There were a lot of big name winners at the 17th Annual Academy Awards in 1945, Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, and… the United States Marine Corps. That’s right, USMC Combat Cameramen won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short for their coverage of the Battle of Tarawa in 1943. Tarawa was unique because of the coverage COMCAM operators were able to give the battle.
November 20-23 1943 saw a thousand Marines die fighting to take the tiny, two mile wide island of Tarawa from Imperial Japanese forces during World War II. Two thousand more Marines were injured. 4,700 Japanese died defending the island with only 17 surrendering to U.S. forces. Hundreds of Korean slave laborers also died.
Combat Camera Marines with the 2nd Marine Division were along for the ride and after the battle, edited With the Marines at Tarawa, a twenty minute short film designed to bring the story of the battle to Americans on the home front. The goal was to give people as close to a first hand experience of the horrors of war as film could get them.
In an eleven minute newsreel from the Army-Navy Screen Magazine designed to be viewed by servicemen, Marine Corps Combat Cameraman Norm Hatch narrates the footage he filmed during the battle of Tarawa.
The narration was clearly written by a screenwriter (this is WWII propaganda, after all), and it includes a short skit as a premise for the story, but the combat footage is heavy and graphic at times.
The end may seem out of place, but the quick construction of the airfield at Tarawa is a reminder of the importance of the battle and the need for the island’s strategic position. It’s also a good reminder of what Marines can do when called upon: The Japanese admiral commanding Tarawa boasted the Marines couldn’t take Tarawa with a million men in a hundred years.
He was a former Delta Force operator who’d taken a career turn into the shadowy world of “non-official cover” intelligence operations for the Army. He lived in the shadows — traveling around the world to build and maintain his cover as a businessman, with members of his former unit wondering where he’d gone.
But on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the East European executed a daring mission on behalf of America’s top commando units, driving into the heart of Saddam Hussein’s power and surveilling his most fearsome tool of the Iraqi dictator’s oppression.
The stunning story of the East European is detailed in Sean Naylor’s book “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.” The operator is said to have been an original member of Delta Force and was on the ill-fated Eagle Claw mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran. Born in Eastern Europe, the elite commando was said to be a “funny, outgoing guy with a heavy accent,” Naylor writes.
The operator left the assaulter side of Delta and worked in the Training, Evaluation and Operational Research office of the unit, which among other things develops high-tech gadgets for Delta commandos to use on covert missions. Later, the East European descended into the shadowy world of a NOC.
These intelligence agents, Naylor writes, were playing a dangerous game. They could infiltrate countries where Americans dared not travel under a realistic cover, but if they were caught, they had no ready support and no diplomatic immunity like CIA officers do. The East European had traveled to Iran in hopes of recruiting military sources there and had even worked inside Iraq in the 1990s as part of the United Nations’ search for WMD. His cover was maintained by a U.S.-allied country in Eastern Europe, and he’d even had access to that country’s embassy in Baghdad, Naylor explained.
But it was after the attacks on 9/11, that the East European was given his most dangerous mission yet.
It was a typical drive from Amman to Baghdad for the American agent, but the vehicle he was driving into Saddam’s capital wasn’t typical at all. The SUV that would carry him into the city was bristling with surveillance equipment implanted by the National Security Agency. The super-secret listening devices were designed to capture cellphone and handheld radio traffic and send the signals back to the U.S. for analysis, Naylor writes.
The East European simply parked the SUV in front of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad and left it there. Military intelligence operatives hoped to get tips on Iraqi military positions just before the invasion and track the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.
“If you were trying to establish every time that Saddam Hussein’s personal security detail drove around Baghdad, this was a way of doing that,” a Joint Special Operations command officer told Naylor. “The Iraqis were notoriously poor at OPSEC.”
After leaving the vehicle at Iraqi intel HQ, the East European walked the streets of Baghdad with a special GPS device, tagging targets in the Iraqi capital for airstrikes.
The East European pinpointed targets deep inside Baghdad for U.S. bombers during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. (Photo from Democracy Now)
“Such missions entailed enormous risk, not only from the Iraqi security services if the agent was compromised, but from the bombing campaign itself,” Naylor wrote. “Protecting him required careful, up-to-the-minute planning of the airstrikes.”
So if it wasn’t the Mukhabarat that could bring death and destruction to the East European, it was American bombs.
The East European quietly exfiled from Iraq after the invasion and served several more years in military-related intelligence services. But that drive into the heart of Baghdad shows that the feats of Hollywood superstars like Jason Bourne aren’t entirely the stuff of fiction.
It happens every single time a veteran sits down to watch a movie with friends and family. The civilians grab a bag of popcorn while the veteran starts biting their lower lip. The civilians start to enjoy themselves and the veteran starts offhandedly remarking on how “that’s not how it actually happens.”
Before you know it, the veteran hits pause and proceeds to give a full-length presentation on why the film is a disaster because they put the flag on the wrong side of the soldier’s uniform.
Most of what makes a military film bad isn’t intentional, of course. No one wants to spend millions on making a bad movie. But when done right, as so many have been before, troops and veterans will keep it on their top ten film list. So, Mr. Hollywood Producer, when you set out to make the next military blockbuster, use the following advice about the five biggest military movie mistakes.
Hire a good military adviser (and listen to them)
This may come as a shock to some veterans, but there are people on film sets whose entire job is to point out what would and wouldn’t happen in the real military. They’re called military advisers. The great military films are made or broken by how much the cast and crew decide listen to said adviser.
On a magnificent film set, like Saving Private Ryan, for example, everyone from Steven Spielberg to the background extras listened to every single word Dale Dye spoke. A good adviser knows they’re not on set to interrupt the creative team’s ideas. If they speak up to say something is wrong, it’s for a good reason.
Writing that reflects reality
When there’s something fundamentally wrong with a film, it can often be traced back to the writer. One of the first things they tell up-and-coming screenwriters is, “you can make a bad movie from a good script, but you can’t make a good movie from a bad script.” And the best writers are those who can make is something feel authentic and realistic, no matter how extraordinary the setting.
Military films are no exception. The fact is, no two troops are the exactly same. This goes for every character in the film. Every character, lead or background, should be fully dimensional and the audience should have a reason to care if they get unexpectedly shot in Act 2B.
Don’t expect a three-act character arc in the matter of one deployment
While we’re still poking fun at writers, let’s talk about the all-too-common problem of trying to turn real stories into scripts by shoehorning their actions into the Aristotelian structure. For those unfamiliar, this is your basic story of a random nobody becoming a legendary hero. Luke Skywalker did it — but it took him three movies, the loss of his mentor, and multiple failures to finally become a Jedi master.
Don’t expect to apply that same structure to a biopic that begins with a troop being a nobody at basic training and ends with them becoming a battlefield legend. In fact, some of the greatest war films rely on something simple, like “we need to go get this guy” to carry the story. A good story doesn’t need to be humongous in scope to be compelling.
Use authentic wardrobe
Despite how it may seem, there is no law that states that you must mess up uniforms if you’re to use them in a film. In fact, there’s actually a Supreme Court ruling that states you can use real uniforms in the arts — so there’s no excuse.
Use a military adviser and give them a say in the wardrobe department. Or, if you want to keep it simple, hire at least one veteran from whichever branch as part of the wardrobe team.
Retell the big scenes with smaller moments
It’s called a “set piece.” It’s the huge, elaborate moment that costs a boat-load of cash to capture. It’s what fits perfectly in the trailers. These are the scenes that action sensations, like The Fast and the Furious films, are known for. And yet, they often leave us feeling like something’s missing when done in military films — the personal touch
And that’s what really makes military movies different — sure, there are explosions in war, but it’s an intensely personal moment for the troops fighting. The gigantic scenes will sell much better if they focus on the fear in someone’s eyes more than flying a telephoto lens over the battlefield.
We previously brought you the amazing story of Jacob Miller, a Union soldier who walked around with a bullet in his face for 31 years. We thought Miller held the record for the longest amount of time spent alive with a Civil War bullet inside of your head. We were dead wrong. According to this article in theMail Tribune, Willis Meadows had him beat by a full 27 years.
Battle of Vicksburg | Wikimedia Commons
The Confederate soldier lost his right eye to a bullet at the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863. Fired by Union soldier Peter Knapp, the one-ounce slug lodged near Meadows’ brain and didn’t come out again for 58 years. How’d he survive?
“He was put on board a POW ship and transported to a Union hospital. Later, he was paroled to a Confederate hospital, where he spent the rest of the war as a patient and sometime nurse’s aide. After the war, he returned to his farm in Lanett, Ala., just east of the Georgia state line. He married, but had no children and probably would have died in obscurity had he not coughed up the bullet.”
Chew on that for a minute. He coughed up the bullet that took out his eye. Here’s how it went down. Meadows lived on his farm in Alabama in total obscurity for 58 years. When he was 78-years-old, he coughed up the bullet in his kitchen. Super intense, right? Everyone in 1921 thought so too:
“‘Coughs Up Bullet’ was a national newspaper story in 1921. Eleven years later, in a ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ cartoon, it was published around the world in 42 countries and 17 different languages.”
Things only got crazier from there. How’s that even possible? Because the Union soldier who fired the bullet ended up seeing the story and he and Meadows became best friends:
“Turns out that after Knapp saw the story, he realized he was the one who fired the bullet that lodged near Meadows’ brain. Within a few months, he contacted Meadows and when they compared notes, they realized it was true. As young mortal enemies they had tried to kill each other, but now, as aging veterans, they would spend their last few years as friends, exchanging photographs and wishing each other good health.”
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — affectionately called “Wright-Patt” for short — is located just outside of Dayton, Ohio. If you ask the locals or the airmen stationed there, they will tell you about the Air Force Museum, the Oregon District, and maybe even the Dayton Dragons baseball team.
But if you get a couple of beers in them or earn their trust by shouting “O-H,” the locals may even tell you about all the alien bodies, ghosts, and secret tunnels the Air Force hides there.
1. The Roswell Aliens (and their ship) are there.
Many Americans believe a UFO – and its extraterrestrial crew – crash-landed in the New Mexico desert near Roswell on July 2, 1947. They also believe the site was cleaned up by the Air Force from nearby Roswell Army Air Force Base.
Eyewitnesses reported that 3-foot tall, grey-skinned aliens died in the crash. According to Loren Coleman, the co-author of “Weird Ohio,” they and their space vessel were shipped off to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s notorious “Hangar 18.”
Everyone else has been trying to get in there ever since.
Senator Barry Goldwater supposedly asked USAF Gen. Curtis LeMay if he could see what was inside. LeMay told the Senator that not only could he not get in, but he should never ask again.
2. The tunnels under a Wright State University were originally meant for the Air Force.
Just down the street from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is Wright State University. The school has a convenient system of underground tunnels that allow students and faculty to make their way to class despite the sometimes chilly weather outside. There are almost two miles of tunnels.
Some locals believe that during the Cold War the base was a prime target for Soviet ICBMs. So naturally they assumed the tunnels were part of the base’s plan to escape nuclear blasts and radioactive fallout. Others think the tunnels are part of an abandoned, separate military facility.
When the next building went up two years later, the electrical systems of the two needed to be merged, so they built a simple tunnel between the two buildings. Eventually, they started allowing everyone to use the maintenance tunnels to move between buildings.
3. Hap Arnold’s house is haunted…
Henry H. “Hap” Arnold was the only person ever to be dubbed “General of the Air Force.” As a major, he once lived on a house near Huffman Prairie, where the Wright Brothers worked on their planes – now on Wright-Patt Air Force Base.
Many commanders lived in the house, but the Arnold House (as it’s called today) is named for its most famous resident. For years, visitors reported strange noises, objects moving on their own, odd shadows, and other phenomena.
The ghost hunters heard sounds from the bathroom, girls laughing in the dining room, spectres turning on lights (at the request of the show’s hosts). One of the hosts even interacts with a ghost through a series of taps as responses to questions.
4. … and so is the Air Force Museum.
Chris Woodyard, author of “Haunted Ohio,” believes she is constantly followed while walking through the cavernous museum as she tries to read the information panels. She writes that many airmen were very attached to their planes and some of the pilots seemingly live in them still.
“The Hopalong” is a Sikorsky UH-19B that would medevac troops in Korea and Vietnam. The museum staff say they see the pilot in the seat, flipping switches and “trying to get home.” The seat is actually still stained with that pilot’s blood.
A young Japanese boy is said to hang around “Bockscar,” the B-29 that dropped the “Fat Man” atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. He supposedly comes out at night, when few people are around.
The “Black Mariah” is a Sikorsky CH-3E helicopter transport used for classified missions. It sits at the museum, still filled with bullet holes. People say you can hear the moans and voices of the troops it carried.
Parts from the “Lady Be Good,” a B-24 that disappeared during a bombing run on Italy, are said to rearrange themselves. The POW exhibit is supposed to make visitors feel an inexplicable sense of “sick dread” as they approach. Some airmen report that the ghosts actually “show up for work,” by walking in the doors, opening lockers, and going into the break room. Even Nazis are reported to show up to the WWII exhibit.
And finally, the museum’s “Strawberry Bitch” supposedly houses the only malevolent spirits at the USAF museum. Reports of rattles and clanks, shadowy figures, and strange lights are common. One former janitor claims a ghost from the B-24D even slapped him in the face.
5. The Air Force is engineering alien technology.
The Roswell Crash wasn’t the only extra-terrestrial crash in the U.S. — depending on who you ask. Some allege there were more before 1952, and all the debris and their pilots (with blue-green skin this time) were all taken to Wright-Patt. One of the crashes held as many as 16 alien bodies.
When there were any survivors, American medicine killed the aliens trying to save them. Cellular genetic research is supposedly conducted by the Air Force there.
Another crash yielded a ship made of lightweight material, impenetrable by any earthly means. Whenever a UFO crash happens, the wreckage is sent to Wright-Patt to be reverse engineered, or so the story goes.
Some believe technologies gleaned from UFOs at Wright-Patt include fiber optics, lasers, night vision, the integrated circuit, and particle beams.
6. The whole base is pretty much haunted.
The “Ghost Hunters” crew actually had their hands full at Wright-Patt. Building 70 in Area A houses a “waxy” figure clad in a blue polyester dress with a ruffled white shirt.
Others reported footsteps, electronics turning themselves on, and unexplained whispers in the same building.
In building 219, an old hospital converted to an office, children running and playing interrupted a Judge Advocate General’s meeting in the basement — which used to be the morgue. The doors on the third floor once slammed shut all at the same time.
An 18-year-old student driver in Germany learned to pay more attention when turning after she failed to notice a column of British Challenger II tanks coming down the road on Monday. She turned in front of the tanks and — not surprisingly at all — her 2,300 pound car crumpled under the 68.9-ton tank.
Damage to the Yaris was estimated at over $13,000. Since the Yaris comes off the line at under $15,000, this is probably a total loss. Luckily, no one was injured, according to the German police report.
The four Marines who were shot and killed last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee, may receive the Purple Heart, Matthew Schehl reports at Marine Times.
“Determination of eligibility will have to wait until all the facts are gathered and the FBI investigation is complete,” Marine Corps public affairs officer Maj. Clark Carpenter told the Times.
While the Corps has confirmed it had prepared Purple Heart award packages, it must wait to see whether the FBI formally determines the shooter, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, had ties to a foreign terrorist organization. This would satisfy the criteria for the awarding of the Purple Heart, which is awarded to any service member who has been wounded or killed in combat and — since 1973 — as a result of an international terrorist attack.
“We will make sure it happens,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Washington Times.
The shooter used a rented Mustang to smash through the front gate of the complex, according to the FBI, then jumped out of the car and attacked the reserve center armed with an assault rifle, handgun and ammunition. As Abdulazeez approached, an unidentified service member inside fired at him.
Abdulazeez responded by firing back. He made it inside the door and mortally wounded U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, 26.
The attack on two military installations claimed the lives of four Marines: Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, 26, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, 40, Lance Cpl. Squire K. “Skip” Wells, 21, and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, 37. Sailor Randall Smith, 26, was initially injured but later died from his wounds.
The attack was halted after Abdulazeez was killed by police.
The move seems a proactive measure by the Marine Corps — quite different from the Army’s handling of the the Fort Hood shooting in 2009. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 were wounded in the attack, but family members had to fight for years for the award and its associated benefits. It was finally awarded earlier this year, Army Times reported.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria has rejected a claim by the Syrian army that a coalition air strike hit poison gas supplies and killed hundreds of people.
A Syrian army statement shown on Syrian state TV on April 13 said that a strike late on April 12 in the eastern Deir al- Zor Province hit supplies belonging to IS, releasing a toxic substance that killed “hundreds including many civilians.”
“The Syrian claim is incorrect and likely intentional misinformation,” U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement. He said the coalition had carried out no air strikes in that area at that time.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on April 13 that it had no information on fatalities in a coalition air strike in Deir al-Zor and was sending drones to the area to monitor the situation.
The dead Americans are reportedly military personnel assisting with training. According to the BBC, the Royal Jordanian Air Force released a statement saying that the shooting came after “an attempt by the trainers’ vehicle to enter the gate without heeding orders of the guards to stop.” The United States embassy in Jordan told the BBC that acknowledged “a security incident involving American personnel” and that they were “in contact with Jordanian officials.” According to multiple reports, the incident is under investigation
“The three service members were in Jordan on a training mission, and the initial report is that they came under fire as they were entering the facility in vehicles,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. “We are working closely with the government of Jordan to determine exactly what happened. Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of these service members.”
In November 2015, a shooting at a police training center in Amman left five dead, including two Americans, and wounded seven others (including two more Americans). The shooter, a police officer, was killed by responding security personnel.
According the Royal Jordanian Air Force’s web site, al-Jafr airbase is home to Number 9 Squadron, equipped with the Northrop F-5E Tiger. Number 9 Squadron‘s roles include air defense and ground-attack. The Tiger is an older plane, having entered service in 1973. It was widely exported to a number of countries, including South Korea, the Republic of China, Jordan, Thailand, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Mexico, and Singapore.
Jordan has been part of the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). One Jordanian F-16 pilot has been killed while that country participated. After the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Moaz Youssef al-Kasasbeh, ejected from his crashing plane, he was captured by ISIS and later burned alive.
He was injured while serving as an Infantry Officer during Vietnam, and after months of surgeries and recovery, he extended his commitment to teach counterinsurgency tactics before finally separating.
Deep down, Smallwood is a soulful artist. An actor, writer, singer, and musician, he has made a career for himself in theater and on-screen, but it’s his writing and his music that really makes him stand out.
We Are The Mighty sat down with him to talk about his relationship with music.
“I can hear some music and know the setting behind it, and it just goes straight to my part that feels.”
He couldn’t speak when he woke up in the hospital in Vietnam, but rest assured, his voice healed and transformed into something rich and soothing.
Check out his video, not only for the Battle Mix that makes him think of his time in service, but for a performance with his acoustic guitar that will leave you wanting more:
The Taliban captured a key district center in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province on Thursday while in the country’s north, an officer turned his rifle on sleeping colleagues, killing nine policemen, officials said.
The fall of Sangin district, once considered the deadliest battlefield for British and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, comes amid the insurgents’ year-long push to expand their footprint in the Taliban heartland of Helmand.
The British who took over southern Helmand in 2006 were headquartered at Camp Sebastian, which at its peak was the center for 137 bases in Helmand. Most of Britain’s more than 400 military deaths occurred in Helmand province — in Sangin alone, Britain lost 104 soldiers.
Since the withdrawal of foreign NATO combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and with only a smaller, U.S.-led advise and training mission left behind, Sangin has been seen as a major tests of whether Afghan security forces can hold off advancing Taliban fighters.
The district’s police chief, Mohammad Rasoul, said the Taliban overran Sangin center early on Thursday morning.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, also issued a statement claiming the Taliban capture of Sangin.
Speaking to The Associated Press over the phone from several kilometers (miles) away from the district center, Rasoul said the district headquarters had been poorly protected and that at the time of the Taliban siege, only eight policemen and 30 Afghan soldiers were on duty.
Afghan security forces were now amassing nearby for a full-scale counter-attack in a bid to retake Sangin, Rasoul added, though he did not say when the assault would occur and how many forces would be involved.
“We are preparing our reinforcements to recapture the district,” Rasoul said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Afghan military would seek the help of international coalition forces in the area.
NATO spokesman William Salvin said in a statement that Afghan troops remained in Sangin district but had relocated several kilometers (miles) outside the district center. He said the relocation was necessitated because of the extensive damage to the district center by the Taliban.
In Kabul, a lawmaker from Sangin, Mohammad Hashim Alokzai, urged the military to move quickly to retake the district, saying its fall could have devastating consequences for Helmand, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah has in the past months also come under constant and heavy attack by the Taliban.
“The seizure of Sangin is a major tactical triumph for the Taliban,” Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, said Thursday. The insurgent group “has taken over a major urban space in one of its major stronghold provinces, amplifying the major threat that the group poses to Afghanistan nearly 16 years after it was removed from power.”
Sangin is also one of the biggest opium markets in Afghanistan, which saw over 4,800 metric tons produced countrywide in 2016 — more than all other opium-producing countries combined, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Efforts at poppy eradication in Afghanistan have been severely restricted because of the insecurity in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where the bulk of the crop is grown.
Opium, which is used to make heroin, is a major source of income for the insurgents and the Taliban levy taxes on opium that moves through its territory.
“It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Helmand — it’s strategically located near Pakistan, it’s a bastion of the opium trade,” said Kugelman. “Perhaps the biggest reason why the British focused so much on Sangin is that they had invested so much over the years in trying to stabilize the place — and had suffered many combat deaths in the process.”
In northern Kunduz province, police spokesman Mafuz Akbari said the insider attack on Thursday that claimed the lives on nine policemen took place at a security post and that the assailant escaped under the cover of darkness.
Afghanistan has seen a spike in so-called insider attacks. In such incidents, attackers who turn their rifles and kill colleagues usually end up stealing their weapons and fleeing the scene to join insurgents.
Akbari said the assailant had gone over to the Taliban. He also claimed that the attacker and the Taliban gathered the bodies of the dead policemen and set them on fire.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed claimed responsibility for the attack, but denied that a policeman had been involved or that the Taliban had burned the bodies of the policemen.
The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled. The region is remote and not accessible to reporters.
Afghan forces have come under intensified pressure by insurgents in both Helmand and Kunduz.
The B-2 Spirit is the most expensive bomber ever built, with a $500 million fly-away cost that climbs much higher when the RD costs are taken into account. The B-2’s story, though, really starts in World War II – because the B-2 was the culmination of an idea.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that Jack Northrop, the founder of Northrop Aviation, had been pursuing the flying wing since 1923. By 1940, he got a technology demonstrator up.
The next year, the U.S. Army Air Force was looking for a long-range bomber that could hit Europe from bases in the U.S. in the event England were to be knocked out of the war.
Northrop submitted a four-engine propeller-driven design that the Army Air Force designated the B-35. It was to have a range of 8,150 miles, a top speed of 391 miles per hour, and a maximum bomb load of 51,070 pounds. Production versions were to have up to 20 .50-caliber machine guns for defense.
The plane had a difficult development, and fell behind schedule. The Army Air Force, though, saw potential and kept it as a research project. Northrop was asked to develop a jet-powered version known as the YB-49, replacing the propeller-driven engines with eight jet engines. While this increased the top speed to 493 miles per hour, it cut the range down to about 4,000 miles.
The plane had its share of problems. Keeping the plane steady was very difficult in the best of times, and it was missing targets when it dropped bombs. Then, one of the YB-49s crashed on June 5, 1948, killing all four crew, including United States Air Force Capt. Glenn Edwards.
There were also hot disputes over the plane’s manufacturing. Northrop insisted on having his company build the B-49 and its variants, while the Air Force wanted Northrop to work with Convair, which had designed and built the B-36 Peacemaker and B-32 Dominator bombers. Jack Northrop would later claim that the Secretary of the Air Force had demanded that Northrop agree to a merger of his company and Convair.
Northrop would abruptly retire and sell off his interest in the company he founded. However, shortly before his death in 1981, he was returned to Northrop, where Air Force officials took the extraordinary step of showing him a scale model of what would become the B-2 Spirit. The B-2 would be able to reach operational status in 1997, largely because by this time, the technology to address the stability issues had been developed.
Today, 20 B-2s are in service with the Air Force, and the service plans to buy another flying wing, the B-21 Raider.
In keeping with his elevation of military leaders to roles in policymaking, President Donald Trump has delegated the authority to set US troop levels in Afghanistan to Defense Secretary James Mattis, though that power reportedly comes with limits.
But the administration has yet to settle on an overarching strategy for the US’ nearly 16-year-long campaign in the war-torn country.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, called in Erik Prince, who founded the Blackwater private-security firm, and Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire who owns military contractor DynCorp, to create proposals to use contractors in Afghanistan rather than US troops.
According to the Times, Bannon was able to track down Mattis at the Pentagon on July 8 and brought in Prince and Feinberg to describe their proposal to the defense secretary.
Mattis, whom the Times said “listened politely,” ultimately declined to include their ideas in his review of the war in Afghanistan, which he and National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster are set to deliver to Trump this month.
Prince’s proposal reportedly adhered to what he outlined in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year. In that editorial, he said the war in Afghanistan was “an expensive disaster” and called for “an American viceroy” in whom authority for the war would be consolidated. He also said the effort should take an “East India Company approach” using private military units working with local partners.
Prince and Feinberg’s inclusion in the administration’s Afghanistan policy-proposal process is of a piece with Trump’s advisers’ efforts to bring a wider array of options to the president’s attention. While their proposal looks unlikely to be included in the final plan, their inclusion by Trump aides raised alarm among observers — and not only because of Blackwater’s sordid record in Iraq.
Deborah Avant, a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, pointed out a number of shortcomings in the plan Prince outlined in The Journal.
Contractors would still be required to work with the Afghan government, just like US and NATO forces, she writes, who may not be receptive to their expanded presence.
Contractors also don’t integrate well with local political goals and forces, which is essential in counterinsurgency operations.
Avant also noted that empowering local partners in environments like Afghanistan had been shown to facilitate the rise of warlords — as generally happened under the East India Company when it worked in there in the 19th century.
Privatizing the war effort in Afghanistan would likely reduce some of the costs, however — a point that White House assistant Sebastian Gorka emphasized when he defended consultations with Prince in a CNN interview with Jake Tapper.
“If you look at Erik Prince’s track record, it’s not about bilking the government. It’s about the opposite,” Gorka said. “It’s about saving the US taxpayer money. It’s about creating indigenous capacity … This is a cost-cutting venture.”
Despite that fact that Prince and Blackwater secured extensive and lucrative contracts under both former President George W. Bush and former President Barack Obama, Gorka described consultations with the Blackwater founder as a break with the tired, uninformed thinking inculcated by Beltway insularity.
“We open the door here at the White House to outside ideas. Why?” Gorka said, adding, “Because the last eight years, in fact the last 16 years, Jake, to be honest, disastrous. The policies that were born in the beltway by people who’ve never worn a uniform, the people that were in the White House like Ben Rhodes, Colin Kahl, they helped create the firestorm that is the Middle East, that is ISIS today. So we are open to new ideas, because the last 16 years have failed American national interest and the American taxpayer.”
When Tapper defended the qualifications of the people advising Obama, Gorka objected, calling Rhodes’ master’s degree in creative writing — “fictional writing,” he said — “disastrous.”
“I think Gorka spends more time following Twitter and prepping his media appearances than he does thinking seriously about critical national-security issues,” Kahl, who was deputy assistant to the president and national security adviser to the vice president from October 2014 to January 2017, told Business Insider.
“No US administration has had all the answers to the Middle East,” continued Kahl, who is now a professor in the Security Studies program at Georgetown University.
“But the two biggest sources of the ‘firestorm’ Gorka refers to were the invasion of Iraq, which gave birth to the forerunner of ISIS and created a vacuum filled by Iran, and the 2011 Arab Spring that upended the state system across the Middle East and set in motion a series of bloody proxy wars,” he added. “Neither of these key events were a consequence of Obama’s policies.”
Kahl also cited specific accomplishments of the Obama administration, among them eroding Al Qaeda leadership, securing the Iran nuclear deal, and setting the stage for the destruction of ISIS.
Blaming Obama for the rise of ISIS has become prominent Republican talking point since the US withdrew from Iraq at the end 2011.
Trump himself has attributed the group’s emergence to both Obama and Hillary Clinton, who was Obama’s secretary of state and Trump’s opponent in the presidential election.
The withdrawal date had been set by the Bush administration, but conservatives have criticized Obama for not making a deal with Baghdad to keep US troops on the ground there, which they say could’ve kept ISIS from gaining traction with Iraq’s Sunni minority.
Defenders have pointed to the US’ inability to quell insurgency in the country prior to its withdrawal, as well as Iraqi officials’ refusal to let US troops stay, as evidence that a protracted deployment was impossible and would have changed little. (Others attribute ISIS’ appearance to Bush’s dissolution of the Iraqi military.)
Since taking office, Trump appears to have embraced a more aggressive policy in the Middle East, underscored by several military engagements with pro-Syrian government forces in that country and by his hearty embrace of Saudi Arabia to the apparent detriment of unity among Gulf countries.
Kahl invoked these developments as reason for concern going forward.
“It is difficult to see how Trump’s approach, which combines a shoot-first mentality and an instinct to give regional autocrats a blank check to drag us into their sectarian conflicts, will make the region more secure or America safer,” he told Business Insider in an email.
“And the fact that Gorka and others in the White House are seriously contemplating turning America’s longest war in Afghanistan over to private military contractors who prioritize profit over the national interest is very troubling.”