The U.S. government warns Americans against traveling to North Korea, specifically stating that travel to the Hermit Kingdom risks “arrest and long-term detention.” There have actually been many Americans held by North Korea, most were subsequently sentenced to a fine and years of hard labor. It happened most recently in January 2016, when 21-year-old Otto Warmbier was arrested for stealing a political banner from a hotel. Warmbier was sentenced to fifteen years “for crimes against the state.”
Warmbier will likely not be the last American detained by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the North’s full, ironic moniker). He’s actually the thirteenth American to be arrested there since 1996. Most are detained for a number of days but less than a full year. The only exception being Kenneth Bae, who held for nearly two years on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
Three of those Americans were released only after the interventions of former American presidents acting as diplomats. Since the U.S. does not have official relations with the DPRK (and are still technically at war), the governments cannot speak directly, so when the former presidents flew to Pyongyang, the U.S. government considered their trips “private, humanitarian, and unofficial.”
In March 2009, Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were caught and detained for illegally entering North Korea. They were held for 140 days before former President Bill Clinton made an unannounced trip to the North Korean capital to meet with then-President Kim Jong-Il. The two were sentenced to twelve years of hard labor but were released within hours of President Clinton’s arrival. The journalists flew back to the U.S. with Clinton.
In 2010, Aijalon Gomes was held for 213 days for illegally entering the country. After Gomes attempted suicide in captivity, an American consular envoy flew to Pyongyang to request the release of Gomes but was unsuccessful. That’s when former President Jimmy Carter hopped on a plane and met with Kim Jong-Il in August 2010. Gomes was freed the next day and left the DPRK with Carter.
In addition to Warmbier, North Korea is currently holding Kim Dong-Chul, a naturalized American citizen, for espionage. He has been held for 153 days at this writing.
Any time someone sets out to make a war film, he or she risks getting swept up into the action, the combat, the inherent drama that comes with the subject. The truly great war movies recognize the smaller elements, the ironies and subtleties of life during conflicts. Day One, a short film from U.S. Army veteran turned filmmaker Henry Hughes, is such a movie.
“We’re not having a lot of success in getting telling the soldier experience story,” says Hughes, an American Film Institute alum. “I don’t think we’ve changed much how we look at war and the stories that come out of it. Troops are portrayed as either victims or heroes. We still think war is ironic, that we go in and we’re surprised by the things that we find in war. Maybe there’s some bad things about it, and we’re like ‘oh that’s a surprise!’ But it’s not a surprise. War is a very mixed bag, but it can be spiritual and it can be fun and it can be dangerous and it can be morally wrong at times and it can also be one of the things you’re most proud of because you do some really good things.”
Day One is based on Hughes’ own experience with his translator while he was an infantry officer in 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The movie follows a new female translator’s first day accompanying a U.S. Army unit as it searches for a local terrorist in Afghanistan. Her job brings up brutal complexities as gender and religious barriers emerge with lives hanging in the balance.
“Having a female interpreter definitely changed my perspective of fighting, particularly having been on two deployments,” Hughes says. “The first time, it feels very new and romantic and exciting. The second time, you aren’t seeing a lot of impact in the way you would like and so you start wondering if you’re doing the right thing. In this instance, I had this Afghan-American woman with me at all times, and she was the person I communicated with locals to and she had access to the Afghan women in a way that I have never had before.”
“In my first deployment we didn’t even look at the women,” Hughes continues. “I remember that was a thing we did as a company. When we were on a trail and a woman came by, we would clear the trail, turn out, and allow them to walk by. Now all of a sudden, I mean I’m not face to face with these women but my interpreter would tell me she just spoke with a woman that would give us a very different perspective from what we would usually get. It’s interesting in that way.”
Hughes’ Army perspective spans more than just his time as an Army officer. He was also a military brat, following his dad with the rest of the family, living in Germany and Texas. As an officer in the 173d, he went to Airborne and Ranger School, Armor School, and Scout Leaders Course to prepare for his time in Afghanistan during 2007 and 2008 and then again in 2010.
“I’m very interested in exploring the military stuff because it is such a hyperbolic life.” He says. “Things are just so condensed and so strange and powerful. It’s like the meaning of life is life hangs in balance sometimes. You get that moment in the military and most people don’t ever work in those types of absolutes.”
Hughes has always been the artistic type. He went to a high school that had a TV studio, which inspired the creative side of his personality. He’s also come to believe that the military is the perfect place to start a filmmaking career.
“You take so many lessons from your military experience and apply them into filmmaking because it is so team-oriented and team-based. The ability to communicate and draft up a single clear mission or objective. Those skills that I learned as a young officer are paying massive dividends now, being creative.”
Hughes also believes a good storyteller must step out of his or her comfort zone to empathize with the characters and relate them to the audience.
“With trying to express yourself artistically, you have to be a little bit more vulnerable. ‘What is actually at play here,’ as opposed to ‘How do I accomplish this?’ I think you have to be a little bit more introspective whereas in the military, we’re very external and action-driven. It’s just analysis but we all do tons of analysis in the military too. I think it’s a good thing.”
In 1932, over 15,000 veterans and their family members who were camped out near Washington D.C. were forcefully evicted by the Army from the capital grounds and saw their camps burned and children attacked by orders from President Herbert Hoover and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
But why were so many veterans sleeping and marching near the Capitol building?
At the end of World War I, service members who were released from service were given tickets home and small sums of cash, usually about $60. This was roughly equivalent to two months’ pay for a young private or one month’s pay for a sergeant major.
Though this was the traditional severance package for a soldier at that time, many in America felt that it wasn’t a fitting reward for veterans of the “Great War” and public pressure, urged on by veterans organizations like the American Legion, caused Congress to debate bills that would make life easier for veterans.
The bill was warmly received by the public, but it’s cost was not. Implementation and payment would have cost 5 billion dollars and the Senate voted against it. The Senate voted against it again in 1921 after anti-Bonus speeches by then-President Warren G. Harding. In 1922, a new version of the bill, absent the options for an education grant or money towards a home or farm, was passed by the House and Senate but vetoed by Harding.
It was commonly known as the “Bonus Bill” and called for every U.S. veteran of World War I to receive a bonus based on their duration and type of service in World War I.
Veterans would receive a $1 for every day served in the United States and $1.25 for every day served while deployed overseas. Those entitled under the bill to $50 or less could draw their money at any time while others were issued a certificate for their payment which would come due in 1945, nearly 30 years after their wartime service.
Overall, the bill was popular despite the expected $4 billion cost that would be incurred and the long wait for most payments. The debate about a bonus for vets was seemingly over and remained quiet until 1932, almost three years after the Great Depression began.
Radio and news reports tracked their progress towards the capital and more veterans rushed to join them on the trains or meet up with them in the city. The number of veterans who reached the city was estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000 men.
Many Washington elite were initially shocked and frightened by the arrival of the Bonus Army. The wife of Washington Post editor, Evalyn Walsh McLean, visited the camps with her son.
The two made a plan to get the men coffee, cigarettes, and sandwiches and began lobbying in support of the veterans. Glassford eventually became so popular with the vets that Camp Glassford was named in his honor.
Legislators debated the merits of paying the veterans early. Some argued that the veterans would quickly spend the money and so help re-invigorate the stagnant economy while others, supported by President Hoover, argued that the taxes necessary to raise the money would further slow recovery.
The House passed a bill supporting early payment but it was soundly defeated in the Senate.
The tank is far from obsolete and the US will need a new armored vehicle to replace its 1980-vintage M1 Abrams, the Army Chief of Staff said here this afternoon. But what kind of tank, on what kind of timeline? Gen. Mark Milley made clear he was looking for a “breakthrough,” not incremental evolution – which probably means that the new tank will take a long time.
“Are we sort of at that point in history where perhaps mechanized vehicles are going the way of horse cavalry and going the way of the dinosaur?” Milley asked. “I don’t think so — but I’m skeptical enough to continue to ask that.”
“We have a good, solid tank today,” Milley said of the M1. “Having said that, we do need a new ground armored platform for our mechanized infantry and our tanks, because it’s my belief that, at least in the foreseeable future — and you can follow that out to 25 years or so — there is a role for those type of formations.”
“What are some of the technologies?” Milley said. “There’s Active Protection Systems” – electronic jammers and mini-missiles to stop incoming anti-tank weapons – “(and) there’s reduced crews with automated turrets” – as found on Russia’s new T-14 Armata, which Milley said the Army is studying closely – “but the real sort of holy grail of technologies that I’m trying to find on this thing is material, is the armor itself…. If we can discover a material that is significantly lighter in weight that gives you the same armor protection, that would be a real significant breakthrough.
“There’s a lot of research and development going into it,” Milley said. That’s true, but in all my conversations with Army and industry experts in recent years, no one believes we’re close to a “breakthrough.” Modest improvements in armor materials are in the works, but nothing that would change the fundamental calculus that makes protection heavy.
The trend, in fact, has been for everything to get heavier. The M1 tank started out in 1980 weighing about 60 tons, enough to stop most Soviet anti-tank shells and missiles of the day, but has grown to almost 70. The M2 Bradley, a heavily armed troop carrier called an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, grew from a fairly fragile 25 tons to a robust 40, with contractor BAE now proposing a 45-ton model. Some designs for a Bradley replacement, the proposed Ground Combat Vehicle, grew as heavy as 84 tons before the cash-strapped Army cancelled the program.
While the Army is now looking at lighter vehicles, the experts I’ve talked to are not counting on lighter armor. Instead, they’re contemplating trade-offs once deemed heretical, like building an air-droppable light tank to support paratroops, or having the Bradley replacement only carry half an infantry squad.
Such smaller vehicles would be lighter, as well as more maneuverable on narrow city streets – a key consideration because many Army leaders, including Milley, expect future warfare to be fought increasingly in urban settings. Mosul is a brutal but ultimately small-scale “preview” of future city fights in sprawling megacities, Milley said July 28. In Mosul – as in Fallujah in 2004 and Sadr City in 2008 – it took tanks to retake the city, working closely with regular infantry and special forces, he noted.
Lasers, Railguns, Robotics
While Milley put lighter-weight protection as priority number one, he also highlighted two other technologies that could revolutionize armored vehicle design. One is electrically-powered weapons, such as railguns – which use electromagnets to accelerate a solid metal slug to supersonic speeds – and lasers – which fire pure energy at the speed of light. “We’ve been using kinetic or powder-based munitions for five centuries,” Milley noted, but there are now major advances in alternative forms of firepower.
So far, lasers and railguns are being developed primarily as defensive weapons, able to shoot down drones or cruise missiles more quickly and cheaply than surface-to-air missiles. However, Air Force Special Operations Command plans to put a 150-kilowatt laser on its AC-130 gunships to disable enemy vehicles by silently burning through key components. It’s not too far from an offensive laser that can fit in a big airplane to one that can fit in a big ground vehicle.
The other potential breakthrough Milley mentioned was the “revolution in robotics.” The land is harder to navigate than empty sky or open sea, he emphasized, so ground robots will lag drones or unmanned ships, “but eventually we will see the introduction of wide-scale robotics.” Many of those will be small and relatively expendable scouts, designed to carry sensors or weapons ahead of the human force. Milley also wants his future tank to have enough automation not just to reduce the human crew required, but to optionally leave out the humans altogether, depending on the mission.
“Every vehicle that we develop, we probably need sure it’s dual use, so the commander on the battlefield at the time has the option of having that vehicle manned or unmanned,” Milley said. “They can flip a switch and have it be a robot.”
Building these future warbots will take a lot of thought. If you make an artificial intelligence smart enough to operate the tank some of the time, can you et the AI drive all the time and leave the human crew safe at home, where they can’t get killed or screw things up? If the humans aren’t inside the tank, do you let the AI pick targets and make the decision to kill them on its own? Pentagon policy says “never,” but if our robots have to wait for a human to say (or just think) “fire,” less scrupulous adversaries will be quicker on the draw. It’s a hornet’s nest of difficult questions that the Army – and the nation – will have to answer.
“It’s a kinetic place,” Army Capt. Florent Groberg said Wednesday of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where his instinctive tackling of a suicide bomber in 2012 earned him the Medal of Honor.
Of the 13 Medals of Honor awarded during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 11 have come from actions in either Kunar or neighboring Nuristan province, collectively dubbed the “Wild East” by the troops.
Seven were awarded for combat in Kunar, and four came in Nuristan. The other two were awarded to Marine Lance Corp. William Kyle Carpenter for his actions in southwestern Helmand province and Army Staff Sgt. Leroy A. Petry for combat in southeastern Paktia province.
“It’s just kinetic, they fight as we fight” along the rugged ridges and slot canyons of Kunar, Groberg said. “Kunar’s a tough place, if not the most kinetic place in the world,” he said. “There’s no specific explanation for it. It’s kinetic.”
Before President Obama began the troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and the combat mission was ended, successive U.S. and NATO commanders had wavered over the years on whether to maintain combat outposts that came under constant attack from a hostile population in Kunar and Nuristan, or simply to abandon the area.
On Thursday, the 32-year-old Groberg, who grew up in a Paris suburb and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, will become the 10th living American to receive the nation’s highest award for valor since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when President Obama makes the formal presentation at a White House ceremony.
At a roundtable session with reporters Wednesday, Groberg was joined by three members of his unit who witnessed his sprint to get at the suicide bomber near a bridge in the Kunar village of Assadabad on Aug. 8, 2012 — Staff Sgt. Brian Brink, the platoon Sergeant; Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, the communications specialist; and Spc. Daniel Balderrama, the medic.
All said they felt uneasy as they approached on foot along a paved road to a bridge as the personal security detail for then-Col. James Mingus, now a brigadier general assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado. Mingus was headed to a meeting with an Afghan provincial governor.
“That day, it just felt a little different when we got on the ground,” Groberg said. Brink echoed him: “Everything felt a little different that day. It was a gut feeling. We all felt it. Nobody had to say it. Things just didn’t set right with us.”
In the rear, they heard a car revving its engine. Brink radioed back — “Get him off us, get him off us.” They later concluded that the revving engine was the signal for two men on motorcycles to approach from the front. Brink and others raised their weapons. The men dismounted and backed off.
The road narrowed near the bridge. To the right was a stone wall, to the left a drainage culvert.
Two other men appeared, walking backwards in parallel to the unit. Brink said the man closest to the unit had a bulge on his hip, with his right hand resting on the bulge. Brink raised his weapon again and just as he readied to pull the trigger, Groberg ran at the man, followed by Mahoney.
“You face a threat, you go towards the threat,” Groberg said. For an instant, the man made eye contact. “He had a blank stare,” Groberg said. “He did a 180 and cut directly toward the patrol. I hit him, then we grabbed him and threw him to the ground. He detonated at our feet.”
The second man also set off his explosive device but the force of the blast mainly went into the stone wall.
Groberg was knocked unconscious. About half of his left calf had been torn away. He also suffered a blown eardrum and a mild traumatic brain injury.
Balderrama, the medic, had also been knocked unconscious and suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs. The force of the blast had thrown him into the culvert.
“The first thing when I woke up in that ditch, I was so thankful. He (Groberg) was calling for me, yelling ‘Doc, Doc save my leg.’ I remember seeing his boots covered in blood, his legs covered in blood,” Balderrama said.
Balderrama tried to stand to get to his captain. He couldn’t. “I recall trying to stand up and falling down. I couldn’t put weight on my legs. I kind of shimmied over, I think on my knees or something,” he said.
Balderrama managed to get a tourniquet on Groberg’s leg. “I just wanted to get him to the next level of care,” he said.
The suicide bomber had taken a heavy toll. In addition to the wounded, four had been killed — Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 46; Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35; Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38; and Ragaei Abdelfattah, 43, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Thinking back on it, Brink said the enemy had planned well for that day. “As we approached the bridge, we were attacked just short of the bridge. It was an absolute choke point. There’s no doubt in my mind, looking back in my mind, that it was well planned, coordinated. They knew we would have to constrict our formation into a smaller group and they took advantage.”
Groberg never stops thinking back on it. “We all fought those demons of ‘why me.’ Why not me? And in the end, you know, it’s combat,” he said. “All we can do now is honor those guys and their families. And make sure that we are better people, that we live our lives for them. And every day when we wake up, we remember. And when it gets tough, we remember.”
“They made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said of the four who were killed. “We’re here to tell you this. I’m so blessed and honored for the medal, but it doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them.”
The terror attacks on September 11, 2001, shook the free world. Americans at home, abroad and our allies mourned the tragic loss of life that day. For American expats in the United Kingdom, London became the focal point of their grief.
On September 12, Queen Elizabeth II made a request that broke a 600-year-old royal tradition. For centuries, the Bands of the Household Division played music during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and all the other Royal Palaces and Castles. The music played during the ceremony has always been a mix of traditional British songs and popular music of the day. However, foreign national anthems are played for state visits in honor of foreign dignitaries. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the Queen requested the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
On September 13, an estimated 5,000 people gathered outside of Buckingham Palace, many of them Americans. The Coldstream Guards, the oldest continuously serving regular regiment in the British Army, conducted the Changing of the Guard. During the ceremony, the Band of the Coldstream Guards played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Some of the crowd sang along while the American ambassador to Britain, William Farish, stood with his hand over his heart next to Prince Andrew. Many in the crowd waved American flags with tears in their eyes.
The conclusion of the song was met with resounding applause. A two-minute silence was observed before Prince Andrew led the troops in a formal salute. The band then played a selection of somber American music including “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams, the song from the final credits of Saving Private Ryan. Any irony of the British Household Band playing not only a foreign national anthem outside of a state visit, but a song whose lyrics highlight American perseverance over the British during the War of 1812, was completely overshadowed by the friendship and support shown between the two nations.
The next day, a memorial service for 9/11 victims was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, again at the request of the Queen. Over 2,600 people filled the cathedral including the Queen, the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Ambassador Farish. At the opening of the service, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played with the Queen singing along. In addition to the American national anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was also sung toward the end of the service.
The incredible show of support by the British people in the wake of 9/11 carried into the War on Terror. To this day, British troops stand steadfast alongside Americans to combat those who would do harm to either country or their allies.
Former Cold War rivals Russia and Pakistan are moving forward with their first-ever joint military exercises, an event that signals the two nations are working more closely together to combat terrorism in their respective countries.
The exercise is small in size – only 70 Russian soldiers and officers joining 130 Pakistani counterparts. But the implications are huge.
Called Friendship 2016, the Russian troops arrived in Rawalpindi on Friday aboard an Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane, according to Radio Pakistan. The exercise will continue through October 10.
“It is planned that the Russian and Pakistani military servicemen will share their experience and employ teamwork in fighting in mountainous areas, particularly destroying illegal armed groups,” the Russian news service TASS reported.
TASS also reported that personnel from a mechanized infantry unit of the Russian Southern Military Command’s Mountain Mobile Brigade are part of the exercise.
“The Southern Military Command’s mechanized infantry servicemen are fully equipped and have their mountain gear with them, as well as ammunition for their standard weapons,” TASS stated, quoting the military command’s media service.
The exercise’s name is symbolic, indicating a lessening of tensions between Moscow and Islamabad that started last year when Russia lifted its arms ban against Pakistan.
The result was the sale of four MiG Mi-35 attack helicopters – the first sale of its kind between the two countries – to help replace Pakistan’s aging fleet of U.S.-made AH-1 Cobras. In addition, Pakistani army, navy, and air force representatives visited Russia during the last year to consult with their opposite numbers.
This is in stark contrast from the days when Pakistan under the leadership Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was an ally of the United States that helped transport arms and men into the fight against Soviet forces after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. In recent years, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan cooled after Washington accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye to Taliban fighters using Pakistan as a refuge.
Pakistan denies that it is sheltering the Taliban. In the meantime, the United States improved ties with India, Pakistan’s bitter enemy.
At first, the location of at least some of the war games was both in doubt and controversial. Initial reports indicated that the exercises would be held in what the United Nation’s calls Pakistan-administered Kashmir, an area on the border between India and Pakistan marked by tension since 1947.
Pakistan calls the area Azad Kashmir; India refers to the area as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
According to a clarification issued by the Russians, “The Russia-Pakistan anti-terror exercise is not being held and will not be held in any point of so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ or in any other sensitive or problematic areas like Gilgit and Baltistan. The only venue of the exercise is Cherat.”
Cherat is about 34 miles southeast of Peshawar and located at about 4,500 feet in the Khattak Range. It serves as a base for the Special Services Group, the primary special operations force of the Pakistan Army.
Meanwhile, Russia is still moving forward with long-standing joint exercises with India called Indra 2016, hosting more than 500 Indian soldiers in Vladivostok. Russia and India have held the counterterrorism exercises together since 2003.
Iran has made waves announcing new weapons, like the Bavar 373 and Qaher 313 in recent years, and they’ve been conducting a lot of tests. Iran even claimed to have copied the RQ-170 “Beast of Kandahar” reconnaissance drone after one of the American spy planes made a forced landing in Iran.
But are these systems paper tigers? According to the National Interest, the Iranians may not have thought through their Qaher 313 very well. In fact, the Qaher 313 may be in the pantheon of “most useless combat planes” that includes such luminaries as the Boulton-Paul Defiant and the Brewster F2A Buffalo.
In fact, when Iranian-made versions of the Chinese C-802 missile were fired at American ships on multiple occasions this past October by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, they failed to score any hits, and drew a retaliatory strike.
The Qaher 313 is touted as Iran’s fifth-generation stealth fighter, capable of carrying 2,000-pound bombs, Chinese PL-12 missiles, and other weapons. That’s the hype. But what is the reality?
The claim drew skepticism, with the National Interest reporter recalling a comparison of the Qaher 313 to a GI Joe toy. One of the reasons is that the Iranians appear to only have the option of using reverse-engineered versions of the J85 engine, which is used on their inventory of F-5E Tiger fighters.
The aircraft’s size has also caused some discussion, with some believing that the Iranians displayed a small-scale mock-up. Others, though, have claimed that the plane is just a propaganda exercise — and a poorly executed one, at that. Haaretz.com called the plane a “glorified mock-up” that “won’t cause any panic in the Israeli Air Force’s intelligence wing.”
This isn’t the only such dispute. Iran’s claims to have copied the RQ-170 also drew skepticism, with some claiming the Iranians had built a static mock-up. It should be noted that Iran has successfully built naval vessels, notably the Jamaran-class frigates and the Peykan-class missile boats, as well as an indigenous coastal submarine.
During a discussion at the Aspen Security Forum on July 21, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, cited estimates saying that the US-led fight against ISIS had killed 60,000 to 70,000 ISIS militants.
It is not the first time US military officials have given estimates for ISIS body counts — Thomas himself cited a similar number in February — but those estimates have been made despite doubts among military leaders and government policymakers about their accuracy and usefulness.
When asked about the whereabouts of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Thomas downplayed the ISIS leader’s influence and said that while Baghdadi’s fate is currently unknown, “we will get him eventually.”
To underline his point, Thomas elaborated on the damage done to ISIS’ personnel network.
“I mean, everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everybody who stepped to the plate the next time, dead or gone,” Thomas said. “Down through a network where we have killed in conservative estimates 60,000 to 70,000 of his followers, his army. They declared an army, they put it on the battlefield, and we went to war with it.”
Those comments come several months after Thomas claimed that more than 60,000 ISIS fighters had been killed since the campaign against the group started in summer 2014.
“I’m not into morbid body counts, but that matters,” he said in February, speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference. “So when folks ask, do you need more aggressive [measures], do you need better [rules of engagement], I would tell you that we’re being pretty darn prolific.”
Body counts — which earned scorn during the Vietnam War — are considered a dubious metric by which to measure the success of a military campaign, particularly ones against groups like ISIS. It is typically hard to estimate how many fighters such groups have, and it is not always clear how many have been killed during military engagements.
In 2014, an observer group estimated the terror group had 100,000 fighters. The Pentagon said in summer 2016 that it had just 15,000 to 20,000 fighters left in Iraq and Syria.
The February number given by Thomas was not much higher than the 50,000 ISIS-dead estimate made by US officials in December. But the December number given by US officials was twice as high as the figure cited by UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon that same month.
And the figure cited by Thomas on July 21 was only slightly higher than what he said in February, despite the increased intensity of anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria in the intervening months.
Air operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria increased significantly after Trump took office in January, with military leaders emphasizing an “annihilation campaign” aimed at eliminating ISIS fighters.
But those air operations appear to have caused a considerable increase in civilian deaths.
The US government reversed its policy on body counts several times during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and numbers given by the government have been undercut or criticized by civilian and military personnel alike.
“My policy has always been, don’t release that kind of thing,” Chuck Hagel, who served as secretary of defense from 2013 to 2015, told CNN in December 2016. “Body counts, I mean, come on, did we learn anything from Vietnam?”
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/
Yelp is a great resource for finding a great restaurant or tourist destination, but it also features reviews from the military community of bases — and some of them are pretty hilarious.
Not every base is on Yelp and not every review is funny, but we looked at some that were and rounded up the ones that made us smile. Here they are (lightly edited for clarity):
Edwards Air Force Base, Edwards, Calif.
“Do you like dirt? If so, then this is the place for you! Have trouble finding your house already? Well make 20x harder because everything looks exactly alike! Enjoy loud noises and constant rumbling? Then Edwards is the place for you!” —Blake H.
Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas
“Fort Hood is a weird parallel universe where discipline, fitness, esprit de corps and pride of service do not exist. All of the worst things associated with ‘big army’ are in full force here. Be prepared to do some epically stupid things here ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done here’ hurr durr derp derp.
If your idea of military service is living in the world’s largest halfway house for violent offenders that happen to wear the same clothes, come on down. Come to the ‘great place’. Derp derp.” —Peter B.
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, Calif.
“Welcome to the early 1960s mindset. The landscape resembles California from 100-200 years ago. Pendleton refuses to fully staff the entrance gates. Officers don’t work but just watch as traffic backs up hundreds of feet. Bored kid traffic cops cruise up and down Vandergrift stopping people on bogus invented charges. They don’t like the way your car looks, they stop you. Traffic laws are different than in the civilian United States. The list of illogical and arbitrary rules is endless.
It’s a small town and high school mentality. They escape to Oceanside where they can be free of their leaders and drink to forget. And look at women. The height of culture at Pendleton is Mcdonalds. Stores are staffed by rude incompetent workers. Both civilians and military gets treated like garbage.” —Buster H.
Fort Irwin National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.
“When a Soldier joins the Army, he is given a canteen of Hooah. Throughout his career he splashes little bits of Hooah out, to get him through deployments and rough times. When he gets to Irwin, he dumps that canteen upside down and pours it out, and shakes out the last drops.” —Johnny S.
Minot Air Force Base, Minot, N.D.
“It’s pretty dull and as it is said, ‘Where all good leaders come to die.'” —Drew O.
Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, N.C.
“There are magical forests filled with trails into nothingness. There are inaccessible lakes that cater to no aspiring outdoorswoman/man. Everything lacks effort. The only feasible recreational area is Smith Lake…and it’s not even on Main Post.” —Christine A.
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘it could always be worse?’
29 Palms is the only exception.
Do you enjoy…
– waking up in a full body sweat
– being close to nothing
– an endless supply of sketchy people out and about during the night
– a brown, sandy, dusty scenery that lasts year round
If you are a military family, this place will…
– steal your souls
– destroy your family
– make your kids wish they could go back to where the came from, and eventually resent their parents
– make you resent yourself and the Marine corps for putting your family through such a horrible duty station
The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, paralyzed New York. Bridges and tunnels were closed all across the city stranding over 500,00 people in Lower Manhattan. It’s often overlooked that Manhattan is, in fact, an island.
Within minutes of American Airlines Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower, fireboats from the New York City Fire Department rushed to the scene. From the water, they assisted with the firefighting effort at Ground Zero.
As people scrambled to escape the falling debris, Coast Guard tug Hawser worked to coordinate the evacuation of people from the island. One hour later, USCGC Adak (WPB-1333) took over On-Scene Commander responsibilities.
The Coast Guard’s New York Sector shut New York Harbor and restricted ship movements. Following the collapse of the South Tower, a tidal wave of people arrived at the Lower Hudson River piers, desperate to get off the island.
Unable to handle the unprecedented emergency themselves, the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service and NYPD’s Harbor Unit put out emergency radio calls to all nearby vessels. An ad hoc fleet of merchant ships, tugboats and ferries were coordinated to evacuate people from Battery Park. This included the famous Staten Island Ferry and private commuter ferry company SeaStreak. Coordinated by Adak, the convoy of ships also brought firefighters and rescue personnel into Manhattan.
In total, over 150 different vessels and 600 sailors worked the maritime convoy to and from Manhattan on 9/11 and the difficult days that followed. The Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral James Loy, said that the evacuation of more than 500,000 civilians from Lower Manhattan “moved more people from the island than the 1940 evacuation of Allied troops from France.” Indeed, the boatlift on 9/11 eclipsed the evaucation of 338,226 soldiers from Dunkirk.
In the face of horrific terrorism, bravery and courage prevailed to save lives. The maritime coordination and evacuation of civilians from Manhattan received resounding praise. Before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta called the response the “largest maritime evacuation conducted in the history of the United States.” In fact, Adak received the Secretary of Transportation Outstanding Unit Award for her part in coordinating the rescue.
Despite her historic work on 9/11 and follow-on service in the Middle East during Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and Inherent Resolve, Adak was decomissioned in Bahrain on June 15, 2021. Although Coast Guard veterans petitioned to have the hero ship returned to the United States to serve as a floating museum, the Department of State plans to gift her to the government of Indonesia.