Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban - We Are The Mighty
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Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced a temporary cease-fire with the Taliban for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that caps off the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, though it was not immediately clear whether the militants had agreed.

The truce will last from June 12 until around June 20, 2018, Ghani said in a video message on June 7, 2018, as deadly militant attacks across Afghanistan showed no sign of easing during Ramadan.

Ghani said that Afghanistan’s security forces will “stop offensives” against Afghan Taliban militants but will continue to target the extremist group Islamic State (IS), Al-Qaeda, and “other international terrorist groups” and their affiliates.


The cease-fire is “an opportunity for Taliban to introspect that their violent campaign is not wining [sic] them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause,” the president wrote on Twitter.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed declined to comment to RFE/RL on the matter.

Senior security officials said the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated to the Taliban, was also included in the unilateral cease-fire.

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said that foreign forces will also honor the cease-fire.

“We will adhere to the wishes of Afghanistan for the country to enjoy a peaceful end to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and support the search for an end to the conflict,” General John Nicholson said in a statement.

Ghani’s announcement comes days after the country’s top religious body issued a religious order, or fatwa, declaring suicide attacks forbidden, or “haram,” under the principles of Islam.

Meeting in Kabul on June 4, 2018, the Afghan Ulema Council also appealed on both Afghan government forces and the Taliban and other militants to agree on a cease-fire, and called for peace negotiations between the sides.

A suicide bombing outside the gathering, attended by around 2,000 Muslim clerics, scholars, and figures of authority in religion and law from across Afghanistan, killed at least seven people, including several clerics.

A local affiliate of IS claimed responsibility.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan welcomed Ghani’s announcement, saying on Twitter that “there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.”

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on the Taliban to join the cease-fire, saying that the militant group “will not win on the battlefield.”

“The only way for them to achieve a solution is to sit down at the negotiating table,” he told reporters.

The U.S. State Department said that “the Afghan government’s offer of a temporary cease-fire underscores its commitment to peace as both a national and religious responsibility.”

It said it will allow the Afghan people to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday without fear of violence.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the announcement will be “an opportunity to reduce levels of violence and create space for talks to begin.”

However, a former Afghan army general, Atiqullah Amarkhel, expressed concerns that the cease-fire would give the Taliban a chance to regroup.

“From a military prospect, it is not a good move,” he told Reuters.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

The Taliban has stepped up its attacks against Afghan security forces as well as government officials across the country since the announcement of its spring offensive in April 2018.

In February 2018, Ghani offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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13 hobbies veterans recommend for dealing with stress

After over a decade as an enlisted infantry Marine, my husband jumped ship and crossed over to the dark side as an officer.


When he made the switch, two things happened: he found himself stressed studying more than ever before, and he found himself absolutely bored out of his ever-loving mind in between training classes to become a Marine pilot.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
Col. John Kent, the deputy commanding officer of Madigan Army Medical Center prepares the wort chiller for entrance into the boiled wort during a home beer brewing session at his home in DuPont Wash., Feb. 25, 2017.

In a moment of serious desperation, he took to Facebook to plead with his veteran buddies to share their favorite hobbies for dealing with stress and boredom, and they did not disappoint.

In no particular order, here are 13 hobbies these veterans recommend for dealing with stress:

1. Woodworking

Here’s what Newt Anderson wrote: “I recommend woodworking. Start simple, carving. Otherwise you could go down the road of coloring books! You would be surprised how relaxing both can be. A good set of woodworking tools is a must though. Don’t skimp on those or the blisters you get will make you regret it.”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
Stefano De Bortoli, 31st Force Support Squadron wood hobby shop manager, blows sawdust off a piece of wood, March 24, 2015, at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

2. Beer Making

David Sap recommended beer making. Mr. Beer carries a pretty wide variety of starter kits for brewing your own beer, and they claim to be simple, clean, and time efficient. Which is great, because time efficient means more time to brew more beer. Where are my peanuts?

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
Photo Credit: Streetwear Deals

3. Quad Racing

“Quad racing. You should check out Tiny Whoop.” Lucy Goosy

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
Not *quite* what we had in mind, but you do you. (Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

4. Running

Brad Etzweiler and Titus Vanguard both recommended running.

Nothing says “I’m stressed about flight school and the fact that I’m old and fat and can’t run as fast as these boots in my class anymore and I study too much and I also need a stress reliever,” like running a triathlon. Right? RIGHT??

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

5. Kayaking

Gilberto Burbante recommended kayaking. One summer I tried kayaking in white water. As it turns out, I cannot breathe under water and also I suck at kayaking.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
A kayak football player speedily turns his kayak during one of the kayak football games in the tournament held at Naval Support Activity Bethesda’s Fitness Center pool March 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Hank Gettys/released)

6. Pole Dancing

Hales Fuller fully supports pole dancing as an extracurricular. I am immensely interested in seeing my husband do this. *runs away to install a pole*

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
It’s harder than it looks. (Photo via Flickr user Matteo Schmidt | CC BY-ND 2.0)

7. RC Racing

“RC car racing. I enjoy it and still cheaper then the real thing. It gets addicting though and then you spend the money.” Jack Burton is right, though — it looks expensive.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
RC cars ready to race. (Photo via wiki user Itrados)

8. Guitar

My father-in-law, James Foley, (a retired Master Guns and Viet Nam vet) recommended my husband learn to play guitar. I have no objections.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carrie Gatz, an instrumentalist with the 566th Air Force Band, Illinois Air National Guard, plays guitar for a hospice patient at her civilian job Sept. 11, 2013. 

9. BBQing

“Buy you a smoker — time off, smoke ribs and stuff,” wrote Ryan Clay. Bob Waldren agreed, “I second this. Go hunting and get yourself a few Florida bucks.”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
Nothing brings people together quite like firing up the grill. (Photo via wiki user Gbleem)

10. All the water sports in Florida

Phil John wrote, “Jet ski. [You pay the] initial cost for the ski but then you’re just paying gas. We love ours! Also, spear fishing is a blast. Paddle boarding/ kayaking is great.”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
Racing scene at the German Championship 2007 in a jet ski race on the Elbe, Krautsand. (Photo via wiki user Backlit)

11. Do you even lift, Bro?

My brother-n-law Chuck, also a Marine, recommended lifting. Get thine arse to a gym, brah.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Julian Fyffe does arm curls during physical training aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD8), Feb. 8. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon Maldonado)

12. Learn a new language

In addition to lifting, Chuck recommended learning a new language. Homeboy already speaks some Spanish, Farsi, and something else — Arabic maybe?

Extra credit for swear words.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
A U.S. Navy chaplain, right, studies English with an Afghan girl during a volunteer session May 27, 2013, at the Cat in the Hat Language Arts Center at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (DoD photo by Erica Fouche, U.S. Army)

13. Get your sophistication on

Aside from running, Titus Vanguard also recommended, “Books. Read books and run… you are an officer now.” Adulting is hard.

Dr. Seuss is on the Commandant’s Reading List, right?

Screw it. Where’s that beer brewing thing at?

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick McKie, U.S. Army Support Activity Fort Dix command sergeant major, visited New Hanover Township Elementary in Wrightstown, New Jersey March 2 for Read Across America.

How do you relieve stress? Leave a comment and let us know!

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VA health care foiled again by sudden money shortage

The Department of Veterans Affairs warned June 14 it was unexpectedly running out of money for a program that offers veterans private-sector health care, forcing it to hold back on some services that lawmakers worry could cause delays in medical treatment.


It is making an urgent request to Congress to allow it to shift money from other programs to fill the sudden budget gap.

VA Secretary David Shulkin made the surprising revelation at a Senate hearing. He cited a shortfall of more than $1 billion in the Choice program due to increased demand from veterans for federally-paid medical care outside the VA. The VA had previously assured Congress that funding for Choice would last until early next year.

“We need your help on the best solution to get more money into the Choice account,” Shulkin told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “If there is no action at all by Congress, then the Choice program will dry up by mid-August.”

The department began instructing VA medical centers late last week to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors so it can slow spending in the Choice account. Some veterans were being sent to Defence Department hospitals, VA facilities located farther away, or other alternative locations “when care is not offered in VA,” according to a June 7 internal VA memorandum.

The VA is also scrambling to tap other parts of its budget, including about $620 million in carry-over money that it had set aside for use in the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. It was asking field offices to hold off on spending for certain medical equipment to help cover costs, according to a call the department held with several congressional committees June 13.

It did not rule out taking money from VA hospitals.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
David Shulkin (Photo by Robert Turtil, Department of Veterans Affairs)

Shulkin on June 14 insisted that veterans will not see an impact in their health care. He blamed in part the department’s excessive use of an exception in the Choice program that allowed veterans to go to private doctors if they faced an “excessive burden” in traveling to a VA facility. Typically, Choice restricts use of private doctors only when veterans must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility.

Medical centers were now being asked to hew more closely to Choice’s restrictions before sending veterans to private doctors, Shulkin said.

He described the shortfall in the Choice program as mostly logistical, amounting to different checking accounts within the VA that needed to be combined to meet various payments.

Some senators were in disbelief.

They noted that VA had failed to anticipate or fix budget problems many times before. Two years ago, the VA endured sharp criticism from Congress when it was forced to seek emergency help to cover a $2.5 billion budget shortfall due in part to expensive hepatitis C treatments, or face closing some VA hospitals.Congress allowed VA to shift money from its Choice account.

“I am deeply concerned,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D- Wash., explaining that VA should have “seen this coming.” She said veterans in her state were already reporting delays in care and being asked to travel to VA facilities more than 4 hours away.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the panel, expressed impatience.

“For months we’ve been asking about the Choice spend rate and we were never provided those answers to make an informed decision,” he said. “No one wants to delay care for veterans — no one — so we will act appropriately. For that to happen this late in the game is frustrating to me.”

Major veterans’ organizations said they worried the shortfall was the latest sign of poor budget planning.

Carl Blake, an associate executive director at Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the VA has yet to address how it intends to address a growing appeals backlog as well as increased demands for care. “The VA could be staring at a huge hole in its budget for 2018,” he said. “It’s not enough to say we have enough money, that we can move it around. That is simply not true.”

The shortfall surfaced just weeks after lawmakers were still being assured the Choice program was under budget, with $1.1 billion estimated to be left over in the account on Aug. 7, when the program was originally set to expire. That VA estimate prompted Congress to pass legislation last March to extend the program until the Choice money ran out.

Shulkin said he learned about the shortfall June 8.

Currently, more than 30 per cent of VA appointments are made in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 per cent in 2014, as the VA’s 1,700 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care. During the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, pledging to give veterans more choice in seeing outside providers.

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Russian warplanes buzz an American destroyer in the Baltic Sea

Two Russian warplanes flew simulated attack passes near a U.S. guided missile destroyer in the Baltic Sea on April 11 and 12, according to the U.S. Navy, who captured the aggressive moves and posted them to YouTube and the official Navy website.


Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
BALTIC SEA (April 12, 2016) Two Russian aircraft simulating attacks over USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo)

The USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) tried to contact the Russian aircraft via the radio, but received no response. Such incidents happened routinely during the Cold War, but a joint agreement in 1972 by then-Secretary of the Navy John Warner and Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov ended the practice by creating a policy of avoiding provocative interactions at sea.

The Cook, a guided missile destroyer, was operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea when the events took place over the two days. On April 11, Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an allied military helicopter, once while the helicopter was refueling on the ship’s deck.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
BALTIC SEA (April 12, 2016) A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very low altitude pass by USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo)

The U.S. military said the maneuvers were one of the most aggressive interactions in recent memory. Repeated flights by the Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes also flew so close they created wake in the water.

The SU-24 fighters made 11 passes, according to the Department of Defense. Although their maneuvers were aggressive, the planes carried no visible weaponry.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
BALTIC SEA (April 12, 2016) A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a low altitude pass by USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo)

U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels. The nearest Russian-controlled territory was about 70 nautical miles away in the enclave of Kaliningrad, sitting between Lithuania and Poland.

 

The close calls on April 12 came when the Cook was still in international waters. This time a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted circles at low altitudes, making seven passes around the ship.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
BALTIC SEA (April 12, 2016) A Russian Kamov KA-27 HELIX helicopter flies low-level passes near the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) while the ship was operating in international waters April 12, 2016. Donald Cook is forward deployed to Rota, Spain, and is conducting routine patrols in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy expressed its deep concerns about the Russian flight maneuvers, saying these actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death. Flight operations aboard the Cook were canceled until the Russians were clear of the area.

“In my judgement these maneuvers in close proximity to the Donald Cook are unprofessional and unsafe,” said Adm. Mark Ferguson, the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.
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Navy fleet commanders warn of potential fight in North Korea

Two top Navy fleet commanders said Tuesday that the next potential conflict hotspot would likely be in Korea.


“If there’s a fight tonight, it’s probably going to happen on the Korean peninsula,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of 7th Fleet, in a panel discussion at the AFCEA West 2017 conference.

Also read: US sends carrier strike group to mix it up in the South China Sea

Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of 3rd Fleet, agreed with that assessment, saying that hostilities with the North Korean regime would be the “number one probability.”

The fleet commanders made their comments on a panel discussion titled, “Are we ready to fight — today and in the future?”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
In addition to its long-range missiles and nuclear programme, North Korea has a line of shorter-range Hwasong missiles capable of hitting Japan.

“Are we ready to fight? You bet we are,” said Vice Adm. Jamie Foggo, a former 6th Fleet commander who now serves as director of the Navy’s joint staff.

Foggo pointed to recent provocations out of Pyongyang as worrisome. Earlier this month, North Korea launched a land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missile that traveled 300 miles before splashing into the Sea of Japan.

“Frankly, it was pretty impressive,” Foggo said. “It was like a submarine missile launched from a tank. Solid fuel. Pretty impressive.”

Still, Aucoin pointed to the US’ strong relationship with South Korea and Japan as helping to counter aggression out of Pyongyang, along with a number of moves of sophisticated weaponry and early-warning assets to the region, including E2D Hawkeye aircraft, F/A-18 Super Hornets, and F-35B fighters being placed in Okinawa.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
The Republic of Korea Navy amphibious landing ship ROKS Dokdo (LPH 6111) and the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) transit the Sea of Japan. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas

The US also has Patriot missile batteries and is moving forward with placing the more-advanced THAAD interceptor on the ground in South Korea. There are more than 28,000 US soldiers stationed there.

Aucoin said those assets provide a “pretty good umbrella.”

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that preparations were underway to bring North Korean officials to the United States for diplomatic talks between former US officials.

7th Fleet, Aucoin said, is well-resourced and well-manned. “We’re ready to deliver decisive combat power on, above, and below the surface if necessary,” he said.

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The Mission Continues hits the ground in LA to give a grade school a facelift

It’s an overcast, slightly rainy day in the South LA neighborhood of Watts. Twenty-five volunteers — veterans and civilians — show up to help The Mission Continues’ 3rd Platoon Los Angeles revamp the athletic areas of Samuel Gompers Middle School. This project is the third for Gompers. Allison Bailey, TMC’s Western Region City Impact Manager, is worried that some of those who signed up might be no-shows because of the rain.


Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

“We definitely can’t paint the lines on the field,” she says.

Bailey is an Army veteran and reservist with a tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan under her belt. She started as a Mission Continues volunteer and now works for TMC full time.

The Mission Continues doesn’t just go out and do random projects; they want to make a lasting impact with tangible results. To do that, they forge long-term relationships with local communities.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

A “platoon” launches when The Mission Continues determines there are enough veteran volunteers to support one. Platoons are dedicated to one geographic area. That’s why 3rd Platoon LA is often at Gompers; they are devoted exclusively to Watts school. That’s part of its “operation.” An operation is a focused effort for a platoon.

In Watts, TMC works with the Partnership for LA Schools. 3rd Platoon has been in this operation for over a year. Bailey does a lot of prep work for the three platoons and two operations in the LA area.

“The goal is to feel dedicated,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of projects here at Gompers Middle School and we try to get the staff and students involved as much as possible so they take ownership of the projects we do.”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

Elizabeth Pratt, the principal of Samuel Gompers Middle School, is here with the volunteers. She’s worked with the veterans of The Mission Continues before. Students from the school are usually present, but since school is now out for the summer, there aren’t any around today. Still, Pratt is eager for things that will benefit the next school year.

“My students will have the ability next year to have an actual baseball field and soccer field,” Pratt says. “So not only will it enhance after school play, but it will also enhance our current P.E. program.”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

The first time Allison came to Gompers, she walked the grounds with Principal Pratt. They talked in depth about the possibilities for the school and the projects TMC could work on. Since then, the two have exchanged a few ideas for what to improve. The last time they cooperated, Gompers got a beautiful outdoor gardening area.

“The students were so excited,” Pratt recalls. “The students and their families all came out. It gave everyone a real sense of pride.”

When the veterans from 3rd Platoon first came to Gompers, they shared some of their experiences as veterans with the students. They shared a lunch and answered the children’s probing questions. The two groups shared a lot with each other. Curiosity became cooperation and the veterans from TMC have returned to Gompers three times (to much fanfare from the student body).

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

The volunteers spend much of this otherwise gloomy Saturday on the Gompers campus. No one notices the weather.  They turn an open patch of grass and a mound of dirt into a baseball diamond and soccer field. They pull four large bags of garbage off the playground. They build benches, a basketball backboard, and two soccer goals from wood and PVC piping, then reline the courts. No one complains and everyone hungrily eats their well-earned pizza lunch. After only six hours, these twenty-five people have completely transformed the quality of the school grounds.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

Daniel Hinojosa, an Army veteran and native of the LA area’s San Fernando Valley, now lives in downtown Los Angeles. This is his second visit to a TMC volunteer event.

“The progress is amazing,” he says. “It’s a neighborhood that definitely needs help and It feels good to help out. It gives me a sense of purpose. Everyone has a reason but for me, it’s not about money. Giving back to people is the most fulfilling goal I could possibly have.”

“It’s not about a connection to the school or the neighborhood,” Principal Pratt says. “People want to give to a place that needs the help. It brings people together in a very constructive way. It doesn’t just build up a part of the school; it builds school pride, neighborhood pride. It doesn’t matter if that neighborhood is Watts or Beverly Hills.”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

If you live in the LA area and want to volunteer with a TMC platoon, check out the TMC LA website. Go The Mission Continues’ website to find out how to report for duty in your community.

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Marines collect intel, pinpoint ISIS targets as Mosul fight draws near

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban
U.S. Marines with Task Force Spartan, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), on Fire Base Bell, Iraq, fire an M777A2 Howitzer at an ISIS infiltration route March 18, 2016. | US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andre Dakis


Behind the scenes in the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq areMarine intelligence analysts who work around the clock to produce what are called, in military euphemism, “target development products” — essentially, information about enemy equipment and personnel to be destroyed.

As Iraqi security forces, supported by a U.S.-led coalition, fight ISIS militants with hopes to retake Mosul in the north by year’s end, troops with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command provide “intelligence surge support,” developing from one to six or more targets in a given week, task force commander Col. Kenneth Kassner told Military.com this week.

Speaking via phone from a location in the Middle East, Kassner said operational tempo had maintained its intensity since the unit rotated into the region in April.

Deploying in six-month rotations, the unit was created in 2014 as a contingency force for the region, based in six countries and on standby for operations in 20.

But since the 2,300-man task force stood up, operations in support of the fight against the Islamic State have dominated its responsibilities.

Four months into this rotation, Marine F/A-18D Hornets with the unit have conducted more than 1,500 sorties to take out enemy targets in Iraq and Syria.

Task force Marines also provide security at the Al Asad and Al Taqaddum air bases in Iraq, enabling training of Iraqi troops and advisory support at key locations near the fight.

And while the unit’s Marines are not in combat on the ground, they quietly perform a number of background roles in the warfighting machine against ISIS.

“We have a very robust intelligence capability here in the [Marine air-ground task force] and what that enables us to do is, my intelligence analysts are able to better assess targets in support of the Iraqis’ ground maneuver,” Kassner said. “And once we develop that target, we’re looking for different types of patterns of analysis associated with that target.”

The intel, derived through air reconnaissance and other methods Kassner declined to describe, is submitted through coalition channels and used to inform the fight.

“Whether or not it is identified for a particular strike, that doesn’t reside with this MAGTF,” he said. “What we are providing is really a supporting effort to that larger target development process.”

U.S. airstrikes have wiped out more than 26,000 individual ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria since the fight began, according to U.S. Central Command data compiled by Time Magazine. On the ground, Iraqi troops have celebrated several high-stakes victories; in June, they reclaimed Fallujah after nearly two years in the hands of enemy forces.

Kassner said the MAGTF also continues to keep its squadron of MV-22 Ospreys at the ready for tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP) missions in support of the ISIS fight.

Amid constant and complex drills and training, both at home and downrange, he said, Marines had been able to “dramatically improve” TRAP response time, shaving minutes off every step of the mission, from equipment preparation to runway taxi.

While the task force has not been called to recover downed coalition aircraft or personnel since Ospreys deployed to recover an Air Force MQ-1 Predatordrone in southern Iraq last June, Kassner said, the unit has forward-positioned aircraft at the ready in support of coalition strikes multiple times.

“Every minute is precious when conducting a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel,” he said.

MIGHTY MOVIES

VA video series receives Emmy Award

A video story produced by VA focusing on a veteran boxing training program at Gleason’s Gym – America’s oldest active boxing gym – received an Emmy Award at a ceremony June 22, 2019, in Bethesda, Maryland.

The National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognized the segment produced for VA’s “The American Veteran” video series, and honored the series with its second Emmy since the show was relaunched in 2017 after a three-year hiatus.

The recognition was announced at the 61st annual regional Emmy Awards ceremony and was presented in the Health/Science – Program Feature/Segment category. The segment, titled “The American Veteran: Veteran Boxing Training,” was produced, shot and edited by VA’s digital team, which is part of the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPIA).


The production team included lead producer/photographer/editor Ben Pekkanen, co-producer Timothy Lawson, executive producer Lyndon Johnson, and VA NY Harbor Healthcare System Adaptive Sports Program’s developer, Jonathan Glasberg.

Historic New York boxing gym opens its doors to Veterans

www.youtube.com

Located on the banks of the East River in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood of Brooklyn, Gleason’s Gym is owned and operated by Vietnam veteran Bruce Silverglade. Silverglade, who has owned the gym since 1983, had long been interested in creating a training program for veterans, but wasn’t sure he could do it on his own. “I got a call from the VA hospital in Manhattan, from a fella by the name of Jonathan,” said Silverglade. “He came over to talk to me about a program they had.”

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

In the following weeks, Silverglade and VA’s New York Harbor Healthcare System’s clinical coordinator for prosthetics, Dr. Jonathan Glasberg, developed the framework for the veterans in the Ring boxing training program offered at Gleason’s Gym.

The video is one part of VA’s ongoing effort to engage and reach out to the veteran community directly. The VA digital portfolio includes: more than 150 Facebook pages, most of which belong to individual VA medical centers; the VAntage Point blog; nearly 100 Twitter feeds; Instagram; a Flickr photo library; and a YouTube channel. The department also distributes the “Borne the Battle” podcast.

Afghanistan just called a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban

“The American Veteran” was produced by VA for more than a decade before going on hiatus in 2014. During its active season, the show garnered numerous Telly, CINE and Aurora awards, as well as multiple Emmy awards and nominations.

According to its website, the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences (NATAS) is dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of television and the promotion of creative leadership for artistic, educational and technical achievements within the television industry. NATAS recognizes excellence in television with the coveted Emmy Award; regional Emmys are given in 19 markets across the United States.

Watch the Emmy Award-winning story above or on VA’s YouTube channel.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s longing for former Soviet Union hits 14-year high

More Russians regret the breakup of the Soviet Union than at any other time since 2004, an opinion poll shows.

In a survey whose results were published on Dec. 19, 2018, two-thirds — or 66 percent — of respondents answered “yes” when asked whether they regret the 1991 Soviet collapse.

That is up from 58 percent a year earlier and is the highest proportion since 2004, the last year of President Vladimir Putin’s first term, Levada said.


One-quarter of respondents said they do not regret the Soviet breakup, the lowest proportion since 2005, and 9 percent said they could not answer.

Putin, president from 2000-08 and 2012 to the present, has often played up the achievements of the Soviet Union while playing down some of its darkest chapters.

In 2005, Putin called the Soviet breakup the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, citing the large numbers of Russians it left outside Russia.

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In March 2018, when asked what event in the country’s history he would like to have been able to change, he named the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Levada said that Russians’ concerns about their economic security today were among the main reasons for the increase in the number voicing regret.

A highly unpopular plan to raise the retirement age by five years has stoked antigovernment sentiment and pushed Putin’s own approval ratings down in 2018.

The peak of regret over the Soviet collapse came in 2000, when 75 percent of Russian polled by Levada answered “yes” to the same question.

In 2018, Levada surveyed 1,600 people nationwide in the Nov. 22-28, 2018 poll.

The pollster said that 52 percent of respondents named the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “single economic system” as the main thing they regretted.

Worries about their current economic situation and prospects were a major factor for many of those respondents, Levada said.

At the same time, 36 percent said they miss the “feeling of belonging to a great power,” and 31 percent lamented mistrust and cruelty in society.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The oldest living Marine just turned 105

On July 31, 2020, the town of Stockton, California held a drive-by birthday celebration for a distinguished resident of The Oaks at Inglewood assisted living facility. A parade of local residents and first responders turned out to greet Marine Maj. Bill White a very happy 105 birthday.


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Maj. White in January (Pegasus Senior Living)

“Feels just as good as it did at 104,” Maj. White said.

The outpouring of fanfare and support were a testament to Maj. White’s positive spirit and service to the nation. For his family members, who haven’t been able to visit him much because of the coronavirus pandemic, the celebration was a touching display.

“It’s very heartwarming and very just—it does get to you that there are so many people that love him and appreciate him for his service,” said Maj. White’s daughter Mary Huston.

Maj. White enlisted in the Marine Corps in October 1934. Before the outbreak of WWII, he was stationed in Shanghai. During the war, he fought on Iwo Jima where he earned a Purple Heart for wounds suffered from a grenade. Maj. White continued his service after the war, spending 30 years in the Corps.

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Maj. Bill White in his Marine dress white uniform (Bill White)

Maj. White’s dedication to service continued after the military. He served as a police officer and started a family. One of his favorite hobbies is scrapbooking.

“This started way back,” Maj. White said. “My mother, parents taught me to conserve and observe memories as much as possible.”

Maj. White made headlines back in February when he put out a call asking for Valentine’s Day cards to add to his collection of memories. He launched “Operation Valentine” the month before with a goal of 100 cards. By the end, Maj. White’s call had gone viral on social media and he received more than half-a-million cards and gifts from around the world including a special note from NASA and President Trump.

Like any good Marine, Maj. White keeps his uniform in good order and likes to wear it for special occasions. Looking sharp in his dress blues, Maj. White revealed that the secret to his longevity is keeping his mind sharp by reading. “Right now I’m trying for 106,” he said. “One at a time.”


MIGHTY HISTORY

Taiwan is preparing for war by training fighter pilots to use freeways as runways

When a civil war between Chinese powers ended with victory for the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949, the Republic of China’s government retreated to a region of the nation that had only recently been returned from Japanese control, known as Taiwan. They quickly established a provisional capital in Taipei, and so began a half-century long staring contest from across the Pacific Ocean’s Taiwan Strait. Today, tensions remain high between these two Chinese governments, prompting complex foreign relations and sporadic military posturing between each government and their respective allies.


On Tuesday, Taiwan conducted an unusual series of military exercises aimed at preparing the nation to defend itself against a Chinese attack even after its military installations had been rendered useless by wave after wave of Chinese air strikes and naval bombardments. Taiwan knows China could feasibly neuter their military response capabilities fairly quickly, and in order to stay in the fight, they’d need to get creative with how they field their intercept and attack aircraft. When you’re fresh out of airstrips but still have fighters to scramble, what do you do?

You close down the freeways.

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Freeway or Runway? It all depends on the circumstances.

(Photo courtesy of Taiwan’s Freeway Bureau)

“Our national security has faced multiple challenges,” Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told the press on Tuesday. “Whether it is the Chinese Communist Party’s [People’s Liberation Army] long-distance training or its fighter jets circling Taiwan, it has posed a certain degree of threat to regional peace and stability. We should maintain a high degree of vigilance.”

As a part of the drills, Taiwan launched four different types of military aircraft from portions of highway that were shut down for use as makeshift airstrips. Long stretches of blacktop normally reserved for slow-moving commuters fighting their way through workday traffic instead became packed with American sourced F-16 Fighting Falcons and Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, along with French Mirage 2000s and Taiwan-made IDF fighters. Each aircraft took off carrying a full combat load.

The drills not only demonstrated Taiwan’s ability to scramble fighters and support aircraft from the freeway, it also proved conclusively that Taiwan’s troops can conduct refueling and ammunition replenishment operations right there on the highway, redeploying jets back into the fight quickly even after their air bases have been destroyed.

Taiwan fighters land on highway for Chinese ‘invasion’ wargames

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“There are only a few military air bases which would become the prime targets in the event of an attack. The highway drill is necessary as highway strips would be our priority choice if the runways were damaged during a war,” Air Force Colonel Shu Kuo-mao explained.

Over 1,600 military personnel took part in the drills, along with Taiwan’s new variant of the F-16 that has been called the “most advanced fourth-generation fighter on the planet” by its builder, Lockheed Martin. The F-16V offers advanced AESA Radar sourced through Northrop Grumman, as well as a variety of updates and upgrades to avionics and combat systems meant to make it a formidable opponent for just about anything in the sky that isn’t Lockheed Martin’s flagship fighter, the F-35, or its sister in stealth, the F-22.

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The F-16V is touted as the world’s most advanced fourth generation fighter by Lockheed Martin

(Promotional image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The F-16s that took part in Tuesday’s drills notably flew carrying two Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, sourced from the United States, meaning their primary role in a fight would be to engage with encroaching aircraft and vessels, rather than air-to-surface strikes against the Chinese mainland.

With only about a hundred miles separating Taiwan’s shores from China’s, it stands to reason that combat operations would begin with a heavy bombardment of Taiwan’s few operational airstrips. These drills, however, suggest that even such an offensive may not be enough to stop Taiwan from responding with some of the best fighters on the planet.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These two NATO allies may be inching closer to all-out war

Turkish warplanes harassed a helicopter carrying Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis on April 17, 2018, Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reports.

The helicopter was flying from the Greek islet of Ro to Rhodes, another Greek island in the Aegean Sea.


The Turkish jets, which were flying at approximately 10,000 feet, contacted the pilot of the Greek helicopter and asked for flight details. The Hellenic Air Force responded by sending its own jets, which caused the Turkish fighters to veer off and leave.

Ro and Rhodes are two of the hundreds of islands in the Aegean Sea that are controlled by Greece, but they are geographically closer to the Turkish mainland than to Athens. Rhodes is just 29 miles from the Turkish port of Marmaris.

Ro is even closer to the Turkish mainland, and has been the site of territorial disputes in the past. The Hellenic Army does have a presence on the small island, and in early April 2018, they fired tracer rounds at a Turkish helicopter that flew over its airspace.

The episode comes just over a week after a HAF pilot died after his Mirage 2000-5 fighter jet crashed near the island of Skyros. The pilot was returning from intercepting two Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters that had intruded into Greek airspace.

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A Hellenic Air Force Mirage 2000EG

The crash does not appear to be due to the Turkish mission, but made the situation in the region more tense.

Just a few hours before the incident, Tsipras was speaking to a crowd at the island of Kastellorizo, pledging that Greece would defend its principles “in any way it can … and will not cede an inch of territory.”

The speech appeared to reference Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that the Treaty of Lausanne, which recognized the sovereignty of the Republic of Turkey and defined its borders after the Turkish War of Independence, needed to be “updated.”

“Our neighbors do not always behave in a manner befitting good neighbors,” Tsipras said, but added that he was sending Ankara “a message of cooperation and peaceful coexistence, but also of determination.”

Relations between Greece in Turkey have always been turbulent, but recent events make some analysts worried that the two NATO allies may be inching towards a war.

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

Articles

Boko Haram militants nabbed with shopping list of sex, VD drugs

The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram has a track record of brutality.


The group is most notorious for its kidnapping of over 200 girls from a school near the town of Chibok and selling many of them into sexual slavery.

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(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s put it this way – Boko Haram easily falls into former Gen. Jim Mattis’s “fun to shoot” category (although the use of drones, cruise missiles, artillery and carpet-bombing should not be ruled out).

But what does it take to keep this bunch of scumbags going?

As the old saying goes, amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.

Well, some answers emerged recently when two of the terrorists on a supply run were taken out by the Nigerian military. They had two FN FAL rifles and a grand total of 18 rounds of ammo between them. Nigerian troops also recovered a three-page shopping list that would make porn star blush.

According to a report by the Premium Times, the contents of the list included a request for cartons of Viagra and various “libido enhancers.” Among them were a coffee enhancer known as Maxman, Viamax coffee (itself a libido enhancer) and MMC Sex Men.

The men were also supposed to acquire various drugs for the treatment of venereal disease. Capsules for treating gonorrhea were mentioned on the list, but the Boko boys were also seeking various injectable drugs.

The sex-supply run was not a surprise to the Nigerian military, who in 2015 noted that raids on the terrorist group’s camps revealed loads of condoms, libido enhancers and even hard drugs.

Conspicuous by their absence were copies of the Koran, and many of the Boko Haram terrorists captured by the Nigerian military couldn’t recite any portion of that religious text.

Seems like Boko Haram doesn’t recruit holy warriors, they attract sex-crazed crooks.

Breitbart News reported that the debauchery is not just limited to the Nigerian terrorist group, which declared its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in March 2015. Islamic State militants also have engaged in sexual slavery, and doctors forced to work for that group report that many of the fighters they treat demand Viagra.