A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19 - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SURVIVAL

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

“Right now, tens of thousands of National Guard members are deployed to help us fight back against COVID-19, including those in critical medical specialties. Normally, they lead ordinary civilian lives as neighbors, coworkers, coaches and parents. However, when this crisis struck, they sprang into action as citizen soldiers and airmen, putting their lives on hold — and on the line — for our safety. If you appreciate those who are doing double duty to keep us safe, this is the time to donate!


Until the tide turns and our Guard troops can return to their families full-time, this will continue to be a huge and extremely stressful deployment. The extra comforts and support the USO can provide all of our deployed troops make a world of difference. Help us bring a little home to our heroes while they fight to keep our homes safe.”

They’ve raised ,309 of a 0,000 goal!

Click to donate!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

Intel

Here is what you need to know about Cold War part 2

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua Laidacker, 4th IBCT, 3rd ID


The Cold War ended in 1991, taking the threat of global nuclear annihilation with it. For over 45 years, America and Russia endured a stalemate that spawned the arms race, the space race, land grabs, proxy wars around the globe and more.

But like a bad eighties movie remade for today’s audience, the same elements that shaped the first one are defining the Cold War part two. So far it’s the same plot. For starters, there’s the Russian land grab of Crimea, the forces placed near the Russian border and the proxy war shaping up in Syria.

In Cold War 2.0, VICE does an incredible job making sense of the events leading up to this undeclared conflict. VICE founder Shane Smith meets with Kremlin officials and American leaders, including President Obama, to figure out what’s driving the new standoff.

You can view Cold War 2.0 in its entirety on VICE.com or YouTube. Here is a quick four-minute debrief about the report.

Watch:

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US just released figures showing how hard it pounded ISIS in August

The US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan dropped 5,075 bombs during close-air-support, escort, or interdiction operations in August, according to US Air Forces Central Command data.


The August total was the highest of any month during the three-year campaign against the terrorist group.

The previous monthly high was 4,848 in June. Each of first eight months of 2017 has exceeded the amount of bombs dropped in any other month of the campaign.

The number of weapons released through the first eight months of 2017 is 32,801, surpassing the 30,743 dropped all last year, which was the previous annual high for the campaign.

The 13,109 sorties so far this year is on pace to fall short of the total in 2016 and 2015 — both of which exceeded 21,100. The 8,249 sorties with at least one weapon deployed so far this year are set to top last year’s 11,825, however.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
A B-52 Stratofortress from the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratofortress during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, May 24, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)

Both Iraq and Syria have seen intense urban fighting this year, which often requires more active air support.

The battle to retake Mosul in Iraq began in October 2016 and formally ended in July, while the final stage of fighting for Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital in Syria, began in June and is ongoing.

Not all aircraft active over Iraq and Syria are under Air Forces Central Command’s control, so the figures likely understate the total number of weapons deployed.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also intervened to request more money for bombs in response to concerns about expenditures in the US Central Command area of operations, which includes the Middle East.

Mattis asked for about $3.5 billion more for “preferred munitions,” including 7,664 Hellfire missiles and 34,529 Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

During his campaign, President Donald Trump promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” and he appears to have keep that pledge.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
An F-15E Strike Eagle fire flares over Iraq during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, on Sept. 6, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

Bombing during Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Iraq and Syria — the recent stages of which US commanders have referred to as an “annihilation campaign” — has reached “unprecedented levels” under Trump, according to Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the increase has extended to other areas, like Yemen and Somalia, as well.

The intensified bombing appears to have yielded a higher civilian death toll. There were at least 2,300 civilians killed by coalition strikes during the Obama administration, and between Trump’s January 20 inauguration and mid-July, there had been over 2,200 civilian casualties, according to monitoring group Airwars.

Other estimates put the number of civilian deaths much higher, and there is similar uncertainty about the number of ISIS fighters who have been killed. Coalition officials have made several estimates about the total slain, despite doubts about the utility and reliability of body counts.

Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, said in July that “conservative estimates” put the number of ISIS dead between 60,000 and 70,000, echoing an statement he made in February.

The Pentagon said in summer 2016 that there were 15,000 to 20,000 ISIS militants left in Iraq and Syria, and US officials said in December that 50,000 of the terrorist group’s fighters had been killed — twice as many as the UK defense minister claimed had been killed that same month.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how many US troops are in Syria

After suggesting in late March 2018, that the US would be pulling out of Syria “very soon,” President Donald Trump reportedly told his national security team that he is open to keeping troops in the country for the time being, but wants to look to pull them out sometime soon, a senior administration official told CNN.

The US has now been involved in Syria for about three and a half years, having started its military intervention there as part of Operation Inherent Resolve in September 2014. The military has carried out numerous operations in Syria against ISIS and other targets, according to the Department of Defense, and members of the US Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Army are active in the country.


As of December 2017, there are approximately 2,000 US troops in the country. Four US soldiers have been killed in action in Syria.

The US has carried out over 14,989 airstrikes in Syria since 2014, according to the Pentagon.

While it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much the US military spent in Syria specifically, Operation Inherent Resolve as a whole has cost over over $18 billion as of February 2018, according to the Pentagon. The majority of these funds were spent on Air Force operations.

Since the US mission began, ISIS has seen its territory dwindle in Syria, and now almost all of its holdings have been conquered by local forces on the ground with US support.

US forces are fulfilling a variety of roles in the fight against ISIS

The US mission in Syria is aimed at defeating ISIS and its offshoots, providing coordination between air assets and troops on the ground and the anti-ISIS coalition. So far, this mission has largely been a military success — the group has reportedly lost over 98% of its territory since it stormed across Syria and Iraq in 2014.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
(US Army photo)

The US has also been supporting Syrian Kurds in Syria’s north, bolstering a coalition of forces led by the Kurds called the Syrian Democratic Forces by deploying coalition advisers to train, advise, and assist the group. The SDF has conquered swathes of territory from ISIS in northeastern Syria with support from US airstrikes and special forces and, according to the Pentagon, is leading the fight against the remnants of the Islamist group in the country.

But the incredibly fractured nature of the conflict lends itself to additional challenges, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Business insider.

“It’s the most complex battlefield in modern warfare,” he said, explaining that there are active lines of communication open between US forces and other actors in the conflict like Turkey and Russia, which serve to avoid accidental military engagements and as deconfliction hotlines.

Pahon said that now that the active fight against ISIS is drawing down, the US is pivoting to civilian reconstruction efforts, clearing IEDs, and rebuilding civilian infrastructure.

“That’s a big challenge for getting people back into their homes, especially in populated areas like Raqqa,” Pahon said, citing numerous ways in which fleeing ISIS fighters have booby-trapped abandoned homes with explosives.

Pahon said part of the US civilian effort is training people on the ground on how to de-mine former urban battlefields.

He also pointed out that in addition to the military aspect of US operations in the country, other parts of the US government like the State Department and USAID are also active in reconciliation efforts, recovering water access, and rebuilding the power grids in destroyed towns and cities.

“It’s more than a military effort, it’s a whole of government effort,” he said.

Articles

Someone is desecrating World War II graveyards off the Indonesian coast

Three war graves have vanished – looted in the name of the almighty dollar.


Or in this case, the currency in question is the Indonesia rupiah. And others — including two of the most famous losses of World War II — are at grave risk.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
The HNLMS Java. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to a report by NavalToday.com, three Dutch vessels lost during the Battle of the Java Sea have now been completely looted. Nothing is left of the cruisers HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java, or the destroyer HNLMS Kortenear, which were the graves of almost 900 Dutch sailors who perished when they sank.

The Battle of the Java Sea was a serious defeat for the Allies in the early stages of World War II.

In a night-time surface battle, Japanese ships sank the De Ruyter, Java, Kortenear, and the British destroyers HMS Jupiter and HMS Electra. The British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter was badly damaged in the battle, which cost the lives of 2,300 Allied personnel.

The Dutch vessels are not the only ones at risk.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
The USS Houston in the 1930s. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth and the American heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30), sunk in the Battle of the Sunda Strait, also have been looted for scrap metal, although not to the extent of the Dutch vessels.

Also, two capital ships sunk in the early days of the war — the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, both war graves, have been desecrated by looters.

Even wrecks off the United States have not been immune to looters paying a visit.

According to a 2003 U.S. Navy release, the Nazi submarine U-85, sunk in 1942 by the destroyer USS Roper (DD 147) about 15 miles off the coast of North Carolina, was visited by private divers who took the vessel’s Enigma machine.

The divers claimed to not realize they weren’t supposed to take items from the wreck. The United States Navy eventually allowed the code machine to be donated to the Altantic Graveyard Museum.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Bolton accuses Iran of being ‘central banker’ for terrorism

U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser has called Iran “the central banker of international terrorism” as he laid out a wider strategy for countering Tehran in the Middle East.

John Bolton told reporters on Oct. 4, 2018, that the U.S. strategy toward Iran would use both military and nonmilitary means to push back on Iranian-backed militants, and their financial backers.

Bolton made the announcement as part of the release of a new U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the first since 2011.


“Radical Islamist terrorist groups represent the preeminent transnational terrorist threat to the United States and to the United States’ interests abroad,” Bolton said according to a White House transcript.

Iran, he said, had been “the world’s central banker of international terrorism since 1979.”

Since taking office, Trump has taken an aggressive approach toward Iran, including pulling out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

In November 2018, the Trump administration plans to impose new sanctions on Iran’s oil sector with the aim of stopping Tehran’s involvement in conflicts in Syria and Iraq and forcing new negotiations of its ballistic missile program.

Earlier on Oct. 4, 2018, the top U.S. general overseeing U.S. operations in the Middle East said Washington was not seeking war with Iran.

“I don’t think we’re seeking to go to war with Iran, and I don’t think that’s what we’re focused on,” General Joseph Votel told Pentagon reporters.

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

Humor

The 13 funniest memes for the week of May 25th

Ah, Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy yourselves and take some time to remember our fallen brothers and sisters. I can only speak for myself, but I know my boys all would have wanted me to crack open a cold one for them.


Take it easy. Relax. Call one of your old squadmates and check up on them. I’m not going to sound like your first sergeant and tell you to not “don’t do dumb sh*t” over the long weekend. Go ahead — just be responsible about it and try to stay off the blotter.

Anyways, here’re some memes.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Private News Network)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Uniform Humor)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Military Memes)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme by We Are The Mighty)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via /r/military)

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

(Meme via Smokepit Fairy Tales)

MIGHTY TRENDING

A drunk guy stole an armored carrier then promptly crashed it

A drunken man was detained after stealing an armored personnel carrier and crashing it into a supermarket in northwestern Russia on Jan. 10, police said.


Police said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the man stole the tank-like vehicle on caterpillar tracks from a military driving school in the city of Apatity in the far northern region of Murmansk.

Related: That time a drunk Richard Nixon tried to nuke North Korea

The school teaches driving skills to future army conscripts, but the vehicle had been stripped of weapons, police said.

On a joyride through Apatity, the man driving the armored vehicle badly damaged a parked car before careening through the supermarket window, police said.

After the crash, the man climbed out of the vehicle’s hatch and walked into the aisles of the supermarket before being detained, the police said.

After detaining the man, officials said police determined that he was drunk.

Local news website Hibinform reported that the man also attempted to steal a bottle of wine from the supermarket just before his arrest.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Butterfly garden acts as ‘spiritual refuge’ for vets

Veteran James Petersen noticed five unused planting beds on the grounds of the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic in Colorado Springs. He realized they would be perfect for a butterfly garden.

Petersen is a social worker for the VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System (VAECHS). He and his “Butterfly Brigade” filled the planters with soil and flowers. The brigade includes VAECHS volunteers and patients.

“The beds hadn’t been touched in years,” said Peterson. But he welcomed the challenge. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to engage our veterans, as well as create a place for them to socialize between appointments.”


The garden features perennial and annual flowers. It also contains milkweed, the only food eaten by the monarch caterpillar.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

The garden is an official monarch waystation.

A painted lady butterfly stops at the garden.

“The monarch butterfly is endangered, declining almost 90% over the past 20 years,” Petersen noted. Because of their efforts, the garden now is an official monarch butterfly migration pathway station.

Petersen has planted flowers to attract butterflies before. When he returned from five years in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he “found a lot of therapeutic value in gardening.” As a result, Petersen went through the master gardener program at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

“When I worked at the St. Louis VA last summer, I planted a monarch butterfly garden,” he said. “Several of the veterans on my caseload worked with me in planting the garden. They loved it.”

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

A painted lady butterfly stops at the garden.

Place of change for butterflies and veterans

“This is a place to meditate, minimize stress, socialize and observe the many changes butterflies encounter, much like our own lives,” said clinic director Kim Hoge. She further called the garden a “spiritual refuge” and thanked clinic employees for donating their time, money and resources to build it.

Peterson said just as caterpillars become butterflies, veterans change when they transition to civilian life.

“This garden will do our part for conservation. It will also create a therapeutic place for veterans to hang out,” he said. “They will appreciate the symbolism of transformation and metamorphosis. Especially those who are dealing with traumatic histories.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army enlists Nine Inch Nails member for new coronavirus-themed recruiting video

The U.S. Army recently released a new advertising video targeting young people living in a society crippled by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The short video, titled “Unbelievable,” is the latest addition to the “What’s Your Warrior” ad campaign, which is designed to show members of Generation Z how their service is needed.

The video first aired Friday on YouTube and is making its way around social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It features stark images that hint at post-apocalyptic life due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shows soldiers with medical and research specialties responding to the crisis.


When the unbelievable happens, we get to work. Learn more at https://go.usa.gov/xv9wN . #GoArmypic.twitter.com/HkKQqAftD4

twitter.com

The Army launched the “What’s Your Warrior” campaign Nov. 11, focused on trying to get young people to think about what type of warrior is inside them.

“We don’t want to sound opportunistic at all but, at the same time, we are very involved in the fight. The Army has a role in this,” said Laura DeFrancisco, spokeswoman for the Army Enterprise Marketing Office.

The video flashes the message, “When the unbelievable happens … the unbelievable rise to meet it.”

“There is the one shot of the soldier looking at a microscope; that is real world,” DeFrancisco said. “But just in general being a part of an organization that is involved in something that supports your community right here at home, which is an unusual role, especially for the active Army.”

The Army has deployed thousands of National Guard and Reserve soldiers in communities across the country, as well as hundreds of active-duty troops to provide medical support to hospitals trying to cope with the virus.

The video’s eerie background music, which builds in intensity, “was actually done for us by [Atticus Ross from] Nine Inch Nails,” DeFrancisco said. Ross, an English musician from the alternative rock band, wrote and performed the music for the ad.

“He created it for us just in the last two to three weeks,” she said.

The Army tested out the concept for the video last week by running 15-second, picture-to-picture stories on Instagram with the same “call to service” theme, DeFrancisco said.

“We were getting really good response from that, so that’s why we went forward with this video,” she said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct a quote and clarify who wrote and performed the music for the ad.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

MARSOC gets more lethal with this new sniper rifle

The Marine Corps is adopting a new precision sniper rifle to increase the lethality and combat effectiveness of scout snipers on the battlefield.

The Mk13 Mod 7 Sniper Rifle is a bolt-action rifle that offers an increased range of fire and accuracy when compared to current and legacy systems. It includes a long-action receiver, stainless steel barrel, and an extended rail interface system for a mounted scope and night vision optic.


The Mk13 is scheduled for fielding in late 2018 and throughout 2019. Units receiving the Mk13 include infantry and reconnaissance battalions and scout sniper schoolhouses. This weapon is already the primary sniper rifle used by Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC.

Fielding the Mk13 ensures the Corps has commonality in its equipment set and Marine scout snipers have the same level of capability as North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, said Master Sgt. Shawn Hughes from III MEF.

“When the Mk13 Mod 7 is fielded, it will be the primary sniper rifle in the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Paul Gillikin, Infantry Weapons team lead at Marine Corps Systems Command. “The M40A6 will remain in the schoolhouses and operating forces as an alternate sniper rifle primarily used for training. The M110 and M107 will also remain as additional weapons within the scout sniper equipment set.”

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
The M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System

The Marine Corps identified a materiel capability gap in the maximum effective ranges of its current sniper rifles. After a comparative assessment was conducted, it was clear that the Mk13 dramatically improved scout sniper capabilities in terms of range and terminal effects.

The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Scout Sniper Platoon used the weapon for over a year (including during a deployment) in support of the 2025 Sea Dragon Exercise. Feedback from MCSC’s assessment, MARSOC’s operational use, and 3/5’s testing of the weapon system led to its procurement of the Mk13 for the Corps.

The Mk13 increases scout snipers’ range by roughly 300 meters and will use the .300 Winchester Magnum caliber round, a heavier grain projectile with faster muzzle velocity — characteristics that align Marine sniper capability with the U.S. Army and Special Operations Command.

“The .300 Winchester Magnum round will perform better than the current 7.62 NATO ammo in flight, increasing the Marine Sniper’s first round probability of hit,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tony Palzkill, Battalion Gunner for Infantry Training Battalion. “This upgrade is an incredible win and will allow snipers to engage targets at greater distances.”

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
.300 Winchester Magnum (center) flanked by its parent cartridges.

The Mk13 will also be fielded with an enhanced day optic that provides greater magnification range and an improved reticle.

“This sniper rifle will allow Marines to reengage targets faster with precise long-range fire while staying concealed at all times,” said Sgt. Randy Robles, Quantico Scout Sniper School instructor and MCSC liaison.

“The new day optic allows for positive identification of enemies at greater distances, and it has a grid-style reticle that allows for rapid reengagement without having to dial adjustments or ‘hold’ without a reference point,” he said. “With this type of weapon in the fleet, we will increase our lethality and be able to conceal our location because we are creating a buffer between us and the enemy.”

MCSC completed New Equipment Training for the Mk13 with a cross section of Marines from active-duty, Reserve and training units in early April 2018.

“The snipers seemed to really appreciate the new capabilities that come with this rifle and optic,” said project officer Capt. Frank Coppola. “After the first day on the range, they were sold.”

In a time where technology, ammunition and small arms weapon systems are advancing at an increasingly rapid rate, it is extremely important to ensure the Marine Corps is at the forefront of procuring and fielding new and improved weapon systems to the operating forces, said Gillikin.

“Doing this enables the Corps to maintain the advantage over its enemies on the battlefield, as well as to secure its trusted position as the rapid crisis response force for the United States,” he said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 questions of unconventional warfare according to a top officer

Unconventional warfare is necessarily a messy business. It entails finding the enemies of our enemies and convincing them to fight our mutual foes, even if we’re not necessarily friends. It reduces America’s risk in blood, but it also means our national security rests on the shoulders of foreign fighters. In the confusing situations this creates, one top officer in the Afghanistan invasion had three simple questions to cut through the chaos.


A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

U.S. special operators pose with Hamid Karzai during the invasion of Afghanistan. Karzai would go on to be president of Afghanistan.

(U.S. Army)

During the invasion, then-Lt. Col. Mark Rosengard was in command of Task Force Dagger, and he had to greatly expand the unconventional warfare program in the country. So he couldn’t spend days or weeks of time and reams of paper figuring out whether he would trust one potential guerrilla leader or another.

So, according to reporter Sean Naylor in his book Not a Good Day to Die, Rosengard just asked three questions.

First, “Do we have a common goal today, recognizing tomorrow may be different?” Basically, do the militiamen or guerillas want the same outcome as the American forces? Including, do they want to see the same people die?

Next, “Do you have a secure backyard?” Simply, do the local forces have somewhere safe-ish to train? If the forces have to constantly quit training in order to fight off attacks, then they won’t be able to actually train. But if there’s any sort of safe compound in which to get to work, then it’s time to ask the third question.

“Are you willing to kill people?”

Yeah, that’s not a very complicated one.

Taken together, these three questions would let Rosengard know whether he could get to work with a new commander. Of course, there were additional concerns that he had to keep track of.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19

Afghan forces in a discussion with a senior weapons sergeant of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.

(U.S. Army)

For instance, on the first question, you would need to keep track of whether the militias might really turn on you tomorrow. It’s a bad idea to spend too much time training foreign fighters who only have a few days or weeks of loyalty to America left.

But, overall, these three questions match up with American choices in other wars.

Gen. John “BlackJack” Pershing made alliances with Moro tribesmen in the Philippines and hired them as law enforcement officers even though he knew their long-term goals would be different. And President Franklin D. Roosevelt allied America with Russia to destroy Germany, adding the Soviet Union to the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 despite it being clear that the U.S. and Soviet Union would eventually be at loggerheads.

Rosengard’s gambles in Afghanistan largely worked out for the invasion, and U.S. special operators and unconventional forces took large sections of the country in the Winter of 2001, a period in which they had planned to take just a small foothold in the north. The operators and their guerrilla allies also were able to bring Hamid Karzai back to the country to take power, helping cement American control of the country.

But, of course, the issues with Afghan forces in the invasion were quickly felt. Pashtun tribesmen were extremely helpful in taking the country from the Taliban, but their half-hearted attacks at Tora Bora are thought to have been a major contributor to Osama Bin Laden’s escape from that mountain stronghold into Pakistan where he would successfully hide until his death in 2011.

Articles

Why NATO should use Russia’s massive wargame as an intel dump

When thousands of Russian troops wheeled and maneuvered through the steppes of southern Siberia two years ago, as part of massive military exercises known as Tsentr, Western experts spotted something unusual.


Amid Defense Ministry orders for tank brigades, paratrooper battalions, motorized rifle divisions, and railroad cars carrying howitzers, there were orders for the federal fisheries agency.

“And I wondered, ‘What the hell is the fisheries ministry doing?'” recalls Johan Norberg, senior military analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. The eventual conclusion, he says, was that the Russian fisheries fleet was seen by military planners as an intelligence asset, playing a small role in national defense.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
Tsentr-2015 strategic headquarters military exercises. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

It’s an example offering a small window into not only how Russian commanders approach large-scale military games. It’s also the kind of insight that Western analysts hope to gain beginning next week when one of the largest exercises Moscow has conducted on its western borders since the Cold War get under way: a real-world, real-time glimpse at what Russia’s military is truly capable of, after years of institutional reforms.

The Zapad drills, taking place in Belarus and the regions east of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are formally kicking off on Sept. 14. They’re the first to be held in close proximity to NATO member countries since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

For that and many other reasons, they are giving heartburn to NATO allies from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with some observers predicting that the number of participating personnel could exceed 100,000, along with tanks, artillery units, aircraft, and other equipment.

Midterm Exam

Though few, if any, Western planners anticipate any outbreak of hostilities with Russia, NATO states have taken steps to reassure their populaces and to show they are taking the Russians seriously. US Air Force fighter jets are now patrolling Baltic airspace; Poland is closing its airspace near Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad; and four NATO battle groups, featuring 4,500 troops, are on alert in the Baltics and Poland.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
USMC Photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon.

That said, as much as anything, the Zapad exercises serve as a midterm exam for Russian armed forces and military planners, a measure of reforms made over the past decade.

“The exercise is actually a very good opportunity for us to… get a better sense of what the Russian military is actually capable of: how it can handle logistics, move different units, or, in an operation, exercise command and control over combined armed formations in the Baltic theater, which is the one we’re principally concerned with, right?” says Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Kennan Institute in Washington.

“This one is a lot more interesting to us because we don’t plan on fighting Russia in Central Asia,” Kofman says.

Preparations have been ongoing for weeks, with large numbers of railroad cars shipping heavy weaponry and vehicles into Belarus and civilians mobilized at some large state-owned enterprises in Kaliningrad and elsewhere.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
Zapad 13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

“As we’ve seen before, Russians train exactly as they intend to fight,” Kristjan Prikk, undersecretary for policy at the Estonian Defense Ministry, said during a July event at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “Thus, Zapad will give ample information on their military development and certainly on their political thinking, as it is right now.”

Structural Reforms

In 2008, when Russia invaded its former Soviet neighbor Georgia, its armed forces easily overcame Georgia’s defenses and some of its US-trained personnel, but the five-day war showcased significant weaknesses. For example, some Russian officers were reportedly unable to communicate with others over existing radio frequencies and were forced to use regular mobile phones. Russian surveillance drones performed poorly.

Other reforms already under way at the time included a shift from the Soviet military structure, organized around divisions, to a smaller brigade structure and the increased use of contract, rather than conscripted, soldiers.

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Zapad 13 military exercise. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Reforms also included a substantial increase in defense budgets, something made possible by high world oil prices that stuffed Russia’s coffers. A 10-year plan to upgrade weaponry and other equipment originally called for Russia to spend $650 billion between 2011 and 2020, according to NATO figures, though Western sanctions, plummeting oil prices, and the economic downturn in 2015-16 are believed to have slowed some purchases.

“They’ve had now, say, eight or nine years with plenty of money and the willingness to train, and they have a new organization that they want to test,” Norberg says.

While the Defense Ministry conducts a cycle of exercises roughly every year, alternating among four of the country’s primary military districts, Western analysts got a surprise lesson in early 2014 when Russian special forces helped lead a stealth invasion of Crimea and paved the way for the Black Sea region’s illegal annexation by Moscow in March.

Real-World Laboratory

That, plus the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine in the following months, offered a real-world laboratory for testing new tactics and equipment for Russian forces, including new drones, some manufactured with help from Israeli firms.

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Pro-Russian rebels shoot in the air at funeral of a fellow fighter killed in a battle for Marinka near Donetsk. Eastern Ukraine, 6 June, 2015. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

The Crimea invasion was preceded by the months of civil unrest in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, which culminated in deadly violence and the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.

For many Kremlin and defense thinkers, that was just the latest in a series of popular uprisings, fomented by Western governments, that toppled regimes and governments stretching back to Georgia in 2003 and lasting through the Arab Spring beginning in 2010.

The scenario that Russian and Belarusian commanders have announced ahead of Zapad 2017 hints at that thinking: The theoretical adversary is one seeking to undermine the government in Minsk and set up a separatist government in western Belarus.

A message from the USO: How to support the troops keeping us safe during COVID-19
Russia celebrating National Guards’ Day. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Inside Russia, the thinking that NATO and Western governments used the popular uprisings as a strategy led to the reorganization of internal security forces, such as riot police and Interior Ministry special troops into a specialized National Guard under the command of President Vladimir Putin’s former bodyguard. Some parts of that force, whose overall numbers are estimated at 180,000, are expected to participate in the Zapad exercises.

That, Kofman says, should yield insight into “how Russia will mobilize and deploy internal security forces to suppress protest and instability…basically how the regime will protect itself and defend itself against popular unrest.”

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