The Air Force recently updated evaluation policies for enlisted airmen, refining the process and requirements for enlisted performance reports.
The revised policies are in response to feedback from the field and are geared towards increasing flexibility for commanders and empowering performance within the enlisted corps.
“We are continuously making strides to reform our talent management system, including evaluating updates we previously made to the Enlisted Evaluation System,” said Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services. “Our focus is on making our system more agile, more responsive, simpler and more transparent to better meet the needs of our airmen and our Air Force.”
The updated policies will impact almost every active duty enlisted airman as well as those in the Guard and Reserve.
One of the more significant updates covers a long and widely debated subject. Under the new policy senior noncommissioned officers who complete an associate’s degree or “higher level degree from a nationally or regionally accredited academic institution” are eligible for promotion and senior rater stratification or endorsement consideration.
Prior to this update, only degrees obtained from the Community College of the Air Force could be considered for senior rater stratification and endorsement. Airmen should ensure completed degrees are updated in their personnel records in the Military Personnel Data System.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
Another update focuses on equitability and streamlines the stratification process by removing ineligible airmen from the senior rater stratification pool. The previous policy allowed airmen with an approved high year of tenure, or HYT, retirement date to be factored into the senior rater’s endorsement allocations. For airmen reaching HYT, performance evaluations are also now considered optional.
An additional update authorizes the senior enlisted leader, previously only an advisor, to be a voting member of the Enlisted Forced Distribution Panel. In addition, the policy affords large units the ability to use the Enlisted Force Distribution Panel process. If a designated large unit chooses not to do so, the unit commander must publish and disseminate alternate procedures no later than the accounting date for each evaluation cycle to ensure transparency.
In yet another update, commanders now have authority to designate any number of non-rated days if they determine an airman “faced personal hardships during the reporting period.” The option provides commanders the agility to reflect periods of extenuating circumstances on annual evaluations without negatively impacting the airman.
Air Force senior leaders also made recommendations regarding referral evaluations. Currently, a report is automatically referred when “met some, but not all expectations” is selected on the AF Forms 910 and 911. To allow raters the opportunity to identify and document potential areas of improvement, these ratings will no longer be considered a mandatory referral enlisted performance report. This particular policy change will take effect in conjunction with the staff sergeant static close out date on Jan. 31, 2019.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright said the change to referral evaluation requirements allows raters to provide airmen with more honest, realistic feedback of their performance while, at the same time, allowing airmen more room to improve.
“Under the previous policy, if we set 100 expectations for an airman and they met or exceeded 99 of them but fell short on one, in essence we were saying they should be removed from promotion consideration,” Wright said. “That doesn’t align with our vision of talent management. We want supervisors and command teams to have the option to make decisions that make sense for our airmen, tailored to each individual situation.”
Wright added that providing this decision space for commanders aligns with the Air Force’s effort to revitalize squadrons and empower leaders.
There are Americans who are sick and tired of the United States playing “policeman to the world.” There’s good news and bad news for these people. The good news is that the U.S. isn’t actually the world’s policeman. The bad news is that they’re actually the world’s policeman, fire department, emergency medical technicians, doctors, nurses, and any other global-scale first responder analogy you can think of.
The U.S. military is basically the Avengers.
While the United States doesn’t respond to every trouble spot on the planet they sure respond to a lot of them. Of the 195 officially recognized countries in the world, the United States has military members deployed to 150. So if there is a trouble spot, there’s a very good chance that U.S. troops could go handle a large percentage of them. Luckily, Earth’s mightiest heroes are usually reserved for bigger problems, like keeping North Korea in check, punishing ISIS, and trying to bring food to hungry people.
But some of those countries are actually protected by the United States military, even if that protection isn’t specifically promised. For example, the U.S. military has long been considered a pillar of Saudi Arabia’s stability, because Saudi Arabia’s military can’t invade and win against a much-smaller neighbor, even when 20 other countries are helping them.
Seriously, the Salvation Army could have invaded Yemen and won by now.
But despite how terrible the Saudis are at things like strategy, tactics, and planning, they will never have to worry about being overcome by Iranian interference or military force because they have a substantial force they can rely on to protect their homefront: the United States military. And they aren’t alone.
Treaty obligations tie the U.S. to come to the defense of 67 different countries around the world, going well beyond the 29-member NATO alliance. The U.S. has bilateral defense agreements with six different countries, as well as every individual member of the Organization of American States and the ANZUS agreement.
While the United States is no longer required to defend New Zealand and West Germany doesn’t exist as West Germany anymore, the United States military still has a pretty big job on its hands. And even though relations with some of the members of the Organization of American States aren’t so hot with the U.S. right now, it’s still a way for Americans to find themselves fighting alongside the likes of Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela or helping defend countries with no military at all, like Costa Rica, Panama, or Haiti.
It might be worth noting that our Venezuelan allies have asked Russia to help with whatever it is they’re planning to do down there, rather than ask the United States. But along with Venezuela, the U.S. has promised to defend a full one-quarter of all the humans on the planet.
Military parents: we’re one great big, loving, dysfunctional family. We may have a lot of differences, but we also have a lot in common. Find out the answers we received when we asked a group of military parents to complete the statement “you know you’re a military parent when…”
1. You stalk the mailman.
You can especially relate to this when your military member is a recruit or trainee. There are no phone calls, text messages, emails coming through. If you’re waiting to hear from them, all you can do is wait until the mailman comes rolling down the street and stops at your mailbox with your fingers crossed.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)
2. Whenever you hear the National Anthem your heart fills with pride.
You’re at a stadium sports arena for a game or concert, and you hear the national anthem. You stand a little taller, sing a little louder and you see that veteran in the audience still standing at attention all these years later and a tear trickles down your face, and can’t help but feel an enormous sense of pride.
U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
3. You can bring any conversation back to the fact your child is in the military.
Parents are the best at this, aren’t we? You often sit and listen to your friends talking about their kids at college or high school, you wait for the perfect moment to tell them all about your child in the military. “Did I tell you Johnny is getting ready to deploy right now?”
4. You wear RED on Fridays
Remember Everyone Deployed means you wear red on Fridays to let all those serving overseas on deployment know they’re not forgotten; that a nation they’re fighting for is praying for them, is thinking of them constantly, and is proud of them.
5. Your new favorite vacation destination is the Permanent Duty Station of your military member.
A non-military parent may schedule their vacations to a sunny beach destination, or maybe even an amusement park. Not military parents! Our vacations are now to wherever our child is stationed, whether it’s in the desert, the cold, overseas, or wherever else our military member is living at that time. “Woo hoo, it’s time to go to 29 Palms!”
6. You now understand and use military time and the phonetic alphabet.
You tell your co-worker you’ll be getting off work at 1630. They look at you with a confused expression on their face and you say, “Oh, I mean 4:30 p.m. I’m sorry, I’m so used to using military time with my son/daughter in the military now.” (As an aside, this a great way to start that conversation about your child in the military – see #3 above.)
7. You have a military t-shirt for every day of the week, along with pins and hats.
You can’t get enough of military swag! Whether it represents the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marines, you have t-shirts, hats, socks, earrings, necklaces, pins, stickers for your car. You name it, military parents have something for every occasion, and they wear or display it loud and proud.
8. You see the proud parent of a “insert college university name here” and you laugh.
You can’t help but giggle. Their child might have went to a top college or university, but your child is a part of the finest fighting military in the world. Go USA!
(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)
9. You’ve become an expert at mailing out care packages where the items inside aren’t as much as the postage to send it.
You do this especially when your military member is deployed overseas. Baking cookies, brownies, sending wipes, toiletries, etc., are all great ways to stay connected with your loved one, and often gives them something that they truly need. A lot of the time, the cost of sending the package outweighs the monetary value of what’s inside!
10. You know that things can and will change.
If there’s one thing a military family, including military parents, has to be, it’s flexible. Your loved one’s plans can change at the drop of a hat, so you have to learn to go with the flow and be supportive.
There were over 250 comments from parents around the country when I asked for feedback. I could only choose 10. Which of these was your favorite? Share your comments below – we would love to read them!
Military drop tanks are attached under fighters and bombers, giving them extra fuel to extend their range, but easily falling away if the plane gets in a fight and needs to prioritize agility and weight over range. The drop tanks are light, aerodynamic, empty shells when not filled with fuel, and that actually makes them a great starting point for hot rods.
And the hot rod community noticed these tanks during the Cold War, with some innovative spirits snapping them up to create tiny, fast cars. Now, these “lakesters” are quick racers that humans will cram themselves into to race across salt flats and other courses.
Getting ahold of a steel drop tank to convert was easy for a few decades after World War II, but enthusiasts now have to look harder for longer to find one of the few remaining, unconverted drop tanks.
A P-38 Lightning with its drop tanks during World War II.
And they aren’t likely to get much help from the military. Modern militaries have often opted for more exotic materials for new drop tanks, reducing their weight and, therefore, the fuel usage of the plane. A lighter drop tank costs less fuel, and so provides more range, but the composite materials aren’t always great for racers.
It will only get worse, too. Drop tanks have a massive drawback for modern planes: They increase the plane’s radar signature while reducing the number of weapons it can carry. So the military and the aviation industry are shifting away from drop tanks, opting instead for “conformal fuel tanks.”
These are auxiliary tanks made to fit like a new, larger skin on an existing plane. They’re a little harder to install, and they can’t be jettisoned in flight, but they extend range with less drag and a much lower radar penalty. And they can be packed tighter to the body of the jet, allowing the plane to keep more of its agility than it would have with heavy tanks hanging from its wings.
Sorry, racers. Keep looking for the World War II-classics.
On July 21, 2020, LEGO announced that the upcoming LEGO Technic V-22 Osprey had been cancelled. Set number 42113 was an officially licensed model of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft used by the US Navy, Marines, Air Force and Japanese Self-Defense Forces.
Despite being just 10 days away from its August 1 release date, LEGO pulled the Osprey from its website and announced that shipments of the new set would not go out to retailers. In their official statement, LEGO said:
The LEGO Technic Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey was designed to highlight the important role the aircraft plays in search and rescue efforts. While the set clearly depicts how a rescue version of the plane might look, the aircraft is only used by the military. We have a long-standing policy not to create sets which feature real military vehicles, so it has been decided not to proceed with the launch of this product. We appreciate that some fans who were looking forward to this set may be disappointed, but we believe it’s important to ensure that we uphold our brand values.
LEGO’s policy of not making sets based on military vehicles goes back to its very beginning. In fact, the original LEGO brick colors in the 1950s didn’t even include grey because LEGO feared that they could be used to make military vehicles like tanks.
Orange trim wasn’t enough to distance the V-22 from its military use (LEGO)
In recent years, LEGO has limited the scope of their military restriction to modern military vehicles. This allowed them to create sets based on historic military vehicles like the WWI-era Sopwith Camel biplane and Fokker Dr.1 triplane.
Licensed IPs like Indiana Jones and Star Wars have also allowed LEGO to make sets with military themes that weren’t modern or real. Indiana Jones set number 7198 included an armed Pilatus P-2 with Luftwaffe markings from The Last Crusade and set number 7683 featured the fictional Nazi flying wing bomber from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Under the Star Wars license, LEGO has created molds for fictional blasters that come from the galaxy far, far away.
However, while LEGO has not released a licensed modern military set, it has released some that bear striking resemblances to modern military vehicles. LEGO Creator 3-in-1 sets have featured vehicles that look remarkably like the AH-64 Apache (31023), F-14 Tomcat (4953), Rafale M (5892), F-35 Lightning II (31039) and even the V-22 (31020). LEGO City set number 60021 City Cargo Heliplane is a dedicated set that also bears a striking resemblance to the V-22. The main difference between the aforementioned sets and the cancelled V-22 seems to be the official licensing by Bell and Boeing, who make the real-life aircraft.
It looks like a V-22, but it isn’t (LEGO)
In July, the German Peace Society issued a warning against LEGO releasing the licensed V-22. Despite rebranding of the aircraft in the set to make it a search and rescue aircraft, the German Peace Society released a statement saying:
On 1. August 2020 LEGO® plans to release its first ever military set while internal corporate value documents forbid the production of current military vehicles. The German DFG-VK also criticises the license placed on the set. With every buy, customers help to finance arms companies.
Despite the set being ready for release with advertisements and stock ready to go, LEGO has marked all packaged sets of the V-22 for return to circulation. While LEGO stores will never receive the set, some smaller retailers did receive their first orders early and buyers have been quick to scoop up the rare sets. New Zealand seems to have received the most shipments as Ebay listings for the V-22 all ship from New Zealand and are selling for well over id=”listicle-2646785825″,000. Some retailers are even returning their stock to LEGO rather than selling them.
While this turn of events has been a major disappointment for LEGO fans, the fact that the set got so close to release can be seen as a sign of things to come. While the V-22 is used exclusively by armed forces, it’s not unreasonable to think that military aircraft with civilian variants like the C-130 Hercules or the CH-47 Chinook might be turned into licensed LEGO sets in the future.
Commercials were filmed and ready. Note the “Rescue” markings. (LEGO)
An infantryman works and trains hard to one day deploy their weapon system and score an accurate kill shot. For machine-gunners, scoring a precise kill from a distance is highly unlikely.
This isn’t because the shooter is incapable; that weapon system wasn’t designed to nail an enemy combatant square between the eyes but, rather, to take their head clean off.
However, some gunners still strive to make that perfect shot with their heavy-ass weapon.
2. The “Napoleon”
This one refers to the French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, because of his height. This gunner gets looked at differently because of the contrast between their smaller body and the massive size of the M240 they’re holding.
However, they always manage to carry it and fire the weapon like a seasoned pro.
3. The “Screamer”
Machine-gunners are trained to whisper the words “die motherf*cker, die” while firing their weapon. In the time it takes to finish saying the words to themselves, they’ve shot roughly between four to six rounds. The “screamer” chooses to shout that sh*t out loud.
This repeated mantra is designed to prevent the gunner from overheating their barrel and causes them regularly adjust their fire for more accuracy.
4. The “Barrel-burner”
As previously stated, machine-gunners are trained to only discharge four to six rounds at a time to avoid overheating their barrels. The “barrel-burner” tends to forget the shooting cycle and fires more than intended — which can cause the barrel to warp.
5. The “Freeloader”
This gunner tends to ask other members of his squad to carry his extra ammo so that they can haul more Rip-Its. What’s hilarious about this type of gunner is the nice way they go about asking you.
It makes you feel good about yourself for helping out a brother.
If you’ve ever served in the infantry, you probably had one or two “Animal Mothers” in your company. Just like in the movie, Full Metal Jacket, he’s the trigger-happy badass who is more than thrilled to shoot into an enemy compound and then ask questions later.
Just a year ago, Christian Montijo was a different man. In fact, he was almost twice the man he is today.
He figured he weighed a little more than 350 pounds. But it was more of a guess, since his scale only went up to that number.
Overweight and realizing his unhealthy habits, the 28-year-old banker from Kissimmee, Florida, set a goal to transform himself. And, if he could, revive his dream of joining the Army.
“I would wake up tired,” he said Tuesday. “I’d be sitting down watching TV and my wife would be, ‘are you OK because you’re breathing really heavy?’ So I decided that I had to make a change.”
The father of two started to eat healthier and drink water instead of several bottles of soda each day. He began to walk after work, then that turned into a jog and eventually a 2-mile run.
He also worked on his situps and pushups as the pounds shed off.
Christian Montijo before the weight loss.
“Last year at this time if you told me that ‘I’d give you a million dollars to do one pushup,’ I could not have done it,” he said. “Honestly, I would go down but I couldn’t go up to save my life.”
A new man
Over the past year, his daily routine allowed him to lose about 160 pounds.
“It’s night and day. I’m a whole new person,” he said. “I wake up with energy, I sleep through the night. I can run now and be fine, and I can keep up with my kids.”
His new frame also met the Army’s weight standards. Coming from a military family, Montijo aspired to be a soldier since high school.
Now eligible, he searched for a job that fit his interest in either technology, communications or intelligence. He then came across 25S, a satellite communications systems operator-maintainer.
Christian Montijo after the weight loss.
“It had two things that I wanted: communications and technology,” he said. “It was a two-for-one pretty much.”
In January, he plans to ship out to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training.
A positive example
Before signing his enlistment papers, Montijo credited his recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Isaac Ayala, for motivating him when he was still overweight.
Ayala stayed in touch with Montijo since the summer to answer his questions and help map out his goals.
“I wasn’t really expecting that type of engagement that he had with me,” Montijo said.
But for Ayala, he said Montijo’s positive attitude got himself into shape and prepared for the strenuous training to come.
“He’s more than ready, because he’s continuing to lose weight,” Ayala said. “All the working out he has done has been on his own.”
If Montijo is able to carry that same outlook into the Army, Ayala said he wouldn’t be surprised if he quickly jumps up in rank.
“I explained to him that if you have this type of drive to accomplishing his goal, you’re going to pass me up a lot faster in rank,” he said. “The sky’s the limit on the stuff you can accomplish while you’re in the Army.”
Ayala also likes to use him as an example when potential recruits get discouraged about being overweight.
“They look at me all dismayed that their bubble has been popped about joining,” he said of when he informs them about the weight standards.
The recruiter then goes over to his computer and shows them his desktop screen, where he displays Montijo’s before and after photos.
“They’re like ‘wow’ and I even had a couple people say, ‘well if he can do it, I can do it,'” he said.
One statement from North Korea’s state-run media likened ongoing military exercises involving US and South Korean forces to a rehearsal for an invasion, returning to a talking point from 2017, when Trump and Kim were trading nuclear threats.
In a later statement, a North Korean official expressed “violent anger” at the US’s behavior and said Pyongyang would have to “reconsider” the meeting with Trump.
The official offered Trump an ultimatum: Cede to North Korea’s demands, or lose the summit.
When Kim started discussing the prospect in early 2018, Trump and his top officials cheered the move as proof that its unique approach to North Korea had worked.
But in statements on May 15, 2018, North Korea said Trump had employed the same tired ideas that had failed in the past, asserting that its “treasured” nuclear program had brought it international power.
Now, after Trump has repeatedly hyped his progress with Pyongyang, it is Kim, the leader of a rogue state, dangling the prospect of a summit to gain concessions from the US.
What North Korea demands and how Trump might cave to it
North Korea’s recent statements push back on longstanding US-South Korea military exercises and call for Trump to back off of his demand for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”
Already, it looks as if the US may cave to save the summit. South Korea’s Yonhap News reports that the B-52, a US nuclear bomber, could be pulled from air combat drills in a nod to North Korea’s new demands.
But before that, Trump’s top officials had minced words about the aim of talks with North Korea and the possible definitions of “denuclearization.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been to North Korea twice in the past month or so, has in a series of recent interviews described slightly different aims of the talks.
While Pompeo often speaks in absolute terms, saying total denuclearization and removal of nuclear facilities must come before Washington eases off Pyongyang, he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on May 13, 2018, that talks with North Korea would seek to ensure that “America is no longer held at risk by your nuclear weapons arsenal” and ending Kim’s chemical and biological weapons program and missiles “that threaten the world.”
Adam Mount, the director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted that, in other words, Pompeo said the US would accept “a standard that could permit retention of nuclear warheads, facilities, material, and possibly short range missiles.”
Lewis added: “I think Kim wants that photo with the President of the United States, paying tribute to him, for the front page of the Rodong Sinmun,” North Korea’s state newspaper.
Similarly, the historic diplomatic meeting may play well for Trump, motivating him to meet Kim’s conditions for talks.
North Korea’s recent hardline statements contradict what a South Korean official told reporters in March 2018 — that Kim had said he “understands the South’s stance” on the military exercises, which were happening at the time.
Basically, Kim seemed fine with the exercises when he was trying to get meetings with the US and South Korea, but now that he’s secured those talks, he has started to object.
“North Korea is back to its old game of trying to raise the stakes prior to a meeting,” said Bruce Klingner, the former chief of the CIA’s Korea division. “But Kim risks undermining the good will he had built up through his diplomatic outreach since January 2018.”
Now the question for the Trump administration is whether to call Kim’s apparent bluff or quietly meet his demands.
But by backing off from complete denuclearization, Trump could end up with a bad deal — and if he calls Kim’s bluff, the two leaders could land right back on the nuclear brink.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
During the famous rescue of navigator “Bat 21 Bravo,” a U.S. and a Vietnamese Navy SEAL took the lead role in a dangerous operation behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, rescuing two aviators with no friendly losses despite running into enemy patrols and positions during the 11-day ordeal.
Numerous attempts to destroy North Vietnamese resistance from the air and rescue the downed aviators by helicopter failed, causing 14 American deaths and additional casualties before air rescue was outlawed for the men.
(U.S. Air Force)
While the rescue was widely popularized in a movie and book, both named Bat 21, the stories told were written before the events were declassified, so they were highly fictionalized to ensure that no sensitive information was inadvertently released.
But the true story is more amazing. Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton was forced to eject over Vietnam on April 2, 1972, triggering a mad dash by the U.S. to recover him before he was captured. Then, multiple rescue attempts went sideways in the first week. Seven more aircraft were lost, 14 Americans were killed, two were captured, and a new aviator was missing behind enemy lines. The theater commander forbid more helicopter extractions and the SEALs were ordered up.
A U.S. Navy SEAL, Lt. j.g. Tom Norris, led the mission alongside a Vietnamese Sea Commando team with its own lieutenant team leader.
An Air Force composite photo shows the tough terrain that the downed aviators had to cross to reach the river in hopes of rescue in April 1972.
(U.S. Air Force)
The men started by swimming their way up the river as the two targets of their rescue were directed to move to the river and start floating down. The aviators were given coded directions that combined landmarks from their home states and their hobbies. Clark was rescued on April 10, but Hambleton had trouble reaching the river.
Hambleton finally reached the river on the night of April 11, but the SEAL command post, meanwhile, had come under artillery barrage and two of the Vietnamese commandos had to be evacuated. The rest of the team was increasingly hesitant to risk their necks for American service members.
An April 11 rescue attempt with four members failed, and two of the Vietnamese commandos were obviously too frightened to continue.
Viet Cong irregulars move through a river in shallow boats like the one used by U.S. and Vietnamese commandos during the rescue of Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton in April 1972.
They were forced to pass NVA position after position, taking fire at each point and trying to keep their wounded, sick, and delirious package alive. Norris was forced to call in multiple airstrikes, and the Air Force dropped smoke bombs after their explosives to create a screen for the SEALs to maneuver behind.
Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton after his rescue.
(U.S. Air Force)
Finally, the three men made it back to friendly lines and were able to get Hambleton to medical care. For their efforts, both the Vietnamese and the U.S. SEAL would be awarded medals for valor.
Nguyen was ineligible for the Medal of Honor because he was not an American service member. He was admitted to U.S. SEAL schools following the ordeal, though, and graduated the underwater demolition team course and the SEAL advanced course. He later became an American citizen.
Opium production in Afghanistan dropped by 29 percent in 2017, the United Nations anti-drug agency reported, a decrease attributed mainly to a severe drought.
The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its annual reportreleased Nov. 19, 2018, that the drop — from 9,000 tons to 6,400 tons — coincided with a decrease in the amount of land area being used for cultivating the crop.
The Afghanistan Opium Survey, which is jointly compiled by the UN agency and the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics, said a total of 263,000 hectares of land was used for opium cultivation, representing a decline of 20 percent compared to 2017.
“Despite the decreases, the overall area under opium-poppy cultivation is the second-highest ever recorded. This is a clear challenge to security and safety for the region and beyond,” said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.
Afghan National Police officers, along with U.S. Special Operations Soldiers, discovered 600 pounds of opium May 7, 2009, during a cordon and search operation of a known Taliban safe house, collection center and trauma center in Babaji Village, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
(Photo by Cpl. Sean K. Harp)
The report said the farm-gate prices of dry opium — which fell for the second consecutive year to an average of per kilogram, the lowest level since 2004 — may have contributed to less cultivation of opium poppy.
Eradication of opium poppy has also dropped by 46 percent in 2018 to 406 hectares, compared to 750 hectares last year.
Ten of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are considered poppy free, unchanged from 2017.
The recent aerial bombardment of Syrian chemical weapons production facilities was one of epic proportions, featuring aircraft and warships from three countries — namely France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Reminiscent of the large Alpha strike flights of the Vietnam War, this attack formation consisted of dozens of aircraft, each with their own roles and objectives. From bombers to reconnaissance jets, supersonic high-performance fighters, and a 50-year-old electronic attack plane, the strike package employed a diverse array of aircraft to achieve overall success.
These are the aircraft that were involved in the attack:
Fighter aircraft from the US, UK, and France were absolutely integral in making the entire strike mission a success. American F-22 Raptors, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and F-15C Eagles from U.S. Air Forces in Europe covered the attack force alongside British Eurofighter Typhoons and French Mirage 2000s. Armed with air-to-air missiles, they loitered nearby, waiting patiently to deal with any aerial threats.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando A. Schwier-Morales)
The British and French aerial strike force consisted of Panavia Tornado supersonic attack jets and Rafale multi-role fighters. Both were armed with the Storm Shadow/SCALP air-launched cruise missile, which has a range of over 600 miles.
A small element of B-1B Lancer supersonic bombers were responsible for carrying out the American contribution to the aerial attack mission, using JASSM-ER air-launched missiles. These behemoth aircraft have previously operated in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, supporting troops on the ground with devastating close air support.
(US Air Force)
Built during the Cold War as a way for the US Air Force to avoid air defenses and deliver nuclear weapons to their targets, the Lancer, more affectionately known as the ‘Bone,” eventually moved out of its nuclear attack role as the Soviet Union fell. Today, it carries targeting pods and scores of conventional, “smart” munitions, flying as an on-call bomb truck for ground units.
By far, one of the most interesting additions to the strike force was a sole EA-6B Prowler, a four-seater electronic attack jet flown exclusively by the Marine Corps. The Prowler originally entered service with the US Navy and Marines in the early 1970s, serving as anti-radar “jammers.” The Marines plan on operating the Prowler into 2019, when they’ll retire them in favor of the electronic warfare capabilities of the F-35 Lightning II.
During the strike mission, the Prowler accompanied the American attack force as a guardian of sorts, preventing them from being targeted by Syrian (and potentially Russian) air defense radars mated to surface-to-air missiles. Marine Prowlers have been previously deployed to the Syrian theater to conduct similar protection-type missions.
France sent a pair of E-3F Sentry AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) jets from Avord Air Base to the area, where they constantly scanned and monitored the skies for nearby Russian, Syrian, and civilian aircraft.
(US Air Force)
The Sentry, produced by Boeing, began service with the US Air Force in the early 1970s as a replacement for older Warning Star aircraft. Essentially flying radar pickets, these aircraft come with a massive rotating radar dome affixed above the fuselage and a whole suite of sensors and communications gear that allows it to feed information to friendly aircraft operating nearby.
The aerial refueling community in the US has a saying, “nobody kicks ass without tanker gas!” This was certainly true during the Syrian strike mission. American and French KC-135R and C-135FR Stratotankers were on-station, a safe distance away from the action, ready to refuel allied aircraft as needed.
(US Air Force)
Built by Boeing and operating off the same platform as the E-3 Sentry, the KC-135 has flown for the USAF since the late 1950s and will likely remain in service for decades to come. This legendary workhorse has seen action from Vietnam to Operation Desert Storm and still actively participates in coalition operations against ISIS today in the Middle East.
In the hours before the attack, a single RQ-4 Global Hawk drone was briefly tracked flying near Syria and Lebanon, according to David Cenciotti of The Aviationist. Additionally, an RC-135V Rivet Joint aircraft was also operating in the area at the time, likely generating data and gathering information in advance of the strike mission.
(US Air Force)
Global Hawks, aptly named for their jaw-dropping endurance and range, have flown with the US Air Force for the past 17 years, functioning as a versatile surveillance platform over combat zones across the Middle East. The Rivet Joint, on the other hand, is a manned signals intelligence aircraft used for reconnaissance purposes on classified missions across the world.
After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.
Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.
The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.
WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.
The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.
The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.
Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.
Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.
Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.
The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.
But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.
President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.
“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.
The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.
The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”
Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.
The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.
The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.
“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”
Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.
The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.
The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.
From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.
The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.
“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.
“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”
The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.
Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.
Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”
Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.
According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”
Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”
Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.
This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.
In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.
According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.
The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.
The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.
The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.
The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.
Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”
“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”
But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.
Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.
“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.
For three weeks in May 2020, the world speculated about the fate of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader. Many believed he was dead, some say of either complications during surgery or of a heart attack.
None of the rumors were true, however, and why Kim left the public eye is still up for popular debate among North Korea watchers. What everyone in the know can agree on, is, that North Korea without a Kim at the helm would certainly stumble and fall. Here’s why:
They’ve been selling the Kim family for too long
According to North Korea’s propaganda machine, Kim Il-Sung (Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather and founder of North Korea), pretty much single-handedly fought the Japanese and repelled them from the Korean Peninsula during World War II. Then he rebuilt North Korea after the disastrous Korean War, which North Korea definitely did not start. North Koreans see Kim Il-Sung as so divine, they can’t believe he poops. Even with his embalmed body lying in state eternally in Pyongyang, they angled it so no one can see the massive goiter on his neck.
That hardly compares to Kim Jong-Il, whose birth on holy Mount Paektu was heralded with a double rainbow and a new star appearing in the sky.
After spending their whole lives believing the demi-god Kims come down from an Asgard-like place and protect North Korea from evil America, would anyone believe that just any ol’ bureaucrat like Choe Ryong-hae can do that? Do you even know who Choe Ryong-hae is?
It’s basically a monarchy
Kings get their power from God, who gives them a divine right to lead the country. Kims also get their power from gods, which also happen to be them. The Soviet Union, who considered its brand of communism the original communism, from which all communism should be replicated. Kim Il-Sung didn’t care for all that and decided to hand-pick his successor; his son Kim Jong-Il, creating the first communist regime that also has a ruling family.
The Kims have ruled the country for three generations, which makes their rule a dynasty. Unlike Stalin in the USSR, Kim Il-Sung extended his personality cult to his family, clearing the path for this brand of communism that seems antithetical to the idea of communism.
Let’s see Choe Ryong-hae do that.
Even when things are bad, Kim makes everything better
When Kim Jong-Il came to power in 1994 after the death of his father, Kim Il-Sung, the elder Kim had been in power since 1948. Things had been pretty good for the DPRK while Kim Il-Sung was in power. Any shortcomings in the North Korean economy were filled in by subsidies from the Soviet Union. For a time, North Korea was the superior Korea.
When the USSR fell, all that fell apart with it. With Soviet aid gone, the country experienced a wide range of supply shortages, including food. A massive famine broke out and much of the population died. Still, support for the Kims never wavered. Under Kim Jong-Il, never as beloved as his father, the country secured nuclear weapons and guaranteed independence from the Yankee scum and their southern Korean puppets. To this day Kim Jong-Il is depicted in front of waves crashing on shore in North Korean art, a symbol of steadfastness in uncertain times. Choe Ryong-hae would have been useless in such a situation.
Everything the world does only backs up their claims
Imagine being told the world was full of American bad guys who want to pound North Korea again like they did in the 1950s. You remember your grandfather’s stories of the fighting. It sounds horrible. Then perhaps one summer your family gets to go visit Kaesong, near the demilitarized zone and actually tour the DMZ. You see first hand the giant American and South Korean soldiers just staring across the border, waiting for their moment.
If ever you doubt the Kims are truly divine or are the great leaders they claim to be, you simply have to go visit the International Friendship Museum to see all of the gifts the world has brought them for their patronage. There, you can also see all the historic world leaders that came to pay homage to the Kims, including other communist leaders and even American presidents!
There are always more Kims
The dynasty doesn’t stop at Kim Jong-Un. Kim Jong-Il has another son ready for the throne. Kim Jong-Un has a living brother, who has children of his own. Even one of Kim Il-Sung’s brothers is still alive, though he will soon turn 100 years old.
But no one is more visible right now than Kim Yo-Jong, the regime’s spokesperson, who both visited the South in 2018 and has met President Donald Trump. Her voice will be the loudest for the foreseeable future.
That is, unless she gets out of line. Two Kims have already met their fate for that.