Russia is sending what NATO thinks is thousands of troops into Belarus – and the transatlantic alliance is worried the Russians may not leave. The move would pose a counter to the recent movement of NATO forces into the area, including former Soviet states Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, and Poland.
The Russian and Belorussian response, they claim, is purely defensive. The Russians say it emulates a terrorist threat with external support – that support comes from the West, which the Russian military will move to counter.
Just as Americans embrace the fictional countries the U.S. military uses to train its troops, fictional Twitter and Facebook accounts representing Veishnoriya’s various official ministries have popped up around the war games. There are even fictional seals, flags, and histories surrounding the fictional country. You can even apply for a Veishnoriyan passport.
One Facebook discussion boasted that Veishnoriya has never lost a war, while detractors say, “It’s not Vesbaria, it’s not Lubenia. Volodya, your soldiers will be torn to pieces!”
An estimated three thousand to 100,000 Russian troops are involved (depending on who you ask), along with the Russian 1st Guard Tank Army. It’s an exercise they’ve been running every four years since the 1970s, except for the decade or so after the fall of the Soviet Union.
NATO experts believe the game represents what Moscow thinks is a scenario most likely to come from Western efforts to undermine the Russian sphere of influence.
If the war game did have upwards of 100,000 troops and tanks, the Russians would be required to report the exercise and submit to having foreign observers monitor the exercise, according to the Vienna Document, a 2011 security agreement.
The training to carry oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray) or a Tazer generally requires that a military police officer experience the sting of their weapon before they can carry it. Some troops are even required to recertify and be sprayed and Tazed every six months.
Here are 17 photos and one video that show what the training is like:
1. Pepper spray, training opens with the service member getting a blast straight to the face.
2. The spray forces the eyes closed and irritates the skin.
3. In most cases, the students have to complete certain tasks and training lanes after being sprayed.
4. Part of the training lane is fighting against a simulated aggressor while still blinded.
5. Students may be required to fight with batons or riot gear.
6. Trying to use weapons while under the spray’s effects is especially challenging.
7. But the soldiers are expected to force their way through.
8. Near the end of the training, the students will usually have to subdue a subject.
9. Once they finish the lane, they can rinse out the spray.
10. Removing the chemical agents is a welcome step.
11. It takes a lot of water to get the oleoresin capsicum off.
12. Even after rinsing, the eyes and face will likely be sore and inflamed for a while.
13. Tazers are an entirely different beast.
14. The shock of the Tazer can immediately incapacitate a trainee.
15. The faces of those being shocked are usually pretty funny.
16. Other troops will support the students during the shock so they won’t hurt themselves as they fall.
17. Attempting to resist the 50,000 volt shock is useless as the Tazer overwhelms the nervous system.
To see Marines going through pepper spray, Tazer, and riot control training, check out the video below:
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sept. 18, attended the week-long war games with Belarus that have demonstrated the Russian military’s resurgent might and made neighboring countries nervous.
Putin observed the Zapad 2017 drills — tank attacks, airborne assaults, and air raids that got underway Sept. 14 — at the Luzhsky range in western Russia, just over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Estonia’s border.
As part of the maneuvers, the Russian military on Sept. 18 also test-fired its state-of-the-art cruise missile at a mock target in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, showcasing the weapon’s extended range and precision strike capability.
Some nervous NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized an alleged lack of transparency about the war games and questioned Moscow’s intentions.
The exercises, held in several firing ranges in Belarus and western Russia, run through Sept. 20. Russia and Belarus say 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops are participating, but some NATO countries have estimated that up to 100,000 troops could be involved.
With Russia’s relations with the West at a post-Cold War low point over the fighting in Ukraine, worries about the war games ranged from allegations that Russia could permanently deploy its forces to Belarus to fears of a surprise onslaught on the Baltics.
Their troops are fighting three invented “aggressor countries” — Veishnoriya, Lubeniya, and Vesbariya. However, the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — and Poland see the monikers for the made up enemies as thinly disguised references to their nations.
NATO has rotated military units in the Baltics and Poland and staged regular drills in the region, activities Moscow has criticized as a reflection of the alliance’s hostile intentions.
Russia and Belarus kept the stated number of troops involved in the drills just below 13,000, a limit allowing them to dodge more intrusive inspections by NATO in line with international agreements. The practice maneuvers nonetheless have put Russia’s massive military mobilization capability on display.
They also have involved various branches of the Russian military, including the air force’s long-range bombers and missile forces. In a reflection of the drills’ broad scope, they featured the Sept. 18 launch of the Iskander-M cruise missile, a new weapon that has drawn concern from the United States.
The missile, launched from the Kapustin Yar firing range in southwestern Russia, hit a mock target at a range in Kazakhstan, some 480 kilometers (nearly 300 miles) away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
The US has accused Russia of developing cruise missiles banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with a goal to threaten US facilities in Europe and the NATO alliance. Moscow has rejected the accusations and insisted it has adhered to the pact.
The INF Treaty bans an entire class of weapons — all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles). The Iskander-M’s stated range puts it just below the pact’s threshold.
The Zapad 2017 maneuvers are intended to underline the close military cooperation between Russia and Belarus, but also revealed signs of strains between the allies.
While Putin watched the previous drills in 2013 with his Belarusian counterpart, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he would watch them separately on Sept. 20.
Lukashenko has relied on subsidized Russian oil and gas supplies and billions of dollars in loans to keep his nation’s Soviet-style economy afloat. At the same time, he often has bristled at what he described as the Kremlin’s attempts to subdue Belarus and force it to surrender control over prized economic assets.
Lukashenko also has flirted with the West to try to reduce his dependence on Russia. His decision to dodge a joint appearance with Putin at the military exercises was seen by observers as an attempt to put some distance between Belarus and its giant eastern neighbor.
“Lukashenko is trying to mend ties with the West to get new loans, and the Kremlin’s military games don’t help that,” Alexander Klaskovsky, a Minsk-based political analyst, said.
Questions consumed Capt. Carlyle S. “Smitty” Harris’ mind in the early days of his eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
Harris’ thoughts focused mostly on his pregnant wife and two children back home near Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Harris also wondered how the POWs could maintain any semblance of leadership and morale without a way to communicate with each other.
For eight long years of captivity, the questions lingered and gnawed at his mind.
Within five months after he’d joined the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Thailand, Harris launched his second F-105 Thunderchief mission on Thanh Hoa Bridge April 4, 1965. After Harris hit his target, his F-105 was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and he was forced to eject. About 20 people from a nearby village immediately captured the pilot, and he was quickly surrounded by almost 50 villagers armed with hoes, shovels and rifles. Just as he was about to be shot, an elderly man stepped in because of the government’s orders to capture American pilots alive. Harris remained in captivity for 2,871 days, much of it at the Hoa Lo Prison, which POWs nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton.
After Louise Harris learned her husband was missing, she remained at their home in Okinawa with their two young daughters, Robin and Carolyn, until after their son Lyle was born. Six weeks after Lyle’s birth, she took her family to Tupelo, Mississippi, where her sister lived. Even before she received her first letter from her husband from Vietnam, Louise believed he was alive and made certain the children kept the faith, too. As Lyle grew older, he’d tell his mother, “There goes Daddy,” when an airplane flew overhead.
Shortly after his capture, Harris was placed in a cell in the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,”with four other POWs, and, at that time, he remembered a conversation with an instructor at his survival school training. The instructor had told him about a tap code Royal Air Force POWs used during World War II, and Harris taught the other four POWs the code. Their captors put them back in solitary confinement a few days later, but that only helped them spread the code throughout the seven-cell area, and ultimately, to POWs throughout North Vietnam.
“As we were moved to other camps away from Hanoi, someone always took the tap code with them and was able to pass it on,” said Harris, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1979 and spent the next 18 years working in business, law and marketing in Mississippi. “So no matter where you went in the POW system in North Vietnam, if you heard a tap, the guy on the other side of the wall would respond with two knocks in return, and you’ve started the communication process.”
At the Hanoi Hilton and other POW camps in Vietnam, the tap code was not only a means to communicate with each other, but it also became a lifeline. In the code, the alphabet was arranged on a grid of five rows and five columns without the letter K, which was substituted with C. The first set of taps indicated which row the letter was on, and the second represented the column. So one tap followed by another tap meant the letter A, and a tap followed by two taps indicated B.
As soon as a POW returned from interrogation, he would begin tapping the wall to communicate what happened. When a prisoner returned from a particularly brutal interrogation, as soon as the guard turned the key and left the block, he’d hear a series of taps that communicated three letters: G, B and U for “God bless you.”
When Harris was being interrogated, for strength to resist demands for information, he thought back to his squadron commander in the 67th TS, Lt. Col. James R. Risner.
“While I was being interrogated the first couple of weeks, when it was pretty darned intense, I thought so much about Robbie Risner,” Harris said. “Mentally, I put Robbie Risner on a stool right beside me. It was my greatest effort to not do or say anything that he would not approve of. That really helped me.”
Risner was later captured, and confirmed the birth of Harris’ son after another POW first relayed the news through the tap code.
As the U.S. began its withdrawal from Vietnam, almost 600 POWs returned home in 1973, and Harris was finally released on Feb. 12. As he looked forward to his reunion with his family at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, one question remained in his mind: the reception with his children after eight years of captivity, especially the 8-year-old son he’d never met.
When Harris stepped into the quarters where his family was waiting, Robin and Carolyn squealed and ran to his arms. “Oh, thank you, Lord,” he said, “they haven’t forgotten.” But when he saw Lyle for the first time, his son didn’t hug him back. However, about a half-hour later, as his father opened his arms, Lyle ran across the room and fell into his embrace.
After eight years, Harris had the answers to all of his questions.
Romania has been a bit of an odd duck historically. It has the dubious honor of being home to Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) and, under the Ceausescu regime, went its own way at times while nominally a member of the Warsaw Pact, even going as far as buying French equipment during the Cold War (which it refused to let the Soviets examine).
Now a NATO ally, Romania has been making do with a lot of ships that use old Soviet technology. Their most modern vessels are two heavily-modified British Type 22 Batch 2 frigates that have had their Sea Wolf surface-to-air missiles removed. Their most powerful ship is the 33-year-old destroyer Marasesti, armed with eight SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missiles, two triple 533mm torpedo tube mounts, four AK-630 Gatling guns, and two twin 76.2mm AK-726 dual-purpose guns.
That could be changing soon, however, according to a report by DefenseNews.com. Romania is now seeking to buy three submarines to replace its lone Kilo-class vessel, the Delfinul, and four new surface ships. While Romania has made no decision on which submarine design it will buy, it did, at one point, plan to buy four Sigma-class corvettes from the Netherlands.
The previous purchases indicate that the Romanian Navy may be looking to replace their Tetal-class corvettes. The corvettes, three of which were built in the 1980s, are armed with one or two twin AK-726 mounts, two twin 533mm torpedo tube mounts, and 30mm cannon, among other systems. Two of the Tetal-class corvettes can operate helicopters off decks.
Military snipers were trained sharpshooters assigned to kill a man with one perfect shot. These highly disciplined marksman often stalked a target for days waiting for just the right moment to squeeze the trigger. Lurking in the shadows alone, the deadly stealth of the sniper made him the most feared man on the battlefield. As a young hunter, Chuck Mawhinney grew up with a gun in his hand. In October 1967, Mawhinney was just 19 years old when he made his first kill as a scout sniper in Vietnam.
Since June, Coast Guard vessels patrolling the US’s southern approaches have stopped seven low-profile smuggling vessels — stealthy ships that ride low in the water to spirit illicit cargos from South America to Mexico and the US.
Akin to self-propelled semi-submersibles used by smugglers for the same purpose, low-profile vessels are boats designed to run near or at surface level to present the smallest possible radar signature.
Low-profile vessels usually have a sharp bow to cut through the water and an elongated body to transport cargo — typically high-value drugs like cocaine. Some only have masts or conning towers that stick out above water, and they are often outfitted with multiple outboard engines and painted to blend in with the water.
The Coast Guard said the last time a low-profile vessel was stopped prior to the current fiscal year was in late May 2016. Six narco subs were caught during that fiscal year (and one was intercepted in September, the first month of fiscal year 2017).
The seven interdictions since June occurred in drug-transit areas in the eastern Pacific, off the coasts of South and Central America.
In mid-August, Coast Guard cutter Steadfast intercepted a suspected low-profile vessel several hundred miles off the coast of Central America, seizing more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine and arresting four suspected traffickers.
Another low-profile vessel — six feet wide and 54 feet long — was stopped by Coast Guard cutter Waesche off the Central American coast in early June, after the cutter tracked the vessel for almost 100 miles. The Waesche’s crew arrested four suspected smugglers and seized 2.79 tons of cocaine.
The US and partner forces have stepped up their activity in the eastern Pacific, and cocaine production has risen considerably in Colombia, the world’s biggest producer of the drug.
The result has been “a significant increase in narcotics removal” in drug-transit areas off South and Central America, the Coast Guard said.
During fiscal year 2016, the Coast Guard set a record by seizing more than 443,000 pounds of cocaine bound for the US. The service says it is on pace for another record-setting amount of seizures this fiscal year, though officials have warned that it doesn’t have the resources to fully address the trafficking activity it detects.
The ocean area from Colombia to the Galapagos and up to the Mexican and US coasts is about the size of the continental US, Vice Adm. Charles Ray, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations, said at a hearing earlier this month.
“On any given day, we’ll have between six to 10 Coast Guard cutters down here,” Ray added. “If you imagine placing that on [an area the size of] the United States … it’s a capacity challenge.”
US officials believe about 90% of the cocaine shipped to the US traverses the sea at some point, typically arriving somewhere in Central America or Mexico and being smuggled over the US-Mexico land border.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says about 93% of the cocaine sent to the US comes through the Mexico/Central America corridor.
US anti-narcotics officials also think they intercept about one of every four tons of cocaine headed for the US, with about 69% of it stopped in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Narco subs — a category that includes fully submersible vessels, semi-submersible vessels, or towed containers — appeared in the 1990s, as Colombian smugglers sought to stay ahead of law-enforcement’s detection abilities.
Fully submersible and semi-submersible vessels are hard to detect and expensive to build (though their cargos are valuable enough that a single trip can cover the price), so interceptions of them are not that common.
Low-profile vessels, which are not technically semi-submersible, are the majority of seized drug-smuggling vessels, according to a 2014 report.
Low-profile vessels can come in various forms, often balancing speed and stealth in different ways. A more recent variation appears to be what naval expert HI Sutton called “very slender vessels” — elongated vessels that go through waves rather than over them. In April, Guatemalan forces found an abandoned vessel that appeared to be a VSV, as did the crew of the Waesche in June.
VSVs sacrifice cargo size for stealthiness and speed, and their appearance suggests a maturation in the designs of Colombian traffickers — in particular Los Urabeños, the country’s most powerful criminal group — Sutton notes.
Narco subs are typically constructed near Colombia’s Pacific coast, assembled under cover of jungle canopy.
They’re moved through rivers and mangroves to the coast once completed, and their smuggling routes typically take them out into the Pacific — sometimes around the Galapagos Islands — before turning north.
“In recent years, ‘narco-sub’ vessels (mostly LPVs) have been built with upper lead shielding which helps to minimize their heat signature and hence they can evade infrared sensors,” according to a 2014 paper in Small Wars Journal. “Some of the newer models have piping along the bottom to allow the water to cool the exhaust as the ship moves, making it even less susceptible to infrared detection.”
In addition to the Coast Guard air and sea assets deployed to stop traffickers, US Customs and Border Patrol have eight P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft converted into Long Range Trackers. The former Navy aircraft have been upgraded with radars originally designed for the F-16 fighter jet, as well as optical sensors.
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:
U.S. Air Force Capt. Raymond Whisenhunt, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing chief of protocol, tumbles to the ground as a military working dog locks onto the bite suit he is wearing at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Dec. 30, 2016. MWD’s are highly motivated canines utilized for patrol, drug and explosive detection, and other specialized mission functions.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 134th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron performs preflight checks at the 407th Air Expeditionary Group, Dec. 29, 2016. The 134th EFS is flying combat missions for Operation Inherent Resolve to support and enable Iraqi Security Forces’ efforts with the unique capabilities provided by the fighter squadron.
Nevada National Guard soldiers patrol the Las Vegas Strip last night as part of Operation Night Watch, an annual law enforcement mission supporting the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department during the annual New Year’s Eve celebration.
U.S. Army U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, United States Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard Service members conduct an Armed Forces Full Honor Farewell Ceremony for for the departing commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama at Comny Hall on Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall, Va., Jan. 4, 2016.
NORFOLK (Dec. 30, 2016) Sailors man the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) as it returns to homeport. Dwight D. Eisenhower and its carrier strike group conducted a 7-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.
VENICE, Italy (Jan. 3, 2017) Sailors man the helm aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) as it departs Venice, Italy. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
Marines with Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, conduct an M777 Howitzer live-fire night fire mission during Exercise Alligator Dagger, Dec. 18. This nightscape was taken as a single, long exposure photograph. The chaos of different colored lights are red-lensed headlamps worn by the artillery Marines moving and operating the different gun positions around the M777. The unilateral exercise provides an opportunity for the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to train in amphibious operations within the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
Marines with Tank Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct tank maintenance during Exercise Alligator Dagger, Dec. 8, 2016. Maintenance checks are done around the clock to ensure equipment is operating safely and efficiently and to ensure the safe conduct of training. The unilateral exercise provides an opportunity for the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and 11th MEU to train in amphibious operations within the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. The 11th MEU is currently supporting the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation’s mission to promote and maintain stability and security in the region.
Two kayakers recover from the seas and weather aboard a Coast Guard Station Maui 45-foot Response Boat-Medium Dec. 15, 2016. Coast Guard crews responded to a call for assistance from the kayakers when they were beset by weather off Maui.
Members of the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard stand at parade rest during the Pearl Harbor Remembrance ceremony on Coast Guard cutter Taney in Baltimore Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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.