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.

Articles

Commandant: Dropping ratings would create ‘chaos’ in Coast Guard

With the Navy‘s decision to phase out ratings in favor of an alphanumeric job code system to create more career flexibility, the Coast Guard is the only service to continue using traditional ratings.


Don’t expect that to change anytime soon, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said.

Also read: These are the Coast Guard’s special operations forces

Speaking to reporters following an address at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Zukunft said the Navy’s change had prompted a brief internal evaluation for the Coast Guard — and one with a definite conclusion.

“With the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard [Steven Cantrell], we said, ‘What would the workforce think about this,’ and it would cause chaos,” Zukunft said. “I cannot afford chaos when every person in the Coast Guard has a 24-by-7 job to do.”

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter George Cobb stand ready for a uniform inspection prior to the cutter’s change of command ceremony held at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles-Long Beach on June 16, 2016. | U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrea Anderson

The Coast Guard, the smallest of the branches, has an active-duty force of about 40,000, compared to the Navy’s nearly 324,000. It also has a smaller ratings system, with fewer than two dozen separate ratings compared with 89 for the Navy.

The Navy and Coast Guard use the same naval rank system, which is different from that used by the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Coast Guardsmen are “very proud of the rating badge that they wear on their sleeve,” Zukunft said, “so I’ve listened to my master chief and he’s provided me the best advice. So that was a very easy question for me to say ‘no’ to.”

The Navy has also had to contend with pushback from sailors and Navy veterans who have strong attachments to the 241-year-old ratings system, with culture and community built around certain titles.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Adm. Paul F. Zukunft | U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley

A WhiteHouse.gov petition to reverse the decision reached 100,000 signatures within a month, prompting a member of the White House staff to issue a response backing the overhaul and promoting the Navy’s goals of creating additional opportunities and career paths for sailors and a more straightforward transition to jobs matching their skills as they enter the civilian sector.

The chief of naval personnel, Vice Adm. Robert Burke, has engaged in a number of efforts to sell the concept to sailors, writing opinion pieces and essays addressing the fleet and traveling to the Middle East to participate in town hall meetings with some 9,000 sailors at the end of October and beginning of November.

Navy officials say the full transition to the new system will take time and be done in stages. Key decisions have yet to be detailed, including the future of Navy ratings badges.

Burke published a timeline in October indicating plans to update uniform insignia in keeping with the new job title system, but it remains possible that the badges will be redesigned rather than eliminated.

“Did we choose an easy path forward? Absolutely not,” Burke wrote in an op-ed published by Military.com on Nov. 20. “But I believe this change needs to occur, and now is the right time to do so.”

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

It’s almost impossible to get COVID-19 on an airplane, new military study suggests

A new military-led study unveiled Thursday shows there is a low risk for passengers traveling aboard large commercial aircraft to contract an airborne virus such as COVID-19 — and it doesn’t matter where they sit on the airplane.

Researchers concluded that because of sophisticated air particle filtration and ventilation systems on board the Boeing 767-300 and 777-200 aircraft — the planes tested for the study — airborne particles within the cabin have a very short lifespan, according to defense officials with U.S. Transportation Command, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and Air Mobility Command, which spearheaded the study.


“The favorable results are attributable to a combination of the airframes’ high air exchange rates, coupled with the high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration recirculation systems, and the downward airflow ventilation design which results in rapid dilution and purging of the disseminated aerosol particles,” Vice Adm. Dee L. Mewbourne, deputy commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said during a virtual roundtable with reporters.

DARPA teamed up with biodefense company Zeteo Tech, scientific research company S3i and the University of Nebraska’s National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) for the trials. Industry partners included Boeing and United Airlines.; the study was funded by TRANSCOM, according to Army Lt Col Ellis Gales, spokesman for the command.

“All areas on both aircraft proved to be extremely effective in dispersing and filtering out the aerosol particles,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Pope, TRANSCOM Operations directorate liaison for the airflow particle test. “So specifically, can I tell you to sit in seat XYZ? No; they all performed very well.”

During the tests, held Aug. 24-31, analysts released two types of aerosols that had specific DNA signatures. The tagged fluorescent tracers allowed for researchers to better follow their distribution path, both in flight and on the ground.

Sensors throughout the aircraft measured over 300 iterations of aerosol releases — at rates of 2 to 4 minutes — across four cabin zones on the 777, and three zones on the 767, Mewboourne explained. The dispersions were mapped in real-time, he said.

The particles were quickly diluted, however, and only remained detectable for fewer than six minutes on average, TRANSCOM said in the report. By comparison “a typical American home takes around 90 minutes to clear these types of particles from the air,” the command said.

While the more time spent on an aircraft correlates to a potential infection rate, according to the study, even passengers on long-haul flights wouldn’t be able to pick up a sufficient viral load under the test conditions. Passengers traveling on board the 777 would need to spend at least “54 hours when sitting next to an index patient in the economy section,” and more than 100 hours in the other cabins of both the 777 and the 767 to be exposed to an infectious dose, the study said.

Mannequins representing passengers were positioned throughout the aircraft, some wearing masks and some without. David Silcott of S3i and one of the authors of the report said the dispersed mannequins were part of both breathing and cough tests.

During the simulated cough tests, masked mannequins showed a “very, very large reduction in aerosol that would come out of [them], greater than 95% for most cases,” Silcott said. “It definitely showed the benefit of wearing a mask inflight from these tests.”

Pope said it is important to consider that the study was specific to aerosols and not ballistic droplets, those that are emitted while coughing, sneezing or breathing heavily.

That said, “the mask is very important in that the larger droplets that travel ballistically through the air will be caught by your mask,” Pope said. “And if you don’t have the mask on, then you cannot reduce those numbers of ballistic particles.”

Scientists also collected samples from surfaces like armrests and video screens, considered “high-touch” zones; the tests showed that while the distribution on surfaces was minimal, flat surface areas — like armrests — are more likely than vertical surface areas like seatbacks or screens to collect deposits of particles.

There are other caveats: The scientists didn’t try to simulate passengers freely moving about the cabin, moving around to switch locations or turning toward one another to have a conversation.

“While … we’re very encouraged by the results, that’s part of the reason why we’re making the results public, and sharing them with the scientific community so that that follow-on research can be done,” Pope said.

The study next heads into a peer review before its findings can be submitted for a scientific journal. TRANSCOM is examining the results, which could spur new travel policies or proposals, Pope said.

Following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, TRANSCOM identified an immediate need to move passengers in a safe manner, including high-risk patients as well as military members and families traveling aboard the Defense Department-contracted Patriot Express flights. The two Boeing aircraft used for the aerosol simulations are the aircraft most typically used for Patriot Express flights.

The officials stressed service members should still follow current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and airline protocols when boarding a flight.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

39 Awesome photos of life in the US Marine Corps infantry

YouTube, We Are The Mighty


From fighting pirates in the First Barbary War of 1801 to seizing the Kandahar International Airport in 2001 and beyond, Marine Corps infantrymen have been fighting and winning our nation’s battles for more than 200 years.

Known as “grunts,” infantrymen receive specialized training in weapons, tactics, and communications that make them effective in combat. And while many things have changed for grunts over time, they continue to carry on the legacy that was forged from the “small wars” to the “Frozen Chosin” to the jungles of Vietnam.

After more than a decade of war following the 9/11 attacks, many grunts have deployed to combat …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

… In Iraq, where they earned their place in history at Nasiriyah, Najaf, and Fallujah (shown here), and many others.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

While others deployed to Afghanistan, into the deadly Korengal Valley …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Darren Allen

 … Or more recently to Marjah, in Helmand Province.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

But before infantrymen join their units, they need to complete initial training. For enlisted Marines, that means going to the School of Infantry, either at Camp Pendleton, California or Camp Geiger, North Carolina.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For officers, their training at Infantry Officer Course in Quantico, Va. involves both tactics and weapons, along with a more intense focus on how to lead an infantry platoon.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

While most enlisted grunts become 0311 riflemen, others receive more specialized training, like 0331 machine-gunners, which learn the M240 machine gun (shown here), the MK19 grenade launcher, and the M2 .50 cal.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

0341 Mortarmen learn how to operate the 60 mm (shown below) and 81 mm mortar systems, which help riflemen with indirect fire support when they need a little bit more firepower.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

0351 Assaultmen learn basic demolitions, breaching, and become experts in destroying bad guys with the SMAW rocket system. The Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW) is shown below.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

Packing even more punch that’s usually vehicle-mounted, 0352 Anti-tank missilemen learn their primary M41 SABER (below) heavy anti-tank weapon and the Javelin, a medium anti-tank weapon.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Some more experienced infantrymen go into specialized fields, such as Reconnaissance or snipers (below).

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Zac Mercoli

Always present is a focus on mission accomplishment, and to “keep their honor clean” — to preserve the legacy of the Corps …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Library of Congress

… That grunts are proud of. Always remembering heroics from the Chosin Reservoir Marines in Korea …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

… To those who fought in Vietnam jungles, or the storied battles of Hue and Khe Sanh.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

Since Vietnam, grunts have been repeatedly been called upon for minor and major engagements, such as Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation United Shield in Somalia in 1995 (below).

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Darren Allen

But it’s not all combat.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Darren Allen

Marine grunts are constantly training, whether it’s practicing amphibious landings …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

… Or learning the skills needed to survive and thrive in a jungle environment.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

Sometimes they take a break to catch up on their reading.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Michael Sinclair

And when they’re not training, they are trying to have fun.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Josh Boston

Sometimes … maybe too much fun.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Donnie Hickman

While technology has made today’s infantrymen even deadlier, the life of the grunt has always been spartan.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: US Marine Corps

Grunts often work in rough conditions, and they need to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Nate Hall

And quite often, they need to be self-sufficient. At remote patrol bases, that means everything from burning their trash and other waste …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Paul Martin

To fixing their morning coffee in any way they can.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Daniel Evans

Grunts learn to appreciate the little things, like care packages from home …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Matt McElhinney

… Any privacy they can get …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Daniel Evans

… Or a “FOB Pup” to play around with in between missions.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Daniel Evans

When they get into a fight with the enemy, they battle back just as their predecessors did.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Zac Mercoli

And with solid training and leadership, they can easily transition, as Gen. Mattis says, from no worse enemy to no better friend.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Nate Hall

When things don’t go exactly as planned …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Josh Boston

… Grunts can usually shake it off with a smile.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: JC Eliott

Especially in a combat zone, humor helps a unit through tough times.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Zac Mercoli

And there are plenty of opportunities for laughs.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Marc Anthony Madding

Whether it’s graffiti on a barrier …

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: JC Eliott

 Or taunting the Taliban with a Phillies t-shirt.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Zac Mercoli

But the bottom line is that grunts are the Marine Corps’ professional war-fighters.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Nate Hall

They forge brotherhoods that last for a lifetime.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo Credit: Nate Hall

And they never forget those who didn’t make it home.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Memorial ceremony for Sgt. Thomas Spitzer. (Photo Credit: US Marine Corps)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Our forgotten heroes: Why don’t we talk about World War I?

During the “Great War,” the United States of America lost over 116,000 of her troops in a span of only 19 months. While initially remaining neutral and refusing to enter into World War I when it began in 1914, that changed after repeated attacks on America’s ships. In 1917, the U.S. entered into the fray, declaring war against Germany.

It can be argued that without American’s force beside the allies, the war wouldn’t have ended in victory, but a stalemate. History has documented this impressive and vital piece of our story. So why don’t we talk about it and those incredible heroes who turned the tide for an entire world in the name of democracy?


Why don’t we discuss how more Marines were killed or wounded in the battle of Belleau Wood than their service’s entire history at that point? That battle alone claimed over 10,000 American casualties in just three weeks. It should also be known that France refused to enter into this particular battle because they felt it was too dangerous. Instead, they insisted that the Americans do it.

We did, but it came at an extremely heavy cost.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Wikimedia Commons

In September of 1918, 1.2 million American troops entered into the deadliest battle in its history. Many were undertrained and not yet battle-tested – but their sheer numbers and grit did what other armies could not in four years. It was an incredible offensive effort as the Expeditionary Forces of the United States actually caught Germany completely by surprise with their attack.

America’s troops took an area that had been held for four years in just two short days. This battle ended the war, but America lost 26,277 of their own to win it. We also had 192,000 casualties. It was this specific battle at Meuse-Argonne, or The Battle of Argonne Forest, that pushed Germany into literally pleading for an end of World War I. America brought Germany to its knees.

This war was pivotal for so many things that have occurred in the last hundred years. We need to remember those lost their lives in the name of democracy. Let us also not forget the ones that died slowly years following World War I due to the effects of the lingering bullets, “shell shock” (now called post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of poison gas exposure.

Those who survived through all of that though? Their personal war at home was just beginning.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Wikimedia Commons

When service members returned home following the end of World War I, they were celebrated with parades – if they were white. The African American men who returned home after fighting alongside their brothers’ in arms were treated with open hostility and disdain. Some were killed.

The years following the “Great War” were not kind or easy to digest but need to be remembered. They matter.

Following the war, the Great Depression and race riots wreaked havoc on the United States, leading many to question what they fought for. Not only did they question their sacrifice – but they were deeply suffering after their service for their country.

Veterans received just with an honorable discharge. Although they received monetary allotments if they had a disability through the War Risk Insurance Act, it wasn’t enough. They were also required to maintain insurance for care and paid a premium that came out of that allotment, reducing their income even more. Many were too severely disabled to work to make any extra income and the money they received from the government didn’t cover living any kind of quality life.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Archives

High unemployment, lack of quality medical care and poor housing was the “thanks for your service” that these veterans received – if they were white.

The African American veterans were often denied housing or any kind of equality – leaving them homeless and destitute. This terrible choice for America to treat these brave men in such an abominable way would go on to pave the way for the next seventy years of struggle, advocacy, and racial tension that the country had ever seen.

The government failed all of its returning servicemen.

America failed its heroes by avoiding that chapter in its history.

Our World War I veterans did fight, suffer and die for our freedom. Let us not forget it.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why veterans tapping a drink on the bar is a sign of respect

Going out on the town with a group of veterans is definitely an experience that all civilians should try at least once. Not only will it dispel any preconceived notions that a civilian might have about the troops — we’re not all crazy, loud as*holes — it’s also a crash course in military culture and etiquette.

It’s the best way to learn all of the little details, like where veterans naturally position themselves in a bar (to get a better view of everyone coming in and out) and how they’ll instinctively form a wedge formation as they walk (a secure way of moving from one place to another).

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Once you notice this one, you can never unsee it. This is how pretty much all vets walk in a group.
(Photo by Sgt. Matthew Troyer)

After you’ve settled in and you’re throwing back a few cold ones, one question that’s sure to surface from the civilian tag-along is why veterans solemnly make a toast and tap their drink or shot on the bar before resuming a night of heavy drinking. This tradition actually has roots that extend all the way back to ancient times.


The toast is a piece of international bar culture, but the military takes it to the next level. The first part is standard: Someone raises their glass and either dedicates the drink to group’s collective health or says something silly like,

Life is a waste of time, and time is a waste of life. So let’s get wasted all of the time, and have the time of our life.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
(Photo by Master Sgt. Jeffery Allen)

This brief, poignant message is a way for the person making the toast to appreciate everyone with them. If a veteran is giving that toast, they’ll next tap the drink on the table or bar to appreciate everyone not with them — the fallen. Think of this as a less-messy version of pouring one out for the dead. The veteran first shows respect to those around him or her, then to their fallen comrades, and then, finally, to his or herself by knocking one back.

It’s also seen as a sign of respect to the bartender and the house — who are some of the select few people that a veteran never wants to anger. This same tradition was also seen in ancient Irish times as a way to scare off evil spirits.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

So, if you see a veteran do this, by all means, join them. Keep the moment solemn as they are, nod, smile, tap your drink with them, and enjoy your night.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Search underway for Marine lost overboard

An all-hands effort is underway to find a Marine believed to have gone overboard Aug. 8 during routine operations off the coast of the Philippines.

The Marine, who was aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was reported overboard at 9:40 a.m. The incident occurred in the Sulu Sea, according to a Marine Corps news release.


Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

A search and rescue swimmer aboard USS Chosin (CG 65) stands by in preparation for an underway replenishment with USNS John Ericsson.

(U.S. Navy photo by FC2 Andrew Albin)

The Marine’s family has been notified, but the service is withholding his or her identification while the search is ongoing.

The ship’s crew immediately responded to the situation by launching a search-and-rescue operation. Navy, Marine Corps, and Philippine ships and aircraft are all involved in the search, which will continue “until every option has been exhausted,” according to a post on the 13th MEU’s Facebook page.

“As we continue our search operation, we ask that you keep our Marine and the Marine’s family in your thoughts and prayers,” Col. Chandler Nelms, the MEU’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “We remain committed to searching for and finding our Marine.”
Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

A P-8 Poseidon flies over the ocean.

(US Navy)

Multiple searches have been conducted aboard the ship to locate the missing Marine as round-the-clock rescue operations continue in the Sulu Sea and Surigao Strait, according to the news release. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft and Philippine coast guard vessels have expanded the search area, covering roughly 3,000 square nautical miles.

“It is an all-hands effort to find our missing Marine,” Navy Capt. Gerald Olin, head of Amphibious Squadron One and commander of the search-and-rescue operation, said in a statement. “All of our Sailors, Marines, and available assets aboard the USS Essex have been and will continue to be involved in this incredibly important search-and-rescue operation.”

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group deployed last month from San Diego with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, becoming the first ARG to deploy from the continental United States with Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters aboard. The Essex is en route to the U.S. 5th Fleet, where the Marines’ new 5th-generation fighter may participate in combat operations in the Middle East for the first time.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @Militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

NATO prepares massive war games in response to tensions

NATO is gearing up for its “biggest exercises in many years,” the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg revealed Oct. 2, 2018, according to multiple reports.

Around 45,000 troops will take part in the Trident Juncture exercises in Norway in late October and early November 2018, the secretary said, according to AFP. The “fictitious but realistic” drills, reportedly the largest since the end of the Cold War, come on the heels of the massive Vostok 2018 joint military exercises involving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Russian and Chinese troops that were held in September 2018.

In addition to troops, the 29 NATO allies and their partners will send 150 aircraft, 60 ships, and 10,000 vehicles to the training grounds.


The drills come amid heightened tensions with Russia. For instance, US Envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson called Russia out on Oct. 2, 2018, accusing it of violating the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Warning Russia that Moscow is “on notice,” she said that the US might “take out the missiles” before they can be deployed if Russia refuses to change course.

Western allies have bolstered their military presence in the years following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Trident Juncture 2018 is designed to increase interoperability among allied and partner forces to respond quickly and effectively to an external threat, such as Russian aggression.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“It will simulate NATO’s collective response to an armed attack against one ally. And it will exercise our ability to reinforce our troops from Europe and across the Atlantic,” Stoltenberg explained Oct. 2, 2018. The aim is preparation for “large-scale military operations” under trying conditions, the Norwegian Armed Forces previously introduced, adding, “Exercises like this make NATO better prepared to counter any aggression, if necessary. “

In an effort to maintain transparency, NATO has invited Russia to monitor the joint military exercises. “All members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including Russia, have been invited to send observers,” the secretary said, according to Russian state media.

In early September 2018, Russian and Chinese forces, along with a small contingent of Mongolian troops, trained together in eastern Russia, leading to significant speculation about stronger Russian-Chinese ties as both Moscow and Beijing confront Washington.

Russia touted the exercises as unprecedented, claiming that the drills included hundreds of thousands of troops and tens of thousands of tanks and other military vehicles. Many suspect that the joint exercises were actually much smaller than stated.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force B-52s teamed up with the Army for live-fire bombing exercise

US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bomber aircrews participated in live-fire training operations with the US Army over the Pohakuloa Training Area, located on the big island of Hawaii Nov. 15 and 18, 2019.

During the two separate days, two B-52 bombers coordinated with members of the 25th Air Support Operations Squadron and US Army Pacific 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team joint terminal attack controllers, also known as JTACs, to deliver a mixed payload of unguided, precision-guided and laser-guided weapons.

“This is a unique experience for the Army to integrate with Air Force bombers because controlling bombers is quite different than controlling helicopters or even fighter aircraft,” said US Air Force Capt. Mike Brogan, Pacific Air Forces bomber liaison officer.


To maintain readiness, crews often use simulation tools, so the opportunity for live-fire is a significant event for aircrews and those on the ground. “This is incredibly valuable to them because it demonstrates that what they are doing and saying is actually being seen and accomplished,” Brogan said.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

A B-52 Stratofortress takes off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, Nov. 14, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Heal)

This event allowed the JTACs to conduct daytime missions as well as night training, giving them the opportunity to utilize equipment they wouldn’t normally work with during the day.

“Being able to practice close air support with B-52 bombers dropping over 15,000 pounds of high explosives while running alongside our Army brethren in a company movement with attack aviation to the left and active artillery to the right, provided numerous lessons to myself and my [team] that will help us to neutralize the enemy and keep our aligned [forces] safe when we deploy,” said Capt. Austin Hairfield, 25th ASOS flight commander.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Staff Sgt. Ryan Dillman, 25th Air Support Operations Squadron Tactical Air Control Party, plots friendly positions before passing targeting and terminal guidance to an AH-64 Apache during an exercise in Hawaii, November 2019

(US Army photo)

Additionally, during the Fire Support Coordination Exercise on the ground, they were able to perform Pacific Air Forces’ first off-board laser spot track between the US Army’s RQ-7 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System and the B-52’s targeting pod.

“Without the effective and efficient laser lock … the JTAC would have had to spend crucial seconds to locate the reinforcements himself and talk the aircraft onto the target before providing terminal guidance,” Hairfield said.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

An AH-64 Apache provides armed overwatch for Alpha Company during an exercise in Hawaii, November 2019.

(US Army photo)

The bombers, assigned to the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron out of Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, are currently deployed to Guam as part of US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence operations.

The 19.5-hour flight from Guam to Hawaii and back required air refueling supported from KC-135 Stratotankers. Upon completion of the training mission the bombers returned to Guam completing a 7,000-nautical mile round-trip mission.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Dillman coordinates a Medical Evacuation for a notional casualty while Observer Controllers/Trainers stand by during an exercise on Pohakuloa Training Area, November 2019.

(US Army photo)

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

A UH-60 Black Hawk flares before landing with armed escort from an AH-64 Apache during a Fire Support Coordination Exercise at Pohakuloa Training Area, November 2019.

(US Army photo)

Missions like these provide significant opportunities to strengthen joint capabilities in the region, enhance combined readiness, increase air domain awareness and help ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The US has been conducting continuous bomber presence operations in the theater as part of a routine, forward deployed, global strike capability to support regional security since March 2004.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

How a ragtag band of civilians got strong for service women

On the day I reported for duty as a volunteer in an extreme Army experiment of women’s strength, I stopped my car at the gate, watched the guard approaching, and thought about turning around. I’d seen the movies. I’d watched A Few Good Men and Private Benjamin and winced at the exhausting runs, pushups, shouting by grouchy drill instructors and general toughness required to thrive on a military base. I was a civilian at the edge of a world full of camo and shorn heads and running in formation and all I could think was, Do I have what it takes to get through this?

It was May of 1995, and scientists at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) on the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command (USASSC) base in Natick, Massachusetts, were kicking off a seminal study to determine if women could get strong enough to perform the toughest military tasks usually assigned to men. With only one female soldier available for the seven-month program, the scientists had recruited 45 ordinary civilians. I was a 24-year-old cub reporter in average shape who loathed running. It was time to put on my big-girl pants and push myself past my limits.

From the start, our ragtag band of women seemed an unlikely crew to take on such a lofty pursuit. More weekend walkers than G.I. Janes, we came to the base at varying fitness levels, shapes and sizes, and our ranks included stay-at-home moms, teachers, a landscaper, a student, a prison guard, a bartender and one journalist. But with mighty hearts and iron will, we intended to smash through those expectations. They said women couldn’t do it. We hit back: Watch me.

Sara and several other women she trained with

We did everything asked of us and more. I strapped on a 75-pound backpack and hiked two miles over rugged terrain, and though I ended up shuffling more than running the first time, I finished (albeit with shredded heels and blood blisters). I ran until I was sick while dragging a 110-pound trailer through thick woods and a meadow choked with weeds and wildflowers. I lifted more, more, more each week, carried sandbags and heavy metal boxes until my hands were calloused, pushed through five-mile backpack hikes and sprinted up steep hills.

I was honored to carry water for the women doing the work of defending our country, and I felt pressure to show up for them—a lot of people were watching us, after all. The experiment had made international headlines even before it began when a controversy about women in combat almost shut us down, and now the big TV networks were pressing for access to the base to film us in action (they never got it—my newspaper had the exclusive). At the time, females were still banned from most ground combat roles. I knew that on average we possess around 50 to 60 percent of males’ upper body strength, but I also knew women who could perform incredible physical feats. I didn’t think it was fair for anyone to be banned from a job based on averages.

The test subjects formed fast, tight friendships to help get us through the rigorous training regimen and quickly developed our own rallying cry. In the first week, one of us blurted, “Do what?” when told to do something that seemed near impossible. “F— that!” I replied under my breath. For the rest of the study, we’d shout that call and answer to get psyched up before our toughest tests. Everyone on post knew who we were, and for a long time I noted skeptical glances and heard a snide remark or two while running through the base. But by the end, the soldiers, officers and civilian personnel were openly cheering us on.

This week marks exactly 25 years since the research scientists who designed the study, principal investigator Everett Harman and Pete Frykman, released their results. The full story of our journey is a little-known piece of military history that will be told for the first time in my forthcoming book The Strong Ones: How a Band of Civilian Women Made Their Mark on the Armyout February 9.

Spoiler alert: We did it. The data showed 78 percent of test subjects could now qualify for Army jobs categorized as “very heavy,” in which soldiers must occasionally lift 100 pounds, whereas only 24 percent could at the beginning. We also showed a 33 percent improvement on the 75-pound backpack test, going from 36 minutes to 27.5 minutes for two miles. And we did it all efficiently by training 1 ½ hours a day, five days a week.

News clip of the study proving women could pass army tests

In 2016 when I learned all military jobs were opened up to women, I began my research for The Strong Ones to find out how we might have helped change things. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say the test subjects affected future military women in more ways than one.

It’s been inspiring to watch women kicking butt in so many new roles in every branch over the past few years, and interesting to hear more than a few I’ve met along the way hit back at their doubters the same way we did back then: Watch me.

For a sneak peak, see The Strong Ones book trailer below.

Articles

It looks like Washington just rescued the VA’s private-sector care program — for now

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a $3.9 billion emergency spending package to fill a shortfall in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ program of private-sector care, seeking to avert a disruption to medical care for thousands of veterans.


The deal includes additional money for core VA health programs, as well. Veterans’ groups insisted this money be included.

The compromise plan sets aside $2.1 billion over six months to continue funding the Choice program, which provides federally paid medical care outside the VA and is a priority of President Donald Trump. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, Choice would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care.

The proposal also would devote $1.8 billion to authorize 28 leases for new VA medical facilities and establish programs to make it easier to hire health specialists. That cost would be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
VA Secretary David Shulkin. Photo courtesy of VA.

A House vote was planned July 28, before members were to begin a five-week recess. The Senate is finishing up business for two more weeks and would also need to approve the measure.

Major veterans’ groups had opposed the original House plan as an unacceptable step toward privatization, leading Democrats to block that bill on July 24. That plan would have trimmed VA benefits to pay for Choice without additional investments in VA infrastructure.

Put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA hospital, the Choice program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.

Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told a hearing on July 27 that the six-month funding plan was urgently needed and would give Congress more time to debate broader issues over the future of the VA. He was joined by Rep. Tim Walz, the panel’s top Democrat.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., (left) and Jon Tester, D-Mont (right)

“We are glad that veterans will continue to have access to care without interruption and that the VA will be able to improve the delivery of care by addressing critical infrastructure and medical staffing needs,” Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement.

Shulkin praised the agreement and urged the House to act swiftly. The legislation “will greatly benefit veterans,” he said.

Still, while the agreement may avert a shutdown to Choice, the early disputes over funding may signal bigger political fights to come.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
Photo by Michael Vadon

During the 2016 campaign, Trump had criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, saying he would give veterans more options in seeing outside providers. At an event July 25 in Ohio, Trump said he would triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice” as part of an upcoming VA overhaul.

His comments followed a warning by the leader of the Veterans of Foreign Wars against any Trump administration effort to “privatize” the VA. Speaking July 24 at its national convention in New Orleans, outgoing VFW National Commander Brian Duffy criticized the initial House plan as violating Trump’s campaign promise to VFW that it “would remain a public system, because it is a public trust.”

Shulkin announced the budget shortfall last month, citing unexpected demand from veterans for private care and poor budget planning. To slow spending, the department last month instructed VA medical centers to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean Furey

“This situation underscores exactly why Congress needs to pass broader and more permanent Choice reforms. Even after they finish scrambling to fund this flawed program, too many veterans will still be trapped in a failing system and will be unable to seek care outside the VA when they want to or need to,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America.

Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014, as the VA’s more than 1,200 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care.

The VA has an annual budget of nearly $167 billion.

Articles

5 basic things you should know about the thrift savings plan

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before


Retirement planning can be stressful, but figuring out how to finance it takes a great deal of the stress away. Enter the government’s Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP. The first step in understanding TSPs is answering five basic questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Who: The thrift savings plan is available to federal employees and members of the uniformed services. It is managed by BlackRock, a financial planning and investment firm headquartered in New York City.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

What: TSP is a retirement savings plan similar to a private sector 401(k). Federal employees and military personnel can contribute up to a certain percentage of their base pay to their TSP. BlackRock assigns a broker to manage TSP accounts. Brokers are not held to the same standards as fiduciaries in that a broker has no vested interest in your funds; rather a broker’s only job is to invest money in suitable securities.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

When: If you are a federal employee who joined your agency after 2010, you’re automatically enrolled in TSP with 3 percent of your base pay sent to your TSP; your agency matches this contribution automatically. If you joined your agency before 2010, an automatic 1 percent of your base pay is sent to TSP; your agency matches your additional contributions above the 1 percent. Military members must set up their own contributions and there is no matching contribution from the military.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Where: Military members can set up contributions to TSP through MyPay. Which type of funds you decide to invest in will determine when you can access the funds from that investment. There are L Funds, which are “lifestyle funds” that you can withdraw from at a predetermined time. Then there are G, F, S, C, and I funds, which rely on you to make your own investment decisions with a broker, according to the government’s TSP summary.

Afghanistan is producing more opium than ever before

Why: A thrift savings plan gives you the ability to participate in a long-term retirement savings and investment plan. Additionally, you can choose between a regular TSP and a Roth TSP. Traditional TSP is tax free as you contribute, but you’ll pay taxes when you withdraw the funds. A Roth TSP allows you to pay taxes upon investment, and withdraw at a later date tax free. The upside to utilizing the government’s TSP is that you won’t pay fees to invest, and you’ll have a broker to manage the funds.

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