Once a war kicks off, it’s generally easy to recognize. But war planners want to know about these things ahead of time so they predict what might be coming. While moves like large military exercises on a border are a dead giveaway that an invasion might be imminent, smaller things can give intel analysts a clue as well.
Here are 6 surprisingly minor things that can predict a major conflict:
1. Industrial diamonds and mineral prices
Who knew diamonds could predict wars? Back when World War II was just a fight between Germany and Poland about whether Poland got to keep being a country, Hitler was promising everyone that it was a limited, one-time thing. But the other countries knew he was full of it because, among other things, diamond prices were climbing.
Industrial diamonds are ugly things used in heavy duty drills, grinders, and other machinery. They’re essential to properly machining large weapons of war and the price was high because Germany was buying a lot of them plus tons of metals, like enough to create a blitzkrieg-capable army. A short time later, that army was rolling across Dutch fields.
David E. Walker wrote “Adventure in Diamonds” about the rush by British and Japanese teams to secure Amsterdam’s diamond stocks during the German invasion.
2. Missing uniforms and other supplies
Another thing the Dutch found suspicious ahead of the Nazi invasion was a higher than normal disappearance rate of uniforms and other supplies. Some items always go missing and sometimes things really do fall off of trucks, but a sudden jump should get analysts worried.
When German paratroopers started landing in the Netherlands, some of them were wearing Dutch uniforms that had gone missing. Wearing an enemy’s uniform is a war crime, but that only matters if the side guilty parties are on loses. If your uniform is missing, it may be forgetfulness, or it may predict something scarier.
3. Suspicious demonstrations
One of the things Ukraine noticed before of the shadow invasion of the Donbas region was a sudden increase in Pro-Moscow agitation in the east of the country and apparent ties between the agitators and Russian propaganda outlets.
Russian special operators and soldiers now cross into the area from time-to-time to make sure separatists forces are able to resist Kiev’s military, keeping the nation off-balance and allowing Russia a generally free hand.
4. Increased tourism
A spike in tourism is usually just a good sign for the economy, but combined with any other indicators that a war is looming, it’s a decent bet that some of those tourists are spies.
When it comes to local conflicts, warlords and smaller armies are sometimes equipping their forces right before the fight. This drives up the costs of weapons, especially AK-47s. Intel analysts and concerned citizens can watch those prices and see if a brush fire war or uprising is likely.
For larger nations, observers watch the overall size of the arsenal. If Russia starts producing more cruise missiles than normal, they’re probably going to be firing some soon.
6. Computer activity
In the modern day, hacking is a tool of war that is sometimes used on its own or in conjunction with a kinetic attack. Either way, the cyber assault is usually preceded by the tests of cyber defenses and the collecting of information on targets.
As Russian military supplies continue to enter Ukraine, it becomes harder by the day for Putin to deny that Moscow is providing arms to the separatists.
In fact Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the US Army’s top commander in Europe, says that Russian support for separatists has “doubled” since Ukraine and Russia reached a tentative ceasefire.
“When you look at the amount of Russian equipment that the proxies were using prior to the Minsk agreements, that amount has doubled beginning in December into the hundreds,” Hodges told reporters on his first visit to Ukraine.
Russian support for the separatists include artillery, surveillance drones, and armored vehicles that would otherwise be next to impossible for a rebel group to obtain.
“Those are not the types of things you would find in a militia. They clearly are coming from a modern military force coming from Russia,” Hodges said.
In November, the Armament Research Services has released their third report on the arms and munitions being used by both the Ukrainian government and the rebels in the ongoing conflict. Complete with photographic evidence, it is clear that Moscow has been covertly supplying an assortment of older Soviet weaponry along with recently introduced Russian equipment to the separatists.
AK-47 (Photo: Wikimedia)
Self-loading rifles are a popular weapon of the separatist forces.
Aside from a number of AK rifle varieties, the separatists also sport a host of recreation hunting and sport firearms. In one case, a separatist was documented using VSS rifles. These are Russian-made marksman rifles that are analogous to those used by Russian forces during the annexation of Crimea.
The self-loading rifles used by the separatists include:
Soviet AR-10 and AR-15 hunting rifles
Russian VSS designated marksman rifle
Light Machine Guns
Light machine guns make up some of the most common weaponry of the separatists.
The light machine guns utilized by the separatists include weaponry used by the Ukrainian military, as well as Russian-produced guns that are not in service with Ukrainian forces. The PKP ‘Pecheneg’ light machine gun, for example, is not used by the Ukrainian forces and has been exported outside of Russia in only minimal quantities.
The light machine guns used by the separatists include:
Russian PK and PK GPMGs
Russian PKP ‘Pecheneg’
Shotguns and Bolt-Action Rifles
The use of shotguns and bolt-action rifles have been documented as being used by separatists who are incapable of accessing better quality small arms.
Some older bolt-action sporting rifles have also been documented being used by the separatists. These rifles are in some cases antiques, dating to use with the Russian infantry from World War II or earlier.
The shotguns and bolt-action rifles used by the separatists include:
Russian semi-automatic Saiga 12 shotguns
Turkish semi-automatic Akkar Altay shotguns
Philippino Armscor Model 30 pump-action shotgun
Russian infantry Mosin M91 rifle
Makarov PM Handgun (Photo: Wikimedia)
Russian crafted handguns dominate as the principal choice for the separatists.
Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, the former leader of the Donbass People’s Militia and governor of Luhansk, has had photos carefully taken of him handling a Russian Stechkin APS. The APS was originally designed for Russian vehicle, artillery, and RPG crews.
The handguns used by the separatists include:
Russian Makarov PM
Russian Stechkin APS
Anti-material rifles are light weapons that have been designed for use against military equipment rather than use against people.
The anti-material rifles being used by the separatists include outdated and obsolete Soviet World War II era anti-tank rifles (the PTRS-41) and the equally old PTRD. In at least one case, separatists were found to be using the Russian ASVK anti-material rifle. The ASVK has only been introduced into the Russian military within the past two years and none have been known to have been exported.
The anti-material rifles used by the separatists include:
Heavy Machine Guns
The origins of the heavy machine guns used by the separatists in Ukraine is murky. Both the Ukrainian government and the separatists use similar weaponry, and it is possible that the rebels salvaged the weaponry from Ukrainian military vehicles.
In general, the heavy machine guns used by the separatists are fairly old. Most date
back to the Soviet Union, while the Maxim PM1910 may date back as early as the Russian Empire. The PM1910 was likely looted from a museum or a historical re-enactment community.
The heavy machine guns used by the separatists include:
Soviet NSV and NSVT
Soviet Maxim PM1910
Underbarrel and Automatic Grenade Launchers
Like the heavy machine guns, both the Ukrainian government and the separatists have used the same variety of underbarrel and automatic grenade launchers.
In the case of eastern Ukraine, it is impossible to determine whether the grenade launchers were captured from Ukrainian soldiers or were provided to the separatists from Russia.
The grenade launchers used by the separatists include:
Soviet AGS-17 AGLs
Portable Anti-Tank Systems
The separatists have a wide variety of portable anti-tank systems. For the most part, the rebels seem to prefer the use of rocket propelled grenades of the legacy RPG-7 launcher. However, the rebels have also used more modern RPG-18 and RPG-22 systems.
Notably, separatists have also been documented using MRO-A disposable incendiary rocket launcher systems. These systems are not known to have ever been exported outside of Russia.
The portable anti-tank systems used by the separatists include:
Crew-Served Recoilless Guns and Mortars
Used alongside the portable anti-tank systems are a mixture of Soviet-era recoilless guns and mortars. These weapons are generally dated. There is no direct evidence that these weapons have been provided by the Russians to the separatists, as both the Ukrainian government and the separatists make use of similar systems.
The crew-served recoilless guns and mortars used by the separatists include:
Soviet SPG-9 recoilless gun
Soviet 82 and 120 mm mortar tubes
Soviet 120 mm 2B16 Nona-K
Anti-Tank Guided Weapons
Anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs) have been documented in large numbers in the hands of the separatists. The majority of these ATGWs are used by both the Ukrainian military and the separatists.
However, the separatists have also been documented using the 9K135 Kornet ATGW system. The Kornet is not in service with the Ukrainian military, although it is used by the Russians. Based on discarded components found on the battlefield, the missiles used for the Kornet were produced in Russia in 2007.
Russia has exported the Kornet to several other states around the world, and militants in Gaza, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have all been documented using the weapon system.
The ATGWs used by the separatists include:
Man-Portable Air Defense Systems
Separatist forces have a large array of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs) and anti-aircraft guns. By and large, the MANPADs that the separatists have been using are of the same make as what is within the Ukrainian arsenal. There have been reports of separatists seizing supplies of MANPADs from the Ukrainian military early in the conflict.
However, in one notable exception, Polish PPZR Grom MANPADs were captured from the separatists. One of the only countries that Poland ever exported the PPZR to was Georgia. In 2008, during Russia’s invasion of the country, Russia was known to have captured some of the Polish-supplied PPZRs. It is likely that those captured weapons are now being funneled to the separatists.
The MANPADs used by the separatists include:
Polish PPZR Grom
Aside from MANPADs, the separatists also have a varied arsenal of anti-aircraft guns. At times, these weapons have also been turned against Ukrainian military personnel and light vehicles.
The anti-aircraft guns that the separatists, and to a smaller extent the Ukrainian government, have been utilizing are heavy machine guns mounted in one, two, and four barrel configurations. The separatists likely captured the anti-aircraft weapons from the Ukrainian military.
The anti-aircraft systems used by the separatists include:
Soviet 14.5 x 114 mm ZPU
Artillery has become one of the primary methods of engagement between the Ukrainian government and separatist fighters. Indiscriminate shelling by both sides has led to widespread destruction throughout portions of eastern Ukraine, along with significant civilian casualties.
Both the Ukrainian government and the separatists use the same varieties of Soviet and Russian artillery in their engagements. As such, it is difficult to determine whether the rebels had received these arms directly from Russia or had looted them from the Ukrainian military.
The artillery systems used by the separatists include:
Soviet 122 mm D-30 howitzer
Soviet 100 mm BS-3 anti-tank gun
Soviet 100 mm MT-12 anti-tank gun
Soviet 152 mm 2A65 Msta-B
Soviet 76 mm ZiS-3 field gun
Main Battle Tanks
Both Ukrainian governmental forces and the separatists have placed high value on the use of main battle tanks. In many cases, the separatists are utilizing captured Ukrainian tanks, or tanks of the same model provided by the Russians.
However, the separatists have also used Russian tanks that are not known to have ever been exported outside of the country such as the T-72B and T-72BA. Notably, the separatists have also deployed the T-72B3, the latest T-72 model in the Russian service. The tank is not known to have been exported and it was just introduced into service in 2013 indicating Russian involvement in the crisis.
The main battle tanks used by the separatists include:
Soviet T-64A, B, BM, and BV models
Russian T-72 B
Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Armored Personnel Carriers
Infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and armored personnel carriers (APCs) are the most documented type of armored fighting vehicle in use in Ukraine. Both IFVs and APCs are designed to function as armored troop carriers, with IFVs being differentiated as having an armament of 20 mm in calibre or larger for offensive capabilities.
Although the separatists and the Ukrainians use many of the same IFVs and APCs, separatists have been documented using Russian-variants of APCs in the Ukrainian arsenal that were designed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Strikingly, separatists have also been documented driving the BTR-82AM IFV. This model was inducted into Russian service in 2013 and is not known to have ever been exported.
The IFV and APC systems used by the separatists include:
Russian MT-LB 6MA, MT-LBVM, and MT-LBVMK
Both the Ukrainians and the separatists have utilized the same variants of self-propelled artillery. Given the models and the Ukrainian numerical advantage in fielding these weapon types, the separatists likely looted or captured their self-propelled artillery.
The self-propelled artillery systems used by the separatists include:
Soviet 2S1 Gvozdika
Soviet 2S3 Akatsia
Soviet 2S5 Giatsint-S
Soviet 2S9 Nona-S
Self-Propelled Rocket Artillery
Much like self-propelled artillery, the Ukrainian government has used self-propelled rocket artillery significantly more than the separatists have. In almost every occasion that the separatists have used rocket artillery, the weapons systems used were identical to what is in the arsenal of the Ukrainian government.
Although the separatists have generally used the 9K51 Grad rocket system, which may or may not have been looted from Ukrainian forces, the rebels also have used a 9K51M Tornado-G. This is a modernized Grad system that was likely supplied by the Russians. However, documented proof of the separatist’s using this system is limited.
The self-propelled rocket artillery systems used by the separatists include:
Soviet 9K51 Grad
Russian 9K51 Tornado-G
Self-Propelled Air Defense Systems
In addition to MANPADs, the separatists have made frequent use of self-propelled air defense systems. These systems seek to negate the Ukrainian government’s complete aerial dominance. The systems have proved effective at downing Ukrainian aircraft and were also involved in the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
The rebels in general have used air defense systems that are present in the Ukrainian military. However, the separatists have also utilized Russian Pantsir-S1 and Buk missile systems that were not in the Ukrainian arsenal.
The self-propelled air defense systems used by the separatists include:
Based on a similarly-named book by Mitchell Zuckoff, the film will focus on the CIA officers, contractors, and Navy SEALs who fought on the ground against a group of Islamic militants. It stars James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, and Toby Stephens, and is directed by Michael Bay.
On September 11th, 2012, Islamic militants attacked two American compounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing two CIA contractors, a US foreign service information management officer, and a US ambassador — Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens became the first US ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since the late 1970s. Following the attack, State Department officials received continued criticism for failing to provide additional security support before the attack, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still embroiled in controversy among some right-wing critics over unreleased internal emails.
Though there has been intense debate over what went wrong and who was to blame for the attack, Deadline Hollywood notes that the film will likely not get into that part or the aftermath. “Like the book upon which its based, it probably won’t get into the conspiracy theories surrounding the attacks,” Ross A. Lincoln writes. “Going instead for an on-the-ground view of the attacks through the eyes of serious badasses.”
Much like U.S. special operations forces, Russia has its own elite troops that shine during special missions like counterterrorism and hostage rescue.
“Spetsnaz,” or special purpose, is an umbrella term for special ops in Russia and other eastern Bloc states. These elite troops traditionally fall under the GRU [intelligence service], FSB [security service], and other ministries, in addition to the traditional military structure.
Regardless, they are the “core of the best trained men the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation, could produce,” according to SOFREP.
In this video, we get a sense of what these troops are capable of. Though it is worth pointing out that this was produced in Russia and isn’t exactly an impartial look at this force.
The submarine was spotted at the Sinpo South Shipyard in North Korea, which has seen significant infrastructural improvement recently.
Officials at the U.S. Korea Institute at SAIS speculate that a “shorter naval version of the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, a Nodong medium-range ballistic missile, or naval versions of the solid-fuelled KN-02 short-range ballistic missile” could be the missile used aboard the submarine.
Of course, a ballistic missile submarine would pose a new risk to South Korea. However, the analysts at Johns Hopkins pointed out that the imagery doesn’t mean the North Koreans are necessarily close to completing the project.
Much like North Koreas ICBM program, experts believe this sort of technology is still lacking north of the 38th parallel.
Last month Evander Holyfield turned 53, but instead of swimming in birthday gifts, it was he who was doing the giving. The former heavyweight boxing champ teamed up with Don Mann, a former Navy SEAL Team 6 member and founder of Frogman Charities, to raise $1,000,000 for SEAL veterans and their families.
The non-profit’s mission is to register participants for a self-paced 5K of either walking, running, biking, or paddling and making a donation.
“They get a medal, award, certificate, and the money goes to support these charities among the SEAL organizations,” Mann said in the NBC video below. “These charities support the active duty folks with PTSD or combat-related injuries and wounds. It supports families who’ve lost husbands and fathers.”
The former champ didn’t just decide to support these charities out of the blue, it turns out his father was a veteran and joining the Navy was plan B if his boxing career didn’t take off.
After winding down their day at Mojave Viper, these bored Marines did what they do best (besides shooting things): Make fun of their leaders.
This Marine lance corporal made sure his brief was one worth remembering by parroting every dumb cliche from every safety, libo, and release brief ever. Check it out below, but be warned that there is a lot of profanity.
U.S. Marines have been engaging in combat against the Taliban since 2001. While the scenery has changed a bit as Marines have moved to different areas of operation, the fight has remained the same. From small arms to rocket-propelled grenades, the Taliban has continued to attack U.S. forces, and they have responded, often with intense and overwhelming fire.
This video from Funker 530 gives a good look at what it’s like for Marines engaging against the Taliban. With a compilation of regular camera and GoPro footage, this gives a look at what happens in a firefight.
As retired Marine Gen. James Mattis said, “there is nothing better than getting shot at and missed.” We definitely agree.
The Danish film ‘A War’ is about an officer who had to make a hard decision under fire and the legal charges he faced when he returned home. It’s an unflinching look at military families, the strains of separation during deployment, and the unforgiving nature of commanding troops under fire while wrestling with restrictive rules of engagement.
The film has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and will be released in limited theaters starting February 12.
Red Flag is legendary among fighter pilots. This exercise, held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, located near Las Vegas, is where American combat pilots have gone to hone their skills since the end of the Vietnam War.
“Red Flag-Nellis was originally created to give fighter pilots their first 10 combat missions in a large force exercise before deployment to contingency operations,” Lt. Col. Christopher Cunningham said in an Air Force release. “Vietnam War analysis had proven that pilot survivability increased dramatically after surviving 10 combat missions.”
The success of the original Red Flag has left Air Force pararescue personnel, like those taking part in a 2016 demonstration, little to do.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)
In terms of military exercises, Red Flag has been a blockbuster hit. The first major conflict since Vietnam, Desert Storm, saw very few pilot losses. While new technology certainly contributed, Red Flag played a vital part as well, giving pilots their first taste of “combat” over the course of two weeks. Other countries, like Israel and the Netherlands, have come up with their versions of this exercise. One of the unintended consequences of this improved readiness, however, is that it has made combat search-and-rescue missions less frequent. Less real-world experience means an increased need for specific training exercises.
To address that need, a spin-off of Red Flag was created. Red Flag Rescue took place last month at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. This exercise replaced Angel Thunder, a program for Air Force pararescue personnel (along with foreign air forces) who are responsible for carrying out the combat search and rescue mission.
Red Flag Rescue was not just for the Air Force. Army personnel, like this soldier taking part in a 2017 demonstration, also took part, as did the Marines and Navy.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)
Red Flag Rescue brings together Air Force pararescuemen and the other armed services for fifteen days to practice combat search and rescue in contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environments. While Air Force pararescue personnel — and others who handle combat search-and-rescue — have gained much from this, the ultimate beneficiaries will be the pilots saved from dire circumstances in the real world.
In a story that should have most certainly been Duffel Blog but is actually real-life, a Russian weather forecaster proclaimed the skies over Syria were perfect “flying weather” for Russian jets bombing rebel positions, The Guardian reported.
“Experts say the timing for [the airstrikes] was chosen very well in terms of weather,” Ekaterina Grigorova said in her report for Rossiya 24 on Sunday, according to The Washington Post.
The Russian military has carried out more than 100 sorties in Syria since its aerial campaign began last week. Moscow has claimed it has been bombing militants affiliated with ISIS, but so far strikes have overwhelmingly targeted anti-Assad and Kurdish forces instead.
“In these meteorological conditions, planes can dive below the clouds and conduct effective strikes on ground targets, and only climb higher if there’s active anti-aircraft fire,” Grigorova said in front of a graphic depicting a Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft dropping bombs on an enemy tank from the “optimal height for targeting and bombing” of three to five kilometers off the ground, according to the translation from The Guardian.
In the movies, secret agents face their adversaries with guns, weapons, and flashy cars. And they’re so proficient in hand-to-hand combat that they can bring enemies to their knees with the right choke hold or take them down with a well-placed aimed shot. As much as I’d like to think I was that cool, in reality, life in the CIA is much more pedantic.
What most people don’t know is that the CIA is really a massive sorting agency. Intelligence officers must sift through mountains of data in an effort to determine what is authentic and useful, versus what should be discarded. We must consider the subtleties of language and the nuance of the nonverbal. We must unwind a complicated stream of intelligence by questioning everything. In the counterterrorism realm, this process has to be quick; we have to weed out bad information with alacrity. We can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to the collection, processing, dissemination, and evaluation of terrorism intelligence. As we say in the CIA, “The terrorists only have to get it right once, but we have to be right every time.”
Contained in that massive flow is an incredible amount of useless, inaccurate, misleading, or fabricated information. The amount of bad reporting that is peddled, not only to the CIA but to intelligence agencies all over the world, is mind-boggling.
That’s precisely why one of the greatest challenges we faced as counterterrorism experts was figuring out who was giving us solid intelligence and who wasn’t. And when we were dealing with terrorists, getting it wrong could mean someone’s death.
In early 2007 when Iraq was awash with violence, many Iraqis who had formerly counted the United States as the Great Satan for occupying their country switched sides and were willing to work with Coalition Forces against Iraqi terrorists. Brave locals were rebelling against al-Qa’ida’s brutal tactics and were doing whatever they could to take back the streets from these thugs. This was a turning point in the war. Our counterterrorism efforts became wildly successful, fueled by accurate and highly actionable intelligence.
In one such case, we were contacted by one of our established sources, who was extremely agitated. Mahmud had come from his village claiming that he had seen something that sent chills down his spine. As Mahmud was driving not far from his home, he saw an unknown person exit a building that one of his cousins owned. The building was supposed to be empty and unoccupied. For reasons Mahmud could not explain, he thought that something bad was going on and that maybe the man he saw was a member of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
Up until this point, Coalition Forces had found Mahmud’s information extremely reliable. Of course, they did not know his name or personal details, but they made sure we knew that his information had checked out. They contacted us on numerous occasions to praise us for the source’s reporting, explaining that it had allowed them to disarm IEDs and detain insurgents who were causing problems in his village.
Mahmud had a solid track record. But the bits he provided this time were sketchy and lacked sufficient detail. You can’t just disseminate intelligence reports saying that a location “feels wrong,” “seems wrong,” or that some random dude you just saw “looked like a bad guy.” That kind of information does not meet the threshold for dissemination by the CIA. In this case, however, the handling case officer and I went against protocol and put the report out.
Within the hour, we were contacted by one of the MNF-I (Multi-National Force-Iraq) units with responsibility for that AOR. They regularly executed counterterrorism operations in that village and wanted to know more about the sourcing. They were interested in taking a look at the abandoned building because they had been trying to locate terrorist safe houses they believed were somewhere in the vicinity of the building mentioned in our report. They had a feeling that nearby safe houses were being used to store large amounts of weaponry and a few had been turned into VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) factories. But there was one big problem: Military units had acted on similar intelligence reports before, but the reports had been setups—the alleged safe houses were wired to explode when the soldiers entered.
A spate of these types of explosions had occurred east of Baghdad in Diyala Governorate, and while we had not yet seen this happen out west in al-Anbar Governorate, one could never be too careful. Basically, the military wanted to know: How good is your source? Do you trust him? Do you think he could have turned on you? Could this be a setup?
This was one of the hardest parts of my job. While I had to protect the identity of our sources when passing on intelligence, I had to balance this with the need to share pertinent details that would allow the military to do their job. It was critical to give them appropriate context on the sources, their access, and their reporting records, and to give them a sense of how good the report may or may not be. Given our positive track record with these military units, I knew that they would trust my judgment, and therefore, I needed to get it right. Lives were at stake.
My mind was spinning.
What do I think? Is this a setup? He’s usually such a good reporter, but what if someone discovered he was the mole?
Even if Mahmud was “on our side,” the insurgents could turn him against us by threatening the lives of his wife and kids. Similar things had happened before. I prayed, “Please, Lord, give me wisdom.”
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
The bottom line was, I didn’t know anything for sure, and I told the military commander that. But I also remembered that just the week before, Mahmud had provided a report that MNF-I units said was amazingly accurate regarding the location of an IED in his village. They found the IED and dug it up before the Coalition Humvee rolled over it. So as of then, he was definitely good, and I told the commander that as well.
The next day, the case officer came to my desk and said, “Did you hear?”
“Mahmud’s information was spot on!”
“Really?” What a relief, I thought. “What happened?”
“When the soldiers entered the abandoned building, they found seven Iraqis tied up on the floor, barely clinging to life. It was more than a safe house. It was a torture house. There were piles of dead bodies in the next room.”
Mahmud’s intuition about the stranger he saw exiting that building had been correct. Something about the unidentified man’s behavior or appearance—the look on his face, the posture of his body, the way he walked or the way he dressed—had hit Mahmud as being “off” or “wrong.” It turned out that local AQI affiliates had commandeered the building and were using it as a base to terrorize the local population.
My colleague pulled out copies of the military’s photographs that captured the unbelievable scene. The first images showed the battered bodies of the young men who had just been saved from certain death. According to the soldiers, when they entered the building and found the prisoners on the floor, the young men were in shock. Emaciated and trembling, they kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” They could barely stand, so the soldiers steadied them as the young men lifted up their bloodstained shirts for the camera, revealing torsos covered in welts and bruises. If that unit hadn’t shown up when they did, those men would have been dead by the next day.
I swallowed hard as I flipped through the photographs of the horrors in the next room, and my eyes welled up with tears. The terrorists had discarded the mutilated bodies of other villagers in the adjacent room, leaving them to rot in a twisted mound. I could hardly accept what I was seeing. It reminded me of Holocaust photos that were so inhumane one could not process the depth of the depravity: men and women . . . battered and bruised . . . lives stolen . . . eyes frozen open in emptiness and horror.
My stomach began to churn, but I made myself look at the pictures. I had to understand what we were fighting for, what our soldiers faced every day. As much as I wanted to dig a hole and stick my head in the sand, I needed to see what was really happening outside our cozy encampment in the Green Zone.
They say war is hell; they don’t know the half of it.
Michele Rigby Assad is a former undercover officer in the National Clandestine Service of the US Central Intelligence Agency. She served as a counterterrorism specialist for 10 years, working in Iraq and other secret Middle Eastern locations. Upon retirement from active service, Michele and her husband began leading teams to aid Christian refugees.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.