Hollywood tends to get military life wrong — and portrayals of helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War are no exception. Despite what you’ve seen in movies, daily operations didn’t always involve pulling troops from a hot landing zone or going in with guns and rockets blazing — and it wasn’t always done in a Huey, either.
In fact, while it’s best-known for playing a key role in Operation Enduring Freedom, the CH-47 Chinook saw a lot of action in the Vietnam War. This helicopter has served with the Army for over half a century and year and is still going strong — new variants, the CH-47F and MH-47G, are rolling off the production lines as we speak!
CH-47 Chinooks and UH-1 Hueys load troops during Operation Crazy Horse. Over 30,000 troops were moved into difficult terrain in that 1966 operation.
(US Army photo)
For a lot of helicopter pilots, especially those who flew the CH-47A, CH-47B, and CH-47C models of the Chinook, the Vietnam War was mostly about moving cargo from one part of the operating theater to another, often hauling upwards of 7,000 pounds of cargo inside its cavernous cabin. The Chinook has a history of doing precisely that, whether in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Desert Storm, or any number of peacetime operations.
In Vietnam, CH-47s were also used to recover planes and helicopters. These would often be taken back to repair depots, like USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T ARVH 1). Chinooks were also often used for moving artillery pieces — and their crews and ammo — to new locations. It was faster and safer than going by ground, even though the helicopters sometimes found themselves overloaded by troops. In 1966, the Chinook made a name for itself during Operation Crazy Horse, during which over 30,000 troops were transported by chopper into very difficult terrain.
A CH-47F in Afghanistan. The latest versions of the Chinook carry three times as much cargo as the ones that flew in Vietnam.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Hoskins)
At least 200 CH-47s were lost during Vietnam, either to enemy action or operational losses. Those harsh experiences, however, led to improvements. Today’s CH-47s haul 24,000 pounds, more than three times the 7,000 pounds carried by early Chinooks in Vietnam.
See what a day in the life of a Vietnam War Chinook pilot was like in the video below!
Landing on a carrier is perhaps one of the toughest feats in all of aviation. In fact, studies have shown that pilots are more anxious about a night-time carrier landing than they are about combat. Today, there are a number of systems in place to help a pilot get down safely, but during World War II, it was a lot harder.
Just like today, there was a landing signals officer (LSO) responsible for the safe recovery of carrier aircraft, but they didn’t have the modern tools available now. No, this guy had to use paddles and hand gestures to get a planes, like the F6F Hellcat or SBD Dauntless, back on the boat safely. The carriers back then didn’t have angled decks, either. Nope, they were as flat-topped as Essex-class amphibious assault ships.
The 13 signals used by LSOs in World War II.
The gestures outlined above were how the LSO communicated with the pilot. They didn’t have modern radios like the ones we enjoy on Super Hornets today. In fact, the radios back then were primitive. The rear gunners on the SBD Dauntless, for example, often doubled as radiomen, but the radios were only able to send Morse code. Sending code isn’t very conducive to getting urgent messages to pilots quickly and clearly.
Instead, the LSO stood in a very exposed position and used a pair of paddles to send the pilot signals and guide them into a safe landing. During World War II, the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps trained tens of thousands of pilots to make those carrier landings guided only by hand signals.
The lack of technology in World War II forced LSOs, like Lt. Tripp in this photo, to use the paddles to guide pilots back to safety.
The training film below was made in 1949, the year before the Korean War broke out and when most planes operating off of carriers were propeller-driven. Like other Navy efforts to avoid accidents, the video used humor to get the points across.
Fair warning: This film probably would not win any awards for cultural sensitivity these days. We’ve come a long way in the last 70 years.
The list of Americans who receive favorable coverage in North Korea’s state media is a very, very short one. President Trump made waves with KCNA’s review of his performance at the 2018 Singapore Summit. But more than a decade before that, the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS James E. Williams received even higher praise.
In 2007, a North Korean cargo ship name Dai Hong Dan was attacked by Somali pirates 70 miles northeast of Mogadishu. The pirates disguised themselves a guard force and overtook the crew to take control of the ship. They set a ransom demand of $15,000. The penalty for non-payment was killing the sailors — that would not happen.
The crew was stashed away in the engine room and in steerage as the pirates gave their demands. The crew managed to send an SOS to the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Organization. The IMB sent the report to the James E. Williams, whichdispatched a helicopter to check on reports of the ship’s hijacking. Meanwhile, the crew used the emergency steerage engine and a lifeboat compass to point the ship out to sea.
As the helicopter approached and ordered the pirates to surrender, the crew fought back against their captors, overpowering them after 20 hours of fighting. The Dai Hong Dan’s crew stormed the bridge as U.S. Navy sailors boarded the ship to help the wounded. One of the pirates was killed and six North Korean sailors were wounded in the struggle. Doctors aboard the James E. Williams treated the injured North Koreans.
The Dai Hong Dan was carrying sugar from India to Mogadishu, a cargo which it had already dropped off. The pirates turned out to be the same dock workers responsible for the ship’s safe passage in and out of the port facilities of Mogadishu. The captured pirates were held aboard the North Korean ship, presumably to face justice in the DPRK.
North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, gave the United States rare praise in its coverage of the incident, saying:
“We feel grateful to the United States for its assistance given to our crewmen. This case serves as a symbol of the DPRK-U.S. cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. We will continue to render international cooperation in the fight against terrorism in the future, too.”
Retired from the Navy in 2014, the EA-6B Prowler – one of the United States’ oldest warplanes – is finding new life in the fight against The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by scrambling enemy radios and cell phones.
“We were the first USMC aircraft in Syria on the first wave of strikes, and have continued to support strike packages, air drops, and other electronic warfare requirements as directed by the Combined Force Air Component Commander, ” said Lt. Col. David Mueller, VMAQ’-4’s commanding officer in an interview with Marine Times.
The mission against ISIL may be the military’s final use for the Prowler, since it’s scheduled for retirement from the Marine Corps in 2019.
“It is capable, but the platform itself is aging,” Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer, told Marine Times. “It’s capabilities are still relevant … but the airplane itself can only have so many flight hours on the airframe.”
Introduced in 1971, the Prowler was made to protect friendly assets from enemy detection by providing an electronic cloak. It’s instruments jam enemy radar signals necessary for launching attacks while allowing friendly signals to pass through. It also detects the location of enemy radar, which it could use to hone in and destroy. Put simply, the Prowler blinds the enemy.
Apart from scrambling ISIL radio and cell phone signals, the Prowler can also block anti-aircraft weapons and devices used to set off roadside bombs. It can even block propaganda broadcasts used to recruit more followers by jamming the Internet and radio airwaves.
This 1970’s video shows the Prowler’s capabilities, minus its current technology:
Germany wants to replace its fleet of 89 Tornado combat jets with a new aircraft that retains the plane’s nuclear capability, but doing so may mean the US gets a say about which aircraft the Luftwaffe ultimately picks, according to Defense News.
As part of a Cold War-era NATO deal, Germany’s Tornados were equipped to carry nuclear weapons in case of a major clash between the alliance and the Soviet Union. That threat waned after the Cold War, as did the number of US nuclear weapons in Germany, but about 20 of the weapons are still there.
Germany is deciding between three US planes — the F-35 and variants of the F-15 and F/A-18 — and a version of the Eurofighter Typhoon being developed by a European consortium.
A German air force Eurofighter Typhoon taxis to the runway at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska before a combat-training mission, June 11, 2012.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Michael Holzworth)
Berlin wants to replace the Tornado — which has been plagued by technical issues— by the mid-2020s. (Germany’s Typhoons have also had problems.) It is leaning toward the European-made Typhoon, but its desire to maintain that nuclear capability could mean the Trump administration will try to play politics with the purchase.
This spring, Berlin asked Washington whether it would certify the Typhoon to carry nuclear weapons, how long it would take to do so, and how much it would cost.
The certification process can take years. European officials working on the Typhoon have said they were confident it could be nuclear-certified by 2025, but US officials have said the process could take seven to 10 years, according to Reuters.
US officials have said that the F-35 and other aircraft must be certified for nuclear weapons first, and a Pentagon spokesman told Defense News that while Germany’s Tornado replacement was “a sovereign national decision,” the US believes “that a U.S. platform provides the most advanced, operationally capable aircraft to conduct their mission.”
F-35As taxi down the flight line at Volk Field during Northern Lightning, Aug. 22, 2016
(Photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer)
The Trump administration has pushed European countries to spend more on their own defense, and Trump’s broadsides against NATO have helped inspire European officials to do so. But the Trump administration has also sought to boost exports of US-made weaponry, and US officials have grown concerned about European defense initiatives reducing US defense firms’ access to that market.
Those latter concerns mean the Trump administration could try to nudge Germany toward a US-made aircraft.
But Trump’s contentious dealings with Germany have reinvigorated debate in that country about acquiring its nuclear weapons or developing them with other European countries — ideas that are still anathema for many in Germany, where memories of the destruction and division of World War II and the Cold War linger.
That aversion to nuclear weapons and wariness of Trump may mean Germany will continue doing what it has been doing — paying the financial and political price to keep the nuclear-capable Tornadoes in the air.
“That’s why they will keep flying the Tornados, despite the price tag and despite having asked about a Eurofighter nuclear certification in Washington,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, president of government think tank the Federal Academy for Security Policy, told Defense News.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On the night of April 1, 1980, two CIA officers flew Major John T. Carney Jr., a U.S. Air Force Combat Controller, to a small strip of road in the South Khorasan Province, Iran.
This location would live in special operations infamy forever, by its code name – Desert One.
Maj. Carney installed infrared lights, a strobe for use as landing lights, and tested the ground, which was hard-packed sand. By this time, Iranian students had held 52 American diplomats and other embassy personnel hostage for 149 days.
The U.S. military was going to get them out.
This final, very complex mission was supposed to take two nights. Colonel James Kyle, commanding officer at Desert One and planner for Eagle Claw called it “the most colossal episode of hope, despair, and tragedy I had experienced in nearly three decades of military service.”
On the first night, three Air Force C-130s would bring 6000 gallons of fuel in bladders to Desert One. Then three EC-130Es would carry 120 Delta Force operators, 12 U.S. Army Rangers, and 15 Farsi-speaking Americans and Iranians. Three MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft would also carry supplies.
All would enter Iran from the Southern coast of the Gulf of Oman. Eight Navy Sea Stallion helicopters would fly in from the USS Nimitz, refuel, and carry the Deltas to Desert Two, a location 52 miles from Tehran. All would hide during the day.
The second night commenced the rescue operation.
The CIA was supposed to bring trucks to Desert Two and drive the operators into the capital. Other troops were to cut the power to the area around the embassy as the Rangers captured the abandoned Manzariyeh Air Base. This would give arriving USAF C-141 Starlifter aircraft a suitable place to land. Maj. Carney would command the Air Force combat-control team to provide ground control to the temporary airfield.
An Army Special Forces team would hit the foreign ministry to free the top three diplomats who were held separately. Meanwhile, Delta Force would storm the embassy, kill the guards, move the hostages to the stadium across the street where the helicopters would pick everyone up, and take them to the air base where the Starlifters would take them home.
U.S. forces, fuel, and supplies were delivered as planned. Everything else was a debacle. Ranger roadblock teams securing the deserted road blew up a tanker smuggling fuel and detained a civilian bus and its passengers.
On the way to Desert One, one of the Sea Stallions had to be abandoned on the ground because of a cracked rotor blade. Its crew was picked up by one of the other Sea Stallions.
The other six ran into an intense sandstorm known as a haboob – a windy mix of suspended sand and dust, moving at up to 60 mph. One of the remaining Sea Stallions had to return to base because of the storm while the rest took an extra 90 minutes getting to Desert One, one sustaining damage to its hydraulic system.
This left five total helicopters. The mission minimum was four – U.S. Army Col. Charles Beckwith, commander of the Delta Force, requested the okay to abort this mission, which President Carter granted.
Back at Desert One, the evacuation began in haste. The extra 90 minutes on the ground expended more fuel than planned.
When one of the Sea Stallion helicopters attempted to move into a position to refuel, it blew up a cloud of dust the road collected in the previous three weeks. Unable to see properly, the RH-53 crashed into the EC-130 carrying troops and fuel, killing eight, five of the 14 Airmen in the EC-130, and three of the five Marines in the RH-53.
All five remaining helicopters were left on the ground in the subsequent evacuation (two of them are still in active service with the Iranian Navy). The bodies of all eight Airmen and Marines were found by the Iranians the next day.
The failure of communications between branches during Eagle Claw is the reason each services’ special operations commands now fall under USSOCOM. Many further changes in structure resulted after intense scrutiny, research and a Congressional Committee.
Plans for a second rescue operation continued under the code name Project Honey Badger, but ended with the election of President Ronald Reagan and the hostages’ subsequent release.
Reagan sent Carter to greet the hostages as they arrived in Germany. When asked what he would do differently during his Presidency, Carter remarked “I would have sent one more helicopter, which would have meant that we could have brought out all the hostages and also the rescue team.”
Bruce Laingen, hostage and former charge d’affaires to the embassy in Iran on the operation:
“While no day hurts more — than today and always — than the day when these brave men lost their lives in an attempt to reach us, no day makes us more proud as well, because of the way in which they stood for that cause of human freedom. For that, all of us (former hostages) will be forever grateful.”
The men who died at Desert One:
Capt. Harold L. Lewis Jr., U.S. Air Force, Capt. Lyn D. McIntosh, U.S. Air Force, Capt. Richard L. Bakke, U.S. Air Force, Capt. Charles McMillian, U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Joel C. Mayo, U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Dewey Johnson, U.S. Marine Corps, Sgt. John D. Harvey, U.S. Marine Corps, Cpl. George N. Homes, U.S. Marine Corps.
Their remains were not recovered, but a memorial dedicated to their memory stands in Arlington National Cemetery.
His wife, Pat, actually thought of it first, while watching Donald Trump on the Phil Donahue Show. The former President Nixon agreed with her enough to write Trump and let him know.
Daytime television talk shows weren’t always about who was the father of whose baby or giving a makeover to teen girls who used to be strippers. In the late 1980s, the shows weren’t always sensationalizing scandal. Shows like Phil Donahue’s actually talked in-depth about news and cultural phenomena that were worthy of the attention. One such phenomenon was the popularity of a real estate mogul in New York who was attracting headlines everywhere: Donald Trump.
He once debated mosh pits with Marilyn Manson.
In December, 1987, Donahue interviewed Trump on his show. Phil Donahue didn’t pull punches. From the get-go, he grilled Trump on his real estate management practices and the rumors associated with his “empire.” In the middle of the interview, Trump tells Donahue he’s able to be honest because he’s “not running for office,” after defending his policies – to the applause of a middle-class audience.
The look of surprise on Donahue’s face was clear, as he shouted “let’s hear it for the rich folks.” The debate over rent control continued for another ten minutes and the studio audience weren’t the only viewers impressed with the Donald’s performance, one viewer at home was also suitably impressed: Pat Nixon.
The former First Lady of the United States was so impressed with Trump’s responses to Donahue’s grilling that she told her husband, 37th President of the United States Richard Nixon. Nixon might have agreed with his wife, as he took the time to write to Trump:
I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me you were great on the Donahue show. As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner!
The letter was stored away in the Nixon Presidential Library Archives until the author of a 2015 biography of Trump, called “Never Enough,” included it in the memoir of then-soon-to-be Presidential candidate Trump.
Trump’s interview on Donahue covered much more than rent control in New York City. His rhetoric was similar to the arguments he would come to use as a presidential candidate, including the idea of making American allies pay for the “services we are rendering” in providing for their defense.
The Navy’s got some planes that are capable of doing some amazing things. But, even with these amazing aircraft, are there some planes the Navy should bring back from retirement? For the following airframes, we think that answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Let’s take a look.
5. Lockheed S-3 Viking/ES-3 Shadow
The S-3 Viking was more than just a submarine hunter. This plane also could carry out aerial refueling missions, electronic intelligence, and carrier onboard delivery. The plane had a range of almost 3,200 miles and could carry anti-submarine torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, bombs, and rockets. With Russia and China deploying advanced attack submarines, this is a plane that would be very useful on carrier decks.
A S-3 Viking attached to Sea Control Squadron Two One (VS-21) conducts routine flight operations from aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Kitty Hawk is operating in the Sea of Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Alex C. Witte)
4. Douglas EKA-3B Skywarrior
The Skywarrior, often called the “Whale” due to its size, was a superb tanker and also served as a standoff jammer. This plane would still be very useful for the Navy and Marine Corps in either role. The baseline A-3 had a range of roughly 2,100 miles. As a tanker and jammer, it would help protect the carriers.
Yes, the EA-18G Growler has entered the fleet, but you can never have enough jammers. The return of the EA-6B would be useful, if only to further bolster those numbers. The Marines even equipped it with a targeting bod to designate for laser-guided missiles and bombs.
1. Grumman F-14D Tomcat
No, this is not a case of Top Gun nostalgia. The F-14D was actually a superb strike fighter on par with the F-15E in the 1990s thanks to the addition of Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night, or LANTIRN. With Russia and China becoming threats, the Tomcat’s long range (1,840 miles), powerful weapons, and high performance (top speed of 1,544 miles per hour) would be very useful, even today.
What planes do you think the Navy should bring back?
On July 18, 2019, F-22 Raptors assigned to the 90th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) and F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base teamed up for a training flight over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, in anticipation for this week’s celebrations for the 100th anniversary of JBER’s 3rd Wing, which occurred on July 1, 2019.
The flying component of the Wing, the 3rd Operations Group, is a direct descendant of one of the 15 original combat groups created by the U.S. Army Air Service before World War II. The 3rd Wing is also known for giving birth to exercise Cope Thunder, which later evolved in today’s Red Flag-Alaska.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from Eielson Air Force Base maneuvers over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
The 3rd Wing’s lineage originated July 1, 1919, as an Army Surveillance Group out of Kelly Field (Texas) flying British-designed, American-made DeHavilland DH.4 aircraft to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution. After WWI the unit became the 3rd Attack Group, focusing on aerial experimentation and pioneering dive bombing, skip-bombing, and parafrag attacks that were later employed by U.S. Army Air Corps/Forces bomber squadrons during World War II.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and an F-16 Fighting Falcon from Eielson Air Force Base fly in formation over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
Following the infamous attacks on Pearl Harbor, the 3rd Attack Group started combat operations against Japan. In 1942, after changing name to 3rd Bombardment Group, the unit received new bombers and helped developing low-altitude strafing tactics, becoming famous for their combat proficiency.
In 1950 the group, after assuming the Wing designation, was tasked to provide the Korean War’s first bombing mission. Notably, a B-26 gunner from the 3rd Wing scored the first aerial victory of the war, shooting down a North Korean YAK-3.
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from Eielson Air Force Base execute a formation break over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
After being re-designated as the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing in 1964, the unit moved to England Air Force Base, Louisiana, and started training in preparation for the Vietnam War. The 3rd Wing flew its B-57 Canberras and F-100 Super Sabres from different air bases all over South-East Asia, totaling more than 200’000 combat sorties.
During the war, the Air Force selected the 3rd TFW to evaluate the new F-5 Tiger in real operations, flying over 2,600 combat missions from October 1966 to March 1967 and resulting in several modifications that helped to improve the aircraft capabilities.
U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson fly in formation over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
At the end of the Vietnam War, the 3rd TWF, equipped with F-4E Phantoms, relocated to Clark Air Base in the Philippines where it received also F-5E Tigers as aggressor aircrafts and started hosting exercise Cope Thunder since 1976. The exercise was initiated by Brigadier General Richard G. Head and was intended to give aircrews from across Asia their first taste of combat in a realistic simulated combat environment, improving U.S. and international forces joint combat readiness. Analysis at the time indicated most combat losses occurred during an aircrew’s first 8 to 10 missions, hence the goal of Cope Thunder was to provide each aircrew with these first missions, increasing their chances of survival in real combat environments. The exercise quickly grew into PACAF’s (PACific Air Forces) “premier simulated combat airpower employment exercise.”
Cope Thunder was moved to Eielson AFB, Alaska, in 1992, after a volcanic eruption heavily damaged Clark AFB. Eielson Air Force Base was considered the most logical choice because of the presence of three major military flight training ranges in nearby. The move helped the exercise’s evolution until, in 2006 Cope Thunder changed name to become Red Flag-Alaska, one of the most important exercises hosted by the U.S. Air Force and held four times a year.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from Eielson Air Force Base flies over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
The 3rd TFW, now designated 3rd Wing, instead relocated to the nearby Elmendorf AFB and acquired two squadrons of F-15 Eagles, one squadron of F-15E Strike Eagles, one squadron of C-130s and a squadron of E-3 AWACS.
In 2007 the Wing replaced its F-15s with F-22s, becoming the second USAF air base, and the first of PACAF command, to host operational F-22 Raptor squadrons. F-22s regularly launch from Quick Reaction Alert cells at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to intercept Russian bombers flying close to Alaskan airspace.
Since the move to Alaska, the wing has successfully participated in all major U.S. operations from Desert Storm to the most recent Inherent Resolve.
Interestingly, one of the Aggressor F-16 was painted in a livery unveiled in 2017 and dubbed “BDU Splinter”, mimicking colors seen in both the Cold War era “European One” and the Vietnam era Southeast Asia camouflage schemes. The full album is available on the Flickr page of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.
Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.
The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.
WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.
The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.
The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.
Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.
Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.
Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.
The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.
But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.
President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.
“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.
The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.
The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”
Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.
The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.
The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.
“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”
Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.
The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.
The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.
From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.
The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.
“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.
“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”
The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.
Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.
Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”
Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.
According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”
Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”
Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.
This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.
In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.
According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.
The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.
The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.
The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.
The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.
Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”
“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”
But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.
Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.
“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.
If you’ve read the book Lone Survivor, written by former SEAL Marcus Luttrell, or seen the 2014 movie adaptation of the same name, then you’re very familiar with the incredible tale of survival and valor. But prior to Luttrell’s involvement to that 2005 operation, there was another well-known “love survivor” raid.
The tale of Torpedo Squadron Eight at the Battle of Midway has since become legend. All 15 of the squadron’s Douglas TBD Devastators that were sent out that day were shot down. Of the 30 crew aboard those planes, the only survivor was Ensign George Gay. The others were all killed in action.
Some people believe that this squadron’s sacrifice is what pulled down the Mitsubishi A6M Zeros that were providing combat air patrol for the Japanese carrier force, known as Kido Butai, thus opening the way for Douglass SBD Dauntless dive-bombers to deliver the bombs that left three Japanese carriers fatally damaged in the span of five minutes. This is, however, an over-simplified view.
Ensign George Gay (right) with a gunner from Torpedo Squadron Eight.
(US Navy )
It should be clear, though, that Torpedo Eight’s attack was the first in a chain of events that culminating in a Japanese loss so devastating the force could never recover. According to the book Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, written by Anthony P. Tully and Jonathan B. Parshall, the attack by Torpedo Squadron Eight came in almost an hour before the dive-bombers arrived — around 9:18 AM. Their attack took no more than 17 minutes. Gay was perhaps the only pilot to get close enough to drop a torpedo against a Japanese carrier before he ditched his plane. He attempted to rescue his gunner, Robert K. Huntington, but was unsuccessful.
The reason Torpedo Squadron 8 attacked alone was because Hornet’s air group commander, Stanhope Ring, made an incorrect guess. Waldron, commander of Torpedo Squadron 8, and Ring had often disagreed on where the Japanese carriers might have gone. This time, Ring ended up missing the Japanese carriers — flying too far to the north. Waldron was dead on target, though.
World War II’s answer to Michael Murphy is Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, who received a posthumous Navy Cross for Torpedo Eight’s attack.
At 9:38am, Torpedo Squadron Six began their attack, launched from the USS Enterprise. This lasted until about 10:00. Torpedo Squadron Six’s attack came from a different angle than Torpedo Eight’s — four of that squadron’s planes returned to the Enterprise.
It was during Torpedo Six’s attack that Wade McCluskey, leading the Dauntless dive bombers from the Enterprise, would sight a Japanese destroyer trying to catch up with the rest of Kido Butai after trying to chase off the submarine USS Nautilus (SS 168). As McCluskey’s Dauntlesses arrived over Kido Butai, so did the Yorktown’s strike of 12 Devastators and 17 Dauntlesses, escorted by six F4F Wildcats.
Of the fifteen pilots in this photo, only one lived.
The Devastators of Torpedo Three would be savaged by the Zeros, but the Dauntless dive-bombers would turn the tide of war in five minutes, largely because the torpedo squadrons had not only drawn fighters down, but their attacks forced the Japanese carriers to maneuver in ways that precluded the launching of their own planes.
Torpedo Eight’s attack, the first in this deadly series, had set the entire sequence in motion — a sequence that would forever cripple the Japanese Navy, leading to victory for the Allies at Midway.
After the laughter died down, many of us wondered what the hell the pilots who drew the Navy’s penis in the sky – now known everywhere as the “sky penis” – were thinking. We may never know exactly what was going through their minds, but now at least we know what they were saying when they drew the now-famous celestial phallus.
“You should totally try to draw a penis.”
It was a clear day over Washington state in 2017, when suddenly the skies were marred by what appeared to be a huge dong in the wild blue yonder. Thousands of feet above the earth, U.S. Navy pilots behind the sticks of an EA-18G Growler were giggling up a storm after noticing their contrails looked particularly white against the vivid blue backdrop of the sky.
They didn’t notice the contrails weren’t dissipating quite as fast as they hoped they would. At least, that’s what the official cockpit audio recording says.
“My initial reaction was no, bad,” the pilot wrote in a statement. “But for some reason still unknown to me, I eventually decided to do it.”
While the above recording isn’t the official audio – the Navy didn’t release the audio, just the transcripts – it’s a pretty good replica done by the guys from the Aviation Lo Down podcast. It includes such gems as:
“You should totally try to draw a penis.”
“Which way is the shaft going?”
“It’s gonna be a wide shaft.”
“I don’t wanna make it just like 3 balls.”
While everyone involved seemed pleased with their great work, including the commander of the training mission in another Growler, they soon realized the contrails were still there, their magnum opus firmly painted on the sky for all the world to see – and see they did. Residents of Okanogan soon called into their local news station to complain about the large drawing in the sky.
The Navy has not released the identities of those involved in creating the most memorable public achievement made by the Navy since Top Gun, it has only ever mentioned the two junior-ranking pilots were highly skilled and good leaders who one might think would know better.
More importantly, no one knows what became of them. Here’s to hoping they got tickets to the Army-Navy Game.
A commission formed by Congress to assess military and national service is calling for women to be included in selective service registration, Military.com has learned.
The 11-member National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is set to release a final report with 164 recommendations Wednesday, following two-and-a-half years of research and fieldwork on topics including propensity to serve in the military; the civilian-military divide; and the future of the U.S. Selective Service System.
One of the most hotly debated questions considered by the panel is whether women should be required to register for the draft for the first time in U.S. history.
A source with knowledge of the report confirmed that the commission had recommended that women should be made eligible for selective service. Politico first reported Tuesday on the commission’s findings.
Other recommendations include keeping the U.S. Selective Service System and keeping the registration requirement, which currently applies to American males within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
The panel was created as a result of debate over whether women should be made to register for the draft. In 2016, the same year all military ground combat and special operations jobs were opened to women for the first time, two Republicans in Congress, both veterans, introduced the “Draft America’s Daughters Act of 2016.” The move was intended to provoke discussion; both lawmakers planned to vote against their own bill.
But the provision ultimately became law as part of the 2017 defense policy package. From that initiative, the commission was formed to further study the issue.
During 2019 hearings on the question, Katey van Dam, a Marine Corps veteran who flew attack helicopters, argued eloquently in support of including women in selective service registration.
“Today, women sit in C-suites and are able to hold any military job for which they are qualified,” she said. “As society expects opportunity parity for women, it is time to also expect equal civic responsibility. In the event of a major war that requires national mobilization, women should serve their country to the same extent as male citizens.”
In an interview with Military.com earlier this month, Joe Heck, the chairman of the commission and a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve, said the issue of including women in draft registration had inspired passionate debate among the commissioners.
“The recommendations made represent the consensus of the commission,” he said. “We believe that the commission’s recommendations specifically in regard to [the U.S. Selective Service System] will best place the nation as able to respond to any existential national security threat that may arise.”
Heck also said the commission planned to chart a “cradle-to-grave pathway to service” for Americans.
In addition to the report, the commission will release accompanying draft legislation Wednesday to assist Congress in turning its proposals into law. A future hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is also planned to discuss the commission’s findings.