The governor of Afghanistan’s northern province of Baghlan says Afghan security forces have recaptured a strategic district from Taliban fighters who have controlled the area in recent weeks.
Governor Abdulhai Nemati told RFE/RL the government’s offensive to retake the district of Nahrin ended on the morning on Sept. 4, 2018, after the Taliban withdrew during the night.
Nemati said at least six Taliban fighters were killed and 14 were wounded during an operation that began early on Sept. 3, 2018. Nemati did not provide casualty figures for government forces.
RFE/RL’s correspondent in Baghlan Province reports that hundreds of civilians fled their homes during the fierce 24-hour battle, which destroyed several houses in the district.
One disabled woman in the area told RFE/RL that she was “among very few people” from her neighborhood that did not flee the fighting.
“Almost everyone in our neighborhood fled. I couldn’t join them because of my disability. Had I been able to walk I would have left, too,” the woman said.
“People fled carrying their belongings,” a local man said. “Old and young, women and children, all fled, some by foot, some on donkeys.”
Afghan National Civil Order Policemen stand in formation, Dec. 27, 2011.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. David Perez)
Nemati said government forces were continuing a “search and clearing operation” in theNahrin district on Sept. 4, 2018.
There was no immediate comment about the battle from the Taliban.
Meanwhile, in the nearby province of Balkh, Afghan security forces have launched an offensive against Taliban fighters who seized a series of villages to the west of Mazar-e Sharif on Sept. 2, 2018.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said late on Sept. 3, 2018, that government security forces hoped to retake the Chari area of Balkh’s Dawlatabad district “soon.”
The Taliban in recent months has carried out a series of operations to expand its control over rural areas in northern Afghanistan and has briefly taken control of some urban areas in Afghanistan, including parts of the city of Ghazni to the southwest of Kabul during August 2018.
More than 47 years after his heroic actions in Laos during the Vietnam War, Army Capt. Gary Michael Rose was recognized with the Medal of Honor.
“This will enshrine him into the history of our nation,” said President Donald J. Trump, during the Medal of Honor ceremony Oct. 23 at the White House.
Rose served as a combat medic during the Vietnam War with the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group, part of Army Special Forces. He was recognized for his actions between Sept. 11-14, 1970, in Laos. The mission he was part of, “Operation Tailwind,” had for many years been classified.
Trump said Operation Tailwind was meant to prevent the North Vietnamese Army from funneling weapons to their own forces through Laos, along the Ho Chi Minh trail. The operation involved about 136 men, including 16 American soldiers and 120 Montagnards — indigenous people from Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
The men were inserted by helicopter deep inside Laos.
“Once they landed in the clearing, they rushed to the jungle for much-needed cover,” Trump said. “Soon, another man was shot outside their defensive perimeter. Mike immediately rushed to his injured comrade, firing at the enemy as he ran. In the middle of the clearing, under the machine gun fire, Mike treated the wounded soldier. He shielded the man with his own body and carried him back to safety.”
That was just the start of the four-day mission, Trump said. There was much more to come.
“Mike and his unit slashed through the dense jungle, dodged bullets, dodged explosives, dodged everything that you can dodge because they threw it all at him, and continuously returned fire as they moved deeper and deeper and deeper into enemy territory,” Trump said.
“Throughout the engagement, Mike rescued those in distress without any thought for his own safety,” Trump said. “I will tell you, the people with him could not believe what they were witnessing. He crawled from one soldier to the next, offering words of encouragement as he tended to their wounds.”
Rose would repeat those selfless actions throughout the four-day Operation Tailwind mission.
Rose was himself injured, Trump said. On the second day, Rose was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, which left shrapnel in his back, and a hole in his foot.
“For the next 48 excruciating hours, he used a branch as a crutch and went on rescuing the wounded,” he said. “Mike did not stop to eat, to sleep, or even to care for his own serious injury as he saved the lives of his fellow soldiers.”
On the fourth day in Laos, Rose and others boarded the third of four helicopters that had been sent in to evacuate participants of Operation Tailwind. So many troops had boarded the first three helicopters that the fourth remained empty. It seemed to be the end of the mission and a return to safety. But it was not.
That third helicopter was already damaged by enemy fire when it picked up Rose and the remainder of the fighters, and it took off with only one working engine. Shortly after lifting off, its remaining engine failed, meaning the aircraft would have to be “auto-rotated” to the ground.
On board was an injured Marine door gunner who had been shot through the neck and was bleeding profusely. As the helicopter pilots attempted to safely land a helicopter with no power, Rose tended to that young Marine’s neck — saving his life.
Ultimately, the helicopter crashed, and Rose yet again proved his valor.
“Mike was thrown off the aircraft before it hit the ground, but he raced back to the crash site and pulled one man after another out of the smoking and smoldering helicopter as it spewed jet fuel from its ruptured tanks,” Trump said.
At the conclusion of Operation Tailwind, thanks to the efforts of Mike Rose, all 16 American soldiers were able to return home. All of them had been injured. All but three of the Montagnards returned as well.
During those four days in Laos, “Mike treated an astounding 60 to 70 men,” Trump said. And of the mission, which proved to be a success, “their company disrupted the enemy’s continual resupply of weapons, saving countless of additional American lives.”
Medal of Honor
At the White House for the event were members of Rose’s family, including his wife, Margaret, his three children and two grandchildren, and nine previous Medal of Honor recipients.
Also in attendance were 10 service members who fought alongside Rose during the operation: Sgt. Maj. Morris Adair, Sgt. Don Boudreau, 1st Sgt. Bernie Bright, Capt. Pete Landon, Sgt. Jim Lucas, Lt. Col. Gene McCarley, 1st Sgt. Denver Minton, Sgt. Keith Plancich, Spc. 5 Craig Schmidt, and Staff Sgt. Dave Young.
“To Mike and all the service members who fought in the battle: You’ve earned the eternal gratitude of the entire American nation,” Trump said. “You faced down the evils of communism, you defended our flag, and you showed the world the unbreakable resolve of the American armed forces. Thank you. And thank you very much.”
After speaking, Trump placed the Medal of Honor around Rose’s neck.
Following the Medal of Honor ceremony, Rose said he believed the medal he received was not only for him, but for all those who served — especially those who had fought in combat but who had not been able to be recognized due to the classified nature of their operations.
“This award, which I consider a collective medal, is for all of the men, to include the Air Force and the Marines who helped us,” Rose said. “This is our medal. We all earned it. And to a great extent, it is for all the men who fought for those seven years in MACSOG, and even further than that, for all the Special Forces groups who fought and died in that war.
“In honor of all those individuals that went for so many years, when the military didn’t recognize the fact that MACSOG even existed, and all of those men that fought — this kind of brings it home. And now our story has been told, and now with this award I am convinced that they have been recognized for the great service they provided to this country. Thank you and God bless the republic of the United States.”
According to a report by the Daily Caller, the $8.5 billion deal saved taxpayers almost $740 million in costs — a cost of $94 million per aircraft.
The F-35A is arguably the simplest of the three variants, taking off and landing from conventional runways on land. The F-35B, being purchased by the Marine Corps, is a V/STOL (for Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft that required a lift fan and vectored nozzle. The F-35C is designed to handle catapult takeoffs and arrested landings on the aircraft carriers of the United States Navy.
The increased production of the F-35 has helped knock the production cost down. An October 2015 article by the Daily Caller noted that per-unit costs of the Zumwalt-class destroyers skyrocketed after the production run was cut from an initial buy of 32 to the eventual total of three.
Earlier this year, the F-35A took part in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nev., and posted a 15 to 1 kill ratio, according to reports by Aviation Week and Space Technology. BreakingDefense.com reported that the F-35A had a 90 percent mission capable rate, and that in every sortie, the key systems were up.
So, with these details in mind, take a look at this video Vox released on Jan. 26 of this year, before the announcement of the contract, and before the F-35s did some ass-kicking at Red Flag.
Lockheed Martin said in early August 2018 that the last of 52 upgraded C-5M Super Galaxy cargo planes had been delivered to the Air Force, finishing the nearly two-decade-long modernization of the service’s largest plane.
Lockheed began work on the Air Force’s Reliability and Re-engineering Program (RERP) in 2001 and turned over the first operational C-5M Super Galaxy, as the latest version is called, on Feb. 9, 2009.
In the 17 years since the RERP effort started, 49 C-5Bs, two C-5Cs, and one C-5A were upgraded, according to a Lockheed release, first cited by Air Force Times. The upgrades extend the aircraft’s service life into the 2040s, the contractor said.
A C-5M Super Galaxy lands at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, April 4, 2016.
(US Air Force photo)
The program involved 70 modifications to improve the plane’s reliability, efficiency, maintainability, and availability, including changes to the airframe; environmental, pneumatic, and hydraulic systems; landing gear, and flight controls.
The main new feature is more powerful engines, upgraded from four General Electric TF-39 engines to General Electric F-138 engines. The new engines, which are also quieter, allow the C-5M to haul more cargo with less room needed for takeoff.
“With the capability inherent in the C-5M, the Super Galaxy is more efficient and more reliable, and better able to do its job of truly global strategic airlift,” Patricia Pagan, a senior program manager at Lockheed, said in the release.
All together, the RERP upgrades yield “a 22 percent increase in thrust, a shorter takeoff roll; [and] a 58 percent improvement in climb rate,” according to release, which said the modifications give the C-5M greater fuel efficiency and reduce its need for tanker support.
Airmen and Marines load vehicles into a C-5M Super Galaxy at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2014.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock)
The C-5 stands 65 feet high with a length of 247 feet and a 223-foot wingspan. The upgraded C-5M can haul 120,000 pounds of cargo more than 5,500 miles — the distance from Dover Air Force base in Delaware to Incirlik airbase in Turkey — without refueling. Without cargo, that range jumps to more than 8,000 miles.
The plane can carry up to 36 standard pallets and 81 troops at the same time or a wide variety of gear, including tanks, helicopters, submarines, equipment, and food and emergency supplies.
The first C-5A was delivered to the Air Force in 1970. By 1989, 50 C-5Bs had joined the 76 C-5As that were already in service. Two C-5Cs, modified to carry the space shuttle’s large cargo container, were also delivered in 1989.
An Air Force C-5M Super Galaxy taking off.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
The modernization push
The Air Force began a C-5 modernization push in 1998, starting the RERP in 2001 with plans to deliver 52 upgraded planes by fiscal year 2018. The remainder of the C-5 fleet was to be retired by September 2017.
But the C-5 fleet has face administrative and operational issues in recent years.
Due to budget sequestration, a number of C-5s were moved to backup status in over the past few years, meaning the Air Force still had the aircraft but no personnel or funding to operate them. In early 2017, Air Force officials said they wanted to move at least eight C-5s from backup status to active status.
“I need them back because there’s real-world things that we’ve got to move, and they give me that … added assurance capability,” then-Air Mobility Commander Gen. Carlton Everhart said at the time.
A C-5M Super Galaxy taxis down the flight line before takeoff at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Aug. 17, 2015.
(US. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)
In the months since, the Air Force’s C-5s have encountered maintenance issues that required stand-downs.
In mid-July 2017, Air Mobility Command grounded the 18 C-5s — 12 primary and six backups — stationed at Dover Air Force Base after the nose landing-gear unit in one malfunctioned for the second time in 60 days. Days later, that order was extended to all of the Air Force’s 56 C-5s, which had to undergo maintenance assessments.
The issue was with the ball-screw assembly, which hindered the extension and retraction of the landing gear. The parts needed to fix the problem were no longer in production, however, but the Air Force was able to get what it needed from the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where unused or out-of-service aircraft are stored.
In early 2018, the nose landing gear again caused problems when it failed to extend all the way for an Air Force Reserve C-5M landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The plane landed on its nose and skidded about three-quarters of the way down the runway. The cause of the accident and extent of the damage were not immediately clear, but none of the 11 crew members on board were hurt.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The video is a grainy, far-off view of the battlefield of Takur Ghar, Afghanistan. It came from the ISR feed of a nearby Predator drone monitoring the 2002 operation designed to surround and destroy a large al-Qaeda force in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan, called Anaconda. At Takur Ghar, things did not go well for the combined Coalition force of seven Navy SEALs, 20 Army Rangers, and three Air Force Airmen. In what is best described as a pyrrhic win, the battle cost the lives of three Rangers, a SEAL, a pararescueman, a special forces aviator, and a combat controller, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.
It was after a special ops team was inserted via Chinook that Chapman’s heroism was captured by the drone.
During the initial insertion into the area, one of the Chinooks was hit by a massive barrage of enemy machine gun and RPG fire, forcing it to leave the area immediately. During its expedite escape, Navy SEAL PO1 Neil Roberts fell out of the open hatch of the helicopter, falling 10 feet into the snow below. Razor 04 (one of the Chinook helicopters) returned to the peak with its team of special operators to rescue Roberts. It too was forced away from the area, but not before the operators could get off the helicopter.
In the video above, you can see one of the disembarking troops split off from the main group. That’s Tech. Sgt. Chapman running straight into al-Qaeda machine gun positions in the dark. The operators have split up into two-man bounding teams, and Chapman is wounded while advancing on one of the enemy positions to protect their movement. Chapman is stopped only temporarily and starts fighting again almost immediately.
By this time, the operators have called for a quick reaction force from the 75th Ranger Regiment at Bagram Air Base, and two of the SEALs are also wounded. The teams call for extraction and another Chinook, Razor 01, is inbound before getting lit up again by enemy RPG fire. Chapman attempts to protect the helicopter and his fellow operators but is killed in action. But the story doesn’t end there. The operator force and the two QRF teams of Rangers had their own ordeal in getting to the battlefield (which is another story in itself). All told, the battle lasted until the Americans were extracted at 2000 that evening, some 18 hours after their first contact with the enemy.
Chapman was awarded the Air Force Cross in 2003 for the action depicted in the video, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2018. Whether Chapman was still alive when the SEALs departed the area has come under dispute due to evidence found by investigators during the Medal of Honor investigation. The airman’s mother believes everything on the ridge that night went as Chapman would have wanted – his teammates escaping the line of fire to fight another day, even if it cost him his own life.
Since February, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has scanned nearly 131,000 images across 168 social media sites and has reviewed information related to 89 persons of interest as a result of incidents related to the nonconsensual sharing of explicit photos and other online misconduct.
Among all persons of interest, 22 are civilians, and 67 are active-duty or reserve Marines. Five of these cases remain with NCIS as they investigate, while 62 have been passed to appropriate Marine commands for disposition.
To date, command dispositions have resulted in one summary court-martial, two administrative separations, seven non-judicial punishments, and 22 adverse administrative actions. These cases span beyond the Marines United Facebook page and include a spectrum of behavior.
While many cases involve photos, clothed or explicit, some involve verbal remarks without images.
On June 29, a Marine plead guilty at a summary-court martial related to the non-consensual sharing of explicit photos on the Marines United Facebook group. The Marine was sentenced to 10 days confinement, reduction of rank by three grades, and a forfeiture of two-thirds of one month’s pay. Additionally, the process to administratively separate the Marine is underway.
According to Gen. Glenn Walters, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and head of the Marine Corps Task Force that is addressing cultural issues with the Corps, the scope and apparent tolerance by some Marines for online misconduct has resulted in updates to Marine Corps training, policies and orders to ensure that Marines understand the expectations of what is and is not appropriate on social media.
“While those changes address the immediate behavioral issue, we also remain committed to addressing and evolving our culture by changing the way we educate, train, and lead our Marines – we will not tolerate a lack of respect for any member of our team,” said Walters.
To help guide commanders and to ensure they have the appropriate information available to discuss and train Marines on online misconduct, the Marine Corps created a Leader’s Handbook in April 2017. According to Task Force personnel, the handbook provides leaders guidance on how to report and review each case. It also provides a range of potential accountability mechanisms available to commanders.
In addition to the updates to policies and orders, the Marine Corps has adjusted how it handles reports of online misconduct. Any allegation is now reported to NCIS for review and investigated if criminal in nature. If not criminal in nature, the cases are passed to the appropriate command for disposition. Additionally, commanders are now required to report allegations of online misconduct to Headquarters Marines Corps.
“I think it’s important to recognize that our understanding of the issue has evolved over time,” said Walters. “How we handle cases today is much different and more effective as a result of what occurred with Marines United. Moving forward, we are planning to establish a permanent structure that can address all of the factors that contribute to the negative subculture that has allowed this behavior to exist.”
The Air Force’s version of the F-35 Lightning II, the F-35A, has officially been deployed to the Middle East. In the air, the F-35A is supposed to be the most capable variant of the plane, and it has been sent to a base used to generate sorties against ISIS. The base is also well-positioned to support potential U.S. operations in Iran or across the Middle East.
The planes have been sent to the 4th Fighter Wing at Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates. The base is too far from Syria for warplanes to reach it without aerial refueling, so it may seem like an odd place from which to attack ISIS. But with the help of aerial tankers, planes like the F-22 and F-35 can take off from there, refuel in the air, and then hit targets across Iraq and Syria before heading from home.
And the F-35A has all the stealth features and sensors of the other F-35 variants without any of the airframe compromises made by the Marine Corps and Navy to help their versions take off from carriers and amphibious assault ships.
So, while the Marine Corps’ F-35B has already made its first combat sortie against the Taliban, and the Navy is focusing on incorporating the F-35C into its own carrier fleet and those of allies, the F-35A could become a frontline and regular attacker against elements of ISIS and other terror groups when they rear their ugly heads for attacks or training.
U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II arrives for first Middle East deployment
And Al Dhafra is well positioned for potential future fights as well. The base is less than 200 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz, an important trade chokepoint highly susceptible to Iranian interference. And the Iranian capital of Tehran is actually closer to Al Dhafra than Syria is. F-35As and F-22s would be key to defeating Russia-provided air defenses in Iran if America went to war with that country.
Of course, the Air Force has not said exactly what it plans to do with the F-35As at Al Dhafra. The F-35A was declared combat-ready by the flying service in 2016, but the Air Force has focused on improving the plane’s capabilities and commanders’ understanding of it rather than rushing it into combat.
And that makes a lot of sense. The F-35 is famously the most expensive weapons program in history, partially due to just how ambitious the program was from the outset. Its most advanced stealth capabilities, both the passive elements like its coating and physical design as well as its active protections like electronic warfare capabilities, are aimed at advanced adversaries like China.
It’s just not fiscally prudent to spend a lot of expensive F-35 flight hours over Syria where less-advanced airplanes can safely perform. But some stick time there could help season pilots in their planes, allowing them to be more effective in a future fight.
But still, don’t expect to see too many details of too many F-35A missions in combat anytime soon. Even if the Air Force sends them into combat in the coming days, the service will likely want to play the cards close to the chest to prevent Russian air defenses from getting too good of a look at the plane. The more chances that S-400s and similar systems get to look at the F-35, the better their operators will become at tracking and targeting them.
And if the F-35A is flown against Russia or China, we’ll want those operators caught as flat-footed as possible.
Accounts in South Korean media differ over who exactly proposed the latest measure, but it came at a general-level military dialogue, which hadn’t happened for over a decade before.
The two nations, still technically at war after signing an armistice in the 1950s, met under the banner of “practically eliminate the danger of war,” as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to do on April 27, 2018, during their historic first summit.
But the guns represent a substantial part of North Korea’s threat to Seoul, perhaps acting as the main deterrent holding off a US or South Korean invasion during the multidecade military standoff.
Precisely because the artillery is so formidable, expect to see North Korea ask for something in return. Kim could ask for a withdrawal of or a reduction in US forces in South Korea — a longstanding goal in Pyongyang. Roughly 28,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent.
Police arrested three men Tuesday in Daytona Beach, Florida, for beating up a disabled Navy veteran after he told them to stop torturing a turtle to death.
A woman spotted a group of men “smashing up a turtle” while walking her toddler around a pond and immediately went home to tell her husband and disabled Navy vet, Gary Blough, who then came out of their apartment to see what was going on, WKMG reports.
He spotted two men and a teenager hitting the turtle.
“The one had it over his head and he was smashing it down on the sidewalk,” Blough said. “I asked them to please leave it alone, just let it go to the lake.”
Blough told his wife to call the police, and immediately two members of the group started punching and kicking him in the back of the head.
“They started hitting the back of my head and started punching me. I was able to fend off a little bit but I mean three of them, got the better of me,” he said.
One of the attackers reportedly yelled that he didn’t care if he went to jail, but the attackers soon scattered after bystanders approached the scene. Police caught up with the three alleged assailants, who were then immediately charged with aggravated battery and animal cruelty.
Blough later informed Daytona Beach police that the turtle was attempting to crawl away, but couldn’t move, due to its injuries.
Blough himself sustained a broken skull, internal bleeding, broken facial bones and a concussion, horrifying his wife.
The turtle was later found dead in a pool of blood.
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North Korea issued a message of warning to the United States on April 25, vowing to respond to force with force if attacked.
But Pyongyang did not engage in a major provocation on the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army as some analysts have speculated, a possible sign Kim Jong Un could be taking a step back in the face of renewed pressure from China and the United States.
Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun stated in an editorial on April 25 that its army has the capacity to “respond to any war the United States wants,” and that the “era of the U.S. imperialist’s nuclear terror has ended forever,” because North Korea has developed its own nuclear capacity.
The editorial also suggested the absence of a nuclear or missile provocation on April 25 was no guarantee the Kim Jong Un regime would refrain from a test in the near future.
“In the area of defense, as we produce more advanced weapons, we must work toward creating more events similar to the ‘March 18 Revolution,'” Pyongyang stated.
The North Korean leader did not issue a message on the day of the anniversary, most recently making an appearance at a pig farm, according to KCTV.
China and the United States condemned North Korea’s missile provocations in April, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States would respond if North Korea attacks U.S. troops in the region.
“If you see [Kim] attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to [strike back],” Haley said on NBC’s “Today.” “But right now, we’re saying, ‘Don’t test, don’t use nuclear missiles, don’t try and do any more actions,’ and I think he’s understanding that.”
On 18 March, U.S. crude oil prices fell to their lowest level in 18 years. The following day, momentarily distracted from their hype of the coronavirus pandemic, pundits and analysts reminded us again that low oil prices are the result of Saudi Arabia instigating a price war with Russia. And again, the culprit named was Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Among his motives, they claimed, is hobbling the fracking industry that has ended American dependence on Middle East oil. Now, let’s examine the real backstory.
Weeks before a scheduled meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel dedicated to supporting oil prices, the Saudis became concerned that the coronavirus pandemic was causing the oil price to decline. To stop or at least slow that decline, Riyadh worked to get oil-producing countries to agree to counteract falling prices with a production cut of 1.5 million barrels per day.
The Saudis were successful with OPEC and non-OPEC members, with one exception: Russia. On March 7th, it was clear that the Russians would not agree to any cut in their production, despite an existing 3-year old deal with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh then punished the Russians by undercutting prices to all their main customers – like Communist China – by increasing production by 2 million barrels per day.
On 20 March, Brent crude closed at .98 per barrel, far below Russia’s cost of production. Even at , Russia loses 0 million to 0 million per day. Goldman Sachs predicts the price will continue to drop to per barrel, far below Russia’s budget needs. Analysts say that even if the ruble stays stable, Russia needs per barrel, even with spending cuts and drawing on monetary reserves. With Russia’s main exports being energy and weapons, there are few other options.
Two things drove Russia to make its drastic decision. First, Russia’s power in the world, especially in the EU, has a great deal to do with energy politics. Russia is one of Europe’s main energy suppliers, and with Brexit, that dominance will increase. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is a critical element in Russia’s European energy strategy and Washington, understanding that levied sanctions on the pipeline as well as on state-owned Rosneft. As a result, Moscow rightly believes that American fracking-based energy independence underpins Washington’s ability to threaten Russia’s global energy politics. That was demonstrated in the first days of March when Putin met with Russian oil companies. At that meeting, Rosneft’s head, Igor Sechin, said that low energy prices “are great because they will damage U.S. shale.”
Second, the Kremlin is determined to maintain the political influence it has achieved in the Middle East after years of expensive effort. To continue to meet those expenses, Russia must not only use profits from weapons sales but also from unrestricted production and sale of crude oil and gas. Propping up oil prices by restricting production does not fit that requirement, and higher prices certainly do not “damage U.S. shale.”
As it continues to confront Russia’s motives, Washington should take comfort in the knowledge that the dark clouds of the oil price war have silver linings with regard to American national security.
First, rock bottom oil prices that force Russia to sell crude at a net loss will undoubtedly impact its budget, which in turn will substantially lessen its appetite for foreign military adventures. As a bonus, low oil prices will similarly impact Iran. Together, those two aggressive nations continue to menace the United States and kill American soldiers on a roll call of battlefields.
In Iraq, Tehran is attempting to ramp up attacks by its proxy forces on bases manned by U.S. forces. These relatively minor and uncoordinated attacks are hampered by a lack of leadership and lack of essential funding. The recent U.S. killing of an enemy combatant, General Soleimani, has been as telling to Iran as the fall of oil sales revenue.
In Syria, Russia and Iran are successfully propping up dictator Bashar al-Assad at considerable cost. The Saudis are as concerned about Syria as they are about their long border with Iraq, so Riyadh will not be anxious to end the economic punishment they are meting out to Moscow and Tehran.
Who will win the oil war?
Russia has boasted they will survive selling oil at a loss for years by “adjusting the budget.” Those adjustments will mean at least pausing their expensive aggression in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya, not to mention developing and brandishing new weapons aimed at NATO and the United States. Despite their brave front, the pain was already evident when Russia signaled it was willing to join an OPEC conference call to discuss market conditions. Saudi Arabia and other members did not agree to attend. The call was canceled.
Iran is using its disastrous domestic coronavirus epidemic as a ploy to gain sympathy, pleading for the lifting of sanctions. The firm U.S. response was to increase sanctions, excepting only agricultural and humanitarian supplies. With just a sliver of oil sales income remaining, domestic unrest, inflation and disease are turning the Islamic Republic into a failing state.
Saudi Arabia, like Russia, stated its budget can weather the lower oil prices for years and is already trimming expenditures by 5%. If further cuts are needed, it will be relatively easy for the Kingdom to postpone ambitious domestic projects – knowing they will not run out of oil for a very long time.
The United States, preoccupied with the coronavirus, is almost a bystander in the oil price war. Despite loud complaints from Wall Street brokers and the discomfort of over-extended oil companies, our domestic energy supply remains secure for civilians and warfighters. Gas prices at the pump have dropped to levels not seen in twenty years. We are filling our strategic reserve with inexpensive oil as a hedge against the future. And Saudi Arabia is an ally that has clearly stated, whatever else may drive it, that it has no intention of crushing our fracking industry.
As for Russia and Iran, Ronald Reagan once summed it up nicely: “They lose, we win.”