When you think of men and women in uniform during the holiday season, it’s often a soldier in red from America’s Salvation Army ringing a bell in a call for aid to those in need.
But another service working to bring joy into the lives of those less fortunate has been at it for nearly 70 years, working day and night to solicit and distribute donated toys for young kids who may not have the benefit of a joyful holiday.
The Marine Corps Toys for Tots program was established in 1947 by then-California Marine Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks and was formally adopted by the Marine Corps a year later.
Officially run by Marine reservists and with help from their Navy brethren, in the years since its founding, Leathernecks have been collecting donations and distributing toys to deserving children throughout the country.
In 2015, Marines distributed 18 million toys to 7 million kids in 782 communities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And Toys for Tots has become as much a Marine Corps tradition as its legendary warfighting capability.
To get a sense of the importance of the program to the Corps, take a look at the video below.
The morning starts early with an alert about four hours before takeoff. Members of the 379th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron begin several mandatory tasks before boarding the aircraft. Nurses go over mission details, as medical technicians pack more than a thousand pounds of equipment on a flatbed that is ready to load onto the plane. They must take all their usual gear, including bandages, intravenous fluid, regulators, defibrillators, suction units, and various other pieces of medical equipment. They take these supplies partially as a precaution, as they don’t know what they may need to keep patients stable in the air above the Middle East.
These teams, the aircrew, and aircraft are flying ambulances for the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
The 379th EAES, deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, is one of the only two aeromedical evacuation squadrons in the AOR available to pull wounded warriors off of the battlefield and make sure they get the care they need.
According to Lt. Col. Julia Moretti, 379th EAES commander, their job is to transport wounded warriors to a higher echelon of care.
“We take them from the battlefield all the way home,” Moretti said.
If military personnel get injured or sick on the battlefield, the wounded initially receive first aid buddy care. If life-saving surgery is needed, the patients are flown to the nearest hospital abroad.
That is where 379th EAES comes in. They bring the injured service member back to Al Udeid AB. If they require more intensive care, they will then be transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, and if they can’t be fully treated overseas, they will return to the U.S.
“The goal is to keep them at the lowest level of care, rehab them, and then get them back into the fight quickly as possible,” said Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Ausfeld, 379th EAES first sergeant.
In addition to the AE teams, the squadron also has Critical Care Air Transport Teams, which are specialized medical teams comprised of one doctor, an intensive care nurse, and a respiratory therapist. If AE teams are the flying ambulance, CCATT is the ICU.
If patients can be treated and return to work while deployed, they will stay in the AOR. However, if they have a more severe condition and can’t physically manage doing office work as they recover, they will return home.
As the war has progressed, the severity, type, and amount of injuries have decreased significantly. In the early 2000s, the teams would care for 20-30 patients that would require transporting on a litter.
“Now that is the exception, and we’re glad to see we aren’t having that many now,” Moretti said.
Aeromedical evacuation teams are made up of two nurses and three medical technicians. All members of AE are considered flight crew and, on top of all the medical expertise they must know and practice, they also need to know all about the aircraft they are flying on. They have to know how to put together seats, install stanchions to hold patient litters and how the electricity works for their machines aboard the aircraft, among many other details.
AE teams are also required to have the knowledge to perform their duties on a wide variety of aircraft, such as the KC-135 Stratotanker, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, C-5 Galaxy, and C-21.
The AE teams here exemplify total force integration in that active duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard members combine to create the medical teams. In fact, only a small percentage of the teams are made up of active duty Airmen.
“The Guard and Reserve components are a key part in the Aeromedical Evacuation world,” Moretti said. “Around 88 percent of AE is Guard and Reserve augmenting active duty. It’s a team effort with all the components to transport and care for our Wounded Warriors.”
According to Moretti and Ausfeld, the job of an AE Airman is a rewarding one.
“It’s a great feeling helping our wounded warriors,” Moretti said. “Taking care of our own that were injured or became sick while protecting us, it’s a small way to give back. We pamper the patients and give them the best tender, loving care we can.”
“I’ve moved wounded warriors around the world, some with severe battle injuries,” Ausfeld said. “They’ll look you in the eyes and thank you for what you’re doing for them. It can catch you off guard and it can be hard to respond to. Because these warriors, these sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, have sacrificed their body and soul. We’re just making sure they get home.”
At the beginning of 2017, after Dutch fighter pilots deployed to Lithuania on a Baltic Air Policing rotation called home using their own phones, their families started getting sinister phone calls.
The men on the calls, made with pre-paid sim cards, spoke English with Russian accents, according to reports in Dutch media, and would ask the recipients questions like “Do you know what your partner is doing there?” and “Wouldn’t it be better if he left?”
Later that summer, after US Army Lt. Col. Christopher L’Heureux took command of a NATO base in Poland, he returned to his truck after a drill to find someone had breached his personal iPhone, turning on lost mode and trying to get around a second password using Russian IP address.
“It had a little Apple map, and in the center of the map was Moscow,” L’Heureux, who was stationed not far from a major Russian military base, told The Wall Street Journal in 2017. “It said, ‘Somebody is trying to access your iPhone.'”
US Army armored units in Poland.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Eaddy)
Those incidents and others like them reflect ongoing efforts by Russians to misinform and intimidate civilians and troops in Europe and abroad.
“Malign influence is of great concern, specifically in the information domain,” US Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of US European Command, told reports at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
“A comprehensive defense involves air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace, which are the five domains that we recognize in NATO,” Wolters added.
But on the fringes of those domains, he said, is hybrid activity, “and part of hybrid activity happens to be information operations … and from a malign influence standpoint we see that often from Russia.”
Learning and building resistance
Several soldiers under L’Heureux’s command had their phones or social-media accounts hacked, according to The Journal.
Wolters, who took over European Command in May 2019, said US personnel and families under his command hadn’t been targeted with that kind of harassment — spokesmen for British and French contingents deployed to the Baltics have recently said the same of their troops — but they have encountered “misinformation” put out by Russia media, including state-backed television channel RT TV.
“If … they’re part of US EUCOM, and they’re in Europe, and they happen to see RT TV, this is a classic example of misinformation,” Wolters said.
“Probably not to the severity” of those 2017 incidents, he added, “but it is another example of exposure of misinformation and from a malign influence perspective on behalf of Russia in the info ops sphere against citizens” in Europe.
Misinformation campaigns are central to Russia’s strategy on and off the battlefield as the 2016 US election interference showed, and not limited to whoever happens to be watching RT.
In Lithuania in 2017, officials warned of propaganda efforts seeking to undermine Lithuanian territorial claims and set the stage for “kinetic operations” by Moscow, a persistent concern among Russia’s smaller Baltic neighbors. Russia is also suspected of orchestrating a broader disinformation campaign to smear NATO’s reputation in Lithuania.
Farther north, Finland has dealt with Russian misinformation throughout the century since it declared independence from its larger neighbor, with which it shares a long border and a contentious history.
Helsinki launched an initiative to build media literacy and counter fake news among its citizens in 2014. The Finnish capital is also home to the European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, set up in 2017 by a dozen members of the EU and NATO.
Former US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis praised the Hybrid CoE, as it’s known, for allowing democracies involved to research shared concerns and threats — “each of us learning from the other and building resistance to those with malign intent toward our democracies.”
US Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters speaks with airmen during a visit to RAF Mildenhall in England, June 22, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Lee)
‘Willing to deter in all domains’
While Wolters said personnel under his command haven’t experienced the kind of electronic interference seen in 2017, it’s something they should expect and prepare for, according to Ken Giles, senior consulting fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Program at the British think tank Chatham House, who called those 2017 incidents “unprecedented in recent times.”
“NATO forces should by now be training and exercising with the assumption that they will be under not only electronic and cyberattack, but also individual and personalized information attack, including exploitation of personal data harvested from any connected device brought into an operational area,” Giles wrote in August.
Wolters said his command and its European partners are working together to prepare troops to face and thwart that kind of assault.
“To have a good, comprehensive defense you have to be willing to deter in all domains, to include the information domain, so we have ongoing activities … that involve what we do in US EUCOM with the NATO nations and what we do in US EUCOM with all the partner nations,” Wolters said Tuesday.
Polish soldiers use an anti-aircraft cannon’s sights to simulate engaging enemy aircraft during exercise Saber Strike 18 at Bemowo Piskie Training Area in Poland, June 14, 2018.
(Michigan Army National Guard photo by Spc. Alan Prince)
At the Supreme Headquarters for Allied Powers in Europe, or SHAPE, Wolters said, “we have information operations, deterrence activities that take place with the 29 [NATO members]” and with NATO partner nations, including Finland, Ukraine, and Georgia.
Most reports of harassment and intimidation of NATO personnel date to the years immediately after the 2014 Russian incursion in Ukraine, when NATO increased activity along its eastern flank, Giles noted in an interview with Military.com in September.
That may just mean the campaign has changed form rather than stopped, Giles said, adding that such incidents could be reduced, though not prevented, by speaking more openly about the threat and by strengthening information security among NATO personnel.
Wolters said his command does have ongoing information-operations training.
“For an infantry soldier that’s part of the battalion-size battle group that’s currently operating in Poland, they receive information-ops training, and they know that that info-ops training is just as important as the training to shoot a 9 mm pistol,” he said Tuesday. “From that standpoint we ensure that we counter with the facts, and we don’t hesitate to call out when truths are not being told in public with respect to the activities that are taking place in NATO and … in Europe.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Hundreds of troops previously stationed in Texas and Arizona have been moved to California to support border patrol agents securing the border against the thousands of Central American migrants camped nearby.
“In coordination with CBP, it was determined that forces including military police, engineering and logistics units could be shifted from Texas and Arizona to support the CBP requirements in California,” US Northern Command told Business Insider, confirming an earlier report from The Washington Post.
“Approximately 300 service members have been repositioned to California over the past few days.”
In November 2018, there were 2,800 troops in Texas, 1,500 in Arizona, and another 1,500 in California. Over a period of several weeks, the active-duty military personnel deployed to these states ran over 60,000 feet of concertina (razor) wire.
Now, after the recent shift, there are 2,400 troops in Texas, 1,400 in Arizona, and 1,800 in California. The total number of active-duty troops at the border has decreased by about 200, dropping from 5,800 to 5,600, NORTHCOM explained to Business Insider, noting that changes are the result of mission assessments carried out in coordination with CBP.
U.S Army Soldiers install steel runway planking for fence along the U.S./Mexico border.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John Nimmo, Sr.)
While the number of troops deployed to the southern border has decreased, the number of troops serving in California is on the rise. Thousands of migrants have been pouring into Tijuana, which is where more than 5,000 migrants, possibly many more, are camped.
Border patrol agents clashed with hundreds of migrants Nov. 25, 2018, at San Ysidro, one of the largest and busiest ports of entry on the US-Mexico border, after what began as a peaceful protest meant to call attention to the plight of asylum seekers turned into a mad and chaotic dash.
Some migrants attempted to enter the US illegally by forcing their way through and over barricades while others threw rocks at US border agents after they overwhelmed Mexican authorities. The crowd of migrants was driven back by rubber pullets and tear gas.
More than one hundred migrants have been arrested by authorities in the US and Mexico. Many of those who have been detained face deportation, meaning that their weeks-long journey to the US will end where it began.
The role of US troops at the border has been in debate over the past few weeks, with critics of the president calling the deployment a waste of time, resources, and manpower.
While active-duty troops deployed to the border were initially limited to laying razor wire, the White House recently authorized US troops to use force, including lethal force if necessary, to defend CBP agents against violence.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Photos: Wikipedia, PLAAF video screenshots, Google Earth
It is long been an issue with Washington that the Chinese have been able to save billions of dollars in research by stealing American intellectual property and repurposing it for their own use. Resultantly, the Pentagon is always on the trail of espionage directed at stealing years and billions worth of research. Now you can add Hollywood to the list of Chinese theft victims.
The Chinese military has blatantly ripped scenes from several Hollywood blockbuster films to use in its own propaganda video that shows the capabilities of its bomber forces.
The South China Morning Post news service was the first to report that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) posted the aforementioned video to its account on Weibo. The video is titled “The God of War H-6K Attack!” and shows several Chinese planes taking in actual PLAAF footage. But when the planes go on their attack runs, the stylized explosions and cinematic special effects look right out of a Michael Bay film… That’s because in some cases they are.
Chinese video depicting an airstrike is actually a scene from “The Rock.”
Why spend millions on special effects and CGI when a video editor can rip the scenes right out of a film that was already expertly done? Thus, the PLAAF saved on trying to recreate some of Hollywood’s best action sequences. It just ripped them off to show how good Chinese air assets are.
The video in question contains blatant rip-offs of American films “The Rock,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen.”
The South China Morning Post reported that, according to a source close to the Chinese military, it isn’t unusual for the Chinese military “to borrow” ripped scenes for its own purposes. For example, in 2011, the Chinese military used ripped scenes from the 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun” for another video.
The subjects of the latest video are the H-6K and H-6N bombers. These are heavily redesigned models of the older Soviet Tupolev TU-16 twin-engine bombers that the Chinese have built under license. The Chinese also have newer designs currently in development.
These aircraft give the PLAAF a long-range standoff offensive air capability. The aircraft comes with precision-guided munitions and is capable of aerial refueling and carrying cruise missiles.
However, the scenes from Hollywood aren’t the only disconcerting images included in the video. In an example of extreme saber-rattling, Reuters reported that the airbase attack scene is actually satellite footage of the U.S. military’s Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.
When comparing the satellite imagery of the base to the short clip from the Chinese video, there is no doubt about what the target is purported to be. Andersen AFB is an important strategic location for American operations in the Pacific and would be one of the first targets in any U.S.-China conflict.
Satellite image of Andersen AFB in Guam, the same image used in the Chinese military video. (Google Earth)
This video comes amid tensions between the two countries being at extreme levels. The recent visit to Taiwan by Undersecretary of State Keith Krach, the highest-level U.S. diplomat to visit Taiwan in decades, has obviously angered the Chinese.
And the not-so-veiled threat against the U.S. base in Guam was the message that China’s air force can hit and destroy the base whenever it chooses — with Michael Bay-like precision.
A recently-released investigation by the Department of Justice reveals that a company using prison labor to make life-saving equipment for the Pentagon sold more than 125,000 defective helmets to the services, some that even failed to stop bullets in ballistic tests.
The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said a public-private venture between the government-run Federal Prison Industries and the civilian company ArmorSource LLC produced Advanced Combat Helmets and Lightweight Marine Corps Helmets that were “not manufactured in accordance with contract specifications.”
“The investigations found that the ACH and LMCH had numerous defects, including serious ballistic failures, blisters and improper mounting hole placement and dimensions, as well as helmets being repressed,” the report said. “Helmets were manufactured with degraded or unauthorized ballistic materials, used expired paint and unauthorized manufacturing methods.”
The Justice report said ArmorSource failed to properly oversee the production of the helmets by federal prisoners and was forced to pay $3 million in restitution, while the Federal Prison Industries facility that manufactured the helmets beginning in 2008 was closed and the staff transferred.
In all, the report says 126,052 helmets were recalled costing the government over $19 million.
The Federal Prison Industries is a government-owned corporation formed in 1934 to give job opportunities and income to federal inmates. The products made by FPI are sold only to the U.S. government and it does not compete with private companies.
From 2006 through 2009, Ohio-based ArmorSource produced the helmets for the Department of Defense. ArmorSource was paid more than $30 million, then subcontracted production of the ACH and the LMCH to FPI in 2008.
The ACH is a personal protective equipment system designed to provide ballistic and impact protection U.S. troops. It’s also designed to mount existing night vision, communication, and nuclear, biological, and chemical defense equipment.
When FPI produced 23,000 LMCHs from its facility in Texas, the first 3,000 shipped in 2008 were found to be defective. Eventually, the Army’s Office of Inspector General found FPI-produced ACHs were also defective.
The Army’s IG investigations found “endemic manufacturing problems” at FPI. The facility in Beaumont, Texas, was not making the helmets according to specifications and both helmet types were full of defects, including:
Finished ACH helmet shells were pried apart and scrap Kevlar and Kevlar dust was added to the ear sections, and the helmet shells repressed
Helmets were repressed to remove blisters and bubbles in violation of contract specifications
LMCH and ACH had edging and paint adhesion failures, respectively
FPI did not obtain approval from the DOD before it changed the manufacturing process
LMCH Certificates of Conformance were prepared by inmates at the direction of FPI staff and signed by FPI staff months after the LMCH helmets were delivered falsely certifying that the helmets were manufactured according to contract specifications and had the requisite material traceability
LMCH helmet serial numbers were switched or altered
The helmets were sold to DoD anyway, and FPI used pre-selected helmets for inspection, against the DoD specification that random items be inspected. ArmorSource did not provide oversight of the helmets’ construction and did not ensure proper inspection of the product, the report says.
A surprise inspection of the Beaumont, Texas-based FPI facility found the inmates using a variety of improvised tools to build the helmets. This put the lives of those overseeing their work (as well as fellow inmates) at significant risk, the report says.
The Justice Department claims no casualties are known to have occurred because of the defective helmets.
NATO and Russian aircraft and ships have drawn ever closer in the skies and seas around Eastern Europe in recent years, engaging in a kind of cat-and-mouse game that has led to many near misses.
A significant number of these encounters have taken place above the Baltics, where NATO members border a Russia they see as growing increasingly aggressive in its near abroad.
June alone saw several such incidents, including a Russian jet intercepting a US B-52 over the Baltic Sea early in the month, another Russian jet flying within a few feet of a US Air Force reconnaissance jet over the Baltic Sea in mid-June, and a NATO F-16 buzzing the Russian defense minister’s jet later in the month.
Western officials and the research and advocacy group Global Zero — which analyzed 97 midair confrontations between Russian and Western aircraft over the Baltic between March 2014 and April 2017 — have said that Russian pilots are more often responsible for unsafe interceptions; some of which arise from negligence or are accidents, while some are deliberate shows of force.
“What we see in the Baltic Sea is increased military activity — we see it on land, at sea and in the air, and that just underlines the importance of transparency and predictability to prevent incidents and accidents,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told The Wall Street Journal. “And if they happen, it is important to make sure they don’t spiral out of control and create dangerous situations.”
Western officials and analysts believe Moscow is using such incidents as geopolitical tactics, responding to events in Europe and elsewhere, such as in Syria. Russia has denied this and said that recent reports about its abilities and activity in the region are “total Russophobia.”
Both sides are working toward “risk reduction” policies for the Baltics. But the uptick in aerial encounters comes amid increased military activity by both sides on the ground in Eastern Europe.
Some 25,000 troops from the US and 23 other countries are taking part in the Saber Guardian military exercise in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania this month — the drills are designed as a deterrent and are “larger in both scale and scope” than previous exercises, US European Command said in June. US bombers also traveled to the UK in June in preparation for two separate multilateral exercises in the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe that month.
Those military exercises come ahead of war games planned for September by Russia and Belarus. Those exercises could involve up to 100,000 troops and include nuclear-weapons training.
Neighboring countries have expressed concern that those war games could leave a permanent Russian presence in Belarus — the US plans to station paratroopers in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during them and will adjust its fighter-jet rotation to put more experienced pilots in the area to better manage any encounters with Russian forces.
Lithuanian soldiers and US Marines from the Black Sea Rotational Force engaged opposition forces in a partnered attack during Exercise Saber Strike at the Pabrade Training Area, Lithuania, June 15, 2015. USMC photo by Sgt. Paul Peterson.
The US and NATO have increased troop deployments to Eastern Europe. UK and Canadian forces are headed to Poland, Latvia, and Estonia, and NATO personnel are already in Lithuania. The latter country has called for a permanent US military presence there as “a game changer” to counter Moscow.
In the wake of this month’s G20 summit in Germany, several countries in Eastern Europe are moving to boost their air-defense capabilities, with the US aiding the effort.
In early July, Poland and the US signed a memoranda of understanding for an $8 billion sale of US-made Patriot missiles.
This week, the State Department gave tentative approval to a $3.9 billion sale of Patriot missiles and related equipment, like radars, to Romania.
Patriot missiles have also been stationed in Lithuania for the first time, albeit temporarily, as part of military exercises focused on air defense and involving five NATO countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said several times that the deployment of defensive missile systems by NATO allies would be a “great danger,” and he has threatened to respond by boosting Russia’s own missile systems.
“The way I view the Patriots deployment is that it also forms part of a broader U.S. response in the region to the upcoming Russian exercise nearby,” Magnus Nordenman, a Nordic security expert at the Atlantic Council, told AFP.
“Air defense has not been a priority for the last 15 years when NATO was busy in Afghanistan, dealing with piracy and peacekeeping,” he said. “There was not much of an air threat but now that Russia is building up air forces, it is different.”
It’s a well-known fact that Marine recruits east of the Mississippi go to the flat lands of Parris Island for basic training while those from the west head to sunny San Diego.
What many don’t know is there is a huge rivalry between “Island” and “Hollywood” Marines, and it all boils down to who had it tougher. Although the competitive nature between the two is all in good fun, Marines are known for fighting both big and small battles.
Since the curriculum at both of the training camps is the same, there are a few differences that separate the two.
“I think the sand fleas give you that discipline because you’re standing in formation and you got them biting on the back of your neck,” Capt. Robert Brooks states during an interview, fueling the rivalry in support of Parris Island.
Capt. Joseph Reney, however, jokes in favor of California:
“San Diego has hills and hiking is hard. I would say San Diego makes tougher Marines.”
Regardless of the training location, both boot camps produce the same product — a patriotic Marine.
U.S.-backed Syrian forces liberated the city of on Oct. 17 from Islamic State militants, a senior commander said, in a major defeat for the collapsing extremist group that had proclaimed it to be the capital of its “caliphate.”
Although clashes in have ended, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are in control, combing the city in northern Syria for land mines and searching for any IS sleeper cells, Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo told The Associated Press.
Sillo said a formal declaration that has fallen would be made soon, once troops finish their clearing operations in the city on the banks of the Euphrates River.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said it has not yet received official reports that the city was cleared, describing mines and booby traps throughout that have killed returning civilians and senior Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commanders in recent days. One of those killed Oct. 16 was the head of the internal security force affiliated with the SDF.
Another challenge for the troops is searching the tunnels that were dug by the militants around the city, Dillon said.
“This will take some time, to say that the city is completely clear,” he told AP. “We still suspect that there are still (IS) fighters that are within the city in small pockets.”
The loss of will deprive the militants of a major hub for recruitment and planning, Dillon said, because the city attracted hundreds of foreign fighters and was a place where attacks in the Middle East and Europe were planned. He added that the militants remain active in Syria, farther south around the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.
“This has been the wellspring of (IS) as we know it,” he said. But he stressed that the military defeat of the militants “doesn’t mean the end of (IS) and their ideology.”
Dozens of militants who refused to surrender made their last stand earlier Oct. 17 in sports stadium, which the group had turned into a notorious prison in the more than three years it held the city.
The SDF forces earlier captured main hospital, the other last remaining IS holdout that had served both as a medical facility and an IS command center. The SDF fighters have not gone through it to clear it, Dillon said.
Dillon said the coalition has not carried out any airstrikes in the past three days to allow civilians to leave. The SDF has also called on IS fighters to surrender, and about 350 have turned themselves in, he said, adding that none were high-value targets.
In recent months, the Islamic State has steadily lost territory in Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul.
After the group seized from other Syrian rebels in early 2014, it transformed the one vibrant metropolis into the epicenter of its brutal rule where opponents were beheaded and terror plots hatched.
IS militants had been cornered in and around the stadium, and it was not immediately clear after Sillo’s statement whether any were still inside it.
“The stadium is a huge structure with underground rooms and tunnels. There are also buildings around it” still under the control of IS, said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.
A senior Kurdish commander said later that the stadium has been checked and cleared of land mines. SDF forces raised their own flag in the stadium, he added.
Earlier, he said 22 IS militants were killed in the advance on the hospital.
On Oct. 17, the SDF captured “Paradise Square,” infamous public square that was used by the militants to perform beheadings and other killings in front of residents who were summoned by loudspeakers and forced to watch. Bodies and severed heads would be displayed there for days, mounted on posts and labeled with their crimes, according to residents, who later dubbed it “Hell Square.”
With the capture of the hospital, the last black IS flag was taken down, according to the Kurdish-run Hawar news agency. A video released by the news agency showed the clashes around the hospital, which appeared riddled with bullets and partly blackened from a fire.
A senior Kurdish commander said there was no sign of civilians in the stadium or around it, but he added that his troops were being cautious because of possible land mines. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The battle for began in June and has dragged for weeks as the SDF fighters faced stiff resistance from the militants. The city suffered devastating damage, with most of its buildings leveled or in ruins. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 1,000 civilians were killed in the campaign.
Ukrainian authorities say a wildfire has broken out in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, where the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986, but radiation levels remained within safe limits.
“Radiation levels have not risen either inside the exclusion zone or in adjoining areas,” the zone’s administration said in a statement on June 5, 2018.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman wrote on Facebook that “radiation levels are safe. In Kyiv and in Chernobyl itself, including at the Chernobyl power station site, they are significantly below the acceptable limits. So there’s no need to worry.”
“I stress once more: the situation is fully under control,” he added.
The fire broke out in dry grass on the morning of June 5, 2018, in the area of high radiation less than 10 kilometers from the power station, and later spread over some 10 hectares of woodland, the state emergency service said in statements.
It published photographs of smoke billowing from woodland and flames spreading along the ground.
The state nuclear-industry regulator said the former nuclear power station was not at risk from the flames.
More than 130 firefighters were battling the fire as well as two planes and a helicopter that dumped water on the fire, the state emergency service said, adding that the wind was not blowing toward the capital, Kyiv.
Wildfires occur regularly in the woods and grassland around the power station. In 2015, a forest fire burned for four days.
Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor, which is about 100 kilometers north of Kyiv, exploded in 1986 during testing in the worst such accident ever.
Radioactive fallout from the power station contaminated up to three-quarters of Europe, according to some estimates, with Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, all then part of the U.S.S.R., the worst affected.
A 30 kilometers radius around the power station is still an exclusion zone where people are not allowed to live.
The three other reactors at Chernobyl continued to generate electricity until the power station finally closed in 2000. A giant protective dome was put in place over the fourth reactor in 2016.
Taking a break from their pre-season training camp in O’ahu, Hawaii, the LA Clippers basketball team, coaches, and staff paid their respects during a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial on Sept. 27, 2017.
Service members from all branches of the military accompanied them at Merry Point Landing, located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, to guide them through the hallowed grounds of the memorial.
It wasn’t a publicity stunt — the only official photographer was on site was Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Meranda Keller. No news site has reported on this at the time of this article’s writing.
These players are genuinely here to honor resting place of the 1,102, of the 1,117 sailors and Marines who lost their lives Dec. 7, 1941.
While at the memorial, players were each guided by service members who would tell them of the history of the site and what happened on that tragic day.
After the tour, the Clippers spent time with the troops. They joked and took photos with members of the Armed Forces.
U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the establishment of a space command that will oversee the country’s military operations in space.
Trump signed the one-page memorandum on Dec. 18, 2018, directing the Department of Defense to create the new command to oversee and organize space operations, accelerate technical advances, and find more effective ways to defend U.S. assets in space, including satellites.
The move comes amid growing concerns that China and Russia are working on ways to disrupt, disable, or even destroy satellites on which U.S. forces rely for navigation, communications, and surveillance.
The new command is separate from Trump’s goal to create an independent space force, but could be a step in that direction.
Speaking at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Vice President Mike Pence said: “A new era of American national security in space begins today.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Codie Collins)
Space Command will integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military, Pence said, adding that it will “develop the space doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures that will enable our war fighters to defend our nation in this new era.”
It will be the Pentagon’s 11th combatant command, along with well-known commands such as Central Command and Europe Command.
Space Command will pull about 600 staff from existing military space offices, and then add at least another 1,000 over the coming years, the Associated Press quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying.
Its funding will be included in the budget for fiscal year 2020.