7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action - We Are The Mighty
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7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

Air Force Special Operations pilots are some of the best in the world. But what is it like to be with this awesome community as they make sure they’re ready for action?


Here are some photos that are worth more than the proverbial thousand words.

The MC-130J, like the C-130J, can be loaded with vehicles. In this case, they can carry the specialized vehicles used by other special operators like Rangers, Green Berets, and SEALs.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 17th Special Operations Squadron prepare to load a vehicle onto a MC-130J Commando II as part of a mass launch training mission June 22, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Routine flights and airdrops are conducted to maintain proficiency and training certifications for prospective missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Of course, before take-off, there is the ritual of the pre-flight checklist. At least the tablet means there’s no chance of losing a page.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas Parris, 17th Special Operations Squadron MC-130J Commando II loadmaster, reviews a preflight checklist as part of a mass launch training mission June 22, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The MC-130J was among four others that flew in formation and completed airdrop training on Ie Shima Range, Okinawa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

The pilot, of course, will be in his office during this exercise, so the tablet is conveniently mounted.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
A U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II pilot from the 17th Special Operations Squadron maneuvers toward a five-aircraft formation during a mass launch training mission June 22, 2017, off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. This is the third iteration of the annual training, which is referred to as ‘The Day of the Jakal.’ It entailed a series of airdrops at Ie Shima Range, Okinawa, to hone in low-altitude maneuvers and supply-delivery capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

“Tail-end Charlie” gets a good look at the other planes in the formation.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando IIs from the 17th Special Operations Squadron line up in a five-aircraft formation during a mass launch training mission June 22, 2017 off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. Airmen from the 17th SOS conduct training operations often to ensure they are always ready perform a variety of high-priority, low-visibility missions throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific-Region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Here, you can see two of the planes breaking, while others wait patiently in line. This isn’t just a training exercise for AFSOC, it’s also practice for the VA.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Four U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando IIs from the 17th Special Operations Squadron break out of a formation June 22, 2017 off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, during a mass launch training mission. Airmen from the 17th SOS conduct training operations often to ensure they are always ready perform a variety of high-priority, low-visibility missions throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific-Region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

The view from the front of the line is much better, no?

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
MC-130Js in a line behind another MC-130J during a training exercise. (USAF photo)

Preparing for the air-drop: This is what all that flying is about – delivering the supplies to the boots on the ground.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
A U.S. Air Force loadmaster from the 17th Special Operations Squadron prepares to airdrop a package onto Le Shima Range, Okinawa, Japan, during a mass launch training mission June 22, 2017. Aircrews must consider a number of variables in order to execute a precise and effective airdrop, to include wind speed, aircraft velocity, altitude, location and timing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

Every day, this is the type of stuff that Air Force Special Operations Command does to support America’s top commandos.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coast Guard struggling to keep up with surge of narco subs

Through September 2018, Colombia’s navy had captured 14 “narco subs” on the country’s Pacific coast — more than triple the four it captured in 2017 and another sign of drug traffickers’ ingenuity.

Colombia is not alone. The US Coast Guard reported in September 2017 that it had seen a “resurgence” of low-profile vessels, the most common kind of “narco sub,” capturing seven of them since June 2017.


“We’re seeing more of these low-profile vessels; 40-plus feet long … it rides on the surface, multiple outboard engines, moves 18, 22 knots … and they can carry large loads of contraband,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told Business Insider in October 2018 during an interview aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sitkinak in New York harbor.

“They’re very stealthy in terms of our ability to see them from the air [and] to detect them by radar,” Schultz added.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

US Coast Guardsmen sit on a narco sub in the Pacific Ocean in early September 2016.

(US Coast Guard photo)

‘Era of experimentation’

Low-profile vessels were the earliest kind of narco sub, a category that includes self-propelled semi-submersibles, which use ballast to run below the surface, and true submarines, which are the most rare.

They emerged in the early 1990s, as traffickers who had made a fortune moving drugs into the US — like George Jung and members of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel — encountered more obstacles.

“In the ’80s, the drug traffickers … were using go-fast boats, they were using twin-engine aircraft, and those were very easily detected by radar systems that we had,” particularly in the Caribbean and the southeastern US, said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

“So they started to counter those efforts by building submarines or semi-submersibles, because they were much more difficult to detect,” Vigil added. “They were made out of … wood, fiberglass, and then sometimes they had a lead lining that would reduce their infrared signature.”

The early 1990s was “the era of experimentation,” for Colombian narco subs, according to Vigil, who was stationed on the country’s Caribbean coast at the time and recalls encounters with them on the Magdelena River, which stretches nearly 1,000 miles from southwest Colombia to the Caribbean.

“They were not full-fledged submarines. They would float … just slightly underneath the water, but you could still see the tower, and they were not sophisticated at all,” he said. “Their navigational systems were poor; communications systems were poor.”

There are varying figures for how many narco subs have been caught over the years.

The first such vessel seen at sea by US law enforcement was intercepted in 2006, carrying 3 tons of cocaine about 100 miles off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The first one encountered in the Caribbean was stopped in summer 2011 — despite efforts to scuttle it, US authorities were able to recover 14,000 pounds of cocaine.

Criminal groups in Colombia continue to churn out homemade narco subs — 100 a year, according to Vigil — building them in the interior and using the country’s extensive river network, where law enforcement is scarce, to get them to sea.

The technology has advanced, and criminal groups, flush with profits from Colombia’s booming cocaine production, have been able deploy more sophisticated vessels for covert runs to Central America and Mexico, where cargos then move overland to the US. The routes have also grown more circuitous, likely to avoid detection at sea.

Better technology “has upped the chess game” between criminals and the military and law enforcement, Vigil said.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

Suspected drug-smuggling routes in the eastern Pacific Ocean in 2016.

(US Southern Command)

‘A drop in the bucket’

The recent increase in low-profile vessels intercepted by authorities indicates traffickers will adjust their tactics.

“There was certainly an uptick where the semi-submersibles were being utilized quite frequently, and then we had a lot of success against them,” Lt. Cmdr. Devon Brennan, head of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Team in New York, said during an interview aboard the Sitkanik.

“The drug-trafficking organizations are very agile and adept organizations, so they try to shift back,” Brennan said. “For one reason or another, they thought [low-profile vessels] might be a better option because of the success we’ve had against the [self-propelled semi-submersibles], so we have seen an increase in them.”

“This thing called the low-profile vessel, it’s evolutionary,” Schultz said. “The adversary will constantly adapt their tactics to try to thwart our successes.” The increase “reflects the adaptability, the malleability” of traffickers, he added.

Schultz and Brennan both emphasized that the Coast Guard is having success capturing narco subs. And Colombian officials have said that intercepting those vessels at sea — along with arresting traffickers on land — lands a serious blow to criminal organizations.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

A abandoned low-profile vessel found by the Guatemalan coast guard on April 22, 2017.

(Guatemalan army / US Southern Command)

Vigil was skeptical of the true impact, saying the DEA estimated at least 30% to 40% of drugs coming to the US were moving on narco subs, but authorities were likely only intercepting 5% of those vessels.

“They may be capturing more but, again, that’s because there’s a hell of a lot more being using to smuggle drugs,” Vigil said. (Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray has said the service faces “a capacity challenge” in trying to patrol trafficking routes through the eastern Pacific, an area the size of the continental US.)

Vigil also noted that the costs seemed to favor the traffickers.

“The submarines cost id=”listicle-2611789516″ million or million … depending on the communications systems, the engine, the materials used in them, the navigational systems,” Vigil said. Even though many are likely only used once, he added, “they have absolutely no economic impact on the cartels.”

Each kilogram of cocaine is worth only a few thousand dollars in Colombia. But the multiton cargos narco subs can carry are worth hundreds of millions of dollars once they’re broken up and sold in the US or Europe.

The cost to build a narco sub is “a drop in the bucket compared to the payload that they carry,” Vigil said. “So a million, million is nothing to them.”

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

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Civilian death toll in 16-year Afghanistan war is staggering

The number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war has reached a record high, continuing an almost unbroken trend of nearly a decade of rising casualties.


The number of deaths of women and children grew especially fast, primarily due to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, which caused 40% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, according to UN figures released on July 17.

Child casualties increased by 9% to 436, compared with the same period last year, and 1,141 children were wounded. Female deaths rose by 23%, with 174 women killed and 462 injured.

US and Afghan airstrikes also contributed to the surge in civilian victims, with a 43% increase in casualties from the air, the figures showed.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Airmen from the 966th Air Expeditionary Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight set off a controlled detonation at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sgt. Sara Csurilla.)

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN’s Afghanistan mission, said: “The human cost of this ugly war in Afghanistan – loss of life, destruction, and immense suffering – is far too high.

“The continued use of indiscriminate, disproportionate, and illegal improvised explosive devices [IEDs] is particularly appalling and must immediately stop.”

The UN attributes about two-thirds of casualties to the Taliban and other anti-government groups such as Islamic State.

The worst attack of the war on civilians occurred in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on May 31, when a truck bomb killed at least 150 people, amounting to nearly one-quarter of the 596 civilian deaths from IEDs in 2017.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
A US military cargo truck bypasses a charred vehicle destroyed by a roadside bomb. (Army photo by Spc. Elisebet Freeburg.)

In the countryside, bombs carpeting fields or left in abandoned houses have contributed to a steady, slow-grinding toll, with 1,483 civilians injured and many suffering amputations.

Kamel Danesh, 19, a student and avid cricketer, was helping a friend clear a house in Helmand a month ago when he stepped on a mine left by the Taliban.

“I didn’t hear the blast. I was just knocked over. My mouth filled with dust. I tried to stand up but couldn’t,” Danesh said. “I looked down and my leg was cut off at the bone. My hand was cut off.”

A rickshaw transported him from the suburbs of the provincial capital to Emergency, an Italian-run trauma centre, where medics saved his life.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 destroy an improvised explosive device cache. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

“It was so painful. I prayed to God to take me,” Danesh said. The provincial cricket association named the Ramadan tournament after him, but he will never play again.

In June, the US conducted 389 aerial attacks in Afghanistan, putting this year on a par with 2013, when there were nearly 50,000 US soldiers in the country.

Of the 232 civilian casualties from 48 aerial operations, 114 were caused by Afghans and 85 by Americans. In one especially deadly operation, the US killed 26 civilians in airstrikes in Sangin district in Helmand.

With peace talks elusive, the war is expected to intensify and prolong the violence that has engulfed Afghanistan for four decades.

Danesh lost his leg to a conflict that began when he was two. As a child, his father and grandfather used to tell him war stories, but “now it is the young people who are sacrificing”, he said.

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Veteran Democrats use Day 3 of DNC to put verbal crosshairs on Trump

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Congressman Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps vet., addressing the Veterans and Military Family caucus at the DNC in Philadelphia. (Photo: Ward Carroll)


PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Last week the Republicans used Day One of their convention in Cleveland to tee up national security issues, rolling out military veterans like “Lone Survivor” SEAL Marcus Luttrell and former head of DIA Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to attack Hillary Clinton for her inaction around the force protection disaster in Benghazi, Libya and her reckless handling of classified emails while serving as Secretary of State.

Several veterans advocates who’d also attended the RNC in Cleveland had wondered aloud, after a couple of days of next to nothing on the topic of issues facing the military, whether the DNC was going to mount any counter to Republican accusations and what they’d presented on behalf of the military and veterans community the week prior. Yesterday they got their answer as the Democrats brought out the party’s own platoon of military veterans to put the verbal crosshairs squarely on Donald J. Trump’s center of mass.

Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, a Marine veteran who served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, set the tone in the afternoon when he kicked off the Veterans and Military Family Counsel session with some very specific criticisms about Trump.

“The Republican nominee for president goes around praising Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein,” Moulton said. “Specifically, about Saddam Hussein, he praised him for killing terrorists. Let’s just remember who Saddam Hussein termed ‘terrorists.’ There are American troops like me. He killed hundreds of Americans. And there were tens of thousands of innocent Shite civilians in his own country whom he massacred in the streets. It’s pretty unfathomable that we have a major party nominee who says things like that on the campaign trail.”

Moulton, who just returned from a Congressional junket to Iraq and Afghanistan, went on to accuse Trump of having a bad effect on the morale of troops on the front lines.

“I would never purport to speak for all the troops, but there was remarkable consensus around those dinner table discussions that Donald Trump is a threat to our country,” Moulton said. “And when you’re hearing that from the guys who are literally putting their lives on the line as we sit here today, it makes you stop and think.

“If there’s one group of people who Americans will listen to it’s all of you who have put your lives on the line for our country. It’s all of us who have the credibility to say, ‘I know a little bit about our national security because I was part of it.'”

Moulton’s remarks were followed by an equally pointed attack against Trump from Illinois Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, an Army veteran who lost both legs after her helicopter was hit by enemy fire in Iraq.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Tammy Duckworth speaking to a vet gathering at the DNC. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

“We’re talking about a man on the other side who this morning said he wanted to renegotiate the Geneva Convention,” Duckworth said. “Well, let me tell you what: When you’ve sat in a downed aircraft outside the wire after you’ve just been shot down and you’re bleeding to death, you got a whole different perspective about the Geneva Convention.”

“[Donald Trump] categorically wants to send more young women and men into combat,” said Will Fischer, veterans representative for the AFL-CIO, who followed Duckworth on the stage. “His kids, like Donnie Jr., ain’t putting on a flak jacket anytime soon.”

After the Veterans and Military Families Counsel session concluded, We Are The Mighty had an exclusive audience with more than a dozen flag and general officers who were present this week to show their support for Hillary Clinton.

“One of the most important things is understanding the value of partnerships, coalitions, and alliances for the U.S. to be able to carry out its missions,” retired Navy Rear Admiral Kevin Green said. “Candidates for commander-in-chief need to understand that’s how we avoid unnecessary wars, that’s how we leverage our allies and our friends to do the kinds of things we need to do keep the United States safe and secure.”

Green framed Trump’s business approach to foreign policy as a liability, saying, “If you consider the relationships with other nations as transactional – what do I get if I give you this? – it undermines our national security.”

“Reality TV has nothing to do with [national defense] reality,” added Rear Admiral Harold Robinson, a retired Navy chaplain. “He can say three lies during the day and then deny them. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines need to be looked at in the eye and told God’s own truth when we ask them to go out there and kill or be killed.”

“The commander in chief doesn’t have any checks and balances,” said retired Air Force Major General Maggie Woodward. “He makes a decision on the spot and we execute it. That’s why it’s so terrifying to have a guy that we all believe is not qualified or temperamentally fit for that position.”

“One of the things I discovered, not only leading troops in combat but also while in charge of recruiting for the Marine Corps, is what we had to tell America in order to have their sons and daughters be part of the military,” said retired Lieutenant General Walter Gaskin. “They expected us to be professional, to lead, and to be knowledgeable of the world where we were sending their kids. We have to do that again so that the average person understands what’s about to happen if the person putting them there is alienating our allies and the Muslim locals in the areas we’re going to be fighting in.”

But the final thought for the day on matters of military readiness and national security was reserved for Leon Panetta, former head of the CIA and Department of Defense.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks to the DNC. (DNC TV screengrab)

“Donald Trump says he gets his foreign policy experience from watching TV and running the Miss Universe pageant,” Panetta said from the main stage at the Wells Fargo Center during his primetime appearance just before President Obama’s speech that closed out the program. “If only it were funny, but it is deadly serious.”

The response from the Trump campaign to the daylong fusillade was muted by Trump standards. The usually prolific candidate was idle on Twitter until late in the day when he tweeted something about how shooting deaths of police officers were up by 78 percent and that the country doesn’t feel great already, a counter to a statement made by Obama during his remarks.

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The US foiled an alleged plot to illegally send missile technology to Russia

Three men — a US citizen and two Russian nationals — were arrested on Thursday and charged with attempting to send sensitive technology used for military devices to Russia, according to a released from the Department of Justice.


On Thursday, Alexey Barysheff of Brooklyn, New York, a naturalized US citizen, was arrested on federal charges of illegally exporting controlled technology from the US to end-users in Russia.

Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Karpenko and Alexey Krutilin, both Russian citizens, were arrested in Denver, Colorado, on charges of conspiring with Barysheff and others in the plot, the DOJ said.

Authorities said Barysheff, Krutilin, and Karpenko, among others, used two Brooklyn-based front companies, BKLN Spectra, Inc. and UIP Techno Corp., to buy and unlawfully export sensitive electronics without a mandatory federal license. US officials also said the three men falsified records to conceal where they were shipping the electronics, routing them through Finland, according to the Associated Press.

The electronics in question were restricted for “anti-terrorism and national security reasons,” the DOJ said.

According to complaints unsealed in Brooklyn federal court on Thursday, Krutilin and Karpenko arrived in Colorado from Russia on October 1 and tried to access Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs but were prevented from doing so.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Wikimedia

“The microelectronics shipped to Russia included, among other products, digital-to-analog converters and integrated circuits, which are frequently used in a wide range of military systems, including radar and surveillance systems, missile guidance systems and satellites,” the DOJ said in a release.

Exporting such technology requires a license from the Department of Commerce, which places restrictions on items it believes “could make a significant contribution to the military potential and weapons proliferation of other nations and that could be detrimental to the foreign policy and national security of the United States.”

The three men were held without bail, according to the New York Daily News. If convicted, they face up to 25 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

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Royal Navy bringing Dreadnought back to their fleet

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
HMS Dreadnought. (Photo: Ministry of Defense)


Bringing back classic names has been discussed before, and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer will be named for John Basilone this past August. Now, the Royal Navy has gone to a traditional name for the first of its new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. According to a release from the Ministry of Defense, the lead ship’s name will be HMS Dreadnought.

The new Dreadnought will be the tenth to bear that name – and the last two were both groundbreakers for the Royal Navy. The eighth was the first all-big gun battleship – so influential that all battleships from then on became known as dreadnoughts. The ninth was the Royal Navy’s first nuclear attack submarine – which served for 17 years.

The new submarine will be almost ten feet longer than the Vanguard-class submarines currently in service with the Royal Navy and will displace 1,300 more tons. The sub will have new features not seen before in submarines, including a dedicated gym, a “dedicated study space” for the crew, and quarters for female crewmembers.

The Dreadnought will carry 12 UGM-133 Trident II ballistic missiles – albeit these missiles use warheads of a British design with a maximum yield of 100 kilotons (about six times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima). The Vanguard-class subs they will be replacing carried 16. The subs will also have torpedo tubes to carry the outstanding Spearfish torpedo for self-defense.

The first Dreadnought-class submarine is expected to enter service in 2028. The Vanguard-class submarines they are replacing entered service in 1993.

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You can see the most notorious German artillery piece be fired

Nazi Germany may have been one of the most evil regimes in history, but that regime also had some very good equipment. The Tiger tank, the Bf 109 and FW 190 fighters, the U-boat, and the MG42 machine gun were all very good.


Perhaps the most notorious weapon they had was called the “88.” Technically, it was called the 8.8 centimeter Flak 18, 36, 37, or 41, but most folks just described it with the number that referred to the gun’s bore diameter in millimeters. That was a measure of how notorious the gun was.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
The seven-man crew of an 88 manhandles their gun somewhere on the Russian front. (Wikimedia Commons)

The first 88s were intended as anti-aircraft guns to kill bombers. They were very good at that – as many allied bomber crews found out to their sorrow. But the gun very quickly proved it was more than just an anti-aircraft gun, starting with its “tryout” in the Spanish Civil War. The gun also proved it could kill tanks.

According to MilitaryFactory.com, it could kill tanks from a mile away. When the Germans discovered that, they began to churn out 88mm guns as quickly as they could. As many as 20,700 were built, and they found themselves used on everything from Tiger tanks to naval vessels. Even after the war, the gun hung around, and during the war, it was something that allied forces quickly tried to neutralize. The 88 was even pressed into service with some Seventh Army units due to an ammo shortage.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
FLAK 36 88mm multipurpose gun on display in the Air Power Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The gun had a crew of seven, and weighed nine tons. The gun could be fired at targets as far as nine miles away. Very few of these guns are around now, but in World War II, many Allied troops wondered if the Germans would ever run out.

You can see video of one of the few surviving “88s” being fired below.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everything we know about the US-Taliban Peace Deal

As of this writing, the deal between the United States and the Taliban for ending the war in Afghanistan is dead. Along with it is National Security Advisor John Bolton, one of the reluctant architects of the deal who (sources say) was never behind the deal to begin with. President Trump was supposed to secretly meet with senior Taliban officials at Camp David to hammer out the final terms of an agreement, but that was also squashed, the final nail in the coffin for such an agreement.

But the United States may still reduce the number of troops fighting its longest war.


As the Trump White House and the Taliban exchange blame for the collapse of peace talks, there are an estimated 13,000 to 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan. This is why Taliban leaders won’t engage with the Afghan government. They believe President Ashraf Ghani’s government is a Western puppet with no legitimacy. The Trump Administration wanted to force the Taliban to recognize Ghani’s legitimacy through a peace agreement with the U.S. but there were a number of outstanding events that would lead to the agreement’s downfall.

First, the United States wanted the Taliban to stop its attacks on U.S. troops in the country to build trust before the deal was made. Senior defense officials say the Taliban actually increased their attacks over the past few weeks, killing a U.S. service member, along with a Romanian service member and ten civilians in a car bomb attack in Kabul. That attack may have been the last straw for President Trump.

The deal is still a major sticking point for Trump, who vowed to bring home American troops from Afghanistan during his 2016 campaign. The peace agreement that was recently killed kept troop strength at 8,600, enough to combat terrorist attacks in the country and didn’t demand a cease-fire from the Taliban. It only asked the terror group to commit to reducing violence in Kabul and Parwan provinces – areas where the United States has a large military presence.

Negotiated by Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, the deal would have required the U.S. to withdraw 5,000 troops within 135 days of signing. The Taliban would be required to reduce violence in those two areas while preventing the country from being a base for international terrorism, while renouncing its alignment with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

After the Kabul bombing on Sep. 5, Khalilzad was recalled to Washington and is no longer talking to the Taliban.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

For its part, the Taliban say the deal broke down because the group’s leadership wouldn’t sign any agreement that didn’t list the final end date for American troops leaving Afghanistan, which was supposedly November 2020 or January 2021. Secondly, the United States wanted the Ghani government to postpone Afghan Presidential elections set for Sep. 28, 2019. If Ghani won, anti-Ghani factions would undermine the Afghan President’s legitimacy further with the Taliban by protesting the election victory.

The most important reason the agreement failed, however, is trust. No one at the table and no one with an interest in the agreement actually trusted the Taliban to keep their word. In fact, intercepted communications from the Taliban show the terror organization’s negotiators believe they “fooled” the United States. Still, many in the United States believe the best way out of Afghanistan is through a political agreement.

Only no one yet knows what that agreement will look like.

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5 awesome ways the military collects toys for kids

The world’s most powerful military has a soft spot for kids and Christmas, and they show it every year through a number of toy drives and holiday events. Here are 5 annual operations designed to being Christmas cheer to kids in need:


1. Toys for Tots

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Photo: US Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Green

The largest and best known of the military toy drives, Toys for Tots is ran by the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation as a mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. Nationwide, Marines and veterans collect new toys and run events year round to give Christmas cheer to children across the country. Other military services get involved by holding their own toy drives to donate to the Toys for Tots program.

2. Operation Toy Drop

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st Class Logan Brandt

The Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop is an annual event where paratroopers donate toys and are given a chance to earn foreign jump wings. This year, 4,300 paratroopers and their supporters donated 6,000 toys. With seven nations participating, Operation Toy Drop is the world’s largest Airborne operation.

3. Santa’s Ruck March

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Photo: US Army Capt. John Farmer

In Santa’s Ruck March, soldiers and family members from two brigades at Fort Hood, Texas conduct a one-mile march with rucksacks filled with toys to Santa’s Workshop where all the toys are placed on large tables. The annual event supports over 3,000 Fort Hood children.

4. Fill the Boat Toy Drive

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Caleb Critchfield

Hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Fill the Boat Toy Drive selects a charity that supports children every year to distribute toys collected in a large boat with Santa and Mrs. Claus presiding over the collection. In 2015, hundreds of toys were given to the Ronald McDonald House to distribute to children spending the holiday in the hospital.

5. Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Christopher Anderson toy drive

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Timothy Walter

Split between two locations, Anderson Hall in Joint Base San Antonio, Texas and Longmont, Colorado, this toy drive memorializes Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Christopher Anderson who died on a deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. The toys collected are sent to the Longmont Police Department in Anderson’s hometown and to the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots.

There are also other military operations that center on the holiday. The Air Force drops toys, books, and humanitarian assistance on Pacific islands every year in Operation Christmas Drop. NORAD tracks Santa’s progress across the world every Christmas Eve.

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Here’s how the US is sticking it to Beijing in the South China Sea

China has for years been whittling away at the US military’s asymmetrical advantage in conventional military strength with a naval buildup, building and militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea, and creating systems and weapons custom built to negate the US’s technological advantage.


By all indications, China is building aircraft carriers and getting ready to place surface-to-air missiles deep into the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, China’s neighbors have grown increasingly worried and timid as it cements a land grab in a shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in annual trade and has billions in resources, like oil, waiting to be exploited.

Related: These 4 islands could be America’s unsinkable aircraft carriers in the Pacific

Six countries lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, and the US isn’t one of them. But the US doesn’t need a dog in this fight to stand up for freedom of navigation and international law.

Here’s how the US counters China in the region.

For the US, checking Beijing in the Pacific often means sailing carrier strike groups through the region — something the Navy has done for decades, whether China protests or not.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher

As Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of 7th Fleet, said recently at a military conference: “We’re going to fly, sail, operate wherever international law allows.”

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ricardo R. Guzman

The strike group has plenty of aircraft along with them, like this A F/A-18E Super Hornet and a nuclear-capable B-1B Lancer from Guam.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Lt. Robert Nordlund

Unlike submarines and ICBMs buried under land or sea, the US’s strategic, nuclear-capable bombers make up the most visible leg of the nuclear triad. Placing a handful of B-1Bs in Guam sends a message to the region.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Air Force

Here’s the US’s entire strategic bomber force lined up in Guam, representing more than 60 years bomber dominance.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
The B-52, the B-1, and the B-2 (right to left) on runways at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.US Air Force

It also doesn’t hurt when the US Navy shows off its complete mastery of carrier-based aircraft. There are F-18 pilots in the Navy that likely have more carrier landings than the entire Chinese navy combined.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown

Those jets benefit from the support of about 7,000 sailors on the ship, who keep them running around the clock.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown

Airborne early warning and control planes like the E-2 Hawkeye use massive radars to act as the eyes and ears of the fleet. Not much gets past them.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown

But carriers don’t sail alone either. Here a guided missile destroyer knocks through some rough seas accompanying the Vinson.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Mortensen

The US Navy may be the most professional in the world, with a very serious mission in the South China Sea, but they still make time for a swim on one of the US’s newest combat ships, the USS Coronado.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amy M. Ressler

The Coronado doesn’t look like an aircraft carrier, but it does have serious airpower in the form of a MH-60S Seahawk with twin .50 caliber door guns.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amy M. Ressler

But the key to the US’s success in far away waters is allies. The US doesn’t do anything alone, if you’re noticing a pattern here. Here US and Royal Brunei Navy sailors practice boarding a ship.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy Photo

In February, US Marines partnered up with Japanese self-defense forces to practice amphibious landings — a skill that may one day come in handy on artificial islands.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Marine Corps by Lance Cpl. Tyler Byther

Sometimes working with allies means getting down and dirty. Here a Seabee gets neck deep in Japan.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Seabee participating in the endurance course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam Henderson

The bottom line is that the US military has decades of experience sailing, training, and fighting with its allies in the Pacific. China has come a long way in shifting the balance of power in the region, but the US remains on top — for now.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano

Articles

This military spouse grew her own business despite 2 PCS moves

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action
Lakesha Cole was named the 2014 AFI Military Spouse of the Year in a ceremony in Washington, DC in May, 2014


In many ways, Lakesha Cole is the typical military spouse. A mother and wife, Cole has spent the last five years like many other military spouses: focused on a passion while juggling her family responsibilities.

But it’s the way she’s done it that sets her apart. Recently, Cole and her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Deonte Cole, and their children completed a Permanent Change of Station from Okinawa, Japan, to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

And along with their kids and personal effects, the Coles also took their successful business inside the Okinawa Exchange with them.

This was the second time Cole packed up her company, She Swank Too, and hauled it overseas. Two years after debuting their company aboard Camp Pendleton, California, the Cole’s took on a PCS to Okinawa, embarking on a mission to open the first brick and mortar She Swank Too there.

Cole spoke with We Are the Mighty about her experience just trying to get a meeting with the retail manager in Okinawa.

“He was reluctant to do business with me,” she recalled, after waiting for six months to secure a meeting with the manager. He argued that military spouses didn’t believe “the rules apply to them,” citing spouses who formerly ran businesses in the retail space with poor business practices.

Cole says she presented her business plan, complete with financial reports, customer data and testimonials, and samples, to the manager. They agreed to a 30 day trial run of a brick and mortar She Swank Too. Three years later, the store accompanied the Coles on their PCS.

When asked what steps an entrepreneur should take during a PCS, Cole was quick to answer, “Stay active and… communicate with your customers.” Customer interaction is one of the focal points of the company. “We tapped into the hearts and homes of our customers,” Cole said.

The motivation behind the company was simple. “We debuted our first children’s collection … to introduce entrepreneurship to our daughter,” Cole recalled.

Cole’s husband is equally involved in the business. “The least recognized role in a business is … that person’s spouse,” Cole said. Cole’s husband is not only an active participant in the company, but a financial investor as well.

Cole isn’t just a business owner. In addition to She Swank Too, Cole is a military spouse retail coach, the founder, CEO and owner of Milspousepreneur, and an active advocate for military affiliated entrepreneurship in hopes of reversing high milspouse unemployment.

“My focus remains in using this business as a vehicle to give back,” Cole said

MIGHTY SPORTS

This is why cadets have shouted “Go Army! Beat Navy!” for over a century

The annual Army-Navy football game is intense. And though the players will be doing their best to out-maneuver and out-muscle the opposition, the competition extends well beyond the field. The fanbase of each service academy, which includes the troops and veterans of their respective branches, rally loudly behind their team with a single, unifying phrase: “Go Army! Beat Navy!” Or, for the sailors and Marines, “Go Navy! Beat Army!

As creative and ambitious as the smacktalk has become in recent years, the phrase never changes. And that’s because these rallying cries are nearly as old as the Army-Navy game itself.


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Which I can only assume would cause confusion (and maybe a bit of jealousy) from the players of Notre Dame.

(Photo by Mike Strasser, West Point Public Affairs)

The tradition of military academy fans shouting out, “Go [us]! Beat [them]!” can be traced back to some of the earliest Army-Navy Games. It’s unclear which side started the tradition, but both teams were shouting their own versions of the simple phrase as early as second game, long before the sport of football became the mainstream cultural staple it is today.

Over the years, the phrase remained unchanged. The only variations come when a West Point or Naval Academy team faces off against the Air Force Academy or the Royal Military College of Canada. It doesn’t even matter if the team is facing off against a university unaffiliated with the Armed Forces — they’ll still add the “Beat Navy!” or “Beat Army!” to the end of their fight song.

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Plebes who don’t follow this would presumably do push-ups and add “Beat Navy!” after each one.

(Photo by Mike Strasser, West Point Public Affairs)

The plebes (or freshmen) of each academy are also expected to be fiercely loyal to their football team at every possible occasion. At the drop of a hat, a plebe is expected to know how many days are left until the next Army-Navy Game. They’re also only allowed to say a handful of accepted phrases: “Yes, sir/ma’am,” “No, sir/ma’am,” and, of course, “Beat Navy/Army.”

Plebes are also expected to finish every sentence or greeting with a “Beat Navy” in the same way that an Army private adds “Hooah” to pretty much everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s an in-person meeting, e-mail, phone call, or text message. They better add “Beat Navy” to the end of whatever point they’re trying to make.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

Go team! Beat the other team!

(West Point)

In the end, it’s still a friendly game between the two academies. They’re only truly rivals for the 60 minutes of game time. The phrase is all about mutual respect and should never get twisted. Years down the line, when the cadets become full-fledged officers, they’ll meet shoulder-to-shoulder on the battlefield and joke about the games later.

The rivalry is tough — but isn’t it always that way between two siblings?

MIGHTY TRENDING

New multi-branch plan to improve military housing

The civilian and military leaders of the Air Force, Navy and Army attempted March 8, 2019, to convince skeptical senators that they are working aggressively — and effectively — to correct poorly maintained military housing that has left some homes coated in mold, infested with rodents and with other problems affecting health and safety.

“Our military families deserve good housing,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And when there’s a problem with a house, it should be fixed promptly and competently. Moreover, our airmen should be comfortable that they can identify problems without any fear of retaliation.”


Wilson was joined by Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper and Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer as well as the military chiefs of each service — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson.

Each was alternately contrite and outraged, apologizing for the not attacking the problem sooner but promising swift and decisive action. The responses followed blunt assessments from a number of senators.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson provide testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)

James Inhofe, R-Okla. and committee chairman, said reports of substandard housing are “heart wrenching.” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who is the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the current state of housing on some bases is the result of “systemic failures on the part of contractors and Department of Defense.”

The service secretaries and chiefs each acknowledged the problem.

“In too many cases, it is clear the private housing companies failed to uphold their end of the bargain, a failure that was enabled by the Army’s insufficient oversight,” Esper said. “We are determined to investigate these problems and to hold our housing contractors and chains of command … accountable.”

To underscore their response, leaders of each service described their services’ review of base housing. Wilson told senators that the Air Force completed its review on March 1 and that she personally visited housing at MacDill, Tinker and Shaw Air Force Bases. Goldfein saw housing and met families at Keesler and Maxwell AFBs.

Each found problems and substandard maintenance that “were very consistent with the testimony that you heard from the families that came forward,” Goldfein said. “And I’ll second what the secretary said, that the most concerning to me that I found was the breakdown in trust that we’ve got to rebuild.”

A major part of the corrective effort, the officials told senators, is creation of a tenant bill of rights. An early version of the document has been released. It provides service personnel who live in military housing more authority and stronger tools to alert the chain of command to problems and force action.

Foremost is the ability of renters to withhold payment if problems are properly reported to the private companies that manage the homes but are not addressed or resolved.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson provide testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Wayne Clark)

“Excitement in the near term based on hearings is interesting, not compelling,” Goldfein told senators. “We are going to have to keep our boot on the throat of the underperforming contractors and our command chain and leadership to make sure we get after this for the long term. And we’re committed to do so.”

How long it will take to enact the tenant bill of rights, however, is unclear. Spencer said it could take 90 days because it requires contacting each company that manages military housing to inform “and educate” them about new expectations and consequences for not complying.

Beyond the bill of rights and stronger commander involvement, the service secretaries and chiefs said they will work to ensure that base housing authorities are sufficiently staffed and trained. Wilson said she as part of her review, at bases where housing is well maintained and satisfaction ratings are high, the housing authority is strong.

“One of the bases that I went to was one that was rated as performing well and when you have a contract housing office where the contractor is performing well, we probably have enough people in that housing office,” Wilson said. “But when performance starts to slide that’s when it becomes overtaxed. So how we put the people back (to) give support to the base commanders where it’s really needed is … going to be the key decision point.”

Wilson, Goldfein and the other leaders also said that commanders must work harder to understand the state of housing on their bases and to respond aggressively and quickly. In addition, each secretary and service chief said there would be “zero tolerance” for retaliation when problems are reported.

“If people feel that if they act there will be retaliation, people will not act,” Wilson said.

When asked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to speak directly to active-duty service personnel who are living in substandard housing, Goldfein said the issue was a “mirror check” moment for him and other commanders.

7 stunning photos of Air Force spec ops planes getting ready for action

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein provide testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Wayne Clark)

“We have a moral obligation,” he said. “We are not going to stop until we have the system right and we can take care of all of them.”

The Air Force and other services are also looking at the terms of leases to determine if universal language might be used. They also are examining building codes and how building inspectors from local governments are used to ensure that safe and most up-to-date standards are used.

While the hearing was for the most part cordial, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., focused on the role that commanders play to ensure that rules and standards are enforced. She also said they must be more assertive in rejecting bonus payments to contractors that fail to meet high standards.

A contract can have “perfect language,” she said, but “If leaders don’t enforce the rules, at the end of the day, we’re not going to be delivering for our military personnel.”

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., agreed. “This is ultimately a commander responsibility.”

McSally should know. A retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot, McSally said her experience is that the record of commanders is “very patchwork.”

By the end of the 3-hour hearing, senators said they believe the actions and plans of the services are well designed and will make a difference.

But they also warned that their attention will not wane and that each of the services is expected to show real and lasting improvement.

“We will have another oversight hearing with the chairman’s blessing to see where the progress is,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said. “And I’m not talking about next year. I’m talking on fairly short intervals because if you look at this, this is not rocket science. We can fix this. And it starts by doing what every branch has said they’re going to do.”

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