After a 60 year battle, Air Force Veteran Helen Grace James is finally given her long awaited — and well-deserved — honorable discharge.
In 1955, America was in the depths of the Lavender Scare — a time when homosexuals were fired in the United States Government — and Airman Second Class Helen Grace James was taken into custody for suspicion of being gay. She was one of thousands targeted during the nation’s witch hunt.
After hours of interrogation, she was told that if she did not sign the documents initiating her discharge, OSI (the Office of Special Investigations — kind of like the FBI for the Air Force) would “out her” to her family and friends. She told The Washington Post, “When they threatened to go to my parents, I just said that was it,” and so, under that duress, she signed the documents and ultimately ended her military career.
In the 1960s she managed to change her status as “undesirable” to “general discharge under horrible conditions.” Despite the upgrade, her status still caused her difficulties. “I tried to get USAA coverage for insurance, and they said ‘No, you can’t be a member, because you don’t have an honorable discharge. I [couldn’t] be buried in a national cemetery either,” she recalled to NBC.
And so, at the age of 90, she finally decided to apply for the “honorable” discharge upgrade with the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records. After a series of delays, James filed a lawsuit and on Jan. 24, 2018, was finally granted her honorable discharge.
For more than six decades, James has been discriminated against by the military for who she is and at long last can rest, vindicated.
“I’m still trying to process it. It was both joy and shock. It was really true. It was really going to be an ‘honorable discharge.'”
The Department of Defense listed his hometown as Juneau. But Sims’ sister-in-law Trisha Sims said he grew up in Skagway and graduated from school there. Sims’ parents briefly lived in Juneau around the time that he joined the military, Trisha Sims said.
Sims was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 160 Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. The unit is known as the “Night Stalkers.”
He was a decorated veteran of numerous overseas operations in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, according to his biography. His awards included an Air Medal and a Joint Service Commendation Medal.
“Jacob lived by a creed that few understand and even fewer embody,” said Colonel Philip Ryan, the commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. “He will not be forgotten and his legacy will endure through his family, friends, and fellow Night Stalkers.”
Alaska Governor Bill Walker on Oct. 29 ordered that US and Alaska flags be lowered to half-staff in honor of Sims.
“Chief Warrant Officer Sims and his family made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us,” Walker said in a statement. “Byron, Toni, Donna, and I are holding his parents, his wife, and his children in our daily prayers. While our state and our country lost a dedicated soldier, they lost their son, husband and father. Our military service members put themselves on the line in defense of the values we hold dear. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
The United States and Iran have traded warnings over U.S. efforts to block Iran’s oil exports, with Tehran suggesting that it could retaliate by blocking oil tankers from leaving the Persian Gulf.
The exchange began on July 4, 2018 when Iranian President Hassan Rohani, while visiting with Austria’s leader in Vienna, hinted that Tehran will block shipments of oil from neighboring Persian Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Iraq in response to the U.S. sanctions plan.
“The Americans say they want to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero…. It shows they have not thought about its consequences,” Rohani said.
That comment prompted a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander to praise Rohani and say the elite military group is ready to carry out his policy.
“I kiss your hand for expressing such wise and timely comments, and I am at your service to implement any policy that serves the Islamic republic,” Major General Qassem Soleimani said in a letter to Rohani published by state news agency IRNA.
Major General Qasem Soleimani
Rohani was responding to a U.S. warning that Washington has told countries around the world that they must halt all imports of Iranian oil when U.S. sanctions against Iran go into effect on November 4, 2018, or face the possibility of U.S. financial penalties.
Rohani did not elaborate on his remarks, but Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway at the tip of the Persian Gulf through which a large share of the world’s oil shipments pass, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action against Iran.
The Pentagon responded to the Iranian rhetoric with a vow to keep the critical waterway open.
Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, told the Associated Press on July 4, 2018, that the U.S. Navy and regional allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”
Rohani while in Vienna called the U.S. effort to block Iran’s critical oil exports — which are the economy’s main driver and source of revenues — along with other looming U.S. sanctions “crime and aggression,” and he called on European leaders to resist them.
President Hassan Rohani
Rohani warned that European leaders must “guarantee” that Iran continues to enjoy the benefits of its nuclear deal with world powers — including the freeing up of Iranian oil exports after global sanctions were lifted in 2016 — or Iran may walk away from the deal like the United States did in May 2018.
The leaders of Germany, Britain, and France — the three European signatories to the nuclear deal — have vowed to keep honoring the deal, but they have said that the looming U.S. sanctions make it difficult for them to give Tehran guarantees.
The United States also is pressuring Japan and other major buyers of Iranian crude oil in Asia to stop such imports.
But Kyodo news agency reported on July 4, 2018, that Tokyo has informed Washington that it cannot further cut or halt crude imports from Iran without harming Japan’s economy.
At the same time, Kyodo reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has abandoned his plans to visit Iran this summer in light of Washington’s sanctions push against Iran.
Its vulnerability reminded me of a conversation I had two years ago, at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon with cybersecurity investor Sergey Gribov of Flint Capital. He was talking up one of his investments, an industrial cybersecurity firm based in Israel called CyberX. Half-bored, I girded myself for his pitch. They usually go like this: “The internet is full of hackers! They want to steal your data and your money! If only companies used my company’s awesome product, we would all be safe!”
I have heard hundreds of pitches like this.
But my conversation with Gribov was different. It was … extreme. The criminals who break into the web sites of banks or chainstores and steal personal data or money are not the scariest people out there, he told me. The hackers we really ought to be worrying about are the ones trying to take entire countries offline. People who are trying to take down the internet, switch the lights off, cut the water supply, disable railways, or blow up factories.
The West’s weakness is in the older electronics and sensors that control processes in infrastructure and industry. Often these electronics were installed decades ago. The security systems controlling them are ancient or non-existent. If a hacker can gain control of a temperature sensor in a factory, he — they’re usually men — can blow the place up, or set it on fire. “The problem people don’t realise is it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. You can take down a whole country. It can be done,” he said.
And then, how do you respond? Does the country that was attacked — the one struggling to get its power grid back online — launch nukes? Probably not, he said, because “you have no idea who did it.”
“You can have a team of five people sitting in a basement and be just as devastating as WMDs,” he said. “It’s really scary. In some sense it’s a matter of time because it’s really easy.”
At the time, I discounted my conversation with Gribov. His VC fund was invested in CyberX, so he had an obvious interest in propagating the idea that the world is full of bad guys.
But in the years since we talked, two unnerving things happened.
In December 2017, three men pleaded guilty to causing the largest internet outage in history – a distributed “denial of service” attack that blacked out the web across most of the US and large chunks of Northern Europe for about 12 hours. They had disabled Dyn, a company that provides Domain Name System (DNS) services — the web’s directory of addresses, basically — to much of the internet.
“Someone is learning how to take down the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, the CTO of IBM Resilient believes
Both attacks were conducted by relatively unsophisticated actors. The Dyn attack was done by three young men who had created some software that they merely hoped would disable a competitor’s company, until it got out of control. The Mauritania attack was probably done by the government of neighbouring Sierra Leone, which was trying to manipulate local election results by crippling the media.
Three major power suppliers simultaneously taken over by hackers
Next, I talked to Nir Giller, cofounder and CTO of CyberX. He pointed me to the December 2015 blackout in Ukraine, in which three major power suppliers were simultaneously taken over by hackers. The hackers gained remote control of the stations’ dashboards, and manually switched off about 60 substations, leaving 230,000 Ukrainians in the cold and dark for six straight hours.
“It’s a new weapon,” Giller says. “It wasn’t an accident. It was a sophisticated, well-coordinated attack.”
The fact that the hackers targeted a power station was telling. The biggest vulnerabilities in Western infrastructure are older facilities, Giller believes. Factories, energy plants, and water companies all operate using machinery that is often very old. New devices and software are installed alongside the older machinery, often to control or monitor it. This is what the industrial “internet of things” looks like. Hackers don’t need to control an entire plant, the way they did in Ukraine. They only need to control an individual sensor on a single machine. “In the best-case scenario you have to get rid of a batch” of product, Giller says. “In the worst case, it’s medicine that is not supervised or produced correctly.”
CyberX has done work for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in California. It claims to be the largest seawater desalination plant in the US. And it serves an area prone to annual droughts. Giller declined to say exactly how CyberX protects the plant but the implication of the company’s work is clear — before CyberX showed up, it was pretty easy to shut down the water supply to about 400,000 people in San Diego.
2010 was the year that cybersecurity experts really woke up to the idea that you could take down infrastructure, not just individual companies or web sites. That was the year the Stuxnet virus was deployed to take down the Iranian nuclear program.
“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking”
The principle behind Stuxnet was simple: Like all software viruses, it copied and sent itself to as many computers running Microsoft Windows as it possibly could, invisibly infecting hundreds of thousands of operating systems worldwide. Once installed, Stuxnet looked for Siemens Step7 industrial software. If it found some, Stuxnet then asked itself a question: “Is this software operating a centrifuge that spins at the exact frequency of an Iranian nuclear power plant that is enriching uranium to create nuclear weapons?” If the answer was “yes,” Stuxnet changed the data coming from the centrifuges, giving their operators false information. The centrifuges stopped working properly. And one-fifth of the Iranian nuclear program’s enrichment facilities were ruined.
“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking,” Giller says.
Groundbreaking, but extremely sophisticated. Some experts believe that the designers of Stuxnet would need access to Microsoft’s original source code — something that only a government like the US or Israel could command.
Russia is another state actor that is growing its anti-infrastructure resources. In April 2017 the US FBI and the British security services warned that Russia had seeded UK wifi routers — the little boxes that serve wireless internet in your living room — with a hack that can read all the internet traffic going through them. It’s not that Vladimir Putin wants to see what you’re looking at on Pornhub. Rather, “What they’re doing there is building capability,” says Andrew Tsonchev, the director of technology at Darktrace Industrial, a London-based cybersecurity firm that specialises in artificially intelligent, proactive security. “They’re building that and investing in that so they can launch attacks from it across the world if and when they need to.”
A simple extortion device disabled Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon
Then, in 2017, the Wannacry virus attack happened. Like Stuxnet, Wannacry also spread itself through the Microsoft Windows ecosystem. Once activated, it locked up a user’s computer and demanded a ransom in bitcoin if the user wanted their data back. It was intended as a way to extort money from people at scale. The Wannacry malware was too successful, however. It affected so many computers at once that it drew attention to itself, and was quickly disabled by a security researcher (who ironically was later accused of being the creator of yet another type of malware).
During its brief life, Wannacry became most infamous for disabling hundreds of computers used by Britain’s National Health Service, and was at one point a serious threat to the UK’s ability to deliver healthcare in some hospitals.
The fact that a simple extortion device could disable Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon did not go unnoticed. Previously, something like Stuxnet needed the sophistication of a nation-state. But Wannacry looked like something you could create in your bedroom.
A screenshot shows a WannaCry ransomware demand.
Tsonchev told Business Insider that Wannacry changed the culture among serious black-hat hackers.
“It managed to swoop across, and burn down huge sectors in different countries for a bit,” he says. “In the course of that, the shipping industry got hit. We had people like Maersk, and other shipping terminals and operators, they went down for a day or two. What happened is the ransomware managed to get into these port terminals and the harbours that control shipping … that intrigued attackers to realise that was something they could deliberately try and do that wasn’t really in their playbook at that point.”
“Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry”
“So this year, we see follow-on attacks specifically targeting shipping terminals and ports. They hit the Port of Barcelona and the Port of San Diego and others. That seemed to follow the methodology of the lessons learned the previous year. ‘Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry.’ A couple years ago they were just thinking about stealing credit card data.”
But it may have taught North Korea something more useful: You don’t need bombs to bring a nation to its knees.
Oddly, you have a role to play in making sure this doesn’t happen. The reason Russia and North Korea and Israel and the US all got such devastating results in their attacks on foreign infrastructure is because ordinary people are bad at updating the security software on their personal computers. People let their security software get old and vulnerable, and then weeks later they’re hosting Stuxnet or Wannacry or Russia’s wifi listening posts.
National security is, somehow, about “the absurdity of the mundane,” says Tsonchev. “These little annoying popups [on your computer] are actually holding the key to national security and people are just ignoring them. Individuals have a small part to play in keeping the whole country safe.”
So if you’re casting about for a New Year’s resolution right now, consider this one: Resolve to keep your phone and laptop up to date with system security software. Your country needs you.
When Alonso Flores started a serious cycling routine about two years ago, he was totally on his own. Rousting himself out of bed at 0-dark-thirty to get into his gear and hit the road was a chore. And try telling your young family that you’re dragging at the end of the day because you got up to ride a bike at 4 in the morning.
It wasn’t easy.
But during a family cycling event sponsored by his home town of Yuma, Arizona, Flores met some riders that would change his life — and give him a sense a purpose he hadn’t had riding on his own.
“Now I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself,” Flores said.
It was during that get together that Flores bumped into two other riders who were part of the veteran outreach group Team Red, White Blue, a national non-profit whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.
Team RWB is focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through a shared interest in physical activity like running, hiking, CrossFit workouts, and yoga classes, along with participating in social and service-oriented events. And that’s how Flores, a 41-year-old heavy machine repair technician and civilian, got involved.
Spread across 199 chapters all over the world, the 110,000-member veteran’s group established in 2010 is geared toward creating a place for former servicemembers to meet and do a little PT — and invite their friends and family along to join them.
So Flores teamed up with his newly-minted cycling friends at Team RWB and started biking with them three times per week — waking at 4 AM, meeting at a coffee shop, riding 20 or so miles and chilling over a hot cup of mocha when the ride is done.
“Team RWB brings great teamwork. Before I met them I was riding by myself 20 miles a day,” Flores said. “Now I’m doing the same thing, but I feel like I have a purpose.”
For the third year in a row, Team RWB has sponsored its so-called “Old Glory Relay” — a cross country run-and-bike relay carrying an American flag from Seattle, Washington, to Tampa, Florida. Organizers say it’s intended to connect the Team RWB chapters and its veterans and friends with the communities they live in.
So when Team RWB was coming through Yuma for this year’s Old Glory Relay, Flores jumped at the chance to help. He and a couple other teammates helped carry the flag on the non-running parts of the trip between Yuma and Gilabend, Arizona — over 100 miles — in one day.
And while Flores didn’t carry the flag the entire 116 miles of his relay leg, the 47 miles he rode with the Stars and Stripes on his bike gave him a lasting impression of the country he’s come to love and those who’ve served to keep him free.
“I came here from Mexico when I was 11 years,” Flores said. “People always ask me if I miss Mexico and I tell them that I don’t know any other country than this one. And carrying the flag in the Old Glory Relay put an exclamation point on that.”
In fact, Team RWB has become a big part of Flores family’s life as well. He’s started bringing his 10-year-old daughter and wife along on Wednesday evening fun runs where other kids and parents do a little PT and come together later for dinner and companionship. And even though Flores didn’t have any military experience, that hasn’t stopped his new vet friends from counting him as one of their own.
“It’s just a great organization. I see that Team RWB shirt and I know what it’s all about,” Flores said. “Even if I don’t know the person, I know what Team RWB means and that I’m part of something bigger.”
In northern Iraq, fleeing ISIS militants adopted a “scorched earth” policy in many of the areas they once occupied, making it virtually impossible for civilians to return to their communities safely. In countless neighborhoods, ISIS either destroyed critical infrastructure such as power plants, water treatment facilities, hospitals, and schools, or emplaced explosive hazards to target returning Iraqis and prevent them from rebuilding. In the city of Mosul, after six months of hard work funded by the U.S. Department of State, al-Dawassa Water Treatment Facility has been cleared of deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) deliberately left behind by ISIS, as well as unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the battle to liberate the city from ISIS’s three-year occupation.
Unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices removal is a crucial precursor in stabilizing post-conflict areas because explosive remnants of war impede humanitarian assistance and stabilization efforts. The presence of these hidden hazards coupled with an explosive incident that killed three people prevented repair crews from approaching al-Dawassa facility, leaving families without access to clean water and people without jobs. With support from the Department of State and U.S. Embassy Baghdad, our implementing partner, Janus Global Operations, undertook the methodical and dangerous work of carefully surveying the site and removing explosives hazards. In all, teams safely cleared a total of 168 explosive hazards from the site, allowing maintenance teams to get the plant back on line.
(Janus Global Operations photo)
Al Dawassa consists of three main units: the pumping station which takes water from the nearby Tigris River, the treatment plant which purifies and distributes the water, and on-site employee housing. The facility suffered only light damage during the fight for Mosul, but three years of ISIS’s occupation reduced the facility to an inoperable state, requiring a significant amount of repairs. When fully operational, the facility can process approximately 750 cubic meters (26486 cubic feet) of water per day; however, after years of ISIS occupation, the facility’s production capacity declined to 300 cubic meters (10594 cubic feet) per day, well below half of its original capability.
Al-Dawassa is critical to the daily functioning of Mosul. The treatment facility not only provides families with clean drinking water, but also supports local businesses and agriculture. With these critical functions restored, families can return to their homes.
(Janus Global Operations photo)
With smart investments in the work of partners like Janus to support stabilization, the United States demonstrates its enduring commitment to bolstering the safety of the Iraqi people. These efforts are not only making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis, but they are also removing the insidious legacy that ISIS left behind, a key priority of the United States and the entire 75-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to clear explosive remnants of war. Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.9 billion to more than 100 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and conventional weapons of war. To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDept.
While the British boast a perfect record in World Wars — including a gritty victory over Germany’s seemingly unstoppable Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain — it is a country that has made some truly bad aircraft.
The Spitfire fighter and the Lancaster bomber ruled the skies throughout World War II. The Harrier Jump Jet served at sea honorably for decades. But the aircraft you don’t hear about are usually pretty awful.
Investigative website Bellingcat has identified the second suspect in the nerve-agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain as a military doctor employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.
In September 2018, British prosecutors charged two Russians — Ruslan Boshirov and Aleksandr Petrov — with attempted murder for carrying out the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Novichok nerve toxin in the southern English city in early 2018.
The prosecutors said at the time the two were undercover GRU officers.
Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Skripals’ attempted murder.
“We have now identified ‘Aleksandr Petrov’ to be in fact Dr. Aleksandr Yevgenyevich Mishkin, a trained military doctor in the employ of the GRU,” the British-based group said in a reportpublished on its website.
Bellingcat, a website that covers intelligence matters, had previously identified Boshirov on Sept. 26, 2018, as being decorated GRU Colonel Anatoly Chepiga.
“While Aleksandr Mishkin’s true persona has an even sparser digital footprint than Anatoly Chepiga’s, Bellingcat has been able to establish certain key facts from his background,” the Oct. 8, 2018 report said.
It said that Mishkin was born in 1979 in the Archangelsk region in Northern European Russia and was trained as a military doctor for the Russian naval armed forces at one of Russia’s elite military medical schools.
A CCTV image issued by London’s Metropolitan police showing Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station.
“During his medical studies, Mishkin was recruited by the GRU, and by 2010 had relocated to Moscow, where he received his undercover identity — including a second national ID and travel passport — under the alias Aleksandr Petrov,” the report said.
“Bellingcat’s identification process included multiple open sources, testimony from people familiar with the person, as well as copies of personally identifying documents, including a scanned copy of his passport,” the website said.
British police declined to make any specific comment in relation to Bellingcat’s latest report or the real names of those charged with poisoning the Skripals.
“We are not going to comment on speculation regarding their identities,” London’s police force said in a statement in response to a media query about the report.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the two men shown in British surveillance footage near Skripal’s home in Salisbury and identified by British authorities as Boshirov and Petrov were actually civilians on a tourist trip.
Skripal, a former GRU colonel, was convicted of treason in 2006 by a Russian court after being accused of spying for Britain. He relocated to Britain in a 2010 spy swap.
Putin on Oct. 3, 2018, said that Skripal was a “scumbag” who had betrayed his country.
The Skripals were found unconscious on March 4, 2018, on a bench in the southern English town of Salisbury. They were seriously ill but made a full recovery after spending several weeks in a hospital.
British officials said the two were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade chemical weapon that was developed in the Soviet Union, and blamed Putin’s government for the attack.
In June 2018, a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, died and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, fell ill when they stumbled across remnants of the poison in a town near Salisbury.
Britain on Sept. 5, 2018, announced charges against the two Russian men as police issued photographs of the suspects.
The men acknowledged they were in Salisbury at the time but claimed they were there as tourists.
NATO foreign ministers concluded a two-day meeting on December 2 that paves the path for reforms within the transatlantic alliance as it faces twin challenges from Russia and China, as well as key decisions about the situation Afghanistan.
The meeting, held via videolink as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, discussed how the alliance must adapt to new threats, including “persistently aggressive Russia” and “the rise of China.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on December 1 told reporters that the ministers discussed the Russian “military build-up” around the alliance and the mission in Afghanistan.
The Western military alliance “will have to take some hard decisions” about the mission when NATO defense ministers meet in February, he said.
A 67-page expert group report outlining suggestions about how to reboot the alliance noted that while NATO faced one big threat during the Cold War, it now faces two “systemic rivals” — Russia and China — along with “the enduring threat of terrorism.”
Speaking to reporters, Stoltenberg said the ministers discussed “Russia’s continued military build-up in our neighborhood, as well as arms control.”
He said NATO is adapting its deterrence posture “to address Russia’s destabilizing actions,” but the ministers agree that they must continue to pursue dialogue with Russia.
They also expressed support for preserving limitations of nuclear weapons and for developing a more comprehensive arms control regime, and welcomed talks between Russia and the United States ahead of the expiration of their bilateral New START treaty in February.
“We should not find ourselves in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads,” he said.
The ministerial also included a meeting with the foreign ministers of Georgia and Ukraine on security in the Black Sea region and NATO’s continued support to both partners.
Foreign ministers also discussed developments in Belarus following nearly four months of pro-democracy protests and the situation in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the wake of a Russian-brokered peace deal that ended 44 days of fierce fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces.
On Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said NATO supports the peace process while remaining committed to the mission to help fight terrorism.
But he added: “As we continue to assess the situation in Afghanistan, it is clear that we will face a turning point early next year.”
The security alliance risks an even longer-term engagement if the NATO mission stays in Afghanistan, and if it leaves there is a risk that it will become a safe haven for international terrorists again, Stoltenberg said.
“So, there is a price for staying longer, but there is also a price for leaving too soon,” he said.
NATO now has about 11,000 troops from dozens of countries stationed in Afghanistan. Their mandate is to help train and advise Afghanistan’s security forces.
But the presence of U.S. forces, which NATO relies on for air support, transport, and logistics, is scheduled to shrink by 2,000 troops to 2,500 by January 15.
Under a peace deal reached between the United States and the Taliban, all foreign troops should leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 if security conditions on the ground permit.
The policy report also suggested the Western military alliance find a way to stop individual countries vetoing policy decisions, as Hungary has done over plans for a deeper partnership with non-NATO member Ukraine.
Other recommendations included creating a consultative body to coordinate broader, Western policy toward China, holding summits with European Union leaders, and giving the secretary-general more power over personnel and budgets.
“NATO needs a strong political dimension to match its military adaptation,” according to the report, whose suggestions are not binding.
The document is to be presented to NATO leaders at a summit planned for next year. They could be included in an update to NATO’s Strategic Concept document, which dates from 2010 and sought to consider Russia as a partner.
Following the damage to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, caused by Hurricane Michael, the Air Force is recommending that Congress use supplemental funding for rebuilding the base to prepare to receive the F-35 Lightning II fighter at the north Florida installation.
The Air Force has done a preliminary evaluation to confirm Tyndall AFB can accommodate up to three F-35 squadrons. The operational F-22 Raptors formerly at Tyndall AFB can also be accommodated at other operational bases increasing squadron size from 21 to 24 assigned aircraft.
If this decision is approved and supplemental funds to rebuild the base are appropriated, F-35s could be based at Tyndall AFB beginning in 2023. Basing already announced in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin will not be affected by this decision.
“We have recommended that the best path forward to increase readiness and use money wisely is to consolidate the operational F-22s formerly at Tyndall in Alaska, Hawaii, and Virginia, and make the decision now to put the next three squadrons of F-35s beyond those for which we have already made decisions at Tyndall,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
“We are talking with Congressional leaders about this plan and will need their help with the supplemental funding needed to restore the base,” she added.
A 325th Fighter Wing F-22A Raptor taxis off the runway at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 20, 2018. The first Raptors arrived to their temporary home at Eglin from Tyndall Air Force Base. This move is part of mission shift by the Air Force as Hurricane Michael recovery efforts continue at Tyndall.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
On Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael tore through the gulf coast causing catastrophic damage to the region and damaging 95 percent of the buildings at Tyndall AFB. The base’s hangars and flight operations buildings suffered some of the greatest damage from the storm passing directly overhead.
Before the storm, Tyndall AFB was home to the 325th Fighter Wing — comprised of two F-22 squadrons. One was operational and one was training. The base also hosts the 1st Air Force, the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
More than 2,000 personnel have since returned to the base and the Air Force intends to keep the testing, air operations center, and civil engineer missions at Tyndall AFB. The recommendation announced today only affects the operational fighter flying mission at the base.
On Oct. 25, 2018, Vice President Mike Pence assessed the damage to the base and reassured Florida’s panhandle community of the base’s importance to the nation.
“We will rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base,” Pence said.
Tyndall AFB’s access to 130,000 square miles of airspace over the Gulf of Mexico is very valuable for military training.
“We have been given a chance to use this current challenge as an opportunity to further improve our lethality and readiness in support of the National Defense Strategy,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein.
A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Eglin Air Force Base takes off during Checkered Flag 17-1 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 8, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III)
The move would provide benefits across the service’s fifth generation fighter operations. Basing F-35s at Tyndall AFB in the wake of hurricane damage allows the Air Force to use recovery funds to re-build the base in a tailored way to accommodate the unique needs of the F-35.
The Air Force will conduct a formal process to determine the best location for the F-22 training squadron currently displaced to Eglin AFB, Florida.
The consolidation will drive efficiencies which Air Force officials expect to increase the F-22’s readiness rate and address key recommendations from a recent Government Accountability Office report that identified small unit size as one of the challenges with F-22 readiness.
“The F-35 is a game-changer with its unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, and adaptability,” Goldfein said. “Bringing this new mission to Tyndall ensures that the U.S Air Force is ready to dominate in any conflict.”
The Air Force will comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned NATO defense ministers in a speech that the “impatience Secretary Gates predicted is now a governmental reality” when it came to America’s share of the military burden of the alliance. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do,” he added.
According to a report by the European edition of Politico, Mattis was passing on a warning from President Donald Trump, who had been critical of the lack of defense spending by NATO allies.
“Disregard for military readiness demonstrates a lack of respect for ourselves, for the alliance, and for the freedoms we inherited, which are now clearly threatened,” Mattis told the assembled ministers according to the Defense Media Activity. Mattis particularly mentioned the events of 2014, including Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from the Ukraine.
Mattis wasn’t only there to spank NATO for being defense-spending cheapskates, though. Referring to the alliance as “my second home,” he noted that NATO “remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community” in his opening remarks.
M1A2 Abrams Tanks belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division fires off a round Jan. 26, 2017 during a gunnery range. The Soldiers are completing gunnery ranges before taking part in combined exercises with their NATO counterparts later this year. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Corinna Baltos)
In remarks welcoming Secretary Mattis, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cited Secretary Mattis’s past service as Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, saying, “You made sure that NATO adapted to a new and more demanding security environment. But NATO has to continue to adapt and that’s exactly what we’re going to address at our meeting today, how NATO continues to adapt to a new security environment.”
Stoltenberg also addressed concerns about NATO members paying their fair share, saying, “Our latest figures, which we published yesterday, show that defense spending among European allies and Canada increased by 3.8 percent in real terms in 2016. That is roughly $10 billion U.S. dollars. This is significant, but it is not enough. We have to continue to increase defense spending across Europe and Canada.”
Politico noted that NATO has set a benchmark of 2 percent of GDP as the minimum size of a defense budget. An April 2016 report by CNN.com noted that only five NATO countries met that benchmark.
The dozens of Americans quarantined at a US Air Force base in California over the coronavirus have described taking boxing, Zumba, and even accounting classes as ways to pass the time, The Washington Post reported.
The 195 US citizens were taken from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus broke out, and flown to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, on January 29. They are under a mandatory 14-day quarantine, meaning they would be released on February 12.
They are not allowed to leave the base and have been subjected to frequent medical tests for symptoms of the deadly coronavirus. So they are turning to their own sources of entertainment.
Here’s what they have been up to, according to The Post:
Screenshot from video taken by Jarred Evans on the flight out of Wuhan.
Jarred Evans via Business Insider
“When people hear quarantine, they think of the zombie apocalypse, movies like ‘World War Z,'” Matthew McCoy, the theme-park designer on the base, told The Post. “But the reality is it’s what you make of it.”
The 195 people at March Air Reserve base are a fraction of the total number of Americans the State Department is flying out of Wuhan to take back home.
Two more planes arrived at Travis Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar carrying 350 passengers on Wednesday, and more are expected.
All of them are subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine, and the Department of Defense has set aside six military bases in California, Texas, and Nebraska for the lockdown.
Americans flown out of Wuhan have also given harrowing descriptions of some parts of the evacuation and quarantine, like being flown in cargo planes with flight crew wearing full hazmat suits, being told to stay six feet away from one another at all times, and not being able to eat for hours on end, The Post reported.
Another woman and her 15-year-old daughter, who are observant Orthodox Jews, also said they couldn’t eat for 40 hours because there was no kosher food available on board the cargo plane and at the March Air Reserve Base, The Post reported.
Other people quarantined around the world over the coronavirus — from Russia to Australia to Japan to China itself — have also been documenting their lockdown.
Many countries are imposing 14-day quarantines on people coming from mainland China, while the city of Wuhan and at least 15 other Chinese cities have had their transport links shut down.