.
Without regard for their own lives, 257 allied troops loaded their weapons and proceeded into the heart of the jungle.
“The jungle itself was so thick, it looked like going into a wooded area at night,” Baker recalls.
As the sun began to rise, enemy gunfire rang out in multiple directions. Baker removed his gear and used his 5-foot 2-inch build to crawl approximately 20-yards undetected, where he discovered several enemy bunkers. Baker quickly returned to brief his CO.
Enemy gunfire was again broke out, temporarily trapping Baker and his squad.
“The only way we could get out was fight our way out,” Baker proudly states.
As the chaos mounted, Baker bravely took the left flank and blew up a few enemy bunkers. Then he spotted several wounded soldiers and carried him to the rear for medical treatment.
Baker replenished his ammo and ran back into the fight killing a few VC snipers along the way.
Then, it happened. Boom!
An enemy grenade detonated nearby causing Baker to sustain multiple fragmentation injuries. He dusted himself off and got right back into the fight. At the end of the intense firefight, Baker was credited for killing 10 enemy troops, destroying six enemy bunkers and saving eight allied troops.
After Baker returned from Vietnam, he worked as a drill sergeant in Fort Jackson in South Carolina. During his time there, he was informed by his company commander that President Johnson was to award him with the Medal of Honor for his bravery.
It was the Red Army’s “Iwo Jima” moment, Soviet troops fixing the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the most infamous symbol of the Nazi rise to power. On May 2, 1945, Soviet photographer Yevgeny Khaldei snapped the now-famous photo of Alyosha Kovalyov and Abdulkhakim Ismailov raising the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag.
But the truth behind the photo, who was in the photo, and who actually raised the Soviet victory banner, was clouded in the fog of war and muddled by the Russian propaganda machine for decades. The first to raise the flag were a Kazakh, Lt. Rakhimzhan Koshkarbaev and Pvt. Georgij Bulatov, a Russian from Sverdlovsk.
At first, the Kremlin announced that Georgia-born Meliton Kantaria and Russian Mikhail Yegorov were the men in the photo. The men were hailed as heroes and lived the rest of their lives in the glory created by Soviet propaganda.
Only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 did the truth come out. Kovalyov and Ismailov were really the ones who hoisted the flag on the building… in the photo. But they weren’t the first to raise one. One story has it that a Sergeant Mikhail Menin, part of a five-man fire team led by Vladimir Makov raised a flag on the building first.
In 2007, the Russian Institute of Military History announced that honor went to Koshkarbaev and Bulatov. The only problem was they hoisted the red banner at 10:30 at night. No one believed these two, however – it was too dark for photos.
A documentary film titled “The Motherland Calls” about Kazakhs in the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet term for WWII), relayed anecdotal evidence from other Red Army veterans that described Koshkarbaev and other men from the 674th regiment moving on the parliament building – including the Soviet filmmaker and combat cameraman Roman Karmen.
“You see, we received an order from Moscow: the Victory Banner over the Reichstag should be hoisted by representatives of Georgia and Russia, but it was difficult to stop. I was told to cut the frames [of Koshkarbaev], but they are preserved, in the archives.”
Soviet leadership began pressuring their troops to capture the building in preparation for the International Workers Day celebrations for May 1st. The Soviets tried to drape red banners on the building via aircraft, but came up short when the banners were caught on the girders of the roof.
But as of May 30th, the Nazis still controlled the Reichstag.
The German parliament building, Hitler’s rubber stamp, was defended by 1,000 Nazi troops, so Soviet leadership ordered nine divisions to attack the building. Red Army troops used mortars fired horizontally to punch through bricked-up doorway throughout the building. They fought room by room until Soviet fire teams could make their way to the stairs and the roof of the building.
By May 2nd, the only Germans left in the building surrendered from the basement. That’s when the photographer Yevgeny Khaldei made his way up to the roof and enlisted Kovalyov and Ismailov to help raise the now-famous red banner. He burned through a whole roll of film taking the image.
The Mud March, an offensive launched into Virginia by the Union army on Jan. 20, 1863, was the perfect storm of bad luck, poor logistical planning and atrocious weather.
It was a huge operation aimed at striking a mortal blow to the Confederacy that ended up collapsing under its own sodden weight in the mud, with practically no combat to speak of.
Following the disastrous Union defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia on Dec. 13, 1862, morale among Union soldiers and the public was hitting a new low.
The Union Army of the Potomac, under the command of the newly appointed Gen. Ambrose Burnside, had hoped to quickly cross the Rappahannock river at Fredericksburg and race to Richmond, the Confederate capital. The Army of Northern Virginia under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was waiting for them.
The Union suffered nearly 13,000 casualties, mostly in doomed frontal assaults against dug-in rebel troops on Marye’s Heights, who had ideal shelter behind an existing stone wall. The Confederacy had taken less than half as many losses, and the Union army was sent reeling back.
Burnside was desperate to retrieve his reputation, which the slaughter at Fredericksburg had left in tatters. He proposed a bold new offensive against Lee’s left flank, drawing the enemy into the open from their defences where they could be destroyed. January had been mild and dry so far, and the need for a quick victory to make up for Fredericksburg was paramount.
But when the army departed on Jan. 20, a drizzling rain gradually became a total downpour that lasted for days. Pontoon bridges to be laid over the Rappahannock river were delayed by logistical problems and huge traffic jams developed. Two entire corps were misdirected through the same crossroads becoming completely ensnarled.
Artillery and wagons became hopelessly mired in the muddy roads. Hundreds of draft animals dropped dead of exhaustion trying to pull their loads. Some units could move less than two miles a day.
Faced with miserable soldiers shivering in the mud, Burnside decided to lift their spirits by ordering a ration of whiskey issued to the army. But the liquor was distributed a little too freely,and many units started to descend into drunken squalor. A brawl broke out between two regiments with a history of rivalry, leading a third regiment to intervene in an effort to break it up.
The resulting chaos may have been one of the largest fistfights in American history.
All surprise had been lost. Lee and his army were dug in on the other side of the Rappahannock. Confederate scouts and pickets observing the Union army jeered and shouted insults, waving signs emblazoned with “Burnside’s Army Stuck in the Mud” and “This Way to Richmond” with arrows pointing in the opposite direction.
The ill-fated offensive was called off. It was such a fiasco that Burnside was relieved as commander of the army on Jan. 25 and replaced the next day by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker.
Burnside had never wanted the job of replacing general George B. McClellan, his predecessor, believing himself unfit for an army level command. He took it only after being informed that the command would go to Hooker, whom he greatly disliked and distrusted.
Following the disasters of Fredericksburg and the Mud March, Hooker ended up with the command anyway. Hooker went on to face calamity at the battle of Chancellorsville, where his army was routed by Lee despite outnumbering him by over 2-to-1.
The Union Army had faced a string of defeats in the Eastern Theatre, from the first Bull Run to the abattoir at Fredericksburg. But the Mud March shows how bad weather and bad planning can stop even a powerful army in its tracks as effectively as rifles and artillery.
Two Americans were killed while fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Kurdish militia announced.
According to a report by CBSNews.com, the Kurdish militia known as the YPG announced the deaths of Robert Grodt and Nicholas Warden during fighting near Raqqa, Syria. Their deaths bring the total of Americans killed fighting ISIS as volunteers to at least four.
In a five-minute video released by the YPG on YouTube, Grodt, who adopted the nom de guerre “Dehmat Goldman,” told his story, explaining how he had been very sympathetic to the Kurds.
“I talked with my partner and my family, and I’m like, I’m gonna go out to Syria. This is something I care about,” he said in the video.
Warden, the other American confirmed killed in the fighting near the city ISIS claimed as its capital, had adopted the moniker Rodi Deysie and was an Army veteran.
“He was very strong-willed and very strong-minded and very much against ISIS and these terrorist groups,” his father Mark was quoted by CBSNews.com as saying. “He wanted to do whatever he could to get rid of them. He said not enough people are helping so he had to help.”
In a video released by the YPG, Warden said he volunteered to fight ISIS “because of the terrorist attacks they were doing in Orlando, in San Bernardino, in Nice (France), in Paris.”
The terrorist group may have been driven from Mosul, and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has reportedly been killed, but they are still capable of carrying out heinous attacks. CBSNews.com reported that the group used children as human shields for a car bomb factory near Raqqa, preventing Coalition forces from carrying out an air strike on the facility. Instead, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices are being attacked one at a time after they depart the production line.
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today awarded approximately $300 million more in grants under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to help thousands of very low-income Veteran families around the nation who are permanently housed or transitioning to permanent housing. The SSVF grant program provides access to crucial services to prevent homelessness for Veterans and their families.
SSVF funding, which supports outreach, case management and other flexible assistance to prevent Veteran homelessness or rapidly re-house Veterans who become homeless, has been awarded to 275 non-profit organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These grants, key elements of VA’s implementation of the Housing First Strategy, enable vulnerable Veterans to secure or remain in permanent housing. A list of SSVF grantees is located at www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.
“Since 2010, the Housing First Strategy has helped cut Veteran Homelessness nearly in half,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “Housing First is why 360,000 Veterans and family members have been housed, rehoused or prevented from falling into homelessness over the last five years. SSVF helps homeless Veterans quickly find stable housing and access the supportive services they – and their families – need.”
Grantees will continue to provide eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management, and assistance obtaining VA and other benefits, which may include health care, income support services, financial planning, child care, legal services, transportation, housing counseling, among other services.
Grantees are expected to leverage supportive services grant funds to enhance the housing stability of very low-income Veteran families who are occupying permanent housing. In doing so, grantees are required to establish relationships with local community resources.
In fiscal year (FY) 2015, SSVF served more than 157,000 participants and is on track to exceed that number in FY 2016. As a result of these and other efforts, Veteran homelessness is down 47 percent since the launch of the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in 2010. Also since 2010, more than 360,000 Veterans and their family members have been permanently housed, rapidly re-housed, or prevented from falling into homelessness by VA’s homelessness programs and targeted housing vouchers provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Today’s grant recipients successfully competed for grants under a January 15, 2016, Notice of Fund Availability. Applications were due February 5, 2016. The funding will support SSVF services in FY 2017, which starts October 1, 2016, and ends September 30, 2017.
Back in the 1980s, the US supported Afghan “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Union. Those fighters later morphed into the Taliban. And now, the Russians seem to be returning the favor.
Moscow said last month it was in contact with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, with the stated reason being that Russia was sharing information and cooperating on strategy to fight the local ISIS affiliate there, according to The Wall Street Journal. So far, cooperation apparently doesn’t involve cash or guns.
But it understandably has US commanders there spooked.
Gen. John Nicholson, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, has spoken out against Russia’s extension of an olive branch to the Taliban as offering “overt” legitimacy to a group intent on toppling the Afghan government.
Russia’s “narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government,” Nicholson said at a Pentagon briefing last month. “So this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO efforts and bolster the belligerents.”
Surprisingly, even Taliban officials say the excuse of offering help to fight ISIS doesn’t add up. Two officials disputed that characterization, including the group’s spokesman, who toldReuters that “ISIS is not an issue.” In fact, both groups forged a shaky truce in August 2016 to turn their guns away from each other, and instead target US-backed Afghan forces.
“In early 2008, when Russia began supporting us, ISIS didn’t exist anywhere in the world,” one senior Taliban official told Reuters. “Their sole purpose was to strengthen us against the US and its allies.”
As the Journal reported, it’s still unclear how a Trump administration will handle Afghanistan. The situation there has steadily declined since the Obama administration ended its “combat mission” in the country in 2014, and government forces only control about two-thirds of the country now, according to Reuters.
Besides potential Russian meddling, Afghanistan is rife with political corruption and tribalism, while many civilians report to a “shadow” government run by the Taliban instead of the national one.
The Pentagon announced it was sending roughly 300 Marines back to the southern Helmand province this spring, where Marines haven’t been on patrol since leaving in 2014.
The men of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment spearheaded one of the American columns that invaded Iraq on Feb. 23, 1991. After three days of light fighting they stumbled into one of the largest Iraqi armored formations and annihilated it with cannons, TOW missiles and mortars in the Battle of 73 Easting, often called “the last great tank battle of the 20th century.”
Then-Capt. (now Lt. Gen.) H.R. McMaster, commander of Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 2nd ACR, literally wrote the book on the battle and commanded one of the lead elements in the fight.
Helicopters buzzed over Eagle Troop as the ground invasion of Iraq began on Feb. 23. The mission of the 2nd ACR was simple in theory but would be challenging to achieve. They were to cut off Iraqi retreat routes out of Kuwait and destroy the large armored formations thought to be hiding in the flat, featureless desert.
The empty desert could be challenging to navigate since there were no features to use for direction. Heavy rains and windstorms limited visibility as the tanks and other vehicles felt their way through the desert.
Fox troop made contact first, destroying a few enemy tanks. Over the next couple of days, 2nd Squadron tanks and vehicles would encounter enemy observation and scout vehicles and destroy them with missiles and cannons, but they couldn’t find the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions they knew were dug somewhere into the desert.
In the afternoon of Feb. 26, 1991, McMaster was pushing his troop through a sandstorm when he crested a rise and there, directly in front of him, was an entire division of Iraqi tanks with elite crews. Finding himself already in range of the enemy, he immediately gave the order to fire.
The enemy had parked themselves away from the slight rise so that they would be hidden and so incoming American tanks would be forced to drive down the hill towards them. This exposed the relatively weak top armor of the tank to the Iraqi guns.
But the Iraqis had lost most of their scout vehicles and so were just as surprised as the U.S. commanders when the two armored forces clashed, leaving them unable to capitalize on their position.
McMaster’s opening salvo set the tone for the battle. His first shot was a HEAT round that destroyed a tank cowering behind a berm. His second shot, a depleted uranium sabot shell, shot through an Iraqi tank that was swiveling to fire on him. As his crew targeted a third enemy, the driver realized they were driving through a minefield and began taking evasive action.
Enemy rounds began falling around the lead tank as the two tank platoons in Eagle Troop got on line to join the fight. Nine American tanks were now bearing down on the Iraqi positions, destroying enemy T-72s and armored vehicles. As McMaster described it in his first summary of the battle:
The few seconds of surprise was all we had needed. Enemy tanks and BMP’s (Soviet-made armored personnel carriers) erupted in innumerable fire balls. The Troop was cutting a five kilometer wide swath of destruction through the enemy’s defense.
The Bradley fighting vehicles joined the tanks, firing TOW missiles at the enemy armor and using their guns to cut down Iraqi infantry. Mortar and artillery support opened up, raining fire onto the remaining Iraqi positions.
The American forces cut down 30 tanks, 14 armored vehicles, and hundreds of infantrymen before reaching their limit of advance, the line they were originally told to halt at. But McMaster ordered the troop to continue attacking, fearful that the Iraqis would be able to regroup and wage a strong counterattack.
At 23 minutes since first contact, McMaster declared it safe to halt his troop’s advance. The single armored troop had crippled the Iraqi flank with zero casualties. One American tank from the 2nd Squadron headquarters had received light damage from a mine.
Near the Eagle Troop position, Ghost, Killer, and Iron troops were mixing it up other Iraqi units and trying to catch up to Eagle. The enemy made a few half-hearted attempts at counter-attacking the U.S. tanks, but they were quickly rebuffed.
That night, the U.S. called on the Iraqi’s to surrender and it was answered by droves of troops. About 250 survivors surrendered to Eagle Troop.
Up and down the U.S. lines, the story was similar to that of Eagle Troop. The Iraqis suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, 85 tanks destroyed, 40 armored vehicles destroyed, 30 wheeled-vehicles lost, and two artillery batteries annihilated. The U.S. suffered 12 men killed, 57 men wounded, and 32 vehicles destroyed or damaged.
In addition to having the best uniforms (yes, I said it), the Marine Corps absolutely kills it when coming up with recruiting slogans.
There is simply no denying the power behind the Corps recruiting messages, from the simple “let’s go!” to “first to fight.” We looked back on some of the most iconic slogans that have driven men and women to enlist for the last 240 years. Here they are:
1. “The Marines are looking for a few good men.”
Who doesn’t want to be among a select few “good men?” This phrase, or some variation of it, has appeared on quite a few recruiting posters throughout Marine history. But this one wasn’t created in an advertising boardroom. The roots of “a few good men” go back to 1799 with Marine Capt. William Jones plea in the Providence Gazette, according to About.com:
“The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement.”
You’ll find this phrase on recruiting posters throughout Corps history, or as the title of the classic film starring Jack Nicholson. But perhaps its biggest impact came from this 1985 TV commercial:
2. “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”
Eventually, the Marine Corps decided to shorten up its famous phrase and add “the proud” to the mix. It seems to have been quite effective, since “the few, the proud” is still used heavily in modern recruiting efforts. This recruiting slogan was so popular that the internet actually voted to place it on the “walk of fame” for advertising slogans on Madison Ave. in New York City in 2007.
“This slogan reflects the unique character of the Marine Corps and underscores the high caliber of those who join and serve their country as Marines,” Maj. Gen. Richard T. Tryon, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said at the time.
Long before the Corps found its footing with one of the best-known military slogans around, it went with simplicity. And there’s probably nowhere better to go for gung-ho phrases than what your enemy calls you. According to Marine Corps lore (with a heavy focus on “lore”), the Germans nicknamed the Marines “teufelhunden,” or “devil dogs,” after encountering them during the Battle of Belleau Wood, France, during World War I.
“The term very likely was first used by Marines themselves and appeared in print before the Battle for Belleau Wood,” Marine Corps History Divison’s Bob Aquilina told Stars Stripes. “It gained notoriety in the decades following World War I and has since become a part of Marine Corps tradition.”
While the nickname wasn’t actually legit, there’s no arguing that it made a solid recruiting poster and had significant staying power, since Marines still refer to themselves today as “devil dogs.”
4. “First to fight.”
Both a recruiting slogan and an enduring mantra of Marines, “first to fight” comes from the Marine Corps hymn of the late 1800s. In 1929, the Corps officially adopted the hymn and immortalized the words of “first to fight for right and freedom” in the memories of future generations of Marines.
Potential recruits began seeing “first to fight in France” during World War I, and they still do. Marine Corps Recruiting Command still uses the phrase in promotional materials today: “Marines are first to fight because of their culture and because they maintain a forward-deployed presence near various global hotspots.”
5. “Tell that to the Marines!”
The Marine Corps has a flair for taking an insult and turning it into something of a badge of honor. Sailors used to call them “gyrenes” as an insult, and then they adopted it. Then they started calling them “jarheads,” and that insult was flipped into a term of endearment.
So goes the phrase “tell that to the Marines.” It was originally an insulting way for sailors to chide British Royal Marines for believing any crazy story that they heard, according to The Marine Corps Historical Center. But with James Montgomery Flagg’s 1917 recruiting poster of an enraged man throwing a newspaper to the ground, the insult was recast as a challenge: if there is evil happening in the world, tell it to the Marines, because they will take care of it. Take that, squids.
6. “We don’t promise you a rose garden.”
One of the best recruiting slogans paired with a photo of a crazed drill instructor made “rose garden” one of the most legendary recruiting posters ever made for the Marine Corps. Sometime during the sixties/early 1970s, the Corps really distinguished itself from the other services with its messaging, and it has endured ever since.
Unlike other services that told potential recruits about awesome job opportunities, GI Bill money, or adventure, the Corps promised only pain, extreme challenges, and sacrifice. The messaging attracted a certain kind of recruit: One who was only interested in earning the title of Marine.
7. “If everybody could get in the Marines, it wouldn’t be the Marines.”
This classic line also played heavily alongside the “rose garden” campaign that ran from 1971 to 1984. Again, the Corps was sending the message that it was an exclusive club that only a select few could make it into. Of course, as a smaller service, the Corps has to be more exclusive, but this slogan also has the added bonus of throwing shade at the Army.
Not everyone can get into the Army, but this slogan hinted that it’s much easier to get into the Army than the Marines.
8. “The Marine Corps builds men.”
Last but certainly not least is the recruiting slogan that spanned three decades. A series of recruiting posters bearing the phrase “The Marine Corps builds men” with images of Marines and Marine life first popped up around the time of the Korean War in the 1950s. The campaign continued all the way into the early 1980s, according to The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.
In the heat of battle, some people freeze up, some charge forward, and some drop awesome lines like they’re trying to win a rap battle.
These quotes are from the third category.
1. “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach! The dead and those who are going to die! Now, let’s get the hell out of here!”
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Photo: public domain)
This was shouted by Army Col. George Taylor as he urged his men forward at Normandy on D-Day. According to survivors, Taylor yelled a few different versions of this quote during the landings at Omaha Beach and all of them had the desired effect, spurring American soldiers forward against the Nazi guns firing on the beach.
2. “All right. They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us … They can’t get away this time.”
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe led the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans were outnumbered, surrounded, and running short on supplies when a German delegation requested their surrender. McAuliffe was awoken with the news and sleepily responded “Nuts!” before heading to meet his staff who had to draft the formal response to the German commander.
The staff decided that the general’s initial response was better than anything they could write. While under siege and near constant attack, the paratroopers typed the following centered on a sheet of paper:
The USS Wahoo was an enormously successful U.S. submarine in World War II that sank five Japanese ships totaling 32,000 tons — including an entire four-ship convoy — during its third cruise. Near the end of the patrol, the Wahoo tried to sink a second convoy but was surprised by a previously unspotted Japanese destroyer outfitted for anti-submarine operations.
Navy legend John Paul Jones helped create the sea service during the American Revolution and, in an epic battle with the HMS Serapis, gave at least a couple of epic quotes including this one when he was asked to surrender.
Stephen E. Ambrose’s famous book “Band of Brothers” attributes a similar quote, “They’ve got us surrounded — the poor bastards,” to an unknown Army medic. As the story goes, the medic was telling an injured corporal why none of the wounded had been evacuated.
9. “Goddamn it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”
10. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”
Americans most often associate this line with the Battle of Bunker Hill, but there’s evidence it was said by different officers at a few points in history. At Bunker Hill in 1775, the order was given by at least one of the leaders of Patriot forces building new fortifications on Bunker and Breed’s Hills near Cambridge, Massachusetts. The intent was to preserve the limited powder and shot.
The gambit worked, allowing the Patriots to inflict major damage with their initial volleys, but it wasn’t enough for the outnumbered and outgunned Americans to hold the hills.
11. “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”
The Marine who recounts hearing “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” was in another part of the battlefield, so it’s possible that two Marines yelled similar lines in different parts of Belleau Wood or that someone misremembered a line yelled in one of World War I’s most dramatic battles.
While experts acknowledge that Iran is “playing with fire” against the best navy in the world, don’t expect these incidents to stop any time soon.
“The number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions for first half of the year is nearly twice as much as same period in 2015, trend has continued. There’s already more in 2016 than all of 2015,” Commander Bill Urban of the Navy’s 5th fleet told Business Insider in a phone interview.
Urban stressed that despite the Iranian navy fast-attack craft being several orders of magnitude less potent than US Navy ships, the threat they pose in the gulf is very real.
“Any time another vessel is charging in on one of your ships and they’re not talking on the radio … you don’t know what their intentions are,” said Urban.
Urban confirmed that Iran sends small, fast attack ships to “swarm” and “harass” larger US Naval vessels that could quite easily put them at the bottom of the ocean, but the ships pose a threat beyond firepower.
According to Urban, these ships are “certainly armed vessels with crew-manned weapons, not unarmed ships. I wouldn’t discount the ability to be a danger. A collision at sea even with a much larger ship is always something that could cause damage to a ship or injure personnel.”
In the most recent episode at sea, Urban said that an Iranian craft swerved in front of the USS Firebolt, a US Coastal Patrol craft, and stopped dead in its path, causing the Firebolt to have to adjust course or risk collision.
“This kind of provocative, harassing technique risks escalation and miscalculation.”
The messages Iran wants to send
“In my view, Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) decided it’s time to send a message — I’m here and I’m unhappy,” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group and expert on Iran, told Business Insider in a phone interview.
According to Kupchan, the Iranian navy carries out these stunts under directions straight from the top because of frustrations with the Iran nuclear deal. Despite billions of dollars in sanction relief flowing into Iran following the deal, Kupchan says Iran sees the US as “preventing European and Asian banks from moving into Iran and financing Iranian businesses,” and therefore not holding up their end of the Iran nuclear deal.
But despite their perception that the US has under delivered on the promises of the Iran nuclear deal, Kupchan says Iran will absolutely not walk away from the deal, which has greatly improved their international standing and financial prospects.
The lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil has resulted in “billions in additional revenue … They’re not gonna walk away from that.”
So Iran seems to be simply spinning their wheels to score political points with hardliners, but what if the worst happens and there is a miscalculation in a conflict between Iranian and US naval vessels resulting in the loss of life?
“The concern is miscalculation,” said Kupchan. “Some guy misjudges the speed of his boat, people could die. There is a lot on the line.”
According to Kupchan, as well as other experts on the subject, Iran’s navy doesn’t stand a serious chance against modern US Navy ships.
“Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boats and the Iranian Navy are not very capable or modern,” said Kupchan. The fast-attack craft we’ve seen challenge US Navy boats have simply been older speed boats, some Russian-made, outfitted with guns.
The Iranian craft can certainly bother US Navy ships by risking collisions and functioning as “heavily armed gnats, or mosquitoes” that swarm US ships, but a recent test carried out by the Navy confirms that the gunships wouldn’t have much trouble knocking them out of the water. The ensuing international incident, however, would dominate headlines for weeks.
“The wood is dry in US and Iranian relations,” said Kupchan, suggesting that a small miscalculation could spark a major fire, and that harassing these ships is “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam.”
“Hardliners on both sides would go nuts,” said Kupchan, referencing both the conservative Islamist Iranians and the conservative US hawks who would not pass up any opportunity to impinge Obama over his perceived weakness against the Iranians.
Yet Kupchan contends that even a lethal incident would not end the deal. Both sides simply have too much riding on the deal’s success: Obama with his foreign policy legacy, and Iran with their financial redemption and status in the region as the main adversary to Western powers.
However Iran’s Khamenei may be sending a second message to incoming US leadership, specifically Hillary Clinton, who seems likely to be the next commander in chief. “They know Clinton is tough,” said Kupchan, and Khamenei may be addressing Clinton with a second message, saying “Madame Secretary, I’m still here, I know you’re tough, but I’m ready.”
For now, Kupchan expects these incidents at sea to carry on as Iran vents about their larger frustrations, and that a violent exchange would “not be the end of the deal,” or the start of a larger war, “but a serious international incident.”
Over 200 vehicles provided to the Afghan government by the United States have fallen into the hands of the Taliban in Badakhshan province. That shocking claim comes from a former Afghan intelligence chief who claims that the vehicles include High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.
“We lost 200 Humvees and Rangers in two or three months as the result of incompetence. Imagine what has happened to the people in those two or three months,” Rahmatullah Nabi told TOLO News. Faisal Bigzad, the governor of Badakhshan province, has urged that NATO assist the Afghan government by destroying the stolen vehicles.
The story might sound familiar for another reason. Humvees and other vehicles provided to the Iraqi government were captured by ISIS when the terrorist group seized control of portions of Iraq. American air strikes have since destroyed some of that equipment. However, ISIS and the Taliban aren’t the first American enemies to get their dirty mitts on American military gear.
Artists rendering of the capture of the USS Chesapeake. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Way back in the War of 1812, several American vessels, including the frigates USS Essex, USS Chesapeake, and USS President were among those captured by the British in the fighting. The U.S. Navy, of course, captured or sank a number of British ships as well.
At the end of the Age of Sail, the Civil War saw some American ships captured. Most famous was the USS Merrimac, which was repurposed into the ironclad CSS Virginia. But the USS United States, one of the original six frigates ordered in 1797, was also captured by the Confederacy and briefly used until it was scuttled.
In World War II, Japan captured the four-stack destroyer USS Stewart (DD 224). The Stewart had fought in the Dutch East Indies campaign in January and February 1942 before being damaged. As Japanese forces neared, Allied personnel used demolition charges to try to scuttle her.
Despite the scuttling attempt and a hit from a Japanese bomber, the Stewart’s wreck was captured and the Japanese fixed her up and put her into service as Patrol Boat 102. The ship would be notable for assisting the sub chaser CD 22 in sinking the USS Harder (SS 257). After Japan surrendered, the old USS Stewart was recovered, although the name had already been assigned to an Edsall-class destroyer escort, DE 238. The ship was eventually sunk as a target.
Germany, though, takes the prize for its acquisition of American gear. Perhaps its most notable coup was the way the Luftwaffe was able to either capture or cobble together as many as 40 B-17 Flying Fortresses.
The captured planes were often used by Kampfgeschwader 200, sometimes for inserting agents or for reconnaissance. But some were used to infiltrate Allied bomber formations.
Even after World War II, American gear fell into enemy hands far too often. In 1975, a lot of American equipment fell into Communist hands when South Vietnam fell, including F-5E Tiger IIs, C-130 Hercules and C-123 Provider transports, and A-37 Dragonfly attack planes.
In 2005, Hugo Chavez threatened to give China and Cuba F-16 Falcons that the United States had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. The Soviet Union acquired an F-14 Tomcat from an Iranian defector. In 2006, Marines in Iraq killed a sniper team of two insurgence who were trying to carry out a sniper attack, and recovered a M40A1 sniper rifle that had been lost in a 2004 ambush.
American gear falling into enemy hands is not new — there has been a long history of that happening in the past. Infuriatingly, it will happen in the future, despite the best efforts of American military personnel.