This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

A unit’s colors are held in near-sacred regard by the chain of command. The seemingly simple piece of cloth is steeped in rich symbolism and represents nearly every award and conflict that the unit has ever seen.

Even simply brushing against the unit colors while it’s hoisted at the battalion building could result in a younger soldier doing push-ups until sergeant major gets tired. And if it’s dropped while the battalion is out for a run, you might as well send that poor soul to the guillotine — at least that’d be quicker.

While the symbol of a unit’s legacy is held in extreme esteem by the troops it represents, the soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion (which is now a part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division), has a tradition of their own that involves setting fire to their beloved colors.

As odd as it sounds, there’s actually a very valid reason for it, even if it means the battalion needs to get a new one made every 12 months.


This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

This was the turning point in the war and the engineers found themselves at the worst place at the worst time.

(U.S. National Archives)

This tradition has its roots back in the Korean War’s Battle of Kunu-Ri. The 2nd Infantry Division and UN allies had pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu River, which separates China and North Korea. The moment China came to North Korea’s aid with a massive army, however, the Americans needed to retreat back south.

The unfortunate duty of pulling rear guard fell solely on the shoulders of the 2nd Engineer soldiers in the little town of Kunu-Ri. It was a lopsided battle that the troops knew they had no chance of winning — let alone surviving. It was a single battalion versus three entire, well-armed, well-trained, and completely fresh divisions.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

This ultimate act of defiance towards an overwhelming enemy still lives on.

It was in the early morning of November 30th, 1950. The remainder of the 8th Army had successfully gotten to safety and the 2nd Infantry Division was slowly making its way out. As each battalion was fighting out, the 2nd Engineers stood their ground to save their brothers.

In this regard, their mission was a success. But by nighttime, their window of opportunity to safely escape had closed. The Chinese had flanked their escape route and their numbers had dwindled. They were down to just 266 out of the 977 men they had at the beginning of the war.

Lt. Col. Alarich Zacherle had to face the grim reality that every commander fears — the complete and utter destruction of his entire unit. The men regrouped for one last time and Zacherle gave the orders. Everything would be destroyed so that it would never fall into the hands of the enemy — nothing was spared.

The last thing to go was the colors. Zacherle made sure that even if they were all defeated and all of their men were lost, the Chinese would never be able to take their battalion colors as a war trophy. They set it ablaze and whoever was left ran like hell.

Their heroic deeds that night saved the lives of many 2nd ID soldiers and held the Chinese off long enough for the Americans to stage a proper defense. Very few men made it out of that battle — it’s been said that just a single officer made it out without being killed or captured.

To honor the men who gave their lives for their brothers, every year on November 30th, the 2nd Engineer Battalion recreates that heart-stopping moment with a solemn ceremony. The memory of the men who fought at Kunu-Li lives on as the names of each and every one of those 977 men are called off in formation by the current 2nd Engineers.

And, just as it happened in 1950, they set fire to their battalion colors in memorium.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Did you know these 5 badasses were military spouses?

The military community is chock-full of milspouse super-achievers – men and women who manage to find personal and professional success despite the many, many (did we mention many?) obstacles the military throws their way. Anyone living the milspo life already knows dozens of people who make a mockery of the dependa stereotype, and we wrote this story to highlight a few. Here are five more milspouses making their marks on the world.


This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

The country music star

RaeLynn sang her way into America’s ears as a contestant on The Voice in 2012. Five Top 40 hits and two albums later, the talented performer and military spouse is showing the world that being married to the military doesn’t mean giving up on dreams. Her husband, active duty soldier Joshua Davis, enlisted after they were married in 2016, and the couple has been juggling the demands of Army life and Music Row stardom ever since. As she told People Magazine, “There’s a level of sacrifice that you have to do as a military spouse that the average person might not have to do,” she said. “You can’t talk to your significant other all the time. There’s the fear of when they do deploy, of not seeing them again and that underlying fear of just hoping that they’re okay.” We feel you, girl.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

upload.wikimedia.org

The media mogul

Sheila Casey has given most of her life to the military. For 40 years she kept the home fires burning so her husband, former Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, could rise to the very top rank in the Army, and she did it without losing her own career or identity in the process. Sheila now serves as Chief Operating Officer of The Hill, a top U. S. political publication that covers The White House, Congress, policy, campaigns, lobbying, business and international news. Prior to joining The Hill in 1997, she was Director of Finance at the Texas Council on Family Violence in Austin, Texas, and worked as an audit manager for Grant Thornton, a national CPA firm. And she did it all while living that milspo life all over the United States, Europe and Egypt and volunteering with a number of organizations, including as chair of Blue Star Families Board of Directors. She also gives her time to Parents as Teachers; The National Domestic Violence Hotline; Snowball Express; the Washington Press Club Foundation; the Board of Advisors for ThanksUSA; The Bob Woodruff Foundation; The Military Child Education Coalition, and the GI Film Festival.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

The comedian

John Oliver came to the U.S. to do comedy and quickly found fame with his hilarious appearances on “The Daily Show.” In fact, that’s kind of how he met his wife, former U.S. Army medic Kate Norley, who was motivated to enlist by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks at age 19. Norley served in Iraq as a combat medic and a mental health specialist and became a veteran’s rights advocate after leaving the Army. Oliver was covering the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota for The Daily Show, and she was there campaigning with Vets for Freedom. And this is where their story gets funny. Oliver and his crew were caught in a restricted area and, with Oliver in the U.S. on a temporary visa, he and the crew were worried they might get arrested, so they ran. Norley and the veterans campaigning with Vets for Freedom hid them from security, giving Norley and Oliver one of the best “how we met” stories ever. Three years later, they were married. “When you’ve married someone who’s been at war, there is nothing you can do that compares to that level of selflessness and bravery,” Oliver has been quoted saying. “I feel humbled daily by what she has managed to do with her life versus how I’ve decided to fritter away mine.”

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

The politician

Most of the country became aware of Nikki Haley in June 2015 when the then-South Carolina governor stepped in to unite and soothe her state after a white supremacist attacked an African American church in Charleston, killing nine people. Haley masterfully handled a tense, painful moment and helped her state heal. As the first woman to be the governor of South Carolina and the second Indian-American to be a governor of any state, she brought a unique perspective to the tragedy. As the sister of a retired soldier and the wife of an officer in the South Carolina National Guard, she understood the risk of inaction. In fact, Haley’s husband deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, while she was governor. (Oh, NBD. Just juggling all the demands of solo parenting AND an entire state.) “I am unbelievably proud of him and yes, we went through the deployment and single mom stuff, and all that when he was deployed in Afghanistan,” Haley told Military Families Magazine. “I wouldn’t trade it, just because of the pride he has, the pride that we all have for him. We suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Haley in the coming years. She was appointed as the U.N. Ambassador by President Trump, a job she served in for two years, and is widely suspected of having Presidential ambitions of her own.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

upload.wikimedia.org

The supreme court justice

It’s probably been a minute since Ruth Bader Ginsburg thought of herself as a military spouse. But before she became the Notorious RBG – okay, long before, she was an Army wife. After graduating from college, she married her boyfriend, Martin Ginsburg, and the two moved to Ft. Sill in 1954 because Martin had been drafted into the Army. He served for two years, and then the couple both continued their educations in law and both began legal careers, with Ruth’s culminating in her current position as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Martin passed away in 2010 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery. We think those two years as a milspouse must have made an impression on RBG because the first time she argued a case before the Supreme Court, she did it to hook up a milspouse. The year was 1973 and her client was a female service member who wanted military spouse protections for her husband. Back then, the husbands of women who served were not considered dependents and did not receive benefits unless they “were dependent on their wives for over one-half of their support.” But the Notorious RBG helped change that.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

The Douglas Aircraft Company was responsible for two legends in World War II: The SBD Dauntless dive bomber, famous for turning the tide in the Pacific in a span of roughly five minutes, and the C-47 Skytrain, a version of the DC-3. That same company was responsible for the lesser-known, but no less important, A-20 Havoc.


This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year
Douglas A-20A Havoc – with a glass nose for a bombardier. (USAF photo)

When the plane first flew, it didn’t even get an order from the United States. In fact, what kept this design afloat, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher, was the French. France ordered a total of 270, and received some of the planes before the country fell to the Nazis.

The Royal Air Force took on the undelivered planes, calling them, instead, “Bostons.” Then, they bought more of these planes. The United States, seeing the efficacy of this plane in action, then began to buy the plane as well, calling it the A-20 Havoc. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the United States sent A-20s there.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year
RAF Boston during the Dieppe Raid. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The plane saw action in the European, Mediterranean, and Pacific Theaters of Operation. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the plane had a top speed of 339 miles per hour and could fly just under 1,100 miles, carrying up to two tons of bombs.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year
Douglas A-20G Havoc at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The A-20 really made its mark in the Southwest Pacific. There, Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn began to modify the planes. These bombers started to get as many as six M2 .50-caliber machine guns in their nose. It was here, low-level tactics helped the A-20 live up to its name — “Havoc.”

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year
A Douglas A-20 Havoc pulls up during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. (Photo from DoD)

Eventually, word of Gunn’s field modifications made their way back to Douglas Aircraft Company, which began building the A-20s with the nose guns already installed. The A-20 was eventually replaced by the A-26 near the end of the war, but it had held the line against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Learn more about this very aptly-named bomber in the video below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7kEXd7XFn4
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY TACTICAL

10 ways North Korea keeps citizens ignorant about outside world

How do you keep a country hermetically sealed off from the news in a world where the internet exists?

That’s the fundamental challenge for North Korea, the hermit kingdom whose citizens have been kept in the dark both literally and figuratively. The internet, smartphones, laptops, TV, film, radio exist, but not as most people would be familiar with them. Radio and TV sets are configured so North Koreans can’t tune into anything other than the domestic broadcasts, and the internet isn’t widely accessible to the population.

But it’s increasingly hard for North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, to control the stream of illicit microSD cards and SIM cards flowing over the border from China, which contain illegal foreign media or allow people to access the internet unfettered.


A new report by journalist and North Korea tech expert Martyn Williams for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) sheds new light on the ways Kim and his regime use technology to continue keeping the population in the dark — from signal jamming radios to modifying Android to spy on people.

1. North Korea tightly controls the internet

North Korea isn’t totally cut off from the internet, as evidenced by the numerous hacks thought to be perpetrated by state hackers operating inside the country.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Man using smartphone in Pyongyang, North Korea.

But it is tightly controlled at the network level and historically hasn’t really been open to the general population. That is changing, with more citizens buying smartphones.

As Martyn Williams notes in his report: “The entire infrastructure is State-run and the security services are heavily integrated in the running of the telecommunications network.”

Everything is monitored by a state agency called Bureau 27, or the Transmission Surveillance Bureau.

2. North Korea imports cheap Chinese Android phones, then modifies the software to spy on people

North Korea isn’t totally cut off from everyday innovations like mobile data or smartphones. Citizens can buy smartphones that were manufactured in China, but are distributed under a North Korean brand name. The phones look a lot like the cheap Android phones you could buy in any shop — but these come pre-loaded with spyware and software tailored by the state.

Alternatively, citizens can buy their own unlocked devices smuggled across the Chinese border, but they face being tracked via North Korea’s mobile network.

It’s the same on PCs, with North Korea producing a Linux-based operating system called “Red Star” that can snoop on user activity.

3. The spyware can monitor what sites people are looking at

According to Williams, North Korean phones run on Android, the open source mobile software. Engineers have modified the software to include a background program called “Red Flag”, which spies on everything a user does and takes screenshots at random intervals to capture their activity. Those screenshots are recorded on a database called “Trace Viewer.”

Although North Korea probably doesn’t have the resources to check everyone’s screenshots, Williams noted that it’s a great mechanism to get people to self-censor out of pure fear.

4. If you open a foreign media file on a North Korean device, the regime will know about it

According to the report, North Korean engineers created file watermarking software that essentially tags and monitors any media file that’s opened on a device, whether that’s a PC or mobile.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Street scene in Pyongyang, North Korea.

(Photo by Random Institute)

Anyone watching a foreign film on their device would have that file tagged and tracked. The tag can track every device on which the file is viewed — so if one person in particular is distributing lots of foreign media with fellow citizens, the regime would probably find out.

5. The state operates a ‘split’ mobile network, where North Koreans can’t phone anyone outside the country

North Korea does have a telecommunications system, and the current version is a joint venture with an Egyptian firm called Orascom.

The network is split into two halves, according to Williams’ report, meaning both North Korean tourists and foreign citizens can make calls and send texts inside the country — but neither can communicate with the other.

Described as a “firewall”, Williams writes that this is set at the account level. He adds that domestic citizens have phone numbers prefixed with 191-260, while phones for foreigners have numbers that begin with 191-250.

Tourist SIM cards have found their way back into the country — so North Korea has begun deactivating them so there’s no risk citizens can get hold of SIM cards that let them access the broader internet or foreign calls.

6. It’s probably a death sentence for watching porn

Williams spoke to a number of North Korean defectors, people who fled the regime into China, Japan, or South Korea.

They reported that the regime will put people to death for watching foreign content, especially for anything as illicit as porn, or anything criticizing the Kim family.

“Watching pornography is strongly restricted. I’ve heard you can get executed for watching pornography,” according to one escapee.

An Amnesty International report also found that a man who watched porn with his wife and another woman was executed, with the entire city summoned to watch his death.

But porn smuggled in on discs remains highly valuable, costing as much as 0

Unsurprisingly, few escapees are willing to talk about their porn habits.

But citing a source who knows about illegal smuggling between North Korea and China, Williams states that SD cards containing porn can fetch up to 0. That price reflects both the high demand and the extreme risk of smuggling the material across.

7. All radios sold in North Korea are fixed to government frequencies

North Koreans buying a radio through official channels will find the device locked only onto government-approved frequencies. Listening to foreign radio, or watching foreign TV, is illegal and the government regularly carries out raids to make sure people aren’t consuming anything subversive. (Lots of North Koreans have a second radio or TV which can receive foreign broadcasts and which they keep hidden, and show their “official” device to any inspectors.)

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

(Photo by Rob Sarmiento)

According to Williams, North Korea jams foreign radio signals. This, he writes, involves “transmitting loud noise” on the same frequencies to overpower the broadcast. In particular, North Korea focuses on jamming two stations run by South Korea’s intelligence service, called Voice of the People and Echo of Hope.

8. The state distracts people with homegrown mobile games

In a cloistered world where entertainment is low-quality or scarce, food is hard to come by, and the work repetitive and unfulfilling, it’s little wonder that foreign films and international TV holds some allure to North Korean citizens.

The state has, according to Williams’ report, come up with a softball distraction method: offer homegrown smartphone games.

The report claims there are up to 125 mobile games available to play on North Korean mobile devices, such as “Volleyball 2016” and another title called “Future Cities.” The BBC in September reported that North Korea had created a Ronaldo-focused mobile game that was becoming popular.

The idea is this: if citizens spend their leisure time playing domestically produced games (and paying for them), they’re not spending their cash on illegally smuggled media.

9. Open WiFi networks are banned

North Korea has gone to extreme lengths to make sure its citizens can’t casually access the foreign internet (or any internet).

For a time, according to Williams’ report, foreign embassies in capital city Pyongyang ran open WiFi networks. Enterprising citizens with smartphones lingered nearby to browse the internet without being caught — until the state cottoned on and banned open networks.

Eventually, North Korea introduced its own public Mirae (Korean for “future”) public network. It requires an app to use and, according to state media, only offers people access to North Korea’s intranet and not the global internet.

10. Shifting to tightly controlled streaming TV tech

North Korea doesn’t have Netflix but, like much of the rest of the world, it is shifting to streaming TV.

According to Williams’ report, there are two homegrown IPTV services, but the more popular one is called Manbang. Just like phones, the set-top box is built cheaply in China, imported, then reskinned as a domestically branded device.

People who own a Manbang device can stream a huge amount of state output, but can’t tune into to foreign services. For now, people can also tune into traditional, over-the-air broadcasts (including foreign ones, if they have a hidden TV set). But, Williams concludes, North Korea could ban traditional broadcasts altogether and only put out content through IPTV.

This would make it even tougher for North Koreans to access foreign broadcasts.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Navy’s carrier-based F-35s may not be ready for combat after all

The US Navy has declared its F-35Cs ready for combat, but the service’s own testing data says the stealth fighters designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers are nowhere close to ready, an independent nonpartisan watchdog reports.

“The F-35C is ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win,” Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander of Naval Air Forces, said in February 2019 as the Navy announced that the fighter had achieved initial operating capability. “We are adding an incredible weapon system into the arsenal of our Carrier Strike Groups that significantly enhances the capability of the joint force.”


But the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government-accountability group, warned March 19, 2019, that despite these claims, the F-35C, like the other variants, “continues to dramatically underperform in crucial areas including availability and reliability, cybervulnerability testing, and life-expectancy testing.”

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Eli K. Buguey)

While still secretary of defense, Jim Mattis demanded last fall that the Navy and the Air Force strive to achieve a fleet-wide mission-capable rate of 80% for their fighters by October 2019. The Navy’s carrier-capable F-35 variant is apparently nowhere close to that target, having consistently achieved unacceptably low fully mission-capable rates.

The mission-capable rates for the Navy’s F-35Cs dropped from 12% in October 2016 to zero in December 2017, with figures remaining in the single digits throughout 2018, the oversight group reported, citing Navy documents. The US Navy, according to Military.com, also has only 27 of the required 273 F-35Cs, and the mission-capable rates do not apply to aircraft in testing, training, or depot.

“The fully mission capable rate for the full fleet is likely far below” the target set by Mattis, the watchdog concluded.

It said the Navy had opted to move forward with the aircraft “in spite of evidence that it is not ready for combat” and that it could “put at risk missions, as well as the troops who depend on it to get to the fight.”

The group’s analysis follows the release of a disconcerting report from the Defense Department’s director of operational, test, and evaluation in January that called attention to F-35 readiness issues, such as life expectancy, cybersecurity, and stagnant aircraft availability.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Two F-35C Lightning II aircraft.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)

“Fleet-wide average availability is below program target value of 60% and well below planned 80% needed,” the official report said. “The trend in fleet availability has been flat over the past three years; the program’s reliability improvement initiatives are still not translating into improved availability.”

The F-35 Joint Program Office responded to that report, saying the problems presented in the report were being “aggressively addressed.”

The JPO told Business Insider that as of January 2019, the mission capable rate for the Navy’s F-35C was 56 percent. “The Program Office has identified the enablers to increase our mission capability rates,” a JPO spokesman explained.

“We will continue to learn and improve ways to maintain and sustain F-35C as we prepare for first deployment,” the Joint Strike Fighter Wing commodore, Capt. Max McCoy, said as the Navy’s carrier-capable variant was declared “ready for combat” February 2019. “The addition of F-35C to existing Carrier Air Wing capability ensures that we can fight and win in contested battlespace now and well into the future.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ukraine’s Navy: A tale of betrayal, loyalty, and revival

When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Ukraine’s navy lost nearly all of its ships and most of its sailors quit or defected. Now, with help from its allies, Ukraine is slowly getting its sea legs back. This is the story of those who remained loyal to Ukraine and were forced to choose between family and country when they left Crimea. But, as they rebuild their lives and their nation’s fleet, rough waters lie ahead with Russia flexing its maritime muscle on the Black Sea.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The military origin of ‘turning a blind eye’ to something

There’s something to be said for aggressively pursuing the job you want. For British Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson, that opportunity came at the Battle of Copenhagen when the famous admiral disobeyed the orders of a less-famous, less successful one in the funniest way possible.


Lord Nelson was arguably England’s most famous military mind, and without a doubt, one of its most famous admirals. By the time the British engaged the Danes at Copenhagen, Nelson had been commanding ships for more than 20 years and had been in command as an Admiral for nearly as long. But Nelson wasn’t in overall command of the British at Copenhagen. That honor fell to Britain’s Sir Hyde Parker, but Sir Hyde wasn’t as aggressive as Lord Nelson, certainly not aggressive enough for Nelson’s taste.

Until the Battle of Copenhagen, Parker was considered a very good commander, commanding Royal Navy ships for some 40 years in fights from Jamaica to Gibraltar. But Hyde was more of an administrator than a battlefield leader, sticking close to the rules of naval combat. This wasn’t a problem for anyone until 1801, when he ordered the Royal Navy at Copenhagen to disengage.

Nelson wasn’t having it.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Unlike Parker, Nelson was known to flaunt the doctrine of naval warfare at the time. He is famous for saying, “forget the maneuvers, just go straight at them.” Nelson was aggressive without being careless and had a sixth sense for the way a battle was flowing. From his ship closer to the fight, he could tell that the attack needed to be pressed. Parker was further away from the fighting, in a ship too heavy for the shallower water closer to Copenhagen. So when he was ready to disengage – as doctrine would have him do – he raised the flag signal.

Nelson is said to have put his telescope up to his blind eye, turned in the direction of Parker’s flagship, and allegedly said:

“I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal.”
This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Nelson knew the battle would go his way, and even though some of his ships did obey the disengage order, most of the frigates did not. The battle began to turn heavily in favor of the British, with most of the Danish ships’ guns too heavily damaged to return fire. Denmark would be forced into an alliance with the British against Napoleonic France and received protection from Russia. For his actions, Nelson was made a viscount, and Parker was recalled to England, where he was stripped of his Baltic Sea command.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Generals visit Arctic to prepare for future climate battles

A contingent of senior Air Force leaders and other high-ranking officials are visiting multiple locations across the Arctic April 27-May 3, 2019, in an attempt to better understand operational challenges and refine approaches for meeting the changing security dynamics in the region.

“The Arctic has always been a vital, indispensable part of any strategy to ensure the security and prosperity of the United States, our allies and our partners,” said Maj. Gen. Brian S. Robinson.

“While that has not changed, there are new activities and concerns in the Arctic, and our allies and partners are on the front lines of those changes. This trip provides important, firsthand insight on how our partners are preparing for a shifting landscape and how we can best adapt our policies, activities, and partnerships to successfully meet the emerging challenges in the region,” Robinson said.

The group includes Robinson along with Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, Brig. Gen. Michael G. Koscheski as well as senior Air Force officials Kenneth E. Bray and John M. Trumpfheller. All of them are touring facilities in Norway, Finland, and Sweden to see how Arctic allies and partners of the U.S. view security and operate in the region’s harsh conditions. The trip also offers opportunities for representatives of the countries to discuss joint operations and other activities that contribute to the shared interests and priorities of each country.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

U.S. Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Paul McKenna, the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Command Senior Enlisted Leader, visit units and tour facilities at Thule AB, Greenland, April 24, 2019. The Arctic is strategic terrain in the defense of our northern approaches and is critical to our national security.

(Photo by Preston Schlachter)

The visit is especially important given changes in the Arctic’s climate and environment, which have increased activity in the area from nations and commercial interests. Also notable is its timing, since the Department of Defense is required to deliver to Congress a detailed strategy for the region by June 1, 2019.

The visit is just the latest effort on the part of the Air Force to develop an Arctic strategy nested within DoD objectives. In broad terms, the DoD’s objectives are to prevent and deter conflict in the Arctic and prepare to respond to a wide range of challenges and contingencies, with the ultimate goal of a secure and stable region where U.S. national interests are safeguarded and nations work together to address challenges.

As an Arctic nation, the U.S. has long been active in the region. Key allies and partners in the Arctic include: Canada, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, all NATO allies and NATO’s Enhanced Opportunity Partners, Sweden and Finland. These nations work together in numerous fora to address shared regional concerns (e.g., fisheries management, shipping safety, scientific research).

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

Articles

Here’s what would happen in a war between North and South Korea

These days, it seems like countries don’t invade each other like they used to. It just seems like they’d rather do small, covert raids or just outright overthrow a hostile government.


Countries do still invade one another. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006. Israel invaded Lebanon that same year. America invaded Iraq because… well, just because. But the world’s most recent invasions weren’t really conducted with the idea of actually annexing territory.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year
Okay, everyone except this guy’s invasions.

Still, there are plenty of powder kegs out there: India vs. Pakistan, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, or China vs. all of its neighbors. And then there’s the Korean Peninsula – the most volatile country vs. country situation in the world.

After almost 70 years of animosity, a constant state of war (there was never a real end of the war, only an armistice… and North Korea pulled out of that in 2013), and the continued acts of violence between the two, here’s a situation that could blow up at any time.

It’s actually that threat of widespread mutual destruction that keeps the conflict from boiling over. The 1950-1953 Korean War was a disaster for both sides, and that fact is largely what drives North Korean military policy. It’s what keeps the people supporting the regime: animosity toward the U.S. and South Korea.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

North Koreans either remember the war firsthand or through the stories from their grandparents. Fighting between North and South Korean forces was particularly brutal and as a result, there is no reason to believe either side would pull punches today.

“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984.

Both countries have significant military power. South Korea has one of the most powerful militaries in the world, with 3.5 million troops. North Korea has 5 million troops with another 5 million who can fight in a protracted war. The North Korean Songun policy means the military comes first in terms of food, fuel, and other materials before any are given to the population at large. Mandatory conscription (for a 10-year enlistment) means that most North Koreans have some form of military experience.

 

The North also boasts 605 combat aircraft and 43 naval missile boats, but the (North) Korean People’s Air Force’s most numerous fighter is the subsonic MiG-21, which first debuted in 1953. Their latest model is the aging MiG-29, and it dates back to the 1970s. And they’re all armed with Vietnam War-era ordnance.

In terms of military technology, North Korea’s pales in comparison to the South. South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.

The South’s GDP is 50 times greater than the North’s and they spend almost five times as much as North Korea on defense. Since it can’t keep up in traditional combat arms, the North is beefing up its unconventional warfare capabilities, including chemical and nuclear weapons, along with the ballistic missiles to deliver them. It can’t deliver the weapons by air because their antiquated air forces would be easy pickings for the U.S. F-22 Raptor squadron on the Peninsula.

 

The North is also hampered in terms of alliances. During the Korean War, the Korean Communists were pushed all the way to the Yalu River. It was only after the Chinese intervened with massive manpower and materiel that the Communists were able to form any kind of counterattack. Chinese intervention for the North these days is questionable at best, given its extensive overseas economic ties.

In fact, it might even be in China’s best interest to invade North Korea itself, to give a buffer zone between China and a collapsed North Korean government or worse, U.S. troops right on the border.

Whereas South Korea maintains a tight alliance with the United States, who has 30,000 troops of their own stationed there, 3,800 in Japan, and 5,700 on Guam, along with significant air and naval forces in the region.

 

A North Korean attack on the South would give the north a slight advantage in surprise and initiative… for a few days. Allied forces will respond instantly, but the North will still have the initiative.

Retired Army General James Marks estimates they would have that initiative for four days at most. When the first war was launched across the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ wasn’t quite as defended as it is today. No one was expecting the attack and the bulk of U.S. forces had been withdrawn to Japan.

Today, an assault across the 38th parallel (the North-South border, along which the lines are divided) is tantamount to slow, grinding, probably explosive death.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year
South Korean fists aren’t the only things clenched here.

North Korea will open with artillery and rocket fire from positions on the North slopes of the mountains just across the border. The North has the world’s largest artillery force with 10,000 pieces in their arsenal. The bulk of these forces are at the border, with much of the rest around Pyongyang and near Nampo, the site of their electricity-producing dam.

It is likely that the South Korean capital of Seoul, just 35 miles from the border, would be the first target and would be devastated in the opening salvos. With the artillery on the North side, hidden in the mountains, there would be little warning of an attack and U.S. and South Korean air forces would have trouble penetrating the North Korean air defenses.

Air operations would be tricky because the North keeps tight interlocking lines of antiaircraft guns and surface-to-air missile systems. Pyongyang itself is a “fortress.” North Korean special operations forces would be inserted via submarines along both coasts and through tunnels dug under the DMZ (many have been found in previous years).

Latest reports suggest they would use special operations to deliver chemical attacks and dirty bombs in the South. They also have significant biological weapons facilities in the North that they tested on their own citizens.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4isOrFc4JE0
 

The North would also activate sleeper agents in the South to direct missile and artillery fire. South Korean intelligence estimates up to 200,000 special operators are in the North Korean military, trained to fight Taliban-like insurgencies.

The U.S. air assets in the area will establish air superiority over the region, destroy air defenses, attempt to take out the artillery and missile batteries, and then destroy Northern command and control elements.

Allied airpower will target infrastructure like bridges and roads, especially the unification highway linking the capital at Pyongyang with the border, to keep Northern forces from being able to move effectively inside their own country. The U.S. would also make humanitarian air drops outside of major cities to draw noncombatants out of the cities and make targeting regime figures much easier.

After the conventional fighting, the question is if North Korea will use its nuclear weapons. It is estimated to have up to eight weapons and ballistic missile technology capable of reaching U.S. and South Korean forces in the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and all the way to Guam.

However, experts cannot confirm that the North has ever successfully used a warhead on any of its missiles. If the North does use its nuclear arsenal, nuclear retaliation from the U.S. isn’t a forgone conclusion, especially if U.S. forces have the opportunity to destroy most of the North’s nuclear weapons.

A recent Pentagon war game against the fictional country of “North Brownland,” a country whose dynastic family regime had nuclear weapons that had to be recovered during a regime collapse, found that U.S. troops didn’t fare well in retrieving those weapons. V-22 Osprey aircraft were cut off from the rest of the allied forces and surrounded by the enemy.

The result was the United States would have to fight through the countryside to the North’s estimated 100 nuclear-related sites. In all, it took the U.S. 46 days and 90,000 troops to secure those weapons.

In the end, the North – despite some early successes – would lose. They would be able to inflict massive devastation with conventional weapons in Seoul and near the border areas. The toll on civilians would likely be massive if they used their biological and chemical stockpiles, and even more so if they used the nuclear arsenal. Special forces would likely detonate their nukes in the border areas for fear of being caught trying to move South.

The U.S. would quickly establish air superiority while ground forces bypassed the heavily defended DMZ area. Once the artillery and missile batteries were taken out, the advanced technology, mobile armor, helicopter support, and airpower would quickly overwhelm the large infantry formations and their associated WWII-era tactics. The hardest part of subduing North Korea would be unifying the Korean people and taking care of the North’s backward and likely starving populace.

The hardest part of subduing North Korea would be unifying the Korean people and taking care of the North’s backward and likely starving populace.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

The U.S. and South Korean governments might want to just keep the North at bay instead of overrunning the government completely. A 2013 RAND Corporation research paper estimated the cost of unification to be upwards of $2 trillion dollars. This is not only to pay for the

This is not only to pay for the war but for food for the population and the restoration of all the infrastructure the Kim regime neglected over the past sixty-plus years. Gen. Marks believes the North and South will continue to only use short, contained attacks on each other, making a full-scale war unlikely.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here are the top shooting tips according to a sniper

Hidden, the sniper peers through his scope. Watching from the shadows, he sets his sights on his target. He thinks through his shot. Holding his breath, he fires. The enemy never sees it coming. Target down.

When you hear the word “sniper,” the image that likely pops into your head is that of a concealed sharpshooter armed with a powerful rifle preparing to fire a kill shot from hundreds of yards away. There’s a good reason for that.

Snipers are defined, at least in part, by their unique ability to eliminate targets at a distance, taking out threats without letting the enemy know that they are coming. It’s a difficult job. Snipers typically operate at ranges between 600 and 1,200 meters, and occasionally take an enemy out from much farther away.


A Canadian special forces sniper, for instance, shattered the world record for longest confirmed kill shot in 2017, shooting an ISIS fighter dead in Iraq from over two miles away.

“There’s definitely people out there who have done amazing things,” US Army First Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a veteran sniper and instructor at the sniper school at Fort Benning, Georgia, told Business Insider. “Anything is possible.”

We asked a handful of elite US Army snipers, each of whom has engaged enemies in combat, what goes into long-range shots. Here is what these expert marksman had to say about shooting like a sniper.

“There are a million things that go into being a sniper, and you have to be good at all of them,” Sipes told BI.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

U.S. Army sniper Spc. Nicholas Logsdon, a paratrooper assigned to 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, engages targets during a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Mountain Shock at Pocek Range in Slovenia Dec. 8, 2016.

(U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

First, a sharpshooter needs the right gear. A sniper’s rifle is his most important piece of equipment, his lifeline. The two standard rifles used by conventional Army snipers are the gas M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System and the bolt-action M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle.

Bullets fired from these rifles leave the barrel at speeds in excess of 750 meters per second, more than two times the speed of sound.

The other critical assets a sniper never wants to go into the field without are his DOPE (Data on Previous Engagements) book and his consolidated data card or range card — hard data gathered in training that allow a sniper to accelerate the challenging shot process. Snipers do not have an unlimited amount of time to make a shot. They have to be able to act quick when called upon.

Second, while every Army sniper has the ability to carry out his mission independently, these sharpshooters typically work closely with their spotters, a critical set of extra eyes on the battlefield.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

A U.S. Army sniper, paratrooper assigned to 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, uses his spotter scope to observe the battlefield during a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Mountain Shock at Pocek Range in Slovenia Dec. 8, 2016.

(U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

The two soldiers swap roles in training so that each person is crystal clear on the responsibilities of the other, ensuring greater effectiveness in combat.

Third, a sharpshooter needs a stable firing position, preferably one where the sniper is concealed from the watchful eyes of the enemy and can lie prone, with legs spread to absorb the recoil. Snipers do, however, train to shoot from other positions, such as standing or kneeling.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

U.S. Army sniper Spc. Nicholas Logsdon, a paratrooper assigned to 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, engages targets during a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Mountain Shock at Pocek Range in Slovenia Dec. 8, 2016.

(U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

Fourth, the sniper and his spotter must have a comprehensive understanding of all of the difficult considerations and calculations that go into the shot process, Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, sniper instructor team sergeant at Fort Benning, explained to BI. The team must measure atmospherics, determine range, determine wind, and then work together to fire accurately on a target.

“The biggest thing you have to consider is, right off the bat, your atmospherics,” he said. These include temperature, station pressure, and humidity for starters. “The sniper has to account for all of that, and that is going to help formulate a firing solution.”

An important tool is a sniper-spotter team’s applied ballistics kestrel, basically a handheld weather station. “It automatically takes readings and calculates a firing solution based on the gun profile we build,” Rance told BI.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

U.S. Army sniper Spc. Nicholas Logsdon, a paratrooper assigned to 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, engages targets during a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Mountain Shock at Pocek Range in Slovenia Dec. 8, 2016.

(U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

Next, the pair determines range, which is paramount.

Against lower level threats like militants, snipers can use laser range finders. But trained soldiers likely have the ability to detect that. Against these advanced battlefield enemies, snipers must rely on the reticle in the scope.

“So, basically, we have this ruler, about three and a half, four inches in front of our eyes that’s inside the optic that can go ahead and mil off a target and determine a range through that,” Rance said.

Once the sniper determines range, the next step is to determine the wind speed. Based on the distance to the target, the sniper must determine wind speed for different zones. “The sniper will then generally apply a hold,” Rance explained. “He will dial the elevation on his optic, and he will hold for wind.”

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

U.S. Army sniper Spc. Nicholas Logsdon, a paratrooper assigned to 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, engages targets during a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Mountain Shock at Pocek Range in Slovenia Dec. 8, 2016.

(U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

When firing from great distances, bullets don’t fly straight. Over long range, bullets experience spin drift and gravity’s toll, which causes it to slow down from initial supersonic flight.

When it comes time to take the shot, the sniper will “fire on a respiratory pause,” Capt. Greg Elgort, the company commander at the sniper school at Fort Benning, explained to BI. “He is naturally going to stop breathing before he pulls the trigger.”

For an expert sniper, the gun will come straight back into his shoulder, and the scope ought to fall right back on target.

Fifth, a sniper has to be ready to quickly put another shot down range if the first fails to eliminate the threat. “If [the sniper] were to miss,” Rance explained, “they only have a few seconds to do the second shot correction before that target seeks cover and disappears.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Army soldier leads the way after historic accomplishment

U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster was 37 years old when she attended Ranger School. While the average age of attendees in the course ranges in the early 20s, that didn’t deter her, and in October of 2015 she graduated from the course.

She was the first woman in the U.S. Army Reserve to do so.

Four years later, her advice to others is simple.

“You have to be ‘all-in,'” said Jaster. “Be willing to give everything you have for the school and maintain your integrity. The first week is published therefore you know what to expect and how to succeed. Once you’ve passed the physical entrance exam (RAP week), you will need to have the mental toughness to push through conditions that could beat a lesser person down.”


“Do not let ‘quit’ in,” she continued. “That means once you allow quitting into your mind as an option, it will move in, live there, steal your motivation, and eventually defeat you from within.”

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Maj. Lisa Jaster in late 2015, after her graduation from Ranger School that previous October.

(Courtesy of Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster)

The all-in attitude that Jaster says is the key to success for Ranger school has also been tantamount to accomplishments in other aspects of her life. As a citizen soldier, she demonstrates that one can serve their country while continuing to have a civilian career.

In the past three years, Jaster has been a senior project engineer with Shell Oil Co. before becoming the director of civil engineering for MS Engineering. She also has become a professional speaker with Leading Authorities, holding engagements across the country.

In the Army Reserve, she has been a battalion executive officer, an engineering team lead supporting the Iraqi Security Forces during Operation Inherent Resolve, and is now the brigade executive officer for the 420th Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command.

Throughout all of her experiences, her definition of leadership and what is expected of leaders has one constant: be consistent in your words and actions, and set the example for others to follow. This definition has served her well in both her military and civilian life.

“Everyone needs to be led as an individual, and each individual brings something to the fight as long as they are vested in the end state,” said Jaster. “A leader is someone who inspires those around them to be better versions of themselves.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, poses with her family after promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col. Jaster graduated from Ranger School in 2015, the first female officer in the Reserve to do so.

(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)

“Traditionally,” she continued. “I have said that consistency is the most important aspect of leadership to ensure subordinates can perform in the absence of guidance,” After Ranger School, I have created the three Cs – Consistency, Communication and Competence. There are a lot of other aspects to being an effective leader, but these are necessary starting blocks.”

Jaster approaches her personal life with the same care as her professional one. A dual military couple, she and her husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Allan Jaster, have two children. Their support of each other and their children has been a critical factor in their accomplishments.

“Balancing the Citizen (employee, mom, wife, sister, daughter, and individual) with the soldier is very complicated,” said Jaster. “I used to try to silo both aspects of who I am but found that so much bleeds over from one job to the other that I need to be fluid with those lines.

“What that means,” continued Jaster. “Is that Army conference calls can happen during cheer practice, and I might need to review proposals for work while I am in the field with the Army. It means being open and honest with my spouse, my military boss, and my civilian supervisor about what I can handle and what might be coming up. Having a strong support team with regards to extended family, friends and hired help is critical to ensure nothing at home drops.”

Jaster does not want her Ranger School experience to define her. Since her completion of the course, she has advised to not identify soldiers and civilians by their race, sex or creed, but their skills, attributes and performance.

She created the hashtag #deletetheadjective for social media to emphasize her message, and throughout all of her speaking engagements, she has consistently stated the best teams are those with the highest level of competencies, not just a group identity. Being in the Army Reserve has allowed her to serve her country while creating awareness, and discussion, of the topic.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, receives a new patrol cap from her family signifying her promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col.

(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)

“Ranger school was just part of my path,” said Jaster. “It was not an end state. I have a larger public voice because of graduating from Ranger School. My true failure or success is what I decide to do with that voice. If I can live by the Ranger Creed and set an example which brings our community together for a smooth gender integration, then that is the goal I am striving for.”

Looking forward to the future, Jaster continues to strive for excellence. Whether in uniform or out, she has used her previous accomplishments to continue to fuel her drive to succeed and set the example for others to follow. Her discipline and dedication to her family, civilian profession, and military career is a standard she refuses to let falter.

“Ranger School does not make me a good or a bad officer,” said Jaster. “It does mean there are certain external expectations of me that were previously only self-imposed. This gives me an additional drive to continue to train martial arts, strength, endurance and tactics, even when time constraints make it difficult and my current job doesn’t require it.

“I am looking forward to being a battalion commander,” she continued. “After battalion command, I am not sure what the Army holds, but I plan to stay in uniform as long as I can.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iranian links: New Taliban splinter group emerges that opposes U.S. Peace Deal

A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close ties to neighboring Iran and opposes efforts aimed at ending the 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan has emerged.

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, or Party of Islamic Guardianship, is believed to have split from the mainstream Taliban soon after the United States and the militant group signed a landmark peace agreement in February.


The formation of the splinter group underlines the possible divisions within the Taliban, which has seen bitter leadership transitions and growing internal dissent in recent years.

It is unclear whether the new splinter group will rally broad support but its emergence could pose a new hurdle for the U.S.-Taliban deal, which has been undermined by violence, disputes, and delays.

Under that agreement, international forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Afghan government.

‘Early Stages Of Forming’

Antonio Giustozzi, a Taliban expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said it appears the new splinter group is based in Iran, which shares a 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan and has a sizeable Afghan population.

“It’s still in the early stages of forming,” said Giustozzi, adding that the military strength and the leadership of the faction is unknown.

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that the new splinter group has not been “officially announced.” The official said members of the group included radical Taliban commanders and members of small Taliban offshoots.

A new report by a United Nations monitoring team made public on June 1 said that “at least one group of senior Taliban” had “formed a new group in opposition to any possible peace agreement.”

The breakaway faction was “composed mainly of dissident senior Taliban members residing outside Afghanistan,” said the report, which was based on information provided by Afghan and foreign intelligence and security services, think tanks, experts, and interlocutors.

Iran Building Taliban ‘Combat Capabilities’

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami joins a growing list of Taliban factions that support continued fighting against Afghan and international troops.

“There are several Taliban leaders, fronts, and commanders who oppose peace and are linked to Iran,” said Giustozzi.

Among them, he added, is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban and the head of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction that is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

That is despite Haqqani’s op-ed in February in The New York Times, in which he voiced support for the peace deal with the United States.

Haqqani, who is the Taliban’s operational chief, has a million U.S. bounty on his head. He is the son of the late radical Islamist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Al-Qaeda-linked network blamed for some of Afghanistan’s deadliest suicide attacks.

The Haqqani network has strong ties to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But Giustozzi said the network is “getting closer” to Iran as Islamabad and Riyadh cut funding to it.

Other Iran-linked Taliban leaders who oppose peace efforts include Mullah Qayum Zakir, a powerful battlefield commander and the former military chief of the Taliban until 2014. A former inmate in the infamous U.S. prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Mullah Zakir has the backing of hard-line field commanders.

Mullah Zakir leads a conservative Taliban faction along with Ibrahim Sadr, the Taliban’s former military commission chief. In October 2018, Sadr was among eight Taliban members designated global terrorists by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with monetary support and individualized training in order to prevent a possible tracing back to Iran,” the Treasury Department said, adding that “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities.”

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new splinter group included the followers of Sadr.

The officials said the new group also includes members of the Feday-e Mahaz (Suicide Brigade) a small, hard-core offshoot of the mainstream Taliban.

The group is believed to be led by Haji Najibullah, a loyalist to radical Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a U.S.-led attack in Helmand Province in 2007.

The group, vehemently against reconciliation with Kabul, has claimed several high-profile assassinations over the years.

‘Material Support’

Iran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan. Tehran also provided help to U.S. forces as they toppled the Taliban regime. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.

Tehran has confirmed it has contacts with the Taliban but insists that it is aimed at ensuring the safety of Iranian citizens in Afghanistan and encouraging the Taliban to join peace talks.

But U.S. officials have accused Tehran of providing material support to the Taliban, an allegation it denies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January accused Tehran of “actively working” to undermine the peace process in Afghanistan, adding that Iran was supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

In a report released in November, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said Iran provides financial, political, training, and material support to the Taliban.

“Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government,” the report said, adding that Iran’s support enabled it to advance its interests in Afghanistan and attain “strategic depth” in the country.

Taliban Divided Over Peace

The emergence of the Taliban splinter group has exposed serious divisions within the militant group.

The Taliban is believed to be divided over a peace settlement.

Its political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to a peace deal but hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan demand the restoration of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001.

Internal Taliban divisions have intensified after the death of founder and spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.

Some Taliban commanders accused his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, of covering up Mullah Omar’s death and assuming leadership of the extremist group without proper approval.

Mullah Mansur struggled to quell the internal dissent and reconcile feuding factions, with some commanders splitting from the group and challenging his leadership.

Mullah Mansur was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.

The succession of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a low-key Islamic scholar who was Mullah Mansur’s deputy, was also opposed.

But experts said the Taliban has overcome the succession crises, has fended off competition from the global appeal of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite a deadly war against foreign and Afghan forces.

Borhan Osman, an independent analyst and a leading expert on Islamic extremism and the militant networks operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, said divisions within the Taliban are not yet visible.

“So far the Taliban has been successful in spinning the agreement with the United States as an outright victory,” he said.

Osman said the Taliban’s unity will be tested during intra-Afghan talks, when Afghan and Taliban negotiators will discuss a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing deal.

The negotiations were scheduled to start in March but were delayed by disputes over the release of Taliban prisoners by the government and escalating militant attacks.

“The Taliban will be forced to come up with specific positions on issues and present their vision for a future Afghanistan,” said Osman.

The Taliban has been ambiguous on key issues, including women’s rights, the future distribution of power, and changes to the Afghan Constitution, reflecting the divisions within the group.

Many expect intra-Afghan negotiations to be complex and protracted, considering the gulf between the sides on policy and the sharing of power between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Taliban Offshoots

Internal rifts and rivalries have led to the emergence of various Taliban offshoots over the years, although many lack the military strength and support to pose a threat to the mainstream group.

The High Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — led by Mullah Mohammad Rasul — has been engaged in deadly clashes with fighters from the mainstream Taliban in southern and western Afghanistan since 2015, leaving scores dead on both sides.

The clashes have left the offshoot severely weakened, experts said, with many considering the group to be militarily irrelevant.

Mullah Rasul is believed to receive arms and support from Afghan intelligence in an attempt to divide the militant group.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea accidentally burned a photographer alive during a missile test

There’s a saying in the photography community, first coined by the legendary Robert Capa: “if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” If that’s true, there’s one North Korean photog who has the world’s best photo of a rocket launch. Sadly, no one will ever see it because the photo was burned up along with the man who took it.


The worst part is, the Korean Central News Agency distributed video of his gruesome death for all the world to see.

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow

No one loves testing missiles and telling the world about it more than North Korea, so it’s likely the photographer was put there on purpose. Whether or not anyone (especially the photographer) knew he was in the blast zone for the Hwasong-15 rocket is anyone’s guess.

“The photographer who stood near Hwasong-15 missile was enveloped by fire,” said one onlooker to the incident. “I was shocked to see officials watching the launch. I did not know whether it was the fault of the cameraman or the control center. But it was impossible for leader Kim Jong-un who was at the site not to have witnessed the incident.”

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

Kim Jong-un and the Korean People’s Army rejoice at the launch of a Hwasong-15 missile test.

As North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his cronies watched North Korea’s largest, most powerful Intercontinental ballistic missile test to date – and cheered on – it’s possible that up to 16 people who were in the test area were burned alive by the missile’s blast. South Korea says the KCNA broadcasts were later edited to remove the toasted photographer.