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.
In an episode titled “You’re Not Yelping,” the cartoon makes fun of over-the-top Yelp reviewers who criticize everything, or demand perks while threatening one-star reviews. The show pushes the practice to absurd lengths, which means for “South Park,” a restaurant owner is eventually beheaded (taking off his mask) while his business is burned to the ground, in footage reminiscent of ISIS terrorist videos.
Cartman may be the worst of them all, constantly threatening one star reviews if he doesn’t get what he wants: “I was thinking of giving this place five stars, but I am kind of teetering on five stars or one star. I mean I can probably be persuaded with free desserts.”
You can watch the full episode here, or just watch this clip:
Typically, an amputation ends a military career. For a long time, most any level of amputation was considered to make a service member unfit for combat. As of last summer, only 57 amputees had returned to conflict zones and most of those stayed at a desk.
These three men wanted to get back into the fight.
1. The Ranger who swore he’d still be a squad leader
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in an armored vehicle when insurgents threw a grenade into it. Kapacziewski survived the blast with serious injuries. After months of surgeries and casts, he attempted to walk on his right leg again and heard the pins holding it together snap. Soon after, he asked doctors to remove it.
Over the months and years that followed, Kapacziewski (a.k.a. “Joe Kap”) relearned how to do the basic tasks required of Rangers . He ran, rucked, parachuted, and completed Army drills with his prosthetic leg. Since his amputation, he has conducted four combat deployments and even earned an Army Commendation Medal for pulling an injured soldier 75 yards during a firefight.
2. The paratrooper who led an airborne platoon with a prosthetic
1st Lt. Josh Pitcher finished relieving himself on the side of the road, closed his fly, and heard the loud pop of a small roadside bomb. Two days later, he was in a hospital in Germany, promising to return to combat despite losing his left leg beneath the knee. Before he could even try and return to active duty, Pitcher had to kick a pill and drinking habit he got trying to deal with the pain after his surgeries. But, he learned how to do his old job with his new leg. Less than two years after his injury, he returned with his unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Afghanistan. A few months later, he took over a 21-man platoon and led them for the rest of the deployment, most of it trudging through the mountains in the northern regions of the country .
3. The captain who calmly reported his own double amputation
When then-1st Lt. Daniel Luckett’s vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2008, a squad leader called up to ask if everything was all right. Luckett calmly responded, “Negative. My feet are gone.” Two years later, Capt. Luckett was with the 101st Airborne Division again; this time in Afghanistan. He uses a small prosthetic to assist what remains of his right leg. A much larger one serves as his left. His second day with his first prosthetic, he attempted to walk away with the leg. Doctors tried to get it back, but Luckett convinced them to let him keep it. He would go on to earn the Expert Infantry Badge during his efforts to prove he was still an asset. After successfully earning the award, the soldier was promoted to captain and allowed to deploy with his unit as part of the Afghan surge.
Retired US Navy Adm. William McRaven said Tuesday that Russia was the greatest external security threat to the US.
McRaven, a former Navy SEAL and special-operations commander, said Putin has outplayed the US.
He praised Biden for efforts early in his presidency to press Putin on US national interests.
During a recent discussion of the challenges the new Biden administration faces, retired Adm. William McRaven said Russian President Vladimir Putin has outplayed the US and that Russia is the greatest external security threat.
“I am often asked where do I think the greatest external security threat is, and I always point to Russia,” McRaven, a former Navy SEAL and special-operations commander, said at a Chatham House event on Tuesday. “A lot of people think about China, but Russia jumps to mind first.”
While he acknowledged that Russia is not the superpower it once was, he stressed that “Putin has outplayed us.”
“He has played the great game better than anyone on the world stage,” McRaven said of the Russian president. Pointing to Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, and even the US that were detrimental to American interests, he said: “Putin is a very dangerous person.”
China is often regarded as the pacing threat for the US, and during the Trump administration, tremendous emphasis was put on countering China with less attention paid to Russia.
Nonetheless, Russia is a great power rival, listed as a leading threat alongside China in the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
“We do need to find areas where we can partner with the Russians,” McRaven said, “but make no mistake about it, I think we need to take a hard line with respect to Russia … We need to let Putin know that there are lines you just shouldn’t cross.”
McRaven praised President Joe Biden’s first phone call with Putin, in which the president, according to a White House readout, “made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.”
Biden is said to have discussed arms-control concerns, asserted US support for Ukraine, and pressed Putin on the massive SolarWinds cyberattack that affected a number of federal government agencies and bureaus, election interference, and the poisoning of the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
“I was pleased to see the president in his first phone call with President Putin addressed Alexei Navalny issue,” McRaven said. “I don’t think President Trump would have done that.”
As president, Donald Trump did not condemn Russia over the poisoning of Navalny, whom Russia recently put in prison.
Commenting on his discussion with Putin, Biden said Thursday that he “made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions — interfering with our election, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens — are over.”
“We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people,” he added.
McRaven said Tuesday that the US needed to not only make its position clear to Russia but also rebuild and leverage alliances “to make sure that Russia understands how they need to play.”
The Biden administration has made priorities of rebuilding alliances, reengaging in international affairs, and leading with confidence and humility. The president’s foreign-policy approach stands in stark contrast with Trump’s “America First” policies.
During his presidency, Trump was criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for pushing away allies and partners while at times cozying up to adversaries.
In particular, critics expressed concern as Trump struck a conciliatory tone toward Russia, despite warnings from across the intelligence community and other parts of the US government that Russia was engaged in activities that harmed US interests.
In an opinion column published in August, McRaven wrote that Trump was “actively working to undermine every major institution in this country” as the US struggled with “rising threats from China and Russia,” among other challenges.
One of his more famous op-eds was a 2019 article titled “Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President,” in which he said: “If this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office.”
He said Trump’s actions threatened the trust of American’s allies and partners.
“If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military,” McRaven wrote. “And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up?”
After retiring from the Navy in 2014, he went into academia and has written best-selling books on leadership, including “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World” and “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations.”
Top U.S. and United Kingdom defense officials signed an agreement this week to merge some military forces in 2021 to form a combined carrier strike group.
Marine CorpsF-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and the Navy destroyer The Sullivans will deploy as part of the strike group, former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced Monday. The U.K.-U.S. combined strike group will be led by the U.K. aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth.
The agreement was signed by Miller and U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace. The strike group is scheduled to sail out of Portsmouth, U.K., later this year.
“This deployment underscores the strength of our bilateral ties and demonstrates U.S.-U.K. interoperability, both of which are key tenets of the U.S. National Defense Strategy,” the Pentagon’s announcement on the agreement states.Advertisement
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in November that the task force will operate in the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and East Asia.
“Next year, HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead a British and allied task group on our most ambitious deployment for two decades,” he said. “… We shall forward-deploy more of our naval assets in the world’s most important regions, protecting the shipping lanes that supply our nation.”
Ten Marine F-35B Lightning II fighter jets embarked on the Queen Elizabeth in September as part of a training deployment. The embark was in preparation for this year’s full-length deployment, Marine officials said last year.
Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the former head of Marine Corps aviation, said in 2019 that the F-35 embark would serve as a “new norm” for how the U.S. will conduct operations with maritime partners.
Wallace said the deployment embodies the strength of bilateral ties between the U.S. and U.K., and reflects the depth of the vital defense and security partnership.
“I am delighted that the U.K. now possesses a 21st-century carrier strike capability, which has been greatly assisted by the unswerving support and cooperation of the United States at all levels over the past decade,” he said.
The Colombian military on Friday activated the elite Command Against Drug Trafficking and Offshore Threats (CONAT) unit. CONAT will be comprised of 7,000 troops and its purpose will be to fight narcos, rebels financed by drug trafficking and other illegal activities and which operate across the borders of Colombia and the region, and other organized gangs.
President Ivan Duque, speaking to the troops at the sprawling army base at Tolemaida in central Colombia, described the new unit as “historic.” Meanwhile, the unit displayed aircraft and armored vehicles in a show of force among the troops.
The force, Duque said, will be tasked with “subduing, beating and subjecting the structures of drug trafficking and the… threats linked to the illegal exploitation of minerals, trafficking of species, of persons and, of course, to any transnational form of terrorism.”
“The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife, and people, and — of course — any transnational form of terrorism,” President Duque said at the event.
Colombia, considered the world’s largest producer of cocaine, had over 380,000 acres of the coca crop in 2019. That is an area larger than the combined bases of Fort Hood, TX and Fort Bragg, NC, the U.S. military’s two largest bases.
One controversial development is that Colombia could restart aerial fumigation of coca fields with herbicide glyphosate soon, Defense Minister Diego Molano said.
The last active rebel group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN), finances its operations through drug trafficking, kidnapping, illegal mining, and extortion. Duque said that the unit will pursue the ELN and ex-FARC rebels who had rejected the 2016 peace deal “without qualms.”
“Soldiers, it is a morally necessary, morally correct battle… Let’s go for the defense of Colombia!” Duque added.
The long drug war, as well as a decades-long insurgency, left more than 260,000 dead and have displaced millions of Colombian civilians.
That prompted Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro to rattle his saber and to “respond forcefully” although Colombia made no mention of crossing the border. Maduro, who is prone to making grand pronouncements, said that he ordered the military forces to “clean the barrels of our rifles to answer them at any level we need to answer if Ivan Duque dares violate the sovereignty of Venezuela.”
Colombia has broken off diplomatic ties with Venezuela since 2019 when opposition leader Juan Guaido was recognized as the interim president. Maduro ran a show election that was rigged. The European Union (EU), and the G7 group, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, joined the EU in rejecting the results of the elections and denounced them as not “comply[ing] with international standards.”
Colombia has long accused the leftist government of Venezuela of supporting the terrorist insurgents of ELN and FARC. Venezuela has denied this.
In the late 1950s the U.S. Air Force created a training video to demonstrate to airmen what the first stages of a nuclear war with Russia would look like.
The simulated war begins in 1960 with an alert that a Russian attack is incoming, and the action quickly picks up as crews around the world scramble to their planes. There are rare shots of rocket-assisted takeoffs by the B-52s carrying a full nuclear payload. The B-58, a Mach-2 bomber still in development and testing when the movie was shot, is also featured. After Germany, France, and Japan are wiped out, America begins releasing its own nuclear weapons. Missiles launch into the sky, bombs drop from bays, and Russia is obliterated.
Check out the initial alert (8:54), the first bombs and missiles impacting (36:40), or the final score of the first day of conflict (39:58). The commanding general declares victory at 53:10, but then drops one more bomb for the hell of it.
Recently, U.S. Space Force General David Thompson, the Vice Space Operations Chief, sat down for a virtual talk with the Association of Old Crows.
Gen. Thompson emphasized the intraservice utility of the Space Force but also of the branch’s need to create and sustain enduring relationships with the other branches, the intelligence community, and other agencies and departments within the US government.
The Space Force is responsible for capabilities and mission-sets such as navigation, orbital warfare, missile defense, satellite communications, electromagnetic operations, and GPS services, among other tasks.
“We have enduring relationships with the National Reconnaissance Office and the rest of the intelligence community,” said Thompson. “We not only need to maintain those but deepen those as well, especially because we’re now partners with them in the need to defend and protect these capabilities from threats.”
Thompson highlighted that the space in a domain where several countries—and even companies—are looking to expand their presence for economic, civil, public safety, and national security purposes. He suggested that the Space Force might be looking to partnerships where there are common interests and goals.
The Space Force achieved a landmark point in December when General John “Jay” Raymond officially joined the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becoming the 8th member of the highest military council of the US.
“We recognize it clearly as a warfighting domain. And we also know that we, the United States, we’ve got to maintain capabilities in that domain if we are going to continue to deter great power war,” General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the ceremony. “This is an incredibly important organization for the United States military and for the United States as a country. And it’s really important what we’re doing today, which is [to] induct you as an official member into the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
The commercial sector is another point of interest for the Space Force despite the high-risk it might entail. The ability of private companies to rapidly field and test new technology appeals to the Space Force, which often has to contend with the lengthy test, development, and acquisition timelines found in any bureaucracy.
As for what the Space Force is looking for in future recruits, Thompson said that digitally fluent and cyber-savvy candidates are essential for the Space Force to continue its contribution to the fight but also expand its capabilities.
Headquartered in Virginia, the Association of Old Crows is an international nonprofit professional organization specializing in electronic warfare, tactical information operations, and related disciplines.
In another virtual even, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten talked about America’s near-peer competitors and their space capabilities and aspirations.
“Russia and China are building capabilities to challenge us in space because if they can challenge us in space, they understand as dependent as we are in space capabilities that they can challenge us as a nation,” said Gen. Hyten during an online event at the National Security Space Association.
Gen. Hyten added that it falls to the Pentagon to continue the education of Americans about US space capabilities but also about the dangers posed by China and Russia and how to best deal with them.
The Biden administration told lawmakers Wednesday the US will soon start to evacuate thousands of Afghans who have assisted American troops for nearly two decades to other countries in an attempt to keep them safe while they apply for entry to the United States, The New York Times reported.
As the drawdown in Afghanistan enters its final stages, many veterans and some legislators have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis for the locals who have helped American forces during the past 20 years of war.
“When that last soldier goes wheels up out of Afghanistan, it is a death sentence for our local allies, the Taliban have made that clear in their words and in their actions as they hunt these people down right now as we speak,” Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and former Green Beret, said last week.
More than 18,000 interpreters, security guards, fixers, embassy clerks, and engineers have applied for the Special Immigrant Visa, which takes more than two years on average to obtain. The Times reports that those applicants have 53,000 family members. A senior administration official told the Times family members would also be evacuated to another country to await visa processing.
Calls for the Biden administration to swiftly evacuate Afghan contractors have grown in recent months, with advocates fearing the Taliban could go “house to house” after Western forces leave, targeting interpreters and their families. The Taliban, meanwhile, said earlier this month that Afghans who helped foreign forces have nothing to fear as long as they “show remorse for their past actions” and don’t engage in future “treason against Islam and the country.”
Interpreters don’t trust that promise. The Taliban has tortured and killed dozens of Afghan translators during the past two decades, the news agency AFP reported.
“The Taliban will not pardon us. They will kill us and they will behead us,” Omid Mahmoodi, an interpreter who worked with US forces between 2018 and 2020, told AFP.
It’s not clear yet where Afghans will wait, or whether third countries have agreed to the plan. In a June 12, 2021, letter to President Joe Biden, Guam’s governor Lourdes Aflague Leon Guerrero asked that the island be a landing point for those in need, like it was in 1975 when the US evacuated approximately 130,000 Vietnamese refugees.
According to a document from the Truman Center obtained by Coffee or Die Magazine, the cost of flying Afghan allies to Guam would be relatively low. The Truman Center’s Matthew Zeller estimates the average price would be $9,981.65 per person, for a total cost of about $699 million for 70,000 evacuees.
“It sounds like a lot of money until you realize it’s an additional 8.3 hours of the DOD budget. But it’s a hell of a down payment in keeping Americans alive in future wars. Because this is how we’re going to show people that we keep our word,” Zeller said.
A video uploaded to YouTube earlier this week purportedly shows what happens when a Russian RPG-7 (rocket-propelled grenade) is fired at 45 sheets of bulletproof glass, measuring about 16 inches thick.
An RPG is a portable, shoulder-fired, anti-tank weapon system that fires rockets equipped with an explosive warhead.
Here’s a side shot of an RPG:
Here’s the target: 45 layers of bulletproof glass:
Here we go:
Here’s the RPG on its way toward the bulletproof glass:
Answering an air support call for the first time is a gut wrenching experience, and it’s something fighter pilots will never forget. All of the flight hours and training boils down to their first life and death test, a test that will become routine on deployment. 1st Lt. Bart “Lefty” Smith describes his first time:
I mean that’s something that I heard about that people talk about, but something that you never know until you’ve actually felt it. Till you hear gunfire going off in the background over this guy’s radio, and you drop a bomb and it stops. And, he picks up and they get their stuff together and they’re like, ‘okay, we’re going to get on with the exfil.’ That’s a feeling that people have talked about, but having felt that is pretty amazing.
The video is over 14 minutes long, but the first four minutes sums up the stressful experience.
Marines have long dreamed of the day beloved retired Gen. James Mattis ‘finally’ takes residence in the White House, but they shouldn’t get their hopes up this campaign season.
In true Mattis fashion, the former head of U.S. Central Command gave it to ’em straight during a speech at Columbia Basin College in Washington State, letting his fans know that despite their interest, he would not be competing in the upcoming presidential race.
While many troops would love to see Mattis go up against the likes of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, he said he’d like to see others take on the challenge.
“[It’s] time for younger people, especially veterans, to run for office,” Mattis told Marine Corps Times.
That could leave many sporting “Mattis for president” T-shirts while drinking from their “Mattis in 2016” mugs disappointed. In 2012, one Marine veteran started a Facebook campaign to get voters to consider writing in Mattis’ name on their ballots.
Despite the promise of a rabid following in the veteran community, Mattis holds that he doesn’t have “a broad enough perspective” to be Commander-in-Chief, according to The Marine Corps Times.