We need a batch of good news. A little hops in our step. Something to sip on that takes us to a different time. 1757 to be exact.
Budweiser has done it again. Making history. And this is just straight up awesome. Using the original recipe from George Washington’s handwritten notes found in a notebook from 1757 during the French and Indian War, Budweiser has crafted the next edition in their Reserve collection. Here is the page from the notebook:
So cool! And it just gets better.
This limited edition Freedom Reserve Red Lager is brewed exclusively by veteran brewers who brew for Budweiser.
“We are incredibly proud of our Freedom Reserve Red Lager because it was passionately brewed by our veteran brewers who have bravely served our country,” Budweiser Vice President Ricardo Marques
Proceeds from the beer go to support Folds of Honor, whose mission is to provide scholarships to spouses and children of fallen and disabled service members.
America, ladies and gentlemen.
The 5.4 ABV lager is described as “a rich caramel malt taste and a smooth finish with a hint of molasses.”
Ok, fine, you’ve convinced me. OMW to get some right now. Hopefully you live close enough to snag up some of this speciality brew, too. Enter your zip code here to find out where you can buy it.
This 2018 Memorial Day, toast to the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy our lives safely in our back yards with the peace of mind to sit and have a beer this weekend.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
In the wake of the revelation that a large group of active-duty Marines is under investigation for sharing nude photos of female troops without their consent, a senior congressman is calling on the Marine Corps to take swift and decisive action.
Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement Sunday calling the alleged behavior by Marines and Marine Corps veterans “degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable.”
A 2014 study revealed the U.S. Marine Corps has the highest rate of sexual assault against women in the military (8% of female Marines were sexually assaulted in the year the study was conducted). (U.S. Marine Corps Photo: Cpl. Adam Korolev)
“I expect that the Marine Corps Commandant, General Neller, will use his resources to fully investigate these acts and bring to justice any individuals who have broken the law and violated the rights of other servicemembers,” the Washington Democrat said.
“He must also ensure that the victims are taken care of. The military men and women who proudly volunteer to serve their country should not have to deal with this kind of reprehensible conduct,” Smith added.
The investigation was made public Saturday evening by reporter Thomas James Brennan, who reported for Reveal News that members of the private Facebook group Marines United had shared dozens of nude photos of female service members, identifying them by name, rank and duty station. Group members also linked out to a Google Drive folder containing more compromising photos and information, Brennan reported.
A Marine Corps official confirmed an investigation was ongoing, but could not confirm that hundreds of Marines were caught up in it, as Brennan reported. The official referred queries about specifics to Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which did not immediately respond Sunday.
“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Ryan Alvis said in a statement provided to Military.com. “This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual.”
Of allegations are substantiated, active-duty Marines involved in the photo-sharing ring could be charged with violating UCMJ Article 134, general misconduct, for enlisted troops, and Article 133, conduct unbecoming, for officers, Alvis said. If Marines shared a photo taken without the subject’s consent and under circumstances for which there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, they may be charged with Article 120, broadcasting or distribution of indecent visual recording, she said.
“A Marine who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions,” Alvis said.
To underscore the significance of the allegations to Marine Corps leadership, both Neller and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green released statements condemning the alleged behavior.
“I am not going to comment specifically about an ongoing investigation, but I will say this: For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect,” Neller said in a statement provided to Military.com. “The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect.”
Green went further, releasing a 319-word statement in the form of an open letter calling the online photo-sharing “demeaning” and “degrading” and adding there was no place for it in the Corps.
“We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and each other. This behavior hurts fellow Marines, family members, and civilians. It is a direct attack on our ethos and legacy,” he said. “As Marines, as human beings, you should be angry for the actions of a few. These negative behaviors are absolutely contrary to what we represent. It breaks the bond that hold us together; without trust, our family falters.”
Messages Brennan shared with Military.com show that some members of the group responded to his report by threatening him and his family and attempting to publish information about where he lived.
“‘Amber Alert: Thomas J. Brennan,'” wrote one user, referring to the child abduction emergency system. “500.00 $ for nudes of this guys girl,” wrote another.
Brennan is a former infantry Marine and combat veteran.
This is not the first time the bad behavior of Marines online has captured the attention of Congress.
In 2013, the harassment of civilian women and female troops on several so-called “humor” Facebook pages with Marine Corps members prompted Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, to call on then defense secretary Chuck Hagel and then-commandant Gen. Jim Amos to intervene.
But in that instance, Marine Corps leadership opted to address the behavior privately, and on a case-by-case basis. No criminal prosecutions of Marines connected to the Facebook pages were ever publicized.
A later 2014 report on similar behavior resulted in investigations into 12 Marines, according to internal public affairs guidance published by Marine Corps Times.
As the first female Marines join infantry units in the wake of a 2015 Pentagon mandate opening all ground combat jobs to women, it’s possible service leaders now feel an additional mandate to quell the online exploitation of female service members by their colleagues publicly and decisively.
“Standup, speak out, and be a voice of change for the better. Hold those who misstep accountable,” Green said. “We need to realize that silence is consent–do not be silent. It is your duty to protect one another, not just for the Marine Corps, but for humanity.”
Air Force Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. was a veteran of World War II, former prisoner of war, and an accomplished fighter and bomber pilot when he took off on a mission over Korea on Nov. 22, 1952. When North Korean batteries scored hits on his plane that would normally force the pilot to abort the mission, Loring turned his dive bomber into a kamikaze plane instead.
Maj. Charles Loring, U.S. Air Force pilot and Medal of Honor recipient.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
Loring received his commission in the Army Air Forces in late 1942 and flew combat missions over Europe, notching up 55 combat missions and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross before he was shot down on Christmas Eve 1944 over Belgium and made a prisoner of war.
When Chinese and North Korean forces concentrated their artillery—including their anti-aircraft artillery—in two locations, Loring was called up to lead a bombing mission against them. Loring’s target featured 133 large guns and 24 rocket launchers for use against ground troops and 47 anti-aircraft weapons to keep men like Loring at bay.
But it all went to hell from there. The Chinese troops manning the guns were accurate, and they scored some hits when Loring lined up to dive on them. According to after-action reports and his medal citation, Loring had plenty of time to abort the drop, but he didn’t.
Major Loring aggressively continued to press the attack until his aircraft was hit. At approximately 4,000 feet, he deliberately altered his course and aimed his diving aircraft at active gun emplacements concentrated on a ridge northwest of the briefed target, turned his aircraft 45 degrees to the left, pulled up in a deliberate, controlled maneuver, and elected to sacrifice his life by diving his aircraft directly into the midst of the enemy emplacements.
Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. (second from left) poses with other members of the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Suwon Air Base, Republic of Korea, in 1952.
(U.S. Air Force)
Yeah, Loring turned his already stricken plane into the guns, hitting a cluster of them and burying them in the metal and burning fuel of his F-80. Of course, he lost his own life in the maneuver.
The U.S. Air Force nominated him for the Medal of Honor which he later received posthumously. He was one of only four airmen to receive the honor. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded the medal to Loring’s wife, he also announced that a new Air Force base in Maine would be named in his honor.
During World War II, the P-51 Mustang emerged as a superb long-range escort fighter. There was a problem, though. While it had long range, it also only had one pilot, and that pilot could get very tired by the end of a long mission. Sometimes, after flights, the ground crew would need to lift an exhausted, sweat-drenched pilot out of the cockpit — and sweat might not be the only thing the pilot was drenched with.
The Army Air Force had begun to address that need in 1943 as a tool for the Pacific Theater of Operations. They sought a fighter with a crew of two so one pilot could relieve the other when fatigue set in. North American Aviation came up with an interesting idea — use two Mustang fuselages on one wing. That took some serious re-design work.
The North American F-82E Twin Mustang — used as an escort. (USAF photo)
The plan was to have one cockpit with the usual instruments for the pilot. This was to be on the left fuselage. The cockpit for the co-pilot/navigator, on the right fuselage, was to have a more basic set. The six M2 .50-caliber machine guns would be in the center wing that joined the two fuselages. An additional eight guns could be added in a gun pod underneath. Initially tested with the famous Packard Merlin engine, the Twin Mustang was soon equipped with older Allison engines. Later versions were equipped with radars to serve as night fighters.
The plane entered service in 1948; only 273 were built. At the start of the Korean War, the Twin Mustang was thrown into action, where it escorted transports and bombers and carried out a number of other missions. On June 27, 1950, the F-82 scored the first kills for the United States Air Force in that conflict. But the beginning of the Jet Age — and the very short production run — meant the F-82 wasn’t going to stick around.
Welcome banner from the 2009 rally (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
Since its founding in 1938, the Sturgis Motorcycle has been held every year with the exception of the three year period between 1939 and 1941; the rally did not take place due to gas rationing in support of the war effort overseas. However, the rally returned in 1942 and has been held every year since.
Here are 5 reasons why Sturgis is nothing short of extraordinary.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 is no exception to Sturgis’ longstanding run. On June 16, the mayor of Sturgis announced that the city council had decided to move forward with the 80th Sturgis motorcycle rally. During a Facebook broadcast, he outlined that the rally will include, “modifications that provide for the health and safety of our visitors, and our residents and our town.” Ten days/nights of riding, food and music will take place in Sturgis, South Dakota from August 7-16.
A ride during the 2019 rally (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
Historically, attendance at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has averaged around 500,000 people. Official attendance peaked in 2015 at 739,000 for the rally’s 75th anniversary. Billed as the largest motorcycle rally in the world, people come from all across the country to be a part of Sturgis’ famed rally. Many riders make it a family event, towing their motorcycles behind a camper and riding the last few miles into town. Others transport their rides via shipping companies and arrive by plane. In 2005, when the official attendance was 525,250 people, the rally’s director estimated that fewer than half the attendees actually rode there, a testament to just how many people came from far and wide to experience Sturgis.
Rally Headquarters features vendors, rally registration, and city info booths (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
With so many people descending on the small town every year, the city of Sturgis capitalizes on the rally which makes up 95 percent of its annual revenue. In 2011, the city earned nearly 0,000 from the sale of event guides and sponsorships alone. On average, the rally brings in over 0 million to the state of South Dakota annually. While the Lakota Indian tribe has protested the large amount of alcohol distributed at the rally so close to the sacred Bear Butte religious site, they have also acknowledged the importance of the revenue that the rally brings into the region and the tribes.
(Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is not just a bunch of bikers standing by their bikes in parking lots. Rather, the rally originally focused on motorcycle races and stunts. In 1961, the rally introduced the Hill Climb and Motocross races. Other forms of motorcycle entertainment included intentional board wall crashes and ramp jumps. Over the years, the rally was extended in length from a three day event to its current 10 day length. Entertainment and attractions also expanded to include vendors and live music. The first concert at the Sturgis Rally featured the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis. Other big names have followed like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Montgomery Gentry, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Ozzy Osbourne and Willie Nelson. This year, notable bands scheduled to perform include 38 Special, Quiet Riot and Night Ranger.
Panels of the memorial (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
5. Veteran recognition
Regularly attended by veterans, especially Vietnam Vets, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes great pride in recognizing the sacrifices made by the men and women of the armed forces. In 2019, the Sturgis Rally held a Military Appreciation Day presented by the VFW. Activities included a reception to honor a local veteran, entertainment and a flyover by a B-1 Lancer bomber. For 2020, the Sturgis Rally will feature the Remembering Our Fallen photographic war memorial. Highlighting service members killed during the War on Terror, Remembering Our Fallen is designed to travel and includes both military and personal photos.
Each time Jacque Elama hands out a package of food, he connects with another family in need.
The interactions touch Elama, a specialist in the Ohio National Guard, on a personal level. He spent most of the first 10 years of his life in a refugee camp in his native Democrat Republic of the Congo before his family came to America. He is now 25 years old and part of a National Guard mission helping out at a food bank in Toledo.
“It was a hard endeavor to overcome,” Elama said of his childhood. “Basically, my parents tried to shape me into a person who can be encouraging to others, because they themselves didn’t have what I have right now, the technology, the cars.”
Those things are not what prompted Core and Antoinette Elama, their five children (Jacque is the oldest) and one of Jacque’s uncles to relocate to Newport News, Virginia. Jacque said they arrived in 2004; Core recalled it was in 2005. Regardless of the timeline, one fact remained clear.
The Elamas were escaping their war-torn homeland in search of a better life, searching for a home in a country in which they were stepping foot for the first time.
“Once you come, you just come,” Core Elama said. “You need the help to get yourself set and [adjusted] to the new situation. You really need help in any way, so you set yourself in the community.”
The Elamas’ move from Congo, a country of nearly 90 million people in central Africa, was fraught with challenges, not the least of which was learning a different language. Jacque Elama’s parents needed jobs; they found work in factories. They did not know how to drive and never had experienced the mundane tasks that Americans take for granted, such as going to the grocery store, paying bills and scheduling medical appointments.
The family had never owned a television — or operated an oven, for that matter. So much was new, but they were ever so grateful.
Their circumstances were much improved from the world they left behind.
“The struggles were absolutely difficult, compared to how I’m living here in the U.S.,” Jacque Elama said. “The basic necessities were hard to come by [in Congo], so we had to struggle to get food and water for the family. Mostly as a child, I personally did not experience any personal hardship, because what you’re doing is just playing around, having as much fun as you can without worrying about the outside world.
“I was pretty much enjoying my life as much as I possibly could.”
A Catholic charity organization helped the Elamas relocate to America.
Jacque Elama credited one couple in that group in particular, Keith and Jill Boadway, with being especially helpful in easing the family’s transition.
“They came to our house for Thanksgiving,” Jill Boadway said. “Jacque used to come to our house during the summer and spend a week at our home. We have a son who’s about the same age. It was a real blessing.”
Spc. Jacque Elama. Courtesy photo.
The Elamas became U.S. citizens in 2010 and moved to Ohio when Jacque was in high school. He joined the Ohio National Guard in 2017 and embraced the opportunity to participate in his unit’s mission as a volunteer at a food bank.
Elama packs boxes for emergency relief, veterans and senior citizens and distributes them to those same groups, said Lt. Michael Porter, the task-force leader.
For 40 hours a week, Elama sees it as a way to give back. Each box reminds him of his parents’ sacrifice.
“I think about it every day,” said Elama, a senior at Bowling Green studying international relations. “It’s a blessing and an honor to be out there and help people, because that’s what I want to do in the future. I want to continue to help others.”
Five years into the Syrian Civil War, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced its readiness to send ground troops into Syria to fight Islamic State forces.
“The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Islamic State) may agree to carry out in Syria,” Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, told the Saudi government-owned al-Arabiya TV.
Just days after that announcement, the United Arab Emirates announced its readiness to join the fight.
“Our position throughout has been that a real campaign has to include a ground force,” the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi, adding “U.S. leadership on this” would be a prerequisite for the UAE.
Big surprise there.
For those keeping track, the UAE is also part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the religious-political faction of Houthis in Yemen, a Shia insurgent group who captured the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in 2014 and forced the fall of the Saudi-backed government five months later. Saudi Arabia’s nine-member coalition has since failed to dislodge the Iran-backed Houthis or restore the government. Meanwhile, just under one-third of the country has fallen to the resurgent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Maybe Saudi Arabia and the Arab allies aren’t everything American politicians have said they are during the 2016 election debates. Forget for a moment how bad they are at fighting a decisive war (they can’t even capture the capital city with air superiority and and more than a year to get it done), the idea of airlifting a coalition of Sunni Arab troops into Syria is not only overly simplistic, it’s a terrible one. Saudi Arabia and Iran are expending resources to wage an all-out proxy battle in the region, and Iraq and Syria are the primary battlefields.
By now, it should come as no surprise to Westerners that there is an huge, problematic divide between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. The main actors in this ideological conflict today are Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Yemen isn’t the first example of Saudi intervention. At the height of the Arab Spring, Saudi troops crossed the King Fahd Causeway into Bahrain to put down Shia protests there.
The Saudi sphere of influence extends throughout the Arabian Peninsula while the Iranian sphere extends from Iran’s border with Afghanistan to the East and pushes West through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are extensions of this greater conflict. When told the Saudis and Emiratis were ready to deploy to Syria, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem gave a very expected response: “I regret to say that they will return home in wooden coffins.”
Sectarianism is only increasing and is becoming the primary reason for conflict. Until recently, major non-state paramilitary organizations on either side of the divide publicly defined their mandates in terms of either anti-imperialist, anti-Israel, and/or anti-American terms. They did not openly define themselves in terms of Shia vs. Sunni. That is changing.
In 2013, Islamic extremist violence intensified, fueled by sectarianism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan. The rise of anti-Shia resistance, combined with the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, led to the ideology behind the rise of the Islamic State, now the most aggressive and extreme group, with transnational roots in Nigeria, Libya, and Afghanistan. The sectarianism is only spreading.
A Saudi project like a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. That kind of project.
Iran funds, trains, and equips paramilitary forces throughout the Middle East, including the Lebanese political-militant group Hezbollah, and has for decades. Iraq’s government has been dominated by Iran-backed Shia parliamentarians since the ouster of Saddam Hussein by the 2003 U.S. invasion. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s regime is propped up by the Iranian government, who are reinforcing the Asad government against rebels, ISIS, the Kurdish YPG, and the other thousand groups vying for power there. The government’s legitimacy relies on the support of the Alawite minority in Syria, a Shia group whose followers control the top tiers of Syrian society.
Sunni militant groups, financed by Gulf states like Kuwait, are seeing a rise in recruiting numbers and directing their ideology and violence toward other Muslim communities instead of Western targets. In response, Shia groups gain in strength and numbers to confront the perceived threats posed by the Sunni groups. The war in Syria is no longer a fight for control of the country but a battle in a greater ideological proxy war.
The U.S. has so far managed not to take a side. The Obama Administration’s original plan for fighting ISIS, for example, involved both Sunnis and Shia, but accomplished little in the way of real, lasting stability or security in the region. It called for air support and advisors for Iraqi troops (sometimes led by Iranian advisors and in conjunction with Iraq’s Shia militias) while training and equipping “moderate” rebels in Sunni Saudi Arabia. We know how that turned out.
At the onset of the Syrian War, thousands of fighters left their homes in Syria for various Sunni or Shia militias. Foreign fighters soon began to flood in with professional jihadis from Chechnya and Afghanistan coming to reinforce Sunni groups while Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanese Hezbollah shored up the Asad regime. At the end of 2013, there were an estimated 1000+ armed groups in Syria. Since then, the rebel groups have only fractured.
Knowing all of this, imagine how would it look to the average Shia militia if the United States began flooding a traditional Shia state with Sunni troops. The war in Syria will last at least another five to ten full years and the U.S. should be prepared for that. The U.S. only has to look at recent history when deciding how best to serve our national interest while helping bring the conflict to its conclusion.
The Lebanese Civil War ended only after the infighting exhausted itself. By the signing of the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended the war in Lebanon, the streets of Beirut looked remarkably similar to how the streets of the Syrian city of Homs look today.
That war had was much more akin to today’s Syrian conflict than other Arab Spring-related uprisings. Massacres, assassinations, and a large number of belligerents fueled the conflict for 15 years. In the end, the Taif Agreement ceded Lebanon to Syrian influence. Even so, the Taif Agreement only came about because of an anti-Saddam mindset between the Iranians and Saudis. U.S. military power was not a significant factor.
In 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed by Shia militias. The attacks killed 241 U.S. military members. Three months later, then-President Ronald Reagan withdrew all U.S. troops from the country. That turned out to be the right call. In trying to score political points, American politicians could call it a “cut and run.” Yet, in a 1991 biography of Reagan, one of the 20th century’s most brilliant military minds, Gen. Colin Powell, labeled the American intervention in Lebanon a misadventure from the start.
“Beirut wasn’t sensible and it never did serve a purpose,” Powell said. “It was goofy from the beginning.” The reversal of a bad military course, once decided, seems impossible 33 years later, considering the level of political rhetoric on the use of force against ISIS. It might even be political suicide.
Would you to tell this man he was wrong?
Yet, the same U.S. involvement that was a mistake in Lebanon in the early 80’s is a leadership necessity in Syria today. Why? It’s not because of ISIS. In Lebanon, President Bachir Gemayel was assassinated and Palestinian refugees were slaughtered in camps by Christian Maronite militias. Those events didn’t influence Reagan to keep Marines in the country for an indeterminate period of time. Once it became clear that U.S. actions would have repercussions, the President decided the nature of the mission weighed against the potential cost wasn’t in U.S. interests and left the multi-national force … and it was the right call.
American intervention and use of military force should involve a clear strategy to reach a set goal, with rules of engagement to match. A policy of dropping Sunni troops into a Shia country is misguided. It will only fuel the Syrian war and the sectarian divide. The U.S. will win the hearts and minds of neither Shia nor Sunni and will pay the cost in security across the globe.
President Vladimir Putin hailed new missiles in Russia’s military arsenals but emphasized Oct. 18, 2018, that the country would only use its nuclear weapons in response to an incoming missile attack.
Putin emphasized during an international policy forum in Sochi that Russia’s military doctrine doesn’t envisage a preventative nuclear strike. He said Moscow only would tap its nuclear arsenal if early warning systems spotted missiles heading toward Russia, in which case “the aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable.”
“Only when we become convinced that there is an incoming attack on the territory of Russia, and that happens within seconds, only after that we would launch a retaliatory strike,” he said during a panel discussion at the forum.
“It would naturally mean a global catastrophe, but I want to emphasize that we can’t be those who initiate it because we don’t foresee a preventative strike,” Putin said.
“We would be victims of an aggression and would get to heaven as martyrs,” while those who initiated the aggression would “just die and not even have time to repent,” he added.
In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows the Avangard hypersonic vehicle maneuvering to bypass missile defenses en route to target.
The Russian leader also warned that new hypersonic missiles his country developed give it a military edge.
“We have run ahead of the competition. No one has precision hypersonic weapons,” he said. “Others are planning to start testing them within the next 1 to 2 years, and we already have them on duty.”
Another new weapon, the Avangard, is set to enter service in the next few months, he said. In 2018, Putin said the Avangard has an intercontinental range and can fly in the atmosphere at a speed 20 times the speed of sound, making it capable of piercing any missile defense system.
His blunt talk on Oct. 18, 2018, comes as Russia-West relations remain frosty over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.
Putin said he still hopes U.S. President Donald Trump will be able to improve the ties between their countries. He thinks Trump wants “some sort of stabilization and improvement of U.S.-Russian ties” and said Moscow is ready for that “at any moment.”
Putin said his meeting with Trump in Helsinki in July 2018 was positive and they had a “normal, professional dialogue” even though their exchange brought strong criticism from Trump.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, July 2018.
At the same time, the Russian president sharply criticized Washington’s reliance on sanctions against Russia and others, saying the instrument of punishment “undermines trust in the dollar as a universal payment instrument and the main reserve currency.”
“It’s a typical mistake made by an empire,” Putin said. “An empire always thinks that it’s so powerful that it can afford some mistakes and extra costs.”
Building on his defiance and boasts, Putin said Russia had nothing to fear given its defense capability and “people ready to defend our sovereignty and independence.”
“Not in every country are people so eager to sacrifice their lives for the Motherland,” he said.
Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”
When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”
He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”
When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”
In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”
He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.
Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.
August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.
Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.
The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.
Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.
On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.
Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.
Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.
Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.
On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”
Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.
The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.
At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)
Mattis put on spot over attacks
In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.
They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.
At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”
The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.
“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.
“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”
At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.
“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”
“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.
“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.
“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.
“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.
For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.
Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’
“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.
“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.
Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.
Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.
Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.
Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)
In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.
“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.
“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.
Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.
In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”
Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”
Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.
“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”
The strategy — what strategy?
In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.
“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.
The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.
The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”
“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”
In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”
“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.
“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.
“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”
Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress
The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.
In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.
“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.
At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.
The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”
In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.
“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.
“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.
‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’
As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.
Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.
The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.
In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.
“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.
Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.
Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.
The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.
Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.
“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”
Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.
“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.
The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.
Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.
In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.
“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
In 2008, a violent storm struck the Danish coast causing massive waves that crashed onto the beaches revealing a secret that’s been encased in the sand for nearly 50 years — World War II-era Nazi bunkers.
Reportedly, the occupying Nazis buried the bunkers under about 30 feet of sand before abandoning the area as they returned to Germany at the end of the war.
The bunker’s walls are constructed with six feet of solid concrete, and most of the artifacts found inside appeared as if the Nazis quickly departed. The entombed objects consist of Nazi pennants, assorted weaponry, and radar equipment.
These secretive bunkers housed large rooms that could support code breaking and the control center for the German “Night Fighters” — an elite squadron of Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
These German pilots would execute high-priority missions in the pitch black night sky which terrorized Allied forces.
“If I was Hitler and if I was trying to get out, I would want to come to Denmark, ” one historian explains. “It’s the one place where the Germans are still occupying, you’ve got the secured bunkers, you’ve got the radar systems, and you’ve got troops.”
Check out the History Channel’s video below to uncover the secrets of these Nazi’s bunkers alongside these archaeologists.
When Johnson Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross, it was the first time a living soldier received the award in over 30 years. It’s not an easy award to pick up, and perhaps Lance Sgt. Beharry should have died in Iraq – but he didn’t. And because he survived, so did many, many men from his unit.
In May 2004, Beharry was driving an armored vehicle to help rescue a foot patrol that was caught in an ambush. The Warrior, an armored infantry fighting vehicle used by the UK military, had taken so many RPG hits that most of his crew were injured and he was unable to see using his periscope.
So, he popped open the hatch.
A British Army MCV-80 Warrior Infantry Tracked Fighting Vehicle.
He drove the rest of the way with his head outside of the protection of the vehicle. In doing so, he exposed his head to the same nonstop barrage of bullets and RPG fire that wounded most of his fellow soldiers. He drove the Warrior right through the ambush until he got to the threatened foot patrol.
He drove through multiple ambushes, small arms fire, heavy machine gun fire, several RPGs, and even improvised explosive devices. His commander and gunner, along with others in the crew, were wounded and incapacitated. Beharry didn’t know their status because the Warrior’s communications system was damaged in the initial ambush. With smoke pouring into his vehicle, he drove through the Iraqi night.
Beharry’s Warrior fighting vehicle after arriving at Cimic House outpost.
At one point, he could see an RPG flying at him, directly toward his face. He quickly pulled down the lid of the hatch with one hand, while driving the vehicle with the other. The blast pulled the hatch out of his hand but allowed the force and flame to pass over him.
Next, a 7.62 round hit Beharry in the head, lodging into his helmet, but miraculously not wounding him. Beharry pressed the vehicle on, away from the ambush area. He saw another Warrior from his unit and followed it through the dark streets of al-Amarah until they reached their destination: a British Army outpost. Still under intense fire, Beharry lifted his platoon commander and then his gunner out of the vehicle’s turret and into the safety of the other Warrior. He then went back into his Warrior and drove it to the outpost.
Lance Sgt. Johnson Beharry poses with one of two captured Chinese cannons used to create Victoria Cross medals.
Once inside a defended perimeter, Beharry secured the Warrior, pulled the fire extinguisher, and moved to the other, seemingly undamaged Warrior, where he passed out from sheer exhaustion. But his story doesn’t end there – Victoria Crosses, the UK’s equivalent to the Medal of Honor, are exceedingly difficult medals to earn. A month later, Johnson Beharry was back in action in Iraq.
The coalition base in al-Amarah was under attack from a mortar team in June, 2004. Beharry was part of a quick reaction force sent to neutralize the threat to the base. Driving again through the city at night, Beharry’s armored vehicle was ambushed on its way to the attackers. The initial volley of that ambush saw an RPG explode just six inches from the young soldier’s head, causing serious injury.
Beharry is presented with the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth II.
Other RPGs rocked the vehicle, and the turret, again incapacitating and wounding the vehicle commander and the others in the crew. With blood pouring into his face, Beharry stayed in control of the vehicle. He drove the vehicle out of the ambush area – in reverse – until it became lodged in the side of a building. Only then did he lose consciousness from loss of blood. But in moving out of the ambush zone, other Warriors were able to come to their aid. All of them survived both of the deadly attacks.
The attack put him in a coma, and his wounds ultimately required him to leave the service. Before that, he was presented with the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth II on Apr. 27, 2005. Since then, he has made a number of public appearances and implored veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to seek mental health assistance for post-traumatic stress. These days, he runs a youth foundation to keep kids away from gangs and rehabilitate former gang members.
The US Air Force’s flight schools have a reputation for churning out some of the best pilots in the world. But not even with that standing, only 558 in the service’s entire history were ever able to earn the title “Bandit” — the name awarded exclusively to pilots assigned to fly the top-secret F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet.
During the first years of the Nighthawk program in the 1980s, candidate pilots were drawn from a pool of fast-jet pilots. Only fighter or attack pilots with minimum of 1,000 hours were considered for the job, though candidates with 2,000 or more hours were preferred, given their extensive piloting experience.
According to Warren Thompson in his book, “Bandits over Baghdad,” stealth program brass struck a careful balance between recruiting pilots with phenomenal service records and pilots who were known to push themselves to the edge of the envelope — constantly demonstrating their prowess in the cockpit of the latest and greatest multimillion dollar fighters in America’s arsenal.
Early Bandits already in the program, having earned their number, were allowed to refer fellow pilots from other units, based on critical evaluations of their skill and abilities as military aviators. The majority of candidates, however, came from fighter squadrons whose commanding officers were vaguely instructed to cherry-pick one or two of their very best pilots, and send them to Arizona to begin training on a new airframe.
Nobody, including the selectees themselves, had much of a clue what they were about to get involved in.
Further adding to the mystery was the fact that this “new” airframe was actually the A-7 Corsair II, an attack jet which had already been in service with the Air Force for a number of years. Nighthawk program evaluators chose the A-7 for its similarity to the F-117 in terms of handling, cockpit layout and flight characteristics. Upon the conclusion of their flight training, candidates would appear for a final series of check rides and tests in Nevada.
The 162d Tactical Fighter Group of the Arizona Air National Guard handled this segment of the selection phase on behalf of the 4450th Tactical Group. The 4450th was the cover for the Nighthawk’s existence, drafted up by the Air Force as a supposed A-7 flight test unit.
The casual observer, and even other military personnel not read into the Nighthawk program, would merely see this outfit as yet another one of the Air Force’s myriad boring units, though in reality, it was anything but that.
If the candidates survived the A-7 flight course, passed their final tests in their new jet, and were approved by the selection cadre, they were finally told what they were really there for — to be the next breed of American black operations pilots, flying an aircraft the government habitually denied even existed.
The Nighthawk was developed more as an attack aircraft than a fighter, though it was still granted the “F” designation like other fighters the USAF fields today. Built to evade and avoid radar detection, the F-117 was the deadly ghost America’s enemies didn’t see coming or going, even after it was too late and the bombs had already deployed from the jet’s twin recessed bays.
All prospective Bandits were now introduced in-person to their new aircraft at the Tonopah Test Range, a highly-guarded military facility known to play host to some of the most secretive Air Force projects ever undertaken. After strenuous classroom sessions followed by training missions flown in top-of-the-line simulators, pilots were then taken back to Arizona to Luke Air Force Base, where they would train briefly on the F-15 Eagle, learning to perform a ‘no-flap’ landing, which would simulate the Nighthawk’s handling dynamics during approaches and landings.
After passing muster, the candidates were handed the figurative keys to the F-117 and were allowed to fly for the first time. Upon their first solo in the Nighthawk, each pilot was assigned a number and were officially awarded the title “Bandit.” As no Nighthawk was ever built with a twin cockpit, instructors flew near their candidates in chase planes while maintaining constant radio contact. After further nighttime and daytime training missions which qualified pilots to operate their jets in adverse conditions, a battery of tests and evaluations followed.
By this time, the class was severely depleted in size – the starting quantity of candidates diminished over time either because pilots opted out of the program, or were dropped by evaluators and instructors just because they weren’t good enough to fly this next-level aircraft. If the candidate was successful in his very last round of testing, he would be sent for further training to become combat qualified and would be initiated as a permanent member of the Nighthawk community.
Pilots were then sent to an operational squadron, where they would go on to fly daring missions in extreme secrecy around the world, from Panama to Yugoslavia, and onward to Afghanistan and even Iraq. The Nighthawk has since been retired from service, having been replaced by the F-22 in its role as a stealth attack jet, though the Bandit number has been permanently capped at 558, forever sealing the status of these pilots as some of the most elite military aviators in history.