Many veterans have a unique perspective on the state of the world — with continued deployment tempos to foreign countries (especially those impacted by conflict), our veterans are exposed to life outside the continental United States. They also work alongside our allies and build relationships with them.
On Veterans Day 2017, Human Rights First’s Veterans for American Ideals project is launching the #WhatIFoughtFor campaign to tell the stories of U.S. veterans with deeply personal and profound connections with refugees.
Veterans have seen firsthand the devastation of war. According to #WhatIFoughtFor, “many of them have worked in communities around the world that have suffered from violence and oppression. They have even fought alongside many of these individuals as allies during wartime. They understand why refugees flee their homes, and that refugees want the same safety and opportunity for their families that we do.”
As a result, many veterans believe that commitment extends beyond their military service. Veterans for American Ideals is one such organization, and their mission is to stand with refugees, to tell their stories, and to help the American people make educated and informed decisions about America’s relationship with refugees.
According to their website, “Veterans for American Ideals is a nonpartisan group of military veterans who share the belief that America is strongest when its policies and actions match its ideals. After taking off the uniform, we seek to continue serving our country by advocating policies that are consistent with the ideals that motivated us to serve in the first place: freedom, diversity, equality, and justice. It is those same ideals that make the United States a beacon to the world’s refugees.”
The campaign chronicles seven stories of family, friendship, brotherhood, and camaraderie between U.S. veterans and refugees. You can find more information about the Nov. 11, 2017 launch on Facebook or Twitter.
A Russian-born American has been captured in Syria by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. These anti-ISIS fighters have captured thousands of defeated Islamic State militants in the country since the fall of its de facto capital of Raqqa in 2017. To them, this is just one more ISIS prisoner.
They have returned the captured American to U.S. troops in the country and now he will stand trial in the United States.
This is not the first instance of Americans who left to join the terrorist state being captured and repatriated to the United States. Two American women and four children have also been captured and returned to the U.S. since the American intervention in the fight against the Islamic State began.
Thousands of ISIS-affiliated persons have been captured in the former “caliphate.”
The SDF in Syria is a force of American-trained and supported fighters, primarily of Kurdish origin. They have captured thousands of ISIS fighters since the fall of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” and returned many to their countries of origin to face punishment. Most of those returnees come from Europe, who struggles with repatriating the fighters and even with prosecuting them. While the United States stands ready to prosecute the fighter, European countries differ on how to handle returnees.
When the U.S. first started planning for the return of captured fighters, the Trump Administration originally planned to incarcerate them at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Instead, Trump is sending returning ISIS-affiliated repatriates to the civilian court system. In June 2019, American-born wives and children of ISIS fighters were captured by the SDF and returned to the U.S.
The status of ISIS-born children is an emerging controversy.
Those affiliated with the Islamic State but aren’t accepted by their former country of citizenship are more likely to be held in vastly overcrowded prison camps in Syria or held in government jails. European countries are refusing the fighters because their justice systems would require gathering sufficient evidence of wartime crimes (being a member of ISIS isn’t enough to secure a conviction), and if tried, there’s a chance the ISIS fighters could walk free. The United States isn’t facing a huge influx of returning fighters but has a different standard of proof.
In the meantime, much effort is expended by all armed forces in the region in returning families of Islamic State fighters to their countries of origin, many coming from nearby Iraq or far-flung places as far as China and Uzbekistan. As the SDF finishes eliminating pockets of ISIS resistance, they are sure to find more and more survivors to send home, wherever home once was.
Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit are in the lead for Task Group Tinian, consisting of several hundred service members belonging to each branch of the U.S. military. The joint force, led by U.S. Marine Col. Robert “Bams” Brodie, is executing crisis-response in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s efforts to assist the U.S. citizens of Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, recover from Super Typhoon Yutu, Nov. 3, 2018.
Military members from across the Indo-Pacific region, spearheaded by the 31st MEU and Combat Logistics Battalion 31, began arriving here en masse on Oct. 29, 2018, four days after the historic storm swept directly across the isolated island, to enable the Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission here. Led by FEMA officials and partnering with local government leaders and local law enforcement, the 31st MEU began categorizing urgent needs and establishing a base of support for partner and military units, including the U.S. Navy’s Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 and the U.S. Air Force’s 36th Civil Engineer Squadron, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
The dock landing ship USS Ashland sits idle off the coast during the U.S. Defense Support of Civil Authorities relief effort in response to Super Typhoon Yutu, Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Nov. 3, 2018.
(Photo by Gunnery Sgt. T. T. Parish)
“We have effectively opened the door and laid the groundwork for long term forces of military members and federal aid workers to continue helping the Americans here on Tinian,” said Brodie, commander of the 31st MEU. “I am incredibly proud of the work these Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers have done in such a short time — it is incredible seeing the progress in only four days.”
Marines with the 31st MEU, U.S. Navy Seabees with NMCB-1 and 36th CES completed several imperative projects beginning Oct. 29, 2018, including purifying and distributing over 20,000 gallons of water; clearing two public schools, government buildings and the municipal power facility of downed trees and debris; and restoring emergency services’ capacity to respond to medical emergencies. All efforts lay the groundwork for the arrival of the dock landing ship USS Ashland, which arrived today with a well-equipped force of Marines belonging to CLB-31 and additional Seabees to augment existing capabilities already at work here.
Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 31 walk along a cleared road during the U.S. Defense Support of Civil Authorities relief effort in response to Super Typhoon Yutu, Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Nov. 3, 2018.
(Photo by Gunnery Sgt. T. T. Parish)
“With the arrival of the Ashland and all its embarked Marines, sailors, heavy equipment and supplies, we can continue building our support capacity for both FEMA and local leaders’ priorities, not the least of which is helping establish temporary shelters for displaced families who lost everything to Yutu,” said Brodie. “This storm is historic — it had devastating effects on this island — but the people of Tinian are resilient and we’re glad to lend a hand to help them get back on their feet.”
During DSCA operations, the U.S. military provides essential, lifesaving and preserving support to American citizens affected by declared natural disasters. Led by FEMA, the U.S. Government’s domestic emergency response agency, the 31st MEU continues to partner with both local agencies and FEMA to address critical shortfalls of material and supplies to support the people of Tinian. The next steps include re-establishing semi-normalcy on Tinian, including set-up of temporary FEMA shelters for families with homes destroyed by Yutu.
“We are working with the Tinian Mayor’s office and FEMA to prioritize which families will receive temporary shelters because their homes were destroyed just more than a week ago,” said Brodie. “The 31st MEU’s Marines and Navy Seabees of NMCB-1 are the muscle for this important work, and we’re honored to work hand and hand with the resilient and courageous Americans on Tinian.”
When engineers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory brainstormed on how to improve soldier lethality, the idea of a third arm seemed like something that might help.
Mechanical engineer Dan Baechle carefully planned out a device that doesn’t need batteries, is lightweight and can evenly distribute the load of a heavy weapon.
“It can help stabilize the weapon and take the load off of their arms,” he said. “It’s made from composite materials to make it as light as possible, but also to ensure the range of motion that soldiers need.”
The device, officially called the Third Arm helps take the weight of the weapons off of a soldiers’ arms. It weighs less than four pounds, and because of the innovative design, the weight of the device and the weapon are evenly distributed.
“We’ve actually tested it with the M249 and M240B machines guns. The M240B weighs 27 pounds, and we were able to show that you can take the weight of that weapon completely off of the soldiers’ arms,” Baechle said.
(U.S. Army photo by Conrad Johnson)
Soldiers testing the device pointed out that initial versions didn’t make it possible for them to use the device and go into the prone position. But that’s not an issue with the current version.
At a recent test with a soldier at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain site at APG, a sergeant wore the device with an M-4 type weapon and dove into a prone fighting position from a sprint. The Third Arm provided immediate stabilization to improve marksmanship for the soldier.
“Right now it’s a prototype device, and it’s a fairly early stage prototype device,” Baechle said. “It’s been getting a lot of interest higher up in the Army, but also online with some of the stories that have come out. We’re using some of the interest to help motivate further development of the device.”
Baechle said that the Army modernization priorities include “soldier lethality that spans all fundamentals — shooting, moving, communicating, protecting and sustaining.” Further documentation specifically mentions the fielding of “load-bearing exoskeletons.”
“It falls in line with the direction that the Army wants to be heading in the future,” Baechle said. “We get comments from Soldiers who tell us different things about the way it feels on their body … about the way it redistributes the load. Some like it, some give us tips about the ways it could be improved, and we’re using that input to improve the device and improve the design so that it not only works well, but it also feels good.”
(U.S. Army photo by Conrad Johnson)
In 2017, the lab conducted a small pilot study of active-duty troops using Third Arm in live-fire trials. The results showed the device can improve marksmanship, reduce arm fatigue and muscle activation for some soldiers.
“We’re using that small study to motivate a larger study this year with more soldiers taking a look at dynamics, shooting scenarios,” Baechle said. “We’re still refining the device. We’re starting to look at heavier weapons.”
Baechle stressed that what you see now may not be what gets to future soldiers.
“What we have right now is a very specific device, but we can learn from that device,” he said. “I hope in the future what we’ll end up with is something that will help the soldier. Whether or not it’s in the form you see today, that’s less important. Helping the soldier is what I really hope for. I think this year is really going to be a good one and an important one in showing what this device can do.”
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
The US Army is considering various systems to better shield tanks and armored vehicles from RPGs, antitank missiles, and other enemy fire.
But the latest version of the RPG, a staple in the arsenals of Russia and other forces, may already be a step ahead of the active-protection systems the US may soon adopt.
The Pentagon has purchased active-protection systems to test out on Abrams tanks and Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles, and may even mount them on lighter vehicles, like the successor to the Humvee, according to a report from Scout Warrior.
“The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army’s Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.
The Army intends to outfit Abrams tanks with the Israeli-made Trophy APS and Bradley vehicles with the Iron Fist system, which is also Israeli-made. It plans to put the US-made Iron Curtain system on Stryker vehicles. (The Army leased several of the Trophy systems last spring, working with the Marine Corps to test them.)
“The one that is farthest along in terms of installing it is … Trophy on Abrams,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. “We’re getting some pretty … good results. It adds to the protection level of the tank.”
The US’s look to APS comes as other countries adopt the technology.
Israeli’s Merkava comes standard with the Trophy, as does Russia’s new T-14 Armata. Both Israel’s and Russia’s tanks, as well as the UK’s Challenger 2, are considered by US officials to be close to or at parity with the US’s mainstay, the Abrams tank. (Though some officials don’t consider the Armata fielded.)
As militaries have adopted active-protection systems and other means to up-armor tanks, arms makers have looked for new antitank weaponry to counter them. Whenever US vehicles equipped with APS join similarly outfitted vehicles in the field, they will face a new challenge from an old foe, the RPG.
The most recent variant, the RPG-30, unveiled in 2008, has a 105 mm tandem high explosive antitank round, and features a second, smaller-caliber projectile meant to bait the active-protection systems that have become common on armored vehicles in recent years.
A tandem HEAT round carries two explosive charges. One neutralizes a vehicle’s reactive armor (which uses explosions to counter incoming projectiles), and the other is designed to penetrate the armor of the vehicle itself.
“The novelty of the Russian rocket launcher is that two rockets are fired at the target at the same time. One is a so-called ‘agent provocateur’ 42 mm in caliber, followed a bit later by a primary 105-mm tandem warhead rocket,” Vladimir Porkhachyov, the director general of arms manufacturer NPO Bazalt, told Russian state news agency Tass of the RPG-30 in September 2015.
The RPG-30 reportedly cleared testing and went into active service with the Russian military sometime between 2012 and 2013. At that point, according to a 2015 report by Russian state-owned outlet Sputnik, the Pentagon put it on its list of “asymmetrical threats to the US armed forces.”
The effectiveness of the RPG-30 against active-protection systems, and whether those systems need be upgraded to adapt to the RPG-30 and similar munitions, remains to be seen. But the RPG — though limited by the size of its warhead — has long been potent on the battlefield, even against modern tanks.
The previous model, the RPG-29, was introduced in 1991 and is still in service with the Russian armed forces. It fires a 105 mm tandem HEAT round and can also fire a thermobaric fuel-air round against bunkers and buildings.
Russian RPG-29s were used by Hezbollah in the mid-2000s, deployed against Israeli tanks and personnel during the 2006 Lebanon War.
According to a Haaretz reportfrom the time, Hezbollah antitank teams using RPG-29s managed on some occasions to get through the armor of Israel’s advanced Merkava tanks.
In other cases, Hezbollah fighters used the RPG-29 to fire on buildings containing Israeli troops, penetrating the walls.
“The majority of Israel Defense Forces ground troops casualties, both infantry and armored, were the result of special antitank units of Hezbollah,” which used other antitank missiles as well, according to the Haaretz report, published in the final days of the conflict and citing intelligence sources.
Those RPG-29s were reportedly supplied to Hezbollah by the Syrian military, which got them from Russia. Moscow disputed those origins, however, with some suggesting they were exported from former Communist bloc countries after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In August 2006, a RPG-29 was used successfully against a British Challenger 2 tank in southern Iraq.
During operations in Al Amarah, an RPG-29 rocket defeated the reactive armor installed on the Challenger, penetrating the driver’s cabin and blowing off half of one soldier’s foot and wounding several other troops.
UK military officials were accused of a cover-up in 2007, after it emerged that they hadn’t reported the August 2006 incident.
Two years later, during fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City — a Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital — a US M1 Abrams tank was damaged by an RPG-29. (The US has long avoided reactive armor systems but accepted them in recent years as a cheap, easy way to up-armor vulnerable parts of the Abrams, particularly against RPGs.)
During fighting in Iraq, RPG-29s penetrated the armor on the Abrams tanks twice and the Challenger once, according to The National Interest. Other Abrams tanks in Iraq were knocked out by antitank missiles, like the Russian-made AT-14 Kornet.
The threat goes beyond tanks. Seven of eight US Army helicopters shot down in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009 were brought down by RPGs.
RPGs remain in service around the world, filling the arsenals of both state and non-state actors, according to the Small Arms Survey. The weapon and parts for it have popped in arms bazaars in Libya in recent years.
The RPG-7, the RPG-29’s predecessor, would be or would likely be used by forces in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Central, South, and East Asia.
Regular and irregular forces in Latin America also have RPGs, and the weapons have made their way into the hands of criminal groups in the region. The Jalisco New Generation cartel reportedly used one to down a Mexican military helicopter in early 2015.
It is a successor to the 1970’s Shkval (Russian for ‘Squall’), which has an impressive speed of over 200 knots, far faster than any NATO torpedo, making it difficult to stop. However, it has range of less than ten miles compared to more than 30 for the US Mk 48. Shkval is also limited by the fact that it cannot use sonar guidance when travelling at speed. Western analysts have tended to be scathing about the Shkval, calling it a suicide weapon because of its short range. One Russian commentator described it as “amusing but useless.”
However, a new Russian torpedo is likely to see the Shkval’s defects remedied. The Khishchnik (“Predator”) is a new supercavitating torpedo at an advanced stage of development. Unlike various supposed super-weapons which they boast about publicly, the Russians are keeping very quiet about Predator.
High-speed underwater projectiles rely on a principle called supercavitation. Rather than being streamlined, Shkval’s nose is blunt, ending in a flat disc. This creates a low-pressure area in its wake – the pressure is so low that a bubble of water vapor forms. This cavitation effect is well known; propellers are designed to minimize it because it reduces contact with the water and causes damage. In supercavitation, the bubble is large enough to enclose the entire torpedo except for its steering fins. By travelling inside the bubble, the torpedo experiences far less drag than a normal torpedo in contact with the water. The low drag means it can reach phenomenal speeds.
Russia has long been the leader in supercavitating weapons. These include the bullets fired by the APS underwater assault rifle, effective at a range of thirty meters underwater – several times greater than any other firearm.
Torpedoes like Shkval use a more advanced version of the effect in which the cavity is ‘ventilated,’ sustained by an injection of exhaust gases. Shkval is not rocket-propelled as many sources assume; there’s a good description (in Russian) here. A rocket boosts the torpedo up to cavitation speed, but after that, a hydrojet takes over, burning magnesium-based fuel and using seawater as the oxidizer.
Western efforts to copy Russian supercavitating technology have not so far been successful. There have been great successes in the lab, but these have not translated into deployed hardware. DARPA had an ambitious plan for a 100 mph+ supercavitating submarine called the Underwater Express. They had a three-year contact with sub makers Electric Boat from 2006-2009, but it came to nothing. The US Navy RAMICS project involved busting underwater mines with a supsercavitating projectile fired from a helicopter, the project ran from 1997 to 2011 before funding was terminated without the system being fielded. The US Navy’s supercavitating torpedo project has been on hold since 2012; a spokesman says that improved understanding of the basic physics of supercavitation is needed.
The Western work may give us some insight into how the Russians are improving on Shkval. The reason why it cannot carry sonar is because the cavitating disc is much too small for a sonar system, and the engine is too noisy. General Dynamics patented a new type of cavitator in the early 2000’s. Rather than being flat, this is a parabolic curve, giving gives enough surface area for the sonar receiver. In the GD design, the sonar emitters are mounted separately on the fin tips, and filters block out engine noise.
This suggests that a guided supercavitating torpedo is now feasible; a 2015 article on the Shkval suggested that one was under development.
The other issue with the Shkval is its short range. Georgiy Savchenko of the Institute of Hydromechanics at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences works on supercavitating designs and says that improved fuel will make a dramatic difference – he estimates that the range could be improved by a factor of ten.
Very little information is being released on Khishchnik apart from the fact that it is being developed by Elektropribor, a design bureau which makes instruments for ships and subs as well as aviation components. Its existence was revealed in documents uncovered by Russian defense blog BMPD, which revealed that the company had been working on Khishchnik since 2013 and that launch tests were expected in 2016 as part of a contract worth 3 billion rubles ($53m). There have been no official comments or announcements.
Other companies may also be working on the project. In 2016, Boris Obnosov, CEO of Russian company Tactical Missiles Corp, mentioned work in this area to Rambler News Service
“Take, for instance, the well-known unique Shkval underwater missile. We are working on upgrading it heavily.”
The ‘heavily upgraded’ Shkval seems likely to be the Khishchnik.
Shkval has been upgraded several times previously, with improvements in range and guidance. A new name suggests a more significant upgrade. An export version of the Shkval, the Shkval-E was produced in 1999. There would be a big market for an unstoppable, carrier-killing torpedo.
The U.S. Navy has rescued a small and very hungry German Shepard puppy which had been lost at sea for five weeks and presumed dead.
Luna, a friendly dog, disappeared from a fishing vessel on Feb. 10 of this year off the coast of San Diego, Calif.
“On Feb 10, 2016, personnel assigned to Naval Auxiliary Landing Field San Clemente Island received a call for help from a fishing vessel. Nick Haworth (Luna’s owner) reported that he and the crew were bringing in traps, and one moment Luna was there and the next she was gone. They were about 2 miles off the coast and he thought she may head for shore,” said a Navy statement given to Scout Warrior.
After this incident, ships continued to search the waters nearby San Clemente Island for an entire week without finding Luna, only to determine the little puppy was “lost at sea and presumed dead.”
“We searched the island. The initial radio call was taken by a Navy helicopter in the area,” Sandy DeMunnik, spokeswoman for Naval Base Coronado, Calif., told Scout Warrior. Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78 was the unit that received the call, she added.
“They fly MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters,” she said.
Then, on March 17, Navy officials found Luna on the coast of the island sitting next to the road.
“They were shocked,” the Navy statement said, because there are no domestic animals on the island because of the very sensitive environmental programs that take place there.
“Luna ran right up to the staff,” Navy officials said.
Luna was examined by our wildlife biologist and found to be undernourished but otherwise uninjured and in good spirits, service officials added.
She will be reunited with a family friend of her owner who is out of town for work and unable to get home in time. When her owner returns to town, Luna will be reunited with him.
It is not clear how a young German Shepard would be able to survive for five weeks at sea with no food or shore.
“Luna swam somewhere between one and two miles. That is not smooth water out there. It is rough water,” DeMunnik said. “The fact that she survived for five weeks in that water struck a chord with military personnel on the island because they know how treacherous the waters there can be.”
Due to Luna’s resilience and spirit, the Commanding Officer of Naval Base Coronado presented Luna with a military dog tag with four lines inscribed on it saying — “Luna, keep the faith.” “Keep the Faith” is the moto of the Navy’s SERE, Search Evasion rescue escape training.
The spirit of the saying is, among other things, designed to connote that in the event someone is missing, fellow service members will never stop searching, DeMunnik added.
“We’ve all been walking around smiling for three days because she survived,” she said.
Two B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, marked their first-ever flight with Ukrainian Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums last week over the Black Sea. At the same time, the long-range bombers also trained in launching the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, known as LRASM, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa officials said Monday.
“The rise of near-peer competitors and increased tensions between NATO and our adversaries has brought anti-ship capability back to the forefront of the anti-surface warfare mission for bomber crews,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Albrecht of USAFE’s 603rd Air Operations Center.
“LRASM plays a critical role in ensuring U.S. naval access to operate in both open-ocean and littoral environments due to its enhanced ability to discriminate between targets from long range,” Albrecht, also the Bomber Task Force mission planner, said in a release. “With the increase of maritime threats and their improvement of anti-access/area denial environmental weapons, this stealthy anti-ship cruise missile provides reduced risk to strike assets by penetrating and defeating sophisticated enemy air-defense systems.”
Officials recently told Military.com that practicing deploying LRASM is part of a broader Air Force Global Strike vision: As part of its mission “reset” for the B-1 fleet, the service is not only making its supersonic, heavy bombers more visible with multiple flights around the world, it’s also getting back into the habit of having them practice stand-off precision strikes — especially in the Pacific — signaling a dramatic pivot following years of flying close-air support missions in the Middle East.
During a simulated strike, crews “will pick a notional target, and then they will do some mission planning and flying through an area that they are able to hold that target at risk, at range,” Maj. Gen. Jim Dawkins Jr., commander of the Eighth Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, said in an interview earlier this month.
The flight over the Black Sea with Ukrainian counterparts incorporated Turkish KC-135s, in addition to aircraft from Poland, Romania, Greece and North Macedonia for a “long-range, long-duration strategic #BomberTaskForce mission throughout Europe and the Black Sea region,” USAFE tweeted.
The latest integration exercises over Eastern Europe have not gone unnoticed.
Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, chief of the main operational directorate for the Russian General Staff, said U.S. bomber flights alongside NATO partners have “increased sharply” over the last several weeks.
“Strategic bombers flew in April #B1B along Kamchatka, and in May, five such flights were recorded,” the MoD said on Twitter. Rudskoy also noted the first-ever B-1 flight over Ukraine, which prompted a Russian Air Force Su-27 and Su-30SM to scramble and intercept the bombers.
The U.S. military is still holding the Mother of All Bombs over the Taliban’s heads like 21,600-pound GPS-guided sword of Damocles.
In April 2017, a U.S. aircraft dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb on a cave complex being used by the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, marking the first time the weapon had been used in combat.
Although U.S. forces in Afghanistan have not used the MOAB again since then, “It’s there if we need it,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, commander of coalition air forces in Afghanistan.
“We never take anything off the table,” Hecker told reporters at the Pentagon. “Right now, we don’t have a use for it, but if we do, it’s there for us.”
The bomb was rapidly designed and built between November 2002 and March 2003, ahead of the initial invasion of Iraq. It was designed to be a replacement for the massive BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” according to the Air Force. When it was first tested on March 11, 2003, the explosion created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 20 miles away.
By the time the MOAB arrived in theater, coalition forces were close to Baghdad. It would be 14 years before the weapon would make its debut when it was dropped in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province following the death of a Special Forces soldier fighting ISIS-Khorasan.
News that the bomb had finally been used created a media sensation that made Hecker’s mother concerned about him.
“Quite honestly, after only being here a week and my mom heard that a MOAB was dropped, she immediately sent me a note and asked if I was OK,” Hecker said. “I let her know that we won’t drop on ourselves. This is meant for the enemy.”
With ISIS fighters going underground in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command has made Afghanistan the priority for air operations.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan now have 50 percent more MQ-9 Reaper drones to find targets, as well as an A-10 squadron to provide close air support, Hecker said. A combat search and rescue squadron is also being deployed to the country.
On Feb. 4, a B-52 dropped a total of 24 precision-guided bombs — a new record — during three airstrikes against Taliban and East Turkestan Islamic Movement training camps in northeast Afghanistan, Hecker said. Previously, B-52s only had room for 16 precision-guided bombs, but in late November, the bomber was modified for an increased payload at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Meanwhile, the Afghan air force is dropping or launching weapons at the enemy at nearly double the rate of U.S. aircraft, Hecker said. However, he clarified, most of those strikes come from the Afghan fleet of 25 MD-530 helicopters, which are equipped with laser-guided rockets and machine guns.
Hecker conceded that strikes from a light attack helicopter and a B-52 don’t exactly make for an apples-to-apples comparison. “But I wouldn’t say it’s apples to oranges either,” he said.
The Marine Corps is adopting a new precision sniper rifle to increase the lethality and combat effectiveness of scout snipers on the battlefield.
The Mk13 Mod 7 Sniper Rifle is a bolt-action rifle that offers an increased range of fire and accuracy when compared to current and legacy systems. It includes a long-action receiver, stainless steel barrel, and an extended rail interface system for a mounted scope and night vision optic.
The Mk13 is scheduled for fielding in late 2018 and throughout 2019. Units receiving the Mk13 include infantry and reconnaissance battalions and scout sniper schoolhouses. This weapon is already the primary sniper rifle used by Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC.
Fielding the Mk13 ensures the Corps has commonality in its equipment set and Marine scout snipers have the same level of capability as North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, said Master Sgt. Shawn Hughes from III MEF.
“When the Mk13 Mod 7 is fielded, it will be the primary sniper rifle in the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Paul Gillikin, Infantry Weapons team lead at Marine Corps Systems Command. “The M40A6 will remain in the schoolhouses and operating forces as an alternate sniper rifle primarily used for training. The M110 and M107 will also remain as additional weapons within the scout sniper equipment set.”
The Marine Corps identified a materiel capability gap in the maximum effective ranges of its current sniper rifles. After a comparative assessment was conducted, it was clear that the Mk13 dramatically improved scout sniper capabilities in terms of range and terminal effects.
The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Scout Sniper Platoon used the weapon for over a year (including during a deployment) in support of the 2025 Sea Dragon Exercise. Feedback from MCSC’s assessment, MARSOC’s operational use, and 3/5’s testing of the weapon system led to its procurement of the Mk13 for the Corps.
The Mk13 increases scout snipers’ range by roughly 300 meters and will use the .300 Winchester Magnum caliber round, a heavier grain projectile with faster muzzle velocity — characteristics that align Marine sniper capability with the U.S. Army and Special Operations Command.
“The .300 Winchester Magnum round will perform better than the current 7.62 NATO ammo in flight, increasing the Marine Sniper’s first round probability of hit,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tony Palzkill, Battalion Gunner for Infantry Training Battalion. “This upgrade is an incredible win and will allow snipers to engage targets at greater distances.”
The Mk13 will also be fielded with an enhanced day optic that provides greater magnification range and an improved reticle.
“This sniper rifle will allow Marines to reengage targets faster with precise long-range fire while staying concealed at all times,” said Sgt. Randy Robles, Quantico Scout Sniper School instructor and MCSC liaison.
“The new day optic allows for positive identification of enemies at greater distances, and it has a grid-style reticle that allows for rapid reengagement without having to dial adjustments or ‘hold’ without a reference point,” he said. “With this type of weapon in the fleet, we will increase our lethality and be able to conceal our location because we are creating a buffer between us and the enemy.”
MCSC completed New Equipment Training for the Mk13 with a cross section of Marines from active-duty, Reserve and training units in early April 2018.
“The snipers seemed to really appreciate the new capabilities that come with this rifle and optic,” said project officer Capt. Frank Coppola. “After the first day on the range, they were sold.”
In a time where technology, ammunition and small arms weapon systems are advancing at an increasingly rapid rate, it is extremely important to ensure the Marine Corps is at the forefront of procuring and fielding new and improved weapon systems to the operating forces, said Gillikin.
“Doing this enables the Corps to maintain the advantage over its enemies on the battlefield, as well as to secure its trusted position as the rapid crisis response force for the United States,” he said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on the cusp of having something his father and grandfather could only dream of — the ability to unleash a nuclear attack on the United States.
For anyone paying attention, the test launch of his country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile on the Fourth of July came as little surprise.
He has been racing to develop better and longer-range missiles and vowed this would be the year of the ICBM in his annual New Year’s address. He made good on that vow with the launch of the “Hwasong-14.”
But that isn’t all he’s been doing.
Here’s a quick primer.
Closing the Gap
North Korea’s newest missile is called the Hwasong-14. Hwasong means “Mars.”
Experts believe the two-stage, liquid-fuel missile gives Kim the capability of reaching most of Alaska and possibly Hawaii. Some experts add Seattle and San Francisco. North Korea’s missiles aren’t very accurate, so big, soft targets like cities are what they would be aimed at.
Big caveat: Kim’s technicians still have a lot of work to do.
It’s not clear if this missile could be scaled up to reach targets beyond Alaska, like New York or Washington. Reliability is also a big issue that requires years of testing to resolve. And that liquid fuel makes the missile a sitting duck while it’s being readied for launch.
Diversifying the Arsenal
Along with a record number of tests — 17 this year alone — Kim has revealed a surprising array of missiles: Harpoon-style anti-ship missiles, beefed up Scuds, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and missiles that use solid fuel, which makes them easier to hide and harder to destroy.
David Wright, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said heightened activity over the past 18 months suggests Kim decided a couple of years ago to speed up and diversify.
The takeaway: North Korea is well on its way toward a fine-tuned arsenal of missiles that can strike South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
Pushing the Envelope
More sanctions, almost certainly. US President Donald Trump claimed “severe things” could be in the offing. The US has circulated a new list of sanctions in the UN Security Council and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley put the world, and especially China, “on notice” if it doesn’t toe Washington’s line.
China, North Korea’s economic lifeline, has reduced its imports from the North, including a cutoff of coal purchases. It appears to still be selling lots of goods to North Korea, which may anger some sanctions advocates but generates a huge trade deficit that could spell destabilizing inflation for the North if left unchecked.
North Korea, meanwhile, needs to improve its nuclear warhead technology. Its Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site has been on standby for months. So a test is fairly likely. And there will be more launches.
As Kim put it, expect lots more “gift packages, big and small” for Washington.
Rogue FBI translator Daniela Greene stole off to Syria and married the Islamic State terrorist she was supposed to investigate.
Federal records state that Greene, who had a top secret security clearance, lied to the FBI about her reason for traveling to Syria. She also told her ISIS husband he was under investigation, CNN reports.
The man’s name is Denis Cuspert. He started off as a German rapper and eventually moved to Syria to join the Islamic State, adopting the name Abu Talha al-Almani.
Greene joined him in Syria but quickly realized she had made a terrible mistake and fled back to the U.S. It’s not clear how she traveled into Syria or how she managed to escape from deep inside the country.
She was immediately arrested upon returning to the U.S., at which point she served two years in prison and was released the summer of 2016.
Since she no longer works at the FBI, she’s taken a job as a hostess at a hotel lounge.
Her story has never been told until now.
The trouble began when she was assigned to monitor Cuspert due to her fluency in German. Cuspert had converted to Islam in 2010 and ended up in Egypt and Libya in 2012.
In 2013, he made the jump to Syria and later appeared in a 2014 video in which he pledged allegiance to ISIS .
Although it’s unclear how the relationship between Greene and Cuspert formed, Greene completed an FBI travel authorization form, saying she was traveling to Munich for vacation. Instead, she flew to Istanbul, Turkey, and went to a city close to the Syrian border, at which point a third party brought her over the border.
She then married Cuspert.
Before she left Syria, she told an unidentified person in the U.S. what a horrible mistake she had made.
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently laid out a new U.S. approach to the conflict in Syria, and two things became immediately clear — the U.S. is staying in Syria and conflict with Iran could be coming.
Up until this point, the U.S. presence in Syria has focused on fighting ISIS, the terror group that gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014. But with ISIS in rapid decline and its once U.K.-sized territory all but completely removed from their grasp, Tillerson described Iran as the new principal threat to U.S. interests in Syria.
“Continued strategic threats to the U.S. from not just ISIS and Al Qaeda, but from others, persist,” Tillerson said earlier in January. “And this threat I’m referring to is principally Iran.”
Tillerson said Iran “is positioning to continue attacking U.S. interests, our allies, and personnel in the region” through its positioning in Syria.
In no uncertain terms, Tillerson said Iran dreams of a land arch that would connect them to their ally, Lebanon, through Syria, where it can provide weapons support to anti- U.S. and anti-Isreal terror groups. He noted that one of the U.S.’s desired end results is that “Iranian influence in Syria is diminished, their dreams of a northern arch are denied, and Syria’s neighbors are secure from all threats emanating from Syria.”
While the new strategy does not guarantee outright fighting between the U.S. and Iran, it puts the U.S.’s 2,000 or so troops in Syria in direct strategic competition with Iran’s estimated 70,000.
Numbers can be deceiving
Despite an apparent 35 to 1 numbers advantage for Iranian and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria, Iran’s forces are weak, overexposed, and certain to fare poorly in a direct competition with the U.S., according to Tony Badran, a Syria expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
U.S. and U.S.-backed forces have already come into contact with Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and the short engagements proved decisive victories for the US, which holds considerable advantages in air power and high-end warfighting.
But those skirmishes only focused on getting Iranian forces off the backs of U.S.-aligned forces while the U.S. focused on defeating ISIS. In the US’s new campaign to shut down Iran’s hoped-for land bridge to Lebanon, the U.S. will likely have to work with local allies, according to Badran.
“The U.S. is going to have to develop local Arab fighting forces,” said Badran, “But you can do a lot more damage a lot quicker by expanding or amplifying the existing Israeli campaign by going after installations, mobile targets, or senior cadres.”
Israel, while it has stayed out of the majority of its neighbor Syria’s civil war, has made no apologies for stepping in with airstrikes when it feels Iran getting to close to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia vows to wage war against the Jewish state.
With Israel potentially at its back, the U.S. “has assets far beyond 2,000 guys out in the desert somewhere,” said Badran. The U.S. can call on naval power, aircraft carriers, nearby air bases, allied air power, standoff weapons like cruise missiles, and artillery.
Iran sacrifices asymmetrical advantage
While Iran usually enjoys what military analysts call an “asymmetrical advantage” over U.S. forces in the Middle East, or its ability to fight against U.S. interests using proxy armies and less-than-lethal force, that advantage disappears in a direct confrontation. If Iran mounted a large-scale attack on U.S. forces in Syria, the bases, depots, and planners involved in the attack would be quickly reduced to rubble, according to Badran.
For that reason, Iran may look to avoid direct military engagement with the U.S., and simply continue to support the U.S.’s enemies while playing the long game of aggravating the U.S. and hoping Washington’s will breaks before Tehran’s.
But another prong of the U.S.’s strategy in Syria is to isolate the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
“We’re going to treat Syria like North Korea — an economic, not just a political pariah,” said Badran.
With the U.S. pressuring allies not to do business with the Assad regime and providing no money for reconstruction, the Syrian government, Iran’s ally, may weaken, making way for a less Iran-friendly administration in the future, thereby denying Tehran its land bridge without a shot fired.
The U.S. won’t go it alone
Tehran has its own problems to worry about. Country-wide protests over the country’s steep inequality and billions in spending on foreign adventurism have threatened the very fabric of its leadership. Local Syrians — a diverse, mainly Sunni bunch — also may prove resistant to Iran, the dominant Shiite Muslim power in the region.
Though the U.S. and Turkey frequently clash over differences in their vision for Syria, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Washington Institute expert James Jeffrey says Washington and Ankara ultimately agree on the broad goals.
“Right now, about 40% of Syria is under control of U.S. or Turkey, and while U.S. and Turkey are not all that well coordinated, both U.S. and Turkey see the goal to a transition to a regime that will not do what [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has done,” said Jeffrey.
Jeffrey added that Turkey also would like to reduce the role of Iran in Syria, as Tehran has a “tendency to bully the Sunni Arab population” which could lead to another civil war.
Badran does not question that the U.S. could easily overwhelm or destroy Iranian forces in Syria, and instead believes the real challenge lies in determining who will establish control of southern Syria in the future.