China has “removed” a number of senior officials over their handling of a novel respiratory virus, state media reported, as the death toll reached more than 1,000.
The National Health Commission reported 108 new fatalities from the coronavirus on February 11, bringing the total death toll in China to 1,016.
There are now a total of 42,638 confirmed coronavirus cases in mainland China as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries, including one death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health officials.
In Hubei Province, the epicenter of the epidemic, 103 people died and 2,097 new cases were reported, the health commission said early on February 11.
According to state broadcaster CCTV, the Communist Party secretary for the Health Commission of Hubei Province and the head of the health commission were among those who were “removed” following a decision by the province’s party committee — the most senior officials to be sanctioned.
The two will be replaced by the deputy director of China’s National Health Commission, Wang Hesheng.
However, removal from a certain position does not necessarily mean the person will be fired, as it can also mean demotion.
China’s most senior medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said numbers of new cases were falling and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.
“I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April,” added Zhong, 83, an epidemiologist who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed hundreds worldwide in 2002-2003.
However, the WHO has said the spread of the pathogen among people who have not been to China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire” and the global community must not let the epidemic get out of control.
Ukraine’s embassy in China said on February 10 that it was sending a chartered plane to Wuhan — the provincial capital of Hubei — to airlift 50 citizens to Kyiv.
Once in Ukraine, the evacuated Ukrainians will be quarantined for 14 days.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases on a cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew on board quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama has doubled to 135.
Two Ukrainians, a 25-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman who worked in the kitchen of the Diamond Princess ship, have tested positive for the virus aboard the ship. A total of 25 Ukrainians work on the ship.
While visiting a hospital treating infected patients in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping on February 10 called the situation in Hubei “still very grave” and that “more decisive measures” were needed to contain the spread of the virus, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
A WHO-led international team of experts landed in Beijing the same day to investigate the epidemic. It is headed by Bruce Aylward who oversaw the organization’s 2014-16 response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
There are 168 labs worldwide that have the technology to diagnose the virus, according to the WHO.
Marc Lonergan-Hertel grew up in Massachusetts with the dream of becoming a Navy SEAL — a dream he made into a reality. But he had a long way to go before achieving such a feat. He decided he needed to toughen up first, so he joined the Marine Corps, where he eventually found himself in Force Recon.
His military career took him through some of the toughest training the military has to offer. And he wrote about it in his memoir, Sierra Two: A SEAL’s Odyssey in War and Peace.
But Lonergan-Hertel didn’t stop there. He continued a life of adventure and service after leaving the military and today, he wants to call attention to real-world heroes he met along the way. He wants his transformative journey to help inspire others — namely, our nation’s youth — so they can maximize their full potential and achieve their dreams.
He calls himself a Protector.
Lonergan-Hertel and 1st Force Recon.
(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)
“Those who fight monsters inevitably change,” Lonergan-Hertel says, explaining what he means by the title “Protector.” It’s from a popular saying about post-traumatic stress, written by an unknown author. The quote goes on to note that if you stay in the fighting long enough, you will eventually become the monster. The former Navy SEAL wants to keep Protectors from getting that far.
“There is a cost to being a protector. Love is the only way to heal the wounds [that change you]. Remember this: As a protector, you run toward the things that others run away from. You go out to fight what you fear. You stand between others and the monsters on the other side of the wall.”
Lonergan-Hertel in his world-record paraglider flight, 70 South Antarctica.
(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)
You can read about his adventures fighting monsters in his book, Sierra Two. After his time in Force Recon, he left the military and worked as a Emergency Medical Technician in Los Angeles as well as a hunting guide in Colorado. Eventually, he decided to explore the Army and join the Special Forces. Shortly after joining the California National Guard, he was able to wear a maroon beret in support of 19 Special Forces Group and prepared to try out for Delta Section. He didn’t make Delta, but it did prepare him a selection packet he could submit to the Navy. He graduated from BUD/S in 1996 and joined SEAL Team Four. He left the military in 2000, but didn’t leave behind the adventurer’s life.
“My platoon chief recommended me for an around-the-world expedition through the Cousteau Society,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “I ended up getting the position as a team member and expedition leader and scout for NatGeo and Discovery Channel programs to Antarctica the Amazon jungle, where I had experience as a SEAL.”
Lonergan-Hertel and his NatGeo Team. Lonergan-Hertel is center, in the cowboy hat.
(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)
During his military career and post-military adventuring, he began to question what he valued most in life. He began to look for his true purpose. As his journey sharpened his self-awareness, he was soon transformed into a new person. He became a Protector – and wanted to be the best Protector he could be. His life took him to rescue hurricane victims, assess the environment in Antarctica while diving under the ice shelves, hike up the Amazon River Basin alone and encounter endangered tribes along the way — he even lost his best friend to pirates along the same river.
“I wrote my book because I realized how much our life journey sharpens our awareness of what really matters in life,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “Real life experiences transform us as human beings and gives us an understanding of risk and sacrifice.”
He even has a line of survival gear, that includes a heat reflective thermal field blanket sleep system, called First Line Survival. Lonergan-Hertel calls it “base camp in a bag” and all the proceeds from First Line Survival benefit his Protectors tour.
But the longtime adventurer is more than just an author. He’s crossing the country with fellow Protectors to tell their stories in stage presentations, meant for school-age children but meaningful to parents as well. He wants children to grow up with the confidence to realize their abilities and potential, to see a personal path toward a positive future, and realize they have the power to do this within themselves at all times.
“I understand very clearly that the gift of life can be away very quickly,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “The best thing I can leave behind is to inspire others to have confidence in themselves and to help others who have a more difficult journey in life.”
Guardsmen from the Utah Army National Guard implemented a policy of doing physical exercise prior to using the bathroom at the organization’s headquarters in Draper, Utah.
“Soldiers will perform one [Army Combat Fitness Test] leg tuck (LTK) to enter and/or exit,” a sign read in front of both female and male bathrooms.
The new rule, which the Utah Guard says will not be strictly enforced, was given by its senior enlisted leader, Sgt. Maj. Eric Anderson. A public affairs officer for the Utah Guard said the directive is not intended to be a serious mandate and is purely for motivational purposes.
“One of the weaknesses we noticed in our soldiers is the leg tuck,” Maj. DJ Gibb said to Insider. “We just had a couple of these pull-up bars in our work-out areas.”
The sign is intended to be a friendly prompt that “when [soldiers] get a chance, [they] should,” Gibb said, referring to the leg tuck.
(DoD photo by Benjamin Faske)
The purpose of the loose rule was to motivate its soldiers to pass the ACFT, the Army’s newest physical assessment test. Soldiers are expected to take two ACFT assessments by this month, and the Army will officially begin administering on-the-record tests starting October 2020.
The ACFT is comprised of six separate, timed events ranging from deadlifts to a two-mile run. The leg tuck, one of the events, requires soldiers to “complete as many … as possible in two minutes” on a pull-up bar as they “maintain a relative vertical posture while moving the hips and knees up and down without excessive swinging or kipping.”
“The LTK assesses the strength of the Soldiers grip, arm, shoulder and trunk muscles,” the Army says on its website. “These muscles assist Soldiers in load carriage and in avoiding injuries to the back.”
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Danny Gonzalez, Recruiting and Retention Command, New Jersey Army National Guard, carries two 40-pound kettlebells during the Army Combat Fitness Test.
(New Jersey National Guard photo by Mark C. Olsen)
The ACFT is slated to replace the Army’s antiquated Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). The APFT consisted of a timed two-mile run, push-ups, and sit-ups and has been in use by the Army since 1980. Critics assailed the APFT for not adequately measuring the combat readiness of a soldier, and calls for a revamped test prompted the Army to research newer methods of assessing physical fitness.
Despite some concerns in the military community about the new ACFT, namely potential injuries and costs of the program, Gibb said the Utah Guard was “confident” that the new standards will continue to be met.
“I think we do put an emphasis on the readiness of our soldiers, and it’s attributed to little things like this,” Gibb said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
‘Twas several days after Christmas when the retired Marine marched box after box of new toys into the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office.
He was soon joined by two deputies who helped him unload — not a sleigh, but a station wagon — that was piled end-to-end with donated toys.
Inside were Star Wars and Avengers action figures, science projects, remote control toys, a fossil excavation kit, and three boxes of popular Hess toy trucks, among other visible items.
The toys had been collected as part of the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots campaign and were being delivered by Jack Sparling, a representative of the Marine Corps Coordinating Council of Rochester, who was playing the role of Santa Claus.
“We’re here to help out wherever we can, whether before or after the holidays. It doesn’t matter,” Sparling said.
And while the holidays may have passed, the Jan. 4 delivery to the Sheriff’s Office will help make any season bright for area children.
“If there’s a house fire, a death, something tragic or unfortunate, we can provide something for the child,” said Deputy Mike Didas, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office community policing initiatives. “It’s not just at Christmas; unfortunately, kids and families can face a crisis at any time.”
The donated toys will help with the Sheriff’s Office’s own Operation Christmas and officials will also alert other fire, ambulance, and emergency services that toys are available. Beyond Christmas season efforts, the toys help reassure children and give them hope that even in a crisis or other difficult situation things can improve.
Shelly Read, a Department of Social Services school-based preventative caseworker at Livonia Central School for the Department of Social Services, was picking up several toys for a family that had suffered a devastating home fire right after Christmas.
The Toys for Tots program, in conjunction with other school organizations and many volunteers, had also collaborated on a Santa’s Workshop-style event at Livonia before the holidays.
“It’s set up so nicely with cookies, hot chocolate, and decorations so it’s a really fun experience for the whole family,” Read said.
This year, the program served 66 families and 111 children just in Livonia.
The school-based program works closely with Toys for Tots and shares names and ages to pull together a positive experience.
It’s similar to the effort of Operation Christmas in which school resource officers and other school officials provide names to the program, which Deputy Kerry Ann Wood from the corrections division helps coordinate.
Some names are also provided directly to the Sheriff’s Office.
“For some people, they may not be able to afford toys for the children,” said Didas.
The Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program is coordinated nationwide by the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation based in Quantico, Va. Some 800 campaigns take place nationally.
Sparling’s group serves nine counties — distributing 35,000 toys to 17,000 families in its most recent Toys for Tots effort — and has been active in Livingston County for the past four years.
They would like to do more, he said.
The Toys for Tots boxes begin appearing in September but it is really a year-round effort, said Sparling.
“A lot of companies are very generous. We get great numbers of donations,” he said, noting that warehouse space for the toys is donated.
The Coordinating Council itself serves a region that runs from Syracuse to Buffalo and Erie, Pa. The organization helps active and reserve Marines who encounter financial difficulties, such as missing car payments or rent. Those that may need mental or physical assistance are directed to the agencies that can best serve them. The Council often gets referrals from law enforcement agencies and veterans outreach organizations.
The Coordinating Council also hosts family days offering food and fun for reservists, family and friends; scholarships and the Marine Corps birthday ball.
A new documentary, “National Bird,” exposes the secret drone war being carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere from the ground level of the strike and from the perspective of three military operators who used to pull the trigger.
“When you watch someone in those dying moments, what their reaction is, how they’re reacting and what they’re doing,” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, says in the film. “It’s so primitive. It’s really raw, stripped down, death.”
Though unmanned systems have been used for many years to carry out surveillance, it wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks — on February 4, 2002 — that a drone was armed and used for targeted killing. That 2002 strike apparently killed three civilians mistaken for Osama bin Laden and his confidantes, a theme that went on to play out again and again.
Armed drones have operated since in Afghanistan and many other countries in which the U.S. is not at war, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. They have been used to strike militants and terror leaders over the years — a program accelerated under the Obama administration — but it has come at a deadly cost, with thousands of innocent civilians killed, to include hundreds of children.
“I can say the drone program is wrong because I don’t know how many people I’ve killed,” Linebaugh says.
Linebaugh and two others, introduced only by their first names Daniel and Lisa, tell equally compelling stories from their time in the military’s drone program. The film gives them a chance to shine a light on what is a highly secretive program, which officials often describe as offering near-surgical precision against terrorists that may someday do harm to U.S. interests.
Instead, the three offer pointed critiques to that narrative, sharing poignant details of deaths they witnessed through their sophisticated cameras and sensors. The most disturbing thing about being involved with the drone program, Daniel said, was the lack of clarity about whom he killed and whether they were civilians.
“There’s no way of knowing,” he says.
Though the testimony of the three operators is compelling, the documentary’s most important moments come from a visit to Afghanistan, where the documentary showcases a family that was wrongly targeted by a strike. It was on February 21, 2010, when three vehicles carrying more than two-dozen civilians were hit by an Air Force drone crew.
“That’s when we heard the sound of a plane but we couldn’t see it,” one victim says.
Filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck mixes witness statements with a reenactment of overhead imagery and voices reading from the transcript prior to the strike. A later investigation found that the operators of the Predator drone offered “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting of what they saw.
During the incident, the drone operators reported seeing “at least five dudes so far.” Eventually, they reported 21 “military-age males,” no females, and two possible children, which they said were approximately 12 years old.
“Twelve, 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous,” one drone operator says. The operators never got positive identification of the people below having weapons.
That’s because the group consisted only of innocent men, women, and children, according to the documentary. Twenty-three Afghan civilians were killed, including two children aged seven and four.
“We thought they would stop when they saw women, but they just kept bombing us,” the mother of the children says.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of U.S. forces in the country, apologized for the strike. Four officers involved were disciplined.
The documentary cuts through the defense of drones as a “surgical” weapon that only kills the bad guys. As many reports have made clear, the US often doesn’t know exactly who it is killing in a drone strike, instead hazarding an “imperfect guess,” according to The New York Times, which is sometimes based merely on a location or suspicious behavior.
That imperfect guess has often resulted in the death of innocent locals — or, as was the case in 2015, the death of two men, an American, and an Italian, who were being held hostage by militants.
As Daniel points out in the documentary, the presence of drones on the battlefield has only emboldened commanders, who no longer have to risk military personnel in raids and can fire a missile instead. That viewpoint only seems to be growing, as the technology gets better and drones continue to proliferate around the world.
The drone may continue to be the “national bird” of the U.S. military for a long time, but perhaps the documentary can start a conversation around their use and whether they create more terrorists, as has been argued, than they are able to take out.
“Not everybody is a freakin’ terrorist. We need to just get out of that mindset,” says Lisa, a former Air Force technical sergeant, in the documentary. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of their door and it was a sunny day, and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something was going to fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”
The algorithms that played a major role in allowing a supermassive black hole to be photographed for the first time were largely designed three years ago by a graduate student in her 20s.
Katie Bouman, now 29, was studying computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and she worked at the school’s Haystack Observatory.
Scientists published the first image of a black hole. The image captured Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87.
(Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)
In the search for a way to capture an image of the black hole, located 55 million light-years away in the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, astronomers at MIT took part in the Event Horizon Telescope project, but they faced a serious problem.
They needed to stitch together millions of gigabytes’ worth of data captured by telescopes located all over the world.
Bouman had the solution: Find a way to stitch the data about the black hole together pixel by pixel.
“We developed ways to generate synthetic data and used different algorithms and tested blindly to see if we can recover an image,”Bouman told CNN.
“We didn’t want to just develop one algorithm. We wanted to develop many different algorithms that all have different assumptions built into them.”
“If all of them recover the same general structure, then that builds your confidence.”
Vincent Fish, a scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, told CNN that Bouman was “a major part of one of the imaging subteams.”
Fish told CNN that senior scientists worked on the project too, but the specific task of imaging the black hole was predominantly run by junior researchers like Bouman.
“One of the insights Katie brought to our imaging group is that there are natural images,” Fish said.
“Just think about the photos you take with your camera phone, they have certain properties.” He added: “If you know what one pixel is, you have a good guess as to what the pixel is next to it.”
CNN reported that Bouman would begin teaching as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology in the fall.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The global coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 201,000 people worldwide, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here’s a roundup of developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast countries.
Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has reached 1,135, with 147 deaths over the past 24 hours — the highest 24-hour rise yet — state TV reported on March 18, as President Hassan Rohani defended his government’s response to the outbreak.
Iran has been the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, with a total of 16,169 confirmed cases, roughly 90 percent of the region’s cases.
Iran has been accused of acting too slowly and of even covering up initial cases.
But Rohani on March 18 rejected criticism of his government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, telling a government meeting that authorities have been “straightforward” with the nation, and that it had announced the outbreak as soon as it learned about it on February 19.
“We spoke to people in a honest way. We had no delay,” Rohani said.
Government officials pleaded for weeks with clerics to completely close crowded holy shrines to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The government finally shut down the shrines this week.
“It was difficult of course to shut down mosques and holy sites, but we did it. It was a religious duty to do it,” Rohani said.
The outbreak has cast a shadow over the Persian New Year, Norouz, that begins on March 20.
It was later announced that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will pardon 10,000 prisoners, including political ones, to mark Norouz.
“Those who will be pardoned will not return to jail,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told state TV on March 18, adding that “almost half of those security-related prisoners will be pardoned as well.”
Judicial officials had previously announced the temporary release of 85,000 inmates to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Iran’s prisons. They confirmed that those freed included political prisoners, which Iranian authorities describe as “security-related prisoners.”
The Pakistani government has confirmed the country’s first fatality from coronavirus in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The South Asian country had a total of 260 confirmed cases of the infection as of late March 18, including 19 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“With deep regret I confirm the death of first Pakistani due to coronavirus. A 50-year-old male from Mardan city recently returned from Saudi Arabia. He developed fever, cough, and breathing difficulty and tested positive for the COVID-19,” Health Minister Zafar Mirza tweeted.
A 36-year-old man from Hangu district also died of the respiratory disease after returning from Turkey to Islamabad via Dubai, according to a spokesperson for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government.
Thousands of Pakistanis, mostly pilgrims, have been put in quarantine in recent weeks at the Taftan border crossing in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan after returning from Iran, one of the world’s worst-affected countries.
Amid the steep rise in known cases, Pakistani authorities have moved to discourage crowds and gatherings.
Islamabad on March 17 announced that all gyms, swimming pools, religious shrines, and children’s parks would remain closed for three weeks.
Health officials in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, urged the public to avoid unnecessary social contacts or traveling and to stay indoors.
Governments around the world continue to take sweeping measures to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, which has now infected more than 201,000 people and killed over 8,000.
The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and other lawmakers will be tested for the novel coronavirus after one of their colleagues tested positive on March 18, local media has reported.
Authorities are trying to trace everyone who has been in contact with lawmaker Serhiy Shakhov of the Dovira (Faith) parliamentary group since he entered the legislature earlier in the week following a trip to an unspecified European Union member state.
Shakhov appeared on Ukrainian television on March 12-13, according to deputy Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, and participated in a meeting of the parliament’s Environment Committee on March 13.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the infected lawmaker’s voter card was registered in parliament on March 17 and was used to vote, although Shakhov was absent.
“Unfortunately, his colleagues are guilty of multiple voting,” Zelenskiy said about the widespread phenomenon in parliament that is now punishable by law.
Ukraine, which has confirmed 16 cases of the respiratory illness and two deaths in four regions and the capital, Kyiv, closed its borders to foreigners for two weeks starting on March 16.
Authorities have also canceled air, rail, and bus connections between cities and regions, and shut down the subway in all three cities where they operate, including Kyiv.
Moldova on March 18 reported its first death from coronavirus.
“A first Moldovan citizen died of the coronavirus infection last night. This is a 61-year-old woman,” Health, Labor, and Social Protection Minister Viorica Dumbraveanu said.
The woman had recently returned from Italy and was suffering from several illnesses, Dumbraveanu said.
The manager of the Chisinau hospital where the woman died told the media that the woman’s village has been placed under quarantine.
Moldova, a nation of 3.5 million sandwiched between EU member Romania and Ukraine, reported 30 confirmed coronavirus cases as of March 18.
Moldova’s parliament on March 17 imposed a 60-day state of emergency in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
The country, one of the poorest in Europe, has already temporarily shut its borders and suspended all international flights from March 17.
Hundreds of thousands of Moldovans have been working abroad, many of them in Italy and Spain, two of the countries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Separately, Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniester declared a state of emergency until April 5 in the wake of the outbreak.
Transdniester declared independence in 1990 and fought a bloody war with Moldova two years later. It is unrecognized by the international community but is unofficially backed by Russia, which stations hundreds of troops in the region.
Hungary on March 18 moved to relax a sweeping border closure after thousands more travelers – many angry and lacking supplies — clogged its crossings with Austria to the west and Romania to the east.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government on March 17 closed its land crossings to foreigners as well as border crossings at airports to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Thousands of travelers were massed on March 18 at the Nickelsdorf-Hegyeshalom border crossing between Austria and Hungary, after missing a window of several hours allowed by Budapest overnight for those who wanted to transit the country on their way to Romania and Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, some 7,000 people who had reached the Romanian border to the east overnight were facing another hours-long bottleneck due to health checks imposed by Bucharest.
The two-pronged crisis prompted Budapest to reopen the border with Austria at noon on March 18 until the easing of the blockage to the west, and to allow daily passage for Romanians and Bulgarians from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. on preapproved routes, according to a statement by Romania’s Foreign Ministry.
Austrian authorities on March 18 advised drivers to keep away from the Hungarian border as the traffic jam there grew to 45 kilometers and protests broke out among stranded travelers.
“There is no use in coming to the border,” said Astrid Eisenkopf, the deputy governor of Austria’s Burgenland Province, which neighbors Hungary.
Most of the delayed Romanians are workers returning from Italy and Spain, the world’s second- and fourth-most affected countries by the virus, but also from other Western countries.
Romania is the European Union’s second-poorest country, and at least 4 million Romanians work abroad, according to estimates.
On March 18, Romania reported 29 more confirmed cases, bringing the total to 246, as well as 19 recovered cases. There have been no coronavirus deaths inside the country.
But specialists warn that Romania has so far tested only some 3.000 people for the coronavirus, while in other countries the number of those tested was in the tens of thousands.
Hungary reported having 50 confirmed coronavirus infections on March 17, with one death.
Bulgaria announced it has entered into a fiscal deficit and Ukraine said it is seeking a bigger lending program from the International Monetary Fund beyond the .5 billion for which it was asking.
Confirmed cases in Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest but least indebted country, spiked by 30 percent on March 17 to 81. The government in Sofia banned all foreign and domestic holiday trips until April 13.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti has fired Interior Minister Agim Veliu for purportedly spreading “panic” about coronavirus after he backed a presidential call for a state of emergency over the pandemic.
Kurti announced Veliu’s dismissal on March 18, just hours after Veliu said he supported a proposed state of emergency that has divided officials in the Balkan country.
President Hashim Thaci late on March 17 signed a decree declaring a state of emergency. It has been sent to Kosovo’s parliament, which has 48 hours to either accept or reject the move.
But Kurti has rejected calls for a state of emergency. He said it would cause “unnecessary panic.”
“At this time, when the entire public administration is making the utmost efforts to minimize the damage caused by the coronavirus, the heads of central institutions, including those in the government cabinet, need to prove maturity both in decision-making and in making statements,” Kurti said in his announcement about firing Veliu.
The move may resonate far beyond the debate about how to react to the coronavirus pandemic.
It could cause a rift in the governing coalition that took power in Kosovo just over a month ago.
Veliu is from the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which is in a fragile coalition with Kurti’s Self-Determination party.
LDK leader Isa Mustafa gave Kurti until the end of the week to “annul the decision to dismiss Veliu and make a decision to abolish the tariffs” on Serbian imports.
Pristina is under huge pressure from the European Union and the United States to revoke the 100 percent import tariff it imposed on goods from Serbia in November 2018.
The tariff came in response to Belgrade’s diplomatic campaign to encourage some of the 110-plus countries that have recognized Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008 to reverse their position.
Kosovo says it has confirmed 19 cases of the coronavirus since the first infected person was discovered on March 13.
Most cases are people who had traveled to nearby Italy or had been in contact with others who’d been to Italy.
Neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina declared a state of emergency to enable coordination of activities between its two autonomous regions.
“We are focusing in all ways on how to alleviate the consequences of the coronavirus,” Prime Minister Zoran Tegeltija told reporters.
Kyrgyzstan has confirmed its first three cases of the coronavirus in a group of travelers returning from Saudi Arabia.
Kyrgyz Health Minister Kosmosbek Cholponbaev said on March 18 that the three Kyrgyz citizens are from the southern Suzak district in the Jalal-Abad region.
The infected had returned to Kyrgyzstan on March 12, he said. They are 70, 62, and 43 years of age.
Authorities in the district have sealed off the villages of Blagoveshchenka, Boston, and Orta-Aziya. They’ve also set up 19 checkpoints nearby, regional officials said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Abdrakhmanov said in a statement that as of March 18, all foreigners are banned from entering Kyrgyzstan.
Elsewhere In Central Asia
In neighboring Kazakhstan, the Health Ministry said on March 18 that the number of coronavirus cases had reached 36, after three more infections were confirmed in Almaty.
Kazakhstan has declared a state of emergency until April 15. As of March 19, the cities of Nur-Sultan and Almaty will be in lockdown.
Uzbekistan announced on March 18 that its total number of confirmed cases had reached 15.
So far, no coronavirus cases have been officially announced in the Central Asian former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The new coronavirus has spread to more than 100 countries worldwide. It has infected more than 201,000 people and killed more than 8,000, with the number of people now recovered at more than 82,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
We sent our “Vet On The Street,” Marine Corps veteran and comic James P. Connolly, to Santa Monica, California, to find out if your average civilian knows the term for someone who lies about their service (aka “stolen valor”). They have some good ideas … or not.
As the entire Defense Department continues to make changes in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, Gen. David H. Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Sergeant Major Troy E. Black, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, delivered a video message to the entire Corps on Monday, thanking Marines and families for their continued effort in this difficult time. The top Marines also explained why training must continue at Recruit Training, and Marine Corps-wide, despite ongoing concerns about the coronavirus.
The message was first shared via the Marine Corps’ Facebook Page, and has since been disseminated on a number of other outlets.
General Berger opened the video by acknowledging the difficult times Marines and their families have been facing and will continue to in the weeks to come. The Commandant made a point, early in the video, to tell families that they should be proud of the hard work their loved ones in uniform are doing throughout this difficult time. He also assured families that every measure is being taken to help ensure Marines remain safe and healthy as they continue to work and train amid the pandemic. The two went on to thank unit commanders for exercising good judgement despite the uncertainty that has come along with some elements of the spread of COVID-19.
“As leaders, we know what right looks like. It may look different tomorrow, but today right looks like this, and you make that call,” Sgt. Major Black says during the video. “And you have the Sergeant Major’s and my full support, we back you all the way,” General Berger added.
Near the end of the video, General Berger explained in clear language why the Marine Corps can’t simply stop training, and why recruit training facilities like MCRDs San Diego and Parris Island are so essential to the Marine Corps’ readiness and the nation’s defense as a whole even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Recruits with Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, climb various obstacles in the obstacle course for recruits on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. The obstacle course is composed of different obstacles that are designed to physically and mentally challenge recruits. USMC photo/Dylan Walters
“Why do we continue to do recruit training in the middle of this terrible virus?” General Berger asked himself aloud rhetorically. “We never get the chance to pick the next crises, where it happens, or when it happens. When the president calls, Marines and the Navy team, we respond immediately. So we must continue to train. We have to continue recruit training, because this nation relies on its Marine Corps, especially in tough times.”
For more information about how the coronavirus is affecting basic training graduations, click here.
If you want to learn more about how the coronavirus has affected PCS and TDY orders, click here.
For Army Sgt. Shaun Castle, the Army was becoming a career.
As a military policeman in the early 2000s, Castle had some key war-zone assignments to Kosovo, Macedonia and the Middle East that were tracking toward a bright future in the service.
But in 2005, Shaun suffered a spine injury that eventually ended his Army career. And while he recovered enough to serve as a police officer in Alabama, his prior-service injury worsened and he had to leave the force, losing the use of his legs.
Undaunted, Shaun focused on getting a college degree and earned a place on the roster of the University of Alabama wheelchair basketball team where he’s also a member of the 2020 Paralympic Games development team.
In 2012, after standing under the Paralympic banners of the Birmingham-based Lakeshore Foundation, Castle began training six days per week – hard work that has paid dividends for the now collegiate and professional sports star who plays for the University of Alabama’s men’s wheelchair basketball team and the USA Developmental team. Castle also has played professional wheelchair basketball in Lyon, France, and is a Paralympic hopeful for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo from Shaun Castle)
An advocate for Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Lakeshore Foundation, Castle has participated in numerous radio spots and other promotions in which he’s known for making mundane topics – like MREs (meals ready to eat) – sound interesting. In 2016, Castle pioneered the construction of an arena dedicated solely to wheelchair basketball at the University of Alabama. (Photo from Shaun Castle)
On Thursday, U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors intercepted a pair of Russian military planes as they entered into America’s Alaska air defense identification zone (ADIZ), just days after conducting similar intercepts of Russian bombers in the same region. This time, the Russian aircraft, which were both reportedly IL-38 maritime patrol planes, had come within 50 miles of the Alaskan island of Unimak and then proceeded to spend a full four hours in the area.
A pair of F-22s, America’s most capable air superiority fighters, intercepted the Russian planes and escorted them out of the area. Thursday’s intercept marks the fifth time American fighters had to shoo Russian bombers and other aircraft away from U.S. Air Space this month, and the ninth time this year. A number of those intercepts included Russia’s Tu-95 long range, nuclear capable, heavy payload bombers, as well as Su-35 fighter escorts.
Russian Su-35 (WikiMedia Commons)
The Su-35 is a fourth-generation fighter, meaning it lacks stealth capabilities, but is still regarded as among the most capable dogfighting platforms on the planet. The Su-35’s powerful twin engines are capable of propelling the fighter to a top speed of Mach 2.25, far faster than an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and each comes equipped with thrust vectoring nozzles that allow the aircraft to perform incredible acrobatics that most other fourth and even fifth generation fighters simply can’t.
That is to say that Russia is clearly taking these incursions into America’s backyard seriously, sending some of their most capable platforms on these missions.
America’s F-22 Raptor, however, also comes equipped with twin, thrust vectoring power plants, which in conjunction with its stealth capabilities, likely makes the F-22 the most fearsome air superiority fighter on the planet.
Are Russian bomber intercepts common for the U.S. or its allies?
The short answer is yes. The United States and Russia have a long history of staring matches in the Alaskan ADIZ, but many other nations, particularly members of NATO, often mount their own intercept flights as Russian pilots encroach on their air space as well.
USAF F-22 Raptor intercepting a Russian Tu-95 bomber near Alaska earlier this month. (NORAD)
Russia regularly conducts long-distance bomber missions all over the world, sometimes prompting an intercept response from nations that feel threatened by their bomber presence. According to the BBC, Royal Air Force intercept fighters have ushered away Russian bombers and other aircraft encroaching on their airspace no fewer than ten times since the beginning of 2019.
What is Russia trying to accomplish?
Like many military operations, these flights are motivated by multiple internal and external factors.
Training and Preparation
The primary reason behind these long-range flights, particularly for heavy payload bombers, is simply training. In order to be able to execute these long range bombing missions in the event of real war, Russian pilots conduct training flights that closely resemble how actual combat operations would unfold.
It’s worth noting that the United States conducts similar long-range training flights with its own suite of heavy payload bombers, including the non-nuclear B-1B Lancer and the nuclear capable B-52 Stratofortress. Long duration missions can be dangerous and difficult even without an enemy shooting back at you — so it’s in the best interest of nations with long range bomber capabilities to regularly conduct long range flights.
Long range missions require a great deal of logistical planning as well, as bombers are often accompanied by fighters that don’t have the same fuel range as the massive planes they escort. That means not only coordinating with escort fighters from multiple installations, but also managing support from airborne refuelers and flights of Advanced Warning and Control (AWAC) planes. Executing such a complex operation takes practice, no matter the nation conducting them.
An important part of Russia’s foreign policy is maintaining the threat they represent to diplomatic opponents (like the United States and its NATO allies). Deterrence is the ultimate goal of many military operations, and demonstrating the capability to launch long-range strikes against national opponents is meant to support that doctrine.
The concept of using a strong offense as a good defense dates back to when mankind first starting sharpening sticks to defend their territory, and is perhaps best demonstrated in a modern sense by America and Russia’s nuclear deterrent approach of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The premise behind MAD is simple: by maintaining a variety of nuclear attack capabilities, it makes stopping a nuclear response to an attack all but impossible. In other words, if the U.S. launch nuclear weapons at Russia, Russia would be guaranteed to fire their own back at the U.S., and vice versa.
The promise that one nuclear attack would immediately result in a large-scale nuclear war is seen as deterrent enough to keep nuclear powers from engaging in such a terrible form of warfare… at least thus far.
The third, and perhaps most nefarious, reason behind these flights that prompt intercepts from U.S. or allied fighters is as a means of desensitizing military personnel and even civilian populations to the presence of Russian bombers or other aircraft on our doorstep.
Because each of these flights prompts a flurry of headlines form major media outlets, many Americans have taken to dismissing these flights as so commonplace they hardly warrant the webspace. Likewise within the military, conducting frequent intercepts of Russian aircraft can leave some pilots and commanders increasingly complacent about the threat these aircraft potentially pose.
Imagine a bear breaking into your trash can every couple of months. The first few times, you’d be pretty scared and concerned. You might even set up cameras and invest in some bear-spray you can use to deter the bears from coming back. After a few months of sporadic bear visits, that fear turns to annoyance, as you begin to feel as though the bear isn’t a threat to you, but is an inconvenience in your life.
After years of dealing with the same bear digging through your trash, you would likely stop seeing the bear as a threat to your safety and adopt a more neutral approach to rolling your eyes and swearing under your breath every time it comes lumbering up to your old trash can.
The bear itself is no less dangerous to you than it was the first time you saw it and panicked, but your perception of the bear has shifted. Now, while you’re aware that it could hurt you, you’ve also developed an understanding that it probably won’t. You may even start to ignore it from time to time. That unintentional complacency brought about through familiarization will leave you less primed to react if the bear suddenly does pose a threat to your safety.
The slight delay in your response, brought about by complacency, could be all the bear needs to do some real damage. The same can be said about Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers.
How to combat complacency with a Russian “Bear” in your yard
Complacency isn’t just a concern when it comes to Russian aircraft or curious bears. Letting your guard down is a constant concern for service members on the front lines of any conflict.
Military protocol is one powerful tool in the fight against complacency, because it mandates a threat response and outlines its proper execution. In other words, the U.S. Military doesn’t have to make any specific decisions at the onset of identifying a potential threat. Instead, they execute the tasks on their threat response checklist to gather vital information, prepare a response, and in these cases, intercept the bombers.
USAF F-22 intercepts Russian bomber (NORAD)
In this way, America can turn the potential threat of complacency into a valuable training operation, wherein U.S. personnel act as though this Russian bomber flight could be a real attack. Of course, the risk of complacency remains, but that’s why continuous training and preparation is an essential part of American defense.
Whether it’s Russian bombers or a wayward Grizzly, if you treat every interaction like it could be dangerous, you’ll be better prepared in the event that it is.
Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.
Revolutionary War re-enactors.
(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)
See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?
Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.
A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.
Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.
A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.
But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.
In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.
At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.
The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.
For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.
It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.
Russia’s Su-57 stealth fighter jet will be armed with hypersonic missiles, according to Tass, a Russian state-owned media outlet.
“In accordance with Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027, Su-57 jet fighters will be equipped with hypersonic missiles,” a Russian defense industry source told Tass.
“The jet fighters will receive missiles with characteristics similar to that of the Kinzhal missiles, but with inter-body placement and smaller size,” the source added.
Moscow said the new Kh-47M2, or Kinzhal, air-launched hypersonic missile can hit speeds of up to Mach 10 and has a range of 1,200 miles. The Tass report also said “Kinzhal missiles are practically impossible to detect with modern air defense systems.”
Экипажи ВКС выполнили практический пуск ракеты комплекса «Кинжал»