The U.S.-backed coalition effort to retake the city of Mosul officially began Monday, but experts say the end of the battle against ISIS is far from over.
Pentagon officials warned reporters before the operation began that ISIS was likely to convert to insurgency after losing the city of Mosul. “If anything, it’s gonna be more difficult,” is how Canadian Army Brig. Gen. Dave Anderson described the coming fight against ISIS as an insurgent force.
The retaking of Mosul highlights the Obama administration’s central belief that retaking territory from ISIS constitutes victory against the group. “It’s as if we’ve decided by taking territory back, they won’t be terrorists anymore,” Dr. Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
As ISIS reverts to a guerrilla insurgency, Iraq must begin to grapple with the underlying sectarian tensions that threaten to engulf it after the defeat of ISIS. The operation to retake Mosul is composed of the U.S., Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and Turkish troops. Each group has its own vested interest in the future of Mosul and greater Iraq.
“What has emerged from the conflict is a complex patchwork of ethnic, tribal and religious militias that claim fief over particular territories,” Ramzy Mardini of the Atlantic Council leveled a stark warning on the administration’s pursuit of defeating ISIS in a recent op-ed for The New York Times.
Shiite militias participating alongside Iraqi Security Forces in anti-ISIS operations have well known ties to humanitarian atrocities against Sunni civilians. The United Nations estimates nearly 1.5 million civilians remain in Mosul, and if Sunni citizens are harassed or outright killed by militias it could lend sympathy to defeated ISIS terrorists. ISIS’s history lies in a guerrilla insurgent force that capitalized on sectarian tensions to seize territory.
Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus parroted Mardini’s thinking in August, saying failure to stabilize post-ISIS Iraq could lead to the rise of another version of ISIS. “The challenge of Mosul and Nineveh is the considerable number of ethnic groups, religious sects, tribes and other elements that make up the province.”
Ultimately, Petraeus warns the biggest challenge in Iraq is not the defeat of ISIS, but is “to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people.” He warns, “Failure to do so could lead to ISIS 3.0.”
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What does it take to reach the bottom of the world?
For starters, you’ll need a well-designed hull, tapered like a football for maximum maneuverability. Then add a generous supply of horsepower; 75,000 is a good round number. Finally, you’ll need some weight to help break the thick ice, about 13,000 tons. To round this equation out you’ll need experience, especially the understanding that the best way to operate an icebreaker is to avoid ice in the first place.
In short, there’s no single factor that makes the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star‘s icebreaking possible. It’s an art that began with the first sketches of its blueprint and is still being perfected each time a new ice pilot qualifies to drive the 399-foot cutter. Each winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Polar Star’s normal operating area) the crew is run through an icy gauntlet that tests every element of the ship’s capability.
“We began seeing sea ice near 62 degrees latitude south, but the pack ice we found further down was no real challenge as it was under heavy melting stress, rapidly retreating and further narrowed by a growing polynya, or ice-free area, opening northward from the other side,” said Pablo Clemente-Colón, the U.S. National Ice Center‘s chief scientist, who just happens to be aboard the Polar Star for their 2016 mission. “Then we hit the fast ice, where we are now; where the work starts.”
The work indeed started in McMurdo Sound with 13 miles of ice between the open Ross Sea and the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station 18 days prior to the first supply ship’s arrival.
First, the cutter collides with the edge of the fast ice at about six knots. The 13,000-ton cutter’s 1.75-inch thick steel bow and the aforementioned power and weight come into the equation here, upon initial approach toward McMurdo Station.
“We have diesel electric engines for general open-ocean steaming and some grooming of very light ice, up to six feet of ice,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kara Burns, the Polar Star’s engineer officer. “Then we have what we consider our boost mode, our main gas turbines. They really allow us to get through six feet of ice or upwards to 21 feet of ice when we’re backing and ramming.”
Those gas turbines, enormous pieces of machinery that can each transform jet fuel into 25,000 horsepower, are the key to putting the Polar Star where it needs to be: above the ice. When the cutter rams a thick plate, that power drives the rounded bow up on top of the ice, at which point gravity takes over.
“We carry three times the fuel capacity of a 378 or a [national security cutter],” said Burns, comparing the Polar Star to the Coast Guard’s largest non-icebreaking cutters. “The extra weight on the ship, as far as the liquid load capacity, is used as a cantilever mechanism. As the vessel rides up on the ice, the hydrostatic pressure forces the stern up and pushes the bow down, acting as a hammer on the ice.”
In this case, the world’s biggest hammer.
Rest assured control of such awesome power is not handed out on a whim. It’s only after qualifying to maneuver the cutter in normal open water conditions, and a meticulous review from the commanding officer, that a new ice pilot is able to take the throttles and the helm from the ship’s aloft conn: a small control center five stories above the highest deck.
“They have to understand the different kinds of ice; they have to understand the ship’s capabilities and its limitations, and how to break ice safely,” said Capt. Matthew Walker, commanding officer, Polar Star. “The best way to break ice is to avoid ice, but when we’re down here we can’t do that.”
If the Polar Star crews of years and decades past hadn’t given the ice its due respect, the ship wouldn’t have made it to the 40th birthday it had in January. Before it comes to backing and ramming, the ice pilot has to know to dodge, or at least look for thinner ice when possible.
Carefully navigating through wayward floes in the Southern Ocean and beginning to break only when necessary, the crew accomplished another trip from one side of the planet to another. The grunt work, the supply vessel escort of Operation Deep Freeze 2016, the U.S. military’s logistical support of the NSF’s U.S. Antarctic Program, lies ahead.
With power and weight, with lessons passed down from one crew to the next, and with a hull made particularly for this type of work, the Polar Star moored at McMurdo Station Jan. 18, 2016. They’re as far from their home in Seattle as they could possibly be, but on familiar ground at the bottom of the world.
A small Greek Orthodox church decimated by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack will reopen next year as a national shrine, in grander size and form.
The south tower of the World Trade Center demolished the modest 35 ft tall St. Nicholas church when it fell on 9/11, but architect Santiago Calatrava is bringing it back with a unique design, according to the Associated Press.
St. Nicholas was the only other building besides the twin towers completely destroyed during the 9/11 terrorist attack. Now the church, being rebuilt as a national Orthodox shrine according to Calatrava’s design, will begin offering services in 2018 as The St. Nicholas National Shrine.
“What I’m trying to do as an architect is give a sense of hope,” Calatrava told AP.
The church’s design is inspired by the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, two Byzantine-era shrines in Istanbul. The structure will sport an outer layer of marble mined from the same quarry that supplied the marble for the Parthenon in Athens, with the permission of Greece’s government, and will be lit up from the inside to give the appearance of a glow at night.
The Greek government, various Greek Orthodox church members, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston provided funding for the church’s $50 million construction, as did the Italian town of Bari, as St. Nicholas is their patron saint.
“You’ll see that the dome is glowing and the front is glowing, said Jerry Dimitriou, executive director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “The dome area will all be illuminated like a candle.
“On one side you have water and memory, and on the other side, in the church, you have the idea of the light of the candle and the flame and the sense of hope,” Calatrava added.
The Greek Orthodox church established the original building as a church in 1919, and stubbornly refused to move during the construction of the twin towers.
“All of the buildings around it were sold,” said Olga Pavlakos, member of the parish board and descendant of some of the church’s founders. “We stood our ground. Greeks are tough people.”
The church building could not stand against the terroristic destruction of 9/11, but the church itself will continue on, intended as an icon of reflection and hope for all who wish to enter.
“It’s not only for Greek people, it’s a place for everybody,” Pavlakos said. “And that’s what we stood for before, so this is a continuation.”
The most secretive parts of America’s defense apparatus have a missile covered in swords, and they’re using it to take out terrorists in Syria.
One significant change to warfare that’s come about in recent decades has been the advent of precision guided munitions and the resulting shift in the way America, and the world at large, sees collateral damage. During World War II, massive fleets of heavy bombers dotted the skies above Europe, laying waste to vast areas of territory in an effort to damage a nation’s industrial infrastructure and force submission.
While there is still a use for this method of ordnance delivery, precision guided munitions have become the common platforms of choice for commanders in theater. (US Air Force Photo)
Thousands died in these large scale bombing campaigns, and today, many of those deaths would be considered unacceptable by the international community. Precision guided munitions with ever greater range and accuracy have replaced the carpet-bombing doctrine with the more cost effective and civilian friendly precision strike mindset. Today, collateral damage is not a thing of the past, but its metrics have shifted significantly. While carpet bombing raids may have killed hundreds or even thousands, the loss of a dozen civilian lives is now often considered too big a price to pay to engage many dangerous targets.
All that remained of the German town of Wesel after allied bombing. (WikiMedia Commons)
This shift is undoubtedly a good thing from the macro perspective for humanity, but it raises a number of new challenges for America’s defense apparatus that’s tasked with engaging terrorists outside of America’s borders. It takes weeks, months, even years to gather all the necessary intelligence on a target before you might have an opportunity to take him out, and if the target is surrounded by civilians (as they tend to do for protection from air strikes), there’s a chance the U.S. military may miss its opportunity to strike.
That’s where the AGM-114R9X comes in. While it’s official name may be a mouthful, the missile itself utilizes a fairly simplistic approach to killing specific targets while minimizing the chances that anyone nearby will be hurt.
The AGM-114R9X is, at its most simplistic levels, a Hellfire missile with the explosive warhead removed from the center portion of its body. In the warhead’s place are six extendable blades that bear a striking resemblance to swords. As brutal as this method of engaging a target may seem, the use of this missile actually makes going after these high value targets significantly safer for the civilians in the area.
Rather than utilizing explosive force or shrapnel from the missile’s body to kill its target and anyone else in the vicinity, the AGM-114R9X deploys its six swords upon impact with a target. Each blade is approximately 18 inches long, giving the missile a “kill radius” of only about three feet. Couple that with the Hellfire missile’s extremely accurate targeting capabilities, and you have a weapon that can take out the bad guys without worrying about a large explosion that could potentially hurt others.
The weapon’s development began under the CIA during the Obama Administration, and to date, has only been used in combat a handful of times. In each of these instances, these precision weapons appear to have been employed by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, though it’s not entirely clear as to whether or not there is any overlap between CIA and JSOC operations in terms of leveraging the AGM-114R9X in combat.
Charles Lister on Twitter
The “ninja sword” Hellfire missile saw a sharp uptick in press late last year after it was used twice in less than a week to kill different terrorists in Syria. The first strike took place on December 3, when an AGM-114R9X was used to engage the passenger seat specifically of a minivan in the Syrian city of Atmeh. The second took place somewhere between Afrin and Azaz, once again killing its target without injuring any bystanders. As pictures of the strikes and their aftermath hit social media, the U.S. government’s sword-wielding missile was introduced to the world, despite the general lack of formal acknowledgement from the Pentagon.
All told, this missile covered in swords is believed to have only seen use a half a dozen times, which coupled with the small amount of information released about the platform suggests that the missile is a limited production run that may be the result of modifying existing Hellfire platforms. Either that, or JSOC would just prefer to keep this secret close to the chest.
In any regard, it just got a little bit tougher to be a terrorist, and that’s always good news.
America has fought in a lot of wars so it can be hard to keep track of all of them. As a quick reference guide, here is every American war, each captured in a single tidy sentence.
American Revolution: The Colonials hated King George and his taxes on tea and so fought to be ruled by President George instead.
Whiskey Rebellion: Americans hated President George and his taxes on whiskey, but Washington won a bloodless victory and kept his tax.
Quasi-War: America didn’t want to pay debts owed to France, so France started stealing ships, America recreated its Navy, and everybody fought until they realized the war was costing everyone more money than anyone was making in profit.
Barbary Wars: Americans fought two wars to navigate the waters north of Africa freely, losing the first and winning the second.
War of 1812: Mad about the British restricting American trade and capturing U.S. sailors, America declared war, lost much of her merchant fleet, watched the White House burn down, and then got what they wanted in the peace treaty anyway.
Mexican-American War: President Polk wanted to double the size of the country, so he picked a fight with Mexico and captured land from Texas to the Pacific.
Utah War: The Army made a show of force, the Mormons massacred a bunch of people, and everyone agreed to replace the Mormon Utah governor with a non-Mormon and forget the whole thing.
Indian Wars: The Native Americans owned land the settlers wanted so brief skirmishes led to full wars where Federal troops used biological warfare and everything ended badly for the Native Americans.
Civil War: The South wanted to keep their slaves and the North wanted to send them to Africa, so everyone fought a war and the South lost.
Spanish-American War: A battleship blew up in Havana and a pissed off America invaded Spanish territory in Cuba and won itself a small overseas empire.
Philippine-American War: The Philippines were violently opposed to becoming an American territory, so America killed the Filipinos until they changed their mind.
Border War: A Mexican revolution kept spilling over into America, so Gen. Pershing chased Pancho Villa and the U.S. garrisoned troops along the border.
Banana Wars: American fruit producers supported insurrections throughout Central and South America and U.S. troops backed them up when necessary to protect business interests.
World War I: After European nations fought each other for three years, America showed up, killed the survivors, and declared itself the champion of the world.
World War II: The Allies used American manufacturing, British technology, and Russian numbers to defeat the fascists and America began the Nuclear Age by obliterating two cities with atomic bombs.
Korean War: A communist government backed by the Soviet Union and China fought a democratic government backed by the U.S. and others in clashes up and down the peninsula for over three years before settling on a border in roughly the same spot as when the war began.
Dominican Civil War: America participated in another country’s civil war off and on for nearly 50 years.
Vietnam War: An armed resistance to French rule turned into a proxy war of America vs. China and Russia that some Americans still don’t admit they lost despite Vietnam now being a single communist state.
Grenada: America jumped into another country’s civil war and declared itself the winner, maybe or maybe not saving the lives of some American medical students studying there.
Panama: Panama’s civil war threatened American forces and the Panama canal, so after a Marine lieutenant was killed America invaded, dismantled the ruling government, and captured the dictator in under three weeks.
Gulf War: An anti-American, oil-rich dictator invaded the land of a Pro-American, oil-rich monarch, so America led a massive air assault followed by a ground invasion that destroyed the world’s fourth largest army in 100 hours.
Somali Civil War: America joined a peacekeeping force to try to curb clan warfare but left amid mounting casualties.
Bosnian Civil War: America joined a peacekeeping force that successfully curbed ethnic fighting in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Kosovo War: America joins an ultimately successful peacekeeping effort aimed at reducing ethnic fighting in Kosovo and demilitarizing a terrorist group in the country.
War on Terror: After suffering the worst single terror attack in history, America declared war on terrorism and has been fighting ever since, most prominently in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in smaller conflicts throughout Africa, the Middle East, and southern Asia.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A C-130J Super Hercules from the 37th Airlift Squadron fires flares as it performs anti-aircraft fire tests during exercise Carpathian on May 9, 2016, in Romania. The 37th AS, from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, began participating in off-station training deployments with Romania as early as 1996, allowing the U.S. Air Force to work with NATO allies to develop and improve ready air forces capable of maintaining regional security.
Phase technicians from the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work on an F-16C Fighting Falcon during routine phase maintenance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 18, 2016. Phase inspections are performed on aircraft every 300 flight hours and involve procedural maintenance actions that require robust attention to detail.
A 2d Squadron 2d Cavalry Regiment infantryman suppresses opposing forces with a M240B machine gun during Exercise Spring Storm in Voru, Estonia, May 14, 2016. Approximately 6,000 military personnel from the U.S., Finland, German Bundeswehr, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom’sHM Armed Forces and Canadian Armed Forces participated in the annual Estonian Army Land Defense Forces training exercise.
Soldiers assigned to 3rd Infantry Division, move to their battle position in a M1 Abrams during the Strong Europe Tank Challenge (SETC) at 7th Army JMTC’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, May 11, 2016.
PACIFIC OCEAN (May 17, 2016) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Michael Allen, assigned to amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), directs an AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 311 on the ship’s flight deck. America is an aviation centric amphibious assault ship that supports small-scale contingency operations of an expeditionary strike group, to forcible entry missions in major theaters of war. The ship is currently conducting maritime training operations off the coast of California.
GUAM (May 17, 2016) U. S. Navy Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 land and retrieve their parachutes in Guam after a high altitude-low opening parachute jump. EODMU5 conducted counter improvised explosive device operations, renders safe explosive hazards and disarms underwater explosives.
A Marine attending the Military Police Basic Course, runs to cover during a field training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., May 11, 2016. The purpose of the course is to provide entry level pipeline and lateral move Marines the knowledge and skills to become disciplined, motivated and capable of performing the duties and responsibilities of military occupational specialty 5811, Military Police.
Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) provide security while other Marines conduct fast-rope inserts from a UH-1Y Huey with HMLA-267, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, May 9. 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (1st Anglico), I MEF, facilitated a helicopter rope and suspension technique training package for U.S. Marines and Royal British Commandos.
My name is 1/c Kevin Alvarez and I will be taking you through the events that occur during commencement week leading up to graduation for the class of 2016! Pictured above is the sunset regimental review that took place last night in honor of Rear Admiral Rendon, Superintendent, United States Coast Guard Academy.
Step 1 of 3: 186 First Class Cadets line up and make their way to Cadet Memorial Field where they will soon be handed their diplomas and be commissioned as officers.
NAVSUP FLC Bahrain’s transportation service providers carried a heavy box to the truck during the a household goods move amid the COVID-19 crisis. (U.S. Navy/ Kambra Blackmon)
The stop-movement order in effect for military families on permanent change-of-station moves, originally set to run through June 30, will be lifted in stages, with some installations to begin accepting transfers immediately, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
At select installations stateside that have met White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on preventing COVID-19, commanders will be able to “go green immediately” on PCS moves, said Matt Donovan, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
The installations approved for immediate lifting of restrictions and travel and permanent changes of station would be listed in a classified document Tuesday night and named publicly as early as Wednesday, Donovan said.
He and Lisa Hershman, the Pentagon’s chief management officer, said that, overall, the lifting of the stop-movement restrictions would depend on local conditions, both stateside and overseas.
Donovan cited the example of the Army‘s Fort Campbell, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border, saying the installation commander would have to gauge whether local conditions in both states have been met.
Esper issued the stop-movement order on travel in March and on April 20 extended it to June 30, but thousands of exceptions have been approved for individual cases.
Earlier this month, U.S. Transportation Command said about 30,000 military families had received conditional permission to move before June 30.
“So those are the families who have been approved or authorized to move, if conditions allow,” Rick Marsh, director of the Defense Personal Property Program for U.S. Transportation Command, said at a May 6 Pentagon briefing.
The overall travel restrictions will be lifted in five phases, mostly dependent on local conditions stateside and overseas and on bases themselves, said Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
Both Hershman and Donovan said that there was no timeframe for going through the five phases on lifting restrictions — it was all dependent on local conditions and the decisions of installation commanders stateside and Combatant Commanders overseas.
Donovan said there were “two overarching [sets of] factors” to be considered in easing the travel and permanent change of station restrictions: first, state and local criteria on protection against COVID-19, and White House guidance on “reopening America.”
A second set of factors included conditions on the installations themselves, testing capabilities and the availability of essential services such as schools and hospitals, Donovan said.
“It’s not date-related, we’re looking at the conditions,” Hershman said.
The Pentagon building itself and other facilities on the Pentagon reservation have remained open, but entrances have been restricted and those reporting to work have been required to wear face masks and observe social distancing.
Hershman said that the move by Defense Secretary Mark Esper to ease the conditions for opening facilities will also apply to the Pentagon building itself and other facilities on the Pentagon reservation.
She said that the basic requirement for reopening moves at the Pentagon will be Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia showing a downward trend in coronavirus cases that continues for at least 14 days.
About two-thirds of the Pentagon’s workforce of more than 20,000 has been teleworking during the pandemic. Hershman said the Pentagon was looking to set conditions that would “enable their return in a controlled and steady manner,” but there was no timeframe.
She also said many in the Pentagon’s workforce could be allowed to continue teleworking.
“That’s something we’re considering. We’re encouraging the leadership to do what makes sense.”
Service members who move themselves instead of relying on a government-contracted moving company will also be paid more, effective immediately, as part of a temporary incentive, according to new guidance released by TRANSCOM Tuesday.
Typically, troops who move themselves as part of a Personally Procured Move (PPM), also known as a DITY, are reimbursed 95% of what the government would pay a contracted moving company. The new authority increases that reimbursement by 5%, putting it on par with what the moving company would be paid.
“This item revises Joint Travel Regulations … to temporarily authorize a monetary allowance that is equal to 100% of the Government’s ‘Best Value’ for personally procured moves due to COVID-19,” the guidance states.
The increase will be available for moves May 26 through December 31. The proposal, first floated by Army officials in late April, aims to clear out a backlog of PCS moves created by the Defense Department’s global stop-movement order.
What brought this to their attention was the medal count between Audie Murphy – long regarded as the most decorated U.S. soldier ever – and a little-known WWII veteran and Medal of Honor recipient named Matt Urban, whose medal count matched Murphy’s.
But no one knew that Urban had matched the well-known Murphy until 36 years after the end of WWII because Urban’s recommendation and supporting paperwork were lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.
He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Merit but never knew until his military records were reviewed to award his Medal of Honor.
And there were a lot of actions to review.
President Carter called then retired Lt. Col. Matt Urban “The Greatest Soldier in American History” as he presented the Medal of Honor to Urban in 1980. The soldier’s Medal of Honor citation alone lists “a series of actions” – at least 10 – that go above and beyond the call of duty.
The Nazis called Urban “The Ghost” because he just seemed to keep coming back to life when they killed him. The soldier’s seven Purple Hearts can attest to that.
Urban joined the Army ROTC at Cornell in 1941. It was just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and unfortunately for the Nazis, Urban graduated in time to land in North Africa in 1942.
He was ordered to stay aboard a landing craft off the Tunisian coast, but when he heard his unit encountered stiff resistance on the beaches, he hopped in a raft and rowed to the fight. There he replaced a wounded platoon leader.
Later, at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, Urban destroyed a German observation post, then led his company in a frontal assault on a fortified enemy position. During one German counterattack, Urban killed an enemy soldier with his trench knife, then took the man’s machine pistol and wiped out the rest of the oncoming Germans. He was wounded in his hands and arm.
In North Africa, his actions earned him two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
It was in France where Urban would distinguish himself and earn his nickname. His division landed at Normandy on D-Day, and later at the French town of Renouf he spearheaded another gallant series of events.
On June 14, 1944, two tanks and small arms began raking Urban’s men in the hedgerows, causing heavy casualties. He picked up a bazooka and led an ammo carrier closer to the tanks.
Urban then exposed himself to the heavy enemy fire as he took out both tanks. His leadership inspired his men who easily bested the rest of the German infantry.
Later that same day, Urban took a direct shot in the leg from a 37mm tank gun. He continued to direct his men to defense positions. The next day, still wounded, Urban led his troops on another attack. He was wounded again and flown back to England.
In July 1944, he learned how much the fighting in the French hedgerows devastated his unit. Urban, still in the hospital in England, ditched his bed and hitchhiked back to France. He met up with his men near St. Lo on the eve of Operation Cobra, a breakout effort to hit the German flanks and advance into Brittany.
He found his unit held down by a German strong point with two of his tanks destroyed and a third missing its commander and gunner. Urban hatched a plan to remount the tank and break through but his lieutenant and sergeant were killed in their attempts – so he mounted the tank himself.
“The Ghost” manned the machine gun as bullets whizzed by and devastated the enemy.
He was wounded twice more in August, refusing to be evacuated even after taking artillery shell fragments to the chest. He was promoted to battalion commander.
In September 1944, Urban’s path of destruction across Europe was almost at an end. His men were pinned down by enemy artillery while trying to cross the Meuse River in Belgium. Urban left the command post and went to the front, where he reorganized the men and personally led an assault on a Nazi strongpoint. Urban was shot in the neck by a machine gun during the charge across open ground. He stayed on site until the Nazis were completely routed and the Allies could cross the Meuse.
And that’s just his Medal of Honor citation.
In a 1974 interview with his hometown newspaper, the Buffalo News, he credits his survival to accepting the idea of dying in combat.
“If I had to get it,” Urban said, “it was going to be while I was doing something. I didn’t want to die in my sleep.”
The reason he never received a recommendation for the Medal of Honor was because the recommendation was just lost in the paperwork shuffle. His commander, Maj. Max Wolf filed the recommendation, but it was lost when Wolf was killed in action.
It was the enlisted men who fought with Urban who started asking about “The Ghost’s” Medal of Honor.
“The sight of him limping up the road, all smiles, raring to lead the attack once more, brought the morale of the battleweary men to its highest peak – Staff Sgt. Earl G. Evans in a 1945 letter to the War Department that was also lost.
Matt Urban died in 1995 at age 75 and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the Manchester attack by defeating the extremists in their de-facto capital.
British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the deadly suicide attack at a pop concert in Manchester on May 22.
The British combatants, who have been fighting among the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG] in Syria, promised on May 23 to soundly defeat the extremists in their de-facto capital of Raqqa.
IS has claimed responsibility for the the massacre that killed 22 people including one girl aged just eight at a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.
“We’re taking it to them. When I go to Raqqa I’m giving them no quarter. I will expect no mercy from them and I will not give them no mercy,” said Michael Enright, a YPG fighter from Manchester.
“I will remember Manchester,” he swore in a video posted on Twitter.
He added that he had become accustomed to death while fighting in Syria but the attack targeting children and teenagers in his hometown was “heartbreaking”.
Macer Gifford, another YGP volunteer, said in an online statement that IS would soon be crushed in Raqqa, adding that the British government must back Kurdish forces their fight.
“We will destroy their military capital which will effectively cut off the snake’s head,” Gifford said.
“We must urge the UK government to do more to defeat [IS] in Syria. Terror has been brought to London and Manchester. Our children have been targeted!”
He added that British authorities should follow the lead of the US and send military aid to the YPG’s ally the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF].
In November last year, the SDF — a Kurdish-Arab alliance — began an offensive aimed at taking the city of Raqqa.
The fighters are still 40 kilometres from Raqqa to the west, and have not controlled any territory directly to the city’s south, which is bordered by the Euphrates river.
The SDF has said the long-awaited attack on Raqqa would start at the beginning of the summer, probably in June.
The Kurdish forces have received a steady stream of recruits from the West to help in the fight against IS extremists.
In December last year, a 20-year-old British YPG fighter was killed during the ongoing Raqqa offensive, making him the third Briton to die fighting IS in Syria.
Critics have however cautioned that the YPG and its allies are committing human rights abuses, and pursuing an agenda for Kurdish independence including by collaborating with the Syrian regime, despite its atrocities that eclipse those of IS.
Russian television anchor Pavel Lobkov was in the studio getting ready for his show when jarring news flashed across his phone: Some of his most intimate messages had just been published to the web.
Days earlier, the veteran journalist had come out live on air as HIV-positive, a taboo-breaking revelation that drew responses from hundreds of Russians fighting their own lonely struggles with the virus. Now he’d been hacked.
“These were very personal messages,” Lobkov said in a recent interview, describing a frantic call to his lawyer in an abortive effort to stop the spread of nearly 300 pages of Facebook correspondence, including sexually explicit messages. Even two years later, he said, “it’s a very traumatic story.”
The Associated Press found that Lobkov was targeted by the hacking group known as Fancy Bear in March 2015, nine months before his messages were leaked. He was one of at least 200 journalists, publishers and bloggers targeted by the group as early as mid-2014 and as recently as a few months ago.
The AP identified journalists as the third-largest group on a hacking hit list obtained from cybersecurity firm Secureworks, after diplomatic personnel and U.S. Democrats. About 50 of the journalists worked at The New York Times. Another 50 were either foreign correspondents based in Moscow or Russian reporters like Lobkov who worked for independent news outlets. Others were prominent media figures in Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics or Washington.
The list of journalists provides new evidence for the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Fancy Bear acted on behalf of the Russian government when it intervened in the U.S. presidential election. Spy agencies say the hackers were working to help Republican Donald Trump. The Russian government has denied interfering in the American election.
Previous AP reporting has shown how Fancy Bear — which Secureworks nicknamed Iron Twilight — used phishing emails to try to compromise Russian opposition leaders, Ukrainian politicians and U.S. intelligence figures, along with Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and more than 130 other Democrats.
Lobkov, 50, said he saw hacks like the one that turned his day upside-down in December 2015 as dress rehearsals for the email leaks that struck the Democrats in the United States the following year.
“I think the hackers in the service of the Fatherland were long getting their training on our lot before venturing outside.”
New Yorker writer Masha Gessen said it was also in 2015 — when Secureworks first detected attempts to break into her Gmail — that she began noticing people who seemed to materialize next to her in public places in New York and speak loudly in Russian into their phones, as if trying to be overheard. She said this only happened when she put appointments into the online calendar linked to her Google account.
Gessen, the author of a book about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, said she saw the incidents as threats.
“It was really obvious,” she said. “It was a classic KGB intimidation tactic.”
Other U.S.-based journalists targeted include Josh Rogin, a Washington Post columnist, and Shane Harris, who was covering the intelligence community for The Daily Beast in 2015. Harris said he dodged the phishing attempt, forwarding the email to a source in the security industry who told him almost immediately that Fancy Bear was involved.
In Russia, the majority of journalists targeted by the hackers worked for independent news outlets like Novaya Gazeta or Vedomosti, though a few — such as Tina Kandelaki and Ksenia Sobchak — are more mainstream. Sobchak has even launched an improbable bid for the Russian presidency.
Investigative reporter Roman Shleynov noted that the Gmail hackers targeted was the one he used while working on the Panama Papers, the expose of international tax avoidance that implicated members of Putin’s inner circle.
Fancy Bear also pursued more than 30 media targets in Ukraine, including many journalists at the Kyiv Post and others who have reported from the front lines of the Russia-backed war in the country’s east.
Nataliya Gumenyuk, co-founder of Ukrainian internet news site Hromadske, said the hackers were hunting for compromising information.
“The idea was to discredit the independent Ukrainian voices,” she said.
The hackers also tried to break into the personal Gmail account of Ellen Barry, The New York Times’ former Moscow bureau chief.
Her newspaper appears to have been a favorite target. Fancy Bear sent phishing emails to roughly 50 of Barry’s colleagues at The Times in late 2014, according to two people familiar with the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential data.
The Times confirmed in a brief statement that its employees received the malicious messages, but the newspaper declined to comment further.
Some journalists saw their presence on the hackers’ hit list as vindication. Among them were CNN security analyst Michael Weiss and Brookings Institution visiting fellow Jamie Kirchick, who took the news as a badge of honor.
“I’m very proud to hear that,” Kirchick said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the wide net cast by Fancy Bear underscores efforts by governments worldwide to use hacking against journalists.
“It’s about gaining access to sources and intimidating those journalists,” said Courtney C. Radsch, the group’s advocacy director.
In Russia, the stakes are particularly high. The committee has counted 38 murders of journalists there since 1992.
Many journalists told the AP they knew they were under threat, explaining that they had added a second layer of password protection to their emails and only chatted over encrypted messaging apps like Telegram, WhatsApp or Signal.
Fancy Bear target Ekaterina Vinokurova, who works for regional media outlet Znak, said she routinely deletes her emails.
“I understand that my accounts may be hacked at any time,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m ready for them.”
“I’VE SEEN WHAT THEY COULD DO”
It’s not just whom the hackers tried to spy on that points to the Russian government.
Maria Titizian, an Armenian journalist, immediately found significance in the date she was targeted: June 26, 2015.
“It was Electric Yerevan,” she said, referring to protests over rising energy bills that she reported on. The protests that rocked Armenia’s capital that summer were initially seen by some in Moscow as a threat to Russian influence.
Titizian said her outspoken criticism of the Kremlin’s “colonial attitude” toward Armenia could have made her a target.
Eliot Higgins, whose open source journalism site Bellingcat repeatedly crops up on the target list, said the phishing attempts seemed to begin “once we started really making strong statements about MH17,” the Malaysian airliner shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people. Bellingcat played a key role in marshaling the evidence that the plane was destroyed by a Russian missile — Moscow’s denials notwithstanding.
The clearest timing for a hacking attempt may have been that of Adrian Chen.
On June 2, 2015, Chen published a prescient expose of the Internet Research Agency, the Russian “troll factory” that won fresh infamy in October over revelations that it had manufactured make-believe Americans to pollute social media with toxic rhetoric.
Eight days after Chen published his big story, Fancy Bear tried to break into his account.
Chen, who has regularly written about the darker recesses of the internet, said having a lifetime of private messages exposed to the internet could be devastating.
“I’ve covered a lot of these leaks,” he said. “I’ve seen what they could do.”
“Awesome Sh-t my Drill Sergeant Said” started as a fun Facebook page for sharing fun basic training stories, but it grew to be much more. The page started by soldier Dan Caddy has grown exponentially even beyond social media, literally saved the lives of soldiers, and inspired a new book, to be released on Tuesday.
“Basic training is an experience no one forgets,” Caddy told WATM in an email. “[Soldiers] hate it while they are there and then miss it when they are gone and are able to look back on it. ASMDSS gives them a way to connect back to that time through the stories posted and the interaction with our Drill Sergeant Admins.”
Following a deployment to Afghanistan, Caddy, 32, started passing around basic training stories with his Army buddies over email. He soon realized he was on to something.
“I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time, and all the stress and pressure I had been feeling had been pushed away,” Caddy told WATM. “Later that day I spent a lot of time reflecting on the impact my Drill Sergeants had on me, the lessons taught, and how what I learned from them still guides me to this day.”
He started a Facebook page, which went from zero to 700 likes fairly quickly. Then it exploded to 22,000 in a week, according to Caddy.
While his Facebook page — which now has more than 800,000 fans — shares hilarious stories of drill sergeants at their best, his new book features even more stories, many of which have never been shared before. And instead of just a mish-mash of basic training anecdotes, Caddy also writes handy explanations of basic training life, from a drill sergeant “shark attack” to the very serious mission that soldiers face after training: deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Still, fans of the page will get plenty of gems and hilarious one-liners, such as, “Privates, all I do is eat gunpowder and run” and “I’m going to levitate and fall asleep inside your soul.”
And then there’s this: “I can shower, feed myself, feed a baby, and make a baby all in under ten minutes. You knuckleheads sure as sh-t can eat a goddamn meal in ten minutes.”
Despite the humorous nature of the Facebook page and the book, Caddy’s real passion is in giving back to the veteran community, to include a non-profit he started shortly after a soldier messaged his page with thoughts of suicide (his quick thinking and social media following saved the soldier’s life).
“ASMDSS has been able to use our reach to connect those who want to help with those in need,” Caddy told WATM. “For me the most amazing and life changing thing to come out of ASMDSS, beyond the laughs, was the creation of Battle in Distress.”
So what’s the funniest story Caddy has ever heard? The short version, he told WATM, was the Chinese private who convinced all his drill sergeants he didn’t have a proper grasp of English — a move that got him an easier time at basic training.
“[On] graduation day, he let the cat out of the bag too early that he was fluent in 9 languages and a DS overheard him. Chaos ensued,” Caddy told WATM, adding: “It was brilliant, but his fatal flaw was hubris.”
Even if people have limited knowledge of the military, Caddy believes they will still get something out of the book.
“Just yesterday I was reading a copy of the book at the bar at a restaurant and the bartender saw the title and asked if he could check it out,” Caddy told WATM. “He opened to the middle of the book and within five seconds was laughing before calling over other staff saying ‘YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS.’ The book was passed around between staff and customers for a good 15 minutes with everyone laughing and saying ‘I have to get this.’ None of them were military but the concept and the humor transcended it all and brightened up the day.”
A fight broke out during the first session of Afghanistan’s new parliament after disagreement on the election of a speaker.
Online video showed lawmakers fighting on May 19, 2019, over the seating of businessman Mir Rahman Rahmani as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga. The body was meeting for the first time since controversial elections held last year.
Rahmani received 123 votes the previous day to defeat challenger Kamal Nasir Osuli, who had 55 votes, for the speaker’s post.
But Rahmani was one vote short of the simple majority of 124 votes in the 247-seat Wolesi Jirga that is needed to secure the speakership.
Rahmani’s supporters declared him the the new speaker and insisted he take the post.
“He has secured a majority of the votes and one vote is not an issue, so he is our new chairman,” said Nahid Farid, a lawmaker from the western city of Herat.
But opponents of Rahmani — the father of Ajmal Rahmani, a wealthy businessman known in the Afghan capital for selling bulletproof vehicles to Kabul’s elite — refused to let him sit in the speaker’s chair.
“We will never accept the new speaker and there must be a reelection with new candidates,” said Mariam Sama, a parliament deputy from Kabul.
Ramazan Bashardost, a deputy from Kabul, told Tolo News that the controversy over the new speaker could be resolved through legitimate means but lawmakers “are not willing to address the issue through legal channels.”
The results of the Oct. 20, 2018 parliamentary elections were officially finalized this month after months of technical and organizational problems.