There’s no hiding from a SPICE enabled bomb, it will find you in the dark and chase you on the battlefield. The kit is highly precise in that it combines GPS and EO technology. The GPS side enables the bomb to engage camouflaged or hidden targets in all weather conditions by inputting coordinates. On the other hand, the EO side provides the flexibility of remote control guidance to engage relocatable targets.
With 12 control surfaces on three groups (fore, mid-body and tail), the kit provides a glide range of about 60 kilometers (approx. 37 miles), turning any bomb into a true fire-and-forget weapon. With this much distance between the target, the striking aircraft is safe from short and medium range defense systems.
The military is like an organized play. Everyone who assumes a position is supposed to follow the script to their role. However, some take it too far and continue even after the play has ended. These folks are always in character and they expect the same out of everyone around them.
In the field it’s understandable but if one of these “motards” pulls rank on you during liberty, you may be inclined to react the same way this Marine does.
Violent jihadism as a governing ideology has been a significant feature of the global scene for nearly two decades.
There are certainly differences between say, the nature Al Shabaab’s control over Somalia in the early 2010s, the Taliban state’s governance of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and ISIS’s “caliphate” in the present day.
But militant groups spurred by a combination of religious radicalism, violent disenchantment with the existing state system, revisionist philosophies of Islamic history, and a rejection of secularism and Enlightenment value systems have morphed into territorial political units with alarming frequency in recent years.
One such instance was in Mali in early 2012, when jihadists piggybacked on a long-simmering Tuareg autonomy movement — itself empowered by the collapse of Mali’s government in the wake of a shocking military coup — in order to take control of several population centers in Mali’s desert north. Among them was Timbuktu, a legendary center of trade and Islamic scholarship.
The jihadist occupation of Timbuktu was brutal but thankfully brief: In early 2013, a French-led coalition liberated the city after 10 months of militant control. Now, the rule of Al Qaeda-allied militants over the city is the topic of what might be the important movie of the past year.
The hypnotic and visually overwhelming “Timbuktu,” the work of Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, is an intimate and terrifying inquiry into one of the defining authoritarian ideologies of the 21st century, as told from the perspective of the people who are actually suffering under its yoke. (The film is currently playing in New York and LA and will open in various other US cities in February and March.)
US movie audiences have usually met jihadists through the lenses of American sniper rifles, or lying prone in front of CIA interrogators. “Timbuktu” is hardly the only movie that’s portrayed them as political and social actors. “Osama,” a multi-national production about a girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf’s highly regarded “Kandahar,” about a Afghan woman who sneaks into Taliban Afghanistan to try to stop her sister from committing suicide, succeed in giving viewers a first-hand look at the societies that jihadists create and the horrors this visits upon the people trapped in them.
In the wake of ISIS’s takeover of a Belgium-sized slice of the Middle East, “Timbuktu” has more immediate resonance than either of those films. The movie opens with a pickup truck of fighters flying a black flag nearly identical to ISIS’s. As the opening credits roll, the fighters eviscerate a row of traditional figurines in a hail of machine-gun fire.
But the firmest sign that jihadist rule is something external, alien, and deeply unwanted comes in the next scene, when gun-toting fighters enter a mud-brick mosque without taking their shoes off. They tell the imam that they have come to wage jihad. The imam replies that in Timbuktu, people wage jihad (which has the double meaning of spiritual reflection and self-purification, in addition to earthly holy war) with their minds and not with guns.
The next hour and a half is a grisly survey of what happened when this 1400-year-old precedent was inverted.
The jihadists ban music — one of the most celebrated aspects of Malian culture — and then whip violators in public. They ban soccer, and then break up a group of children miming a game in silent protest. The jihadists speak a smattering of local languages and broken Arabic; their leader bans smoking only to sneak cigarettes under the cover of the town’s surrounding sand dunes.
In one of the more illustrative scenes, a female fish seller is told by one jihadist that women can no longer appear in public without wearing gloves. She explains to him that she can’t work unless she’s barehanded and then dares the fighter to cut her hands off on the spot.
In “Timbuktu,” the jihadists are power-tripping, thuggish and hypocritical. They are in the city to create a totally new kind of society and revel in their own insensitivity to local concerns.
But crucially they are not entirely outsiders, and some of the film’s most affecting scenes involve a Tuareg who joins with the jihadists occupying the town, a reminder that there are local dynamics at play. Just as importantly, the film hints at the context of state collapse and social chaos that allowed the jihadists to take over in the first place.
The movie’s primary narrative follows a Tuareg herder who accidentally kills a fisherman from a different ethnic group during an argument over his cows’ access to drinking water along a disputed riverbank. The film’s central conflict encapsulates the unresolved questions of ethnicity and resources that kept northern Mali in a state of crisis that the jihadists later exploited.
The herder’s treatment at the hands of Timbuktu’s new overlords depicts the imposition of an an outside ideology. But the killing is itself is a pointed example of how social turmoil can feed into a violent, totalitarian mania seemingly without warning. It harkens back to ISIS’s swift takeover of Iraq this past summer, a national-level instance of the dynamics that “Timbuktu” manages to boil down to an intimate, dramatic scale.
“Timbuktu” has a happy ending. Even if it isn’t part of the movie, the city was eventually liberated from jihadist control. The film depicts a now-extinct regime.
But the nightmare of “Timbuktu” is far from over. The liberation of the areas that ISIS rules will come at some indeterminate future date, and parts of Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are still under the control of extremists whose ideologies are not categorically different from what appears in the film.
“Timbuktu” is maybe the best cinematic depiction ever made of what millions of people around the world are suffering through.
Here’s when you know you’re probably an infantryman in the Army or Marine Corps, better known as a grunt.
#1: Whether it’s on the ground, in a bed, or in a helicopter, you can pass out ANYWHERE.
#2: You survive on this stuff, because it’s an amazing grunt power source.
#3: You have eaten way more of these than you’d care to remember.
#4: You wear camouflage uniforms so much, you wonder why they even issued you those dress uniforms that just sit in a wall locker.
#5: The aging of your body accelerates beyond what you imagined was possible.
#6: This is “the field,” and it’s your office.
#7: The guys in your fire team/squad/platoon know more about you than your own family. They are also willing to do anything for you.
#8: You have probably heard some crusty old enlisted guy say “all this and a paycheck too!”
#9: Your day often starts with a “death run” or a “fun run.” It is never actually fun.
#10: You watch “moto” videos of grunts in combat and get pumped up.
#11: A port-a-john in Iraq or Afghanistan (or anywhere really) has three purposes, not just “going #1 or #2.”
#12: If you are pumped up to deploy, you remember Iraq or Afghanistan is usually way more boring than people think, and the last time you went, your entire platoon watched “The O.C.” or some other show during free time.
But if the tests prove successful and the carrier’s design is deemed plausible, the research center will follow through with a 1:1 scale metal mock-up of the carrier (China may have just constructed its own mock-up of a new carrier).
According to Russia’s TV Vezda, the carrier would be able to stow 100 aircraft onboard. The body of the carrier is also being designed to minimize drag by 20 percent compared to past Russian carriers. If built, the vessel would be Russia’s first carrier to debut since the Admiral Kuznetsov, which launched in 1985. The Kuznetsov is Russia’s only functioning carrier.
TV Vezda also stated that the ship would feature catapults on the ship’s top to launch aircraft during storms. However, this claim is countered by the fact that the carrier’s models feature a ski-ramp style aircraft in the front aircraft takeoff like older Soviet models, which did not have catapults.
The Russian carrier, if constructed, would be slightly larger than the US’s current Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, which can carry around 90 aircraft.
However, any indication of Russian plans should be taken with skepticism. The carrier is still in a conceptual phase and only a scaled mockup has been built so far. Any plans for Russia’s construction of the carrier could also be seriously hampered as Moscow is expected to enter a recession due to current economic sanctions and the falling value of the Russian ruble. It might not have the money for this ambitious of a military project, especially with so many other needs.
Russia’s drive to modernize its navy comes as its force is deteriorating rapidly. The vast majority of Russia’s Navy is a holdover from the country’s Soviet fleet. These ships are older than Moscow would like and suffer from frequent mechanical failures.
Of Russia’s 270 strong navy, only about 125 vessels are functional. Only approximately 45 of those 125 ships and submarines are functional and deployable, according to War Is Boring.
Russia was meant to have received two Mistral-class assault ships from France in 2014 as part of its fleet modernization, but the deal was put on hold over the crisis in Ukraine.
In Oct. 2014, China’s Xinhua reported that Russia would seek to acquire an advanced aircraft carrier by the 2030s. The vessel would be capable of operating in diverse environments and could accommodate both manned and unmanned systems.
The crisis in Ukraine, centered on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and their backing of separatists in Ukraine’s east, is a complicated mess. The U.S. and NATO tell one story while Russia tells another. Numerous international incidents have already occurred including the downing of a civilian jetliner, confrontations between Navy ships and Russian jets, and a surge in military exercises by both NATO and Russia, usually near shared borders.
On the season finale of Vice, co-founder Shane Smith and correspondent Simon Ostrovsky lay out the growing crisis in a clear and organized manner, making it easier to get a handle on what’s going on. They talk to experts on both sides of the conflict and in a range of positions, from a separatist commander in Eastern Ukraine to President Obama to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the Russian military and its current expansion.
The documentary covers all the arenas where the conflict is playing out including economic sanctions, active fighting in Eastern Ukraine, information wars across the internet, and military build-ups. Most importantly, it makes these developments and the follow-on consequences easy to understand.
The episode premiers tonight on HBO at 11 p.m. A sneak peek is below, and a preview is on Vice’s website.
Earlier in March, several Air Force squadrons flying a variety of aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters, and remotely piloted aircraft, participated in a large combat search and rescue exercise in Romania.
Exercise Porcupine is an annual training event that tests and prepares the squadrons of the 31st Operations Group for combat operations. Not only does it test the capabilities and readiness of each individual squadron, but also their ability to work together as a team. This year, the exercise replicated the rescue of an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot who had been shot down over enemy territory.
All in all, the 510th Fighter Squadron, 606th Air Control Squadron, and the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons took place in the exercise with F-16 jets, HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, and MQ-9 Reaper drones.
In the scenario, an F-16 fighter had been shot down by the enemy, but the pilot had managed to eject before the bird crashed and now was evading an enemy ground force that was coming after him. During that initial phase, a pilot’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Resistance (SERE) training is crucial as he tries to not only evade enemy forces and brutal captivity but also survive in a potentially harsh environment. Potential injuries make the above that much more difficult. For the purposes of Operation Porcupine, the F-16 pilot had a broken arm and pain in his back.
Then, the pilot had to make contact with friendly forces and direct them to his location for a rescue mission. Once proper contact was made with the rescue squadrons, a pair of HH-60G Pave Hawks went in to rescue the downed pilot. The choppers landed as close to the pilot as possible to make the job of the Pararescuemen easier.
“Our role in the HH-60s was to provide a rescue asset to aid in the recovery of any isolated personnel,” U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Richard Bush, a helicopter pilot with the 56th Rescue Squadron HH-60 pilot, said in a press release.
“Our ultimate goal was to rescue the pilot before he was captured by enemy forces. The importance of this exercise is to provide an opportunity for multiple [aircraft] to work together in a realistic and joint environment. There were definitely some things that arose that we had to work through on the fly, but overall I would call it a success and next year I imagine it will be the same.”
Training for a downed pilot scenario is not uncommon. The scenario is especially pertinent in Europe as it has happened during active operations.
In 1999, as the air campaign against the Serbs was taking place in Bosnia, Lieutenant Colonel David Goldfein—who later became a four-star general and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force—and his F-16 fighter jet was shot down by a Serbian surface-to-air missile. With Serbian troops on his heels, Goldfein escaped and evaded until Air Commandos managed to locate and rescue him.
Haka, (Maori: “dance”) Maori posture dance that involves the entire body in vigorous rhythmic movements, which may include swaying, slapping of the chest and thighs, stamping, and gestures of stylized violence. It is accompanied by a chant and, in some cases, by fierce facial expressions meant to intimidate, such as bulging eyes and the sticking out of the tongue. Though often associated with the traditional battle preparations of male warriors, haka may be performed by both men and women, and several varieties of the dance fulfill social functions within Maori culture.
This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their unit haka as a final farewell to their fallen comrades:
In an extensive joint operation, Mali’s armed forces, working with the French military, killed 100 jihadist terrorists and captured 20 more according to a statement released by the Malian military. “One hundred terrorists were neutralized, about 20 captured and several motorbikes and war equipment were seized” during the joint operation with France’s troops, which aims to root out Islamic jihadists in the arid Sahel region, the Malian army said on its website.
The army said the extended operation lasted from January 2nd to the 20th. It targeted areas along the border with Burkina Faso where jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) control large remote areas of the desert. The national government has little influence in those areas and the jihadists regularly carry out raids on small army outposts and civilians.
“The purpose of this operation was to force the enemy out of its areas of refuge,” the Malian army added.
Mali has struggled with an insurgency since 2012 when Taureg separatists rebelled against the national government. Their insurgency was quickly hijacked by Islamic terrorist groups which saw an opening and seized the chance to spread their vision of an Islamic caliphate in the region as they were being squeezed in the Middle East.
Soon, the Islamist insurgency spread into the neighboring countries of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad. The four countries, along with Mali, comprise the G5 Sahel group, which coordinates in battling the insurgency and promoting security in the region.
The tri-border region joining Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, known as the Liptako Gourma region, has become a hub for a range of security threats perpetrated by armed state and non-state religious and political groups. Such groups include criminal organizations, bandits, and kidnappers.
France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, came to the aid of the country by moving 4,100 troops into the West African nation in 2013. It pushed the insurgents, who were closing on the capital of Bamako, back into the country’s outlying regions. But the insurgents reorganized, regrouped, and have since continued to threaten security in the region. Read Next: French Airstrikes Kill Fifty al-Qaeda Jihadists in Mali
Last year, France sent an additional 1,000 troops into the country. It has also created the Special Operations Task Force – Takuba. The task force is comprised of special operations troops from Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. They advise, assist, and accompany troops from the G5 Sahel nations.
France is holding a summit of French and Sahel leaders in Chad in February, where the French are expected to announce a troop reduction. The French had held a similar meeting in France a year ago.
President Emmanuel Macron has publicly stated that he plans to “adjust French efforts.” Defense Minister Florence Parly has issued similar statements. It is expected that the French will at least withdraw the additional 1,000 troops that they had deployed last year.
Public sentiment in France is against the country’s long military commitment in Mali. So far, this year, five French soldiers have been killed by IEDs.
Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian NGO, reported on its website that the deteriorating security situation has resulted in the massive forced displacement of the civilian population. Across Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger 1,930,482 people have been internally displaced and 851,338 have fled to other countries as of November 2020.
And the violence has spread south to Nigeria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that almost three million people are displaced across the four countries, with more than two million people displaced in Nigeria alone.
The Second World War saw extensive international cooperation amongst the allied militaries. US and UK aircraft and aircraft carriers conducted joint operations in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. In fact, the British even loaned an aircraft carrier to the U.S. Navy during WWII. Renamed USS Robin, HMS Victorious launched American aircraft into combat alongside her compliment of British aircraft. Despite continued partnerships in fights against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the 21st century, American warplanes have not flown combat missions from a foreign aircraft carrier again until now.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest vessel that the Royal Navy has ever put to sea. The 65,000-ton warship is the pride of the British fleet. Still, she is smaller than the Nimitz-class carriers sailed by the U.S. Navy. As such, her flight deck still requires a ramp to launch aircraft. This, however, is exactly the kind of operating environment that the F-35 Lightning II was designed for.
Capable of short-takeoffs and vertical-landings, the F-35B is flown by the Royal Air Force and Navy as well as the U.S. Marine Corps. Marine F-35Bs trained aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018 to validate interoperability. However, the assignment of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) to the Queen Elizabeth marks the first combat deployment and sortie of American warplanes from a foreign carrier since WWII.
The 10 F-35Bs from VMFA-211 are joined by 8 F-35Bs of the RAF’s 617 Squadron, the famous “Dambusters.” It is the largest deployment of the F-35 to date.
On June 22, 2021, the Ministry of Defence announced that an undisclosed number of US and UK F-35Bs flew combat missions against ISIS from HMS Queen Elizabeth. The missions were flown in support of Operations Shader and Inherent Resolve. The MoD did not specify the locations of the missions or the targets that were struck. Also on June 22, the Marines announced that the blended air wing began combat operations on June 18.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the lead ship of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21. British Secretary of State for Defence described the carrier strike group as, “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.” The seven-month, 30,000-mile mission will take it to 40 countries through the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The carrier strike group includes a U.S. destroyer and a Dutch frigate and is expected to transit the South China Sea as a show of force.
Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner