The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
34th Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. George Watkins flies a combat-coded F-35A Lightning II aircraft past the control tower at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Sept. 17.
Pope Francis prepares to board his plane at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Sept. 24, 2015. Pope Francis will visit New York City and Philadelphia during his U.S. trip before returning to Rome Sept. 27.
An M1 Abrams main battle tank provides security during the Combined Arms Company field exercise at Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria, Sept. 16, 2015. The CAC is a newly formed armor element supporting the Black Sea Rotational Force.
Marines with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, practiced employing hunter-killer techniques with multiple weapons platforms during sustainment training on Aug. 21, 2015.
Recon Marines with 1st Marine Division, jump from a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft during high altitude, high opening parachute insertion training over Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 17, 2015.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 22, 2015) The aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) leads a formation during a passing exercise with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces ships. George Washington is preparing to deploy around South America as a part of Southern Seas 2015.
SOUTH CHINA SEA (Sept. 17, 2015) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82), right, receives fuel from the Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE 6) during an underway replenishment.
WATERS OFF THE COAST OF JAPAN (Sept. 18, 2015) Sailors aboard the Arleigh-Burke guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) stack Mark 45 5-inch rounds during an ammunition on-load.
A Green Beret, assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group-Airborne, fires an M-240B machine gun during an exercise at Fort Pickett, Va., Sept. 21, 2015.
A paratrooper, assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, fires a M136 AT4 during a combined arms live-fire exercise at Fort Bragg, N.C., Sept. 17, 2015.
After a boat caught fire recently, a good Samaritan contacted the Coast Guard and rescued four people near Galveston.
Seized: 7.5 tons of cocaine. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf worked alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize 7.5 tons of cocaine from the Eastern Pacific earlier this month.
Chalk up yet another win for Yankee rifle designs.
It turns out the culturally protective French military is set to ditch its iconic FAMAS rifle for a German-made M4 variant that’s a favorite among U.S. special operations forces and is based on the popular Stoner design American troops have used since the Vietnam War.
It’s easy to ID French troops using their unique, French-made FAMAS rifle. With its distinctive carry handguard, top-mounted charging handle, integral bipod, and bullpup action the FAMAS has become as Gallic as the Citroen automobile. But that’s about to change as its military is set to outfit troops with the Heckler Koch 416.
A Marine with Marine Rotational Force – Darwin and French Army soldiers with 92nd Infantry Regiment practice close quarters battles during a French Armed Forces Nautical Commando Course at Quartier Gribeauval, New Caledonia, August 15, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Carlos Cruz Jr.)
The FAMAS came in two versions: The original version, the FAMAS F1, fired the 5.56x45mm NATO round. Its proprietary 25-round magazine was mounted to the rear of the bolt, which allowed the rifle to be more compact but still have the ballistic advantage of a rifle-length barrel.
The FAMAS weighs just under 8 pounds, and had options for safe, single-shots, three-round burst, or full-auto (“Rock and roll”). It also came with an integral bipod. In the 1990s, the FAMAS was upgraded to the G2 standard. The biggest improvement was replacing the proprietary 25-round magazine with a NATO standard 30-round one. This made the French rifle interoperable with other NATO allies. The G2 was about eight ounces heavier than the F1.
The FAMAS had some export success, notably to the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti, but it also has seen service with the Tunisian Presidential Guard, Indonesian special operations forces, and the Philippine National Police. Over 700,000 FAMAS rifles were built.
But few militaries use the so-called “bullpup” design, most notably the U.K. and Australia with their L85 and Styer AUG rifles and the Israeli Defence Force with its Tavor.
The rifle replacing the FAMAS in French service will be the HK 416. This firearm is best known for being what members of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), formerly known as SEAL Team Six, carried on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. The Army’s Delta Force (now known as the Combat Applications Group, or CAG) also is said to prefer this rifle for most of its operations.
The HK-416 is a conventional M4-style rifle design, featuring an adjustable stock with a standard rifle action in front of the grip and trigger. The rifle fires the 5.56x45mm NATO round, has a 30-shot mag, and weighs about 7 pounds. The advantage of the HK 416 as compared to the M4, for example, is that it uses a piston operating system, making it less susceptible to fouling and cooler running.
The HK-416 has been more widely exported. American units aside from DEVGRU and CAG that use versions of this rifle include the U.S. Border Patrol and the Marine Corps, which replaced some M249 Squad Automatic Weapons with M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles.
The German rifle is also used by French Air Force commandos, the Norwegian military, and many special operations units across the globe, including Germany’s GSG9 and KSK, the Army Ranger Wing of the Irish Defense Forces, and the Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei of the Italian Navy.
The Syrian government has asked Iran to take over the supervision and payroll of thousands of Shi’ite militiamen fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops in support of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a government source and a news report.
The pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasel reported that it obtained a Syrian defense ministry document saying the Assad regime has approved a plan to give Iran responsibility for paying foreign fighters – mostly Shi’ites of varying nationalities. Shi’ite fighters mostly are paid in cash from Iran, the Syrian government and coffers of the Lebanese-based, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, according to analysts.
Iran would foot the bill alone in the future, a Syrian official told VOA on the condition of anonymity, confirming the Al Wasel report.
“The number of Shia militia has increased dramatically during the last two months,” the official said. “While a big part of these militia were recruited by Iran, a relatively big part was recruited by the Syrian government directly. We are speaking about more than 50,000 militants from different nationalities. The Syrian government requested that Iran provide for all of the mentioned militias.”
The document from Al Wasel put the number of fighters to be paid at 88,733 — a figure analysts say is exaggerated. They estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria fighting alongside thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Tehran-affiliated Shiite militia Hezbollah and assorted Shiite militia made up of renegade Pakistanis, central Asians and other nationalities. Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of Iran’s elite Quds Force or other elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units have been killed fighting in Syria.
Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi’ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC and expanding far beyond the shrine area.
Iran has long expressed a desire to command a unified army in the region, particularly in Syria, and its growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals. In an interview with the Mashregh news agency last August, Mohammad Ali Falaki, an IRGC leader, announced formation of a unified army in Syria which appears to have come to loose fruition.
“It would hardly be abnormal for Iran’s IRGC to be controlling yet more Shia jihadists,” said Talha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute.
In the long run, the formation of a unified army in Syria under Tehran supervision appears very practical, analysts say.
“It seems plausible that the Syrian government shift the responsibility for management and organization of the militias, especially where financial burden is concerned,” said Rasool Nafisi, a Middle East affairs expert in Washington.
Asserting its military prowess would help Iran push its political agenda in the region, some analysts believe.
“The bigger and more advanced army you control, the stronger voice you have,” said Daryoush Babak, a Washington-based retired Iranian military adviser.
But unifying Assad supporters under Tehran’s umbrella could worsen sectarian conflict in the region between Shi’ites and Sunni, analysts say.
Iran is looking for any chance to increase its influence and gain an upper hand against Saudi Arabia, its strongest rival in the war of minds and hearts, analysts say. Saudi Arabia and Iran support rival groups in Syria’s civil war. And In a speech in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump accused Tehran of contributing to instability in the region.
“Tehran and Riyadh … keep contradicting each other to prove whose ideology leads the region,” said Nafisi.
While Syria has relied on Iran militarily in the fight against rebels and Islamic State, it’s unlikely to grant Tehran a controlling foothold in the country, analysts say.
“In Syria, it is not likely to happen as long as the Assad regime harbors ambitions of regaining sovereignty rather than being reduced to an Iranian protectorate,” said Alfoneh.
A number of elite units from multiple nations are gathered to train at an air base, with over 100 aircraft sitting on the flightline for a two-week exercise.
Sounds like just another Red Flag, right? Wrong.
This exercise is a “flag,” but it’s not at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Instead, it’s taking place in Israel. And appropriately enough, it’s known as Blue Flag.
While several Red Flag exercises are held each year in the U.S., the Israelis hold one Blue Flag every two years. In 2013, four countries took part. This year, according to DefenseNews.com, seven will be in the skies over the Middle East nation: the United States, France, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, and of course, Israel.
One big difference between Red Flag and Blue Flag is the fact that Blue Flag doesn’t have a lot of head-to-head action between the participants. The exercise usually puts the 100 or so planes in as a multi-national “Blue Force” dealing with an external “Red Force.”
Week one of Blue Flag is spent getting familiar with the area. The second week is the actual combat exercise, usually involving the Red Force trying to hit friendly targets. The Blue Force tries to stop them, in a variety of missions, both air-to-air, and air-to-surface.
Past Blue Flags have drawn rave reviews from the United States Air Force.
“The Israelis provided an excellent training environment, which offered us the opportunity to learn from each other and to take advantage of good airspace, surface threat replicators, and challenging scenarios,” said Lt. Col. John Orchard after Blue Flag 2013 in an Air Force release. “It was a real pleasure integrating with our Israeli, Italian and Greek partners who all offer unique tactical, strategic and cultural perspectives.”
While the nightlife may be very different from the Vegas strip — and it’ll be a little harder to find a good ham sandwich between sorties — Blue Flag 2017 promises to be very interesting for the participants.
The start date of the offensive to oust Islamic State fighters from the city of Raqqa and end the terror group’s state-building project has been announced several times in the past few months, often with great fanfare by commanders in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the United States’ ground ally in northern Syria.
The last announcement came in March when Kurdish commanders said an assault on the city would begin April 1.
Two weeks later that start date, like many others, has come and gone, prompting the months-long question: when will the U.S.-backed SDF offensive shift gears from isolating Raqqa, which is hemmed in on three sides now, to mounting an assault to retake the capital of the jihadists’ self-styled caliphate?
Over the weekend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the French news agency AFP he would support whomever wants to oust Islamic State militants from Raqqa, but mocked the delay in an assault on the city, which U.S. officials believe is being defended by around 4,000 IS fighters.
“What we hear is only allegations about liberating Raqqa. We’ve been hearing that for nearly a year now, or less than a year, but nothing happened on the ground,” he said. “It’s not clear who is going to liberate Raqqa…It’s not clear yet.”
The Turkish defense minister again complicated the U.S. effort to choreograph an agreement among multiple local and international players about a Raqqa offensive by pressing Ankara’s long-standing demand for the U.S. to end its alliance with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, whose fighters dominate the ranks of the SDF.
There were no signs that the Turkish request made persistently by Ankara in recent months, and relayed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a February phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, will be heeded.
U.S. officials say they envisage the Raqqa battle will resemble the fight in neighboring Iraq, where local indigenous forces have been waging the struggle to retake the northern city of Mosul, the last IS major urban stronghold in that country.
Some 500 U.S. special forces soldiers deployed in northern Syria are helping to train and advise SDF units.
Mattis later said at a press conference the U.S. remains in solidarity with Ankara when it comes to fighting Islamic State militants and Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, but he made no mention of discontinuing the alliance with the YPG, the armed wing of Syria’s Democratic Union Party, or PYD.
The Turks, who fear the emergence of a Kurdish state in north Syria, maintain there’s no real distinction between the PYD and the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.
A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Brecht)
Mattis cited the long security relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, dating back to 1952 when Turkey joined NATO; but, in the wake of the April 16 constitutional referendum that greatly enhances the Turkish president’s powers, analysts say it is unclear how much Erdogan values his country’s alliance with the West, and whether his slim victory will embolden him to disrupt a Raqqa assault by the SDF.
Earlier in April, Erdogan ramped up the pressure on Washington, saying his government is planning new offensives in northern Syria this spring against groups deemed terrorist organizations by Ankara, including IS and the PYD’s militia.
In March, Turkish forces escalated attacks on the YPG in northern Syria, forcing the U.S. to deploy a small number of forces in and around the town of Manbij to the northwest of Raqqa to “deter” Turkish-SDF clashes and ensure the focus remains on Islamic State.
Local anti-IS activists say the air raids fail to distinguish between military and non-military targets; however, with IS fighters seeded throughout the city and surrounding villages, being able to draw a distinction is become increasingly challenging, say U.S. officials.
“Civilians are now [caught] between the criminal terrorists on one side and the international coalition’s indiscriminate bombing on the other side,” said Hamoud Almousa, a founding member of the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is opposed to an assault on the city being led by the YPG.
“Liberating [Raqqa] does not come by burning it and destroying it over its people who have suffered a lot from the terrorist group’s violations,” he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group that relies on a network of activists for its information, said that four civilians — two women and two children — were killed April 17 in an airstrike believed to have been carried out by coalition warplanes on the Teshreen Farmarea north of Raqqa.
The Observatory says between March 1 and April 10, airstrikes killed 224 civilians. They included 38 children under the age of 18, and 37 women.
Another mainly Arab anti-IS activist network, Eye on the Homeland, complains at the lack of international condemnation about the civilian casualties from the airstrikes, arguing civilians caught in the conflict are being treated inhumanely.
“We assert that the liberation of civilians from all forms of terrorism requires that military forces acting in the area avoid civilian killing, displacement, and the destruction of their properties whenever possible,” the network said recently on its website.
It warned the deaths will “be used to by terrorist organizations in their propaganda to convince civilians that these military forces do not have their interests at heart” and will “only further fuel radicalization.”
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 marked the end of the World War II, and the beginning of the age of nuclear weapons.
During the Cold War, the policy of mutually assured destruction between the US and the Soviet Union — appropriately referred to as “MAD” — meant that if one nation used nuclear weapons on another, then an equal response would have been doled out as soon as possible.
Over the course of the Cold War, and several times after it, the citizens of the world were forced to hold their breath as the superpowers came close to nuclear war.
Here are nine times the world was at the brink of nuclear war — but pulled back:
1. October 5, 1960 – The moon is mistaken for missiles
Early warning radar quickly became one of the most important tools in the nuclear age. American radar stations were built all around the world with the hope that they would detect incoming Soviet missiles, warning the homeland of a strike and allowing for the president to form a response.
On October 5, 1960, one such warning was issued from a newly constructed early warning radar station in Thule, Greenland (now called Qaanaaq). Dozens of missiles were reportedly detected, and at one point were said to reach the US in 20 minutes.
A panic ensued at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) HQ in Colorado, and NORAD was placed on its highest alert level.
The panic was put to rest when it was realized that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was visiting New York at the time. A later investigation found that the radar had mistaken the moon rising over Norway as Soviet missiles.
2. November 24, 1961 – A single switch causes a mechanical failure
Just over a year later, Strategic Air Command (SAC) HQ in Omaha, Nebraska lost contact with the Thule radar station. SAC officials then tried to contact NORAD HQ in Colorado, but the line was reportedly dead.
It was determined before that the probability that both Thule and NORAD’s communications would shut down due to technical malfunction was very low, making SAC believe that an attack was underway.
SAC’s entire alert force was ordered to prepare for takeoff, but crisis was averted when a US bomber managed to make contact with Thule and confirm no attack was underway.
It was later discovered that a single malfunctioning switch managed to shut down all communications, even emergency hotlines, between SAC, Thule, and NORAD.
3. October 25, 1962 – A bear almost turns the Cuban Missile Crisis hot
The Cuban Missile Crisis is perhaps the closest the world has ever come to global nuclear war. Four instances over the 13-day event stand out in particular, the first one happening on October 25, 1962.
Tensions were already high during the crisis, and the US military was placed on DEFCON 3, two steps away from nuclear war.
Just after midnight on October 25, a guard at the Duluth Sector Direction Center in Minnesota saw a figure attempting to climb the fence around the facility. The guard, worried that the figure was a Soviet saboteur, shot at the figure and activated the sabotage alarm.
This triggered air raid alarms to go off at all air bases in the area. Pilots at Volk Field in neighboring Wisconsin to panic, since they knew that no tests or practices would happen while the military was on DEFCON 3.
The pilots were ordered to their nuclear armed F-106A interceptors, and were taxiing down the runway when it was determined the alarm was false. They were stopped by a car that had raced to the airfield to tell the pilots to stop.
The intruder turned out to be a bear.
4. October 27, 1962 – A Soviet sub almost launches a nuclear torpedo
Two of the instances actually occurred on the same day — October 27, 1962, arguably the most dangerous day in history.
On the morning of October 27, a U-2F reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by the Soviets while over Cuba, killing its pilot, causing tensions to escalate to their highest point.
Later, a Soviet submarine, the B-59, was detected trying to break the blockade that the US Navy had established around Cuba. The destroyer USS Beale dropped practice depth charges in an attempt to make the submarine surface.
The captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, thought the submarine was under attack and ordered to prepare the submarine’s nuclear torpedo to be launched at the aircraft carrier USS Randolf.
All three senior officers aboard the B-59 had to agree to the launch before it happened. Fortunately, the B-59’s second in command, Vasili Arkhipov, disagreed with his other two counterparts, and convinced the captain to surface and await orders from Moscow.
5. October 27, 1962 – The US Air Force sends out nuclear armed fighters
On the very same day, US Air Force pilots almost caused WW III to break out over the Bering Sea, the body of water between Alaska and Russia.
A US Air Force U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was en route to the North Pole for an air sampling mission. The spy plan accidentally crossed into Soviet airspace and lost track of its location, spending 90 minutes in the area before turning East to leave.
As it did so, at least six MiG fighter jets were sent to shoot down the U-2 while it was trespassing. Strategic Air Command, worried about the prospect of losing another U-2, sent F-102 Delta Daggers armed with nuclear Falcon air-to-air missiles.
Upon learning of the situation, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reportedly yelled “this means war with the Soviet Union!” President John F. Kennedy reportedly said that “there’s always some son of a b—- that doesn’t get the word.”
Luckily, the F-102s never encountered the MiGs, and escorted the U-2 back to Alaska.
6. October 28, 1962 – Radar operators get confused over an unknown satellite
One day after those events, radar operators in Moorestown, New Jersey reported to NORAD HQ just before 9:00 AM that Soviet nuclear missiles were on their way, and were expected to strike at exactly 9:02 near Tampa, Florida.
All of NORAD was immediately alerted and scrambled to respond, but the time passed without any detonations, causing NORAD to delay any actions.
It was later discovered that the Moorestown radar operators were confused because the facility was running a test tape that simulated a missile launch from Cuba when a satellite unexpectedly appeared over the horizon.
Additional radars were not operating at the time, and the Moorestown operators were not informed that the satelite was inbound because the facility that handled such operations was on other work related to the situation in Cuba.
7. November 9, 1979 – A training drill almost turns real
At 3:00 AM on November 9, 1979, computers at NORAD HQ lit up with warnings that thousands of nuclear missiles had been launched from Soviet submarines and were headed for the US.
SAC was alerted immediately and US missile crews were on the highest alert level possible, and nuclear bombers were preparing for takeoff.
The National Emergency Airborne Command Post, the airplane that is supposed to carry the president during a nuclear attack to ensure his command over the nuclear arsenal even took off, though without President Jimmy Carter on board.
National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski knew that the president’s decision making time was somewhere between three to seven minutes, and so decided to hold off telling Carter in order to be absolutely sure there was a real threat.
Six minutes of extreme worry passed, and satellites confirmed that no attack was taking place. It was later discovered that a technician had accidentally inserted a training tape simulating such a scenario into one of the computers.
Marshall Shulman, then a senior US State Department adviser, reportedly said in a now-declassified letter that was designated Top Secret that “false alerts of this kind are not a rare occurrence. There is a complacency about handling them that disturbs me.”
8. September 26, 1983 – A Soviet colonel makes the biggest gamble in history
Just after midnight on September 26, 1983, Soviet satellite operators at the Serpukhov-15 bunker just south of Moscow got a warning that a US Minuteman nuclear missile had been launched. Later, four more missiles were detected.
Tensions between the US and Soviet Union were strained earlier in the month, when the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 near Sakhalin Island, killing all 269 people on board — including US Congressman Larry McDonald.
The commanding officer at the bunker, Stanislav Petrov, was to inform his superiors of the launches, so an appropriate response could be made. Soviet policy back then called for an all-out retaliatory strike.
Knowing this, Petrov decided not to inform his superiors. “All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders — but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan,” he recalled of the incident.
He reasoned that if the US were to strike the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, they would send hundreds of missiles, not just five.
But Petrov had no way of knowing if he was right until enough time had passed, by which time nuclear bombs could have hit their targets, arguably making his decision the biggest gamble in human history.
After 23 minutes, Petrov’s theory that it was a false alarm was confirmed. It was later discovered that a Soviet sattelite had mistaken sunlight reflecting off the top of clouds as missiles.
9. January 25, 1995 – Nuclear worries remain after the Soviet Union
Four years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, almost started a nuclear war.
Russian early warning radar detected a launch of a missile with similar characteristics to a submarine-launched Trident missile off the coast of Norway.
The detected missile was actually a Norwegian Black Brant scientific rocket which was on a mission to study the aurora borealis. Norwegian authorities had informed the Kremlin of the launch, but the radar operators were not informed.
Yeltsin was given the Cheget, Russia’s version of the nuclear briefcase (sometimes known as the Football), and the launch codes for Russia’s missile arsenal. Russia’s submarines were also placed on alert.
Fortunately, Yeltsin’s belief that it was a false alarm proved correct, and Russian satellites confirmed that there was no activity from US missile sites.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In the summer of 2009, Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl walked off his post in Afghanistan and was later held captive by the Taliban until May 2014 when he was returned to U.S. custody.
This week, the now-Army sergeant pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and is expected to face sentencing in late October 2017.
Blumhouse Television and military media brand We Are The Mighty are proud to announce that they are teaming up to produce a documentary titled “Searching for Bergdahl” that chronicles the untold story of the soldiers involved in the multi-year campaign to find the missing sergeant.
The operation to locate Bergdahl is considered one the most significant manhunts in military history.
Former Army combat videographer and Emmy award-winner Robert Ham is set to direct the film. In 2009, Ham was assigned to the same unit as Bergdahl and witnessed the events firsthand.
“I am excited to partner with Blumhouse to work on a story that, for me, started on a base in Afghanistan in 2009 when I heard: ‘we’ve lost a soldier,'” Ham states.
The documentary’s release date has not yet been set. Stay tuned for more
US military forces seem poised to take a prominent role in the long-awaited battle to take down Raqqa, Syria, the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Though the Pentagon has long downplayed the role of US ground troops in the fight against the ISIS terror group in Iraq and Syria, recent deployments of many more “boots on the ground” suggest they may be front-and-center in the coming months.
Earlier this week, a convoy of US Army Rangers riding in armored Stryker combat vehicles was seen crossing the border into Syria to support Kurdish military forces in Manbij. The convoy, identified by SOFREP as being from 3rd Ranger Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, was the most overt use of US troops in the region thus far.
Until this most recent Ranger deployment, the Pentagon had adamantly stuck to the line that its “regional partners” — Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga for the most part — were bearing the brunt of the battle.
But on Wednesday, another curious deployment seemed to counter that narrative. According to The Washington Post, US Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine regiment had left their ships to establish a combat outpost inside Syria that is apparently within striking distance of Raqqa.
“For the base in Syria to be useful, it must be within about 20 miles of the operations US-backed forces are carrying out,” the Post wrote.
The unit, part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, recently finished conducting training exercises in Oman and Djibouti. Its new outpost inside Syria has M777 Howitzers that fire 155mm projectiles, which are likely guarded by additional infantrymen at the site, according to The Post.
U.S. Marines fire artillery to break up ISIS fighters attacking Kurdish and Peshmerga forces. | US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, told the Fayetteville Observer last year that most US troops were in Iraq or Kuwait, though “some” were operating inside Syria.
Meanwhile, US special operations forces, who are said to be taking a training and advisory role with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, were quietly given more latitude to call in precision airstrikes and artillery. As the AP reported in February, advisors are now able to call in airstrikes without seeking approval from an operations center in Baghdad.
Additionally, advisors were embedded at lower echelons of Iraqi security forces at the brigade and battalion level, rather than division — meaning that US forces are increasingly getting closer to direct combat.
Though the new directives were lauded by the Pentagon as “adding ‘precision’ to ground operations,” wrote The Institute for the Study of War, “it also underscores that US personnel are increasingly at the frontlines of the operation. Indicators from the new US Administration, including a proposed 10% budget increase for the Department of Defense, suggest that it may expand the level of US involvement in Iraq, beyond the Mosul operation.”
A spokesperson for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit did not respond to a request for comment.
Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for OIR, said the moves into Syria were to pre-position US forces so they can provide logistical and fire support to “Syrian partnered forces” who will eventually assault Raqqa.
The Marines and Rangers will provide the “commander greater agility to expedite the destruction of ISIS in Raqqah. The exact numbers and locations of these forces are sensitive in order to protect our forces, but there will be approximately an additional 400 enabling forces deployed for a temporary period to enable our Syrian partnered forces to defeat ISIS,” Dorrian told Business Insider.
He added: “The deployment of these additional key enabling capabilities allows the Coalition to provide flexible all weather fire support, training and protection from IEDs, and additional air support to our Syrian partners.”
The White House is considering whether to send another 1,000 American soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a “reserve force” for the Raqqa offensive, Reuters reported Wednesday. Officials who spoke with Reuters said there were about 6,000 US troops currently deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, up from the 5,000 that was reported in January.
The presence of additional US ground troops inside Syria — even miles from the frontline — would bring with it considerable risk. Combat outposts often draw rocket and mortar fire, in addition to small arms. Last March, a Marine outpost established to support the operation to retake Mosul, Iraq came under rocket attack by ISIS militants, killing Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin.
A total of nine American service members have been killed in OIR combat operations, while 33 have been wounded, according to Pentagon statistics.
When the North Vietnamese attacked on Jan. 21, 1968, it quickly became clear that the preparations weren’t enough. The 6,000 troops were attacked by an enemy force that would eventually grow to an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 enemies, and the carefully hoarded supply of artillery and mortar rounds were 90 percent destroyed by an enemy artillery attack that hit the ammo dump.
Westmoreland convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that the base should be held at all costs, triggering a 77-day siege that required planes to constantly land supplies on the improved airfield.
The Marines and other troops on the base sought continuously to knock the North Vietnamese off balance and to relieve the pressure on the base. The February 25 patrol aimed to find North Vietnamese and either kill them or take them captive to collect intelligence.
It was led by an inexperienced lieutenant who, after his men spotted three enemy fighters who quickly fled, ordered a full-speed chase to capture or kill them despite advice to the contrary from others.
The Marines fought valiantly, but they were taking machine gun and other small arms fire from three sides mere moments after the fight began. Grenades rained down on their position as they sought cover, concealment, and fire superiority.
Under increasing fire, Ridgeway and another Marine attempted to break contact and return to the base, but they came across a wounded Marine on their way. Unwilling to leave an injured brother, they stopped to render aid and carry him out.
As they stopped, bursts of machine gun fire hit the three Marines, wounding all three. One was killed by a grenade moments later, another died of wounds that night, and only Ridgeway survived despite the enemy shooting him in the helmet and shoulder. He was later captured when a Vietnamese soldier tried to steal his wristwatch and realized the body was still breathing.
That September, his family was part of a ceremony to bury unidentified remains from the battle and memorialize the nine Marines presumed dead whose bodies were only partially recovered.
But for five years after the battle, Ridgeway was an unidentified resident of the Hanoi Hilton, undergoing regular torture at the hands of his captors.
It wasn’t until the North Vietnamese agreed to a prisoner transfer as part of the peace process in 1973 that they released his name to American authorities, leading to Ridgeway’s mother getting an alert that her son was alive.
Five years after the battle and four years after his burial, Ridgeway returned to America and was reunited with his family. He later visited the grave and mourned the eight Marines whose names shared the list with his. A new memorial was later raised with Ridgeway’s name removed.
In a statement marking the 5th anniversary of the repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that barred gay men and women from serving openly in the military, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today’s military is stronger than ever since the repeal.
“I am proud to report that five years after the implementation of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ our military, drawn from a cross-section of America, is stronger than ever and continues to exemplify the very best that our great nation has to offer,” Carter said. “The American people can take pride in how the Department of Defense and the men and women of the United States military have implemented this change with the dignity, respect, and excellence expected of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”
Carter expressed optimism as the military continues to become more inclusive.
“As the memory of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ fades further into the past, and we move forward together to face new challenges,” he added, “we recognize that openness to diversity and reaching out in a spirit of renewed inclusiveness will strengthen our military and enhance our nation’s security.”
Also today, the Pentagon’s personnel chief released a letter to service members, families and veterans, encouraging people who received less-than-honorable discharges from the military based solely on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and its precursor laws and policies to seek a correction of their records.
“If there is something in your record of service that you believe unjust, we have proven and effective policies and procedures to by which to consider and correct such errors,” acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Peter Levine wrote. “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a vestige of our past and I encourage you to honor the 5th anniversary of the Department’s implementation of its repeal by coming forward and requesting a correction.”
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Spc. Joshua Minter, assigned to Dog Company, 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, fires a Mark 19 40 mm grenade machine gun while conducting live-fire training at Grezelka range, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Feb. 28, 2017. The paratroopers practiced engaging targets at varying distances utilizing the M240B machine gun and the Mark 19 40 mm grenade machine gun.
A B-2 Spirit from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. during a Mobility Exercise held by JB MDL. The Joint Base holds an annual MOBEX in Gulfport, Miss. to practice deploying and operating in a deployed environment.
Sgt. Christopher D. Miller (front) and Spc. Matthew B. Barton (back), both divers with the 511th Engineer Dive Detachment, set charges to blow notional mines, Feb. 10, 2017, at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The Soldiers were tested on their troop leading procedures, as well as their knowledge of setting up explosives on land, during this training event.
Pfc. Heaven Southard, an Army military working dog handler with the Directorate of Emergency Services, Area Support Group – Kuwait, releases her military working dog “Jerry” during a demonstration of MWD capabilities at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Mar. 7, 2017.
OKINAWA, Japan (March 8, 2017) Landing craft utility 1651, attached to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7, enters the well deck of USS Ashland (LSD 48). The amphibious dock landing ship is part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, and embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is on a routine patrol, operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to enhance partnerships and be a ready-response force for any type of contingency.
ARABIAN SEA (March 3, 2017) The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) transits the Arabian Sea. The ship is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations designed to reassure allies and partners, and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region.
Sgt. Allison DeVries, combat photographer, Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, boils snow during Mountain Training Exercise (MTX) 2-17 at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., Feb. 26, 2017. 1st Combat Engineer Battalion (CEB) conducted scenario-driven training that encompassed mobility, counter-mobility and survivability operations in a mountainous, snow-covered environment that challenged 1st CEB to generate combat engineering solutions to infantry driven tasks.
Sgt. Johnathan Stamets, radio operator with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, looks through his M8541A optic attached to the M-110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System rifle aboard the USS Somerset (LPD 25) Ombudsman, Jan. 12, 2017.
2016 was the 100 year anniversary of US Coast Guard aviation. To help commemorate the event, select Coast Guard units received a MH-65D helicopter with a centennial paint scheme.
A Coast Guard ice rescue team member uses a rescue shuttle board to pull a simulated victim out of the freezing water during training, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 in Burlington, VT. The team hosted Rear Adm. Steven Poulin, commander, First Coast Guard District and U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, adjutant general, Vermont National Guard.
In August 2020, President Trump issued an executive order that suspended the collection of Social Security payroll taxes for most military members. The suspension applied to individuals that made less than $104,000 annually in taxable income and lasted from September through December 2020. Generally, this applied to service members at paygrades below W-5 or O-5. During these four months, troops saw a slight increase in their paychecks. However, the temporary pay raise was simply a deferment and the money will have to be paid back in 2021.
On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed a bill passed by Congress that will ease the repayment of the four months of Social Security payroll taxes. Instead of troops paying back the 6.5 percent back out of their paycheck for four months, the collection will be spread over the course of 2021. Beginning with the mid-month January paycheck, troops who had their Social Security taxes deferred will notice the deduction of 2.7 percent of their base pay monthly. Those that opt to be paid monthly will see the deduction at the end of the month.
However, there is more math to be done if you want to calculate your take home for 2021. Military members will also see a 3% base pay increase. BAS rates will also increase for 2021 with enlisted members receiving $386.50 per month and officers receiving $266.18 per month. Additionally, depending on their posting, service members could see an increase in their BAH. Of course, the 6.5% Social Security payroll tax will also return for 2021.
Because of all these new variables, and existing ones like years of service, troops may or may not receive smaller paychecks than they received in the last few months of 2020. If you find yourself taking in less cash and experience financial hardship due to an emergency, be sure to turn to your service’s emergency relief loan first before resorting to potentially predatory sources of capital. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for an interest-free loan or a grant. Troops have plenty of things to worry about in the service of the nation; money shouldn’t have to be one of them.
In 2010, the commander of Canada’s busiest Air Force Base, Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton, confessed to a series of vile, heinous crimes. “Colonel” Russell Williams admitted to murdering a Corporal under his command, 37-year-old Marie-France Comeau and a civilian, 27-year-old Jessica Elizabeth Lloyd. He broke into the homes of two other women (his neighbors) and sexually assaulted them. He also admitted to burglarizing dozens of homes to steal underwear and lingerie from the women living there, some as young as nine years old. He took thousands of pictures of all his crimes, storing them on his home computer.
Williams pleaded guilty to 88 charges and was sentenced to two life sentences for first-degree murder, two 10-year sentences for other sexual assaults, two 10-year sentences for forcible confinement and 82 one-year sentences for burglary; all to be served concurrently at Kingston Penitentiary. He was stripped of his rank and Canadian Forces burned his uniforms, then destroyed his medals and his commission scroll, a paper signed by the Governor General and Defence Minister (with the permission of the Queen) confirming his status as a serving officer.
Col. Williams had a distinguished 23 year career before he started his predatory crime spree. He served as a pilot instructor to Canadian Forces school in Manitoba. He was a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, where he wrote a thesis supporting the pre-emptive war in Iraq. As a pilot, he flew dignitaries in VIP aircraft, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, the Governor General of Canada, and the Canadian Prime Minister. He also deployed to Dubai as a base commander supporting Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. He assumed command of CFB Trenton, which is where Canadian troops killed in Afghanistan arrive upon returning home. The base is the starting point for funeral processions along the Trenton-Toronto “Highway of Heroes.”
Marie-France Comeau was in her home in Brighton, Ontario on the evening of November 25, 2009. As she was in the basement trying to get her cat to come upstairs when she noticed the cat was fixated on the corner of the basement. Williams entered the basement earlier through an open basement window. He had already broken into her house to make sure she lived alone (While there, he took photos of himself wearing Comeau’s underwear). As Comeau went to see what the cat was looking at, Williams attacked her with a large flashlight attempting to knock her out. He tied her to a pole in the basement and took photos of her there. He took her upstairs, sexually assaulted her, then put duct tape over her mouth and nose and held it there until she died.
He first saw Jessica Elizabeth Lloyd as he peeped into her home on January 27, 2010. He watched her as she ran on a treadmill. He later entered her home while she was away to make sure she lived alone. He then left, leaving her back patio unlocked. He then waited in a field for her to come home and go to sleep. He took photos of her in the clothes she wore to bed, her eyes covered with duct tape. He then took video of himself raping Lloyd. He took Lloyed to his home in Tweed, Ontario. He held her captive in Tweed for almost 24 hours, then walked her out of his house as if he was going to let her go, then crushed her skull from behind with a large flashlight and then strangled her. He took photos before he buried her body 40 feet on the side of a road south of Tweed.
His full confession is cued up in the video below.