During the 2016 election, Russian-linked bots and trolls on social media attempted to inflame relations among Americans by spreading fake news and highlighting vulnerable racial and political divisions. They bought ads on Twitter and shared posts on Facebook, concealing their identities while pretending to be real Americans.
But the Kremlin has another, more conspicuous way of spreading propaganda and trolling the West that doesn’t normally get as much attention.
In the last few years, Russia has used official government Twitter accounts to undermine the West and hit back against criticism, often with tantalizing and meme-filled rhetoric. The Twitter accounts of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and its Embassy in the UK, both of which tweet in English, have been particularly active.
On March 6, 2018 for example, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May slammed Russia for planting fake stories and Photoshopping images on social media “in an attempt to sow discord in the West,” Russia’s MFA tweeted a satirical response.
This was one of several examples of official Russian government tweets aimed at sparking controversy among Moscow’s adversaries.
In a report published in November 2017, the watchdog group Freedom House noted that in few places is “the hypocritical link between state propaganda and legal restrictions on the media stronger than in Russia.” This gives Russia monopoly over the flow of information within its borders. Increasingly, the report says, Russia has used similar information manipulation tactics abroad.
Here are 10 other times Russia has used its official Twitter accounts to troll Western leaders and the media:
1. The Russian Embassy in the UK reacted to former President Barack Obama expelling diplomats and closing Russian compounds in December 2016 in retaliation for meddling in the US election.
2. Stories of Russian hacking and election interference became more widespread in the US, and the Russian Embassy was at it again.
3. Theresa May said Belgium was meddling in its general election — and Russia was happy they weren’t being accused this time.
7. Amid fears of spying, England said its football team would travel in Russia with a surveillance team. The Russian Embassy shot back with a zinger about England’s football team.
8. Critics alleged that President Donald Trump is a Russian pawn, and the Russian Embassy shared a meme from The Great Gatsby.
9. The British member of parliament leading the UK investigation into Russian election meddling talked about fake news, and the Russian Embassy egged him on with some #ThursdayThoughts.
10. On March 7, 2018, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert sent a series of tweets that condemned Russia’s military involvement in Syria, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a low blow.
Now is the time for everyone to wear masks, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield and his colleagues wrote in an editorial published Tuesday in the journal JAMA.
While the organization has been slow to warm up to broad mask-wearing recommendations — first advising, but not requiring, healthy members of the general public on April 3 to cover their faces when out and about — Redfield and his colleagues now say mask wearing should be universal because “there is ample evidence” asymptomatic people may be what’s keeping the pandemic alive.
“The data is clearly there that masking works,” Redfield told Dr. Howard Bauchner, JAMA’s editor in chief, during an interview Tuesday that corresponded with the editorial’s release. “If we can get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think in the next four, six, eight weeks … we can get this epidemic under control.”
One model projects universal masking could save 45,000 lives by November
In the paper, Redfield, with his CDC colleagues Dr. John Brooks and Dr. Jay Butler, pointed to research demonstrating the effectiveness of masks.
One study of the largest healthcare system in Massachusetts showed how universal masking of healthcare workers and patients reversed the infection’s trajectory among its employees.
A CDC report also released Tuesday detailed this case, concluding “consistent and correct use of face coverings, when appropriate, is an important tool for minimizing spread of SARS-CoV-2 from presymptomatic, asymptomatic, and symptomatic persons.”
“Mask mandates delay the need for re-imposing closures of businesses and have huge economic benefits,” Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Director Dr. Christopher Murray said in a statement, MarketWatch reported. “Moreover, those who refuse masks are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk.”
Not wearing a mask is like opting to undergo surgery by a team without face coverings
The JAMA paper also highlighted the two key reasons masking works: It protects both the wearer and the people they come in contact with.
While early recommendations focused on masking’s benefit to those around you, Redfield and colleagues emphasized the benefit to the wearer as well.
They likened not wearing a mask with choosing to be operated on by a team without any face coverings — an “absurd” option because it’s known the clinicians’ conversations and breathing would generate microbes that could infect an open wound.
“Face coverings do the same in blocking transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” the doctors wrote.
Proper social distancing and handwashing are equally important measures, though, when fighting the virus, Redfield told Bauchner.
People are coming around to mask wearing, but there’s still resistance
More people are coming around to mask wearing, with a separate CDC report, also out Tuesday, showing the rates of mask wearing in public increased from 61.9% to 76.4% between April and May.
Redfield told Bauchner he was “heartened” to see President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence setting that example.
But there’s still resistance, and the issue remains politicized — something Redfield and his coauthors hope their editorial will cut through.
“At this critical juncture when COVID-19 is resurging, broad adoption of cloth face coverings is a civic duty, a small sacrifice reliant on a highly effective low-tech solution that can help turn the tide favorably in national and global efforts against COVID-19,” they wrote.
As you are aware, much of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, remains unfunded, and it is not clear when this lapse in appropriations will end. In the coming days, our service will begin to pass critical military and civilian pay-processing milestones necessary to meet regular pay cycles. Unfortunately, without an appropriation, a continuing resolution, or another legislative measure, the Coast Guard will not be able to meet the next payroll.
Let me assure you your leadership continues to do everything possible, both internal and external to the service, to ensure we can process your pay as soon as we receive an appropriation; however, I do not know when that will occur. Moreover, many of you may be aware of proposed congressional legislation that separately provides pay for the Coast Guard. I cannot predict what course that legislation may take.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Matthew Masaschi)
I know you have many questions during this difficult time. As the commandant mentioned, please do not hesitate to reach out to your chain of command, the chief’s mess, the ombudsmen network, our chaplains, as well as other resources. In addition, I encourage you to visit the Coast Guard’s website that has the most up-to-date resource links and frequently asked questions at https://www.dcms.uscg.mil/budget/. I encourage you to frequently revisit this website as it will be updated as new information is learned and additional FAQs are developed.
I can announce the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance board just approved an increase to interest-free loans with a focus on the junior workforce. Now, E-5 and below, GS-6 and below, and wage grade equivalents are eligible for a loan up to a maximum of id=”listicle-2625970578″,000 for those with dependents and 0 for those without dependents. Personnel in other paygrades may also qualify if dire circumstances exist. If you require this assistance, please check with your CGMA representative to apply.
Please know that your entire senior leadership team is pursuing every possible avenue to mitigate the effects that this unprecedented event is having on you and your families. In similar fashion, I implore each of you to take an active role in caring for your fellow shipmates and their loved ones. Thank you for your continued dedicated service to our nation.
Semper Paratus, Adm. Charles W. Ray Vice Commandant
Air Force officials have been warning about the force’s dire pilot shortage, and a recent Government Accountability Office report illustrates just how bad the shortfall has gotten.
The report assesses the gaps between the actual number of fighter pilots that the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have and the number of positions they are authorized to have.
Each service branch reported fighter-pilot shortages that have grown worse in recent years. “Service officials attributed these gaps to aircraft readiness challenges, reduced training opportunities, and increased attrition of fighter pilots due to career dissatisfaction,” the report says.
The Air Force had at least 92% of its fighter-pilot positions filled between 2006 and 2010, an 8% gap, and 104% of what it needed in 2011, a 4% surplus. But the gap has grown since 2012 and is currently the biggest of the three military branches, at 27%.
The Air Force, which has undertaken a number of training and retention initiatives, projected its shortfall to last through fiscal year 2023.
Growing shortfalls and falling retention
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Each branch has different levels at which the difference between authorized positions and actual staff levels becomes a shortage. Air Force officials told the GAO that “their established practice is that pilot communities with less than 100 percent of authorizations are considered to be insufficiently staffed.”
Changing authorization levels led to an excess in some Air Force career fields in 2011, but an increase in authorized positions in the past few years has led to a growing shortfall among fighter pilots — from 192, or 5% of authorized positions, that year to 1,005, or 27% of authorized positions, in 2017. (The Air Force said at the end of 2017 that its total shortage was “around 2,000” pilots.)
“According to briefing documents prepared by the Air Force, this gap is concentrated among fighter pilots with fewer than 8 years of experience,” the report notes.
Air Force officials told the GAO that between 2006 and 2017, “fighter pilot gaps were generally limited to non-operational positions, such as staff assignments at Air Force headquarters or combatant commands.”
But the GAO also found that the Air Force had been unable to fill all its operational positions since fiscal year 2014, with the gap between the operational positions it needed to fill and the actual staffing levels it had growing from 39 pilots, or 1% of authorizations, in 2014 to 399 pilots, or 13%, in 2017.
Several factors have contributed to these shortfalls, in particular reductions to overall active-duty military end strength.
Service officials said that personnel reductions after the 2008 drawdown in Iraq and cuts to funding stemming from the 2011 Budget Control Act both helped reduce the number of fighter pilots in the military.
The Air Force shed 206 fighter pilots in order to meet initial demand for pilots of unmanned aerial systems in 2011 and 2012 and then lost 54 more to early-retirement incentives in 2014 and 2015. That was compounded by changes to force structure — the decline in active and reserve Air Force fighter squadrons from 134 in 1989 to 55 in 2017 has reduced the opportunities newly trained pilots have to gain flying experience.
These factors have helped create a bottleneck in the Air Force’s training pipeline. The service has more pilots entering than it has resources to train. According to the GAO report, between 2006 and 2017 the Air Force trained 12% fewer new fighter pilots than its target amount.
“Fighter pilots told us that the need to prioritize the staffing of experienced pilots to deploying squadrons has limited the number of experienced personnel available to train newer pilots at home stations,” the report says.
A fighter pilot needs about five years of training to be qualified to lead flights, which costs between about $3 million to $11 million depending on the type of aircraft they’re being trained to fly, according to Air Force officials.
Those training issues are exacerbated by the reduction in aircraft, as longer maintenance times for legacy aircraft, like the F-16 or F-15, leave fewer aircraft available for training. (A shortage of maintainer crew members has also hamstrung the Air Force, though it has made progress adding more of those personnel.)
The services have also struggled to retain pilots.
The GAO found that the number of Air Force pilots signing retention contracts fell from 63% in 2013 to 35% in 2017 — despite the service increasing its maximum aviation bonus contract to $225,000 at the start of 2013, which was the highest amount offered by any of the military service branches.
Officials from the service branches told the GAO they had used various tactics to address their pilot shortfalls, including longer and more frequent deployments, putting senior pilots in junior positions, and “prioritizing staffing fighter pilots to flying positions that require fighter pilot-specific technical skills.”
The service branches has also tried to compensate for fighter-pilot shortages by drawing on pilots from other career fields.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
The Air Force, for example, has drawn on mobility pilots — those that fly cargo and refueling aircraft — to fill instructor roles for basic training to free up fighter pilots for duties elsewhere.
But fliers and squadron leaders told the GAO that these measures have had deleterious effects. Pilots and squadron leaders also said that some of these efforts to mitigate pilot shortages had helped drive down retention
A high operational tempo has limited the opportunities senior pilots have to train with junior pilots, which in turn limits the opportunities the service branches have to grow the number of pilots with specific qualifications. This also cuts into the services’ ability to rebuild readiness. Air Force officials said “high deployment rates … have resulted in less time for squadrons to complete their full training requirements because high deployment rates mean that there are fewer aircraft available for training at home stations.”
Moreover, increasing individual deployments undercut family stability, pilots said, affecting satisfaction with their careers.
The Air Force has taken steps to mitigate the effects the pilot shortage has had on pilots’ quality of life.
It has stood up teams dedicated to finding and implementing dozens of initiatives to reduce the fighter-pilot shortage.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
“For example, as the result of one initiative, 126 contractors have been placed in fighter squadrons to assist with administrative tasks and reduce workload for fighter pilots,” the GAO notes.
Air Force training squadrons have also taken steps to better apportion resources, including consolidating instructors among training units and altering the training process and syllabus, according to a February 2018 report by Aviation Week, but those shifts still put a strain on pilots and aircraft and represented “a leap into the unknown” for the units.
The GAO report also noted that the service branches had not reevaluated fighter-squadron requirements to reflect change conditions, the increased workload, and the effects of the increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
“Air Force officials told us that metrics that inform squadron requirements … have not been increased because the Air Force is instead prioritizing the effort to recapitalize its fleet of fighter aircraft,” the report said, adding that officials said they were also reassessing fighter-pilots’ nonoperational requirements, focusing on finding which ones could be reassigned to other pilots.
The report made recommendations for each branch, advising the Air Force to reevaluate those squadron requirements, “to include updating current assumptions of fighter pilot workload, and assessing the impact of future incorporation of [unmanned aerial systems] platforms into combat aviation.”
China plans to increase its military spending by 8.1% in 2018 in an effort to modernize its armed forces.
Beijing proposed spending 1.11 trillion yuan ($175 billion) on its military, according to its budget report presented ahead of the opening of China’s 13th National People’s Congress on March 5, 2018, according to Reuters.
Premier Li Kequiang said in his opening address that China will “advance all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests.”
He also said the military, the government, and its people must always be as “strong as stone.”
China’s defense spending has increased following Xi’s appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Joint Operations Command in April 2016. The budget grew 7.6% in 2016, and 7% in 2017.
“The UNHRC operates on the basis of the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation. It is a UN body that, like the entire UN system, is called upon to serve all Member States, not just one country or group of countries,” Russia’s UN mission said in a statement. “Unfortunately, our colleagues in Washington do not understand this or do not recognize it.”
Russia added that the US had attempted to use the council as an “obedient tool to promote only their interests” and punish unfavorable countries.
“Against this background, attempts by the US to blame the politicization of the work of the Council and the failure of its initiative by almost the whole world, including its traditional allies, seem cynical,” it said.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a press conference that the move was “not a retreat from human rights commitments,” and blasted the 47-member council as “a hypocritical and self serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”
The human rights arm of the United Nations was established in 2006. Members grouped by region are voted in by the General Assembly for three year terms, and can be suspended if they are found to grossly violate human rights during their tenure.
Russia previously served one term on the council but lost its reelection in 2016 because of its support for the Assad regime’s war in Syria.
Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China, have been criticized by rights groups for their places on the council despite their systematic violations of human rights.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Whether it kept them entertained in the barracks or inspired them to enlist, there are certain films that every Marine knows and loves.
Just about every Marine can quote Gunnery Sgt. Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket.” The same can be said of the intense courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men” that has Col. Jessup proclaiming, “You can’t handle the truth!”
Super quotable lines, great stories, or intense combat scenes are just some of the reasons why we picked the following nine films as “must-watch” for Marines. But whether you are in the Corps or a civilian, these movies shed some light on the U.S. military’s smallest service.
Plot: Based on real-life events, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a volunteer military escort officer, accompanies the body of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps back to his hometown of Dubois, Wyoming.
Reason to watch: While most military movies focus on battle scenes, “Taking Chance” focuses on the part often overlooked: What happens when troops lose their lives in combat. As people in the military know, the belongings are packed and shipped, the body is taken to Dover, and an escort brings them to their final resting place. Actor Kevin Bacon does a superb job of depicting the real-life story of one such escort duty, for Pfc. Chance Phelps.
Plot: Based on former Marine Anthony Swofford’s best-selling 2003 book about his pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and about his experiences fighting in Kuwait.
Reason to watch: While the main character is a less-than-stellar Marine who often gets in trouble, this film shines in realistically depicting infantry life. The camaraderie, the dumb games, and the sheer boredom grunts experience when they are in a combat zone but not seeing combat is what makes this worth watching.
Plot: A dramatization of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima.
Reason to watch: It has John Wayne. Really, that should be enough. But seriously, it’s a classic war film that shows Marines battling it out on Tarawa and Iwo Jima — site of the famous flag raising in 1945 — which also includes cameos by the three Marines who raised the flag over the island that was captured in the iconic Joe Rosenthal photo.
Plot: A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the U.S.-Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue.
Reason to watch: “Full Metal Jacket” is really two films in one, with act one depicting a realistic look at Vietnam-era boot camp, and act two showing life for Marines in the battle of Hue City. The performance Marines love — and can perfectly quote — comes from R. Lee Ermey, who plays Drill Instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, a seemingly never ending source of great zingers.
Plot: The life stories of the six men who raised the flag at The Battle of Iwo Jima, a turning point in WWII.
Reason to watch: While most people have seen the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima, many don’t know the flag raising happened just days into the battle, when it was not yet clear when the Japanese would be defeated. Three of the six flag raisers would be killed later in the battle, while the remaining three would be brought back to the U.S. to help raise war bonds. This film, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells that story. (You should also check out Eastwood’s telling of the Japanese side, in “Letters from Iwo Jima”).
Plot: A hard-nosed, hard-living Marine gunnery sergeant clashes with his superiors and his ex-wife as he takes command of a spoiled recon platoon with a bad attitude.
Reason to watch: In the main character of Gunny Highway, Marines will see the one staple of just about every unit: The crusty old-timer who doesn’t take any crap from anyone. Clint Eastwood plays Highway, delivering such classic lines as “Be advised. I’m mean, nasty and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round in a flea’s ass at 200 meters,” and “if I were half as ugly as you, Sergeant Major, I’d be a poster boy for a prophylactic.”
Plot: An attorney defends an officer on trial for ordering his troops to fire on civilians after they stormed a U.S. embassy in a third world country.
Reason to watch: Starting in Vietnam with two Marine lieutenants — played by Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson — a firefight sets them on separate career paths that ultimately see them coming back together after an embassy evacuation in Yemen goes terribly wrong. Col. Childers (played by Jackson) gives the order to fire into the crowd — which he says is armed — and he’s later charged with murder. Besides the intense courtroom drama, the movie shows the strong brotherhood among Marines, with Jones and Jackson picking up right where they left off many years before in the jungles of Vietnam.
Plot: Major Kirby leads The Wildcats squadron into the historic WWII battle of Guadalcanal.
Reason to watch: Again, John Wayne. Another classic from the fifties, this film gives a look at Marine air power in World War II, with Wayne playing Maj. Kirby, a gruff commander who takes over a squadron of fliers before they head into combat at Guadalcanal.
Plot: Neo military lawyer Kaffee defends Marines accused of murder; they contend they were acting under orders.
Reason to watch: It’s a great courtroom drama which explores the question of what is a legal order. When two junior Marines are told to carry out a hazing ritual by their commander, should they have followed it? That’s what a court-martial is to decide, which ultimately ends in an epic shouting match between Navy Lt. Kaffee and Col. Jessup (played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson).
BONUS: Generation Kill / The Pacific
While they aren’t movies, these two HBO miniseries show Marines in combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the island-hopping campaigns of World War II, respectively. In “Generation Kill,” viewers follow along with the men of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion as they battle their way into Iraq in 2003, while “The Pacific” melds together narratives from Marines who took part in the Pacific campaign to tell their story.
President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday afternoon.
The ceremony took just under 13 minutes, according to video of the event available at CSPAN.org. Neither the president-elect nor vice-president elect chose to speak at the event.
According to a report by Bloomberg, the ceremony is one of the first of the series of events that will culminate in Trump and Pence taking their oaths of office on the West Front of the Capitol Building on Jan. 20.
A 2013 report by EverythingLubbock.com notes that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took part in a similar ceremony on Jan. 20, a day prior to their second public inauguration, and C-SPAN.org has video of Obama and Biden taking part in a 2009 ceremony prior to taking office on Jan. 18 of that year. The ceremony honors military personnel who have “served and sacrificed” according to EverythingLubbock.com.
The ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns. According to the website of Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb was first built to honor an unknown serviceman who fell during World War I. It was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1921 (Nov. 11, now Veterans Day).
In 1958, unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were interred on May 30. On May 28, 1984, the Vietnam Unknown was interred. According to homeofheroes.com, all four Unknowns were awarded the Medal of Honor. An official Army website notes that unknown Belgian, British, French, Italian, and Rumanian soldiers from World War I were also awarded the Medal of Honor.
In 1998, the Vietnam Unknown was exhumed. DNA testing later identified him as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. CNN reported that Blassie was returned to his family and buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
The comments came just a day after an off-the-record meeting the President-elect had with media executives and on-air personalities, in which he said “he believes it is time to have someone from the military as secretary of defense,” according to Politico.
If Trump were to stick with that view, then that means the field of potential candidates has gotten much thinner.
There were a number of names initially floated, including retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). Both Flynn and Sessions have accepted other positions within the administration, while Talent is apparently still in the running, according to The Washington Post.
Trump met with Mattis on Saturday for about an hour to discuss the position. Not much is known about what they talked about, but Trump did ask the general about the use of waterboarding and was surprised that Mattis was against it.
Afterward, Trump tweeted that Mattis was “very impressive” and called him a “true General’s General.”
Besides receiving praise from Trump himself, Mattis has been receiving near-universal praise in national security circles and among some of the DC elite. Syndicated radio host Laura Ingraham, a Trump backer who spoke at the Republican Convention, said on Twitter that he was the “best candidate.”
And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, offered a ringing endorsement of Mattis on Monday.
“General Mattis is one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops,” McCain wrote in his statement. “I hope he has an opportunity to serve America again.”
Mattis did have some competition from another retired general — Army. Gen. Jack Keane — who was apparently offered the job, but Keane declined it for personal reasons, according to NPR. When asked who Trump should choose instead, Keane gave two names: David Petraeus and James Mattis.
While both would seem a good fit for Defense Secretary, picking Petraeus would likely be a much harder one to get confirmed. Congress seems likely to grant Mattis a waiver of the requirement of a seven-year gap between military service and the civilian defense job, but Petraeus would bring plenty of baggage to a confirmation hearing. That would include a sex scandal and charges of sharing classified information, for which he received a $100,000 fine and two years of probation.
According to people familiar with Trump’s deliberations who spoke with The Wall Street Journal, Mattis is the most likely candidate.
Mattis, 66, is something of a legendary figure in the US military. Looked at as a warrior among Marines and well-respected by members of other services, he’s been at the forefront of a number of engagements.
The former four-star general retired in 2013 after leading Marines for 44 years. His last post was with US Central Command, the Tampa, Florida-based unified command tasked with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than two-dozen other countries.
He led his battalion of Marines in the assault during the first Gulf war in 1991 and commanded the task force charging into Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, as a Major General, he once again took up the task of motivating his young Marines to go into battle, penning a must-read letterto his troops before they crossed the border into Iraq.
A number of defense secretaries who served under President Barack Obama have criticized him for his supposed “micromanagement.” Even Mattis himself was reportedly forced into early retirement by the Obama administration due to his hawkish views on Iran, according to Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy.
Whoever is ultimately picked, the next head of the Pentagon will oversee roughly 3 million military and civilian personnel and face myriad challenges, from the ongoing fight against ISIS and China’s moves in the South China Sea to the ongoing stress on the military imposed by sequestration.
The next defense secretary may also end up dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and Russia is very likely to test limits in eastern Europe. The secretary will also need to reinvigorate a military plagued by low morale.
Mattis did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
Ukraine has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential election season. Here are some facts to help you better understand Ukraine’s role on the global stage:
Traditional Ukrainian embroidered blouses.
Medieval Ukraine, known as “Kievan Rus,” was the birthplace of Slavic culture. Ukraine was formerly part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country in 1991. The country has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its fertile soil. Although its economy has improved steadily since 2000, Ukraine continues to suffer from poverty and corruption. Ukraine is a close ally of the United States, and polls have shown a generally positive attitude toward the U.S. by Ukrainians.
Ukrainian soldiers take cover during a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine.
(Source: Sergei L. Loiko)
Ukraine has been at war since 2014
Ukraine was rocked with instability in 2014 due to a political protest movement called “Euromaidan.” Russia seized this opportunity to invade Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and claim it as Russian territory while also stirring up pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Crimea was conquered without bloodshed, and a large proportion of Crimea’s residents actually support the annexation. The insurrection in eastern Ukraine, however, quickly became violent.
Today the Ukrainian military continues to fight heavily armed, Russian-backed separatists and Russian military forces (although Russia publicly denies the latter) in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which has claimed at least 13,000 lives and displaced over 1.4 million people, has since become a stalemate.
Euromaidan protestors battle police in central Kyiv in 2014.
Euromaidan was a really big deal
In 2014, growing discontent against president Viktor Yanukovych erupted in a massive protest movement. The activists, who hoped for a Ukraine more oriented toward Western Europe, accused Yanukovych of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin trying to pull Ukraine closer into Russia’s orbit. The Euromaidan movement led to street battles between police and protesters and over 100 deaths.
Euromaidan eventually succeeded, however. Yanukovych abandoned the presidency and fled to Russia, where he remains to this day. (In 2019 a Ukrainian court convicted him, in absentia, of treason.) Euromaidan was historic because it reflected the will of many Ukrainians to choose a trajectory free of Russian domination, but it also aggravated simmering tensions within Ukraine’s population and triggered Russia’s armed interventions in Crimea and the eastern regions.
Mural in Kyiv depicting a Ukrainian Cossack strangling Vladimir Putin, represented as a snake.
The Ukrainian population is deeply divided
Many Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, are staunch Ukrainian patriots. They take great pride in Ukrainian culture, history, and language and generally hold negative attitudes toward Russia.
More eastern regions of the country, however, have larger percentages of Ukrainians who speak Russian as a first language and consider themselves more Russian than Ukrainian. This is the root of the current war in eastern Ukraine, and the reason many Ukrainians in Crimea welcomed Russian annexation in 2014.
Choose your words carefully when referring to Ukraine
There are some semantics involved when speaking of Ukraine which cannot be divorced from the country’s complicated history and politics. Even the name “Ukraine” means “borderland” in Russian. The Ukrainian capital city has historically been transliterated as “Kiev,” the traditional Russian spelling, although the Ukrainian-language “Kyiv” is increasingly preferred.
Likewise, many English speakers incorrectly refer to the country as “the Ukraine,” a dated reference to the Soviet era when Ukraine was a Soviet republic (similar to saying “the Midwest” in relation to the United States). Both the Ukrainian government and many Ukrainians strongly discourage the term “the Ukraine.”
Even language itself is contentious: the majority of Ukrainians can speak both Ukrainian and Russian, but the use of either language can be seen as a political and social statement by the speaker.
President Volodymyr Zelensky
(Source: Getty Images)
Ukraine’s current president is literally a comedian
Current president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose phone call with President Donald Trump in July 2019 has triggered controversy within the United States, was a comedian before being elected in a landslide in 2019. He is most famous for playing the lead role in “Servant of the People,” a hugely popular sitcom about a schoolteacher who is unexpectedly elected president of Ukraine.
The 41-year-old Zelensky ran for office as a reformer whose priorities include fighting corruption and negotiating an honorable end to the war. Zelensky also wants to maintain U.S. support, particularly American shipments of “lethal” aid such as anti-tank missiles, which Ukrainian troops need to counter the Russian-equipped rebels.
Although a longtime Ukrainian patriot, Zelensky’s first language is Russian, and he has been criticized for not being entirely fluent in Ukrainian.
US military advisers are operating inside the city of Raqqa, Daesh’s last major bastion in Syria, a US official said July 12. The troops, many of them Special Operations Forces, are working in an “advise, assist, and accompany” role to support local fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces as they battle Daesh, said Col. Ryan Dillon, a military spokesman.
The troops are not in a direct combat role but are calling in airstrikes and are working closer to the fight than did US forces supporting the Iraqi military in Mosul.
“They are much more exposed to enemy contact than those in Iraq,” Dillon said, adding that the numbers of US forces in Raqqa were “not hundreds.”
The operation to capture Raqqa began in November and on June 6 the SDF entered the city. With help from the US-led coalition, the SDF this month breached an ancient wall by Raqqa’s Old City, where die-hard militants are making a last stand.
Dillon said the coalition had seen Daesh increasingly using commercial drones that have been rigged with explosives. The militants employed a similar tactic in Mosul.
“Over the course over the last week or two, it has increased as we’ve continued to push in closer inside of Raqqa city center,” he said.
The US military is secretive about exactly how big its footprint is in Syria, but has previously said about 500 Special Operations fighters are there to train and assist the SDF, an Arab-Kurdish alliance.
The UN said July 12 it is using newly opened land routes in Syria to expand food deliveries to areas around Raqqa.
The new access has allowed the World Food Program to deliver food to rural areas north of the city for the first time in three years.
More than 190,000 people have been displaced from and within Raqqa province since April 1, according to the UN refugee agency. In the past 48 hours, hundreds of civilians managed to flee areas under Daesh control and cross to territory seized by SDF, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As the map of control changes, so is the access and WFP said it is now delivering food every month to nearly 200,000 people in eight hard-to-reach locations inside Raqqa province as well as other areas in a neighboring province.
Prior to the reopening of the road linking Aleppo in the west to Hassakeh in the east, the WFP relied on airlifts.
“Replacing airlifts with road deliveries will save an estimated $19 million per year, as each truck on the road carries the equivalent of a planeload of food at a significantly lower cost,” said Jakob Kern, the WFP country representative in Syria. “With these cost savings and improved access, we are now reaching more families and people returning to their homes who need our help with regular food deliveries.”
One area that is now reachable is the town of Tabqa, which was taken from Daesh by the US-backed SDF in May. WFP said it was able this month to double the number of people it reaches, delivering monthly food rations to 25,000 people, many of whom have returned to their original homes and are now working to rebuild their lives.
In Homs eastern countryside, meanwhile, a Syrian military source said the army recaptured the Al-Hayl oil field, south of Al-Sukhneh city, from Daesh militants, the state-run news agency SANA reported.
The fight against Daesh is only one facet of the war in Syria, which is now in its seventh year. Six rounds of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva have failed to bring the warring sides closer to a political settlement.
A seventh round is now underway in the Swiss city, but expectations for a breakthrough are almost non-existent.
July 12, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation accused President Bashar Assad’s regime of refusing to engage in political discussions.
Nasr al-Hariri of the High Negotiations Committee also challenged the UN Security Council to “uphold its responsibilities” and maintain pressure on Assad to honor resolutions that the council has passed. He spoke to reporters after emerging from talks with the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in the latest round of indirect peace talks. Hariri cited the “continuous refusing” of Assad’s government to participate in political negotiations.
Security Council Resolution 2254 from December 2015 called on top UN officials to convene the two sides “to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process.”
Also July 12, a human rights group said Syrian-Russian airstrikes and artillery attacks on a town in southern Syria last month killed 10 civilians in and near a school. Human Rights Watch said one of the airstrikes hit the courtyard of a middle school in the town of Tafas in the southern province of Deraa, killing eight people, including a child. It says most of those killed were members of a family who had been displaced from another town. It said two other civilians, including a child, were killed an hour earlier by artillery attacks near the school.
A U.S. Marine Corps photographer took some incredible portraits of Marines assigned to the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. (The photos were taken in 2017, but they’re worth seeing again).
The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group “support[s] maritime security operations, provide[s] crisis response capability, and increase[s] theater security cooperation while providing a forward naval presence in Europe and the Middle East,” according to the Navy.
The photographer, Sgt. Matthew Callahan, took portraits of Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Kuwait and in Romania, as well as the Marines’ Romanian counterparts with whom they were training.
Check out his photos below:
Pfc. Ken Sicard, a rifleman assigned to Lima Co., 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, poses at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait. He said his uncle, who has since passed away, worked to put his three kids to college. In honor of his uncle, Sicard said he puts a portion of every paycheck in a savings account for his cousins.
US Marine Cpl. Rachel Warford is part of the Female Engagement Team, which is deployed with male infantry units and tasked to help communicate with local families and women.
Cpl. Sunsette Winsler, a military working dog handler assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, poses at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait. “I knew I was going to be a Marine when I was 12 years old,” she said, despite what her mom imagined. “I didn’t tell [her] for about two months,” after enlisting.
Winsler and her military dog, Bella, have been together “since day one,” she said. “I got to train with Bella for six weeks, certify her, bring her to the fleet and stay on her. I am her first handler and she’s my first dog. I have to rely on her for my life and she has to rely on me for everything else.”
An Alabama native and gunner with Tank platoon, US Marine Sgt. Seth Mullins’ duties are operating and firing the weapons systems on board the M1A1 Abrams.
Lance Cpl. James Nemger, a dog handler assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, poses with his military dog, Caesar. “Caesar has taught me to love life … We can be in the field working on no sleep, out all day in the hot sun doing patrols and Caesar is always having a good time.”
US Marine Gunnery Sgt. Santana Jimenez, platoon sergeant for Tank Platoon and an Arizona native, stands in front one of the Abrams Tank.
US Marine Sgt. Elia Balbaloza, part of the Female Engagement Team, poses during a live-fire training exercise in Romania.
For three days, the Marines participated in Spring Storm 2017 at Capu Midia, training with Romanian soldiers in radio communication, detainee handling, personal security detail, tactical site exploitation and more. It culminated in a live-fire rifle and pistol swap between the two forces.Sgt. Matthew Callahan/US Marine Corps
Romanian Sailor Cpl. Pintilie Madalina, a communications specialist, poses during Spring Storm 2017.
The purpose of the exercise was to provide US amphibious forces with operational training with Romanian Allies in order to enhance interoperability and strengthen enduring partnerships.
US Marine Sgt. Tyler Holcomb is an ordnance maintenance chief with Amphibious Assault Platoon. He’s responsible for inspecting, repairing and maintaining weapons systems for the Marines.
Cpl. Joshua Montgomery, an infantry team leader assigned to Lima Co., 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, poses at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait. “I didn’t want to go to school. I wanted to travel the world and shoot big guns … I got all my wishes,” he said with a laugh.
US Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Hecht, an assault amphibian crewman, smokes a cigarette in front of an assault amphibious vehicle, which he’s tasked with operating and maintaining.
Romanian Navy Lt. Zbrnca Mariuta-Lucia was one of 750 Romanian soldiers to participate in Spring Storm 2017.
US Marine Capt. Rebecca Bergstedt is the officer in charge of the Female Engagement Team.
US Marine Lance Cpl. Clayton McCabe, a driver with Amphibious Assault platoon and Missouri native, poses in front one of his AAV.
Romanian Army Lt. Preda Laura poses during Spring Storm 2017. In 2015, the Associated Press reported that Romania began making specialized flack jackets for female soldiers.
Romanian Navy Sgt. Ramona Griguta poses during Spring Storm 2017. By 2008, more than 50 Romanian women had served in combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Romanian Sailor Cpl. Pintilie Madalina, a communications specialist, stands with her rifle during Spring Storm 2017.
Three B-2 Spirits and approximately 200 airmen completed their first deployment to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, in support of the U.S. Strategic Command’s Bomber Task Force deployment, Aug. 15 through Sept. 27, 2018.
Although bombers regularly rotate throughout the Indo-Pacific, this marked the first deployment of B-2 Spirits to JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“The B-2 Spirits’ first deployment to (Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam) highlights its strategic flexibility to project power from anywhere in the world,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Williams, director of air and cyberspace operations, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces. “The B-2s conducted routine air operations and integrated capabilities with key regional partners, which helped ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. routinely and visibly demonstrates commitment to our allies and partners through global employment and integration of our military forces.”
Despite the deployment taking place in the middle of hurricane season, the B-2 pilots accomplished hundreds of local and long-duration sorties and regional training. Each mission focused on displaying the bomber’s flexible global-strike capability and the United States’ commitment to supporting global security.
One of the key integrations involved the B-2s and F-22 Raptors assigned to the 199th Fighter Squadron, a unit of the 154th Wing under the Hawaii Air National Guard. Like the B-2, the F-22 is virtually invisible to threats. This makes them the perfect match for escorting the stealth bomber and providing situational awareness. The training helped polish the cohesion between the pilots.
“The Bomber Task Force is a total-force integration deployment,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas Adcock, Air Force Global Strike 393rd Bomber Squadron commander. “Our active-duty and guard members worked seamlessly together with their counterparts here in Hawaii to determine the best way for the B-2 to operate from this location in the future.”
A B-2 Spirit deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, in support of the U.S. Strategic Command’s Bomber Task Force deployment is parked on the flightline Sept. 26, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Danielle Quilla)
The 154th Wing also supported the B-2 with the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron’s KC-135 Stratotankers. Although the B-2 is capable of flying approximately 6,000 miles without refueling, the KC-135s provided aerial refueling for long-duration missions.
“The training with the Hawaii Air National Guard was invaluable,” Adcock said. “Together we refined and exercised multiple tactics that are crucial to the Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility.”
In addition to air operations, the deployment also focused on hot-pit refueling. During this technique, the pilots land and continue to run the B-2’s engines while fuels distribution technicians refuel the aircraft. The pilots are immediately able to take off again with a full tank and maximize the amount of time they are in the air versus on the ground. One B-2 conducted hot-pit refueling at Wake Island, a coral limestone atoll in the mid-Pacific, west of Honolulu, Sept. 14, 2018.
Finally, weapons load crews exercised loading BDU-50s, inert 500 pound non-explosive practice bombs, into B-2 bomb bays on the JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam flightline.
“This weapons load is the first stepping stone to loading live munitions from this location,” said Master Sgt. Nicholas Lewis, 393rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons section chief. “Furthermore, it provides pilots and load crews valuable training necessary to accomplish future BTF missions.”
From air to ground support, the first Bomber Task Force deployment to Hawaii has allowed each member to determine what it would take to operate the B-2 from JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam and execute strategic deterrence, global strike, and combat support at any time.
“I am very proud of every airman that was a member of the 393rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron,” Adcock said. “We flew to a forward operating location that the B-2 had never operated out of and overcame numerous challenges.”