Vietnam Forward Observers - We Are The Mighty
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Vietnam Forward Observers

During the Vietnam War, all too often the chaos of battle found Allied forces trapped and facing annihilation in hostile territory. The situation called for courageous men to rise above their fears and carry out some of the deadliest missions in the history of warfare. Forward Observers, often alone, moved ahead of the Allied forces to secure vital vantage points. They served as the eyes of the artillery gunner in delivering rounds on enemy targets. In this episode, Medal of Honor recipients Barney Barnum and Brian Thacker tell their dramatic stories, In Their Own Words.

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US military to ground CH-53 helicopters after accident in Okinawa

The US forces in Japan will ground all CH-53E helicopters to confirm their safety after the same type of chopper crash-landed near a US military training area in Okinawa on Oct. 11, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said.


The minister said that Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of US Forces Japan, told him of the decision during their talks in Tokyo on Oct. 12. An official of the Defense Ministry’s local bureau, meanwhile, said the accident site was found to have been about 300 meters away from residential houses.

The Japanese and US governments apparently decided to act quickly to address local concerns in a bid to minimize any repercussions from the incident with a general election in Japan slated for Oct. 22.

The US Marine Corps in Japan separately announced a four-day operational halt for the CH-53E transport helicopters stationed in Okinawa. The southern island prefecture hosts the bulk of US military facilities in Japan.

Vietnam Forward Observers
A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter inserts components of the Improved Ribbon Bridge into the water in the Central Training Area, Okinawa, Japan. USMC photo by Cpl. Drew Tech.

In the Oct. 11 accident, the helicopter caught fire in midair during a training flight and burst into flames as it made an emergency landing near the US Northern Training Area on the main island of Okinawa. None of its seven crew members or local residents were hurt.

The US Naval Safety Center has rated the accident as a most serious “Class A” mishap, saying that a fire broke out in one of the aircraft’s engines, forcing it to make an emergency landing.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed his dismay over the incident as he visited the site in the village of Higashi, saying, “I felt disconcerted at seeing the sudden change from ordinary life to this horrible situation. I feel sad.”

In Tokyo, Onodera told Chiarotti the accident was “deplorable” and had caused “considerable anxiety among the residents living nearby and other people in the prefecture.”

Vietnam Forward Observers
US Marines with Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 (HMLA-369), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, exits a CH-53E Super Stallion. USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Clare J. Shaffer.

The minister also urged the United States to clarify the cause of the accident, provide detailed information, and take thorough safety measures, noting that the crashed aircraft is a variant of the one that crashed in 2004 at a university in Ginowan City in Okinawa.

Chiarotti told Onodera that the helicopter made the emergency landing after smoke, apparently from the engine fire, made its way inside. The aircraft headed to an area where there were no houses, he added.

He also said the US military is aware of the concerns of local people and will consider measures to prevent such incidents.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa. Wikimedia Commons photo by Sonata.

The CH-53E helicopter belongs to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa. Its crash-landing is the latest in a string of accidents involving US aircraft in Okinawa, including the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

People in Okinawa have long been frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents connected to US bases.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces to use their expertise in looking into the cause of the incident rather than solely relying on US investigations, a senior government official said.

Local police dispatched officers and cordoned off the accident site, investigating the case as a possible violation of a Japanese law on endangering aviation.

Vietnam Forward Observers
The crashed CH-53. Photo from Kyodo News+ via NewsEdge.

But it remains unknown whether Japanese authorities can probe the cause as they do not have the power to search or seize US military assets without consent under the Japan-US status of forces agreement.

The Okinawa prefectural government said it had tried to conduct some environmental tests Wednesday night at the accident site, suspecting the helicopter may have been equipped with a safety device that contained a low-level radioactive isotope, but its officials were denied entry by the US military.

The CH-53E is a large transport helicopter used by US Marines. It has three engines and can carry up to 55 personnel.

The Northern Training Area, straddling the villages of Higashi and Kunigami, has helipads that are also used by the Osprey aircraft and some of them are located close to residential areas.

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10 Inspirational Military Accounts to Follow in 2020

The world of military influencers is growing with every recruit.

What has formed as an organic community based around the military, there are a lot of Instagram accounts out there that have provided a valuable commentary for those who have served.


Ranging from meme accounts to those who have gone through the trials of war, military Instagram has really become its own niche community. Regardless of whether you’ve served or not, learning about these inspirational accounts is a learning process in itself, which is why we’ve provided you with a list of ten of our favorites. Check them out below:

Art 15 Clothing

Art 15 (short for Article 15- the provision that enables punishment in the US military), is a clothing brand started by vets, for vets. With an aesthetic that definitely matches their intent, Art 15 explores a lot of American military culture that’s prideful over service, as well as the audience of people wearing their shirts. Growing one of the fastest-growing communities, you’d be surprised at how responsive this team is, as well as their fans.

Yes, to get engagement like they do might require to buy Instagram followers, however, for Art 15, their base is well-ingrained in the military community, and certainly a point of pride for many members of service to represent. Check them out if you’re looking for a brand by vets for vets.

Dan Bilzerian

Despite never serving, Dan Bilzerian has a lot of military-friendly content that definitely resonates with a level of respect for the community most Instagram celebrities don’t have. Often known as “The King of Instagram” as well as a “man’s man”, Bilzerian has grown quite the brand for himself around travel, women, weightlifting, and of course, guns and politics.

Typically showing love to troops and our military, Bilzerian is a force be reckoned with, providing often what people perceive as the pinnacle of the American dream (including American ideals and beliefs) As one of the most entertaining accounts on the web, Dan Bilzerian is well-worth the follow for military and non-military folks alike.

Vietnam Forward Observers

Military

As straightforward as it sounds, Military isn’t actually the official account of the US military. Instead, they’re one of the most popular content sources for soldiers, posting different anecdotes from the procedure, drills, and even random events.

With a podcast that has amassed a popular following as well, Military has made themselves a prominent voice in the military community, and definitely an account you should follow for a mix of content that’s reminiscent of being in the service.

Task and Purpose

Another popular military magazine, Task and Purpose does a great job of curating content for the military community. As one of the most popular meme accounts for military members, Task and Purpose has nailed down the culture behind being in the armed services, as well as knows how to make people laugh about the trials and tribulations they had to go through.

While you might not understand some of the jokes if you haven’t served, Task and Purpose does a great job of being an inclusive space for people who have been in the military as well as those who are trying to understand their loved ones that have been a part. Give them a glance if you’re looking for more lighthearted content about the military.

Military Ops

According to ViralRace, if you’re looking for what it’s really like for day-to-day military activity, then Military Ops is the account for you. Primarily posting things from real-life combat and stations, Military Ops is really out here for those who have served, providing a level of empathy a lot of people can’t match for what it’s like to be alone overseas.

While a lot of it is humorous, some of Military Ops content is focused on guns and gear, which is really reserved for those who really nerd out about those things. Especially if you’ve served, Military Ops is well worth the follow if you’re looking for a little bit of nostalgia.

Terminal Lance

If you haven’t heard, Terminal Lance is pretty famous…like, so big of an account they have a Wikipedia page big. A satire site for members of the Marines, Terminal Lance has been building quite the following for the antics and jokes that go around the military.

As a niche community, they have a lot of fun with the content they source and produce. Check them out if you’re looking a military account that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but understands what it’s like to be in the trenches.

Vietnam Forward Observers

Derek Weida

As a vet, Derek Weida is one of those accounts you can’t help but admire. With a leg missing, Weida has transformed himself into a weight-loss and motivational coach, providing inspiration for those who haven’t quite been able to hit their mark yet.

With an encouraging message for those who are just starting out, Weida does a great job of keeping motivation consistent. Check him out if you’re looking for a service member that really has made the most out of their situation, hands down.

Earl Granville

If you’re not familiar, Earl Granville went viral a couple of years ago for not only losing his leg in Afghanistan but by running as a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s 8th district. Whether you follow his political beliefs regardless, Granville is an inspiring figure to admire.

He not only has come back strong in his political motives but also understands war first-hand, which is something not a lot of leaders have the acumen for. Instead, Granville represents a different breed of a politician based on an indelible personal experience, which is why you should definitely keep an eye on his IG.

Sarah Maine

Also known as the ‘curves queen’, Sarah Maine is a military alum of the Air Force, where she’s now started her own brand called Curves and Combat Boots: a legging company with a veteran/curvy woman appeal. A savvy entrepreneur, Maine is an excellent example of someone who took to becoming their own business owner after service, which is a hard feat to overcome.

As her brand follows a lot of influencer culture, she’s done a great job of producing content and materials that really resonate with her audience. As just an overall inspiring story, Maine is someone to definitely keep track of if you’re looking to learn about someone who’s made it after serving their time.

Vincent “Rocco” Vargas

To round out our list is Vincent “Rocco” Vargas, who is a former military member turned influencer. His view on culture is very much one that a lot of military people can resonate with, providing that edge as someone who moved on to work in film but also has a base in what it’s like to serve.

Vargas is now one of the biggest influencers who are former military, which is inspiring to see. Check them out if you’re looking for someone that’s like The Rock meets military service instead of WWE.

What are some of your favorite military influencers? Comment with your insights below!

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Here is why business is booming for private military companies

The services of private security companies have expanded so much over the last 20 years that they are now referred to as private military companies (PMCs) in some circles. PMCs have assumed all the different roles of war, from backend logistics, to training, to consulting, to battlefield operations, and more. The private military industry was a $218 billion industry in 2014 and business is growing, according to the Vice video below.


Related: 20 private security contractors that hire vets with the skills

There are many reasons why hiring a PMC is more attractive than maintaining a military, and companies like ACADEMI (formerly Blackwater), Aegis, and others are redefining what war might look like in the future.

This VICE video explores the origins of the PMC industry and how the war on terror has fueled its growth.

Watch:

VICE, YouTube

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Amazing WWII photographs you’ve never seen before

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army


Argunners will be publishing a series of amazing WWII photographs recently uncovered from the archives of General Charles Day Palmer, who was a four-star General. Most of the photographs were confidential photographs taken by the U.S. Signal Corps not fit for publication, Brig. Gen. was allowed to have them for private use after censoring (names of places etc.).

Charles Day Palmer was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 20, 1902. After graduating from Washington High School in Washington, D.C., he entered the United States Military Academy, where he graduated in 1924. During World War II, he worked in the British West Indies to establish military bases and ran projects on anti-submarine warfare. In 1944, he became the Chief-of-Staff of the 2nd Armored Division, nicknamed “Hell on Wheels”, participating in the Invasion of Normandy, break-out from Saint-Lo and the crossing of the Siegfried Line. In October, he was transferred as Chief-of-Staff to the VI Corps, where he received a battlefield promotion to Brigadier-General.

After World War II, Palmer took part in the Korean War. During his career, he received various valor and service awards such as the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit and the Bronze and Silver Star. He passed away on June 7, 1999 in Washington, D.C. The photographs were shared by his grandson, Daniel Palmer, honoring the memories and service of his grandfather.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army Technician 5 Robert F. Stubenrauch

U.S. soldier examines the grave of an unknown U.S. soldier, who was buried by the enemy before retreating. The first American soldier that noticed the grave decorated it with mortar shells and ferns. (#P03)

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Photo: US Army Technician 5 Allan G. Smith Jr.

Dead American and German soldiers at a cemetery before burial, place unknown. Each body is placed in a mattress cover. German prisoners are doing the work of digging the graves and placing the bodies in them. (#P04)

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army

M-10 Tank Destroyer from the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion supporting the 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division in Rohrwiller, February 4, 1945. You can see the town’s church damaged by shell blasts. (Backside – #P06)

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army Technician 5 Albert Gretz

Prisoners of War from the German Military Police force and Gestapo agents of the city of Strasbourg are led to the 3rd Infantry Division. POW are escorted by the French FFI. (#P07)

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army Technician 5 Robert F. Stubenrauch

Dead horses and wrecked vehicles equipment of a German convoy are strewn along the road in the vicinity of Lug, Germany, following an attack from U.S. artillery. The Germans were trying to escape encirclement by 3rd and 7th Armies. (#P08)

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army Technician 5 Allan G. Smith Jr.

A German underground ball-bearing factory in Germany, where all size bearings were made. Shown is a row of polishing and grinding machines used to finish the bearings. This might be in Schweinfurt? (#P09)

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Photo: US Army Technician 5 Ernest Brown

English M-5 Anti-tank mines are used to blow up German pill boxes. 400 lbs of TNT are being set off inside the pill box. (#P11)

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Photo: US Army Technician 4 Edward G. Newell

American forces try to recapture Wingen-sur-Moder from German Mountain 6. SS-Gebirgsjäger Division troops, who infiltrated it during the night, dislodging American troops and taking a number of prisoners. The Hotel ‘Wenk’ had gasoline are in yard and it was hit by a tracer bullet, resulting in the burning seen in photograph. In the church tower on the left is a German lookout, who is also sniping at the U.S. soldiers. (#P12)

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Photo: US Army Technician 4 Sidney Blau

Helmet and rifle mark the spot in a ditch by road where two Infantrymen gave their lives, during a new drive by Seventh Army which opened on a front of fifty miles from Saarbrücken to the Rhine. (#P13)

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Photo: US Army Technician 4 Benneth Fenberg

Seventh Army men looking for snipers in the Bobenthal, Germany. (#P14)

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Photo: US Army

When this wrecker towing a 155mm Howitzer became stuck in the mud in a road, nothing less than a bulldozer could budge it. (#P15)

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Photo: US Army Technician 5 Allan G. Smith Jr.

Path of a B-17 as it crash-landed into a snow covered field on the Seventh Army front. Pilot escaped with minor cuts when he rode the plane in after the crew bailed out. Note: The pole in foreground was clipped by the plane as it came in. (#P16)

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army Technician 5 Robert F. Stubenrauch

Charred remains of a German pilot, the plane was brought down by small arms fire on March 15, first day of Seventh Army offensive in Germany. – Interesting note, thanks to this forum, the plane was I.D. and it turns out that it is most likely an U.S. P-47! (#P19)

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army Technician 5 Ernest Brown

A German bridge is blown sky high by U.S. Engineers, destroying span as a defensive measure against German troops pressing towards the town. (#P20)

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Army Technician 5 Robert F. Stubenrauch

 

U.S. soldier standing next to the remains of a German soldier he just discovered near German Howitzers, which were destroyed by the Seventh Army. (#P21)

Argunners Magazine is looking for help identifying some of the places, personalities, equipment, or units that are shown on the photographs, as many of the backsides are unreadable due to age and wartime censoring. Contact us, if you can help. Supply the referral number in the e-mail (ex. Backside – #P01) so we know which photograph you are talking about.

More from Argunners Magazine:

This article originally appeared at Argunners Magazine. Copyright 2015. Follow Argunners Magazine on Twitter.

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1st Air Cavalry Helicopter Pilot

The 1st Air Cavalry Division was the most lethal assault force assembled in Vietnam.  The pilots were the first to fully harness the power of helicopters and their soldier’s combat record was second to none.  Steven E Warren served a year in the infantry in Vietnam, but then returned home to train to fly helicopters at Fort Rucker.  Soon he returned to the conflict, as a Huey helicopter pilot in the 1st Air Cavalry.  We spoke with him about his combat experiences, helping to perfect this new kind of warfare.

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Fighter Pilot of the Tuskegee Airmen

Colonel Charles Bussey courageously flew P-51 Mustangs as a fighter pilot in World War II.  His training came with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the all black Army Air Corps unit. Bussey also went on to serve as a decorated Commander of Army engineers during the Korean War. Charles Bussey was a war hero, but his first struggle wasn’t in a combat zone overseas. His first battle was at home in what you might call the fight for the right to fight.  This is his dramatic story, in his own words.

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28 photos from the Navy’s 240-year history

Celebrate the 240th birthday of the United States Navy by taking a look at 28 photos (and a couple of paintings) that capture the spirit of the sea service past and present:


Cmdr. Christian Sewell launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter Nov. 4, 2014. The F-35 Lightning II Pax River Integrated Test Force from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 is  conducting initial at-sea trials aboard Nimitz.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Navy

 A port security boat assigned to Maritime Expeditionary Squadron 1 (MESRON 1) patrols the waters near Kuwait Naval Base Feb. 10, 2009.

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Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth G. Takada

A Mark 7 16-inch/50 caliber gun is fired aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm.

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Photo: US Navy Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Dillon

U.S. Navy SEALs patrol the Mekong Delta, Vietnam in 1967.

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Photo: US Navy J.D. Randal

An F-4B drops bombs on Vietnam.

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Photo: US Navy

Walt Disney and Dick Van Dyke visiting the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) with Captain Martin D. Carmody on July 6, 1965

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

The USS Missouri fires 16-inch salvo at Chong Jin, Korea in an effort to cut Northern Korean communications. Chong Jin is only 39 miles from the border of China. October 21, 1950.

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Photo: Wikipedia

The U.S. Navy tests nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll Jul. 25, 1946.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

An unidentified man engages a penguin during a U.S. Navy expedition to Antarctica.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

View from a Navy ship navigating waters around Antarctica.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Surrender of Japan, 2 September 1945 ; Navy carrier planes fly in formation over the U.S. and British fleets in Tokyo Bay during surrender ceremonies. USS Missouri (BB-63) , where the ceremonies took place, is at left. USS Detroit (CL-8) is in the right distance. Aircraft include TBM, F6F, SB2C and F4U types.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Navy

USS Idaho (BB-42), a New Mexico-class battleship shells Okinawa on 1 April 1945, easily distinguished by her tower foremast and 5″-38 Mk 30 single turrets (visible between the barrels of the forward main turrets). Idaho was the only battleship with this configuration.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Sailor and colleague stitching thatch in the South Pacific during WWII.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Seabees with the 111th Naval Construction Battalion landing at Omaha Beach before the Mulberry bridge was installed, Jun. 6 1944.

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Photo: US Navy/Flickr

USS Darke (APA-159)’s, LCVP 18, possibly with Army troops as reinforcements at Okinawa, sometime between Apr. 9-14 1945.

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Photo: Wikipedia

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet launches a B-25 during the Doolittle Raid.

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Photo: US Navy

USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning furiously, Dec. 7, 1941. Her forward magazines had exploded when she was hit by a Japanese bomb. At left, men on the stern of USS Tennessee (BB-43) are playing fire hoses on the water to force burning oil away from their ship.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

A sailor poses on the USS Bear during an expedition to Greenland in 1941.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Sailors pose in a train at Cardiff, Wales in 1918.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

The USS Leviathan heads to France to pick up U.S. troops in this stereo photo from 1918.

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Stereo Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

The USS Colorado transits the Panama Canal.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

The “Great White Fleet” steams the Atlantic Ocean as part of the U.S. Navy mission to prove that it’s a blue water fleet in 1908.

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Photo: Wikipedia

A dog contemplates jumping from the deck of a ship while sailing with the “Great White Fleet.” According to a note with the photo in the Navy historical archive, the dog did later jump.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

Divers search the wreck of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba. The sinking of the USS Maine was one of the events that triggered the Spanish-American War.

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Photo: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

The USS Monitor and CSS Merrimac face off in 1862 near Norfolk, Virginia. This was the first time ironclad ships faced each other in combat.

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Painting: J.O. Davidson

During the Mexican-American War, the U.S. Navy attack the city of San Juan de Ullca in March 1847.

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Photo: Wikipedia

During the War of 1812, the Navy played a large role by limiting the actions of the British fleet.

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Painting: Edward Orme

A Revolutionary War painting depicting the Continental Navy frigate Confederacy is displayed at the Navy Art Gallery at the Washington Navy Yard.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth G. Takada

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Putin is playing all the angles in the Middle East

After watching for years as the United States called the shots in the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seizing the reins of diplomacy in the Middle East, establishing footholds, and striking alliances with unlikely partners.


From the battlefields of Syria to its burgeoning relationships with Iran and Turkey to its deepening ties with Saudi Arabia, Russia is stepping in to fill a void left by the United States first under the Obama administration and now in the vastly inconsistent and largely hands-off policies of Donald Trump.

Embroiled in controversy at home and loathe to engaging in the strife-riddled region beyond fighting the Islamic State group, Trump has largely stayed on the sidelines of attempts to help find a political settlement for Syria’s long-running civil war.

Those efforts are now led by Russia, in partnership with Iran and Turkey, organizing local cease-fires and creating “de-escalation zones” that have significantly reduced the violence in the country. Russia’s role in Syria has raised its international profile and allowed it to claim fighting terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group while it shored up President Bashar Assad’s government.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) meets with Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, in Tehran. Nov. 1, 2017. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Moscow has stood by Tehran while Trump has refused to re-certify the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers — a stance reiterated by Putin himself Nov. 2 on a visit to Tehran. It has also reached out to Iran’s Mideast rival Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, promising weapons deals and other investments to the Sunni power house.

Bilal Saab, a senior fellow and director of the Defense and Security Program at the Middle East Institute, said that while Russia has clearly become a more influential interlocutor on Syria, there are clear limits to its overall foray into the region.

“What Russia offers is transactional, as opposed to strategic. Arms sales are no substitute for deep political rapport, which is what Washington provides, despite lingering tensions with key partners,” he said.

Still, Putin appears to be positioning himself as Mideast broker, seeking to expand his influence in a region where the US remains the most dominant military actor.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Russia President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Syrian President Assad. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Syria Power Broker

Moscow’s military involvement in the Syrian war since 2015 has propped up Assad’s forces and turned the conflict in his favor, while Russian mediation earlier this year launched cease-fire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. The talks, sponsored jointly with Iran and Turkey, have brokered local deals that have significantly reduced violence in the war-torn country.

This week, Russia announced plans to host Syrian groups and government representatives for political talks on Nov. 18 — just 10 days before a new round of UN-sponsored talks are to start in Geneva. The invitation has roiled Syrian opposition groups who described it as an attempt to “bypass” UN efforts to resolve the country’s conflict and dictate the terms of any settlement.

Russia invited over a dozen groups, a mix of government representatives and political opposition parties, including for the first time the main US-backed Kurdish party now in control of northern Syria. The Syrian Kurdish PYD has previously been barred from participation in political negotiations at the Geneva Talks, at Turkey’s insistence.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Photo courtesy of Kurdish YPG Fighters Flickr. The People’s Protection Units (YPG) were initially formed by the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The invitation by Russia has led to speculation that Russia may use the conference to broker a wider reconciliation between Assad and the Syrian Kurds under conditions that preclude long-term US influence in Syria.

“Russia is accelerating its effort to subvert the Syrian political process by establishing a new diplomatic framework that sets conditions to expel the US from Northern Syria,” said an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War this week.

Related: The US is supplying weapons to Kurdish fighters in Syria

Badran Ciya Kurd, an adviser for the Kurdish-led self-administration who met with Russian officials ahead of the invite to Sochi, said Russia supports the Kurdish federal project while the US strategy has been vague.

“It is not yet clear what their (Americans) strategy is after Raqqa, and we would like to understand,” he said, referring to the northern city liberated from Raqqa last month.

Vietnam Forward Observers
Russian President Putin (left) finds common ground with Iranian President Rouhani.

Shared interests with Iran

While Iran promised a foreign policy that would be “neither East nor West” after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran has tilted toward Russia given its antipathy for Washington. Tehran relied on Moscow’s support to complete its Bushehr nuclear power plant in 2011 and received Russia’s S-300 surface-to-air missile system in 2016.

In that time, Russia and Iran also found themselves fighting to support the embattled Syrian president. The countries regularly coordinate on Syria and have provided overwhelming military and political aid to prop up Assad’s government and army.

On a visit to Tehran on Nov. 2, Putin strongly backed Iran and its nuclear deal with world powers, saying Moscow opposed “any unilateral change” to the accord after Trump refused to re-certify it.

Putin made the comments on a one-day trip to Tehran for trilateral talks between Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia, during which he met with both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Russian and Saudi government officials, including President Putin of Russia and King Salman, meet in expanded format, Oct. 5, 2017. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Gulf Contracts

Across the Gulf Arab states, the US has been the guarantor of security since the 1991 Gulf War. In recent years, however, Gulf countries have increasingly looked toward making defense deals with Russia, especially after growing wary of the US detente with Iran under President Barack Obama. In the last weeks alone, Russia has gone big into Saudi Arabia, which supported the Afghan mujahedeen against Soviet troops in the 1980s.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow last month and signed multi-billion dollar energy deals with Russia, which also agreed to sell the Iranian rival its advanced S-400 missile system, which Tehran does not possess. Other deals would include Saudi Arabia locally producing Russian anti-tank missiles, rocket launchers, and automatic grenade launchers, as well as the latest version of the Kalashnikov assault rifle.

King Salman’s visit marked the first by any Saudi monarch to Moscow and heralded a new era of cooperation and a thawing in a bilateral relation that has been severely strained since Russia’s military intervention in Syria on behalf of Assad.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, on a visit to Sochi, Aug. 23, 2017. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Close cooperation with Israel

Israel and Russia maintain a close, if sometimes uneasy, relationship on regional issues — particularly when it comes to the war in neighboring Syria. In recent years, the Israeli and Russian air forces have been active in Syrian skies and have maintained, throughout the fighting, a hotline to prevent clashes between their air forces. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also held a number of meetings and phone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to discuss the situation in Syria.

Still, Israeli officials are concerned about Russia’s cooperation with Iran. But they also believe that Russian and Iranian interests could diverge as both countries compete for lucrative reconstruction contracts and political influence in postwar Syria. Israeli officials believe that Russia considers Iran a potentially destabilizing force in postwar Syria, and are cautiously optimistic that Russia understands Israel’s security concerns.

“Russian and Israeli interests in Syria may not be the same but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Russia cannot play a constructive role in Syria in Israel’s view or that certain understandings can’t be reached between Russia and Israel with regard to Syria,” said Chagai Tzuriel, the director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry.

Asperiores odit

Saudi Arabia is paying $15 billion for this advanced anti-missile system

The Pentagon says the US State Department has approved the possible sale of the advanced THAAD missile-defense system to Saudi Arabia for $15 billion, citing Iran among threats in the Middle East.


The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in an Oct. 6 statement that it had notified the US Congress about the possible sale, saying the deal would “support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States.”

“This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the statement said.

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The first of two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors is launched during a successful intercept test. DoD photo courtesy of Missile Defense Agency.

Washington deployed THAAD, which is used to guard against ballistic-missile attacks, to South Korea this year for defense against North Korea.

Iran maintains one of the largest ballistic-missile programs in the Middle East, seeing it as a key element of defense against the United States and other opponents, including Israel and Gulf Arab states.

Both Washington and Saudi Arabia accuse Tehran of aggressive and disruptive behavior in the region.

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This is the ‘Achilles Heel’ for the US’ fight against ISIS

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.


And while the fall of ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria might mark a significant gain against the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State, there is much work left to be done.

“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.”

Related: Defeating ISIS is hard; preventing ISIS 3.0 could be harder

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.

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SDF fighters among rubble in Raqqa. Photo from VOA.

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.

Also Read: ISIS has finally been defeated in Raqqa

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.”

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Under ISIS reign, the city of Raqqa was been turned into a veritable hell for its residents. Photo from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

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.

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An instructor with the Syrian Democratic Forces observes a trainee clearing his rifle during small arms training in Northern Syria, July 31, 2017. Army photo by Sgt. Mitchell Ryan.

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.

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Iran threatens to drop missiles on US bases if White House imposes new sanctions

The chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Oct. 8 the US should move its military bases farther from Iran’s borders if it imposes new sanctions against Tehran, the official IRNA news reported.


The Oct. 8 report quotes Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying, “If new sanctions go into effect, the country should move its regional bases to a 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) radius” out of the range of Iranian missiles.

Currently, US military bases are located in countries neighboring Iran, including Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, and Afghanistan, less than 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Iran’s borders.

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Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Photo from CounterExtremism.com

Jafari rejected the idea of negotiating with the US over regional issues and said if the United States designates the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, the Guard — which has suffered significant casualties fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq — will also consider the US army a terrorist group.

He said such moves by the US will eliminate “any chance for engagement forever.”

President Donald Trump appears to be stepping back from his campaign pledge to tear up the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, instead aiming to take other measures against Iran and its affiliates.

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Photo from White House Flickr.

New actions expected to be announced by the White House in the coming days will focus on the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group blamed for sowing discord in the Middle East and seeking Israel’s demise. They include financial sanctions on anyone who does business with the Revolutionary Guard, as well as millions of dollars in rewards for information leading to the arrest of two operatives of Iran-backed Hezbollah.

On Saturday, Iran’s president defended the nuclear deal and said not even 10 Donald Trumps can roll back its benefits to Iran.

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