This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship - We Are The Mighty
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This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

December 7, 1941, is a heartrending day for Americans — even 75 years later.


Despite the solemn reminder that over 2,000 individuals perished that day, the instances of self-sacrifice and valor offer a source of inspiration to Americans.

Captain Bennion of the USS West Virginia is one of those men, immortalized forever for his stubborn refusal to give up his ship or abandon his men during one of America’s darkest hours.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Medal of Honor Recipient Captain Mervyn Sharp Bennion. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Historical Center)

Mervyn Sharp Bennion was born in Utah Territory in May of 1887. He successfully graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910, ranked third in his class. His roommate, Earl C. Metz, recalled the Mormon farmer’s sharp mind during his academic years. “He was able to concentrate mentally to a degree I have never seen equalled. He could read over a thing once and he had it. He had a perfectly marvellous brain and mental processes,” Metz recollected.

After graduation, Bennion served aboard the USS North Dakota as a lieutenant during the First World War. He methodically rose in the ranks of the Navy until he received command of the USS Bernadou in 1932. He returned to the Naval War College for a short time, and served as an instructor. On July 2, 1941, Bennion assumed command of the USS West Virginia of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. A little over five months after receiving the command he would be dead.

His brother, Howard Sharp Bennion, published an account of his deeds in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Captain Bennion was casually shaving in his cabin on the morning of December 7 before heading out to church service. This stillness in his cabin was disrupted when one of his sailors burst through the door and alerted him that a wave of Japanese aircraft was headed directly toward the vessel.

Bennion rushed to the deck and issued a series of orders to prepare for the imminent attack. It was not long before a low flying Japanese torpedo bomber dumped three bombs on the West Virginia, causing severe damage and tearing a hole in its side.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
A rescue operation underway from the burning USS West Virginia after the Japanese attacks. (U.S. Navy, December 7, 1941)

On his way to the Flag Bridge a fragment of metal tore through the air and gashed Bennion in the abdomen. The projectile nearly decapitated him, tearing his torso to shreds and damaging his spine and left hip. He was unable to move his legs and his entrails protruded from his stomach.

A pharmacist’s mate came to his aid and placed a makeshift bandage over the mortal wound. Bennion demanded that the man go attend to other wounded sailors and continued to issue orders amid the chaos.

Bennion refused to be moved an inch from his location until the first Japanese attack ended. During the lull before the second wave arrived, he finally permitted himself to be placed on a cot under a sheltered position on the deck.

As he lay protracted and in agony, he resumed issuing commands and receiving reports when the second wave struck an hour later.

Due to the combination of the loss of blood and shock, he began to lose consciousness. A few of his men tied him on a ladder and carried the makeshift stretcher to the navigation bridge out of the way of flames and smoke engulfing the vessel.

Barley coherent and somehow still clinging to life, Bennion again ordered his men to leave him and look after themselves. Roughly 20 minutes later he passed away, one of the thousands of Americans to perish that day.

One officer who remained alongside Bennion to the end proudly proclaimed that “the noble conduct of Capt. Bennion before and after being wounded met the highest traditions of the naval service and justified the high esteem in which he was universally held. I consider it my great good fortune to have served under him.”

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
The USS West Virginia continued to serve as an active battleship throughout the Pacific, and was present for the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945. (U.S. Navy)

Bennion’s body was transported home and buried with honor in Utah. He was afterward awarded the Medal of Honor for his inspirational leadership. His citation read: “For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”

Despite being incapacitated early in the action at Pearl Harbor, Bennion refused to abandon his ship and nobly encouraged his men until the bitter end.

Articles

Coalition launches 84 strikes against ISIS as Iraqi army squeezes Mosul

Coalition air power had a busy Veterans’ Day Weekend while attacking the Islamic State of Iraqi and Syria, also known as ISIS.


This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refuels a F-15 Strike Eagle in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

Across Iraq and Syria, 84 airstrikes were carried out against the terrorist group, 27 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Iraqi forces have been trying to liberate from ISIS since October.

The attacks took place as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the region. Iraqi forces are moving towards the city, in an offensive expected to take months, according to a DOD News article.

“In my judgment, what Mosul does is reduce ISIL inside of Iraq back to an insurgency with terrorist actions and get them to a level where Iraqi security forces with a minimum level of outside support will be able to manage the violence inside Iraq,” Dunford said. “It denies ISIL freedom of movement and sanctuary inside Iraq.”

The terrorist group was in retreat as their eastern defenses around Mosul collapsed, and the Iraqi Army claimed to have secured the Intisar district of the city, and was moving into the neighborhood of Salaam.

As Coalition forces move in, there have been reports of increasing atrocities carried out by ISIS. According to VOA news, one video released by the terrorist group showed four children — none older than 14 — being forced to execute alleged spies. ISIS had developed “hand grenade” drones and was using them around Mosul.

In other news about the fight against ISIS, the BBC reported that ISIS carried out a half-dozen bombings around Baghdad, and a tweet from CombatAir reported that a Russian MiG-29K Fulcrum operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov was lost.

According to a Nov. 11 release, 24 air strikes were carried out by coalition forces, seven of which took place near Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged seven mortar systems, an artillery system, three vehicles, and two weapon caches. Other targets hit that day included a command and control node, oil production facilities, three supply routes, fighting positions, heavy machine guns, a storage container, and a bulldozer.

A Department of Defense release on Nov. 12 reported that five out of 23 strikes that day took place near Mosul. Those five strikes hit a fighting position; five mortar systems; two tunnel entrances; two heavy machines guns; four vehicles; a vehicle bomb; and a weapons cache. The other 18 strikes blasted a number of other targets, including a headquarters building; six oil wellheads; five fighting positions; and six ISIS “tactical units.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was Nazi Germany’s answer to the Jeep

Prior to World War II, the rising chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, announced plans to make Germany into a motorized nation. This led to the adoption of the Volkswagen Beetle. But Hitler also ordered military versions of the vehicle developed, and these vehicles would go on to fill the same niche for the Reich that the Jeep served in America.


American Jeep Vs German Kubelwagen: Truck Face-Off | Combat Dealers

youtu.be

The road to the Kubelwagen began in the 1933 Berlin Auto Show. That was when Hitler called for a motorized Germany and then heard the plans for Ferdinand Porsche’s 25-horsepower vehicle with an air-cooled engine. Hitler demanded that it seat four and get good gas mileage, and they were off to the races.

It took a few years for Porsche to finalize the design and begin mass production under the newly formed Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Volkswagens company, soon shortened to Volkswagen.

But Hitler quickly rose from chancellor to Fuhrer, and his SS officers asked this new Volkswagen company if it could make a militarized version of its KdF Volkswagen in January 1938. The company fast-tracked the project, and the first prototypes came off the line in November.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

A Type 82 Volkswagen Kubelwagen

(AlfvanBeem, CC0)

The initial prototypes had some shortcomings in testing. They could not run at walking speed due to their gearing, and they had insufficient ground clearance as well as a less-than-robust suspension. All of these problems were quickly ironed out, though. By the time the Type 82 version, the vehicle’s second iteration, went into production in 1940, it was a capable machine well-liked by the troops.

It was fuel efficient for the time, reliable, and could carry four soldiers and the lion’s share of their gear. It was not, by default, armored or armed, though. So it rarely acted as a front line troop carrier. Instead, it served in a logistics and support role, ferrying spare parts or other key supplies to where they were needed or getting key leaders into position to observe the enemy or their own troops.

So, you know, similar to the Jeep. But there were a number of traits that separated the two vehicles.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

A Volkswagen Kubelwagen

(Staffan Vilcans, CC BY-SA 2.0)

For instance, the Kubelwagen had a 22.5 hp engine, much weaker than the Jeep’s 60 hp or even the civilian Volkswagen’s 25-hp engine. But the engine was air-cooled, which did make it a little less prone to breakdowns. And it had a wider and longer wheelbase than the Jeep as well as more storage space.

But the Kubelwagen wasn’t the only military version of the Volkswagen. A command vehicle, the Type 87 Kommandeurwagen, had 4-wheel drive and looked more like a Beetle. And the Type 166 Schwimmwagen was the most-produced amphibious car in history.

In all, there were 36 variants of the Kubelwagen as well as numerous versions of the Kommandeurwagen and Schwimmwagen. In all, about 50,500 Kubelwagens were built during the war, and thousands survived as museum and collector’s pieces. And, luckily for the owners, the vehicles shared many parts with the Beetle, and so owners could keep repairing them for decades.

When Allied troops got their hands on any of these variants, the vehicles were generally met with grudging respect. So much so that Americans put together an English-language version of the manual to help other troops maintain their captured vehicles.

Articles

This is proof that Mattis knows exactly how to talk to the troops

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is well known for having delivered some controversial quotes in the past, and he uttered yet another during a speech last week to sailors at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington.


During a short speech on August 9 followed by a question-and-answer period, Mattis thanked the sailors of the USS Kentucky for being in the Navy, saying they’d never regret that service.

“That means you’re living,” Mattis said, according to the official Pentagon transcript.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr

“That means you’re not some p–y sitting on the sidelines, you know what I mean, kind of sitting there saying, ‘Well, I should have done something with my life.’ Because of what you’re doing now, you’re not going to be laying on a shrink’s couch when you’re 45 years old, say ‘What the hell did I do with my life?’ Why? Because you served others; you served something bigger than you.”

The Navy reversed its policy of only allowing males to serve aboard submarines in 2010, according to the US Naval Institute. A spokesman for Submarine Group 9 confirmed the USS Kentucky does not currently have any female sailors assigned to it.

Mattis went on to say that he wished he were young enough to go out to sea with the Kentucky’s crew, though the retired general joked, “there’s a world of difference between a submariner and a Marine, you know what I mean?”

Articles

This is how NATO could go to war against itself

If you think that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – the mutual-defense alliance founded in 1949 – is one big, happy family, you’d be wrong.


There have been deep tensions between NATO countries in the past. For a while, France was not even part of the military structure.

Then, there’s Greece and Turkey. To say they have provided a bit of intra-alliance drama is one of the biggest understatements in the existence of NATO.

Greece and Turkey have had a fair amount of historical animosity. In 1897, the two countries went to war, after which Greece secured the autonomy of Crete. From 1919-1922, the two countries went to war again. Turkey won that second round, pushing Greece out of Asia Minor for the most part.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
A Hellenic Air Force Mirage 2000EG. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1950s, the Cyprus issue renewed tensions despite both countries’ memberships in NATO, as did maritime territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea, leading to a near war in 1987, according to the New York Times.

A March 1996 report by the Congressional Research Service described the Imia/Kardak Crisis of 1995, another near-war.

War loomed again in the Cyprus Missile Crisis of 1997-1998, with the Independent reporting Turkey threatened strikes against Russian S-300 missiles sold to the Greek Cypriots. That crisis wasn’t defused until Greece bought the missiles and based them in Crete.

In the past year, the maritime territorial dispute in the Aegean Sea has heated up again, thanks to Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, according to recent news reports.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Land-based S-300 surface-to-air missile launchers | Creative Commons photo

So, what would happen if Greece and Turkey went to war? History can be a guide.

Past crises have usually seen NATO apply a lot of diplomatic pressure to avert war. The North Atlantic Treaty, in fact, gives NATO a very big vice to apply that pressure.

According to quora.com, Article V would still be potentially relevant for the country that was attacked. The text of the treaty makes no exceptions if the aggressor is a member of NATO.

There have been incidents between the two countries in the past where troops have exchanged fire planes have been shot down. So, while wars have been averted so far, the possibility remains that an incident could prompt a full-scale war between these two NATO allies.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch what it was like to parachute into Normandy in 4K video

“You’ve probably been wondering what it was like to make my first trip into combat,” writes Pfc. Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, a paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne. Martin made the jump into Normandy on June 6, 1944, along with thousands of other Allied troops. “… the sky was full of orange and red blossoms of fire… I stepped out to meet a ladder of flak and tracers.”


The words in Pfc. Martin’s letter to his wife and family are brought to life by Academy Award-nominated actor Bryan Cranston. The images of paratroopers flying the most important one-way trip in history are restored in full 4K video by the team over at AARP, dedicated to preserving the words and deeds of America’s aging Greatest Generation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the most recent soldiers killed in Afghanistan was 5 when the war started

Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”

When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”


He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”

When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”

In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”

He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.

Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.

August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.

Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
President Donald Trump

The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.

Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.

On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.

Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.

Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.

Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.

On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”

Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.

The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.

At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)

Mattis put on spot over attacks

In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.

They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.

At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”

The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.

“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.

“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”

At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”

“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.

“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.

“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.

“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.

For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.

Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’

“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.

Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.

Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.

Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.

Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.

“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.

“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.

Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.

In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”

Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”

Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.

“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”

The strategy — what strategy?

In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.

The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.

The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”

“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”

In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”

“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.

“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.

“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”

Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress

The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.

In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.

“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.

At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.

The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”

In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.

“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.

“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.

‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’

As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.

Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.

In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.

Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.

Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.

The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.

Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.

“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”

Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.

“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.

The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.

Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.

In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.

“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

Articles

Could a nuclear war with Russia start in the Black Sea?

An incident involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) in February now has new context. The dustup involved multiple Russian aircraft making close passes over the Porter that the United States Navy described as “unsafe and unprofessional” at the time. The aircraft involved were Su-24 Fencers and an Il-38 May.


According to a report from Reuters, the Russian defense ministry has declared that any United States Navy patrol in the Black Sea is a potential threat to Russia. The reason, they claim, is that they cannot tell what missiles are loaded aboard the U.S. ships.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) stands watch in the Indian Ocean during a 2007 deployment. (US Navy photo)

How credible is this claim? To start, let’s look at the Porter’s weapons suite. It carries a single five-inch gun, it is equipped with two Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems, two triple Mk 32 launchers for 324mm torpedoes, and two Mk 41 vertical launch systems (one with 29 cells, the other with 61).

It is this last system that warrants a closer look. The Mk 41 can carry RIM-66 Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, RIM-174 Standard SM-6 surface-to-air missiles, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, RUM-139 Vertical-Launched ASROCs, and BGM-109 Tomahawks. The Tomahawks are probably what the Russian defense ministry is citing as their excuse for the close encounter.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Flt I Burke class destroyer shoots a Harpoon missile. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Tomahawk comes in several varieties. Perhaps the most well-known are the TLAM-C and TLAM-D versions, largely because they have been the most used. According to Designation-Systems.net, the Block III version of the Tomahawk has a 750-pound high-explosive warhead and a range of 870 nautical miles.

The new Tactical Tomahawk, known as the BGM-109E, has a range of 900 nautical miles, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In other words, from the Black Sea, Tomahawks could reach out and at a minimum, roll back Russian air defenses in time of war. There used to be a nuclear version of the Tomahawk, but according to a 2013 report by the Federation of American Scientists, the BGM-109A TLAM-N was retired after the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

So, really, a patrol by the United States Navy is not a threat to Russia, in and of itself. And the Navy’s patrols in the Black Sea won’t touch off a nuclear war – unless the Russians launch their nuclear-tipped anti-ship missiles first.

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The US Army’s ‘Tiger Force’ took terror tactics to the Viet Cong

By 1967, the United States was firmly committed to the war in Vietnam. That year saw 485,600 American troops in country. That’s like arming the entire population of Kansas City and moving them into another country.


So yeah, they were invested.

But from the start, the Vietnam War was unlike the previous American wars. There was no real front, the enemy could be anywhere, and most importantly, they didn’t always fight like a conventional army in the mountains, jungles, or rice paddies.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

The Americans were fighting a limited war, trying to keep North Vietnam from infiltrating or taking over the South. They were also using a data-driven (but flawed) campaign of bombing and other operations based on pursuing and exploiting the fears and beliefs of the North Vietnamese.

Enter then-Maj. David Hackworth.

Hackworth was tasked with creating an elite commando unit from the already elite Special Forces long range reconnaissance patrol units. The mission of what he would call Tiger Force was more than just intelligence gathering. As he put it, he wanted to “out-guerrilla the guerrillas.”

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

In 1967, Hackworth was out of the unit, and it was assigned to Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where it conducted a six-month long terror campaign in the Song Ve Valley and as part of Operation Wheeler. The mission was so brutal and so deep in enemy territory, members of the Tiger Force did not expect to survive.

“We didn’t expect to live. Nobody out there with any brains expected to live,” then-Sgt. William Doyle told the Telegraph. “The way to live is to kill because you don’t have to worry about anybody who’s dead.”

In a war where the U.S. military relied on body counts as a measure of success, Tiger Force was ready to do its part. Hackworth once noted, “You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.”

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

Tiger Force went into villages the Viet Cong relied on for support and shelter in the Spring and Fall of 1967 and drove the villagers out of their homes using brute force. They allegedly used some disturbing methods to achieve those ends.

The Toledo Blade’s Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss, and Joe Mahr (right) won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for their eight months of investigation and reporting on the alleged war crimes committed by Tiger Force.

“Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers. Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed — their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”

The three journalists say the Army commandos, far from friendly areas and left without support, routinely violated the laws of armed conflict, killed unarmed civilians, dropped grenades on women and children, and covered up the incidents during the official Army investigations.

Some members of the Tiger Force today aren’t even disputing the allegations. Doyle, along with others, claims to have lost count of how many people they killed.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

”I’ve seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school,” Doyle told the New York Times. “Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that’s almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I’ve seen.”

The Army investigated the allegations for four and a half years but no charges were ever filed and the men of tiger Force became some of the most decorated in the Vietnam War. They were even awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

For its part, the Army told the Toledo Blade that, barring any new evidence coming to light, the investigations would remain closed, even after comparing the newspaper’s information with their official records.

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Watch this Medal of Honor recipient describe how he saved 75 soldiers – without firing a shot

During the ferocious battle for Okinawa in World War II, American troops fought pitched battles against seemingly unending waves of Japanese attackers. Night after night the forces of the Rising Sun were reinforced by troops who hid in complex tunnel networks dug into the island. And day after day American troops there had to fight yet again for the same ground against a relentless foe.


While the battle has many stories of heroism and bravery, few are as incredible as that of Army Pfc. Desmond Doss.

For two weeks, American and Japanese forces fought over the Maeda Escarpment, a battleground accented by steep cliffs and riddled with caves and tunnels full of Japanse soldiers. In order to face their Japanese foe, American soldiers literally had to scale rope ladders for hundreds of feet just to get to the battlefield.

The Army’s 1st Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division assaulted part of the escarpment dubbed “Hacksaw Ridge” that sat atop 400 feet of sheer rock. As soon as the soldiers summited the ridge, they were pummeled by heavy artillery, mortars, and machine gun fire.

Luckily for them, Doss, a company medic who volunteered for service despite his religious beliefs that prevented him from touching a weapon, was with is unit during a fateful battle that saw much of his unit wiped out.

 

In today’s military, Doss would never make it past MEPS. As a Seventh Day Adventist he refused to train or work on Saturdays, wouldn’t eat meat and wouldn’t carry a weapon. Even in the face of taunts and threats from other members of his unit, he stood fast to his beliefs. His commander tried to get him a Section-8 discharge, but Doss fought the charges on principle.

He wanted to serve; he just wasn’t willing to kill to do it. So it was by saving lives that earned him a Medal of Honor.

During the battle for Hacksaw Ridge, Doss carried 75 casualties to the cliff face, loaded them on a rope-supported litter, and lowered them to safety below. He advanced 200 yards ahead of the front lines to rescue one of them, and he treated four wounded men and carried them off the battlefield, four separate times – just 24 feet from Japanese positions.

Doss repeatedly exposed himself to small arms fire, machine gun fire, friendly fire, and a dizzying number of hand grenades to save and treat wounded soldiers. When he was wounded and being carried off the battlefield, he crawled off his litter to evacuate a more critical patient first.

That’s when he was shot by a sniper.

Doss crawled 300 yards to an aid station to save his own life. He never carried a weapon and never threatened a single human life. He was presented with the Medal of Honor on November 1, 1945, by then-President Harry S. Truman at the White House.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
President Truman shakes hands with Cpl. Desmond Doss after presenting the soldier with the Medal of Honor.

He survived the war and lived a full life until he died in 2006. Soon, you can see his story come to life in the critically acclaimed film “Hacksaw Ridge.” Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, and Vince Vaughn – this is one not to miss.

 

“From a human standpoint, I shouldn’t be here to tell the story,” Doss told The Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1998. “All the glory should go to God. No telling how many times the Lord has spared my life.”

Hacksaw Ridge” opens in theaters November 4th.

MIGHTY HISTORY

You could lose your boat if you loot a war grave in American waters

Seventy-five years ago, the destroyer USS Roper sank the Nazi submarine U-85 with all hands going to a watery grave. This was not an unusual occurrence. During World War II the Nazis lost 629 U-boats to a number of hostile acts, from being depth-charged by ships to hitting mines to being bombed while pierside at a port.


But in 2003, U-85 briefly hit the news when its Enigma machine was “retrieved” by some divers. Eventually the Naval Historical Center managed to arrange the machine’s donation to a North Carolina museum, but it highlighted a problem. The Navy also got a public-relations black eye over a recovered Brewster F3A. The Navy didn’t like having to hand over the plane – even if it was a Corsair In Name Only.

 

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
A collection of enigma machines at the National Cryptologic Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

As part of the 2004 defense authorization bill signed by then-President George W. Bush the “Sunken Military Craft Act” became the law of the land. The rules are intended to ensure that sunken wrecks of American military vessels (or aircraft) aren’t tampered with.

The law does that by setting up very steep civil penalties — we’re talking a $100,000 for each violation. What is a violation? Well, according to the text available at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, engaging or attempting to engage in, “any activity directed at a sunken military craft that disturbs, removes, or injures any sunken military craft.”

 

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
The wreckage of the USS Sea Lion

 

Oh, and they consider each day a separate violation – those penalties will be adding up. Furthermore, the provisions also state that “vessel used to violate this title shall be liable in rem for a penalty under this section for such violation.”

Or in other words, your boat is subject to confiscation.

 

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Bismark’s final resting place at the bottom of the sea.

And if you think you’re gonna be safe by looting something like U-85… think again. Any foreign government can ask the Navy to protect their wrecks off our shores. So, looting a foreign warship wreck can get you in just as much hot water as if you’d looted one from the United States Navy.

All is not lost for would-be looters. According to the law, there is an eight-year statute of limitations. But given that you face huge civil penalties, it’s better to ask permission. Or better yet, leave the wreck alone.

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NASA nerds made a Franken-bomber, but they weren’t the first to do it

Recently, NASA made the news when its engineers managed to cobble together a new WB-57 Canberra out of parts from multiple other planes. This is a particularly notable achievement as one of the airframes had spent roughly 40 years at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.


These NASA nerds set a record for how quickly a plane was returned to flight status after being sent to AMARC. They did an impressive job of grafting together parts from the WB-57 Canberra from the boneyard with parts from a second Canberra near Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, as well as F-15 parts for the main wheels, the ejection seats from the F-16, and the tires from an A-4 for the nose wheel.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship

But some Army Air Force mechanics in Australia pulled off something similar in World War II, and did such a good job that their Franken-bomber is still around today. That plane is currently at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.

She’s called “Swoose,” and she is not only the only B-17D to survive, she is the oldest surviving B-17.

Swoose started out being assigned to the Philippines in 1941, flying in combat from Dec. 7, 1941, to Jan. 11, 1942. The plane suffered serious damage, but the mechanics used a tail from another damaged B-17 and replaced the engines. The plane then served as an armed transport for the rest of the war, including as a personal transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett (no relation to the star baseball player from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
DAYTON, Ohio – The B-17D The Swoose rests next to the B-17F Memphis Belle in the restoration area of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

After the war, the Swoose narrowly avoided the scrapyard. According to a 2007 Washington Post article, the plane was stored in various locations before the Smithsonian handed it over to the Air Force. The plane is currently being restored for eventual display alongside the famous Memphis Belle.

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This French general is best remembered for his failed suicide attempt

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
General Charles Denis Bourbaki. (Don’t let those medals fool you.)


General Charles Denis Bourbaki forged a long career fighting in the French Second Empire’s wars in North Africa, the Crimea, and Italy. He served as a lieutenant with the Zouaves from 1836 to 1838 and received a promotion to captain in June of 1842. He quickly rose to the rank of Colonel by 1851 and received advancement to general of division in 1857. He served with distinction at the Battles of Alma, Inkerman, and the assault of Sebastopol during the Crimean War. He fought in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 and in July of 1870, was nominated as aide-de-camp to Emperor Napoleon, earning renown as one of his most resourceful generals.

With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, he took command of the First Army of the North. Like most of Napoleon III’s most senior generals, he too proved to be unprepared and unqualified for the war. The Prussian superiority in modern firearms and tactics proved to be too much for the French, who at one time seemed to possess the best army in the world. The Franco-Prussian War ended the myth of French military superiority.

Famed Marxist philosopher and war correspondent Friedrich Engels called the January 1871 Battle of the Lisaine “Bourbaki’s shipwreck.” The battle and subsequent flight of Bourbaki and his army left most of his surviving soldiers without winter clothing, ammunition, or provisions.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
His Army’s surrender is immortalized in a 360-degree painting on display in Lucerne, Switzerland. (Bourbaki Panorama)

Five days after his First Army of the North met defeat at the hands of the Prussians, Bourbaki and 80,000 surviving troops reached the French city of Besançon on their way to the Swiss border in search of sanctuary. They were cold and dispirited.

The choices were grim: flight across the neutral Swiss border or surrender to the victorious Prussians. The condition of his shattered ranks, coupled with the censure for his indecisiveness and poor decision-making during the battle, proved to be unbearable for Bourbaki. In thirty-plus years of campaigning, the general had never experienced defeat on this scale.

“The whole behaviour of Bourbaki, from the 15th to the 26th, seems to prove that he had lost all confidence in his men and that consequently he also lost all confidence in himself,” Engels reported in The Pall Mall Gazette on February 18, 1871. No one ever questioned Bourbaki’s bravery, but his ability to command an army left much to be desired.

Bourbaki’s staff officers worried about his mood over the days leading up to January 26. They intentionally hid his sidearm from him because they were afraid that he would attempt to take his life. Bourbaki located a gunsmith in the city to purchase another weapon, but the gunsmith turned him away, warned of Bourbaki’s suicidal intentions.

But the stubborn general was resolute. He would not be joining his men on their journey to Switzerland.

He commandeered a pistol from one of his aides and retired to his quarters. It was exactly seven o’clock on the evening of January 26, 1871 when his aides heard the single crack of a gunshot echo from Bourbaki’s room.

This Pearl Harbor hero refused to abandon his ship
Bourbaki likely used a weapon like this “Pistolet Cavaliere Modele 1822 TBIS” – the sidearm issued to French officers at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.

One of Bourbaki’s aides burst through the door of his room and discovered the general slumped over on his bed with his face and head covered with blood. He was miraculously still alive, still able to speak but unable to recall the names of his staff officers.

Two doctors rushed to perform immediate surgery. They discovered a 12mm ball lodged into his temporal muscle. No fracture of the skull was found and the general appeared to only suffer slight amnesia from the concussion of the bullet’s impact.

Bourbaki attributed his attempted suicide to the fact that he was denied a glorious death in battle. But by June, the war was over and he resumed his duties in the French Army.

He lived another 26 years and died in Cambo-Les-Bains on September 22, 1897, well-established among the public as the French general whose failed suicide became his legacy.

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