The Taliban has reportedly made a major concession to the US during their peace talks in Afghanistan, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As US diplomatic officials and leaders of the insurgent group discuss the end of the 17-year war in Afghanistan, one source familiar with the talks told the Journal that the Taliban has agreed to oppose “any attempts by militant groups to use Afghanistan to stage terrorist attacks abroad.”
The concessions, if finalized, would seem to support an eventual US withdrawal on the grounds that Afghanistan, even under the Taliban, would not become a safe haven for terrorists to train and launch attacks outside the country. The Taliban continues to use brutal tactics against civilians and coalition forces, including suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices to gain control of more of the country against the faltering government.
US negotiators, now in their fourth day of talks in Doha, Qatar, have sought assurance that the Taliban would not support militant groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.
During a Sensitive Site Exploitation mission, a U.S. Navy Seal talks to local Afghani villagers about the movements of Al Qaida and Taliban, Jan. 24, 2002.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Tim Turner)
Sources familiar with the talks have told the Journal that that was previously a promise the Taliban was not willing to make due to the group’s relationship with al-Qaeda.
The group formerly led by Osama bin Laden formed in Pakistan but was able to establish roots in Afghanistan in the 90s. After the terror attacks on 9/11, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar refused to acknowledge Bin Laden’s role in the attacks or cooperate with US authorities, according to the Journal.
Although he would later acknowledge al-Qaeda’s responsibility, Taliban militants, who are still carrying out attacks on Afghan forces and coalition partners, hold Bin Laden in high regard. Because of this, leaders of the insurgency have previously refused to take steps to oppose al-Qaeda, sources told the Journal.
Their stance appears to have softened, as Taliban leadership has now reportedly agreed to oppose militant groups in Afghanistan; sources also told the Journal the leaders are no longer demanding an immediate and complete withdrawal of US forces, which American officials have argued might lead to civil war.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
China is “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” a new US defense intelligence assessment warns, but that’s not what has officials most concerned.
China has been investing billions of dollars, possibly as much as $200 billion in 2018, into its military, which Chinese leadership is putting through a massive overhaul in hopes of building a modern, world-class fighting force capable of waging and winning wars.
“Indeed, China is building a robust, lethal force with capabilities spanning the air, maritime, space, and information domains which will enable China to impose its will in the region,” Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley asserted in the preface to the report, noting that Beijing will likely become more insistent as its confidence grows.
(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
It is China’s growing self-confidence that has US officials most alarmed, not the development of various weapons platforms, be it unmatched anti-satellite capabilities, precision strike tools, or hypersonic weapons. There is a serious concern that China is moving closer to the point where it might be willing to use military force to achieve its ambitions.
“The biggest concern is that they are going to get to a point where the [Chinese military] leadership may actually tell [Chinese President] Xi Jinping that they are confident in their capabilities,” a senior defense intelligence official said on Jan. 15, 2019, just before the release of the DIA assessment, according to Defense News.
“As these technologies mature, as their reorganization of their military comes into effect, as they become more proficient with these capabilities, our concern is we’ll reach a point where internally, within their decision-making, they will decide that using military force for a regional conflict is something that is more imminent,” the senior official said.
That’s bad news for Taiwan, an autonomous, democratic territory that Beijing views as a rogue province.
The island is a top priority for Chinese leadership, according to the report on Chinese military power, the first-ever unclassified DIA assessment of China’s military might.
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Senior Chinese military leadership made that point very clear in a recent meeting with US military leaders. “If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national unity at all costs so as to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Gen. Li Zuocheng argued in a recent meeting with Adm. John Richardson, the South China Morning Post reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently made clear that military action remains on the table as a possible reunification tool. Other potential flash points include the East and South China Seas.
Despite fears within the military intelligence community about the use of force by the Chinese military, it seems that there is also a consensus that China may not yet be there. “I think in a lot of ways, they have a lot that they need to do,” an official said Jan. 15, 2019, according to Stars and Stripes.
“We don’t have a real strong grasp on when they will think that they are confident in that capability,” the official added, referring to an assault on Taiwan. “They could order them to go today, but I don’t think they are particularly confident in that capability.”
China called the DIA report “unprofessional,” criticizing its findings.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A former Southern California Marine has been handed a 21-month federal sentence for faking a Purple Heart and lifting from another Marine’s combat story to get disability benefits and a free house.
In a rare prosecution under the 2013 Stolen Valor Act, a 35-year-old Iraq war veteran will also have to pay back more than $300,000 to the U.S. government and a Texas charity.
Brandon Blackstone served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert in 2004. He deployed to Iraq in August, during a period of fierce fighting on the Syrian border.
So did Casey Owens, another 1/7 Marine.
But that’s where the similarities in the two Marines’ stories end — and where Blackstone’s fabrications began.
Prosecutors and fellow Marines say Blackstone fashioned a tale of blast injuries and combat stress based on a horrific explosion that nearly killed Owens and cost him both of his legs.
Owens was in a Humvee that triggered a double anti-mine bomb while responding to a downed U.S. serviceman in September 2004.
Blackstone was in the area and likely witnessed the event. But he wasn’t injured in that attack — or in any other combat incident — according to people who were there, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Texas, and Blackstone’s own lawyer.
In fact, he was evacuated from Iraq after a month with appendicitis.
But starting at least in 2006, Blackstone began spinning a story of suffering traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after his Humvee hit a mine in Iraq.
He even fabricated two witness statements to support his claim for U.S. Veterans Affairs Department disability benefits that he received from 2006 to 2015, prosecutors said.
Worse, in the eyes of his fellow Marines, he began showing the photograph of Owens’ mangled Humvee as part of his story about how he was wounded.
“This scumbag lied to try to get s–t. You don’t do that. It’s not honorable. It’s not how we are. It’s personal for me, especially, as a friend of Casey’s,” said Andrew Rothman, a 1/7 Navy corpsman who was a key player in exposing Blackstone’s fraud.
“This kid essentially stole from all of us. And the honor part is bigger to us than the money and the house.”
Blackstone was awarded a 100 percent disability rating and, by claiming to have a Purple Heart, his application for a mortgage-free house was granted by Texas-based Military Warriors Support Foundation.
Meanwhile, Owens tried to make the best of his life with a double leg amputation and brain injuries, among other medical complications. He moved to Aspen and competed as a Paralympics skier.
But Owens was still in pain. He did national TV interviews describing how he struggled to get the care he needed for his mental and physical wounds. His right leg required additional surgeries that took more of it away.
In October 2014, Owens used a gun to kill himself.
But things for Blackstone were going well. He became a mentor at a Missouri-based veterans charity, Focus Marines Foundation. He even started his own nonprofit group, called The Fight Continues, with two other post-Sept. 11 veterans.
But those brushes with others in the veterans community led to his downfall. His story, including video testimonials he was giving about his combat injuries, didn’t sit right with other 1/7 Marines who dedicated a Facebook thread to discussing it.
Eventually, Rothman tipped off the Warriors Support charity that was poised to grant Blackstone the deed to the donated house.
Blackstone pleaded guilty in September to one count of wire fraud and one count of fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.
At his sentencing last month, a federal judge in Texas called Blackstone “shameful,” but gave him credit for accepting blame for his actions. Sentencing guidelines limited his incarceration to 27 months or less, according to news reports. His was given credit for time served since February, so he will serve 18 more months.
Blackstone’s defense lawyer, Justin Sparks, said his client was diagnosed with PTSD and suffered a head injury in Iraq — but not in combat.
The head wound happened when a superior roughed him up in the barracks and he hit his head on a dresser. There were other injuries while in uniform that weren’t related to combat but required surgery, Sparks said. While in the hospital, a higher-ranking Marine informally gave Blackstone a Purple Heart medal to acknowledge his pain — but it wasn’t an official award.
There’s no explaining why Blackstone lied about the Purple Heart or applied for the free home, knowing he wasn’t qualified, the former Marine’s lawyer told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“There’s not really a good answer for that. He was in a very, very tough time in his life and reached a pitfall there,” Sparks said this week.
Sparks said his client seemed to lose his grasp on reality as the story spun on.
“There’s a symptom of PTSD where you are living your life in the third person. You’re always convincing yourself about what is reality,” he said. “It’s almost a coping mechanism.”
Sparks said his client is still rated at 70 percent disabled by the VA.
The lawyer disagreed that Blackstone was appropriating Casey Owens’ story.
“Brandon never claimed his lost his legs,” Sparks said. “The only common elements in the two stories are PTSD, the Purple Heart, and head injuries. There must be at least 1,000-plus soldiers who have those three things.”
Blackstone’s fellow troops don’t buy the PTSD explanation for his behavior. Several of them also were disappointed by his sentence.
“He was in the grip of his own lies,” said Eric Calley, a former Marine who used his own money to start The Fight Continues with Blackstone.
“That judge should be ashamed. I think (Blackstone) deserves a life sentence for what he did to our veterans.”
Lezleigh Owens Kleibrink, Owens’ sister, said her family was hoping for closure from a tougher sentence but didn’t get it.
Kleibrink said she has no doubts that Blackstone was trying to at least bask in the association with her brother’s reputation.
“He was a thief and Casey’s story was a means to get what he wanted,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune this week.
“What Brandon doesn’t understand is that it’s ripped open our wounds once again,” Kleibrink said. “Anyone who makes my mother cry like this … He may have joined the Corps, but he was no Marine.”
The Military Warriors Support Foundation said it was the charity’s first brush with stolen valor in awarding more than 750 homes to combat-wounded veterans.
“This was an unusual case, in that even official VA documentation was inaccurate,” said spokesman Casey Kinser. “That said, we are constantly reviewing our processes to vet our applicants more accurately and efficiently.”
The Fort Worth-area house that Blackstone nearly owned has been awarded to another Marine family.
Despite US efforts to convince other countries not to make deals with Russian defense firms, India’s defense minister told US lawmakers in July 2018 that New Delhi will go ahead with its purchase of the Russian-made S-400, one of the most advanced air-defense systems on the market.
“With Russia, we have had a continuous relationship of defence procurement of seven decades. We told the US Congress delegation, which met me in Delhi, that this it is US legislation and not a UN law,” Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the press on July 13, 2018, referring to the US’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which seeks to prevent foreign deals with Russian defense or intelligence firms.
“We have had this relationship, an enduring relationship with the Russians, and are going ahead with buying the S-400,” Sitharaman said, adding that the US secretaries of defense and state “have taken a position understanding of India’s position.”
Sitharaman said the S-400 deal was at an “almost conclusive stage,” and the system is expected to arrive within two and a half to four years of signing. Officials are expected to announce the deal in October 2018, before an annual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
India currently fields a host of Russian-made weapons systems, including the S-300 air-defense system, an overhauled Kiev-class carrier-cruiser, and squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighter aircraft.
India’s defense ties with Russia are longstanding, but the US has sought to expand its relations with the South Asian country for years. Since 2008, Washington has sold Delhi billion worth of arms, and the Pentagon recently renamed US Pacific Command as US Indo-Pacific Command to reflect India’s growing role in the region.
For India, the decision to buy the S-400 system was likely made out of practical concerns rather than for geopolitical motives, said Jeff Smith, a research fellow focused on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation.
“Simply put, the S-400 is considered a more affordable, albeit highly capable, missile-defense system when compared to competing US systems,” Smith said in an email, noting that the S-400 had attracted interest from other US partners, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. (Turkey’s S-400 purchase has caused tension with NATO.)
“Additionally, the Indian military has great familiarity with their Russian counterparts,” Smith added. “The majority of India’s legacy platforms are Soviet origin, and Russia continues to be India’s top supplier of defense equipment, although by a shrinking margin.”
The deal has nevertheless run afoul of US attempts to isolate Russian companies with the CAATSA, which Congress passed in August 2017 and went into effect in January 2018.
US officials have cautioned India about making deals with Russian firms. Rep. Mac Thornberry, head of the House Armed Services Committee, said in early 2018 that the US was disappointed with Delhi’s purchases of Russian-made weapons.
The S-400 deal in particular “threatens our ability to work interoperably in the future,” Thornberry said at the end of May 2018, around the same time India and Russia concluded negotiations over the sale.
The CAATSA would force President Donald Trump to put sanctions on actors that make a “significant transaction” with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors, which the legislation does not define, Smith said.
But it would likely cover India’s S-400 contract — thought to be worth .5 billion for five S-400 regiments, totaling as many as 240 of the system’s four-tube launchers, plus fire-control radars and command systems.
“For reasons beyond my comprehension Congress did not envision this would become a point of contention with Delhi, or foresee that it would be impractical to demand India immediately halt all defense trade with its top defense supplier for the past half-century,” Smith said.
Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have asked Congress to make exceptions for US partners using Russian-made weapons.
Mattis told lawmakers in Apri 2018 that there are countries “who are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems” but need to keep supply lines open to maintain those weapons.
“We only need to look at India, Vietnam, and some others to recognize that eventually we’re going to penalize ourselves” with strict adherence to CAATSA, Mattis said at the time.
Congress has denied a Pentagon request for an expansive waiver for CAATSA-related sanctions, Smith said, but others on Capitol Hill are looking for ways to insulate Delhi and others who may get caught up.
“Among other things, the House of Representatives version of the National Defense Authorization Act included an amendment that would expand the president’s authority to delay or terminate CAATSA sanctions,” he said. The versions of the NDAA passed by the Senate and House of Representatives are now being reconciled.
“India watchers are eager to see whether the provision survives the conference committee,” Smith added. “If it doesn’t, I expect the Hill to contemplate additional legislative remedies in the months ahead.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Cargo containers of coronavirus tests being unloaded from a Korean Air flight.
Maryland has National Guard troops and state police guarding coronavirus tests at a secret location because of concerns that they might be seized, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told The Washington Post Thursday.
“We spent about 22 days and nights dealing with this whole transaction with Korea. We dealt with the Korean embassy, folks at the State Department, and our scientists on both sides trying to figure out these tests,” Hogan said. “And then at the last moment, I think 24 hours before, we got the sign-off from the FDA and Border and Customs to try to make sure that we landed this plane safely.”
The Maryland governor said when the Korean Air jet carrying the 500,000 tests flew into Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, it was met by National Guard troops and state police.
Hogan said it landed there “with a large contingent of Maryland National Guard and Maryland state police because this was an enormously valuable payload. It was like Fort Knox to us because it’s going to save the lives of thousands of our citizens.”
Maryland @GovLarryHogan on whether he was concerned that the federal government would seize the tests the state procured from South Korea. He says the tests are being guarded by the National Guard at an undisclosed location. https://youtu.be/PjkMyHbyhro pic.twitter.com/15BhHmLzql
Hogan, who is a Republican, said he had heard reports from other states of the federal government confiscating supplies. He specifically pointed to an incident in Massachusetts.
After 3 million masks purchased for the state were confiscated in New York, state leaders in Massachusetts turned to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to help bring in coveted N95 masks from China on a private plane.
“There were a couple of other states that had similar stories,” Hogan said.
He said the tests were “so important to us that we wanted to make sure that plane took off from Korea safely, landed here in America safely, and that we guarded that cargo from whoever might interfere with us getting that to our folks that needed it.”
The governor added that the test protection was ongoing, saying that “the National Guard and state police are both guarding these tests at an undisclosed location.”
Maryland’s decision to purchase coronavirus tests from South Korea drew criticism from President Donald Trump, who said the governor could have made use of available labs to help boost testing capacity. “I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea. I think he needed to get a little knowledge, would have been helpful,” the president said at a recent briefing.
Hogan later responded on MSNBC, saying that if there had been “an easier way” to get the necessary tests, “we certainly would have taken it.”
The offensive to destroy ISIS in Syria took a big step forward recently with US military advisers, helicopters, and artillery helping position a force of about 500 soldiers near a strategic damn outside of Raqqa, ISIS’s Syrian capital.
The US military, along with Kurdish forces and the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Foces rebel group, have moved to put a stranglehold on Raqqa with shelling, air support, and ground forces at the last route in and out of the city, according to a press release.
Operation Inherent Resolve, the 68-nation mission to destroy ISIS, flew in fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed rebel group, behind enemy lines to a strategic dam.
“It takes a special breed of warrior to pull of an airborne operation or air assault behind enemy lines,” Col. Joe Scrocca, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve told the Times.
“Seizing Tabqah Dam will isolate Raqqah from three sides and give the SDF the strategic advantage and launching point needed for the liberation of the city,” said the release. But while the US says they’re mainly backing local forces, they seem poised to take on a more active role with conventional forces fighting ISIS on the ground in Raqqa.
The Pentagon has been considering sending as many as 1,000 ground troops to help take back Raqqa from ISIS, which would signal a reversal of the Obama-era policy to fight ISIS via train and equip methods and airstrikes.
The coalition says they’ve conducted more than 300 airstrikes around Raqqa in the past month.
Syrian Democratic Forces with their Syrian Arab Coalition fighters prepare for an offensive to liberate Tabqah Dam from ISIS Mar 22 in Syria pic.twitter.com/2Ho1SQYhL1
Raqqa, situated along the Euphrates river in the mostly barren Easter Syria has been ISIS’ main Syrian stronghold since 2014.
The US, Inherent Resolve coalition partners, and local forces have been involved in a massive air and ground campaign to rid the country of the terrorist group while simultaneously carrying out similar operations in neighboring Iraq.
Syria: Our partners have rolled back ISIS territorial gains to the East, North, West of Raqqah, capturing over 7,400 sq km of territory.
She is what’s known as an “Arlington Lady,” officially representing the Chief of Staff and dedicated to the families of those who served. She’s not there to grieve, but to honor the fallen.
Since 1948, these ladies have attended every military funeral at Arlington to ensure that “no Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Coast Guardsman is buried alone.”
After World War II, Air Force Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg would attend Arlington funeral services with his wife. The general noticed that many of the funerals were attended only by a chaplain. According to Arlington’s website, the Vandenbergs formed a group to ensure a member of the Air Force was present at every airman’s funeral.
Slowly, the other branches caught on, creating their own groups. Army Gen. Creighton Adams’ wife Julia started the Army’s in 1973. The Navy started in 1985 and the Coast Guard in 2006.
The Marines have always sent an official representative of the Marine Commandant to every funeral of a Marine or retired Marine.
“It doesn’t matter whether we are burying a four-star general or a private,” Margaret Mensch, head of the Army ladies, told NBC News. “They all deserve to have someone say thank you at their grave.”
Mensch is married to a retired Army colonel. Many of the Arlington Ladies she organizes are also the spouses of veterans and soldiers.
Some of her ladies joined the Arlington Ladies after being visited by one, because they know first hand the crucial the role these women played when their own husbands died.
Joyce Johnson joined the Army Arlington Ladies in 2004. She lost her husband, Lt. Col. Dennis Johnson in the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
“It was a way I felt I could honor my husband,” she told Soldiers Magazine. “I just wanted to help make someone else’s life better so I asked to join the Arlington Ladies. … It’s really an honor to be able to do this.”
The ‘caliph’ of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi recently lost his son in combat in Syria — but no one really cares about that. The Syrians and Russians were probably hoping to ice his reclusive father, who is probably the world’s most wanted man at the moment.
Unfortunately, the only problem is that the world has “killed” that guy before — several times over. Baghdadi has survived more unbelievable attacks than anyone in any Fast and Furious movie ever.
The reward for killing or capturing Baghdadi currently sits at a cool $25 million, but even offering that kind of reward hasn’t led to conclusive intelligence on where and when to hit the reclusive leader.
Baghdadi gets lucky once more.
March 18, 2015
Baghdadi was struck by coalition aircraft while straddling the border between Iraq and Syria. This led to ISIS’ need to have a serious talk about who replaces Baghdadi if he dies. His physics teacher stood in as caliph of ISIS while he recovered from his “serious wounds.”
In real life, the coalition confirmed the strike happened but had zero reason to believe Baghdadi was hit. Later, ISIS leaks news of a spinal injury on the caliph that left him paralyzed. While the extent of his injuries weren’t really known (like… is he actually paralyzed? And why would ISIS tell anyone?), militants vowed revenge for the attempt on his life.
And he really wasn’t even in the convoy.
October 11, 2015
The Iraqi Air Force claims they hit a convoy carrying Baghdadi in Anbar Province on its way to an ISIS meeting, which was also bombed. After the IAF declared his death, rumors that Baghdadi wasn’t even in the convoy began to swirl.
Someone in ISIS probably died in that airstrike, it just wasn’t him.
June 9, 2016
Iraqi television declared that Baghdadi was wounded by U.S. aircraft in Northern Iraq. No one confirmed this, which, if you think about it, could just happen every day. He’s survived before only to be bombed and then “bombed” again later — just like he did this time around.
Maybe it was a slow news day for Iraqi TV.
Another miraculous escape from U.S. aircraft.
June 14, 2016
Islamic news agencies reported the leader’s death at the hands of coalition aircraft, but the United States asserts it cannot support that claim (but it would welcome such news). The strike supposedly hit the leader’s hideout in Raqqa in an attempt to decapitate the Islamic State.
Tackling the ISIS problem head on.
October 3, 2016
The ISIS caliph was supposedly poisoned by a “mystery assassin” in Iraq and the terrorist group immediately began a purge of his inner circle, looking for the mysterious poisoner. Baghdadi and three others are said to have suffered from the poisoning, but little is known about the aftermath.
Literally never happened.
May 28, 2017
This time, Russia gets credit for icing the caliph. The Russian Defense Ministry investigated if Su-34 and Su-35 aircraft near Raqqa actually managed to kill Baghdadi. The mission of the sorties was to behead the terror group by taking out a number of important leaders, including Baghdadi if possible. The Syrian Observatory for human rights, however, reported that no such airstrike even happened that day.
June 10, 2017
Just four days after allied forces begin an assault on Raqqa, Syrian state television says Baghdadi was killed by a massive U.S. artillery barrage aimed at the ISIS capital while visiting ISIS headquarters in the Syrian city.
He survived so many airstrikes I’m running out of Fast and Furious references.
July 11, 2017
Chinese state newspaper Xinhua reported that ISIS confirmed the death of Baghdadi in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar and that a new caliph would be announced soon. This announcement came in the days following the recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces. Kurdish leaders disagree with the assessment.
The manhunt is on.
As 2018 came around, coalition spies were able to track the elusive leader to specific places on three separate occasions. Each time, he was able to slip away. His current status, whether he’s still in hiding or even alive at all, is unknown by most.
Essentially that means the Army now has an office with the authority to fast track technologies through the hulking, bloated, wasteful defense acquisition system that tried and failed three times to pick out something as simple as a new handgun.
Even vital systems can take 10 years to reach the field, which has greatly hamstrung the Army and made their tactics stale, predictable, and therefore vulnerable.
“Russia goes into the Ukraine and Russia goes into Syria [and] we realize that they’ve been watching us and learning from us and adapting. So we see some areas where we want to have a more pronounced ‘overmatch,”‘ Army Secretary Eric Fanning told Bloomberg News in an interview.
Fanning told Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio that the office would focus on “improvements to cyber operations, electronic warfare, survivability and GPS-enabled positioning, navigation and timing.”
As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said of the US armed forces in 2015, “our greatest advantage is the vibrant technological community in the United States, and the vibrant technological communities in our defense industrial base.”
“There’s no denying we have a troubled acquisition past,” Fanning told Bloomberg. “We are bringing all elements of the Army together,” he said of the Rapid Capabilities Office.
“We’re serious about keeping our edge, so we need to make changes in how we get soldiers the technology they need,” Fanning said in a US Army release. “The Army Rapid Capabilities Office is a major step forward, allowing us to prioritize cross-domain, integrated capabilities in order to confront emerging threats and advance America’s military dominance.”
In case you missed it, U.S. Army Recruiting Command dropped its newest music video “Giving All I Got,” beckoning all potential recruits to step up and help strengthen the Army team.
Sgts. 1st Class Arlondo Sutton and Jason Brenner Locke, who are assigned to the Atlanta and Houston recruiting battalions, respectively, wrote and produced the new single.
“We’re trying to convey this positive message, [that] you can maintain your individuality and still be a soldier,” Locke said about producing music to support Army recruiting. “[Soldiers] have emotions, dreams, and aspirations, just like anybody else.
“We just decided to throw on a pair of boots, wear this uniform [to help] carry our nation and carry on our family name.”
Sgts. 1st Class Arlondo Sutton and Jason Brenner Locke, who are assigned to the Atlanta and Houston recruiting battalions, respectively, wrote and produced the new single.
(Photo by Elliot Valdez)
‘Army changed my life. Gave me a new clock.’
Starting with the track’s hook — “Giving all I got. I’m never going to stop. Army changed my life. Gave me a new clock” — the song highlights the positive impact the Army had on both recruiters, Sutton said.
Sutton had a humbling start to his life while growing up in a single parent home in Norfolk, Virginia.
“Growing up in poverty is very difficult,” he said. “I didn’t know whose shoes I had on, I didn’t know whose clothes I had on. I grew up staying with my grandmother … in one room, and sleeping at the edge of the bed.”
On the cusp of going down the wrong path in life, his high school track coach, who was a retired soldier, reached out to mentor him.
“My father figure: My coach. He [mentored me] when I was going through a hard time,” Sutton said. “He was the one to actually notice my [athletic] talents. I joined the Army to better myself, [and] to follow in [his] footsteps.”
It was long after joining the Army when Sutton realized he had some musical talent.
While deployed to Iraq as a young sergeant, he produced hip-hop tracks to help ease his mind.
A friend later convinced him to compete in a rap music competition and Sutton took third place. This evolved into his new passion and profession, Sutton said.
Similar to his partner, Locke also said he had a rough childhood as he grew up in a “not so great area” of Houston. And while Locke did not share much about his past, he remains focused on the positive in life.
“I just wanted to kind of change the lifestyle I was in. I knew that one of the ways of changing my life was to step outside the confines of comfort,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where I was at. What matters is what the Army did for me and where I’m going now.”
A behind the scenes photo of Sgts. 1st Class Arlondo Sutton and Jason Brenner Locke, shooting their new music video titled “Giving All I Got,” at Fort Benning, Ga. Dec. 11, 2018.
(Photo by Lara Poirrier)
Locke admitted hip-hop was not his first choice in music. During his early teenage years, Locke spent most of his time bouncing from band to band, or as he called it, “bandhopping.”
“I was trying to find people that were as invested in music as I was. I never found them,” Locke said.
Locke then turned to a friend for help, who explained to Locke how his talent was better suited for hip-hop. After some changes to his lyrics, Locke was hooked.
“It changed my perception of how to write [music]. It turned into a poetic ordeal and … an emotional outlet for me,” he said.
“Giving All I Got” was created as a way to bridge the gap and speak the language of today’s youth, according to both recruiters.
“I think it’s easier to bend someone’s ear when you throw it into a rhythmic pattern,” Locke said. “You’re going to be a little bit more inclined to listen.”
While some may criticize their work, the duo keeps their eyes on the bigger picture.
“The main target audiences are not people that are in the Army,” Locke said. “The main aim is the people that are not aware of the Army, and all the preconceived notions and … stereotypes [they have]. That’s what we, as recruiters, are consistently having to overcome. That is what we’re doing with this music.”
U.S. Army Recruiting Command dropped its newest music video “Giving All I Got,” beckoning all potential recruits to step up and help strengthen the Army team.
(U.S. Army Recruiting Command)
In their music video, both recruiters can be seen singing and dancing in locations throughout Fort Benning, Georgia, and the streets of Atlanta. The video features a variety of Army career fields, to include military working dogs, infantry, snipers, and the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band.
Behind the scenes, Army visual information specialists helped put the video together. Moreover, soldier stationed at Fort Benning assisted in bringing the video to life.
‘We just tryin’ to be better’
Recently, the Army identified 22 focus cities with growing populations, known to have minimal exposure to the Army. The new video aims to inspire highly-qualified 18- to 24-year-olds, as part of a larger USAREC led social media engagement effort.
In the end, reaching the Army’s recruitment goals will require all recruiters and soldiers to go that extra mile, Sutton said.
“There are going to be people out there that have a lot of good talent,” Sutton said, commenting on his career and music success. “My talent is just outworking my competitors. We all could get up at the same time, but I choose to get up earlier.”
Not every country in the world can afford to buy and operate the latest and greatest armored war machines available on defense markets today, like the M1A2 Abrams or the Leopard 2 main battle tanks.
Some countries opt to refrain from maintaining a fleet of tanks at all, and others, like Paraguay, choose to use refurbished armored steeds from conflicts long past.
As crazy as it may sound, the backbone of the Paraguayan military’s sole armored squadron consists of a humble handful of M4 Sherman medium tanks and M3 Stuart light tanks. Both of these vehicles were last fully relevant when Allied forces marched across Europe on their path to victory against the Axis scourge.
Paraguay received its small complement of Shermans in 1980 from Argentina, while the Stuarts were donated by the Brazilian government in the 1970s. By the time the small South American nation received these second-hand vehicles, however, they were already obsolete and outclassed, unable to stand up to anti-tank weaponry or even other armored vehicles anymore.
But in recent years, the Paraguayan army has decided to reactivate its fleet of Shermans and Stuarts, “modernizing” them by installing new engines and replacing the M4’s small battery of .30 caliber Browning M1919 medium machine guns with .50 caliber M2 ‘Ma Deuce’ heavy machine guns.
The Sherman was born of a need for a medium-sized tank that was easy to mass produce and deploy overseas in large numbers, swarming larger and more heavily-armored German tanks during WWII. Cheap to produce, and pretty reliable if treated well, the Sherman was a fairly potent killing machine in the hands of tank commanders who knew what they were doing.
The Argentinian military received 450 Shermans from Belgium in the 1940s, putting them through a series of upgrades over the next 30 years that would see these old tanks get larger guns and new diesel engines. A small selection of these Shermans were passed on to Paraguay, though it’s unclear whether or not the examples donated were modernized or left in their original configurations.
According to Ian Hogg in his book, “Tank Killing,” the Stuart, wasn’t exactly very effective at all in engaging German armor. Though it was one of the few light tanks capable of firing high-explosive shells, it was better utilized as a high speed reconnaissance vehicle by British forces throughout the African theater during WWII, with its turret removed to cut down on weight.
Brazil picked up its Stuarts from the United States in WWII, actually shipping them overseas for combat in Italy as part of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force. Upon the end of the war, these tanks were returned to South America by ship and were upgraded in the 1970s. During that decade, Brazil donated 15 Stuarts to Paraguay.
Paraguay can afford to use these older machines in place of newer heavy tanks mostly because the country hasn’t seen much war over the past 40-odd years. Currently, the military claims these modernized Shermans and Stuarts will only be used for training purposes, though the endgame of the training is highly suspect, considering that the vehicles in question aren’t fit for combat against a decently-armed enemy.
It is possible, however, that these old fighting machines could be eventually used in the long-standing counterinsurgency effort Paraguay has been embroiled in against guerrillas since 2005. Though their hulls would likely be easily destroyed by small anti-tank weapons like the M72 LAW, the armor would still be able to stand up to small arms like pistols and rifles.
Even if Paraguay never uses its tanks in combat, its geriatric fleet will still work in a pinch should the need arise — at least against unarmored and under-gunned enemies.
US F-16s in South Korea and Japanese F-35s are both set to get long-range missiles that are ideal for striking North Korean mobile missile launchers.
The US Air Force in South Korea recently increased the range and strength of its aircraft with 10 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, or JASSMs, that can hit Pyongyang with 2,000 pounds of explosives from almost 200 miles away, according to Yonhap News and other South Korean media reports.
The JASSM allows US F-16s to safely strike nuclear infrastructure and targets deep into North Korea from secure locations near Seoul.
The munition isn’t the only signal that the US is ramping up its response to North Korea.
A defense official told Yonhap that US military leaders were considering “making public a live-fire drill involving the JASSM in case North Korea carries out another strategic provocation, such as a sixth nuclear test.”
Meanwhile, Japanese F-35s are expected to field the Joint Strike Missile, developed primarily by Norway’s Kongsberg Defence Systems, according to the South China Morning Post. The JSM has an extremely stealthy profile, high precision, and can fly just a few yards above the ground to deliver its 500-pound warhead before ever being detected.
An F-35 firing Joint Strike Missiles. Concept image courtesy of Raytheon.
“The JSM has a tremendous capability and Japan has never previously had anything like this,” Lance Gatling, a defense analyst and president of Tokyo-based Nexial Research Inc told the South China Morning Post.
“This weapon, combined with the F-35, will permit Japan to get much closer to targets with a high degree of stealth,” he added.
The JSM can sit inside the F-35 and fly almost 200 miles before hitting a moving target, meaning an F-35 could take out a North Korean mobile missile launcher without even getting close to the country.
This update to the firepower of US and Japanese jets comes after a series of North Korean missile tests that could spell out danger in the very near future. North Korea recently tested a rocket engine that could be used to power a missile with sufficient range to hit the US mainland. In the past, rocket engine tests like these have been closely followed by testing of actual missiles.