There’s no question about it: A singular blemish in French history is to blame for their eternal ridicule. The moment Marshal Philippe Petain surrendered (kind of) to the Germans after being the main target of the blitzkrieg was the moment people started associating “s’il vous plaît” with “surrender.”
Ridicule against Vichy France, the German puppet state, isn’t without merit — we get it. But to overlook the storied nation’s thousands of years of badassery is laughably incorrect. Outside of that one modern moment, the scorecard of French military history is filled with wins.
Author’s Note: It’s a fool’s errand to try and rank these by historical significance or how they each demonstrate French military might, so they’re listed in chronological order:
Battle of Hastings
If you want to get technical, this battle happened before the formation of France proper. Still, it’s generally agreed that France began with the Franks. Sorry, Gauls. Their legacy of military might includes (successfully) fighting off vikings, Iberians, and, occasionally, the Holy Roman Empire.
But the single landmark victory for the Franks came when Duke William the Bastard of Normandy pressed his claim over the English crown in 1066. At the Battle of Hastings, outnumbered Normans fought English forces, led by King Herald Godwinson. The Normans, led by William, pushed through English shield walls to take out the crown. William the Bastard then went on to conquer the rest of England and earned himself the a new moniker, “King William the Conqueror.”
Siege of Orleans
At the the height of English might, during the Hundred Years’ War, they finally made an effort to end the French once and for all. The city of Orleans was put under siege — and the throne was thrust into dire circumstances. All the English had to do was starve city. That was, until a young peasant girl arrived: Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc successfully sneaked a relief convoy of food, aid, and arms into the city, right under the noses of the English. This bolstered the strength of the defenders. With food in bellies and morale on the rise, the besieged made a stand and finally pushed the English out of France.
Battle of Yorktown
This is the battle that won the Americans the Revolutionary War, so it’s most often seen as a major victory for the Americans. But the victory would have never been if it weren’t for massive support from the French.
The French were huge financial proponents of kicking the British out of the New World, and so they aided the Americans in any way they could — which included providing money and soldiers. Everything came to a head at Yorktown, Virginia when Lord Cornwallis went up against General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau. It was an effort of equal parts — both Washington and Rochambeau flanked Cornwallis on each side, forcing his surrender and officially relinquishing British control over the Colonies.
Most of the Napoleonic Wars
It’s kind of hard to single out one shining example of the sheer strength of the French during the Napoleonic Wars because Napoleon was such a great military leader. If you break down his win/loss ratio down into baseball statistics, like these guys have, he outshines every general in history —from Alexander the Great to modern generals.
Let’s look at the Battle of Ligny. Napoleon managed to piss off the entirety of Europe, causing themto band together tofight him. He was cornered in Prussia andhis enemies were closing in. In a last-ditch effort, he took a sizable chunk out of the Prussian military and forced them to retreat. This all happened while the English, the Russians, the Austrians, and the Germans were trying to intervene.
Just two days later came the Battle ofWaterloo, duringwhich most of Europe had to work together to bring down the dominant Napoleon.
The Battle of Verdun
Let’s go back to Philippe Petain, the guy who gave up France to the Germans, for a second. Today, many see him as a traitor, a coward, and a weakling — but these insults can’t be made with putting a huge asterisk next to them. In World War I, he was known as the “Lion of Verdun” after he oversaw and won what is known as the longest and single bloodiest battle in human history.
For almost the entirety of the year 1916, the Germans pushed everything they had into a single forest on the French/German border. It was clear within the first six days that after the Germans spent 2 million rounds, 2 million artillery shells, and deployed chemical warfare for the first time, that the French would not budge. 303 days later, the Germans finally realize that the French wouldn’t give in and gave up.
In the opening paragraph, there was a “(kind of)” next to mention of French surrender during WWII. Well, that’s because not all of France gave in — just parts of it. France was split into three: Vichy France (a powerless puppet state), the French Protectorates (which were mostly released back to their home rule), and the resistance fighters of Free France.
The Free French resistance fighters were widespread across the French territory, but were mostly centralized in the South. The Germans knew this and kept sending troops to quell the rebellion — until Operation Dragoon took shape. Aided by Allied air power, French resistance fighters were able to repel the Germans out of Free France in only four weeks and give the Allies the strong foothold they needed in the Mediterranean until the fall of fascist Italy.
French Marines were manning observation posts on either side of the Vrbanja Bridge. They were UN peacekeepers, the first to arrive in the decimated city of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War in May 1995. But their day was to begin in humiliation and end in bloodshed as their mission to hold the observation posts quickly escalated into the first UN combat mission of the war.
When they first began their occupation of the bridge, one side was overtaken by Bosnian Serb commandos. Dressed in French uniforms and donning French weapons, the commandos took one side of the bridge without firing a shot. They even pulled up to the post in a stolen French armored personnel carrier. For many of the Serbs, it was the last thing they would ever do.
A lot of them, like Serbian commander Ratko Mladic, were busy committing war crimes.
At gunpoint, the 10 French marines were disarmed and taken captive, and driven to another location. The other two were to be used on the bridge as human shields. The other side of the bridge didn’t even know their comrades had been overrun and captured. When the other unit didn’t check in with headquarters, their platoon commander came to check in on the Marines – he then sounded the alarm. When their fellow marines discovered their friends had been taken captive, they decided to move quickly on the Serb commandos.
“When the Serbs took our soldiers under their control by threat, by dirty tricks, they began to act as terrorists, you cannot support this,” Said Col. Erik Sandahl, commander of the 4th French Battalion. “You must react. The moment comes when you have to stop it. Full stop. And we did.”
French APCs on the ground in Bosnia, 1995.
When French President Jacques Chirac found out about the captured French marines, he went around the UN and ordered his troops to retake the bridge and find the missing men. The French sent 30 more Marines, 13 APCs, and 70 French Army soldiers to the bridge. But they couldn’t just blow up the observation post or do a regular infantry assault on the position. There were still hostages inside. They were going to have to do it the old fashioned way.
The French marines mounted their first bayonet charge since the Korean War.
François Lecointre, now a general and France’s Chief of the Defence Staff, led the bayonet charge.
After the bayonet charge, a 32-minute firefight ensued that saw one of the French hostages shot by a Bosnian sniper, the other hostage escaped, three Frenchmen killed in action and another ten wounded, along with four Serbs killed, three wounded and another four taken prisoner. The 10 French hostages were later released. The Serbs soldiers captured were treated as prisoners of war and held by the UN peacekeeping force.
It was the last time the French Army ever launched a bayonet charge, but for the rest of the time the French were participating as UN Peacekeepers in Bosnia, the Serbian forces kept a clear, noticeable distance from them.
Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the US military shifted its focus from Russia to the Middle East.
In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, starting an international crisis that would end with Iraq’s defeat by a US-led coalition six months later.
Although Operation Desert Storm is considered a textbook conventional war, it was full of special-operations missions.
Let us into the fight!
The first and biggest hurdle US special-operations units faced was getting into the battle.
Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the four-star commander of US Central Command and the war’s military leader, viewed unconventional-warfare units with skepticism.
Initially, Schwarzkopf was adamantly against special-operations units having any significant role in the conflict — though he did accept some Delta Force operators as personal bodyguards.
Conversely, his second-in-command, British Gen. Sir Peter de la Billière, immediately called in the Special Air Service (SAS), which he had served in and commanded, and Special Boat Service (SBS). The SAS and SBS, the British equivalents of Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, respectively, offered unconventional-warfare options to the war effort.
Meanwhile, after some persuasion from the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Schwarzkopf relaxed his no-commandos policy.
Here is a brief breakdown of the notable operations they conducted.
US Army Special Forces
Army Special Forces operators set up observation posts on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border to monitor Iraqi moves. Special Forces teams also conducted prisoner-snatching operations to provide the Coalition with more human intelligence, perhaps the most valuable form of intel.
One team, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 525, was compromised when Iraqi boys spotted its members conducting a special reconnaissance operation 150 miles inside Iraq.
Alpha 525 chose not to kill the boys and instead tried to escape and evade. Over the following hours, the Iraqi Army almost overwhelmed them numerous times. The Green Berets escaped only because of their disciplined marksmanship and the close-air-support they received.
Special Forces teams also conducted Foreign Internal Defense (FID) by training allies and partner forces. Although not as shiny as raids and ambushes, FID was key to the victory because it brought Coalition units up to speed and was the glue that kept the multi-national force together.
Green Berets embedded with coalition units also served as liaisons, primarily between coalition units and US aircraft, and called close-air-support.
British Special Air Service and Special Boat Service
British special-operations units played a vital role in the military buildup during Operation Desert Shield and during combat in Operation Desert Storm.
SBS operators also conducted a highly publicized assault on the British Embassy in Kuwait City, which the Iraqis had captured.
They also participated in a lesser-known operation on the outskirts of Baghdad, in which nearly a full squadron of SBS operators, accompanied by some American commandos from a Tier 1 unit specializing in signals intelligence, went after the Iraqi Army’s underground fiber-optics communications network. Saddam had used the network to communicate with his mobile SCUD launchers in the desert.
Ferried in by two special-operations Chinook helicopters, the joint commando force spent close to two hours on the ground digging for the cables. With dawn approaching, the operators managed to locate the cables and rig them with explosives, destroying them and frustrating Saddam’s communication with his most dangerous weapons.
US Navy SEALs
Navy SEALs conducted special reconnaissance operations along the Iraqi and Kuwaiti coasts to gather intelligence on Iraqi moves.
In the first hours of the ground war, SEALs conducted diversionary raids on the coast to fool the Iraqis into thinking that a large-scale amphibious operation was coming. The diversion — bolstered by the presence of US battleships — worked, allowing Coalition ground troops to arrive from the desert in the opposite direction and overwhelm the Iraqis.
SEALs conducted Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) operations in the Persian Gulf, often assaulting suspicious ships, and a SEAL element from SEAL Team Two went ashore to destroy a Tomahawk missile that had failed to detonate in order to prevent the Iraqis from getting the technology.
A SEAL platoon was also one of the first US units to enter Kuwait City during its liberation.
US Army Rangers
A battalion of Rangers was sent to Saudi Arabia as a quick-reaction force for the Tier 1 units.
The Rangers were also to assist Delta Force if it mounted a hostage-rescue operation in Iraq or Kuwait to free any of the hundreds of Westerners who Saddam captured in during the invasion and held as human shields.
Rangers also conducted a raid against a telecommunications tower near the Jordanian-Iraqi border, destroying it and capturing several prisoners.
US Air Force Commandos
Air Commandos don’t usually get as much publicity as their sister-service comrades because more often than not Pararescuemen, Combat Controllers, Special Operations Weather Technicians (now Special Reconnaissance operators), and Tactical Air Control Party airmen are attached to other special-operations units as individuals.
During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Air Commandos mainly saw action alongside Delta operators in the hunt for the SCUD missiles. But they also did some traditional Air Commando tasks.
A Pararescue element conducted the first rescue operation of the war on January 21, 1991, after a Navy F-14 Tomcat was shot down in Iraq. A special-operations MH-53J Pave Low helicopter carried the team behind enemy lines to save the pilot, though the F-14’s radar officer was captured.
But not all missions went well. During the Battle of Khafji, in a Saudi city close to Kuwait’s border, an AC-130H Spectre gunship was shot down by an Iraqi portable surface-to-air missile, killing its 14-man crew—the largest loss of life in a single incident in Air Force Special Operations Command’s history.
The Vietnam War’s icon was arguably the UH-1 helicopter. Officially designated the Iroquois (‘Huey’ is more of a term of endearment), this helicopter has been the most-produced in history, first flying in 1956 — that means it has just over six decades of service with the United States military!
Over 7,000 Hueys were used in Vietnam, and 2,500 were lost during the war.
According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, the UH-1D had the ability to carry up to 16 passengers and crew.
The chopper could also carry just under 3,900 pounds of equipment in the cabin or 5,000 pounds in an external sling. It also could serve as a potent gunship, firing 70mm rockets, M60 machine guns in 7.62mm NATO, and M134 miniguns.
The secret to the Huey’s success was a gas turbine engine that not only was able to perform at higher temperatures and in less-dense air than previous helicopters, but it was also much lighter than previous helicopter engines.
This allowed the Huey to be smaller (48-foot rotor diameter, 57 foot length) and lighter — making it fast (a top speed of 135 miles per hour) and maneuverable. It had a range of 315 miles, giving American troops the ability to strike hard and fast at a distance.
The chopper’s mobility meant that in a one-year tour, the average infantry soldier saw 240 days of combat. For some perspective, in the Pacific Theater during WWII, the average grunt saw 40 days over the nearly four years that conflict lasted.
Today, versions of the UH-1 are still in service with the Marine Corps (the UH-1Y Venom), the Air Force (UH-1N), and Navy (UH-1N). The Army’s last Huey mission was flown on Dec. 15, 2016. According to an Army release, the helicopter was handed off to the Louisiana State Police a week later.
Exactly 108 years ago on Nov. 14, 2018, carrier aviation was born from an experiment that would eventually evolve into one of the most important aspects of modern warfare.
Here are some impressive moments in the history of carrier aviation.
Eugene Burton Ely flies his Curtiss Pusher biplane from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser No. 2), in Hampton Roads, Virginia, during the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1910.
(US Navy photo)
1. Eugene Burton Ely flew a Curtiss Pusher biplane off the deck of the USS Birmingham on Nov. 14, 1910, marking the first time the Navy had launched a plane from a warship, which came only seven years after the Wright Brothers’ first flights. This moment can be considered the birth of carrier aviation.
Squadron Commander E H Dunning attempting to land his Sopwith Pup on the flying-off deck of HMS Furious, Scapa Flow, 7 Aug. 1917. He was killed when his aircraft veered off the flight deck and into the sea.
3. British Royal Naval Air Service pilot Edwin H. Dunning successfully landed an aircraft on a moving warship, the HMS Furious, for the first time on Aug. 2, 1917. He died five days later on a follow-up attempt, demonstrating the challenge of landing on a ship at sea.
A Sopwith Cuckoo, which was designed to take off from British carriers but land ashore, dropping a torpedo.
4. The first plane specifically designed to take off from an aircraft carrier and drop torpedoes was the Sopwith Cuckoo. The plane, which lacked the ability to land on a carrier, completed its first flight in June 1917. As this technology evolved, it would play a critical role in future battles.
5. The Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber, unquestionably the most important carrier-based aircraft in the Pacific Theater of World War II, entered service with the US military in 1940. The bomber carried a 1,000-pound bomb and was responsible for sinking 300,000 tons of enemy shipping, everything from submarines to battleships to carriers, reportedly more than any other Allied aircraft.
7. US Navy Lt. Edward “Butch” O’Hare became the first naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor for defending the American aircraft carrier USS Lexington from a wave of Japanese heavy bombers on Feb. 20, 1942. He took on a formation of nine Japanese bombers, shooting down roughly half a dozen enemy planes. He would later lead the first nighttime mission from a carrier on Nov. 26, 1943. O’Hare was killed during that mission.
Douglas SBDs of USS Yorktown´s air group head back to the ship after a strike on Japanese ships in Tulagi harbor on 4 May 1942.
8. The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought May 4-8, 1942, was the first naval battle in history in which the two opposing naval surface forces never came within sight of one another, highlighting the true warfighting range of carrier-based fighters and bombers.
The U.S. Navy Lockheed KC-130F Hercules from Transport Squadron 1 (VR-1), loaned to the U.S. Naval Air Test Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59) on 10 October 1963.
9. On Oct. 30, 1963, a C-130 Hercules pulled off the seemingly impossible, landing on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. There in the North Atlantic, the C-130 became the heaviest aircraft to ever land on an aircraft carrier.
An F-35C Lightning II carrier-variant of the Joint Strike Fighter makes an arrested landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
(U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Andy Wolfe)
10. A carrier version of the F-35, the most expensive aircraft in history, landed on an aircraft carrier for the first time in November 2014. Four years later, an American F-35B conducted its first combat operation from the deck of a US Navy amphibious assault ship.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy had some of the most advanced weapons available, like artillery shells with proximity fuses that detonated at set distances from their target. But they also had a secret weakness: Many of their torpedoes would explode too early, would swim under their targets without exploding, or might even circle back around to hit them.
Submarine officers and representatives of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance pose with a Mk. 14 torpedo in 1943.
It wasn’t the only flawed torpedo, but most of the Navy’s torpedo problems centered around the Mk. 14. It was supposed to be the most advanced and deadly anti-ship weapon in the U.S. fleet. They ran on steam and could travel over five miles and hit speeds of almost 53 mph and then detonate under an enemy ship’s hull with up to 643 pounds of high explosives.
In tests and in theory, this would break the keel of an enemy ship, ripping it in half or opening massive holes in the hull, quickly sending it to the deep.
American submarine commanders headed out with their boats filled with Mk. 14s. They were supposed to use their deck guns as much as possible, since they carried a limited number of torpedoes and each cost ,000 (about 1,000 in today’s money). But when the tactical situation called for firing a torpedo from stealth, like when facing a destroyer or launching a surprise attack against a convoy, they were supposed to fire a few torpedoes and watch the show.
The Mk. 14 torpedo began its career as a deeply flawed weapon, but a series of changes in 1943 would get it fit to fight.
But submarine commanders quickly began reporting problems with their weapons after Adm. Harold Rainsford Stark ordered unrestricted submarine warfare. The Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance thought the weapons should work 98 percent of the time. Submarine commanders were seeing much different results.
The older Mk. 10 was two for two while the Mk. 14 had failed completely. This wasn’t the Seawolf’s first issue with the Mk. 14, either. It had six previous tours under its belt, all plagued by torpedo issues, including that time it fired eight Mk. 14s, which accounted for seven misses and a dud hit.
The USS Tullibee was destroyed when it fired a torpedo at a Japanese ship in World War II only for it to swim in a circle and hit the submarines instead of the enemy in March, 1944.
Worse, the Mk. 14s had a pesky habit of detonating properly when they circle ran, the worst possible situation. A circle run occurs when a torpedo follows a curved instead of straight path. And uneven drag, propulsion, or warping of a torpedo can cause a circle run and, like the name implies, it sends the torpedo in a circle, back to its starting point.
The Bureau of Ordnance dragged their feet about assessing the problem, and then it took a while to get definitive solutions. So, for two years, submarines went on patrols with faulty weapons that could swim right under the target, pierce it without detonating, or even sink their own submarine.
But the Navy did eventually find the causes of the faults. The circle runs were caused by faulty gyros that failed to straighten the path. The torpedo sometimes swam right under the target because the torpedoes had been tested with faulty depth-measuring equipment and with warheads that didn’t reflect their real buoyancy. The failures to detonate were caused by faulty magnetic and mechanical initiators.
In fact, the mechanical initiator was an especially galling failure as far as submarine commanders were concerned, because they had been told for years that the real problem was them firing from bad angles while a 90-degree hit was most effective. In reality, the mechanical failures were most common at exactly 90 degrees, failing 70 percent of the time in later lab tests.
The Mk. 14 had been in the fleet for nearly 20 years by this point, so it might seem impossible that these faults hadn’t been discovered earlier. But it had been developed during the Great Depression when budget constraints severely constricted the tests and experiments scientists and engineers could do.
Changes were eventually made. The torpedoes were re-calibrated for the proper depth and the magnetic initiators were thrown out entirely. The mechanical ones were faulty thanks to heavy firing pins that couldn’t achieve the right momentum when the torpedo was at full speed, so they were replaced with a lighter metal alloy.
When Mitchell Paige was a young boy, he watched Marines proudly march in a parade. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to join the Corps. On his 18th birthday, the motivated young man walked 200 miles from his home in Pennsylvania to Baltimore and enlisted.
After completing his training, Paige quickly rose up in the ranks, eventually earning command over his own platoon. Soon after, he was sent to join other troops in the ground invasion of the Island of Guadalcanal. The island housed a critical airfield — one within striking distance of Australia and New Zealand, making it extremely dangerous in enemy hands.
Paige was sent in to protect another infantry company with his deadly squad of machine-gunners, but the fight would soon take an unexpected turn.
As Paige’s Marines settled into position, rain poured down. He ordered his men to remain as silent as possible. The mission was to hold the line at all costs — or risk losing control of the crucial airfield.
Then, the enemy swarmed in, engaging the Marines with everything they had. As his men fell injured, Paige ran back and forth firing his men’s weapons, making the Japanese think there were still plenty of American troops left in the fight.
As Paige continued to fire the machine guns, he was discovered by an enemy troop. That troop aimed directly at Paige and fired. The platoon sergeant leaned back and somehow dodged the incoming rounds. The hot bullets whizzed through the tiny, open space between Paige’s neck and chin, miraculously causing zero damage.
Paige returned fire, taking the enemy soldier out just as quickly as he had appeared.
Still, the Japanese troops severely outnumbered the American Marines. Paige loaded himself up with ammo and charged the enemy while holding his .30 caliber machine gun at his hip. He shot at every Japanese troop that entered his field of vision.
They dropped like flies.
Suddenly, his surroundings fell still — completely silent. Paige turned his head and saw two Marine riflemen headed his way, celebrating. Reportedly, 33 Marines fought off more than 2,000 Japanese troops during the intense skirmish.
On May 21, 1943, Mitchell Paige was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds.
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.
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.
“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.
(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.
“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.
Who doesn’t love a bit of candy to lighten the mood? Today, troops opening up an MRE might find a bag of Skittles or some sweets in there to help boost morale a little bit. This isn’t anything new; troops have had some kind of candy in rations since WWII.
While the soldiers who were preparing to jump into the fight on D-Day likely had a few of their favorite chocolate bars on them, they had another specialty chocolate bar, one made exclusively made for the troops. It was called the U.S. Army Field Ration D and it tasted about as appetizing as the name suggests — a little bit better than a boiled potato.
Still better than the Veggie MRE.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)
The Field Ration D, or “D-Bar,” was the brain child of Col. Paul Logan and the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. The idea was to stuff enough calories, vitamins, and nutrients inside of an easy-to-carry chocolate bar so that troops always had an emergency field ration if they needed it. It weighed 4 oz., packed 600 calories, and was mixed with raw oat flour to ensure that it wouldn’t melt easily.
The packaging of Field Ration D was made with aluminum wrapper, cardboard dipped in wax, and cellophane. There was no way that bugs, weather, or gas could reach the bar and contaminate it. There was also a safety measure put in place by Col. Logan to ensure troops didn’t just eat their emergency ration for a sweet fix — he reportedly asked Hershey to not focus on the taste.
The D-Bar was so full of cacao fat and oat flour that it could survive any condition, but it also made the bar extremely bitter. Since it was made to endure nearly any conditions, it was solid as a rock. Not exactly appetizing.
To make matters worse, if any troop didn’t read the tiny warning to eat the bar slowly, over a thirty minute time period, their bowels would suffer. This unfortunate side-effect earned it the nickname, “Hitler’s secret weapon.”
Word of how awful the D-Bar was (and its unofficial moniker) made it back to Hershey. They offered another chocolate bar instead — the Tropical Bar. Apparently, this was even worse and earned the name “Dysentery Bar,” because troops who already had dysentery were the only ones who could tolerate it.
In the end, the top brass at the Pentagon lavished Hershey with numerous awards for their “help” in WWII while the troops exchanged the D-Bars and Tropical Bars to unsuspecting civilians for better food.
To watch the bravest man on YouTube actually eat one of these, check out the video below by Steve1989 at MRE Info.
During World War II, the U.S. and Russia fought together as allies against Hitler and his massive German army. That “friendship,” however, quickly soured after the elimination of their common enemy. The relationship was fraught with trust issues.
The U.S. started to get nervous, thinking the Soviet Union would one-day attack American soil with chemical weapons. So, to prepare for that awful possibility, the government needed to test gas masks (even on children) to ensure safety from chemical agents. To do so, the United States Chemical Corps developed a mask strictly for civilian use that looks like something out of Star Wars.
It’s easy to look back at the U.S. and see paranoia, but this video suggests that the U.S.S.R. did, in fact, have a stockpile of chemical weapons.
The masks’ manufacturers put filter pads inside to screen out radioactive dust and particles. In theory, the idea was sound but, like anything, the apparatus needed some practical testing.
The kids who would take part in the tests were fitted via with masks after a series of measurements of their faces were taken. Once each test subject — *cough* I mean child — was equipped with a masks, government workers escorted them into a chamber. The door was sealed behind them.
Then, the testing chamber was filled with a “fine” aerosol spray as the children read books and fun magazines to stay occupied. During the 10-minute period of exposure, the small room was filled with a large quantity of organisms.
Prince Charles ascended to the Swedish throne in 1697 at the age of 15 as Sweden, then one of the most powerful countries in the world, was beset on all sides by enemies and rivals that began attacking early into his reign. Unfortunately for them, the new King Charles XII just couldn’t stop winning battles, even when severely outnumbered.
Swedish King Charles XII led a series of successful counter invasions after his country was attacked by a three-way alliance anchored on Peter the Great.
(David von Krafft)
Charles’s forebears had built Sweden into a massive country for the time, consisting of modern-day Sweden, Finland, and Estonia as well as sections of Russia, Latvia, Norway, and Germany. By the time that Charles XII ascended, some small sections had been lost, especially in Norway, but Sweden still had a firm grip on the Baltic Sea.
They were wrong. The Swedish people rallied around their young king in 1700 at the beginning of the invasion, and Charles XII marched with his men to meet the threat. The first two attacks came from Poland-Lithuania and then Denmark-Norway, but both were weak and easily beat back, and Frederick IV was knocked out of the war.
The true threat would come that November when Peter the Great marched on Livonia, a Swedish province that bordered Poland-Lithuania and Russia.
Great Northern War – When Sweden Ruled the World – Extra History – #1
It’s important to note here that Sweden’s armed forces were the envy of much of Europe. Their army was known for discipline, and the navy was highly capable. But the Russian and Polish-Lithuanian forces arrived first and laboriously dug into the frozen ground to prepare for a siege.
But Charles the XII, riding high after his battlefield success against Danish troops, sailed to Narva and prepared to attack despite the freezing cold. Some of his father’s top advisers pushed hard against that plan. Swedish forces would be outnumbered 4 to 1 while fighting against a dug-in force.
Peter the Great, certain that Charles XII wouldn’t attack until his men could rest and refit from their long movement, left the battlefield to attend to other matters of state. Charles XII, meanwhile, figured his 10,000 men would perform just as well now, tired from their long march from the coast, as they would after weeks of “resting” in the snow and ice.
So, near the end of November (November 30 by our modern calendar, but the 19th or 20th by calendars in use at the time), Charles XII ordered his men into formation for an assault despite a blizzard that was blowing snow into his own men’s faces.
The advisers, again, begged Charles to back off. But then the winds shifted. For some number of minutes, the Russians and their allies would be blind while the wind was at the Swedish back. Despite the string of questionable decisions leading up to this point, he was now in perfect position to crush the primary rival attempting to break up his empire.
His men attacked, appearing like ghosts in the wind-driven snow. They fired their weapons at close range and then dived into Russian trenches, fighting bayonet against saber for control of the battlefield.
The Battle of Narva in 1700 saw Swedish forces break Russian lines despite being horribly outnumbered.
The Russians and their allies, despite outnumbering the Swedes 4 to 1, were driven from their defenses and fled east, attempting to ford a swollen, freezing river or cross one bridge near the battlefield which collapsed under the weight of the retreating forces.
Charles XII had broken Russia’s only major force, seized much of its supplies, and was well-positioned to invade the motherland before Peter could raise a new force. But instead, Charles XII wintered in Livonia and then pushed south into Poland-Lithuania, quickly driving Augustus II into Saxony, allowing Charles to name his own puppet to the Polish-Lithuanian crown.
In six years of war, Charles XII had won nearly every engagement, had knocked one of Russia’s allies out of power and crippled the second, and had forced Peter the Great to rebuild his broken army from scratch.
But all of this success had gone to the young king’s head. It was 1706, and he was now 24 and the power behind the throne of a large kingdom that bordered his own empire. Charles XII struck north with all the bravado that the early successes could muster in his young soul.
But while he was marching to victory in Poland, Peter the Great had been battling Swedish generals to the north, winning more than he lost and cutting through the Baltic provinces to create St. Petersburg on the shore of the Baltic Sea. Peter had his port and offered to give everything else back if he could keep it. Charles XII declined and headed north to re-take his coastline.
But Charles had been so successful against Russia in 1700 thanks to a bit of luck and the high discipline of Swedish troops against less experienced and drilled conscripts. By 1706, Peter had a large core of battle-hardened troops that were real rivals for Swedish forces, and he would exploit most any mistake Charles XII would make.
A portrait of Peter the Great.
Charles XII marched on Russia, and his initial thrusts were even more successful than his first forays against Russian forces. His men would hit Russian lines before the troops could even dig in, forcing Peter to pull back faster and faster.
But Peter was secretly cool with this. Remember, he just wanted to keep his fort, and he was steadily fortifying it as his men withdrew. Swedish advisers still thought they could take St. Petersburg, but it would be a hard-fought thing by the time they arrived.
But Charles would reach even further, overreaching by far. He marched against Moscow instead. The advisers begged him not to do so. It was impossible, they thought.
Peter launched a destructive defense just like Russians would do for generations after him, stopping invasions by Napoleon and Hitler. They burned bridges behind them, sent horsemen to harry the Swedish attackers, and waited for the cold to drain Swedish strength.
Peter began picking good ground to defend, but the Swedish king was still successful in battle after battle. At Grodno, Holowczyn, Neva, Malatitze, and Rajovka, Swedish forces were victorious despite often fighting outnumbered both in terms of total men and artillery strength. Some of these, like at Holowczyn and Malatitze, were decisive victories where Sweden inflicted thousands of casualties while only suffering hundreds of their own.
But Peter the Great had traded space for time. Sweden was racking up tactical victories, but his men lacked sufficient supplies as the Russian winter set in, and this was the Great Frost of 1709, the coldest winter in 500 years of European history.
Russian forces smashed Swedish troops at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.
Both sides lost forces to the cold, but disease and starvation took out over half of Charles XII’s army. Charles tried supporting a revolution by Cossacks in Ukraine to gain more troops and supplies there, but it failed, and Peter was able to pen Charles XII in, cutting him off from Swedish lines of re-supply.
At the Battle of Poltava, Charles XII tried to conduct a siege without artillery and with only 18,000 men ready to fight. Peter arrived at the fort with 80,000 men. Charles XII, unable to walk or ride because of a shot to his foot during the siege, ordered an attack anyway.
Charles was nearly captured during the fight, narrowly rescued by a Swedish major who sacrificed himself to save the king. 14,000 Swedish soldiers were captured, and Charles XII barely escaped to the Ottoman Empire, a historical rival of Russia. Charles would overstay his welcome here.
While he was stuck, Norway and Poland began war against Sweden once again, and Prussia and England joined the fray. Charles XII was killed in the trenches near Frederiksten in 1718, in some ways the victim of his own early success as a boy-king. Sweden would see its territory chipped away, much of it lost in 1720.
The actual translation of Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak’s epic nickname might be “The White Lily of Stalingrad,” depending on the language you speak. Considering the Lily’s association with death and funerals, it’s rather fitting for such an incredible pilot.
Litvyak was only 20 years old when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The young girl rushed to the recruiter and tried to join to be a fighter pilot. The recruiters sent her packing. In their minds, she was just a small, young girl.
In truth, she was flying solo at 15 and was an experienced pilot. A biographer estimated she trained more than 45 pilots on her own. She knew she could do this. So instead of giving up, she went to another recruiter and lied about her flying experience, by more than a hundred hours. That did the trick.
The Soviets, probably realizing that this fight was going to kill a lot of Soviet people (and it did, to the tune of 27 million), were foresighted enough to consider gender equality when it came to their military units. Where American women pilots were only allowed to transport planes, Stalin was forming three fighter regiments of all-female pilots.
Young Lydia Litvyak flew a few missions with the all-female unit before transferring to a mixed-gender unit — over Stalingrad. It was here she earned her illustrious moniker, “The White Rose of Stalingrad.” She flew around a hail of anti-aircraft fire to engage an artillery observation balloon from the rear. She shot it down in a blaze of hydrogen-fueled mayhem — a notoriously difficult task for any pilot.
Litvyak wasn’t finished; she later became one of two women to be crowned “first female fighter ace” as well. She wasn’t flawless — she was shot down more than once and bled more than her share over Russian soil.
But even when forced to make belly landings, she hopped right back into the closest cockpit.
She was so good, the Russian command chose her to be Okhotniki, — or “free hunter” — a new tactic that involved two experienced pilots who were free to hunt the skies on seek and destroy missions. She terrorized German pilots all over the Eastern Front.
“The White Rose of Stalingrad” was last seen being chased by eight Nazi ME-109 fighters on an escort mission south of Moscow. Her body was lost until 1989 when historians discovered the unmarked grave of a female pilot in the Russian village of Dmytrivka.
The next year, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the USSR’s highest military honor.
The Taiho launched on April 7, 1943, and was commissioned on March 7, 1944. With the Japanese Navy in retreat across most of the Pacific, the admirals held the Taiho in reserve until it could be sent where it would make a significant difference.
The ship was committed to combat in June as part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the largest carrier battles in history. The goal of the Japanese forces was to force a confrontation with the U.S. and wipe out the greater American numbers.
But the Taiho only participated in part of the defeat. In the opening hours of the battle, the USS Albacore spotted the carrier and launched a spread of six torpedoes right as the second wave of planes was taking off.
The blast rocked through the ship, blowing out the sides and opening holes that stretched down below the waterline. So Komatsu’s actions were one of the more heroic moments in warfare history, but it wasn’t enough to save his friends or his ship.