4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college - We Are The Mighty
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4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

Everybody knows that the GI Bill is for college, but did you know you can use it for things other than a typical brick-and-mortar institution of higher learning? Here are four VA-approved ways you can use that benefit to better fit your goals in life.


*Note: While Veterans Affairs has confirmed that each of the schools listed here are approved institutions for using the GI Bill, you should always consult with your VA representative before making decisions regarding benefits.

1. Be the best bartender you can be!

While the GI Bill itself does not actually cover bartending school, try to find an accredited school with degree programs in culinary arts. If you can manage that, your course load will most likely include classes that involve various aspects of drinkology, an academic counselor at Culinary Institute of America told WATM.

The institute- which is best known as the CIA- is a VA-approved school.

2. Make Mary Jane your money making biotch

With the rise in the legalization of cannabis — both for medicinal and recreational purposes — across the country, professionals within the cannabis industry are going to be in high demand.

There are three different areas within the weed world to look at: chemists, horticulturist and dispensary managers.

Chemists and dispensary managers can be made through any traditional college route, but to be a cannabis grower, you can attend an horticulture school that offers degrees or certificates in horticulture.

Southeast Technical Institute offers an associate’s degree in horticulture and it is a VA-approved school.

3. Show everyone that you have the perfect face for radio

The Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting offers an intensive course of study in radio and television broadcasting. Students at the Academy learn everything a normal college student learns in a four-year broadcasting degree- but in a much shorter time and without the requirement to invest in typical “core” classes. Core classes in math and science don’t typically translate into radio and television broadcasting, so the concept behind the school is to focus solely on broadcasting.

This cuts the typical four year program down to a mere seven months.

Tuition for the entire program is roughly $15,000.

4. Dive for buried treasure.

Well, be a commercial diver, anyway. The Divers Institute of Technology actually prefers veterans, and it is (and always has been) owned and operated by veterans.

The Divers Institute’s website claims, “you’ll get lots of hands-on, in-the-water training during your seven month program. We’ll teach you surface and underwater welding, cutting, and burning. You’ll learn diving physics and medicine, safety, rigging, salvage, hazmat, inland and offshore diving and more.”

The kicker? Some commercial divers like underwater welders can reportedly make upwards of $300,000 a year. Suit up. And make sure you aren’t barefoot.

The institute is a VA approved school.

For more information on exactly what the GI Bill will cover, check out the VA’s website.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US is putting 3,500 more boots on the ground in Afghanistan

A US official has told ABC news that the Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized 3,500 additional troops to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the troop buildup associated with President Donald Trump’s South Asia Strategy.


Late last month, Trump announced his new strategy on Afghanistan which included an increase in the number of US troops to the country.

Reports in the past indicated that Mattis favored the Pentagon’s recommendation to send about 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
Defense Secretary James Mattis (left) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

On Sept. 8, Mattis told reporters that he had signed deployment orders for some of the additional troops that would be sent, though he would not disclose the number.

No details have however been released on when these troops will deploy.

On Sept. 6, Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed members of Congress about the new strategy in Afghanistan.

Last week, the Pentagon disclosed that the number of American troops actually serving in Afghanistan was 11,000 and not the 8,400 official numbers it had been providing for some time.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The new ‘unlimited range’ missile just embarrassed the Russian military

A Russian cruise missile that the country touted as having “practically unlimited” range appears to be falling short, sources with knowledge of a US intelligence report told CNBC.

The cruise missile, which Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled at a Russian Federal Assembly in March 2018, only flew for around two minutes and traveled 22 miles before it lost control and crashed, CNBC reported May 21, 2018. Another missile test reportedly lasted just four seconds with a distance of five miles.


Russia tested the missile four times between November 2017, and February 2018, at the behest of senior officials, even though engineers voiced doubt over the program, according to CNBC’s sources.

Putin previously touted a new generation of weapons in a presentation that displayed missile trajectories going from Russia to the US. In addition to the cruise missile, Putin teased unmanned underwater drones purportedly capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and a hypersonic glide vehicle.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
graphic showingu00a0an ICBM payload in space.

“I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: All what you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened,” Putin said in a speech. “You have failed to contain Russia.”

Russia’s cruise missile capabilities may have missed the mark, but sources said it succeeded in other aspects. The hypersonic glide vehicle, which is believed to be able to travel five times the speed of sound, would render US countermeasures useless and could become operational by 2020, according to CNBC.

“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” US Air Force General John Hyten, the commander of US Strategic Command, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March 2018.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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These 7 GIFs of awesome low fly-bys will help you make sense of a crazy world

Going supersonic at altitude is one thing, but when you’re feeling the need for speed there’s nothing like taking it down low for a little “speed rush baseline” calibration. And more the better if the gang happens to be there on the ground to capture the action for posterity (and WATM GIF creation).


But beware of a couple of things: Unless you’re a Blue Angel (see #7) unauthorized low passes are a great way to lose your flight status. And Rule No. 1 of aviation is you can only tie the record for low flight.

So, let’s rock . . .

1. RAF Harrier

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

2. Ukranian MiG-29

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

3. Spitfire

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

4. Nevada Air National Guard F-4 Phantom

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

5. RAF Jaguar

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

6. Norwegian F-16 Fighting Falcon

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

7. U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

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Special operators take the fight to the drug cartels in ‘Ghost Recon: Wildlands’ trailer

In the world of “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands,” the U.S. government has had enough of the shenanigans of the South American drug cartels and has dispatched their deadliest operators to kill the snake by cutting off its head.


The newly released trailer focuses on the tactics and capabilities of the “Ghosts,” Clancy’s fictional spec-ops creation and the subject of his games and novels dating back to 2001. So far, we know that “Wildlands” will allow small teams of players to fight in battlefields modelled after the Bolivian jungle.

Game developer Ubisoft Paris clearly wants to paint ‘Wildlands’ as a smarter alternative to more aggressive offerings from the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, and to that end the trailer showcases the Ghosts using an assortment of tactics and technology — stealth takedowns, scout drones, etc. — to overpower the cartels’ lethal enforcers.

Check out the trailer below:

MIGHTY TRENDING

An insider explains why today’s Navy is actually stronger than ever

As most of you are aware, in the last several months the US Navy has suffered two collisions at sea. On 17 June the USS Fitzgerald lost 7 Sailors and on 21 August, the USS McCain lost 10 Sailors. The Surface Warfare community has not experienced such a loss in nearly 30 years since the explosion on the USS Iowa that killed 47 sailors.


After the collisions, I have quietly tried to make sense of what happened. I have just recently returned to the Surface Warfare community after spending the majority of my career working in the world of Naval Special Warfare. At this point, I am an outsider looking in and trying to learn about my new environment, and to make sure I am pulling more than my weight of the work load.

While trying to understand what happened, I have made the mistake of reading comments posted on Social Media of what people think happened. Comments from people from all walks of life and most who seem to have never served a day in their life in the Navy or on a Warship. One comment has particularly bothered me. After the Navy announced the firing of several Admirals, including a Command Master Chief, one podcaster stated the collisions happened because the “Navy has gone soft.”

I want to assure anyone reading this: The United States Navy has never been stronger than it is today.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Krystina Coffey

I know it’s hard for most of us to remember a time that the US has not been engaged in war. We have been in Afghanistan for 16 years and Iraq for 13 years. No one knows that better than pre 9/11 service members, especially given there are very few of us still on Active Duty. But before Operation Enduring and Operation Iraqi Freedom, during the time that most Army units were running training evolutions, the Navy was steadily deploying around the world to carry the Big Stick. Before Bosnia, before the Gulf War, before Panama, before Vietnam, before the Korean War….The Navy has quietly and steadily deployed during War Time and during Peace time since its inception 241 years ago.

No one does it better than we do.

As I have stepped back into the Surface Navy, I have done so with very little experience and official Surface Warfare qualifications. So I have started at the bottom of the training pipeline with 18 and 19 year old Seaman and brand new Junior Officers.

Classes are typically taught by senior 1st Class Petty Officers and Chiefs, and some are taught by trusted 2nd Class Petty Officers. Most of the training has been done “in house” and the instructors still have a day job. Some of the Instructors are Gunners Mates and are responsible for any and all aspects of ammunition on board the ship, whether its 9mm rounds, 5 inch rounds, or highly precise, multimillion dollar missiles.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones launches a Standard Missile 6 during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system. Photo from US Navy.

In addition to teaching, managing their daily tasks and subordinates, most of the instructors are also balancing Duty. Duty is not their day job. It’s the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job of ensuring proper security is being maintained on the ship and making sure the ship is ready to start to get underway if needed. Duty is broken down into sections and each Sailor essentially works for 24 hours a day once or twice a week. A sailor may work a normal work day and then stand watch in the middle of the night, and is expected to work a full day the next work day, only running on a few hours of sleep and lots of caffeine.

The overwhelming amount of hours spent working on the ship each week is more than anything I have seen during my time in NSW. Like most jobs in the military, it’s a thankless job that most Sailors never truly see the results of their labors. And to my astonishment over the last few months, the Sailors don’t complain about the work on the ship. They complain about the food. They complain when the coffee grounds run low. The Junior Enlisted complain about the Junior Officers. The Junior Officers quietly complain about the Senior Officers, And the Chiefs complain about everyone.

But when the bells ring, everyone is beside each other backing up the other one so the ship can get the attention it needs. They are a family. And like any family, there are of course some dysfunctional members, but as a whole, it’s an amazing thing watching these crews breathing life into Warships.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
USN photo

I can’t speak to high level policy decisions that happen in the beltway, or even administrative orders from Millington, but I can speak to the level of dedication at the lower levels. Sailors are hardworking. They are unruly at times, but will back each other up when its time. They are professional, and know their jobs because that’s what Sailors do. They work long hours, more than most will ever know, and they do it when Wars end and people forget ships are still required at Sea. At times, they work in terrible conditions covered in grease and smelling of Jet fuel and only a few hours of sleep, and often for weeks or months with no days off.

They are the hardest Sailors in the world.

While recent events are heartbreaking, I want to assure everyone that the United States Navy is still the strongest Naval force this earth has ever seen. Horrendous mistakes were made on the USS Fitzgerald and the USS McCain, but these ships were good ships and had good crews. These were also extremely hard worked ships ported in foreign piers.

And as of right now, the Navy has acknowledged that training in specific areas fell short. With that in mind, remember the Navy has kept ships out to Sea for 241 years. Even as you read this, there are 10’s of thousands of Sailors somewhere in the world, fiercely carrying the Navy’s Honor wherever they go. The Navy will correct the course and continue to provide diplomacy wherever is needed.

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Bin Laden shooter Robert O’Neill threatened by ISIS as ‘number one target’

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college


The former Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid had his address made public while being named the “number one target” by a purported member of the ISIS terrorist group, Military Times reports.

After monitoring extremist chatrooms, the UK’s Daily Mirror reported a British ISIS member giving out the SEAL’s name and address to others, which has been shared by jihadis in recent days.

“I leave this info of Robert O’Neill for my brothers in America and Al Qaeda in the U.S., as a number one target to eventually hunt down and kill,” the ISIS supporter wrote.

Since O’Neill is no longer on active duty, the Defense Department told the Times it would likely not be opening an investigation. But the SEAL, who retired in 2012 as a senior chief petty officer, doesn’t appear to be worried.

“All soldiers who serve their country assume certain risks. It’s part of the deal,” O’Neill told The Daily Caller. “But I am alert, I am vigilant and I take precautions. My bigger concern is a lack of a clear strategy for containing and or neutralizing ISIS as a national security threat.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The F-35 can make China’s carrier killer missiles ‘irrelevant’

As China builds out its network of militarized islands in the South China Sea and expands a sphere of influence designed to keep the U.S. out, the U.S. Marine Corps is putting the finishing touches on a weapon to burst its bubble: the F-35B.


China’s People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force has turned out a massive number of so-called carrier-killer missiles, ballistic missiles that can target ships up to about 800 miles out at sea, even testing them against models of U.S. aircraft carriers.

With the U.S. Navy’s longest-range platform — aircraft carriers — maxing out at a range of about 550 miles, this means China could theoretically use the missiles to shut the U.S. out of a battle for the South China Sea.

But theories and lines drawn on paper won’t beat the U.S. military in a battle.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, conducts a vertical landing at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Nov. 15 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Carlos Jimenez)

In pursuing the strategy of anti-access/area denial, known as A2AD, China assumes that the U.S. must launch aircraft from bases or aircraft carriers. But the F-35B, the U.S. Marine Corps’ variant of the most expensive weapons system of all time, doesn’t work that way.

“You can fly the F-35B literally anywhere,” David Berke, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, told Business Insider. “If your traditional places of operation are unavailable” — perhaps because Chinese missile fire cratered them, a likely tactic in a war — “the F-35B can be there.”

By taking off in just a few hundred feet or so and landing from a vertical drop, the F-35B frees up the Marine Corps from worrying about large, obvious bases.

If China targets carriers, the U.S. won’t use carriers

Marines have been training for this operating concept in the Pacific as well. In mid-January 2018, they landed an F-35B on a sloped platform, showing that future pilots could land their plane almost anywhere.

Throughout last year, F-35B crews trained on tactics like “hot loading” and “hot refueling,” which aims to turn reloading the F-35 — usually an affair that takes time, space, and a massive air base to support — into the equivalent of a NASCAR pit stop.

For the F-35B, the ground crew runs up to the jet while it’s still running to pump more fuel and load more bombs. In just a few minutes, atop a dirt floor with minimal support infrastructure in an improvised location China’s missiles won’t know to hit, the F-35B can take off again.

Also Read: How the F-35B can defend ships from cruise missiles

“Find me 600 feet of flat surface anywhere in the world, and I can land there,” said Berke, who compared the F-35B to the A-10 “Warthog,” the U.S. Air Force flying gun famous for its ability to land on dirt roads and fight on despite getting roughed up.

So while China has focused on pushing back the U.S.’s aircraft-carrier-bound fleets of F-18s, the Marines have cooked up a new strategy involving smaller carriers, like the USS Wasp, and heavy-lifting, quick-flying helicopters for support. Using the V-22 Osprey’s and the CH-53’s extreme-lifting capability, Marines could set up makeshift bases inside China’s supposed A2AD bubble.

From there, the stealth F-35Bs could take out the threats keeping the carriers at bay, poking holes in that bubble.

“If you’re looking at warfare two-dimensionally, you’re looking at it wrong,” Berke, a former F-35 squadron commander, said of the A2AD concept. “You don’t beat me in a boxing match ’cause your arms are longer than mine.”

The U.S. is sending the F-35B to the Pacific ASAP

The U.S.’s faith in the F-35B’s ability to shake up the balance of power in the Pacific is evident in recent deployments. The first outside the U.S. was in Japan.

Now, amid rising tensions with North Korea, an F-35B-capable aircraft carrier will station itself in Japan.

“You’re about to put for the first time ever fifth-generation fighters on a ship at sea and put it into a highly contested area that is fraught with geopolitical risk and controversy and tensions,” Berke said.

“The implications of a fifth-generation airplane being in [the Pacific] is impossible to overstate,” he added. “They’re going to provide capability that nobody knows exists yet.”

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The latest Medal of Honor is the 11th to come from Afghanistan’s ‘Wild East’

“It’s a kinetic place,” Army Capt. Florent Groberg said Wednesday of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where his instinctive tackling of a suicide bomber in 2012 earned him the Medal of Honor.


4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
Photo: US Army

Of the 13 Medals of Honor awarded during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 11 have come from actions in either Kunar or neighboring Nuristan province, collectively dubbed the “Wild East” by the troops.

Seven were awarded for combat in Kunar, and four came in Nuristan. The other two were awarded to Marine Lance Corp. William Kyle Carpenter for his actions in southwestern Helmand province and Army Staff Sgt. Leroy A. Petry for combat in southeastern Paktia province.

“It’s just kinetic, they fight as we fight” along the rugged ridges and slot canyons of Kunar, Groberg said. “Kunar’s a tough place, if not the most kinetic place in the world,” he said. “There’s no specific explanation for it. It’s kinetic.”

Before President Obama began the troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and the combat mission was ended, successive U.S. and NATO commanders had wavered over the years on whether to maintain combat outposts that came under constant attack from a hostile population in Kunar and Nuristan, or simply to abandon the area.

On Thursday, the 32-year-old Groberg, who grew up in a Paris suburb and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, will become the 10th living American to receive the nation’s highest award for valor since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when President Obama makes the formal presentation at a White House ceremony.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
Photo: US Army courtesy photo

At a roundtable session with reporters Wednesday, Groberg was joined by three members of his unit who witnessed his sprint to get at the suicide bomber near a bridge in the Kunar village of Assadabad on Aug. 8, 2012 — Staff Sgt. Brian Brink, the platoon Sergeant; Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, the communications specialist; and Spc. Daniel Balderrama, the medic.

All said they felt uneasy as they approached on foot along a paved road to a bridge as the personal security detail for then-Col. James Mingus, now a brigadier general assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado. Mingus was headed to a meeting with an Afghan provincial governor.

“That day, it just felt a little different when we got on the ground,” Groberg said. Brink echoed him: “Everything felt a little different that day. It was a gut feeling. We all felt it. Nobody had to say it. Things just didn’t set right with us.”

In the rear, they heard a car revving its engine. Brink radioed back — “Get him off us, get him off us.” They later concluded that the revving engine was the signal for two men on motorcycles to approach from the front. Brink and others raised their weapons. The men dismounted and backed off.

The road narrowed near the bridge. To the right was a stone wall, to the left a drainage culvert.

Two other men appeared, walking backwards in parallel to the unit. Brink said the man closest to the unit had a bulge on his hip, with his right hand resting on the bulge. Brink raised his weapon again and just as he readied to pull the trigger, Groberg ran at the man, followed by Mahoney.

“You face a threat, you go towards the threat,” Groberg said. For an instant, the man made eye contact. “He had a blank stare,” Groberg said. “He did a 180 and cut directly toward the patrol. I hit him, then we grabbed him and threw him to the ground. He detonated at our feet.”

The second man also set off his explosive device but the force of the blast mainly went into the stone wall.

Groberg was knocked unconscious. About half of his left calf had been torn away. He also suffered a blown eardrum and a mild traumatic brain injury.

Balderrama, the medic, had also been knocked unconscious and suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs. The force of the blast had thrown him into the culvert.

“The first thing when I woke up in that ditch, I was so thankful. He (Groberg) was calling for me, yelling ‘Doc, Doc save my leg.’ I remember seeing his boots covered in blood, his legs covered in blood,” Balderrama said.

Balderrama tried to stand to get to his captain. He couldn’t. “I recall trying to stand up and falling down. I couldn’t put weight on my legs. I kind of shimmied over, I think on my knees or something,” he said.

Balderrama managed to get a tourniquet on Groberg’s leg. “I just wanted to get him to the next level of care,” he said.

The suicide bomber had taken a heavy toll. In addition to the wounded, four had been killed — Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 46; Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35; Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38; and Ragaei Abdelfattah, 43, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Thinking back on it, Brink said the enemy had planned well for that day. “As we approached the bridge, we were attacked just short of the bridge. It was an absolute choke point. There’s no doubt in my mind, looking back in my mind, that it was well planned, coordinated.  They knew we would have to constrict our formation into a smaller group and they took advantage.”

Groberg never stops thinking back on it. “We all fought those demons of ‘why me.’ Why not me? And in the end, you know, it’s combat,” he said. “All we can do now is honor those guys and their families. And make sure that we are better people, that we live our lives for them. And every day when we wake up, we remember. And when it gets tough, we remember.”

“They made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said of the four who were killed. “We’re here to tell you this. I’m so blessed and honored for the medal, but it doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them.”

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Vets First helped this former airman build her spiritual home

“It is neither your title nor your name that defines you, but what is written on your heart.”


Rene Locklear White has held many titles: lieutenant colonel; Air Force veteran; wife; mother; Native American religious leader.

But none of these things define her.

Serving as a space satellite surveillance officer, White says, “I spent 22 years in the Air Force. Proudly. Happily.”

That pride and that happiness are what define her more than anything.

With her husband, Chris “Comeswithclouds” White, White runs Sanctuary on the Trail, a Native American Christian church in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The church has five key areas of focus this year, the Spirit Speaks Forum, arts and culture advancement, disaster relief, human rights advocacy, and veteran wellness.

The focus on veteran wellness doesn’t jut apply to spiritual wellness, but to physical wellness. Together, the Whites work with veterans to understand their benefits and to get wounded warrior care for themselves and their families.

Comeswithclouds built their house with his son, Jacob, and the home is a beautiful reflection of who they are.

“We can honor nature and be a part of it, all the time,” White said. “The house is built, but now we’re.. building the community,” Comeswithclouds noted.

Currently, the family hosts Ceremony at their home, inviting members and strangers alike to experience the land in its purest, untouched state. The way Native Americans thousands of years before them did.

For more information, visit Sanctuaryonthetrail.org.

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Top general says US commandos and Arab allies squeezing ISIS in Syria

American special operators teamed with Arab fighters in Syria are poised to take a key town north of the Islamic State stronghold in Raqqah. If they succeed it would be an important blow to the Islamic insurgency and assist the government of Iraq in taking back its second largest city.


Since late June, jets from the United States, France, and Australia have been pounding ISIS positions in the city of Manbij, a key northern crossroads town north of the ISIS-held town of Raqqah in Syria. Kurdish and Syrian-Arab fighters who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are squeezing hundreds of ISIS fighters in the town, said to be a key transit point for bootleg oil and illicit arms for the terrorist group.

“I’ve been extraordinarily pleased with the performance of our partner forces, the Syrian-Arab coalition, in particular,” said Central Command chief Army Gen. Joseph Votel during a press conference at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

“This has been a very difficult fight. This is an area that the Islamic State is trying to hold onto,” he added.

Pentagon chief Ash Carter said the campaign in Manbij is part of an effort to squeeze ISIS into Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Defense officials have hinted that a full-on assault on Iraq’s second largest city is imminent, with regional leaders meeting July 20 at Andrews to flesh out a post-takeover plan.

“In play after play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqah and Mosul,” Carter said. “By isolating these two cities, we’re effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them.”

Al Jazeera reports that ISIS has lost nearly 500 fighters in Manbij as SDF fighters with American help have squeezed the terrorist enclave. The SDF has suffered less than 100 dead.

The success in Manbij comes as an opposition watchdog group claimed a U.S.-led airstrike on the town killed 56 civilians July 19. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report, the dead include 11 children.

Carter said the anti-ISIS coalition, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, is looking into the allegations.

“We’re aware of reports of civilian casualties that may be related to recent coalition airstrikes near Manbij city in Syria,” Carter said. “We’ll investigate these reports and continue to do all we can to protect civilians from harm.”

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
A Peshmerga soldier fires at a target from his foxhole during a live-fire exercise near Erbil, Iraq, Feb. 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jessica Hurst/Released)

Votel added that Kurdish and Syrian-Arab parters are working to keep the 70,000 civilians in Manbij out of harms way.

“What I’ve been most impressed with is the deliberateness and the discipline with which our partner forces have conducted themselves,” Votel said. “They are moving slowly, they are moving very deliberately, mostly because they’re concerned about the civilians that still remain in the city.”

“And I think that that speaks very highly of their values and it speaks very highly of what they’re about here. We’ve picked the right partners for this operation,” he said.

 

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The drones hunting ISIS have grown more lethal

The Air Force Special Operations Command runs 37 Reaper drones that have just been upgraded with better sensors, upgraded weapons software, and extra fuel tanks so they can kill more targets and watch more objectives on missions against ISIS and other enemies.


4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
An MQ-9 Reaper prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

Identifying ISIS targets often requires a long information-collection period, and killing them takes a rapid engagement once the kill order is given. The upgraded drones are better at both stages of the hunt.

The sensor ball from the original MQ-9 Reapers was replaced with a high-definition camera. The software that controls the camera was also upgraded to enable automatic detection of threats and the ability to track 12 moving targets at once. Better communications gear was installed to allow ground controllers and others to see the higher quality video coming from the drones.

Reapers can carry up to 14 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The upgraded version carries the same munitions but can now fire them in a “super ripple,” firing a missile every 0.32 seconds. The external fuel tanks give the Reaper pilots more time to identify targets, track them, and plan the engagement before firing.

4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college
An MQ-9 Reaper on the flightline. Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. John Bainter

All this comes at a cost to weight. To increase thrust and improve takeoff performance, a system to inject alcohol and water into the engine was added and a four-bladed propeller was incorporated. The landing gear was also improved.

American drones have already had a lot of success in the fight against ISIS. Jihadi John, the British-born militant who conducted many of the Islamic State’s early, high-profile executions, was killed by two Hellfire missiles fired from a drone.

A drone strike in Jul. 2015 killed 31 insurgents including Hafiz Saeed, the man thought to have led ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The drones were upgraded under a $34 million Medium Altitude Long Endurance Tactical (MALET) Lead-Off Hitter (LOH) contract.

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Iran may bankroll pro-government fighters in Syrian conflict

The Syrian government has asked Iran to take over the supervision and payroll of thousands of Shi’ite militiamen fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops in support of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a government source and a news report.


The pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasel reported that it obtained a Syrian defense ministry document saying the Assad regime has approved a plan to give Iran responsibility for paying foreign fighters – mostly Shi’ites of varying nationalities. Shi’ite fighters mostly are paid in cash from Iran, the Syrian government and coffers of the Lebanese-based, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, according to analysts.

Iran would foot the bill alone in the future, a Syrian official told VOA on the condition of anonymity, confirming the Al Wasel report.

“The number of Shia militia has increased dramatically during the last two months,” the official said. “While a big part of these militia were recruited by Iran, a relatively big part was recruited by the Syrian government directly. We are speaking about more than 50,000 militants from different nationalities. The Syrian government requested that Iran provide for all of the mentioned militias.”

The document from Al Wasel put the number of fighters to be paid at 88,733 — a figure analysts say is exaggerated. They estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria fighting alongside thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Tehran-affiliated Shiite militia Hezbollah and assorted Shiite militia made up of renegade Pakistanis, central Asians and other nationalities. Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of Iran’s elite Quds Force or other elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units have been killed fighting in Syria.

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Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi’ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC and expanding far beyond the shrine area.

Iran has long expressed a desire to command a unified army in the region, particularly in Syria, and its growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals. In an interview with the Mashregh news agency last August, Mohammad Ali Falaki, an IRGC leader, announced formation of a unified army in Syria which appears to have come to loose fruition.

“It would hardly be abnormal for Iran’s IRGC to be controlling yet more Shia jihadists,” said Talha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute.

In the long run, the formation of a unified army in Syria under Tehran supervision appears very practical, analysts say.

“It seems plausible that the Syrian government shift the responsibility for management and organization of the militias, especially where financial burden is concerned,” said Rasool Nafisi, a Middle East affairs expert in Washington.

Asserting its military prowess would help Iran push its political agenda in the region, some analysts believe.

“The bigger and more advanced army you control, the stronger voice you have,” said Daryoush Babak, a Washington-based retired Iranian military adviser.

But unifying Assad supporters under Tehran’s umbrella could worsen sectarian conflict in the region between Shi’ites and Sunni, analysts say.

Iran is looking for any chance to increase its influence and gain an upper hand against Saudi Arabia, its strongest rival in the war of minds and hearts, analysts say. Saudi Arabia and Iran support rival groups in Syria’s civil war. And In a speech in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump accused Tehran of contributing to instability in the region.

“Tehran and Riyadh … keep contradicting each other to prove whose ideology leads the region,” said Nafisi.

While Syria has relied on Iran militarily in the fight against rebels and Islamic State, it’s unlikely to grant Tehran a controlling foothold in the country, analysts say.

“In Syria, it is not likely to happen as long as the Assad regime harbors ambitions of regaining sovereignty rather than being reduced to an Iranian protectorate,” said Alfoneh.

VOA’s Noor Zahid contributed to this report.

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