China on Oct. 11 protested the sailing of a US Navy ship near its territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying it would continue to take measures to protect Beijing’s interests in the vital waterway claimed by several nations.
A US official said the destroyer USS Chafee sailed near the Paracel Islands on Oct. 10, coming within 16 nautical miles (30 kilometers) of land. The Navy does not announce such missions in advance and the official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denounced the mission as dangerous and a violation of China’s sovereignty. She said the military verified the presence of the US ship by sea and air and warned it off.
“The Chinese government will continue to take firm measures to safeguard national territory, sovereignty, and maritime interests,” Hua told reporters at a daily briefing.
China claims the South China Sea and its islands virtually in their entirety, and its military expelled Vietnamese forces from the Paracels in 1974. The US does not take an official position on sovereignty claims, but the Navy regularly sails through the area to assert freedom of navigation.
China usually claims to have “expelled” Navy ships on such missions and its relatively mild response this time suggested the Chafee had not entered what it claims are its territorial waters.
The South China Sea has crucial shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potential oil, gas and other mineral deposits. China has carried out extensive land reclamation work on many of the islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations.
In this special episode of Warriors, in Their Own Words, we feature an interview with a German U-boat veteran from World War II. Rudi Toepfer was born in East Prussia, Germany on June 27, 1917. After graduating from the German Naval Academy, he served as the chief engineering office on submarines as they hunted for Allied convoys in the Atlantic Ocean. After the war, he moved to the United States. He worked for Hughes Aircraft for 30 years and became a leader in the Elks Lodge and Masons. This is Rudi’s compelling first hand account of his years in combat on board a U-Boat.
An ISIS expert claims there is a glaring “Achilles heel” present in the US strategy in Iraq and Syria, stating that the lack of any planning for the political future of the region after the terrorist group is wiped out will nullify the military gains made against the group.
“Only a fool would call this a victory,” Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and the co-author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” told The New Yorker. “It’s only the expulsion of ISIS fighters from a wasteland. It’s not a victory, not only because of the destruction. It’s also not a victory because there’s a shameless lack of a political track to supplement the military track. That’s the Achilles heel of Operation Inherent Resolve. They don’t have a political vision about what will happen after ISIS.”
The destruction Hassan mentions is almost total in Raqqa. The activist journalism group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently claims that 90% of the city has been destroyed by the months of fighting between ISIS, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and the US coalition.
The group has documented more than 3,829 airstrikes and 1,873 civilian deaths throughout the urban battle, and says 450,000 people remain displaced from the city.
Yet Hassan’s main argument is that the main threat to the success of the US-led mission is that there is no political plan for what will come after ISIS’s territorial defeat.
Professor Robert Pape, the director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago, said he agrees.
“When we invaded and conquered Iraq in 2003 we created ungoverned space for Sunni Arabs in Iraq which then spilled over in nearby Syria,” Pape says. “The worry here is that as that area of Iraq and Syria now could remain ungoverned space from the perspective of the Sunni Arabs, this problem may just simply fester and continue.”
ISIS, and the war to defeat it, has inflicted enormous violence upon the Sunni Arabs of the region, and its effects will stick with the Sunni populations of Iraq and Syria for generations.
And throughout the campaign to liberate Sunni regions previously under the the rule of ISIS, Iraq has employed Shiite militias with ties to Iran, called the Popular Mobilization Forces, which have been suspicious of Sunni villagers in conquered ISIS territory. Iraq’s own security forces have also frequently resorted to brutality against civilians in places like Mosul, which was an ISIS stronghold until recently.
Meanwhile, vast swaths of eastern Syria remain controlled by Kurdish-led militias in the form of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or by the Shiite-led Syrian government.
An additional yet significant ethnic challenge lies in how to divide power between Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis in Syria and Iraq after the dust settles. Already, Iraq’s central government is asserting itself in regions controlled by Kurds around Kirkuk and Mosul, where clashes have occurred.
Such post-conflict realities in the Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria have led to widespread distrust between locals and the governments and militaries that now control them and have deepened the same feelings of political isolation among Sunnis that led to the rise of ISIS between 2007 and 2013.
According to Hassan, the “Achilles heel” of the US-led coalition’s strategy is that it makes no preparations to resolve these complex problems, and focuses solely on a military victory over ISIS. In his view, such a limited approach will only hasten the return of another Sunni insurgent movement in the region.
This Episode tells the tale of two American pilots of World War II. One, R.T. Smith, was a fighter ace in Burma flying P-40s with the legendary Flying Tigers. He recorded 9 confirmed victories, aiding the Chinese in their conflict with Japan. The other, Al Freiburger, was a bomber pilot in Europe flying B-26 Marauders with his unit, the Silver Streaks. He logged numerous missions in the twin engine, medium bomber including key bombing runs on D-Day. Both men were engaging characters with very unique and dramatic war time experiences.
This year the GI Film Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary of sharing the military experience in and out of the arena of war. The festival is the first in the nation to exclusively celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the service member through the medium of film.
Over the last 10 years, the GIFF has presented films from new and established international and domestic filmmakers that honor the heroic stories of the American military and the universal lessons of war and conflict. All of them in some way express the courage and selflessness of our fighting men and women and the value of their work.
The GI Film Festival is open to filmmakers of every experience level, from first-timers to veteran directors and producers. Prizes are awarded annually to winners in three main categories: feature, documentary, and film shorts.
Here are the trailers of 7 of this year’s best. Watch them and be moved:
The Last Man Club is a story about four World War II veterans who served together on a B-17 Bomber. After losing touch over the years they each find themselves trapped in life circumstances and are all too compliant to live out their last days in their own “private little hell”. Pete is dying in a veteran’s hospital and it’s his nurse, Ripley who helps him find the last known address of Eagle, his captain and the pilot of their beloved B-17.
Pete’s letter finds Eagle living in his son’s home, stripped of his privileges and housebound. The letter informs him that he is the last man after Pete passes and he must fulfill the oath they had all taken after the war. What Eagle first sees as impossible, he is jarred from his fears when he learns that he will soon be going to a retirement home.
Dressed in his reunion military uniform he steals the battery from his son’s car and escapes in his late wife’s 1958 Ford Fairlane. At the start of his journey, Eagle meets up with the most unlikely of accomplishes. Romy is an attractive young woman on the run from her abusive gangster boyfriend. Through a series of happenstances, Romy becomes Eagle’s unwilling tour guide. As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.
As they travel cross country Eagle teaches Romy to respect herself and through Romy’s friendship, Eagle conquers his own limitations, finds vitality and a life worth living. They venture through the backroads of America, in a race to complete their mission, as the police, the FBI, a dangerous gangster and Eagle’s family try to figure out this band of geriatric’s next move.
Ride The Thunder is the true heroic story of a friendship between American military legend and recipient of the Navy Cross, John Ripley and one of South Vietnam’s most decorated Heroes, Le Ba Binh. The film is based on a book by the same name by Richard Botkin, former Marine Infantry Officer (1980-1995) The storyline follows Ripley’s and Binh’s fight together against the communists at the Battle for Dong Ha during the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, as Ripley goes home to a divided America while Binh is imprisoned in a communist re-education camp. After the war, their wives struggle to adjust to their changed lives. Immersed in this true story are interviews and rare historical footage that educates the moviegoers on the truth of the war along with the heroes who fought in it, while exposing the opportunists who betrayed them. The main Vietnamese actors in the film are Vietnamese refugees.
The U.S. military faces a mental health crisis of historic proportions. Thank You for Your Service takes aim at our superficial understanding of war trauma and the failed policies that have resulted. Director Tom Donahue interweaves the stories of four Iraq War veterans with candid interviews of top military and civilian leaders. Observing the systemic neglect, the film argues for significant internal change and offers a roadmap of hope. Interviews include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Generals David Petraeus and Loree Sutton, Sebastian Junger, Nicholas Kristof, Dexter Filkins, Senator Patty Murray, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Colonels Lawrence Wilkerson and Dave Sutherland.
At the time of filming, Peter Ertel is 95 years old. He is a published author and an avid pianist. Using his skill as a riveting storyteller, Ertel recounts his experiences as a soldier in the German army – from his early days as an “unsoldierlike” recruit who was deemed an “unreliable follower of the Fuhrer” to his becoming a highly respected platoon leader, who routinely risked his life to save the lives of his men, as well as the lives of the enemies he encountered on the battlefield. Though Peter takes us through the hell of front-line combat in both France and Russia, perhaps the most ‘unimaginable’ part of his journey begins after he becomes a prisoner of war. The Unimaginable Journey Of Peter Ertel is a documentary portrait of a man who maintained his humanity despite being thrust into a world of hatred, destruction and death. Peter Ertel tells his own story as only he could tell it – with unflinching honesty and raw emotion.
Marine Ryan Taylor is given a phone number by a pretty, mysterious girl. Believing it’s hers, he calls and it detonates a bomb in downtown Pittsburgh. The marine then becomes the main suspect in the bombing. Now, he must evade the authorities and hunt down the people who set him up before they can launch a second attack. Rising Fear is an indie action thriller boiling with twists, turns, and a deadly conspiracy that threatens to destroy the US government–and freedom itself. Buckle in as writer director Tom Getty takes you on a roller coaster ride that starts with a bang and doesn’t let up until its explosive finale.
Noah Cass was a machine gunner for the Marine Corps during the 2005 Operation Spear in Iraq. During an over-watch mission, his team was ambushed and a mortar round hit his truck leaving him with permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. When Noah returned home, he dealt with issues common to veterans transitioning into civilian life: aggressive behavior, alcohol addiction, depression, difficulty keeping a job, and relationship problems. Noah eventually hit rock bottom and was desperate for a change. He decided to get sober and started running in the woods nearby. Noah, now a father and husband, enters the 50-mile wilderness race having only completed one 26-mile marathon. This race represents the journey a young soldier faces to help cope with a past that haunts him every day.
Chaplain Justin David Roberts served 6 years active duty as an Army Chaplain. Before he left the Army in 2015, he found that beneath the collar of ministry he was struggling with depression and PTS. Wondering what kind of father he would be if he didn’t face his issues, he set out on a journey to meet up with members of his old unit. Along the way, they recall their tour of duty. In total, 17 soldiers were killed in action and over 200 were wounded during the deployment. Almost all of the men lost died while either trying to save someone or protect others. The common thread in every one of these stories of valor is love. This film layers the footage Roberts shot on missions in Afghanistan with heartfelt interviews of the men he served with, as well as surviving family members. Through telling these stories, the soldiers that deployed with the legendary No Slack battalion are finding healing and purpose after combat.
For show times for these films and a complete rundown of the other films and events going on at this year’s exciting GI Film Festival go here. If you’re in the greater DC metro area you’re not going to want to miss it.
The battle for Iwo Jima in World War II became the bloodiest in U. S. Marine Corps history. But for survivors like Chuck Tatum, it also represents the best, the Marines and the United States has to give. For despite the 23,000 American casualties, including 5,400 dead, the flag atop Mount Suribachi, is a symbol of this nation’s willingness to fight for freedom and liberty, no matter what the cost. This episode is an in-depth interview with Chuck Tatum. These are his dramatic experiences in his own words.
This episode features the dramatic role of the U.S Rangers on D-Day during World War II. Leonard Lomell and Sidney Salomon, from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, were among those who comprised America’s first Special Forces group. They were part of the first wave landing on Omaha Beach on June 6th, 1944.
As the Islamic State group loses its remaining strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is facing a growing chorus of questions from NATO allies and partners about what the next steps will be in the region to preserve peace and ensure the militants don’t rise again.
Heading into a week of meetings with Nordic countries and allies across Europe, Mattis must begin to articulate what has been a murky American policy on how the future of Syria unfolds.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to Finland, Mattis said the main question from US allies is: what comes next? And he said the key is to get the peace process on track.
“We’re trying to get this into the diplomatic mode so we can get things sorted out,” said Mattis, who will meet with NATO defense ministers later this week. “and make certain (that) minorities — whoever they are — are not just subject to more of what we’ve seen” under Syrian President Bashar Assad until now.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in late October repeated Washington’s call for Assad to surrender control, looking past recent battlefield gains by his Russian-backed forces to insist that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”
Tillerson made the comments after meeting with the UN’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who later announced plans to resume UN-mediated peace talks Nov. 28. It will be the eighth such round under his mediation in Geneva since early 2016.
Mattis said intelligence assessments two to three months ago made it clear that the Islamic State group was “going down.” He said information based on the number of IS individuals taken prisoner and the number of fighters who were getting wounded or were deserting the group made it clear that “the whole bottom was dropping out.”
But while he said the effort now is to get the diplomatic process shifted to Geneva and the United Nations, he offered few details that suggest the effort is moving forward.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.
In addition to the diplomatic efforts, Mattis said the US is still working to resolve conflicts with Russia in the increasingly crowded skies over the Iraq and Syria border, where a lot of the fighting has shifted.
On Nov. 3, Assad’s military announced the capture of the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zour, while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proclaimed victory in retaking the town of Qaim on the border, the militants’ last significant urban area in Iraq.
Focus has now turned to Boukamal, the last urban center for the militants in both Iraq and Syria where Syrian troops —backed by Russia and Iranian-supported militias — and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are vying for control of the strategic border town.
The proximity of forces in the area has raised concerns about potential clashes between them as they approach Boukamal from opposite sides of the Euphrates River, and now from across the border with Iraq.
Mattis said that as forces close in, the fighting is getting “much more complex,” and there is a lot of effort on settling air space issues with the Russians.
He also declined to say whether the US will begin to take back weapons provided to Syrian Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG. The US has argued that the YPG has been the most effective fighting group in the battle to oust IS from Raqqa, but Turkey opposed the arming effort because it believes the YPG is linked to a militant group in Turkey.
The US has pledged to carefully monitor the weapons, to insure that they don’t make their way to the hands of insurgents in Turkey, known as the PKK. The US also considers the PKK a terrorist organization, and has vowed it would never provide weapons to that group.
Turkish officials have said that Mattis reassured them by letter that arms given to the Syrian Kurds would be taken back and that the US would provide Turkey with a regular list of arms given to the fighters.
While in Finland, Mattis will attend a meeting of a dozen northern European nations, which are primarily concerned about threats from Russia.
“They are focused on the north,” said Mattis, adding that he plans to listen to their thoughts on the region and determine how the US can help, including what types of training America could provide.
“It is an opportunity to reiterate where we stand by our friends,” said Mattis, “if any nation, including Russia, seeks to undermine the rules of international order.”
During a press briefing later on Nov. 6, Denmark Defense Minister Claus Hjord Frederiksen told reporters that allies must continue to be present in the region because of the risk that IS would rise again.
“We’re not so naive that we think that terrorism is removed from this earth, but of course it is very important to have taken geographical areas from them so they can’t attack or rob or whatever — using the income from oil production to finance their activities,” said Frederiksen. “We foresee therefore years ahead we will have to secure that they cannot gain new ground there.”
Bob Hoover learned to fly as a teenager in Tennessee, flew over 50 combat missions in World War Two and went on to become a legendary test pilot. Hoover was Chuck Yeager’s backup pilot in the Bell X-1 program and flew the chase plane when Yeager first broke the sound barrier. In 1950 he joined North American Aviation as an experimental test pilot, an association that would last 36 years. This Episode is Part 2 of the remarkable story of Bob Hoover, one of the history’s greatest pilots.
The pilots in the U.S. Air Force fly a bunch of planes. The F-15 Eagle, the C-17 Globemaster, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and the Mirage 2000D… Wait, that can’t be right. The Mirage 2000D is a French plane, and not in service with the Air Force.
Yet, that list is accurate. Right now, Maj. Raymond “Banzai” Rounds of the U.S. Air Force is based out of Ochey Air Base in France, flying with the Armee de l’Air. The French have three squadrons of Mirage 2000Ds.
In one sense, the Mirage 2000D is like the F-15E. Both are multi-role fighters that are based on air-superiority planes (the Mirage 2000C and the F-15).
According to Military-Today.com, the Mirage 2000D is capable of carrying a wide variety of air-to-surface weapons, including dumb bombs, laser-guided bombs, Exocet anti-ship missiles, APACHE and SCALP missiles, the AS-30L missile, and rocket pods. It can also carry Magic 2 air-to-air missiles.
The Air Force has a program that enables pilots like Rounds to do exchange tours with other countries’ militaries. But that’s not the only exchange.
There are also inter-service exchanges, where members of American military services fly with a unit in another American service. Perhaps the most famous of those pilots is Marine John Glenn, who scored three MiG kills while flying with the Air Force’s 51st Fighter Wing.
Rounds’s exchange tour will last for two years. After that, he will return the Air Force and bring over lessons he’s learned from the French.
You can see a video from the Joint Forces Channel that not only discusses Rounds’s exchange tour, but also what it takes to support the airmen who taken on these tours, below.
The top US admiral in the Middle East said on Sept. 18 that Iran continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen, stoking the civil strife there and enabling Iranian-backed rebels to fire missiles into neighboring Saudi Arabia that are more precise and far-reaching.
Iran has been repeatedly accused of providing arms helping to fuel one side of the war in Yemen, in which rebels from the country’s north, Al Houthis, ousted the government from the capital of Sana’a in 2014.
The officer, Vice Admiral Kevin M. Donegan, said that Iran is sustaining Al Houthis with an increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines, and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border. The US, the Yemeni government and their allies in the region have retaliated with strikes of their own and recaptured some Al Houthi-held coastal areas to help blunt threats to international shipping, but the peril persists, the admiral said.
“These types of weapons did not exist in Yemen before the conflict,” said Donegan. “It’s not rocket science to conclude that Al Houthwis are getting not only these systems but likely training and advice and assistance in how to use them.”
Donegan gave his assessment in an hour-long telephone interview from his 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain as he prepared to conclude his two-year tour, and take a new assignment at the Pentagon.
In the wide-ranging interview, Donegan said that the bitter rift between Qatar and many of its Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who accuse Qatar of financing militants and having overly cozy relations with Iran, has not yet hindered coalition efforts to battle terrorism, piracy, or other mutual maritime scourges. Donegan’s most pointed accusations focused on suspected Iranian assistance to Al Houthi rebels. The US and other Western governments have provided vast quantities of weapons, and other forms of military support, to the embattled Yemeni government and its allies in a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, contributing to violence that the UN says has caused more than 10,000 civilian casualties.
The admiral’s charges appear supported, at least in part, by findings in a report late last year by Conflict Armament Research, a private arms consultancy. The report concluded that the available evidence pointed to an apparent “weapon pipeline, extending from Iran to Somalia and Yemen, which involves the transfer, by dhow, of significant quantities of Iranian-manufactured weapons and weapons that plausibly derive from Iranian stockpiles.”
For years, Iran has been under a series of international sanctions prohibiting it from exporting arms. The US has frequently claimed that Tehran has violated the sanctions in support of proxy forces in many conflicts, including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and the Palestinian territories.
Between September 2015 through March 2016, allied warships interdicted four Iranian dhows that yielded, in total, more than 80 anti-tank guided missiles and 5,000 Kalashnikov rifles as well as sniper rifles, machine guns and almost 300 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to data provided by the US Navy.
Donegan said that while there have been no seizures since, he said he suspects Iran’s hand in Al Houthis’ apparent ability to replenish and improve their arms stockpiles. “It is not something that was a one-time deal and stopped,” Donegan said. “It appears to be progressive.”
International Committee of the Red Cross delegates have met with a US citizen held at an undisclosed location as an enemy combatant, the humanitarian agency said Oct. 2.
The man was handed over to US forces about three weeks ago by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-allied militia made up mostly of Kurds. His name has yet to be released, but the Associated Press reported last week, citing unnamed “senior US officials,” that the American captive was being held at a detention center in Iraq, suggesting he was perhaps in Kurdistan. A Department of Defense spokesman declined to comment.
“The ICRC confirms that it has been able to visit a US citizen, captured in Syria and currently held by the US authorities,” spokesman Marc Kilstein said Oct. 2. “In accordance with our confidential approach, we are not in a position to comment on the individual’s identity, location, or conditions of detention.”
The Department of Defense, likewise, has been short on details about the man — his age, name, where he is held, what would become of him — after initially disclosing the existence of the only known American citizen in US military custody who is held as an Islamic State fighter. A Pentagon statement called him a “known enemy combatant” who was handed over to US forces “on or about Sept. 21.”
The capture has created a policy conundrum for the Trump administration. President Donald Trump campaigned on a vow to load up Guantánamo with prisoners. But if the American is to be charged with a crime, he cannot go to Guantánamo, where by law only non-citizens can be tried by military commission. Moreover, if he were to be sent to the war-on-terror detention center in southeast Cuba, he could not be later sent to a federal court for prosecution under a different provision of US law enacted during the Obama administration that prevents the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to US soil.
On Sept. 29, a day after the ICRC said it had been notified about the captive, Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that, based on reports of a US citizen in detention, “his ongoing military detention is unlawful as a matter of domestic law, and his constitutional rights to habeas corpus and to a lawyer must be respected.
“If the government has legitimate grounds to suspect the citizen fought with ISIS, he should immediately be transferred to the federal criminal justice system for criminal charges,” he added.
Romero also copied in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his correspondence. As of Oct. 2, he had not received a response.