When America sends its super-secret warriors behind enemy lines, remaining camouflaged can mean the difference between nabbing the bad guy and causing a major international incident if discovered.
But staying in the shadows means more to those types of commandos than Ghillie suits and MultiCam combat uniforms. Instead, for special operators like SEAL Team 6 commandos and Delta Force soldiers, it’s cultural camouflage that keeps them alive and on mission. When they’re on a clandestine op, that means mingling with the population unseen.
While SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force can easily get their operators looking like the natives, it’s proven to be a lot harder to get them sounding like a local in the country they’re deployed to. Learning a language is very difficult skill, and the military has been at pains to get its operators up to speed quickly.
According to most experts, it takes at least six months for Special Forces soldiers to get proficient in one of the European languages like Spanish or French, and up to a year for proficiency in languages like Arabic and Chinese.
With smaller units like those in Joint Special Operations Command, taking operators off the line for that long makes it tough to keep units fully manned.
So SEAL Team 6 has been experimenting using sensory deprivation tanks to cut language learning to a fraction of the time used in traditional methods.
“They’re able to steer operators into a state of optimum physiological and neurological relaxation and then introducing new content. … And one of the examples is learning foreign languages,” says John Wheal, the Executive Director of the Flow Genome Project which works to increase the performance of top-end athletes and business executives.
“By combining these sensory deprivation tanks with next-generation biofeedback they’ve been able to reduce a six-month cycle time for learning foreign languages down to six weeks.”
Basically, sensory deprivation tanks are pod-shaped beds filled with lukewarm salt water that delivers neutral buoyancy. An operator will float in the chamber in pitch dark to remove any distractions and wear a set of specialized sensors that measure various physical readings like heart rate and brain wave activity.
Once the SEAL has gotten into the right state of mind, then the learning starts, Wheal says.
Previously the exclusive purview of rich show business types with money to burn, the nation’s top commandos are now using cutting-edge tools like sensory deprivation tanks to get better at their jobs quicker.
The F-15 is an amazing aircraft that was designed to go head-to-head with the Soviet’s MiG-25 and was the top dog for years, most notably during Desert Storm where American and Saudi Eagles took it to the Iraqis in a big way.
The F-15 has endured because its design was years ahead of its time, and a great data point behind that fact is the time Israeli pilot Zivi Nedivi landed his jet with only one wing. Nedivi had one of his wings sheared off in a midair collision with an A-4 Skyhawk during a training event. Nedivi’s Eagle went into a rapid roll by the crash and he told his navigator to prepare the eject.
Nedivi turned on his afterburners in an attempt to stabilize the jet. The move worked. After his aircraft stabilized, he decided to attempt to land at a base 10 miles away. Because of the fuel coming from the damaged fuselage, neither he nor his wingman knew that the F-15 was missing a wing.
Hear the rest of this amazing story from Nedivi himself in this video:
Throughout the history of modern warfare, the record for longest confirmed sniper kill is one that has steadily gotten more and more extreme as technology has progressed. At the time of writing this, the holder of that record is British sniper Craig Harrison, who notably broke the previous record twice on the same day by hitting two enemy targets on two consecutive shots an astounding 2,474 metres away.
For our friends across the pond, that’s 8,116.8 feet or 1.54 miles or about 22.5 NFL football fields (including end zones) away. The shot was from such an extreme range that it took the bullet about three seconds to reach the target.
Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison made his record breaking shot in November of 2009 while stationed in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Harrison personally didn’t find out about its record breaking nature until after he returned home in 2010. The distance from which he took the shot, which was measured and confirmed via GPS, amazed his superiors in the Ministry of Defence so much that they published the details of his shot almost as soon as he got back to the UK, and even granted him permission to give interviews about it to the world’s media.
If you’re wondering about the circumstances surrounding the shot, Harrison was providing cover fire for his commanding officer and members of the Afghan National Army, who’d been ambushed by two insurgents. According to Harrison, the insurgents were armed with a PKM machine-gun and had pinned down the soldiers, giving him only a short time to assess the situation and subsequently line up a shot to ruin the attackers’ day.
With a help from a spotter, Cliff O’Farrell, and 9 test shots to nail down the exact distance, Harrison lined up his shot and squeezed the trigger for a 10th time, firing a .338 Lapua Magnum round and striking the machine-gunner in the gut, killing him. The remaining insurgent, who wouldn’t have even heard the shot coming, reached out to take command of the now free machine-gun only to be hit by a second round launched by Harrison. With both insurgents down, Harrison pulled the trigger one more time to disable the machine-gun itself.
Thus, Harrison not only broke the previous record (7,972 feet set in 2002 in Afghanistan) held by Canadian Rob Furlong using a McMillan-Tac 50, but he made the shot essentially three times in a row without missing- hitting the two insurgents and their machine-gun. This means he technically broke the record twice within a few seconds of one another.
As if all that wasn’t impressive enough, the actual shots were noted as being about 3,000 feet beyond the L115A3 rifle’s effective range. Needless to say, as Harrison said, “Conditions were perfect, no wind, mild weather, clear visibility.”
Interestingly, despite the interviews he gave over the matter, we shouldn’t really know Harrison’s real name. Official Ministry of Defence rules state that the identities of snipers, regardless of interviews of this nature, should never be disclosed publicly, as they would quickly become prime targets. Harrison was well aware of this rule and reportedly only agreed to speak with the media about his record shot on the understanding that his identity wouldn’t be disclosed or that they’d give him a pseudonym.
However, for reasons that aren’t clear, the MoD never passed this restriction onto any of the media outlets Harrison spoke with and they all released stories crediting Harrison under his real name, with some sources even noting where he lived.
The police quickly warned Harrison and his family that they were in danger after the story was printed. To protect his wife, daughter, and himself, Harrison was left with no choice but to uproot his family, which in turn resulted in his wife losing her job and his daughter being pulled from school mid-year. We’re also guessing that for the following few months, Harrison ensured that his wife and daughter were always within 8000 feet of his location, just in case.
Understandably, Harrison got pretty upset about his identity being printed in the news when he was explicitly told it wouldn’t be. Thus, he asked the MoD for compensation for drawing a bullseye on his family’s backs and to cover moving expenses. He was later awarded £100,000 (about $156,000) for his trouble.
Just a few weeks after making the longest kill shot in sniper history, Harrison was shot in the head while under enemy fire, but luckily his helmet took the brunt of the blow and the bullet did not penetrate his skull. Shortly thereafter, he had both his arms broken when the vehicle he was travelling in drove over a roadside bomb. He not only managed to make a full recovery after this devastating injury, but insisted on being sent back to the front line as soon as he was fit, stating that the explosion hadn’t affected his “ability as a sniper”.
The spotter Harrison used to make the shot was a military driver with no formal training in the spotting, making the shot that much more impressive.
Moments after Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the U.S. House Majority Whip, was shot in the hip during an attack on a practice for the upcoming Congressional baseball game, an Iraq War vet was treating his wound.
“You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup tweeted. The Ohio Republican congressman later told an aide the only difference between the Alexandria shooting and Iraq was being “without his weapon.”
According to a report by WLWT.com, Wenstrup began to treat his wounded colleague after Scalise dragged himself off the field. Wenstrup had seen wounds like that before he had ever entered politics.
According to the official biography on his web site, that is because Rep. Wentrup is also Col. Wenstrup in the U.S. Army Reserve – and he’s has served in the Army Reserve since 1998, after his sister had a battle with leukemia. During a tour in Iraq with the 344th Combat Support Hospital, Wenstrup was a combat surgeon, which he described as “the worst thing that ever happened to me, and the best thing I ever got to do.”
“I remember one Marine we lost on the table, and the anesthesiologist saying, ‘I had breakfast with him this morning.’ Or having to tell a group of Marines their buddy didn’t make it. Those were the tough days,” he told the college’s magazine.
He had good days, too, including helping to treat a four-month old girl who had pneumonia. Eventually, the doctors figured out the girl also needed gluten-free formula, and raised over $400 to help make arrangements for a U.S. company to send the girl’s father the right baby food.
This is the third in a series about how branches of the military hate on each other. We’ll feature all branches of the U.S. military, written by veterans of that branch being brutally honest with themselves and their services.
The military is like a family that gets together and holds backyard wrestling tournaments every once in a while. They’re violent, they protect one another from outsiders, and are ridiculously mean to each other.
We’ve already shown how the other branches make fun of the Air Force and the Marine Corps. Here’s how the other branches hate on the Army (and how they should).
The easiest ways to make fun of the Army
Like the Marine Corps, the Army gets called ‘dumb’ a lot. Since they gave out a lot of waivers for the military entrance test in the early 2000s, this isn’t without merit. Also, soldiers try to defend themselves by pointing out all the tough Army jobs that require a surprising amount of intellect such as Special Forces or Satellite Communications Operator. Coming from most soldiers, this is kind of like a mailroom employee pointing out how smart the computer engineers at Google are.
Soldiers also get ridiculed for the admittedly useless uniform they wore for most of the Global War on Terror. All sorts of reasons were given for why it was secretly brilliant, but two other camouflage patterns outperformed the ACU in the Army’s own tests before it was fielded. Since the Marine Corps had just gotten their own sweet digital camouflage before the ACU was fielded, there were a lot of (quite possibly true) accusations of copy-catting.
Body fat is another area the Army takes a lot of flak. Even though their body fat standards are actually in line with the other services, photos like the one below and an Army motto of “Army Strong” just made the jokes too easy.
Speaking of which, quite a few Army slogans have been duds with service members. “Army of One” worked for recruiting the video game generation, but it supported a lone warrior ideal that is the opposite of how the Army fights. “Be All You Can Be,” was extremely successful and ran for twenty years, but like “Army Strong” it’s perfect for memes with fat soldiers.
Why to actually hate the Army
As the largest ground force in the U.S., the Army has a lot of control over what gear and weapons go to both soldiers and, in a few cases, the Marines. When they choose correctly, all troops from all the branches usually end up with better gear for patrols like these weapon sights that let shooters see enemies through smoke and dust.
This is stupid since soldiers screw this stuff up too. Regularly. And when they crash a truck in the mountains or desert, they can’t even use the excuse that their equipment was primarily designed for fighting amphibious battles.
Then there’s the fact that they operate not only on the ground, but also in the water, the air, and space. Army Airborne units provide contingency response forces for both the European/African theaters and the entire world. That’s before you count the Army Rangers who can break into an enemy country and topple its land forces in hours or days of fierce fighting with little rest.
When it’s time to fight more subtle conflicts, Green Berets can slip into foreign countries and begin training up friendly militias and armies, safeguarding American interests while limiting risk.
Okay, maybe not entirely. But the first written use of the acronym “OMG” — meaning Oh My God, for those not hip with the kids’ lingo — came from an admiral in the Royal Navy.
In 1917, Lord John Fisher, who resigned his commission in 1915 over Churchill’s Gallipoli Campaign during the First World War, wrote to Churchill who was then Minister of Munitions about his concerns regarding the Navy’s ability to conduct a major campaign to keep the Germans from flanking the Russians via the Baltic Sea.
Also, a tapis was a kind of tablecloth, and the phrase on the tapis meant the idea was under consideration. As for Shower it on the Admiralty, I think we can all figure out what that means.
When you think about it, it makes sense an acronym would come from the military, because no one produces TLAs like the armed forces.
Veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars gathered at the White House May 8, honored for their selfless service and the freedoms that endure to this day because of their brave actions.
The veterans at the White House ceremony were part of an Honor Flight from northern Colorado. Honor Flights are conducted at no cost to the veterans and enable them to see the national memorials of the wars in which they fought.
The men and women who have served and fought for freedom are the nation’s most cherished citizens, and are owed a debt of gratitude that will never be fully repaid, Vice President Mike Pence said.
“Today it is my great honor, on behalf of the first family, here on National Military Appreciation Month, to welcome so many heroes to this special place,” he said.
The veterans are “patriots of the highest order” who stepped forward and served with courage to “protect our nation and the values that we hold dear,” Pence said.
The vice president said it is especially humbling to welcome the veterans since he had not served in the military himself.
Pence noted the event comes on the 72nd anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
“It’s an honor and privilege more than I can say to be here with so many who fought in the greatest conflict of the 20th century, and who won freedom in World War II,” he said.
Debt of Honor and Gratitude
The Honor Flight trips to Washington are deeply meaningful, Pence explained.
“All the people that make these honor flights possible know that this is just about paying a debt of honor and a debt of gratitude that our nation will never be able to fully repay to all of you,” Pence said. “But we hope this experience fills your hearts with the absolute assurance that we’ll never forget what you’ve done for us.”
Because of the service and sacrifice of those in the room, freedom endures to this day, the vice president said. They fought on the front lines of freedom.
“You are among the rest of us, but make no mistake about it, you are the best of us,” he said. “On behalf of your commander in chief, I’m here to say thanks and to salute your service.”
The Coast Guard has long been given huge tasks without getting a lot of the manpower, hulls, or aviation assets needed to complete them. Considering how much ground they need to cover with what little they have, it’s safe to they they’re the experts at working with what they have.
That said, it’s pretty obvious the Coast Guard could use a few more tools for the job. In the past, the Navy has been happy to pass pieces of gear along — here are a few ships and planes the Coast Guard could use today.
At least 20 Perry-class hulls are awaiting sale or the scrapyard. Perhaps the Coast Guard could claim a few…
Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates
In 2004, the Navy removed Mk 13 launchers from Perry-class frigates, greatly diminishing their firepower in the process. Even still, a 76mm gun and helicopter hangar makes them excellent complements to the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters. At least twenty of these ships are awaiting sale or scrapping, but they could see decades more of service with the Coast Guard.
A Cyclone-class patrol craft has a top speed of 35 knots, something very useful for chasing down drug smugglers.
(Customs and Border Patrol)
Cyclone-class patrol craft
Although they’re back with the Navy now, the Coast Guard once operated five of these vessels. Their high speed and respectable firepower give them excellent drug-interdiction capabilities. These 13 vessels would complement the planned 58 Sentinel-class patrol cutters extremely well.
The Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships may be old, but they could help the Coast Guard around Alaska.
Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships
These 13 vessels may be slow, but they’re built tough. Some of the Coast Guard’s missions, especially around Alaska, place a premium on ships that can take some punishment. Ships intended to hunt mines can do just that. Adding these ships to the fleet frees up other cutters for missions elsewhere.
SPY-1 radars and Aegis make the early Ticonderoga-class cruisers, like USS Yorktown (CG 48), potential assets for the Coast Guard.
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers
The former USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) and USS Yorktown (CG 48) are berthed in Philadelphia, awaiting the scrapyard. However, the SPY-1 radars and Aegis systems aboard these vessels would greatly aid the Coast Guard’s maritime security mission.
The E-2C Hawkeye could give the Coast Guard an eye in the sky.
The Navy is getting newer E-2D Hawkeyes, but the older E-2Cs would still be very useful for the Coast Guard in helping maintain situational awareness. The Coast Guard once operated Hawkeyes — doing so again would take a burden off of the Navy.
P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft could help the Coast Guard track ships for long periods of time.
Often, cartels will use makeshift subs to try and get drugs into the United States. The P-3s that the Navy is planning on retiring could be extremely useful assets for the Coast Guard in finding these undersea mules. Additionally, these planes could supplement the HC-130 Hercules aircraft in service, often by handling surveillance missions. With loads of sensors aboard the P-3, there’s nowhere for the bad guys to hide.
The fact is, the Coast Guard has always been able to give old gear new life. With a couple of hand-me-downs, the Coast Guard just might find itself with new ability — without busting the budget.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Tech. Sgt. Rainier Howard, 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, performs preflight inspection of a C-130J Super Hercules at Kadena Air Base, Japan, March 6, 2017. This is the first C-130J to be assigned to Pacific Air Forces. Yokota serves as the primary Western Pacific airlift hub for U.S. Air Force peacetime and contingency operations. Missions include tactical air land, airdrop, aeromedical evacuation, special operations and distinguished visitor airlift.
18th Wing Shogun Airmen observe the horizon from the cargo bay door of a 17th Special Operations Squadron MC-130J Commando II during a training sortie off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, March 21, 2017. Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish flew with the 17th SOS to better understand combat capabilities of the MC-130J and aircrews.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers participate in the 1st Mission Support Command Best Warrior Competition mystery event, held on Camp Santiago, Puerto Rico, March 14.
South Carolina National Guard Soldiers perform high-altitude flight operations aboard a CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift cargo helicopter in proximity of Vail, Colo., March 9 and 10, 2017. The crew was attending a week long power-management course at the High-Altitude ARNG Aviation Training Site located near Eagle, Colo.
JINHAE, Republic of Korea (March 31, 2017) Equipment Operator 3rd Class Thomas Dahlke, assigned to Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2, cuts a piece of steel in a training pool at the Republic of Korea (ROK) Naval Education and Training Command in Jinhae, ROK.
SAN DIEGO (March 29, 2017) Senior Chief Special Operator Bill Brown, assigned to the U.S. Navy parachute demonstration team, the Leap Frogs, prepares to land during a skydiving demonstration at the USS Midway Museum. The Leap Frogs are based in San Diego and perform aerial parachute demonstrations around the nation in support of Naval Special Warfare and Navy recruiting.
Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, ride in an MV-22B Osprey during an Evacuation Control Center exercise, over the Pacific Ocean, March 23, 2017. The Marines conducted non-combatant evacuation procedure training during Certification Exercise for the MEU’s 17.1 Spring Patrol.
A Crew Chief assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 167, observes the landing zone from a UH-1Y Huey during a training operation at Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue, North Carolina, March 9, 2017. MWSS-274 conducted casualty evacuation drills in order to improve unit readiness and maintain interoperability with HMLA-167.
U.S. Coast Guard Northeast-based USCG Cutter Seneca crew continues to train while underway. Here, Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey A. Evans, a maritime enforcement specialist, trains on a .50 caliber machine gun in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
After America dropped the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it became clear that warfare had changed. America stopped building some conventional weapons of war, including tanks, relying on the new weapons to guarantee peace. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was working on two new, important weapons of war: their own atomic bombs and tanks that can protect a crew through the blast.
The T-54 had a massive gun that surprised its contemporaries in the 1950s, but it predicted the rise of the modern main battle tank.
(ShinePhantom, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Soviet Union didn’t have the resources to compete with America tank for tank and bomb for bomb worldwide, but they did hope to control as much of Eurasia as possible, and they knew this would result in a clash along the borders of the Warsaw Pact and Western Europe.
The Soviet military leadership wanted to know that, even if a tactical nuclear exchange went down, they would be able to fight through the aftermath. That meant that their tank crews needed to be lethal, protected from anti-tank weapons, but also isolated from nuclear fallout.
The T-54B was already an impressive tank, first rolling off the line in 1949. It was simple to operate, relatively cheap for a main battle tank, and well-balanced. The Soviets and the partnered nations that would go on to buy export version of the tank saw it as a successor to the T-34, the most produced tank of World War II.
But the tank was more accurately a descendant of the T-44, a tank with a gun so big that firing it would wear down the transmission. The increased firepower in the T-44 and, later, the T-54, would be necessary in tank-on-tank combat on any Cold War battlefield.
But the early production T-54s still had plenty of faults, and tank designers improved the platform throughout the 1950s. The T-54A and T-54B introduced upgrades like wading snorkels, fume extractors, and an upgraded gun called the D-10TG. The T-55 was designed with all the knowledge and upgrades from the T-54’s development. The T-55 would be lethal right off the starting block. But being a lethal medium tank isn’t enough to survive nuclear war.
A Slovenian M-55, a highly modified T-55 medium tank.
(MORS, CC BY 3.0)
Believe it or not, the primary systems of a tank in the 1950s were about as survivable as they could be from the bomb. Obviously, no tank could survive at ground zero of a nuclear bomb, but it would be possible for a tank to survive the blast near the borders of the area affected. After all, the armor is designed to survive a direct hit from a fast-flying, armor penetrating round at any given point. An atomic bomb’s blast is more powerful, but it’s spread out over the entire hull and turret.
And so the designers figured out how to overpressure the tank, creating higher pressure within the tank so that all of the little leaks in the armor were pushing air out instead of allowing it in. And the crew compartment was covered in an anti-radiation lining that would reduce radiation traveling through the hull. Finally, a filtration system cleared incoming air of debris and then pumped it into the crew cabin, allowing the crew to breathe and making the overpressure system work.
Again, none of this would make the crew immune from the effects of a bomb. The blast wave could still crush the hull and burst blood vessels in the brains of the crew. The heat wave could still ignite fuel and fry the people inside. Worst of all, plenty of radiation could get through and doom the combatants to deaths of cancer.
But the crew would likely survive to keep fighting, and had some chance of a decent life after the war if they made it. For a few years, at least.
The T-54 and T-55 went on to become the most-produced tanks in world history, but luckily the T-55 adaptations were never actually tested in combat. It and the British Centurion would undergo testing for nuclear blasts. They survived, but you really didn’t want to be inside when the blast hit.
The Object 279 heavy tank was designed for nuclear warfare, but it never went into production due to its high weight.
But it wasn’t to be. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev thought it was time to relegate heavy tanks to the dustbin of history, and he won out. Object 279 and most other heavy tank designs were cast out, leaving the path open for the lighter T-55 medium tank.
Prohibition was a master class in unintended consequences, good or bad.
One of those consequences is NASCAR, which is a pretty good time.
Outlawing alcohol may have seemed like a good idea at a time when saloons dominated the streets, booze corrupted politicians, and alcoholism ran rampant — but the the operative phrase here is definitely, “seemed like.” It was not the best idea. It turns out Americans love a drink and will go to great lengths — and speeds — to get it.
Just as with any other business, moonshiners making illegal “white lightning” in the Appalachian Mountains and foothills needed a way to transport their goods to market, and grandpa’s horse cart just wasn’t gonna cut it. They needed vehicles — but not just any vehicle would do.
So, how do you get hooch from the Appalachians to thirsty partygoers in the big city without attracting undue attention? As fast as possible, of course. But there’s more to it than speed: The cars have to look like your average, off-the-line vehicle. They also have to be able to haul as much product as possible. Shiners figured out the way, creating modified vehicles called “stock” cars.
Even after the official end of Prohibition, illegal distillers still needed to move product while evading authorities. They still needed those fast cars.
Bootleggers’ vehicles were fitted with advanced shock-absorption systems to protect the glass jars housing their precious cargo as they sped down mountain roads. They also had the back seats removed to fit more product. Most importantly, they had souped-up engines that allowed them to beat the feds in any race when necessary.
Prohibition ended in 1933, but the American need for speed and love for automobiles that would come to embody the NASCAR spirit lived on.
“The deeper I looked into the whole thing and the more research I did, the more liquor I found. It was just so foundational,” Daniel Pierce, a history professor at the University of North Carolina told NASCAR. “I knew it played a role, but the thing that surprised me was that it was so much a part of the foundation of the sport.”
Even before the end of Prohibition, rum runners and bootleggers would race their souped-up, stripped-down vehicles on the roads and in the backwoods of the American South.
The sport’s anti-establishment roots were very present in NASCAR’s early days. At one of the earliest stock car races at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, at least five drivers had liquor law violations on their records. There was an uproar over who should be allowed to drive: “hoodlums” or law-abiding citizens?
In 1947, the sport that would soon become the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was codified by France. The first race held by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was on Jun. 19, 1949. Today, the driving sport’s fans now number in the millions. Their drivers are less outlaw and more law-abiding, driving upwards of 200 miles per hour in some speedways… without attracting attention from the feds.
The first few generations of drivers may have had some liquor law violations on their record, but today’s NASCAR drivers have helped turn a sport of “hoodlums” into a show fit for the whole family.
The decision is meant to accelerate the Raqqa operation but undermines the Turkish government’s view that the Syrian Kurdish group known as the YPG is an extension of a Kurdish terrorist organization that operates in Turkey. Washington is eager to retake Raqqa, arguing that it is a haven for IS operatives to plan attacks on the West.
Dana W. White, the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, said in a written statement that President Donald Trump authorized the arms May 8. His approval gives the Pentagon the go-ahead to “equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS” in Raqqa, said White, who was traveling with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Europe.
The U.S. sees the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, as its most effective battlefield partner against IS in northern and eastern Syria. White said they’re “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”
While White did not mention the kinds of arms to be provided to the Kurds, other officials had indicated in recent days that 120mm mortars, machines guns, ammunition, and light armored vehicles were possibilities. They said the U.S. would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.
The officials weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter and demanded anonymity. They described no firm timeline, with the American intention to provide the new weapons to the Syrian Kurds as soon as possible. A congressional aide said officials informed relevant members of Congress of the decision the evening of May 8.
The Obama administration had been leaning toward arming the Syrian Kurds but struggled with how that could be done without torpedoing relations with Turkey, which is a U.S. ally in NATO and a key political actor in the greater Middle East.
The Kurdish Peshmerga platoon of the Joint Iraqi Security Company marches to class, Mosul, Iraq. The U.S. trains Kurdish forces in the Middle East to help with the fight against terrorist groups in the area.
The issue has come to a head now because battlefield progress this year has put the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces nearly in position attack IS in Raqqa, although they are still attempting to isolate the city.
Even with the extra U.S. weaponry, the Kurds and their Syrian Arab partners are expected to face a difficult and perhaps lengthy fight for control of Raqqa, which has been key to the extremists’ state-building project. Raqqa is far smaller than Mosul, which is still not fully returned to Iraqi control after months of combat.
Senior U.S. officials including Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have met repeatedly with Turkish officials to try to work out an arrangement for the Raqqa assault that would be acceptable to Ankara. The Turks have insisted that the Syrian Kurds be excluded from that operation, but U.S. officials insisted there was no real alternative.
In her statement, White said the U.S. prioritizes its support for the Arab elements of the SDF.
“We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey,” she said. “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally.”
Other officials said Trump’s authorization includes safeguards intended to reassure the Turks that the additional U.S. weaponry and equipment will not be used by the Kurds in Turkey. The intent is to restrict the distribution and use of the weaponry by permitting its use for specific battlefield missions and then requiring the Kurds to return it to U.S. control.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit President Donald Trump in Washington in the third week of May. An Erdogan adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, met on May 9 with Thomas Shannon, the State Department No. 2 official.
And in Denmark earlier May 9, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he had useful discussions with Turkey and described the two countries as working out differences over a U.S. alliance with Syrian Kurds in fighting Islamic State militants.
“That’s not to say we all walk into the room with exactly the same appreciation of the problem or the path forward,” Mattis told reporters after meeting with officials from more than a dozen nations also fighting IS. Basat Ozturk, a senior Turkish defense official, participated.
“We’re going to sort it out,” Mattis said. “We’ll figure out how we’re going to do it.”
Tensions escalated in April when Turkey conducted airstrikes on Kurdish bases in Syria and Iraq. The Turkish military said it killed at least 90 militants and wounded scores. The Kurdish group in Syria said 20 of its fighters and media activists were killed in the strike, which was followed by cross-border clashes.
The instability has concerned Washington, which fears it will slow the effort to retake Raqqa.
“We’ve been conducting military and diplomatic dialogue with the Turks and it was a very, very useful discussion today,” Mattis said at a press conference with Danish Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen.