US launches over 50 cruise missiles at Syrian airfields over chemical attack - We Are The Mighty
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US launches over 50 cruise missiles at Syrian airfields over chemical attack

The US Navy has reportedly launched 59 cruise missiles at airfields controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 80 people in the northwestern part of the country on Monday.


Tomahawk missiles were launched from two Navy warships stationed in the Mediterranean according to CNN, and NBC News.

No casualties have yet been reported but officials tell NBC News that no people were targeted.

Missiles hit runways and military infrastructure used by Syrian and Russian forces, who the US blames for using chemical weapons in the attack on Monday.

Several prominent GOP Senators and Representatives urged strikes on Syria after evidence of chemical attacks surfaced. The strike, while not targeting troops themselves, carried a high risk of killing Syrian and Russian servicemen in collateral damage.

This story is developing. Click here for updates.

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This is how the Pentagon had over 120,000 extra Purple Heart medals

Since 9/11, almost 58,000 American troops have either been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism. And according to the Pentagon, each of those casualties qualifies for the Purple Heart medal — whether awarded in person or posthumously.


But it turns out that most of those pinned with the distinctive badge would wear an actual medal that’s been in DoD stocks for over 70 years.

How is this possible? Believe it or not, according to a Dec. 2003 report by HistoryNewsNetwork.com, the military had over 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock at the time, even after suffering almost 81,000 killed in action and nearly 257,000 wounded in action between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The Purple Heart, the oldest American military decoration for military merit, is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy. It is also awarded to soldiers who have suffered maltreatment as prisoners of war. Purple Heart day is dedicated to honoring service members, past and present, who have received the Purple Heart medal.

How did the Department of Defense end up with so many spare Purple Hearts on hand? The answer goes back to 1945.

We may remember it as the year the war ended, but back then, the question was how it would end.

The United States was planning for the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The fight was expected to be very nasty. A 1998 article in Air Chronicles cited one estimate of 394,859 casualties. The Department of Defense ordered nearly half a million Purple Heart medals to award to casualties.

According to a 2015 post at HotAir.com, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu involving 14 divisions of troops, was slated to take place on Nov. 1, 1945. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu with 25 divisions, would have begun four months later.

(Photo: AP)

Thanks to a pair of airplanes named Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the invasion of Japan never took place. Many of the implements used to win World War II were either scrapped, sold off, or disposed of. But the medals were kept. The book “Blood Trails” by Christopher Ronnau described how Vietnam vets received Purple Hearts originally meant for use two decades earlier.

HistoryNewsNetwork.com reported that in 2000, the government finally ordered the production of more Purple Heart medals, but only to re-stock what was then known as the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

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This Navy SEAL’s intense boot camp prepares actors for movie combat

The reviews for “Suicide Squad” are in, and they’re a mixed bag, to put it politely. The film disappointed critics, but fans were more forgiving. What’s not in question, however, are military skills on display in the movie. That success is owed to Kevin Vance (of Vance Brown Consulting), a former Navy SEAL and professional military advisor for the film industry.


“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback there,” says Vance. “In terms of the gear we brought in, we had so much support. SS Precision, Vickers Tactical — the list goes on and on.”

He doesn’t judge what’s “good” and “bad.” That’s not his job. He can, however, understand the decisions made by the studios. Vance believes they tried to make a movie for the fans of the comic, like filmmaker Kevin Smith (who called it “dope“).

“I just know David Ayer and the film he wants to make,” the Navy veteran says. “He’s made so many great films over the years and has such a unique perspective. If he sucker-punches you while he tells his story, so be it. He’s not going to do it simply for effect. He’s going to do it to kind of smack you and wake you up”

David Ayer on set. (Vance Brown photo)

Filmmaker David Ayer is a Navy veteran who hired Kevin Vance to train the cast of a previous film, 2014’s “Fury.” That film was about a U.S. Army tank crew in World War II. In the film, the experienced crew looses their bow gunner and gets a reluctant replacement.

“What was fascinating to me was Wardaddy’s (Brad Pitt) job was to really dismantle this young man’s sense of decency,” says Vance. “The resistance to becoming a functioning soldier was going to get everyone killed. The sense of decency is what he to break apart.”

Vance put the entire cast – Brad Pitt, Shia LeBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal – through a rigorous WWII-style basic training, complete with canvas tents, cots, and lanterns to protect from the cold, North Atlantic winds in the open countryside.

“I wasn’t there to train those guys to be soldiers,” the former SEAL recalls. “I was there to put them in a state of mind. I was there to make them fatigued, miserable, cold, hungry, pissed-off. I broke them down physically and mentally to build them back up. They suffered together to create a functioning group inside that tank.”

They did learn to work as a team in a real Sherman tank, Brad Pitt commanding.

“They’re tight because of it now,” Vance says. “They all still talk to one another; they do dinners together. I’m not saying that’s just because of me. That’s guys bonding.”

military advisor (Flag) and Will Smith (“Deadshot”) in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.”

“Suicide Squad” was a much different animal in terms of mechanics, actor training, and weapons training. The film was about individuals being individual characters working together. Vance and his fellow military veterans had two weeks and $50,000 in blank ammo to drill the stuntmen and actors to move like operators.

“I was there to get these guys functioning on a level that the audience can truly appreciate, that our peers will appreciate, and then create scenarios where other movies have not performed,” Vance says. “We build this foundation of physical skills then move into this other space which the actor truly needs to perform well – and that’s that mental space.”

To Kevin Vance, that means combat mindset, leadership, and the emotional, psychological, or physical scars a character would have. Vance and his colleagues provide the actors with historical examples and personal examples from their real-world warfighting colleagues so they can take what they want and need for their character.

“Will Smith’s character [Deadshot] is very different from, say Flag [Joel Kinnaman] or Lt. Edwards [Scott Eastwood],” Vance says. “We’re all looking of that life-test. We’re looking to truly challenge ourselves. I didn’t know what that was. I just got very, very lucky when an old book landed on my lap in college when I was 19.”

That book was about scouts and raiders during World War II. It piqued Vance’s interest so much, he read more and more, eventually coming across books about Navy SEALs. One day he met a Vietnam veteran who inspired and educated him. One thing led to another, and Kevin Vance joined the Navy and served as a SEAL from 1994 to 2003. The frustrations of bureaucracy and war led Vance into entertainment.

“We used to have we called the ‘vent book,'” he recalls. “Guys can work out and vent. Guys can use conversation these different ways. So we created this book which turned into, something turned it into something really funny. It’s like how would you fight the war if you were Dirty Harry?”

The SEALs on Vance’s team got really creative with the vent book. Vance know some video game producers with the blessing of his team, decided to pitch the book to see where it led. That turned into Vance and his fellow Team guys writing a “Medal of Honor” game for Electronic Arts.

When I asked Kevin Vance for advice he could give separating military members on working in Hollywood, he was quick to remind me that his case is unique, he’s a “lucky guy,” and that he just came from a 48-hour shift at the local firehouse.

“If you’re getting out of the military, first thing first is to have a plan,” he says. “Don’t make Hollywood your plan A. Hollywood is not a structured environment like the military is, like a fire department is. You’re left to your own devices in a world that is unpredictable and unreliable.”

Vance says success in the film industry is also hinged highly on people skills and mission focus. The military from the garrison to the battlefield is one and the same with movies from set to screen. Veterans could use that same decisive skills set to engage, inform, and aid their own communities.

“I think people are hungry for a challenge,” he says. “Look at things like Mud-Runs, challenges you can pay to get.  We ask 19-year-olds, men and women, to be soldiers, to be ambassadors, and spend a significant period of their adult years overseas. The people in our country need help. They need true leaders. We need people who can inspire other people and motivate other people. That’s what this generation of veterans has to offer.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Massive Russian wargames signal worries about NATO

The Russian military is getting ready for what is said to be an “unprecedented” military exercise, but as thousands of men and machines gather in Russia’s east, leaders in Moscow may be increasingly concerned about what’s going on in the West.

Early August 2018, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called the upcoming Vostok-2018, or East-2018, exercises “the largest preparatory action for the armed forces since Zapad-81,” referring to a Soviet military exercise in 1981 involving about 100,000 to 150,000 troops, according to a CIA estimate at the time.


Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, that the Vostok-2018 exercise, scheduled for Sept. 11-15, 2018, will have some similarities to Zapad-81 but involve vastly more personnel.

“In some ways, they resemble the Zapad-81 drills but in other ways they are, perhaps, even larger,” Shoigu said, according to Russian state-owned media outlet Tass.

“Over 1,000 aircraft, almost 300,000 servicemen at almost all the training ranges of the Central and Eastern Military Districts and, naturally, the Pacific and Northern Fleets and the Airborne Force will be fully employed.”

Russian troops participating in Zapad-2017.

(Russian Ministry of Defense)

The Russian military has already begun evaluating its forces’ combat readiness and logistical support with “snap inspections” that involve special drills and are done under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Just imagine that 36,000 pieces of military hardware are simultaneously in motion: these are tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles and all this is, naturally, checked in conditions close to a combat environment,” Shoigu said on Aug. 28, 2018, according to Tass.

Russia has invited military attaches from NATO countries to observe the upcoming exercises — an offer that a NATO spokesman told Reuters was under consideration.

Russia conducted another large-scale exercise, Zapad-17, or West-17, in September 2017. About 70,000 personnel took part in that — though only about 13,000 of them were part of the main event that took place in Belarus and western Russia. (The number of troops involved became a point of contention between Russia and NATO.)

Russian forces will not be the only ones taking part this time around. Chinese and Mongolian units will also take part, with Beijing reportedly sending more than 3,000 troops, 30 helicopters, and more than 900 pieces of other military hardware.

Chinese participation in Russian military exercises “speaks about the expansion of interaction of the two allies in all the spheres,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Aug, 28, 2018, according to Tass.

‘It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time’

Peskov was asked if the expense of the Vostok-18 exercise was necessary at a time when Russia’s economy is struggling and demands for more social spending are rising.

“The social security network and the pension system are a constant element of state policy and a very important component,” Peskov responded, according to Tass. “But the country’s defense capability in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly for our country, is justified, needed and has no alternative.”

Russia has consistently condemned Western military activity and NATO maneuvers as provocative, but Peskov’s reply may hint at a growing unease in Moscow, which is still uncertain about President Donald Trump as it watches the defense alliance deploy an array of units to its eastern flank.

Trump has signaled a conciliatory stance toward Russia and hostility toward NATO, but those attitudes haven’t translated significantly into US or NATO policy.

“We don’t like the picture we are seeing,” Vladimir Frolov, an independent political analyst in Moscow, told Defense News.

“NATO is getting serious about its combat capabilities and readiness levels. Trump may trash NATO and his European allies,” he said, “but it is the capabilities that matter, and those have been growing under Trump.”

President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, July 16, 2018.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

NATO members have been boosting their defense spending and working to build military readiness — moves stoked recently by the combination of uncertainty about Trump and concern about assertive Russian action, like the incursion in Ukraine in 2014.

NATO troops, including US forces, are practicing tactics that have been little used since the Cold War. A number of former Soviet republics have embraced the West. NATO units have forward deployed to the alliance’s eastern flank, and Poland has even offered to pay to host a permanent US military presence.

Some European countries are also debating augmenting their own militaries and defense sectors. Germany, long averse to a large military footprint, is looking to recruit more troops, and some there have restarted debate about whether Berlin should seek its own nuclear-weapons capability.

Moscow has long used confrontation with the West to bolster its domestic political standing, and many leaders in the West have come to identify Russia as a main geopolitical foe — a dynamic that is likely to perpetuate tensions.

Early 2018 Russian officials called military exercises involving NATO and Ukrainian personnel “an attempt to once again provoke tension in southeastern Ukraine and in the entire Black Sea region” and said “countries … constantly accusing Russia of threatening regional stability shall be held responsible for possible negative consequences.”

NATO spokesman Dylan White told Reuters that countries have a right to conduct military exercises, “but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner.”

“Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” White added. “It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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Here’s what happened to 6 American soldiers who defected to North Korea

Isolated and sealed off from the rest of the world, North Korea doesn’t exactly shine as a beacon of hope and light. But for a half dozen American soldiers serving after the Korean War ended, it apparently seemed that way.


The war came to a halt with an armistice in 1953, though the North has often threatened to back out, while it’s not blustering about destroying its neighbor or lobbing artillery shells over the de-militarized zone. Since that time, both sides have occasionally come close to war once again. But with U.S. soldiers still stationed in and supporting the South, that probably wouldn’t work too well for the Hermit Kingdom.

So what happens when an American soldier decides to switch teams? In 1962 we got an answer, along with five others who defected to North Korea (There are many others who defected during the war listed here).

1. Pvt. Larry Allen Abshier

On May 28, 1962, Pvt. Abshier walked off his post and meandered through the minefields of the Korean DMZ and fled to North Korea, becoming the first post-war defector. According to a defector who came across later, Abshier was a bit of a troublemaker and was caught smoking marijuana on a number of occasions. So rather than face Army discipline, he chose the most repressive regime on earth, according to NK News.

Once he got there, he was used for his obvious propaganda value. The North broadcasted on June 13 that Abshier could no longer stand his “humiliating life” in the American military, and then later, as other defectors showed up, he became a big-time star of propaganda films, usually playing as Evil American #1. Seriously, he even has his own IMDB page.

Abshier in a North Korean film.

Abshier did end up getting married — twice. His first wife was taken away from him when his captors found out she was pregnant. His second wife was a Thai woman who was kidnapped by Pyongyang agents. But despite plenty of hype about American defectors being treated to lavish rewards, Abshier was forced to read propaganda about Kim Il Sung for 11 hours a day and lived in a crappy house. He died of a heart attack on July 11, 1983.

2. Pfc. James Joseph Dresnok

Just like Abshier, Pfc. James Dresnok wasn’t the recruiting poster soldier (yes, we know you’re shocked). After serving two years in West Germany, he found himself on the South Korean DMZ, facing a court-martial. According to “60 Minutes,” his wife had left him and he had left his base without permission, and the Man was about to drop the hammer.

So he just walked through a minefield instead, joining Abshier (although they didn’t know each other). Like him, Dresnok was later plastered on magazines, books, and made appearances in movies. After four years of that, he (and others) finally figured out their new life sucked, and sought asylum in the Soviet embassy. And the Soviets told them to pound sand.

Dresnok in a still from a Chinese news package.

Luckily, the North Koreans didn’t shoot him, and he decided to just conform. “Oh, I gotta think like this, I gotta act like this. I’ve studied their revolutionary history, their lofty virtues about the Great Leader. Little by little, I came to understand the Korean people,” Dresnok told “60 Minutes.”

He’s still there, alive and kicking. Dresnok, who goes by Joe, taught English for some time and now lives in a small apartment in Pyongyang, living off his government check. He’s been married twice, and even has three kids. His oldest son James considers himself Korean, and wants to be a diplomat, according to CBS.

3. Cpl. Jerry Wayne Parrish

In Dec. 1963, Cpl. Jerry Parrish walked across the DMZ, according to NK News. The why for Parrish wasn’t as clear cut as the others, though Charles Jenkins (who defected next) wrote in his book that he cited personal reasons, but “didn’t elaborate about them much except to say that if he ever went home, his father-in-law would kill him.”

There’s much less known about Parrish’s time in North Korea until Jenkins showed up in 1965. At that point, the North now had four American mouths to feed, and it stuck them into a crappy house and pitted them against each other so they would become indoctrinated.

“At first the four of us lived in one house, one room, very small, no beds — we had to sleep on the floor,” Jenkins told Far Eastern Economic Review. “There was no running water. We had to carry water approximately 200 metres up the hill. And the water was river water.”

He added: “If I didn’t listen to the North Korean government, they would tie me up, call Dresnok in to beat me. Dresnok really enjoyed it.”

Like the others, he was used mostly for propaganda. He starred as “Lewis” in the 1978 cult classic (only in North Korean minds) film “Unsung Heroes.” He married a Lebanese woman — who swears she wasn’t kidnapped or anything — and had three sons, all of whom remain in North Korea. Parrish died of “massive internal infection” in 1997, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review.

 

4. Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins

Jenkins is perhaps the most well-known of the American defectors, since he’s still around, unrepentant, and still giving interviews. But his story of defection was basically your Army buddy’s version of “I got drunk and went to get a tattoo and I don’t know what happened.” According to The Atlantic, on Jan. 4, 1965 Jenkins pounded 10 beers then decided to desert his infantry squad while leading them on patrol, in an effort to avoid going to Vietnam. Well, mission accomplished, bro.

It wasn’t long before the beer wore off. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life, maybe, but that was the worst mistake anybody ever make,” he told CBS News. “That’s for sure.”

Once he got there, he was put into a small home with the others and slept on the floor, forced to memorize propaganda all day. This was a far cry from his real plan, hoping the North Koreans would send him to Russia and the Russians would swap him back to the U.S. (on what planet does this make sense?).

Among one of the worst things to happen to Jenkins involved his choice of ink: On his forearm he had the letters “U.S.” underneath infantry crossed rifles. The North Koreans held him down and cut off those letters, according to Far Eastern Economic Review.

He lived in North Korea for nearly 40 years, teaching English, translating, and of course, starring in propaganda. He married a Japanese woman who had been kidnapped and had two daughters. In 2002, she was freed in a rare act of diplomacy on Kim Jong Il’s part, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered Jenkins the same courtesy. He took it in 2004.

Though the Army did throw him in the stockade for a whopping total of 24 days and gave him a dishonorable discharge, a hilarious twist from his time of desertion before he was tried qualified him for all the service medals during the period. So he actually showed up to his court-martial wearing a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. Thanks for your service, Chuck.

Jenkins after returning from North Korea.

Jenkins now lives with his wife in Japan, where he works at a historical museum, The Atlantic reported.

5. Pfc. Roy Chung

There’s some controversy over what actually happened to Chung. Born in South Korea as Chung Ryeu, he moved to the U.S. with his parents in 1973 and joined the Army for the college money, later serving in West Germany. But here’s where it gets weird: He was nowhere near Korea when he disappeared.

In June 1979, he vanished from his unit in Germany, and three months later, North Korean state radio announced he had defected. The Pentagon and State Department maintain that’s probably true. But his parents are convinced he was kidnapped, The Washington Post reported.

None of the others reported ever coming into contact with him, and there’s not much else known about his time in North Korea. He may still be alive, but is rumored to have died of natural causes.

Chung in North Korean People’s Army uniform in an undated photo.

6. Pvt. Joseph T. White

The last person to join the defection dream team came on Aug. 28, 1982, when Pvt. Joseph White shot a lock off a gate at the Korean DMZ and started walking through the minefields. Carrying his M-16 rifle and ammo, he walked north and called out “I am coming” to his soon-to-be new best friends, according to Asia Times.

”My son did not cross that line,” Kathleen White, his mother, told The New York Times. ”He loved this country and he loved that uniform and everything about it. Joey was nothing but gung-ho Army and gung-ho Reagan.”

But back at his barracks, investigators found plenty of pro-North leaflets and other propaganda. And his fellow soldiers were dumbfounded. The last time they saw him, his arms were being held behind his back and North Korean soldiers were pushing him into a bunker, The New York Times reported.

What happened next is up for debate. In his autobiography, Jenkins said his government minders told him White had suffered an epileptic seizure and was paralyzed, but he never heard anything more. But in 1986, White’s parents received a letter from a North Korean friend “who had been on good terms” with the soldier, explaining that he drowned in a river while enjoying a “leisure time” outing, the AP reported.

Since the propaganda bulls–t coming from North Korea is so thick, what really happened is impossible to verify.

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Russia plans to build 100 of its most advanced Armata tanks

The Russian deputy defense minister said Aug. 24 at a military technical forum that Moscow plans to build 100 T-14 Armata battle tanks.


“The designed models are currently undergoing operational testing,” Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said, according to TASS, a Russian state-owned media outlet. “We have a contract for 100 units that will be supplied before 2020.”

TASS also acknowledged that Moscow previously said it would make 2,300 T-14s by 2020, which The National Interest and other analysts dismissed as “ridiculous,” given the high cost of the tank.

Wikimedia Commons photo by Vitaly Kuzmin.

Since it was unveiled in 2015, the T-14 has received a lot of hype and has worried many westerners — some of which is deserved.

The T-14 is part of the Armata Universal Combat Platform, which is is based on a single chassis that that can be used for a variety of Armata armored vehicles — not just the T-14 tank.

This interchangeable platform, according to Globalsecurity.org, includes “standard engine-transmission installation, chassis controls, driver interface, unified set of onboard electronics, [and] life-support systems.”

Wikimedia Commons photo by Vitaly Kuzmin.

The T-14 comes with a high velocity 125mm cannon that also fires laser-guided missiles up to 7.4 miles away, while the US’ M1A2 SEP V3 Abrams’ main gun only has a range of about 2.4 miles.

It’s equipped with a revolutionary unmanned turret and armored hull for the crew, The National Interest said, and it’s even one step away from becoming a completely unmanned tank, able to be operated by crews at a distance, Sim Tack, a Stratfor analyst, previously told Business Insider.

The T-14 also sports the new Afghanit active protection system, which has a radar and electronic system that disrupts incoming guided missiles, The National Interest said.

The APS can also jam laser guided systems and even has interceptors that can take out RPGs, missiles, and possibly kinetic rounds — although the latter has been questioned by many analysts, The National Interest said.

A Russian T-72B3. Wikimedia Commons photo from user Vitaly Kuzmin.

While the T-14 has strong layers of defense and reactive armor, “no tank is invincible, it is only more survivable,” Michael Kofman, a CNA analyst, told Newsweek. “It’s somewhat unclear how effective these defensive systems are against top-down attack missiles like the FGM-148 Javelin, which is expensive but effective.”

“It’s important to remember that the Armata platform is still a prototype undergoing field trials and not a completed system …  There is still a debate in Russia on what its capabilities should be and the initial serial production run of 80-100 tanks is doubtfully going to be the final variant, so we should reserve judgment,” Kofman told Newsweek.

While the T-14 is impressive in many respects, Russia’s main tank for years to come, given the high cost of the T-14 and even the T-90A, will probably still be the T-72B3, Kofman told The National Interest.

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Cold War weaponry and modern military hardware: Inside the ISIS arsenal

In January the U.S. Central Command announced that U.S. and coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria destroyed some 184 Humvees, 58 tanks and nearly 700 other vehicles. The number of ISIS military vehicles destroyed may seem significant, but is really just a drop in the bucket compared to the militants’ overall firepower.


While specific numbers are difficult to come by, reports suggest that ISIS has a huge fleet of vehicles – including tanks – its possession. Last year, for example, the jihadists captured 2,300 Humvees from Iraqi forces when they captured the city of Mosul, some of which were then converted to armored vehicles.

Photo: Youtube.com

Unlike traditional nation states ISIS doesn’t produce tanks or other weapons in factories, and unlike past insurgent forces that were supported by a nation state ISIS isn’t being armed or equipped by a major power either. Yet the group’s fleet of vehicles continues to grow. In May ISIS captured U.S.-built equipment, including M1A1 tanks after the group took control of the town of Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. The militants’ haul reportedly included about 100 wheeled vehicles and dozens of tracked vehicles.

There should be concern that ISIS has become so well armed, experts warn. In addition to modern military hardware, militants have also captured Cold War-era weaponry from Syrian forces. The nation was supported throughout the Cold War by the Soviet Union and built up vast quantities of Warsaw Pact armaments. Today those weapons – everything from AK-47 assault rifles to T-72 main battle tanks – are being utilized by all sides in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

“Syrian rebel groups probably make the most extensive use of heavy equipment at the moment, thanks largely to battlefield successes,” Jeremy Binnie, Middle East/Africa Editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, told FoxNews.com. “But that is also a product of the Syrian military’s vast inventory of Soviet-era weapons and equipment, (as well as) its inability to destroy this materiel after it has been captured.”

Many of these Syrian rebels likely served in the military at some point and this may provide them with the knowledge to operate and, more importantly, maintain the equipment.

There is a growing concern that these weapons have allowed groups to operate more like an actual army than merely as insurgents. This has enabled them to take and actually hold ground. ISIS has not only tanks but towed field guns and artillery pieces, which allow the group to conduct shelling against Iraqi military targets from a great distance; as well as fixed anti-aircraft guns and even shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons. Each of these presents serious problems. While the fixed anti-aircraft guns threaten coalition aircraft, shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons could take down a commercial airliner.

“Rocket-fired grenades and shoulder-launched missiles have long been available in black markets in the Middle East and Africa, but this higher-end stuff is coming from other sources,” Seth Jones, director of international security and defense policy center at the RAND Corp. told FoxNews.com. “This really shows that conventional weapons are a reason for concern. In many ways we’re largely past the stage of nuclear proliferation unless it was provided by a state, and that isn’t likely to happen. However, these anti-aircraft weapon systems of all sizes are still a reason for concern.”

Armored vehicles are increasingly a problem as well, and one factor is that tanks – especially Soviet era ones – aren’t that difficult to maintain and are difficult to destroy.

Photo: Flickr

“Modest investment in an old tank can become a successful weapons platform,” David Willey, curator of The Tank Museum in the U.K., told FoxNews.com. “Today’s modern anti-tank weapons now cost as much as what an old tank costs on the black market, so it makes destroying a tank an expensive proposition.”

The cost factor is largely because western doctrine in destroying a tank is far different to the likely tactics of a rebel force. “There is the cost of flying a combat aircraft and its weapons system,” Robert Farley, assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, told FoxNews.com.

Rebel groups might just as easily use a gasoline bomb – much like the Finnish-devised “Molotov Cocktail” of World War II – or other IED (improvised explosive device) added Farley. It may be rare that such improvised weapons could truly take out a tank but it would certainly put the crew at risk, especially if they are not locked inside the tank.

ISIS and other rebel groups, have largely, not attempted their own aerial sorties, despite the fact that combat aircraft from Iraq and Syria have also been captured.

“There are number of reasons why ISIS hasn’t taken to the sky, even as there are reports that they do have people who could fly,” Farley told FoxNews.com. “In the case of Iraq there are Sunni pilots who are likely fighting with ISIS, and the group even likely has maintenance crews who could prepare the planes for flight.”

However, there are logistics to overcome, including the lack of proper fuel, not to mention spare parts. There is also the fact that a single plane can only do so much.

“You drive a tank down the road, and if it breaks you still have a tank that you can repair and the crew, which can still fight,” Farley added. “If you put a vintage Soviet Mig21 in the air and it crashes it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The final equation for why ISIS aircraft remains grounded is likely a psychological, according to Farley, “ISIS knows that there are American fighter jocks who want nothing more than to put an ISIS flag on the cockpit and have a combat air kill. It is quick death for anyone who gets into an ISIS plane.”

In fact, ISIS is just one of several group that have built up powerful arsenals that include weapons that were typically only fielded by major powers.

“The extent to which non-government forces use heavy weapons typically depends on the level of external support they receive, the local availability of such equipment, and their ability to maintain it,” Binnie told FoxNews.com. “The Polisario Front [in Western Sahara] has numerous Soviet-era armored vehicles thanks to Algerian support rather than victories over the Moroccan military.”

Other nations such as Libya and Iran have been the alleged suppliers of weapons to groups such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Since the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi large quantities of weapons have flown out of Libya and across the region. This included not only Gaddafi’s vast caches of convention weapons but also small arms and other weapons intended to be used by the Libyan rebels. Now some of these weapons are reportedly in the hands of Al Qaeda-linked militants and other radicalized groups.

“It is certainly unhelpful to the west that a range of rebel groups in Africa, the Middle East and as far away as South East Asia have acquired everything from small arms to tanks,” added Rand Corp.’s Jones. “It has facilitated their ability to achieve their objectives and there isn’t enough emphasis that this access to weapons has given rise to rebel groups.”

Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Shabaab and other groups certainly could have gotten weapons on the black market, but the lack of stable governments in Libya and Syria have made it easier for these groups to get armed – and with weapons past insurgents might have only dreamt of possessing.

“The collapse of the Libyan military in 2011 has allowed many of the militias in that country to obtain heavy equipment,” added Binnie. “The same is true in Iraq after the military collapse in 2014, although the ISIS struggles to keep that equipment operational due to coalition airstrikes and probably a lack of spares and familiarity with U.S. equipment.”

While the ISIS arsenal remains an ongoing concern for the U.S. and its allies in Operation Inherent Resolve, other shadows of the Cold War remain visible in the Middle East. The Pentagon, for example, has been warily eyeing a Russian military buildup in Syria as Moscow protects its interests in the civil-war ravaged country.

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Incredible photos of US Marines learning how to survive in the jungle during one of Asia’s biggest military exercises

A US Marine biting into a freshly skinned king cobra as part of a survival exercise during Cobra Gold 2006. (Photo: slagheap/Flickr)


The US-led annual multinational military exercise Cobra Gold kicked off in Thailand on Monday, despite a faltering relationship between the two countries following Thailand’s military coup in May 2014.

Cobra Gold 2015 is scaled down due compared to past years because of the frosty relations between Thailand’s ruling military junta and the US. But it’s still a massive military exercise even in a reduced form. This year 13,000 personnel from 7 participating nations have joined in the exercises, the AP reports.

The participant countries are Thailand, the United States, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Malaysia, while India and China are taking part in humanitarian training missions. Even though the exercise is smaller than in the past, the scope of Cobra Gold has grown since the first one was held in 1982 and involved only the US and Thailand.

Exercises in Cobra Gold 2015 include jungle survival training and civic assistance programs in underdeveloped regions of Thailand.

Survival training is a big part of Cobra Gold. Thai Marines demonstrate how to capture a cobra in the wild.

Photo: Cpl. Isaac Ibarra/USMC

US Marines then help decapitate the cobra and take turns drinking its blood. Cobra blood is surprisingly hydrating and can be used as a temporary replacement for water if a Marine is lost without supplies.

Photo: Cpl. ISaac Ibarra/USMC

Thai Marines also teach their counterparts how to recognize edible jungle fruits.

Photo: Cpl. Isaac Ibarra/USMC

Like cobra blood, several of the fruits can serve as an improvised source of hydration.

Photo: Cpl. Isaac Ibarra/USMC

Marines are also instructed in the proper way to eat scorpions and spiders. Spiders are eaten after their fangs are ripped off, while scorpions are edible once the stinger is removed.

Photo: Cpl. Isaac Ibarra/USMC

Aside from survival lessons, participant countries also take part in construction projects to build greater regional cooperation in the event of disasters like typhoons or plane crashes. Here, Chinese and US soldiers work together to build a school as part of Cobra Gold 2015.

Photo: Cpl. James Marchetti/US Pacific Command

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This is al Qaeda’s job application (seriously)

Photo: Youtube.com


Al Qaeda asked its aspiring recruits to fill out an application in order to join, according to documents the US government seized at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and released on May 20th.

The application asks for basic information (name, age, education level, criminal history), but includes more terrorism-specific queries, like “Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?” and “Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?”

The form was released as part of the declassification of a trove of documents seized during the May 1st, 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad in which Osama bin Laden was killed.

Here’s the form:

Al Qaeda Application

This is one letter a recruit sent to Al Qaeda, saying he “admired the activities, beliefs and bravery of the mujahidin”:

Al Qaeda Letter

Bin Laden, the terrorist responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks on the US, was killed by a team of Navy SEALs in 2011.

Al Qaeda was known for vetting recruits who wanted to join. Those who wanted to get into the core organization often needed a recommendation from someone already inside.

When Al Qaeda was first created, the group noted in a memo that there were four requirements for membership — swearing allegiance to the emir and being obedient, obtaining a personal referral from a member of Al Qaeda’s inner circle, and displaying “good manners,” according to the recent book “ISIS: The State of Terror,” which also discusses Al Qaeda’s origins.

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This is how much US military leaders like their new orders from the White House

US military commanders deeply appreciate the autonomy and hands off approach the Trump administration takes to battlefield operations, Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters Aug. 31.


Townsend explained that the Trump administration has “pushed decision making into the military chain of command,” as opposed to the widespread micromanagement of military operations seen under the Obama administration. “I don’t know of a commander in our armed forces who doesn’t appreciate that,” he said.

“Our judgment here on the battlefield in the forward areas is trusted. And we don’t get twenty questions with every action that happens on the battlefield and every action that we take,” Townsend said. “I think every commander that I know of appreciates being given the authority and responsibility, and then the trust and backing to implement that.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Hutchinson.

US Special Envoy to the counter-Islamic State coalition Ambassador Brett McGurk told reporters in early August that gains against ISIS have “dramatically accelerated” under the Trump administration, highlighting the terror group’s loss of territory.

President Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that US rules of engagement were too restrictive in the ISIS fight during the 2016 campaign. Throughout the early months of his presidency he has loosened rules of engagement and launched dozens of drone strikes under looser authorities.

“There is a sense among these commanders that they are able to do a bit more — and so they are,” a US defense official told the Wall Street Journal in April in the midst of high tempo operations against the terrorist group.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why Army officers aren’t allowed to carry umbrellas

The United States Military is full of bizarre rules that, at some point, probably served some obscure purpose before being ingrained in tradition. For example, you’re not allowed to keep your hands in your pockets. It all began because, apparently, putting your hands in your pockets “detracts from military smartness.” I don’t know about you, but in my lifetime, I’ve never equated pocketed hands with being aloof — but the rules are rules. Quit asking questions.


But if you’re looking for an antiquated rule that’s really nonsensical, look no further than the (now) unwritten rule that states officers of the United States Army cannot carry an umbrella. It might not be an official regulation anymore, but all Army officers generally adhere to the rule regardless, for tradition’s sake.

Soldiers on the other hand? Nah. We enjoy the rain.

(U.S. Army photo)

This was once a hard-standing regulation, put into effect under Army Regulation 670-1: Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, Chapter 20-27: Umbrellas. The regulated stated,

“Females may carry and use an umbrella, only during inclement weather, when wearing the service (class A and B), dress, and mess uniforms. Umbrellas are not authorized in formations or when wearing field or utility uniforms.”

This rule forbade the use of umbrellas by male officers entirely, from the fresh-out-of-OCS second lieutenant all the way up to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. As you can see, it didn’t stop female officers from carrying or using an umbrella, nor was it implemented for any other branch or applied to the Army’s enlisted. It affected male Army officers exclusively. The regulation wasn’t amended to allow for umbrellas until 2013.

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Air Force kept this regulation when it split from the Army in 1947, but in just 32 short years, they realized it was pointless and authorized their officers to carry and use umbrellas in 1979.

I’ll give you a little hint. It has everything to do with this photograph here and who the back of that head belongs to.

(Imperial War Museum)

So, why was the rule put in place to begin with? It certainly wasn’t for appearances’ sake. In the rain, ribbons would sometimes start to bleed ink, which would potentially stain and ruin an officer’s otherwise pristine uniform. These stains were surely more unsightly than an officer holding an umbrella.

Furthermore, the regulation didn’t outright forbid officers from standing under an umbrella or having an enlisted soldier carry one for them – though most junior officers likely wouldn’t dare ask a salty NCO to shield them from the big, scary rain drops for fear of eternal mockery.

The regulation clearly says not to carry an umbrella, whether it was in use or not. In fact, holding a closed umbrella is what started all of this to begin with.

Leave it to one spineless politician to forever make umbrellas uncool.

To those who don’t recognize the men in the photo above, that’s disgraced British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, infamously appeasing him just before his 1938 occupation of the Sudetenland, a region of today’s Czech Republic, despite his government’s clear promise to do everything in its power to protect Poland.

Chamberlain went behind his peoples’ and parliament’s backs in a deal that gave the Nazis the power they needed to arm a full-scale invasion of Poland, thus, in a way, kicking off World War II. When it turned out that the Nazis didn’t give a sh*t about peace treaties, Chamberlain again tried to appease Hitler in 1939. The invasion of Poland followed soon after.

Though Chamberlain’s actions may have been done with the best intentions for the UK, he will forever be seen as weak and enabling for them.

To this day, umbrellas are highly discouraged, but that may just be a “we’re too cool for umbrellas” kind of mentality.

(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Henry Chan, 16th Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs, 21st Theater Sustainment Command)

All things Neville Chamberlain have been tainted by his appeasement policy – including his signature style of always carrying a black umbrella and his hat in his hand. Just as Churchill was synonymous with his cigar and Lincoln with his stove pipe hat, Chamberlain was almost always seen with his umbrella.

Before the appeasement with Hitler, the umbrella was seen by the Britons as a symbol of endurance, as it allowed people to carry on despite the crummy weather the British Isles are known for. After the deal, it became a symbol of treachery.

Immediately, most of the British Military was discouraged from using umbrellas. They never implemented it as official policy for practical reasons – it’s the British Isles, after all. But the U.S. Army made their anti-Chamberlain stance into an actual regulation.

Guess that’s what happens when you stand by and give Hitler time to start a world war.

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How Russia guaranteed a Union victory in the Civil War

It’s hard to determine which is more surprising: the British aching to send troops and materiel to aid the Confederacy during the Civil War or that the first “Special Relationship” was between the U.S. and Russia against the British. Both of these facts are true and for the latter negating the former, we can thank one Cassius Marcellus Clay.


Clay was more than just a namesake for the greatest boxer of all time. He was also a politician, representative, officer in the Mexican War and Civil War, abolitionist, and ambassador with a pedigree in badassery. This man once frightened an opponent so much that the man killed himself the night before they were supposed to duel, which is probably the only duel story to top Andrew Jackson’s.

There was also a lot of screaming. Probably.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he tapped Clay to be his ambassador to the Imperial Russian Court in St. Petersburg. Since the Civil War broke out before Clay left for Russia in 1861 and there were no Federal troops in Washington at the time, Clay raised an Army of 300 volunteers to maintain an active defense of the capital until troops arrived.

The Kentucky politician started his life born to a family of planters (who fought in both the Revolution and the War of 1812) and became one himself before his foray into politics. Despite being a wealthy planter from Kentucky, the Yale-educated Clay became a staunch Abolitionist, opposed to slavery in any form, which would eventually cost him his seat in the legislature.

He started an anti-slavery newspaper called True American which immediately earned him death threats. He was threatened so often and he was so steadfast in his beliefs, he had to seal himself and his press in his office in Lexington, defending the building with two four-pounder cannons.

While giving a speech promoting the abolition of slavery, he was attacked by six brothers for expressing these views. They beat him, stabbed him, and tried to shoot him, but Clay fought off all six with his Bowie knife, killing one of them in the process.

Minus the gunshot wound, this is the only way my brain will process the way that scene started.

Clay was so infuriating to his pro-slavery opponents, they hired a political gun to assassinate him. The would-be assassin shot Clay in the chest, but the bullet didn’t kill him. Despite being restrained by the assassin’s friends, Clay drew his Bowie knife and cut off the man’s nose and left ear, then gouged out his eye before throwing him over a wall and into a nearby river.

The Russian-British rivalry raged during the American Civil War. British politicians openly advocated intervention in the war and even had a secret plan to burn Boston and New York in sneak attacks from Canada. E. D. Adams’ Great Britain and the American Civil War notes the U.S. considered Russia a “true friend” and was suspicious of British neutrality while Secretary of State William Seward actively advocated war with France.

While in St. Petersburg, Clay won the support of Russia for the Union cause and convinced Tsar Alexander II to threaten worldwide war with England and France to keep them from intervening on the side of the Confederacy, with whom they both sympathized. The Russian Baltic Fleet arrived in New York harbor in in September 1863 and the Russian Far East Fleet arrived in San Francisco that October. The Tsar ordered his Navy to be under Lincoln’s command if war broke out.

Clay was recalled by Lincoln in 1862 and commissioned a Major General in the Union Army. He refused to accept the commission unless Lincoln freed slaves under Confederate control. The President ordered him to Kentucky to assess the effect of Emancipation on the population there, as Kentucky was seen as a vital border state. When Clay returned, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He left for Russia again the next year and served there until 1869, where he helped secure the Purchase of Alaska, presumably because the Tsar was afraid of him.

In his later years, Clay had so many enemies, he kept cannons to defend his home and office. His daughters became staunch Women’s Rights advocates.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Troops return from border, but thousands to stay through holidays

Having completed their missions, some troops deployed to the US-Mexico border are heading back to their home bases, US Northern Command reported Dec. 13, 2018.

The number of troops at the border, which peaked at 5,900 troops from across the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, has been decreasing. Around 750 service members serving in Texas and Arizona redeployed to their home bases to prepare for other missions on Dec. 12, 2018. The Department of Defense currently has roughly 4,200 active-duty troops at the southern border.


By state, there are 1,700 active-duty troops in Texas, 1,000 in Arizona, and 1,500 in California. There are also approximately 2,100 National Guard units deployed to the US-Mexico border. For the active-duty troops, the mission, originally known as Operation Faithful Patriot but later renamed “border support,” was expected to end on Dec. 15, 2018, but the Department of Defense agreed to extend the mission to the end of January following a Department of Homeland Security Request.

Army engineers install concertina wire Nov. 5, 2018, on the Anzalduas International Bridge, Texas.U.S Northern Command is providing military support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southern border of the United States.

(US Air Force photo by Airman First Class Daniel A. Hernandez)

The troops that have left the southern border are certain engineering, logistics, and headquarters units, some of which were involved in hardening points of entry and erecting barriers. Since late October 2018, troops have set up 70 miles of wire obstacles and moveable barriers at 22 ports of entry.

(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

Among the remaining troops are military police units, which have completed 10,000 man-hours of unit training — including tactical and riot control training — in recent weeks, while military rotary wing aviators flew more than 740 hours in support of the border mission. These units will continue their service in border areas.

Several thousand troops were sent to the border toward the end of October 2018 to support Customs and Border Protection as large caravans consisting of thousands of Central American migrants marched northward. While the mission initially focused on barrier emplacement, a force protection element has also been incorporated for the active-duty military personnel deployed to the border.

U.S. Soldiers and Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, practice non-lethal crowd control drills at the Calexico West Port of Entry in Calexico, California on Nov. 27, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Nyatan Bol)

While there was a clash between migrants and CBP personnel at the San Ysidro port of entry November 2018, there have not been any serious escalations since. Some of the migrants have actually started heading home.

President Donald Trump stated Dec. 11, 2018, that the military could be directed to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, but the Pentagon explained the same day that there is no plan at this time for service members to do so.

Many of the president’s critics have accused Trump of using the military for a political stunt. These accusations have been rejected by the Department of Defense and the administration.

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