Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

In 15 years in Afghanistan, no counternarcotics effort undertaken by the US, it partners, or the Afghan government has led to sustained reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production.

That was one of a number of findings of a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Report issued in June 2018, underlining insufficient, uncoordinated, and at-times counterproductive initiatives in Afghanistan to reduce drug production there.


Between 2002 and 2017, the US government has allocated roughly $8.62 billion to fight narcotics in Afghanistan. But the drug trade remains entrenched. Opium is Afghanistan’s largest cash crop, reaching an export value of $1.5 billion to $3 billion in recent years. In 2017 alone, poppy cultivation was thought to support 590,000 full-time jobs — which is more people than are employed by Afghanistan’s military and security forces.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Heroin and opium produced in Afghanistan are trafficked largely to Europe, Africa, and other parts of Asia.
(SIGAR)

The primary markets are Europe, Asia, and Africa. Opiates from Afghanistan travel through other Central or South Asian states — drug addiction has exploded in Iran, with opium making up two-thirds of consumption — to reach destinations in Europe and Asia. Drugs also travel maritime routes to Africa and Oceania.

Ninety percent of the heroin seized in Canada comes from Afghanistan, but scant amounts reach the US — 1% or less of the drug seized in the US can be traced back to the Central Asian country.

The amount of Southwest Asian heroin in the US peaked in the early 1980s, according to the DEA. It was replaced by Southeast Asian heroin — largely from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand — in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The amount of South American heroin found the US started to increase in the mid-1990s, but by the late 2000s, Mexican heroin started to become predominant — in 2015 it was the more than 90% of the heroin seized in the US.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
The share of US heroin sourced to Mexico has grown considerably in recent years.
(2017 DEA NDTA)

Opium has been cultivated in Afghanistan for centuries. It was under royal control from 1933 to 1973, but the Soviet invasion and occupation from 1979 to 1989 crippled the legitimate economy and allowed illegal enterprises and criminal networks to thrive.

Production soared after the Taliban took control of most of the country in 1996. But it banned the crop in 2000, leading to a 75% drop in the global supply of heroin but leaving farmers destitute, as no alternative to poppy cultivation was provided.

Cultivation was at a historic low in 2001, when the US and its coalition partners invaded. Counterdrug work was done in the period that followed, but the vacuum created by the lack of functioning Afghan institutions limited their effectiveness.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Despite year-to-year variations, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has steadily increased over the last 20 years.
(SIGAR)

2004 saw an increase in cultivation, which was followed by more concerted US efforts to staunch it as well as increased counternarcotics efforts by coalition partners. Cultivation leveled off in 2009 and 2010 — around the time of the US-led surge that brought more attention to combating the drug trade.

But cultivation started to rise in 2011, compounded by missteps and a reduced emphasis on counternarcotics. “From 2013 to 2016, drug production continued at or near the highest levels ever consistently seen in Afghanistan,” the report states. Recent years have also seen eradication stall.

A UN survey in 2017 found cultivation had hit a new high, covering more than 810,000 acres. (The Taliban has also expanded its involvement in the drug trade.)

2017 also saw a new Trump administration strategy that brought with it an “unprecedented” level of attention to Afghan drug production by US military commanders, according to the report — marked by a “sustained air interdiction campaign” that included advanced aircraft striking rudimentary drug labs.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
A US-led airstrike on a Taliban drug lab in northern Helmand Province, November 2017.
(US Air Force photo)

The increases in drug cultivation make clear the failure of counternarcotics efforts, the report says, but it stresses that those failures are not the only factors that have led to the increases.

“The exponential rise in opium poppy cultivation and drug production is rooted in far-reaching, persistent challenges in Afghanistan — namely, lack of security, a poor economy, weak governing institutions, and failures of the wider reconstruction effort,” the report states.

“Given these challenges, there are serious limitations to the US capacity to bring about large-scale, lasting reductions in poppy cultivation and drug production,” it adds, noting the opium economy will continue to undercut US efforts in Afghanistan.

“Therefore, ongoing US reconstruction efforts must effectively address, or at least attempt to mitigate, the drug-related threats to Afghan security and stability.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Capt. America could soon be flying a B-2 stealth bomber — and why some fans don’t like it

On Oct. 6, Marvel made a huge announcement on Twitter, and fans are not happy.


Marvel Entertainment is joining forces with Northrop Grumman, an American global aerospace and defense technology company, and the world’s fifth-largest defense contractor.

We don’t know much yet, but it looks like there will be a promotional comic featuring the Avengers and “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus,” or N.G.E.N.

 

The arms manufacturer generates over 20 billion dollars in revenue a year. Marvel Entertainment didn’t reveal anything more about the partnership, and to learn more the company encouraged fans to head to their New York Comic Con booth on Saturday afternoon.

The partnership comes as a surprise to many Marvel fans. Tony Stark/Iron Man, one of Marvel’s most popular characters, stops selling weapons (his family’s long-time business) because he realizes he’s not saving lives, he’s destroying them. For sensitivity reasons following the Las Vegas shootings, Marvel pulled its NYCC panel for “The Punisher,” and canceled screenings of the first two episodes.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Lance Cpl. Brandon M. Barnes, 21, a team leader from Fairbanks, Ala., assigned to I Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, holds out one of the comic books that Marines pass out to Iraqi children at in Hit, Iraq, April 10. Barnes’ uncle and mom sent him packages with comic books in them. Barnes decided to hand out the comics he doesn’t read to the kids in the city. Before Marines give them away, he scans the comics for any pictures that may be offensive to the Iraqi people. (Photo/Cpl. Erik Villagran)

Many lauded Marvel’s decision to cancel The Punisher screenings, but fans don’t seem pleased with the new Northrop Grumman partnership, and some took to Twitter to express their opinions on the matter:

 

 

 

 

 

The full details of the partnership are unknown, but more should be revealed on Saturday at NYCC.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman pushes coronavirus conspiracy theory that the US Army ‘brought the epidemic to Wuhan’

A Chinese government spokesman said on Thursday that the US Army may have “brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” fueling a coronavirus conspiracy theory.


Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called attention to a comment on Wednesday from Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledging that some Americans who were said to have died from influenza may have actually died from COVID-19.

“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected?” Zhao wrote on Twitter. “What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

In a short thread on Twitter — a social media platform that’s inaccessible in China — Zhao demanded to know how many of the millions of infections and thousands of deaths during the latest flu season were actually related to COVID-19.

The US State Department summoned Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai Friday to protest the spokesman’s comments, Reuters reported, and the Pentagon sharply criticized Zhao’s remarks, calling them “false and absurd.”

The coronavirus first appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and since then, the pandemic has claimed the lives of thousands of people, mostly in China.

As China has faced criticism, Chinese authorities have pushed back, suggesting that the virus may have originated somewhere else. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, said in late February that “though the COVID-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China.”

Zhao stressed the same point in a recent press briefing.

“No conclusion has been reached yet on the origin of the virus,” he told reporters, adding that “what we are experiencing now is a global phenomenon with its source still undetermined.”

One popular coronavirus conspiracy theory that has emerged in China is that US military athletes participating in the Military World Games in Wuhan last year may have brought the virus into China. There is, however, no evidence to support this accusation.

The Trump administration has laid the blame firmly at China’s feet. “Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” the White House national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told reporters on Wednesday.

“It probably cost the world community two months to respond,” he added.

Geng Shuang, another Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said O’Brien’s “immoral and irresponsible” comments denigrated China’s efforts to fight the virus. He added that the US should focus on “international cooperation instead of trying to shift the blame.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Najaf became the Marines’ forgotten battle in Iraq

In the Battle of Fallujah, Marines swept in to take the city away from insurgent forces, only to have politicians pull them out — and send them right back in months later. The first and second Battles of Fallujah have entered Marine Corps lore, alongside Iwo Jima and Chapultepec.


But what many don’t know is what happened at the Battle of Najaf, which played out before the 2nd Battle of Fallujah kicked off.

An Najaf is another sacred city in Iraq. It has approximately seven square miles of cemeteries — as above, so below. Under the cemeteries are miles of catacombs, haunting places where enemy fighters could be hiding, concealed in the dark.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
A U.S. soldier performs a security patrol outside An Najaf cemetery where Anti-Iraqi Forces have recently launched attacks at Multi-National Forces. The patrol’s focus was on finding weapons caches, Improvised Explosive Devises (I.E.D.s), and Anti-Iraqi Forces that might be hiding in tombs or catacombs within the cemetery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Ashley Brokop)

A major player in the battle was the insurgent leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric who brought disgruntled Iraqis together under the idea of an Islamic democracy. To enforce that idea, he created a military wing, Jaysh al-Mahdi, also known as the Mahdi Army. He suddenly turned on the coalition, demanding an immediate withdraw of all coalition forces from Iraq.

Though the mayor of An Najaf brokered a ceasefire between the coalition and the Mahdi Army in June 2004, this only lasted until the end of August. In July of that year, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit took over operational command from Task Force Dragon. That’s when the fighting in the city started to escalate.

In August, the Mahdi Army attacked the 1st Battalion 4th Marines, starting a significant battle of the new Iraq War. The next days were long and drawn out, characterized by house-to-house fighting, open-street engagements, and fighting across open farm fields. For eight days, the battle raged through the city.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
A U.S. Marine Corps M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Special Operations Capable (SOC), in convoy along the streets of An Najaf, An Najaf Province, Iraq, on Aug. 12, 2004, during a raid of the Muqtada Militia strong points in the area. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel J. Fosco)

Much like what happened in Fallujah a few months earlier, Marines and soldiers were taking the fight to insurgents. American troops were surprised by incoming small arms fire and indirect fire. Though the enemy forces were not well trained, there was a lot of them, which compensated for their lack of real infantry tactics.

At one point, the battle swept over the city’s huge cemetery, which was the stage for some of the most intense fighting of the entire Iraq War. Surrounded by the resting dead, Marines fought against extreme numbers and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Fighting on the surface was so brutal that soldiers and Marines were also forced to fight in the catacombs below.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
U.S. troops at final limit of advance during a morning of clearing operations.

Fallujah was the biggest urban battle since Hue City and An Najaf saw the first tunnel fighting since Vietnam.

The end of the battle brought with it a final tally of dead and wounded. Twelve Americans were killed in action and 94 were wounded. Iraqi soldiers also saw significant losses. The numbers for the Mahdi Army, however, are far greater, with 1,500 killed in action and an unknown number wounded, estimated to be in the thousands.

The battle removed Al-Sadr and most of those loyal to him from the city. Marines began to secure their area of operations and returned to rebuilding Najaf and the surrounding region. However, some of the Mahdi Army’s militiamen stayed in the city, challenging the 1st battalion, 4th Marines at every opportunity.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Marines patrol the streets of Najaf in 2004.

Instead of their normal black militia uniforms, they now wore street clothing. This allowed them to blend into the local populace. Coalition troops could no longer differentiate between friend or foe when the streets turned to a battlefield.

Marines and soldiers at the Battle of Najaf should be proud of the accomplishment of securing the city. As time passes, they remain hopeful that Americans will know about the heroes that came out of the battle and the ones who fell there — that we never let this battle be lost to history.

It will be remembered, just as much as The Battles of Fallujah.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A 90-year-old vet got an honorable discharge after 60 years

After a 60 year battle, Air Force Veteran Helen Grace James is finally given her long awaited — and well-deserved — honorable discharge.


In 1955, America was in the depths of the Lavender Scare — a time when homosexuals were fired in the United States Government — and Airman Second Class Helen Grace James was taken into custody for suspicion of being gay. She was one of thousands targeted during the nation’s witch hunt.

After hours of interrogation, she was told that if she did not sign the documents initiating her discharge, OSI (the Office of Special Investigations — kind of like the FBI for the Air Force) would “out her” to her family and friends. She told The Washington Post, “When they threatened to go to my parents, I just said that was it,” and so, under that duress, she signed the documents and ultimately ended her military career.

Also read: The first openly-gay service member fought the Air Force to a standstill

 

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Indicative of the changing times, a rainbow flag is placed in the ground for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month during the Picnic in the Park at Nussbaumer Park, June 27, 2015, in Fairbanks, Alaska. More than 200 flags were handed out to members of the 354th Fighter Wing and members of the local community. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Nicole Taylor/Released)

She was discharged as “undesirable” and was denied any benefits, insurance, or severance.

Unable to face her family and without any assistance from the GI Bill, James moved to California and worked to pay for her own education, advancing her way through degrees in Physical Therapy.

Related: This Holocaust survivor recounts his daring escape from Auschwitz

In the 1960s she managed to change her status as “undesirable” to “general discharge under horrible conditions.” Despite the upgrade, her status still caused her difficulties. “I tried to get USAA coverage for insurance, and they said ‘No, you can’t be a member, because you don’t have an honorable discharge. I [couldn’t] be buried in a national cemetery either,” she recalled to NBC.

And so, at the age of 90, she finally decided to apply for the “honorable” discharge upgrade with the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records. After a series of delays, James filed a lawsuit and on Jan. 24, 2018, was finally granted her honorable discharge.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
U.S. Air Force veteran Helen James with her military memorabilia. (Photo courtesy of Helen James)

For more than six decades, James has been discriminated against by the military for who she is and at long last can rest, vindicated.

“I’m still trying to process it. It was both joy and shock. It was really true. It was really going to be an ‘honorable discharge.'”

Military Life

5 reasons why troops and first responders get along so well

There’re no two groups of Americans that get along quite as well as the military and the first-responder community. It makes sense on a broad level; they’re both occupations filled by people who hope to help their fellow man and make the world a slightly better place.


But it goes much deeper than that — it’s not just a shared, we-got-10-percent-off-our-meal-at-a-restaurant connection.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Civilians just don’t understand the actual amount of paperwork and bureaucracy that happens in both. That fact alone is why so many police officers love ‘Hot Fuzz.’

(Photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Taylor)

They share the same culture

Part of what makes the armed forces fun is the inter-service banter exchanged between branches. Funnily enough, first responders playfully mock one another as well.

EMS will throw some jabs in jest at firefighters and firefighters will tell jokes at the police’s expense. Hell, even within the different bureaus, police will riff on each other. Law enforcement officers and firefighters, just like Marines and airmen, will happily mock one another all day long, but treat each other as family when push comes to shove.

This is just one of the many areas in which the two cultures overlap.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

They also come up with the same off-the-wall insults that troops love.

(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Pedro A. Rodriguez)

They share the same lingo

Troops say a lot of little things that they don’t realize are uncommon in the civilian world, but the lingo is easily understood by first responders.

The phonetic alphabet is an obvious one, but it makes my veteran heart grow knowing that police also call each other blue falcons.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

The hardest times for both are often the memorial services.

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Fowler)

They share the same bad days

The sad reality is that the bad days both groups experience can be hard to explain to civilians.

There are fantastic moments that you can be proud to share with your children and your spouse, but helping the world will also show you things that’ll keep you up at night — you can’t know this feeling without experiencing it.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Have you ever been to a fire station? It’s basically a frat house in between calls.

(Photo by Jamal Wilson)

They share a strong bond of brotherhood with their peers

It’s no secret that troops are close to one another — and first responders are no different.

They grow together through shared pain, mockery, and brief moments of brevity until the sh*t hits the fan again. This level of camaraderie is respected across both groups.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Or you enlist for a change of pace but end up doing the same thing in a different uniform.

(Photo by Airman 1st Class Octavius Thompson)

Many have served in both

The main reason why so many of each community can relate with one another is because many troops leave the service and make a living as a first responder, and vice versa.

During a moment of peace in Basic or Boot Camp, it’s not uncommon to hear a new troop say that they were a volunteer firefighter for a few semesters in college.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why war with Iran might be a lot more difficult than the US thinks

If the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us anything, it’s that no war can be expected to just be that easy, especially if the ultimate goal is regime change. This is something that military leadership generally recognizes—especially since those conflicts are still going on after more than a decade. For those who have not experienced it, however, it can be easier to forget.


Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

And we might have been fighting Iran for a significant chunk of that period.

The Iranians are definitely outgunned, as the Washington Post reported on June 21, 2019. But as the Post reports and as the Millennium Challenge Exercises go to show, a war with the Islamic Republic could be a very costly one. In the Millennium Challenge, Retired Marine Gen. Paul van Riper was tasked with leading the fictional Iran against a U.S. carrier force. The short version is that Van Riper wiped the floor with the U.S., using only assets Iran had in the real world.

Read: That time a Marine general led a fictional Iran against the US military

Iran’s numbers are substantial, more than a million men in arms against an invader, not counting the Revolutionary Guards, which numbers around another 150,000 troops.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

That’s just in terms of manpower. Keep in mind Iran used human waves very well during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. While Iran is pretty much using the same planes, F-4 and F-14 fighters, as it did against Iraq in the 1980s, they do operate with a powerful anti-air missile screen. Even with their best pilots, however, this may not be enough to keep the U.S. from getting total air superiority, and Iran has a plan for that.

In order to keep naval forces at bay, the Islamic Republic Army is expected to use small-boat tactics for use against a much larger enemy, swarming around and laying mines while hassling international shipping, which could be the most dangerous casualty of such a war. The biggest issue is still yet to come.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Iranian proxies like Hezbollah are another region issue.

Iran has tens of thousands of unconventional troops and fighters with proxy forces in the region, projecting Iranian power and influence from its borders with Afghanistan in the east all the way throughout Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in the west and beyond. These proxy forces have been harassing American and allies positions for decades. Any outbreak of open hostilities will only embolden those forces to step up their attacks against U.S. troops and ships in the Persian Gulf region.

The United States enjoys a superior technological and numerical advantage over Iran, but the Iranians aren’t going to just crumble and surrender to helicopters the way Iraqi forces have done in the past.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The UK’s ‘Unknown Warrior’ lies among the most historic kings of Britain

The United Kingdom’s Unknown Warrior, much like the United States’ Unknown Soldier, arose from a movement to honor the unknown war dead who perished on the battlefields of World War I. When he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, he was surrounded by a throng of women whose only uniting thread was that they had lost their husbands and all their sons in the Great War.


When the British Empire decided to bury its war dead with France, the Commissioner for the Imperial War Graves encountered a shoddy battlefield grave. On its hastily-constructed wooden cross were just the words, “An Unknown British Soldier,” crudely written in pencil. The Commissioner took it upon himself to take the matter of unknown war dead first to the Prime Minister and later, King George V himself. He wanted to create a national memorial to the scores of unknown war dead killed in the service of their country.

As the Empire’s new Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was born, other countries began to honor their unknown dead with symbolic tombs of their own. France followed suit, as did the United States, and a number of other countries. In England, the Unknown Warrior was buried in one of the most revered places in British history.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Westminster Abbey is more than just a church, it is the burial site of more than 3,300 famous Britishers – from Prime Minister and Royals to artists and scientists – and has been the site of every coronation for the English throne since William the Conqueror captured the country in 1066. It also houses hundreds of priceless works of art and historical documents.

It is truly “Britain’s Valhalla.”

The Abbey also houses Britain’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, who was entombed here on Nov. 20, 1920, at the same time as his French counterpart was entombed at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. After being chosen from four possible Unknown Warrior candidates, the current Unknown Warrior was guarded by the French 8th Infantry throughout the night. King George chose a Medieval Crusader sword to affix to the lid of the specially-made casket, along with an iron shield bearing the words: “A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914–1918 for King and Country.”

The next day, a military procession a mile long escorted the warrior to the harbor, where it was loaded aboard the HMS Verdun and set sail for London.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

“Burial of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.” 1920.

After landing at Dover, the remains were carried by rail to London, where its new, British military parade received a Field Marshal’s salute in front of an otherwise silent crowd. Eventually, the funeral procession was met by the King at Whitehall, who, along with the Royal Family and other government ministers, walked with the procession to Westminster. There, it was protected by an honor guard of 100 Victoria Cross recipients. After a ceremony, the body was interred in the floors and covered with a black marble slab.

To this day, it’s the only part of the floor visitors cannot walk over.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Japan will resume carrier operations suspended after WWII

Japan unveiled plans to develop the country’s first aircraft carrier in over seven decades on Dec. 11, 2018.

The Japanese government wants to “enable fighter jets to be operated from existing warships,” the draft guidelines explained, according to the Associated Press.

Japan revealed Dec. 11, 2018, an intention to upgrade its largest post-war naval vessel, the flat-topped Izumo helicopter destroyer, to accommodate short-takeoff fighter jets such as the B variant of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which has been launched from the deck of an amphibious assault ship.


Media reports from the end of November 2018 suggested that Japan, facing Chinese assertiveness and increased pressure from the Trump administration to buy more US weapons and combat systems, is considering purchasing as many as 100 F-35 stealth fighters.

“With short take-off vertical landing capability you are now able to operate at sea,” a source with knowledge of the plans told CNN late November 2018. “You are able to penetrate areas and reach ranges in a shorter distance which is an important capability.”

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

An F-35B Lightning II prepares to land aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Amy Phan)

Japan’s pacifist constitution prohibits the possession of “attack aircraft carriers,” but the defense ministry argues that the proposed plans do not run afoul of the law. “The Izumo was originally designed as a multipurpose escort ship, so it wouldn’t pose any threat to other countries if fighter jets are deployed on it,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya explained to reporters, according to Kyodo News.

Japan has a total of four helicopter destroyers, among which are two Izumo-class destroyers that could be quickly converted to serve as aircraft carriers. While Japan once had one of the largest and most powerful carrier forces, the country has not had an aircraft carrier since the end of World War II, during which US Navy ships and fighters sank Japan’s aircraft carriers.

The decision to strengthen Japan’s maritime combat capabilities comes as China expands its power at sea, rapidly expanding both its naval and air assets to assert dominance over contested areas such as the East China Sea, where Japanese interests are increasingly vulnerable.

China is in the process of building a carrier force. The country has one operational carrier, another undergoing sea trials, and a third ship in development.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

A young Iranian woman criticized the Ayatollah to his face

Criticizing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is widely seen as among Iran’s so-called red lines. Dozens of intellectuals, activists, and politicians have been sidelined, harassed, or jailed for challenging the man who holds the final political and religious say in the Islamic republic.

Yet in late May 2018, a female student rose in Khamenei’s presence to harshly criticize the state of affairs in the country, including actions by powerful bodies controlled by the Iranian leader that have been cited by critics as major barriers to reform.


Sahar Mehrabi called for “deepening democracy” in Iran in the May 28, 2018 speech, delivered at an annual Iftar gathering that Khamenei holds to celebrate the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

Mehrabi offered a list of “numerous crises” facing the country, including increasing social inequality, declining public trust, environmental problems, and discrimination against minorities. She asked Khamenei what he would do to tackle those issues.

She indirectly pointed the finger at the supreme leader, noting that the bodies under his watch are virtually untouchable. “The impossibility of conducting investigations into the work of some of the institutions under the supervision of Your Excellency, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the judiciary, the state broadcaster, and the Mostazafan Foundation” — a reference to one of Iran’s largest foundations — “is in itself problematic,” Mehrabi said.

Mehrabi offered a list of “numerous crises” facing the country, including increasing social inequality, declining public trust, environmental problems, and discrimination against minorities. She asked Khamenei what he would do to tackle those issues.

At the meeting, Khamenei responded that while he appoints the heads of some of those powerful bodies, including the judiciary and the state broadcasters, he does not specifically manage their work. “For example, regarding the state broadcaster, I’ve always had and still have a critical position vis-a-vis both current and past managements,” he said.

Seemingly acknowledging other problems, Khamenei added that “taking all issues into consideration, I believe the Islamic establishment has made progress in the past 40 years in all its ideals.”

Mehrabi also echoed some of the positions espoused by relative moderate President Hassan Rohani, criticizing Iran’s aggressive Internet censorship, pressure on the press, the arrest of students, what she described as a crackdown on women “under the pretense of guiding them,” and the situation of opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, along with reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, who have been under house arrest since 2011 for challenging the Iranian establishment.

“What answer does Your Excellency have in response to questions, criticisms, and protests?” Mehrabi asked.

She suggested that the only way forward is a return to law and the country’s constitution “with all its articles.” “The solution is to accept the right of the people to determine their fate and to be allowed to participate in their political, social, and economic life,” Mehrabi said.

Mehrabi added that no hope lies in the Iranian expat groups calling for regime change in Iran.

Regime Change Needed?

Monarchists and others have intensified their demand for an end to Islamic rule in Iran just as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed a tougher line toward Iran, including by abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers trading curbs on Iran’s atomic activities for an easing of international sanctions.

Some analysts interpreted a recent speech by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he made 12 demands on Tehran, including ending all nuclear enrichment and ending its support for proxy groups, as a return to U.S. calls for regime change in Iran.

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Pompeo has said that regime change is not a U.S. aim in Iran.

In her speech, Mehrabi said the answers to Iran’s problem lie “within the Islamic republic.” “In our view, the solution is the deepening of democracy — democracy based on all people, all minority, workers, teachers, students, the forgotten layers of society,… and the poor,” she said.

Khamenei later added via Twitter: “I [understand] the feelings of that young person who says the situation is very bad. But I don’t support her comments at all.”

Mehrabi’s speech was praised by an editor of the hard-line Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, as “the peak of democracy” in Iran.

Others challenged such a claim, complaining that so long as media outlets are being shuttered, students banned from studies, and state broadcasters made to reflect the views of hard-liners, there cannot be talk of genuine democracy in Iran.

Mehrabi’s criticisms came amid frustration over the state of the economy, which sparked nationwide protests in December 2017, and January 2018, that quickly turned into protests against the Iranian establishment and the 78-year-old Khamenei himself.

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

Articles

These 6 women earned the Silver Star for valor in war

While World War I saw three women receive the Distinguished Service Cross and three more receive the forerunner to the Silver Star, it isn’t the only conflict since 1900 where American servicewomen have been decorated for valor.


Six women earned the Silver Star for valor for actions since “The War to End All Wars.”

1-4. Ellen Ainsworth, Mary Roberts, Elaine Roe, and Rita Rourke

These four women received the Silver Star for their actions on Feb. 10, 1944, during the Anzio campaign. A battle many see as a monumental mess for the allies.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
2LT Elaine Roe, one of four women who received the Silver Star for their actions on Feb. 10, 1944 near Anzio. (US Army photo)

According to an official U.S. Army history of the campaign, the initial attacks on Jan. 22, 1944, went very well. The problem was that the Nazi resistance soon tightened up, and the next thing the Americans knew, they were in one hell of a fight.

What had been a promising beachhead instead became known as “Hell’s Half-Acre.” Troops were crammed in as the Germans carried out a counter attack that started on Feb. 3, 1944. According to an official U.S. Army history of the Nurse Corps in World War II, a week later, the 33rd Field Hospital was hit by a Nazi artillery barrage. Two off-duty nurses were killed by one shell. Another hit a generator for a tent used as an operating room, starting a fire that threatened 42 patients.

While 1st Lt. Mary Roberts kept the operating rooms going, 2nd Lt.s Elaine Roe and Rita Rourke used flashlights to evacuate patients that could be moved. CBSNews.com reported that 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth also assisted in that evacuation, but caught a shell fragment and died six days later.

All four women received the Silver Star – in Ainsworth’s case, the award was posthumous.

5. Leigh Ann Hester

Of all the women to be decorated for valor since 1900, Leigh Ann Hester is arguably the best known. She is also the only one not to have ties to the Army medicine.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester waits to be awarded the Silver Star medal during a military awards ceremony at Camp Liberty, Iraq, on June 16, 2005. (U.S. Army photo)

According to an AAR posted at BlackFive.net, Hester was a military policeman assigned as part of a squad designated “Raven 42.”

When insurgents ambushed a convoy on March 20, 2005, in Iraq, Hester — a team leader — was among those who leapt into action. Upon their arrival, one of the vehicles was hit by a RPG, and some of the soldiers moved to treat the wounded.

Hester would join then-Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein in clearing a ditch, using M4 carbines and grenades. Hester would later be credited with killing at least four of the 26 insurgents that were dropped on the spot, while Raven 42 also was credited with capturing five others.

The captured insurgents, according to an American Rifleman article, had been on a mission to take American prisoners. That did not happen, thanks to Hester and her fellow soldiers.

On June 16, 2005, Hester received the Silver Star for her actions that day, not to mention a lot of fame.

6. Monica Lin Brown

Monica Lin Brown may be the youngest woman to be decorated for valor to date. On April 25, 2007, she was with a convoy in Paktika Province Afghanistan when it came under mortar fire after one of the vehicles triggered an improvised explosive device. According to the medal citation, Brown, who was an 18-year-old private first class at the time, ignored enemy fire and ran to treat the casualties.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Spc. Monica Brown gets awarded the Silver Star at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, by Vice President Dick Cheney for her actions on April 25, 2007, during a combat patrol. (US Army photo)

Several times, she shielded the casualties with her own body, treating their wounds less than 50 feet from a burning vehicle loaded with ammunition. As rounds began to cook off, her platoon sergeant arrived and used a vehicle to move her and the casualties to a safer location. Brown continued to treat the wounded until they were evacuated.

On March 21, 2008, she was presented the Silver Star by then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

MIGHTY CULTURE

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part three

The one thing that seems to be a constant in Saigon is the delicious smell of food cooking – from the street vendors, open air cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries – it was that way in the late 60’s and remains so today. The first time I came to the city I remember walking to the headquarters with an officer I’d served with in Ban Me Thuot and stopping at a small coffee shop for a coffee and croissant – both were delicious and the whole event seemed surreal given what was going on in the rest of the country at the time.


This time, when I arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon the first thing I saw were customs officials wearing what I remember as North Vietnamese Army uniforms – a bit of a flashback. Stepping out of the terminal I breathed deeply of the humid tropical air – a familiar scent that almost seemed comforting. Driving through the city on the way to the hotel I noticed the beautiful French inspired architecture which added a touch of grace to the cityscape.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

In 1969 Saigon was a multi-faced city, bustling with the business of war. The people were pursuing their livelihood as best they could, while hip deep in the middle of a war zone. They were trying as hard as they could to make life tolerable and better for their families. Today, later generations of those families are doing that same thing, less the war, making life better and succeeding on a grand scale.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Revisiting Saigon and Vietnam after forty some years reaffirmed my faith in humanity – it doesn’t matter who won or lost, doesn’t matter who is in power – it’s all about the people. The Vietnamese people have always been entrepreneurs, caring for their families and their country and have made it a powerhouse in Southeast Asia. It gladdened my heart and closed a circle for me in a most positive way.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

Nuclear blasts used to be good ol’ Las Vegas entertainment

Long before Britney started her Las Vegas residency at the Planet Hollywood Casino, visitors and residents got their nightly entertainment elsewhere – likely from a member of the Rat Pack but every so often, they would get a thrill watching the United States Air Force. Not the Air Force rock band Max Impact, they were there to see mushroom clouds.


Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Between 1951 and 1992, the United States military conducted more than 900 atomic explosion tests, setting off nuclear bombs at what we now call the Nevada National Security Site. Back then, the same area in nearby Nye County was known as the Nevada Test Site. Some 100 of those nuclear tests were atmospheric detonations, and from just 65 miles away, the blasts and the resulting mushroom clouds could easily be seen from Las Vegas.

So obviously, the nuclear detonations, the brilliant flash of the detonation, along with the seismic tremors were great Las Vegas entertainment. And while the best views were supposedly from the downtown Las Vegas hotels, that didn’t stop visitor and locals alike from driving to the best views of the blast along the desert horizon.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

That’s not the sunrise in the background.

In the 1950s, the population of Las Vegas more than doubled in size, as tourists and visitors moved to take advantage of the casino gaming industry as well as the hospitality industry in the city. Some tourists flocked to Vegas just to see the magnificent nuclear explosions in the distance. The nuclear tests were always done in the early morning hours, and hotels and bars would create Atomic Parties, where guests drank until dawn, finishing the night with a blast.