The U.S. Army on Thursday awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth $580 million to make the service’s next service pistol.
Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America and Beretta USA, the maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol.
“I am tremendously proud of the Modular Handgun System team,” Army Acquisition Executive Steffanie Easter said in a Jan.19 press announcement. “By maximizing full and open competition across our industry partners, we have optimized private sector advancements in handguns, ammunition and magazines, and the end result will ensure a decidedly superior weapon system for our warfighters.”
The Army did not offer any details about what caliber the new Sig Sauer pistol will be.
The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. One of the major goals of the effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.
Army weapons officials informed Beretta USA and FN America at SHOT Show 2017 that they had been dropped from the XM17 Modular Handgun System in a recent down-select decision, according to a service source who is not authorized to speak to the press.
The decision formally ends the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.
Beretta has fought hard to remain to remain the Army’s pistol maker. In December 2014, Beretta USA submitted its modernized M9A3 as a possible alternative to the Army’s Modular Handgun System program.
But the Army rejected the improved M9A3 which featured new sights, a rail for mounting lights and accessories, better ergonomics and improved reliability.
Beretta was not finished yet. It developed a new striker-fired pistol, the APX and entered it into the APX.
The Army began working with the small arms industry on MHS in early 2013, but the joint effort has been in the works for more than five years. It could result in the Defense Department buying nearly 500,000 new pistols.
Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 handguns, according to Program Executive Office Soldier officials. The Army also plans to buy approximately 7,000 sub-compact versions of the handgun.
The other military services participating in the MHS program may order an additional 212,000 systems above the Army quantity.
“As MHS moves forward into operational testing, the due diligence taken by all of the stakeholders will ensure a program that remains on-budget and on-schedule.” Easter said.
The US has developed a secret missile to kill terrorists in precision strikes without harming civilians nearby, and it has already proven its worth in the field, The Wall Street Journal reported on May 9, 2019, citing more than a dozen current and former US officials.
The R9X is a modified version of the Hellfire missile. Instead of exploding, the weapon uses sheer force to kill its target. “To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,” The Journal wrote.
What makes the weapon especially deadly is that it carries six long blades that extend outward just before impact, shredding anything in its path. The R9X is nicknamed “The Flying Ginsu,” a reference to a type of high-quality chef’s knife.
The missile, which can tear through cars and buildings, is also called “The Ninja Bomb.”
Development reportedly began in 2011 as an attempt to reduce civilian casualties in the war on terror, especially as extremists regularly used noncombatants as human shields. A conventional missile such as the Hellfire explodes, creating a deadly blast radius and turning objects into lethal shrapnel. That’s why it’s suitable for destroying vehicles or killing a number of enemy combatants who are in close proximity, while the R9X is best for targeting individuals.
The weapon is “for the express purpose of reducing civilian casualties,” one official told reporters.
The US military has used the weapon only a few times, officials told The Journal, revealing that this missile has been used in operations in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. For example, the RX9 was used in January 2019 to kill Jamal al-Badawi, who was accused of masterminding the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
The USS Cole is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba on Oct. 29, 2000.
(DoD photo by Sgt. Don L. Maes)
While the Obama administration emphasized the need to reduce civilian casualties, the Trump administration appears to have made this less of a priority. In March 2019, President Donald Trump rolled back an Obama-era transparency initiative that required public reports on the number of civilians killed in drone strikes.
Officials told The Journal that highlighting the new missile’s existence, something they argue should have been done a long time ago, shows that the US is committed to reducing civilian casualties.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Cybersleuthing group Bellingcat says it has found that two men that Britain suspects of poisoning former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were awarded Hero of the Russian Federation medals by President Vladimir Putin four years ago for conducting covert operations in Ukraine.
Releasing details about its latest findings on Oct. 9, 2018, Bellingcat said that Aleksandr Mishkin was decorated at around the same time as Anatoly Chepiga in 2014 — the year Russia seized Crimea and fomented separatism in eastern Ukraine, helping start a war that has killed more than 10,300 people.
A day earlier, Bellingcat said it determined that the suspect who traveled to Britain in March 2018 on a passport under the name Aleksandr Petrov is actually Mishkin, a military doctor employed by Russia’s military intelligence agency, widely known as the GRU.
The British-based open-source investigation group’s founder, Eliot Higgins, and researcher Christo Grozev told reporters at an event at the British Parliament that they found out that Mishkin had participated in covert operations in Ukraine and Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniester.
People acquainted with his family said they thought the hero award was given for activities “either in Crimea or in relation to [former Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych,” according to the Bellingcat report.
A CCTV image issued by London’s Metropolitan police showing the two suspects at Salisbury train station.
Bellingcat said it sought out hundreds of Mishkin’s fellow graduates at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, and that two remembered Mishkin, but they said that all members of the class had been contacted recently and told not to speak about him.
The organization added that The Insider, Bellingcat’s investigative partner in Russia, sent a reporter to the northern Russian village of Loyga, where at least seven people recognized photos of the man identified initially as Petrov as “our local boy” Mishkin.
The reporter heard that a woman identified as Mishkin’s grandmother had shown many villagers a photograph of Putin shaking hands with her grandson and was very proud of it.
Bellingcat said the reporter was not able to talk directly to the grandmother.
Bellingcat made waves in September 2018 when it said that Chepiga was the true identity of the other suspect, who had a passport in the name of Ruslan Boshirov, and that he was a GRU colonel decorated with the Hero award.
British authorities allege that the two Russians smeared a Soviet-designed nerve agent called Novichok on the front door of Skripal’s home in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, 2018, the day the former spy and his daughter were found incapacitated on a bench and rushed to the hospital.
Both survived after weeks in critical condition, but Dawn Sturgess, a woman who authorities said came in contact with the poison after her boyfriend found a fake perfume bottle containing it, died in July 2018.
The poisonings have added tension to already severely strained ties between Russia and the West, leading to additional U.S. and European Union sanctions on Moscow and to an exchange of diplomatic expulsions.
Russia denies involvement, but Bellingcat’s findings have added to the evidence against Moscow and exposed the GRU to ridicule.
Putin has insisted that the two men identified by Britain as poisoning the Skripals were ordinary Russian civilians.
A former U.S. Army’s Special Forces officer has been arrested in Alexandria, VA, and charged with passing secrets of American military units and personnel to the Russian military intelligence arm (GRU) for over a decade.
Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, was recruited by Russian intelligence operatives as he considered himself a “son of Russia,” according to a 17-page indictment that was released after his arrest.
John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security said that,
“Debbins violated his oath as a U.S. Army officer, betrayed the Special Forces and endangered our country’s national security by revealing classified information to Russian intelligence officers, providing details of his unit, and identifying Special Forces team members for Russian intelligence to try to recruit as a spy [sic]. Our country put its highest trust in this defendant, and he took that trust and weaponized it against the United States.”
Debbins is the second person this week charged by the Justice Department for transmitting U.S. secrets to a foreign country. In the other case, a former CIA officer in Hawaii (Alexander Yuk Ching Ma) was arrested and charged with spying for China.
Debbins first agreed to spy for Russia back in 1996 when he was an ROTC cadet. His mother had been born in the former Soviet Union and Debbins told Russian GRU operatives who were trying to recruit him that he considered himself “a son of Russia.” He had told his Russian handlers that he considered the United States “too dominant” in world matters and that it “needed to be cut down to size.”
The GRU gave Debbins the code name “Ikar Lesnikov.”
In 1997 he married a Russian woman, the daughter of a Russian military officer from the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota and being assigned to a Chemical Co. in Korea, Debbins returned to Russia. He briefed his handlers on his unit, its mission, and personnel during a subsequent visit to Russia.
He offered to take a polygraph test for his handlers when they asked if he was working for an American intelligence agency. He told them that he wished to leave the military, but they encouraged him to stay. They further urged Debbins to apply for and join the Special Forces. He was told that “he was of no use to the Russian intelligence service as an infantry commander.” Debbins passed Special Forces Selection (SFAS) and the qualification course (SFQC) and was assigned as a captain in the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (1-10 SFG).
On another trip to Russia, he briefed his GRU contacts about his SF unit, its personnel, locations, and mission. Debbins had his security clearance suspended and command of his A-Team revoked for an unspecified security violation in 2004 or 2005. He then left the military in 2005 with an honorable discharge, according to the indictment.
In subsequent meetings with his GRU handlers, Debbins disclosed information about his unit’s deployments to Azerbaijan and Georgia that were deemed “SECRET/NOFORN.” Debbins also gave the GRU the names of his former team members knowing that the Russians sought the “information for the purpose of evaluating whether to approach the team members to see if they would cooperate with the Russian intelligence service.” He also passed the names of two American counter-intelligence agents who tried to recruit him for an operation.
Once his active duty service was over he began to work for a Ukrainian steel company in Minnesota through his Russian contacts. He remained a member of the Reserves until 2010. During this time his security clearance was reinstated by an Army adjudicator, although he was warned that his family and business connections to Russia might make him “the target of a foreign intelligence service.”
Debbins was a “true believer” and not motivated by monetary gains. In fact, when the Russians (who are notoriously cheap in the intelligence world when it comes to paying agents) offered him id=”listicle-2647079043″,000 he initially declined it stating that he “loved and was committed to Russia.” He only reluctantly accepted the money as “gratitude for his assistance to the Russian intelligence service.” At a 2003 meeting, he was given a bottle of Cognac and a Russian military uniform.
The Justice Department did not divulge how it came to know that Debbins was spying for Russia. His last contact with his handlers was in 2011 when he told them that moved to the D.C. area (Gainesville, VA).
He will be indicted formally on Monday. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.
“The facts alleged in this case are a shocking betrayal by a former Army officer of his fellow soldiers and his country,” Alan E. Kohler Jr., FBI Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division, said in a statement.
An Instagram account claiming to be of a retired Russian pilot of an Su-35, Russia’s top jet fighter, posted a picture purportedly of a US F-22 Raptor stealth jet flying above Syria, suggesting it was evidence that his older, bigger jet could outflank it.
The author of the post claimed to have spotted the F-22, which has all-aspect stealth and is virtually invisible to traditional radars, during combat operations in Syria.
After describing at length how these encounters usually go — there are dedicated lines of communication used to avoid conflict between Russia and the US as they operate in close proximity over Syria — the author claimed to have locked onto the F-22.
A Business Insider translation of part of the caption reads: “F-22 was arrogant and was punished after a short air battle, for which of course it got f—ed.”
Even if the images are genuine, “it doesn’t alone suggest that the Su-35S is reliably capable of detecting and intercepting the F-22,” Justin Bronk, an air-combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.
“Furthermore, the F-22 will have been aware of the Su-35’s presence since the latter took off, so it isn’t really any indication of a diminishment of the F-22’s combat advantage,” he said.
“IRST systems can be used to detect and potentially track stealth aircraft under specific conditions,” Bronk said. But that “doesn’t mean that they are anything approaching a satisfactory solution to the problem of fighting against such targets, as they have limited range compared to radar and are vulnerable to environmental disruption and degradation,” he added.
In essence, he said, an F-22 would have seen the Su-35 long before the Russians saw the American, and the S-35 most likely spotted the F-22 only because it flew up close in the first place.
A Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, told Business Insider that he was “unable to verify the claims made on Instagram” but that “Russia has been conducting a concentrated disinformation campaign in Syria to sow confusion and undercut US and allied efforts there.”
US pilots can tell when their jets have been targeted by enemy weapons, so they would know whether a Su-35 pilot established any “lock.”
Russian media has since picked up the story, running it with analysis that suggests the Su-35 may be able to defeat the F-22.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Russia could be storing nuclear weapons at a recently renovated underground bunker in the Kaliningrad region roughly 30 miles from the Polish border, according to a report released by a nuclear watchdog on June 18, 2018.
Satellite images showed the site being excavated beginning back in 2016, renovated, and then covered in 2018, which suggests it could be returning to operational status, according to the report from the Federation of American Scientists.
“The latest upgrade obviously raises questions about what the operational status of the site is,” Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said in the report.
“The features of the site suggest it could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces. But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and coastal defense forces in the region,” the reported added.
Kristensen told The Guardian that the bunker “has all the fingerprints” of Russia’s standard nuclear storage sites, and while there have been upgrades at the site in the past, none have been as “dramatic” as this one.
“There is a heavy-duty external perimeter of multilayered fencing,” he added. “The bunkers themselves have triple fencing around them as well. These are typical features from all the other nuclear weapons storage sites that we know about in Russia.”
In short, it’s not clear whether Russia is currently storing nuclear warheads at the facility or is planning to, but this shows the bunker is now an active site.
“The upgrade has been known to NATO for some time,” Kristensen said. “But it would appear to reaffirm Russia’s nuclear posturing in Kaliningrad and is likely to deepen eastern European concerns that Russia is increasing the role of nuclear weapons in the Baltic region.”
Back in March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia had developed and was testing an array of new strategic nuclear-capable weapons he claimed could outmaneuver American defenses.
“I would like to tell those who have been trying to escalate the arms race for the past 15 years, to gain unilateral advantages over Russia, and to impose restrictions and sanctions… the attempt at curbing Russia has failed,” Putin said at the time.
Kaliningrad also happens to be a base for Russia’s Baltic fleet and is one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
National Guard units joined with the U.S. Army and Hungarian Defense Forces (HDF), who partnered for a live-fire training exercise as a part of Breakthrough 2019 in June.
Breakthrough 2019 aims to identify the capabilities and limitations of the U.S. Army and HDF on a tactical level while in theater. During the exercise, firing systems are tested to demonstrate multi-echelon interoperability between both the U.S. and Hungarian military forces. This provides an opportunity to observe the synchronization and execution of both manned and digital firing upon specified targets within a tactical environment.
“We are grateful to our strong NATO ally Hungary for hosting this outstanding training event,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander, U.S. Army Europe.” We appreciate the coordination and planning conducted by all of our allies and partners in the Balkan peninsula that ensured the success of this exercise.”
Breakthrough 2019 promotes regional stability and security while increasing readiness. Units such as the 3rd 197th Artillery Battalion from Ohio and New Hampshire National Guards worked along with Hungarian Defense Forces.
Soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Rose Barracks, Vilseck, Germany, salute the raising of the American flag during the opening ceremony of Breakthrough 2019
(Photo by Spc. Joseph E.D. Knoch)
“The exercise brings together the Ohio Army National Guard and other National Guard units from four other states to exercise with U.S. Army Europe’s 2d Cavalry Regiment,” Lt. Gen. Cavoli said. “We are strengthening partner capabilities and fostering trust. Our combined training grants an opportunity to greatly improve interoperability among participating allies and partners such as the HDF.”
All of Breakthrough 2019 is set up as a joint training exercise which is designed to afford U.S. and Hungarian military units of similar skill set the chance to work together in a field environment.
“One of the Army’s top priorities is training with allies and partners to improve multinational cooperation,” said Lt. Col. Davis Ulricson, 3rd 197th Artillery Battalion, New Hampshire National Guard. “I don’t think we’ve ever waged a war on our own. So if we don’t exercise together, we don’t understand each other, how we work together, or what our capabilities are, then we can’t be effective. So it’s important that we come together and exercise these things by really working together and understanding each other.”
Ulricson expressed his support for the opportunity that Breakthrough 2019 is affording his soldiers who brought, M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) all the way from New Hampshire in order to shoot with the Hungarian cannon unit.
“That’s pretty exciting,” Ulricson said. “It’s good for my Soldiers to understand cultures in other nations, meet other people and really just get to know people outside of their neighborhood, It makes them feel comfortable and fosters a trust that allows us all to do our jobs better.”
The Hungarian Defense Forces were quick to affirm Breakthrough 2019 in a positive light.
“It’s very important, the cooperation between the Americans and the Hungarian Defense Forces,” said Brig. Gen. George Sandor, Artillery Battalion, Hungarian Defense Forces.
Hungarian Defense Forces Col. Vokla Janos, commander, Bakony Combat Training Centre, calls for fire during Breakthrough 2019.
(Photo by Spc. Nyatan Bol)
Cavoli said that no nation can confront today’s challenges alone, and Breakthrough 2019 demonstrates the U.S. resolve to stand side-by-side with our NATO allies and partners.
The interoperability of Breakthrough 2019 demonstrates the realistic challenges of multi-domain exercises, which are orchestrated in order to learn how these armies are capable of fighting together.
“Breakthrough 2019 showcases the U.S. Army’s ‘Total Army’ concept,” Cavoli said. “Breakthrough demonstrates our ability to conduct combined field artillery operations with the Hungarian Defense Forces, which builds our interoperability and collective readiness.”
Exercises like Breakthrough involve the U.S. Army’s ability to move units and their equipment from the United States, offload them into European ports and then move them quickly throughout the region.
“In coming to Breakthrough 2019, readiness was our priority,” Ulricson said.
In sharing the real aspects of preparing a unit for an undertaking such as this, Ulricson said that a large portion of the work comes down to paperwork and online training for his soldiers. But he also shared that there are many aspects to preparing such as cultural awareness training, equipment inspections and tactical training, among other things.
“The movement here from New Hampshire lasted most of the year,” Ulricson said.
The 197th first had to prepare every piece of equipment, and every vehicle for the trip. Then a long series of events had to unfold. The vehicles were placed on a train to Charleston, then put on a boat and shipped to Slovenia, where they offloaded and driven by the unit the rest of the way to Hungary.
“It was an amazing effort. All in all, this is a lot of coordination and work from the people who keep this unit moving.” Ulricson said.
That same dedication and work ethic remained evident.
U.S. Army Lt. General Christopher Cavoli, commander, U.S. Army Europe, receives a briefing from Hungarian Defense Forces Col. Vokla Janos, commander, Bakony Combat Training Centre, while observing a live fire exercise as part of Breakthrough 2019.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph E. D. Knoch)
“One of the biggest challenges was getting into the vehicles after having not seen them for so long and running communications checks to make sure that everyone was up and ready so that vehicles didn’t break down on the road.” said 2nd Lt. Taylor Mitchel, Platoon Leader, Bravo Battery, 3rd 197th Field Artillery Battalion, New Hampshire National Guard.
On the day of the live fire, Lt. Col. Ulricson explained that part of that day’s mission was to shoot one M142 HIMARS round each out of four separate MLRS within a tight time frame of just several seconds. The rockets would then travel close to the speed of sound to an impact area.
Mitchel said one of his favorite parts of this mission was the opportunity to plan and strategize.
“Especially in situations like where our launcher chiefs are coming out and finding places to hide, engage and deploy,” Mitchel said. “It showed a lot of the new guys, especially myself, who haven’t deployed, the process that is behind the deployment; moving an element of individuals as well as the equipment out to a battlefield area so that we can operate in that environment.”
He said another personal highlight to working in the POC and directing fires was finally seeing the HIMARS, that he helped call out, go off right next to him.
“It’s a very rewarding feeling as well as very humbling because of the power and teamwork that goes behind getting that rocket down range where it needs to be, it’s awesome,” Mitchel said.
As breakthrough 2019 came to a close Brig. Gen. Sandor shared his thoughts on the overall success of the training.
“Breakthrough 2019 was very useful,” said Sandor. “This exercise provided an opportunity to address differences between Hungarian and American military weapons, which has resulted in a more unified tactical preparedness between the two countries.”
It’s hard to let go. If you’re a sports fan, then you’ve probably watched your favorite players age well past their primes. They cling to their identities as athletes, as competitors, and they refuse to hang up their titles even as the competition gets younger, faster, and stronger around them. Well, this same thing can happen to planes, too.
The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was a technological breakthrough when it first flew in 1932. But, when combat came in 1941, it was hit by a double whammy of being obsolete and badly outnumbered — and the loss rate was abysmal.
The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane fighter to see service in the United States. It officially entered service in 1934 and remained the fastest fighter in the skies until 1938.
The P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane to enter American service, but within a decade of its first flight, it was greatly outclassed.
Not only that, this plane was also the first to introduce flaps to U.S. aviation — a piece of technology used to make landings easier and safer. The plane needed flaps because it had a then-blistering landing speed of just under 83 miles per hour.
In the skies, it reached a top speed of 227 miles per hour and had a range of 360 miles. The plane’s initial armament included two .30-caliber machine guns — one of which was later upgraded to .50-caliber. Either two 100-pound bombs or five 31-pound bombs could be carried for ground-support missions.
P-26 Peashooters on the flight line at Hickam Field, Hawaii.
The last P-26s to serve defended the Panama Canal until 1942, when they were exported to Guatemala. There, they hung on until 1957, four years after the Korean War saw jets fighting for control of the air.
Watch a classic video of these legendary planes in service below!
When deployed in regions like the Middle East or Africa where Al Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups roam freely, there is an unofficial and often rarely spoken rule among the frontline troops: Don’t get captured. And if you do, don’t plan on coming home.
We’ve all seen the videos and news reports of what happens to those who fall into the hands of extremist groups. These often look more like a horror movie than real life. That’s exactly what Marine Veteran Sam Farran must have been thinking when he was captured in 2015 by Yemen’s Houthis rebels.
For six months, Farran endured beatings, isolation, shackles and even sharing a cell with members of Al Qaeda, wondering each day if it would be his last — but Sam Farran is no ordinary man.
Lebanese born, Farran immigrated to the United States to escape recruitment by the Palestine Liberation Organization, during the height of the Lebanese civil war. After being awestruck by the crisp uniform of a U.S Marine embassy guard, he joined the corps at 17 and began a 30 year career of military service. A native Arabic speaker, Farran was loaned to the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Gulf War, following the first bombing of the World Trade Center and in the days leading up to 9/11. As Ground Zero was still smoldering, Sam, then a Marine reservist, volunteered for active duty — leaving behind a family and successful civilian career.
Farran was deployed to Yemen, an overshadowed but critical hotspot in the War on Terror, where tribal relationships are often more valuable than bullets. Farran quickly learned a rule to live by: Make friends in big or small places. With his native tongue and Arab upbringing, Farran garnered favor with diplomats, generals, expatriates and private military contractors — all people who would come in handy during his capture.
By 2015, Farran had spent over a decade around Yemen and when the Houthi rebels sacked the capital, Sana’a, during the Arab spring, he knew Americans would be easy targets, especially the few Marines in the country. However, as a contractor, Farran continued his diplomatic mission of trying to help broker a peace agreement until he was captured at gunpoint and thrown into an American-built prison that had fallen into enemy hands.
For months, Farran used his wit, language skills and even faked a heart attack to confuse his captors. Written in collaboration with fellow diplomat Benjamin Buchholz, Farran’s newly released memoir, The Tightening Dark, is a gripping story of his unwavering love for his chosen country and a behind-the-scenes look into the often gray world of the War on Terror. Without a doubt, Farran’s journey from a small village to boot camp to the darkest of dungeons and back is the stuff of legend. What a badass…Semper Fi Marine.
A diplomatic security agent testified Sept. 2 that after militants stormed the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, he turned to US Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was hiding in a safe room, and said, “When I die, you need to pick up my gun and keep fighting.”
Agent Scott Wickland was the government’s first witness in a trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Libyan suspected of orchestrating the attack that killed the ambassador and three other Americans. Wickland took the stand and gave a harrowing account of how he tried without success to save the ambassador and Sean Patrick Smith, a State Department information management officer.
The smoke from weapons’ fire and explosions was so thick and black that it blinded the three. They dropped to the floor and crawled on their bellies, gasping for air. Wickland said he was trying to lead them to a bathroom where he could close the door and open a window.
“I was breathing through the last centimeter of air on the ground,” Wickland said. “I’m yelling, ‘Come on. We can make it. We’re going to the bathroom.’ Within 8 meters, they disappeared.”
Wickland kept yelling for them. He was feeling around on the floor through the toxic smoke, which made the lighted room darker than night.
“To this day, I don’t even know where they went. I was right next to them, and then that’s it,” Wickland said. “I had my hand on Ambassador Stevens. I could hear Sean shuffling.”
Twelve jurors and three alternates assembled for the opening day of one of the most significant terrorism prosecutions in recent years. Abu Khattala is being tried in US District Court, a civilian court, at a time when the Trump administration has said terror suspects are better sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
During Wickland’s testimony, Abu Khattala hung an arm over his chair and held his chin, covered in a long, grayish white beard. He listened through earphones to an Arabic translation of the proceedings.
The opening testimony was aimed at turning the jury against the defendant, but his name was never mentioned throughout Wickland’s nearly three hours on the stand. He is expected to retake the stand on Oct. 3.
An 18-count indictment against Abu Khattala arises from a burst of violence that began the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Stevens and Smith were killed in the first attack at the US mission. Nearly eight hours later, two more Americans, contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in a mortar attack on a CIA complex nearby
Abu Khattala, who appeared in court wearing a white shirt and dark pants, has pleaded not guilty to his charges, including murder of an internationally protected person, providing material support to terrorists, and destroying US property while causing death.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Jeffrey Robinson called Abu Khattala a “Libyan patriot” who fought on America’s side in the war against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He said Abu Khattala didn’t mastermind the attack. The lawyer said the defendant simply went to the attack site because he heard there was a protest and wanted to see what was happening.
“He didn’t shoot anyone. He didn’t set any fires. He did not participate in the attacks,” Robinson said.
Robinson also said Abu Khattala was a deeply religious man who believes in conservative sharia law as outlined in the Quran. He reminded jurors that in America, people are not prosecuted because of their religious beliefs.
The prosecution gave a starkly different portrayal of the defendant. Assistant US Attorney John Crabb said that when Abu Khattala’s hatred of America boiled over, he orchestrated the attacks and then triumphantly strode around the attack site carrying an AK-47.
Crabb said that later, the defendant told someone at his apartment: “I attacked the American Embassy” and would have killed more Americans that night if others had not intervened.
He said Abu Khattala “hates America with a vengeance.”
“He killed Ambassador Stevens — a man of peace.”
The trial is expected to last for weeks. Crabb said the prosecution would show the jury videos of the attack site and Abu Khattala’s phone records, which he said showed a spike in activity during the attacks. He said witnesses would include weapons and fire experts and a man named Ali, who was paid $7 million to befriend Abu Khattala and help US forces capture him in Libya.
After he was captured, he was taken to a US Navy ship that transported him to the United States. During the 12-day journey, he was first interrogated by intelligence personnel and then by FBI agents. Crabb said Abu Khattala told FBI agents that America was the “root of all the world’s problems.”
His defense lawyer said Abu Khattala cooperated aboard the ship and he “continued to deny, as he denies today, any participation in planning or masterminding the attack.”
On June 20, 1963, America and the Soviet Union agreed to create a direct hot-line connecting the Soviet premier and the American president.
By 1963, both Americans and Russians feared the Cold War could go hot at any moment. The two nations backed opposite factions in the Vietnam War. The 1961 Checkpoint Charlie incident in Berlin almost turned into a tank battle for the city and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis nearly triggered a nuclear war.
So in 1963, the countries signed a memorandum of understanding that established a “hotline” for direct communication between the two powers, mitigating the risk of an accidental provocation. Despite pop culture depiction of the hotline as a telephone line, messages were sent via a text-only teletype machine — much faster than relying on telegramme letters that had to travel overseas. The system was upgraded to satellite communication in 1971, fax in 1983, and finally email via a dedicated computer network in 2008.
On August 30, 1963, President John F. Kennedy became the first American with a direct line (albeit, routed through the Pentagon for encryption and transmission) to the Kremlin in Moscow. It was an instant connection, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though both parties agreed that it was to be used only in emergency situations.
Featured Image: A non-dial “Red Phone” on display in the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. This telephone is actually a prop, erroneously representing the hotline between Washington and Moscow.
In 1982, the United Kingdom and Argentina fought a major war over the Falkland Islands. And yes, it was a major war. The British lost two destroyers, a landing ship, a merchant vessel, and two frigates. The Argentinean Navy lost a cruiser.
This doesn’t count the land or air battles as well. But Argentina hasn’t given up hope of taking back what they call the Malvinas. What would happen if they tried to take the islands today?
Both the Royal Navy and the Argentinean Navy have declined greatly, according to the “16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World.” In 1982, the British had two carriers they sent down to the south Atlantic. Today, the UK only has one — the HMS Ocean — and that ship cannot really operate the F-35 fighters that the Brits have bought, and their Harriers are long retired.
The only saving grace is that Argentina lacks the aircraft carrier they had in 1982 (formerly a British carrier, ironically), and has seen its amphibious force cut down to a modified Type 42 destroyer and an old amphibious transport. And its navy has four destroyers, six frigates, and some corvettes, along with three diesel-electric subs.
On the Falklands, the British have a garrison that houses 1,200 soldiers, according to a 2015 London Telegraph report. There is a flight of four Eurofighter Typhoons, plus a tanker and two Chinook helicopters, at RAF Mount Pleasant. A Type 23 frigate is usually in the South Atlantic as well (sometimes, the Brits will send a Type 45 destroyer), and there may or may not be a nuclear-powered submarine there.
The British have contingency plans to reinforce the Falklands, by adding up to a battalion and to send a couple more surface combatants.
This all depends on getting enough advanced warning. Argentina has one advantage: If it can achieve strategic and tactical surprise, its Air Force could use its A-4AR Fightinghawks (A-4s with F-16 avionics) to try and catch the Typhoons on the ground. Similarly, the Argentinean Navy will use its force of Super Etendards to try and sink any British ship in the area.
Once that’s done and air and sea superiority has been achieved, the Argentineans would likely move to land troops. The goal would be to grab control as quickly as possible. Once done, Argentina would try to reinforce its garrison before the British can get a sub on scene.
At that point, the British will face the same challenge they had in 1982 – re-capturing the Falklands at the end of a long logistical chain. Subs would move to cut off the Falklands, likely sinking any Argentinean warship or merchant vessel they catch at sea.
There might even be some Tomahawk strikes on Argentinean bases – an effort to catch their planes on the ground. Argentina has 22 Fightinghawks and 10 Super Etendards, according to World Air Forces 2017. If the force can be whittled down enough, the Brits may not need much air cover to take the islands back.
The British would have to commit most of its force of Type 45 destroyers and Type 23 frigates to the attack, and they would need to be able to land troops. Oh, yeah, and do it without carriers or planes. You only have to look at what happened to HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to see how badly that can go.
But when cut off, and knowing that supplies cannot get through, any Argentinean garrison would eventually agree to surrender, likely parlaying to allow the British to land new troops at RAF Mount Pleasant. Much less hard fighting than in 1982, but the same ultimate outcome – Argentina loses – is the most likely one.