On the 15th anniversary of the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, a startling new number was released: more than 1,000 first responders had died due to illnesses related to the ash and debris from the attack – and some 37,000 were sick at the time. Experts predicted that within five years from that 2016 milestone, more would have died from their illnesses than were killed at Ground Zero.
We are three years removed from that date, and the response from Congress has been woefully inadequate, as evidenced by the recent controversy in Congress sparked by Jon Stewart on behalf of 9/11 first responders. But even the response garnered by Stewart may not be enough for the tens of thousands of victims who could come forward in the next few years.
“Within the next five years we will be at the point where more people have died from World Trade Center-related illnesses than died from the immediate impact of the attacks,” said Dr. Jim Melius, a doctor at the New York State Laborers Union and health advisor to the Obama White House.
The attacks killed 2,977 people with 2,753 dying at the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan. The debris of those towers contained asbestos, lead, glass, poisonous chemicals, heavy metal toxins, oil, and jet fuel. The resulting dust was a menagerie of toxicity that coated throats, mouths, and lungs. Resulting diseases have included cancers, lung disease, digestive disorders, and even cognitive impairment on par with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The federal World Trade Center Health Program has 75,000 registered members with 87 percent of those who worked on rescue and recovery efforts on the ground that day. New York City residents and workers make up the rest of the list. In 2016, the number of registered people on the list who died of related cancers was 1,140. By 2017, that number was more than 2,000. The rate of cancers among first responders to the attacks is up to 30 percent higher than in the general population.
As of Sept. 2018, the number of dead from related illnesses was due to outpace those killed in the attack by the end of 2020 – and the rate of new cancer diagnoses in 9/11 first responders continues to grow.
White House officials are reportedly looking to schedule a second meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in New York City in September 2018, in an attempt to progress from the two leaders’ first summit in Singapore.
Trump and Kim pledged after their June 12, 2018 summit to work toward “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, but experts have criticized its vagueness and absence of language committing North Korea to the US’s goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” — which Pyongyang has routinely refused to carry out.
John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, said on July 1, 2018, that the US plans for North Korea to dismantle its chemical, biological, nuclear, and ballistic missile programs in a year’s time.
Trump could dangle a second meeting in New York as an incentive for North Korea to follow that timeline, officials told Axios.
(Airbus Defense and Space and 38 North)
Some North Korea experts, however, have questioned Pyongyang’s willingness to make good on Trump’s nuclear goals.
Satellite images taken nine days after the Singapore summit showed North Korea continuing to build on the infrastructure at a key nuclear reactor.
A senior US intelligence official also said that Pyongyang was continuing to “deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles.”
Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also told Axios that the Trump administration “needs to get a commitment to a full declaration” and have international experts in North Korea “sealing stuff and installing cameras” to ensure North Korea sticks to its promises.
If Kim does visit New York in September 2018, it will be the longest journey he has ever taken as North Korean leader.
In 2015, the standard issue service rifle for the Canadian Rangers got a much-needed upgrade. They were finally able to put away their well-worn Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifles, which were first issued in 1941.
A Canadian Ranger protecting mining facilities. (Department of National Defence photo)
Canada’s Rangers are a reserve unit that operates in the Canadian Arctic. It’s made up of 5,000 of Canada’s finest outdoorsmen and features a roster of heavily Inuit and other First Nations peoples. They conduct sovereignty patrols and maintain early warning system sites, giving Canada a military presence in the increasingly militarized (but still desolate) Arctic areas.
First formed in 1947, the Canadian Rangers’ intimate knowledge of their home turf allows them to act as guides and trainers for special forces units. During World War II, the Lee-Enfield was the standard issue rifle for British and Commonwealth troops. After the war, the abundance of the rifles made it easy to equip new units with the rifle.
Why would one of the Marine Corps’ biggest heroes be uninvited from the Marine Corps Ball in Afghanistan? That question has been circulating online over the last few days – and the reason might make you go high and to the right.
Sergeant Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 8, 2009, during the Battle of Ganjgal, in which five Americans and eight Afghan security personnel were killed in action. Meyer made five runs into enemy fire to evacuate wounded personnel and recover the bodies of American KIAs.
For this year’s Marine Corps Ball held to celebrate the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, Meyer had been invited to attend in Afghanistan, where he had served with Embedded Training Team 2-8. According to a report by tribunist.com, the celebration was to be held at the American embassy in Kabul due to security concerns. Such concerns are valid, as last week a murder-suicide bombing at Bagram Air Base left four Americans dead and wounded 17 others.
According to tribunist.com, Meyer’s invite was reportedly rescinded at the direction of Amb. P. Michael McKinley over Meyer’s “political views.” On his Facebook page, Meyer has been vocally critical of the Obama Administration on a number of issues, including a push for additional gun control laws.
Meyer’s wife, Bristol Palin, is also the daughter of former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
“It’s disheartening that he’s using the Marine Corps Ball as a chance to be petty and political. It’s disheartening that he’s using the Marine Corps Ball as a chance be petty and political. This should be beyond politics and a time for him to support the men and women who defend he and his staff at the embassy,” Meyer told the Tribunist.
,On his Facebook page, Meyer posted a link to the site’s article, adding the comment, “I want to make sure the Marines in Afghanistan know I really wanted to join them for our birthday, but politics got in the way. Let me know when you guys get back in country and we’ll rock out then!”
VA Secretary David Shulkin suggests he favors expansion of Agent Orange-related health care and disability compensation to new categories of ailing veterans but that factors, like cost, medical science, and politics, still stand in the way.
Shulkin told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on March 21, 2018, that he made recommendations to White House budget officials in 2017 on whether to add up to four more conditions — bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like tremors, and hypertension (high blood pressure) — to the VA list of 14 illnesses presumed caused by exposure to herbicides used during the Vietnam War.
“I have transmitted my recommendations to the [White House’s] Office of Management and Budget. I did that by Nov. 1, 2017, Shulkin said. “And we are in the process right now of going through this data. In fact, we met with [OMB officials] on March 26, 2018. They asked for some additional data to be able to work through the process and be able to get financial estimates for this. So, we are committed to working with OMB to get this resolved in the very near future.”
Shulkin didn’t say which of the four conditions, if any, he wants added to the presumptive list, if and when cleared by the White House.
At the same hearing, the VA chief was asked his position on Blue Water Navy veterans of the Vietnam War who also suffer from illnesses on the VA presumptive list but aren’t eligible to use it to facilitate claims for care and compensation.
They “have waited too long for this,” Shulkin agreed, but then suggested the solution for these veterans is blocked by medical evidence or swings on the will of the Congress.
“I would like to try to find a way where we can resolve that issue for them, rather than make them continue to wait,” Shulkin said. “I do not believe there will be scientific data [to] give us a clear answer like we do have on the Agent Orange presumptive” list for veterans who had served in-country. “For the Blue Water Navy… epidemiologic studies just aren’t available from everything I can see. So, we’re going to have to sit down and do what we think is right for these veterans.”
Vietnam veterans who served even a day in-country who have illnesses on the presumptive list can qualify for VA medical care and disability compensation without having to show other evidence that their ailments are service-connected.
Shulkin said VA “recently” received the last report of the National Academy of Medicine, which found a stronger scientific association than earlier studies between certain ailments and herbicide exposure. In fact, however, the VA has had the report, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014, for two years.
It was written by a committee of medical experts that reviewed medical and scientific literature on select ailments and herbicide exposure published from Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2014. Released in March 2016, the report found evidence to support raising the strength of association between herbicide exposure and bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. The report upgrades the link from “inadequate or insufficient” evidence to “limited or suggestive” evidence of an association.
In years past, VA decided that for some ailments, such as Parkinson’s and ischemic heart disease, “limited or suggestive evidence” was enough to add these illnesses to the Agent Orange presumptive list. For others, including hypertension, a more common disease of aging, VA deemed it wasn’t enough.
This last NAM report, however, looked again at cardiovascular conditions and herbicide exposure. It didn’t upgrade the link to heart ailments but it did affirm limited or suggestive evidence that hypertension is linked to herbicide exposure.
It also studied whether Parkinson’s-like symptoms should fall into the same limited or suggestive category as Parkinson’s disease itself. The 2016 report found “no rational basis” to continue to exclude Parkinson-like symptoms from the same risk category. Parkinson’s disease itself was added to presumptive list in 2010.
VA secretaries under both the Obama and Trump administration reacted more slowly on the last NAM perhaps, by law, they could. Congress in 2015 let a portion of the Agent Orange law expire, language that required the VA Secretary to decide on new presumptive conditions within 180 days of accepting a NAM report.
The impact was immediate. Though a senior VA official tasked with reviewing this last NAM report said then-VA Secretary Bob McDonald would make his decisions within three months, it didn’t happen. McDonald left it to his successor. Shulkin waited more months and, in July 2017, vowed to decide by Nov. 1, 2017 OMB blocked an announcement, however, presumably over projected costs.
Cost has been a factor, too, in Congress not passing legislation to extend VA benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans diagnosed with illnesses on the presumptive list. Budget analysts a few years ago estimated a cost of $1.1 billion over 10 years.
Also, NAM did conduct a review of medical and scientific evidence regarding Blue Water Veterans’ possible exposure to herbicides and concluded in a May 2011 report that “there was not enough information… to determine whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange.”
Blue Water Veterans remain ineligible to use the Agent Orange presumptive list. A lone exception is granted for veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Vietnam veterans with this ailment may be granted service-connection without showing inland waterway service or that they set foot in-country.
In every session of Congress, going back years, Blue Water Navy bills have been introduced. They would, if passed, “include as part of the Republic of Vietnam its territorial seas for purposes of the presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure [to] herbicide agents while in Vietnam.”
The current House version of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299), introduced in January 2017 by Rep. David Valado (R-Ga.), has 327 co-sponsors. Yet prospects of passage remain dim. Valado reminded Shulkin at a mid-March 2018 hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee that, six months ago, Shulkin said he was seeking more recommendations from “subject matter experts” on the issue and would be ready to update Congress in the coming months.
“Have you come to a decision on Blue Water Navy veterans?”
“I am aligned with you that these veterans have waited too long,” Shulkin said, “and this is a responsibility that this country has. And, as our veterans get older, it’s unfair.…I believe it is imperative upon us to resolve this issue.
“I also believe,” Shulkin continued, “that there will not be strong scientific data to help resolve this,” in other words to justify benefit expansion. “This is going to be an obligation that we feel as a country, that these veterans shouldn’t be waiting any longer. And I am on the side of trying to find a way to resolve this for the Blue Water Navy veterans.”
Shulkin said his staff is “working hard to look at offsets” which means cuts to other parts of the VA budget to pay for Blue Water Navy benefits, or to find “other ways to be able to do that. And it is a high priority for us.”
Reminded by Valado that “with these types of cancers, time is of the essence,” Shulkin replied, “Absolutely.”
The Senate version of Blue Water legislation, S 422, was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has 49 co-sponsors and, so far, equally dim prospects of passage.
On D-Day, Richard Todd was one of the paratroopers who took part in the capture of Pegasus Bridge. Todd had parachuted in after the original assault and helped reinforce the British Army’s Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry led by Maj. John Howard.
Little did Todd know at the time that he would find himself portraying that same British commander when legendary director Daryl Zanuck was making Cornelius Ryan’s book “The Longest Day” into an epic movie.
Imdb.com reports that Todd was very nearly killed on D-Day. He had been assigned to a new plane. The switch was a fortunate one since his original transport was shot down by the Nazis, killing all aboard. A 2004 article by the London Guardian reported that Todd’s D-Day involved making his way to Pegasus Bridge, reinforcing Howard’s unit, and helping to fend off German attacks on the bridge while under Howard’s command until seaborne forces linked up with the paratroopers.
Todd never discussed his actions on D-Day. However, in his memoirs, “Caught in the Act,” he would write, “There was no cessation in the Germans’ probing with patrols and counter-attacks, some led by tanks, and the regimental aid post was overrun in the early hours. The wounded being tended there were all killed where they lay. There was sporadic enemy mortar and artillery fire we could do nothing about. One shell landed in a hedge near me, killing a couple of our men.”
By 1962, Richard Todd had become a well-known actor, with his most notable role having been Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the 1954 movie, “The Dam Busters.” Todd had also starred in “D-Day, the Sixth of June” three years later as the leader of a commando group sent to take out German guns.
When he was asked to play himself in “The Longest Day,” he demurred, admitting his own role in the invasion had been a small part. The London Telegraph quoted him as saying, “I did not do anything special that would make a good sequence.” Zanuck, determined to have Todd in the film, cast him as Howard instead.
“The Longest Day” was one of Todd’s last big roles, as British cinema moved in a very different direction in the 1960s. He still found work acting, narrating the series “Wings over the World” for AE Television and appearing in several “Doctor Who” episodes, among other roles.
Todd would die on Dec. 3, 2009, after having been named a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1993. Below is the trailer for “The Longest Day.”
Novichok, the powerful nerve agent that British Prime Minister Theresa May says was used in the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, means “newcomer” in Russian. But the military-grade chemical is anything but.
Developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, novichoks are a group of advanced nerve agents designed to circumvent chemical weapons treaties and penetrate protective gear used by NATO forces.
They are made of two nontoxic components that become lethal only when mixed together, making them difficult to detect and relatively safe and easy to transport and store. Once mixed, however, they are believed to be five to eight times more potent than the notorious nerve agent VX.
Dan Kaszeta, a London-based expert in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRN), said on Twitter that novichoks were “specifically developed to evade the West/NATO’s detection capabilities and foil intelligence collection efforts.”
Russia has vehemently denied any connection to the attack, which has left the 66-year-old Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter in a “critical but stable condition” at a Salisbury hospital after being exposed to the chemical on March 4, 2018.
‘Enough to kill tens of millions’
Novichoks gained notoriety in the early 1990s when Soviet scientist Vil Mirzayanov revealed that the country had secretly developed the powerful binary nerve gas that is believed to take effect rapidly by penetrating through the skin and respiratory system.
Mirzayanov, a chemist, told The New York Times in 1994 that the Russian stockpile of chemical weapons, some 60,000 tons, “would be enough to kill tens of millions.”
Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former head of Britain’s Chemical, Biological, Radiation, and Nuclear regiment, told the Daily Express that novichoks are “designed to be undetectable for any standard chemical security testing.”
“Skripal would only have needed to touch it, as he opened a parcel, for it to be absorbed into his bloodstream,” he said.
Despite the fact that novichoks were not developed in large quantities, de Bretton-Gordon said the Russians may have enough of them to kill several hundred thousand people.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee sharply criticized the Navy’s failures with the new USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, saying that these missteps “ought to be criminal.”
During the confirmation hearing for Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, who is set to become the next chief of naval operations, Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, unleashed a string of criticisms about the first ship of the Navy’s Ford-class carriers.
“The ship was accepted by the Navy incomplete, nearly two years late, two and a half billion dollars over budget, and nine of eleven weapons still don’t work with costs continuing to grow,” the senator said.
“The Ford was awarded to a sole-source contractor,” which was asked to incorporate immature technologies “that had next to no testing, had never been integrated on a ship — a new radar, catapult, arresting gear, and the weapons elevators,” he continued, adding that the Navy entered into this contract “without understanding the technical risk, the cost, or the schedules.”
“This ought to be criminal,” he said, further criticizing what he called the Navy’s “arrogance.”
The cost of the USS Gerald R. Ford, according to the latest report to Congress, has ballooned to just over billion, well over budget, and when the ship completes post-sea trial maintenance and is returned to the fleet in October — it was initially supposed to return in July but was delayed — it still won’t be working properly.
Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer bet his job on a promise to President Trump that the advanced weapons elevators would be ready to go by the end of the current maintenance period, but the Navy has already said that is not going to happen.
Only a handful of the advanced weapons elevators, a critical internal system required to move weapons to the flight deck, increase aircraft sortie rates and increase the overall lethality of the ship will be operational when the USS Gerald R. Ford returns to the fleet this fall.
The Navy has had to call in outside experts to try to find a solution to this particular problem.
See What Life Is Like On A US Navy Carrier | Military Insider
Gilday, who was asked to comment seeing that this issue “is going to be dumped in your lap,” as the senator explained, assured Inhofe that if he is confirmed as the Navy’s next top admiral, he will push the service to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted.
“I share your concern,” he told the senator, explaining that the current status is unacceptable. “We need all 11 elevators working in order to give us the kind of redundancy and combat readiness that the American taxpayer has invested in this ship.”
“We’ve had 23 new technologies introduced on that ship,” he added. “Of those, four were immature when we commissioned Ford in 2017. We have seen progress in the launching system, the arresting gear and also with the dual-band radar. The reliability of those systems is trending in the right direction and actually where we want to be based on the last at-sea testing.”
Gilday characterized the elevators as the last remaining “hurdle” to getting the Ford out to sea.
He assured lawmakers that the Navy will take the lessons of the Ford and apply them to not only all future Ford-class carriers, but also the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North Korea could launch a full-blown nuclear strike on the US as early as July 23, 2018, according to a prediction from Britain’s Ministry of Defense.
A government minister gave the assessment to a parliamentary committee in early 2018 as part of its efforts to assess Kim Jong Un’s ability to precipitate a nuclear war.
Lord Howe, a British defense minister, told parliament’s Defense Committee that the Defense Ministry thought North Korea would be fully nuclear-capable within “six to 18 months.”
The statements, made at a Jan. 23 hearing, were published April 5, 2018, in a committee report on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The earliest possible date for a strike in Howe’s time frame is July 23, 2018; the far estimate is the same date in 2019.
The Defense Ministry on April 5, 2018, told Business Insider it stood by the dates.
“We judge that they are now certainly capable of reaching targets in the short range, by which I mean Japan, South Korea — obviously — and adjoining territories,” Howe told MPs. “Our judgment is that it will probably be six to 18 months before they have an ICBM capability that is capable of reaching the coast of the United States or indeed ourselves.”
(Photo from KCNA)
North Korea tested multiple nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017. Based on the tests, experts said North Korea could probably get a missile to hit the US mainland — but still lacked the technology to carry a heavy nuclear warhead that far.
The Defense Ministry believes the country is now working on that technology; attaching a nuclear weapon to an ICBM would allow North Korea to carry out a nuclear strike in most of the world.
“A nuclear strike capability depends on marrying up the ballistic missile with the warhead, and that is, we judge, work in progress,” Howe said.
The Defense Ministry confirmed Howe’s assessment on April 5, 2018.
“We stand by our defense minister’s comments,” a spokesman told Business Insider.
Though there appears to be a growing rapprochement between North Korea and the US, Pyongyang appears to be preparing a satellite launch that could ruin the coming discussions with US President Donald Trump.
North Korea has scuppered multiple talks about disarmament by launching satellites in the past.
The Taliban are seizing new territory, civilian casualties and US military deaths are once more on the rise, and insider attacks on American and Afghan forces have more than doubled this year. That’s the grim reckoning of a US inspector general’s report released Oct. 26 even as the Pentagon and allied forces seek to implement President Trump’s strategy for the 16-year-old conflict.
The central government in Kabul has ceded more territory to the Taliban since the early days of the Afghanistan War, with the terrorist group now in full or partial control of 54 of the country’s districts, according to the latest quarterly survey to Congress from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
The report contains sobering findings for Mr. Trump and his generals, even as the parallel war against Islamic State and other radical terrorist movements in Syria and Iraq has made significant gains this year.
The Taliban, which are mainly concentrated within the eastern and southern segments of the country, claimed control of nine districts previously held by government forces over the past six months. As a result, more than 3.7 million Afghans, or just over 11 percent of the country’s entire population, now live under the radical Islamist movement’s control, the SIGAR inspectors found.
Those gains come despite a marked uptick in US combat operations in Afghanistan, where American and allied forces executed more airstrikes against Taliban and Islamic State strongholds in the country than in any year since 2014. US and NATO forces carried out 2,400 airstrikes during an eight-month period this year against insurgent targets tied to the Taliban and forces loyal to Islamic State’s Afghan cell.
American and allied forces executed over 700 airstrikes against insurgent targets in Afghanistan in September alone, in line with the hard-line wartime strategy for Afghanistan that Mr. Trump outlined in August.
“Afghanistan is at a crossroads,” said SIGAR head John F. Sopko. “President Donald Trump’s new strategy has clarified that the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorosan will not cause the United States to leave. At the same time, the strategy requires the Afghan government to set the conditions that would allow America to stay the course.”
The downbeat SIGAR findings — its 37th quarterly survey of the war — come amid reports that the US military has begun to restrict the information flow on the war as the conflict grinds on. The New York Times reported this week that the Pentagon has stopped providing figures on the size of the Afghan security and police forces, the state of their equipment, and Afghan casualty figures.
The Pentagon told the newspaper that the information was being withheld at the request of the Afghan government, but even the SIGAR report released this week revealed that the Afghan army and the national police force had a net loss of manpower in the most recent reporting period.
Roughly 3,900 more US troops are being funneled into Afghanistan to support the 8,400 soldiers, sailors, and Marines already there, with a majority supporting the NATO-led adviser mission dubbed Operation Resolute Support. Other American troops, mostly special operations units, are conducting counter-terrorism missions against the Taliban and Islamic State under a separate mission.
Mr. Trump’s blueprint abandons the timeline-based approach to the American mission in Afghanistan in favor of a “conditions based” strategy. Administration critics claim the decision will effectively restart US-led combat operations in Afghanistan, which officially ended in late 2014 under President Obama and draw the US into an open-ended conflict.
While officials in the Pentagon and their counterparts in the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani claim the shift will provide much-needed reassurance to the Afghan Security Forces, the situation on the ground shows that fight will likely be much tougher than anticipated.
Despite the uptick in US action, the Taliban continue to carry out high-profile attacks, including some in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital.
Roughly 90 people were killed and over 400 wounded, including 11 American contractors, in a brazen suicide attack on the German Embassy in Kabul in May. The attack was one of the worst to hit the capital since US and NATO forces ended combat operations in the country in 2014.
On Oct. 31, four people were killed and 13 wounded in a suicide attack inside the “green zone” — the heavily fortified sector in central Kabul that is home to the US Embassy and the Afghan presidential palace. Members of ISIS-K carried out the Oct. 31 attack, according to reports from Amaq news agency, the main social media propaganda network for Islamic State.
When the US ended combat operations three years ago, the Ghani government held roughly 60 percent of the country, according to government-led analysis, as well as reviews by private-sector analysts.
But those gains appear to be slipping from Kabul’s grasp, and the Taliban’s gains in the country over the past six months have taken a toll on the country’s military.
Battlefield casualties continue to increase among the ranks of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, while Kabul continues to combat high levels of attrition among the country’s armed forces. The Afghan army’s ranks have dropped by 4,000 troops and the national police lost 5,000 people, according to SIGAR’s latest findings.
By contrast, the Taliban continue to show signs of strength within their traditional base in the southern and eastern parts of the country, but also in northern and western Afghanistan, where they had not had significant sway in the past.
Hundreds of Taliban fighters amassed in the western Afghanistan’s Farah province during a show of force in October. The gathering, posted as part of the group’s propaganda videos, showed the Afghan jihadis assembling in broad daylight without fear of being targeted by Afghan and coalition forces, according to analysis by the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
In a rare interview with The Guardian, senior Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Saeed said Washington’s new aggressive approach would not be enough to turn the tide against the group.
Since “150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us,” the 4,000 troops Mr. Trump has authorized “will not change the morale of our mujahedeen,” Mullah Saeed said. “The Americans were walking in our villages, and we pushed them out.”
He said the Taliban would consider a peace deal, but only on the condition that the “foreigners must leave, and the constitution must be changed to [Islamic] Shariah law.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Photo from US State Department.
Peace talks, possibly including the Taliban, have also been a key part in the White House’s Afghanistan strategy. On Nov. 1, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson reiterated that the administration was open to peace talks with the Taliban, though not with Islamic State elements in Afghanistan.
“There are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever,” Mr. Tillerson said during his unannounced visit to Kabul.
“We are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government,” the top US diplomat added.
Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to hold peace talks with the Taliban in 2013, coinciding with the Taliban’s unprecedented move to open a political office in Doha that year. At the time, officials in the Obama administration saw the potential talks as a vehicle to help accelerate the withdrawal of US forces from the country by 2014. But Pakistan’s decision to withdraw from the talks eventually scuttled any effort to reach a deal with the terrorist group.
Featured Image: 1st Sgt. David W. Christopher and Army Staff Sgt. Gordon M. Campbell stand by after setting fire to a Taliban shelter along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. (Army photo by Spc. Matthew Leary)
The first American service member to die while fighting ISIS “fearlessly exposed himself” to heavy small arms fire during a raid on a militant prison complex in October 2015, according to the citation for his Silver Star award.
The award for Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a team leader with the Army’s elite Delta Force, was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Business Insider.
The Army released few details of the circumstances of Wheeler’s death in 2015, and the Pentagon’s website listing valor awards was quietly updated to reflect a Silver Star award, which he received posthumously the following month.
Wheeler, 39, was part of a raid at a prison in Hawijah, Iraq on Oct. 22, 2015 that was carried out by US-backed Kurdish forces. The mission saved roughly 70 prisoners the US feared would be executed the next day, according to The Washington Post.
Though the citation gives a broad overview of Wheeler’s heroism, it does not delve into specifics. Still, it said, “Wheeler fearlessly exposed himself to heavy small arms fire from barricaded enemy positions. His selfless actions were critical in achieving the initiative during the most dangerous portion of the raid.”
It also said that Wheeler’s actions saved the lives of the partner force, better known as the Kurdish Peshmerga. He was killed at some point during the raid by small arms fire. Three Kurdish soldiers were wounded.
“This is someone who saw the team that he was advising and assisting coming under attack,” then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters the day after his death. “And he rushed to … to help them and made it possible for them to be effective. And in doing that, lost his own life. That’s why I’m proud of him.”
Wheeler was the first US service member killed in action against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, challenging the narrative put forth by the Obama administration that American troops would not be put on the ground in Iraq or Syria.
The 20-year Army veteran had deployed a whopping 14 times over his career, first as a Ranger, then later as a Special Forces soldier assigned to US Special Operations Command. In addition to receiving the Silver Star and Purple Heart after his death, Wheeler was the recipient of 11 Bronze Star medals — four for valor in combat — the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal (also for valor), and many others.
So far, there have been 10 US deaths attributed to hostile fire in the campaign against ISIS, known as Operation Inherent Resolve. Another 48 troops have been wounded in action.
While the prospect of negotiations between North Korea and the US are beginning to look very promising, experts say there is “no way” North Korea trusts the US and would ever sign off on its nuclear weapons program.
Early March 2018, South Korean president’s office, the Blue House, announced that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was willing to abandon his country’s nuclear arms if certain conditions were met. The Blue House also said North Korea would suspend provocations, like nuclear and missile testing, during negotiations.
After meeting with South Korean officials, President Donald Trump seemed optimistic about the North’s proposal, and agreed to meet with Kim by May 2018, with the potential to discuss denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
However, experts remain skeptical of North Korea’s pledges to halt its nuclear weapons development.
John Mearsheimer, co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago, said there is “no way” North Korea could trust the US enough to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons,” Mearsheimer said at a lecture hosted by the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies in Seoul on March 20, 2018, according to Yonhap. “The reason is that in international politics, you could never trust anybody because you cannot be certain of what their intentions are.”
Mearsheimer said that “there’s no way North Koreans can trust the U.S.” when it comes to a denuclearization deal. He cited examples of the US’ unsuccessful denuclearization deals in the Middle East, including Muammar Gaddafi who gave up Libya’s chemical weapons and was killed less than a decade later.
“If you were North Koreans, would you trust Donald Trump? Would you trust any American presidents?”
Mearsheimer added that there was no country that “needs nuclear weapons more than North Korea,” in order to protect its leader. While the US has not explicitly stated its intention to pursue a regime change in the North, Trump and his administration have certainly alluded to the possibility.
Mearsheimer added that North Korea was even less likely to give up their weapons in the current climate.
“Give up their nuclear weapons? I don’t think so, especially as security competition heats up in East Asia. You wanna hang on to those weapons.”
China recently made history as the first country besides the US to field stealth aircraft with its J-20 fighter, but reports from its regional rival, India, indicate that it may want to go back to the drawing board.
The Indian Defense Research Wing says its Russian-made Su-30MKI fighter jets can spot the supposedly-stealth J-20s, and has already observed them in flight.
India has been basing its Su-30MKIs in the northern part of the country to counter China’s deployments of J-20s, which struggle to take off in the high altitudes near Tibet, Zee News reported.
The Su-30MKI represents a new and effective Russian jet with an advanced array of radars that Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute told Business Insider could probably spot the J-20.
“It is entirely possible that the Su-30MKI can pick up track information on J-20 from quite long ranges,” Bronk said. “But what I would expect is that those tracks may be fairly intermittent and dependent on what headings the J-20 is flying on relative to the Sukhoi trying to detect it.”
Bronk explained that unlike the US’s F-22 and F-35 stealth jets, the J-20 doesn’t have all-aspect stealth. This means that from some angles, the J-20 isn’t stealthy. A senior stealth scientist previously told Business Insider the J-20 is stealthiest from the front end.
If China was flying the J-20s in any direction besides towards India, the Su-30MKI radars could have been spotting the jets from their more vulnerable sides.
“Also, it is possible that the Chinese are flying the J-20 with radar reflectors attached to enlarge and conceal its true radar cross section during peacetime operations — just as the USAF routinely does with the F-22 and F-35,” said Bronk.
For safety and training purposes, stealth aircraft often fly with markers that destroy their stealth during peacetime maneuvers.
If this is the case with the J-20s, then India may be in for an unpleasant surprise next time it tries to track the supposedly stealth jets.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.