A lawmaker is raising concerns that the Pentagon isn’t sufficiently investigating the strange sightings of UFOs that Navy pilots have reported.
Politico reported that Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican from North Carolina, wrote a July 16 letter to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer requesting more information about the source of the unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP, and whether the Navy was aware of any foreign government or company that had made any significant advances in aeronautical engineering. Walker was a guest on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight on July 26 to discuss his concern about the UAP that naval aviators have reported over the past four years.
“Is this something that’s a defense mechanism from another country?” Walker asked during the program. “We do know that China is looking at hypersonic missiles, that’s 25,000 [kilometers per hour] or to break it down into our language that’s getting from D.C. where I’m at to L.A. in about nine minutes.”
In the letter to Sec. Spencer, Walker stated that the unexplained encounters often “involve complex flight patterns and advanced maneuvering, which demand extreme advances in quantum mechanics, nuclear science, electromagnetics, and thermodynamics,” highlighting concerns about the national security risks posed by such objects.
The letter also expressed concern about the demise of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which DoD said it shut down in 2012, according to The New York Times. “I am concerned these reports are not being fully investigated or understood,” Walker’s office wrote.
Walker, the ranking member of the House Intelligence and Counterterrorism subcommittee, is not the first lawmaker to express concern about unidentified flying objects.
In June, Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, attended a classified briefing with Navy officials regarding sightings of UFOs reported by naval aviators. At the time, a spokesperson from Warner’s office told INSIDER, “If pilots at Oceana or elsewhere are reporting flight hazards that interfere with training or put them in danger, then Senator Warner wants answers. It doesn’t matter if it’s weather balloons, little green men, or something else entirely — we can’t ask our pilots to put their lives at risk unnecessarily.”
INSIDER reached out to Walker’s office and to the office of the secretary of the Navy for comment, but did not receive responses by publication time.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Campaigning for Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections kicked off on Sept. 28, 2018, despite a wave of deadly violence across the country and allegations of fraud.
More than 2,500 people, including 418 women, are competing for the 249 seats in Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga.
Banners and posters of the candidates could be seen across the capital Kabul and other cities across the country.
The campaign period is set to finish on Oct. 18, 2018, according to a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, Mirza Mohammad Haqparast.
The election is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2018.
The rival political parties of President Ashraf Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah are expected to be among the front-runners in the vote.
Most parliamentary deputies are seeking reelection. But hundreds of political first-timers — including the offspring of former warlords and journalists — are also contesting the vote.
Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.
The election comes amid increased violence by the Taliban and the extremist group Islamic State, which have been staging frequent attacks across the country.
Some 54,000 members of Afghanistan’s security forces will be responsible for protecting polling centers on election day.
More than 2,000 polling centers will be closed for security reasons.
Opposition groups and political parties have demanded biometric machines to be used for transparency and to prevent people from voting more than once.
A deputy to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that so far more than 4,000 biometric machines out of 22,000 sets have been delivered to Afghanistan.
Maozollah Dolati said more equipment will be delivered in the coming week.
He said the election body will work to deploy the machines in all voting centers.
“Afghanistan’s Election Commission will work for the elections to be held transparently and without any fraud, even if for some reason the machines won’t be transferred to some of the voting centers,” Dolati added.
A woman is suing the Naval Hospital at Jacksonville, Florida, after discovering a portion of an anesthesia needle was left in her spine before a C-section at the facility in 2003, according to The Florida Times-Union.
Her lawsuit claims that hospital staff improperly administered the anesthesia, which caused the needle to break, then covered up the incident. According to the suit, about three centimeters — just over an inch — of the broken needle were left inside her body.
According to the Times-Union, medical records from the time make no mention of the needle breaking but do say that “the anesthesia did not take.”
Amy Bright, whose husband was a Navy corpsman stationed at the hospital, suffered from leg and back pain for several years, according to attorney Sean Cronin, who filed the lawsuit on her behalf.
(Flickr photo by Nathan Forget)
Cronin told the Times-Union that the needle was discovered when Bright underwent a CAT scan in 2017. He told the newspaper that removing the needle is no longer an option, as Bright could suffer from further damage and even become paralyzed. Bright was reportedly never told about the needle.
“From our perspective this is a double failure,” Cronin told the newspaper. “It is a cowardly, unethical cover-up.”
Cronin told the Times-Union that hospital staff did not report the broken needle to Bright or the chain of command because “they did not want to get in trouble.”
In a statement issued to the Times-Union, representatives of the hospital said they could not provide comments regarding the lawsuit or Bright’s situation, citing patient confidentiality and privacy laws, but said they were “deeply committed to providing the best care to every patient entrusted to us.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Vice President Mike Pence swore in Air Force Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond as the highest-ranking military leader of the newly created U.S. Space Force in a ceremony that recognized the arrival of the nation’s newest military branch.
Raymond was formally designated the first chief of space operations in a formal ceremony sponsored by the White House and held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It came less than a month after the Space Force, by law, became the sixth independent branch of the U.S. military, marking the first time since 1947 that a new military branch had been created.
“The first decision the president made after establishing the Space Force was deciding who should be its first leader,” Pence said. “I was around when the President made that decision and I can tell you, he never hesitated. He knew right away there was no one more qualified or more prepared from a lifetime of service than General Jay Raymond to serve as the first leader of the Space Force.”
Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond addresses the audience in the Executive Eisenhower Office Building Washington after being sworn in as the first chief of space operations by Vice President Mike Pence, Jan 14, 2020.
(Photo by Andy Morataya, Air Force)
The Space Force was established Dec. 20 when President Donald J. Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act. He also appointed Raymond to lead the Space Force. Although directed by its own military leadership, the Space Force is nested within the Department of the Air Force.
Raymond noted the historic nature of the moment. “Not only is this historical; it’s critical,” he said. “That is not lost on me or the outstanding Americans who serve with me.”
The Space Force’s overarching responsibility is training, equipping and organizing a cadre of space professionals who protect U.S. and allied interests in space while also providing space capabilities to the joint force. The Space Force’s mandate includes developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, refining military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces for use by combatant commands.
A major reason for creating the Space Force is the importance of space for both national security and everyday life. It is the backbone that allows for instant communication worldwide, precision navigation and global commerce. The U.S. Space Force will ensure the country’s continued leadership in space, Raymond said. Equally important, he added, is avoiding conflict in space.
“We want to deter that conflict from happening,” he said. “The best way I know how to do that is through a position of strength.”
Among those attending the ceremony were Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, Deputy Defense Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Adm. Charles Ray, vice commandant of the Coast Guard; Navy Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations; and Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Faculty members and cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy wait to receive “first contact” from the cadet-designed FalconSAT-6 satellite after its successful launch into space, Dec. 3, 2018.
(Photo by Joshua Armstrong, Air Force)
“We are moving forward with alacrity and in accordance with presidential direction, the law, and DOD guidance,” Barrett said about the establishment of the new U.S. Space Force. “Directing this effort is the incomparably qualified leader, General ‘Jay’ Raymond. As a career space officer, he’s the perfect person to guide this lean, agile, vital Space Force.”
Raymond was the natural choice for the job. He is the commander of the U.S. Space Command; the nation’s unified command for space.
Before his new role, Raymond was the commander of Air Force Space Command, which carried the nation’s primary military focus on space, managing a constellation of satellites, developing policy and programs and training frontline space operators. Air Force Space Command was redesignated as the U.S. Space Force under the recently passed NDAA.
More broadly, the Space Force is responsible for maintaining the United States’ space superiority, even as space becomes more crowded and contested. The NDAA, which created the Space Force, also directs that the Space Force “shall provide the freedom of operation in, from, and to space, while providing prompt and sustained space operations.”
(Charles Pope is assigned to the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs. Air Force Maj. Will Russell contributed to this report.)
HBO’s “Game of Thrones” had its biggest night ever on April 14, 2019.
The epic fantasy series was watched by 17.4 million viewers across all HBO platforms (linear TV, HBO Go, and HBO Now) during its final season premiere, breaking the show’s previous viewership record of 16.9 million for the season seven finale in 2017. The season seven premiere was watched by 16.1 million viewers.
HBO said on April 15, 2019, that viewership for its standalone streaming platform, HBO Now, grew by 50% from the season seven finale, and by 97% from the season seven premiere. It’s the biggest streaming night for HBO of all time.
The 9 p.m. airing on the premium cable network reeled in 11.8 million viewers, but failed to break the record set by the season seven finale’s 12.1 million viewers. But HBO said this could have been affected by the Dish dispute. HBO became unavailable for Dish subscribers in November 2018, after the two sides failed to land on a deal. Dish urged its subscribers to sign up for HBO Now ahead of the “Game of Thrones” premiere.
“Even though HBO is not available on Dish, you can still watch their content with the HBO NOW app,” a video on Dish’s website explained on April 14, 2019.
Just how big a night did “Game of Thrones” have compared to TV’s top shows?
For comparison, the highest-rated shows of 2018, according to Nielsen, included “Roseanne” (20 million average viewers), “Big Bang Theory” (18.3 million average viewers), “NCIS” (16.3 million average viewers), and “This Is Us” (16.6 million viewers). Nielsen’s “Game of Thrones” ratings, which don’t include streaming data, will be released on April 16, 2019.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
If you’re a precision shooter, or have ever been to the range with one, you know that at some point you’re going to have to stop and let a rifle cool down. A hot barrel is a less accurate one, and usually long range shooters aren’t the type that want to turn money into noise. To reduce the dreaded waiting period, MagnetoSpeed launched an active cooling system they named Riflekühl.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen devices like this; several years ago Caldwell released their Accumax Barrel Cooler. However, there were some downsides. First and foremost it only worked with the AR-15 and then only those that used 5.56-sized receivers – that limits the application severely. MagnetoSpeed tells us they have a more efficient system that can drop the temperature of a barrel to ambient levels with an average of seven minutes. Inserted through the ejection port, the Riflekühl has a magnet to keep it snugged up against the bolt and the nozzle seals against the chamber to allow for the most efficient airflow. As a bonus, the Riflekühl has a replaceable 50-micron air filter (especially handy for those in desert environments) and the red color means it can also serve double duty as a chamber flag.
Of course, this being MagnetoSpeed, their target market is going to be for the bolt action crowd. With that said, we’re told that so far it has fit into every AR-15 and AR-10 style rifle that they’ve tried it in (.22LR not included!).
Here’s some more information from MagnetoSpeed:
Tired of waiting and waiting for your rifle to cool down? MagnetoSpeed’s new barrel cooler, Riflekühl, is designed to get barrel temperatures down to intended operating levels quickly. The turbocharger inspired impeller is engineered to produce great air flow in a small package. Powered by a single CR123A Lithium battery (included), ambient air is forced through the extendable nozzle down the bore of the rifle. Designed to seal and push air flow down the barrel where it’s needed to efficiently cool barrels, typically under 7 minutes. Riflekühl doubles as a chamber flag and features an exclusive built-in air filter to prevent dust and dirt from being blown into your rifle. Spend less time waiting and more time shooting with the MagnetoSpeed Riflekühl.
Other features include:
‣Replaceable dust filter (50 Microns) ‣Strong neodymium magnet secures device to chamber ‣Included CR123 lithium battery lasts for dozens of range sessions ‣Spring loaded retractable nozzle designed for compact and durable storage ‣Belt/Pocket clip included for easy carry ‣Chamber seal for increased cooling efficiency ‣Red body serves as an empty chamber flag
Check out the video below or visit MagnetoSpeed online here for more information.
It’s hard to imagine days without Prime delivery, instant downloads and fast food. But 160 years ago, things like mail took a really long time. The Pony Express changed delivery forever.
Here are 5 facts you probably didn’t know about the Pony Express:
It actually was pretty fast
Before the Pony Express, if you sent a letter from somewhere on the east coast to California, it would take upwards of 25 days. If it had to go by ship, it would take months. The Pony Express men began their deliveries in April of 1960 and their average delivery time was only 10 days. The riders set a record when they delivered President Lincoln’s inaugural address to California in just seven days and 17 hours! But that speed came at a price.
Here’s what it cost
Each delivery initially cost around , which would be well over 0 today. So, suffice to say, the average person wasn’t utilizing this service. Instead, things like newspaper and government reports or even business related material was sent on the Pony Express. The cost to send mail was high and so was the risk of those involved.
When the owners started the company, they set up around 200 posts or relief stations across frontier country. Each rider would switch mounts every 10 to 15 miles at one of these stations and pass off their delivery to a new rider after about three or four days. Although history may talk about the dangers of being a rider, these posts were set up in very remote areas and often attacked or ambushed by Indians. More men who manned these stations died than riders.
Your weight was a qualifying factor
Not just anyone could be a Pony Express rider. They had to be between 100 to 125 pounds, brave and expert riders. One such advertisement for riders went even further. They specifically asked for men not over 18 who were willing to risk death daily and stated that orphans were preferred. All riders also had to sign an oath, promising not to drink, curse or fight.
It lasted less than two years
Although this was an incredible advance in delivery for its time, it didn’t last. Western Union developed the transcontinental telegraph line and launched it in 1861 — rendering the Pony Express useless. Despite the fact that the Pony men only operated for 19 months, they would go down in history as legends. The Pony Express stories of bravery while racing across the Wild West have been retold a thousand times over, even if many of these stories have been exaggerated and are considered folklore.
The Pony Express trademark is now owned by the United States Postal Service and its history is richly celebrated. To learn more about the Pony Express, check out the website for their national museum.
Ted Meyer is a Los Angeles-based artist, curator, and patient advocate who has been coloring the lives of those with traumatic injuries for 17 years with his project called “Scarred for Life: Mono-prints of Human Scars.”
“The whole idea is to tell their story by making a beautiful piece of art from their scar” Meyer said. “I do a print off their body and then I try to work in some of the details of what happened to them into the painting that I do over the print.”
Meyer is comfortable around hospitals because he was born with an enzyme deficiency that doctors believed would cut his life short. Fortunately, a treatment was found, and the breakthrough radically changed his life and artistic focus.
“I met a woman who was using a wheelchair with a broken back,” he recalled. “We had a long conversation one day and she told me I should keep doing my art because I still had a lot to say about it.”
He called the woman to do a print of her scars, and the public’s reaction to the artwork received was very different from that received by his paintings.
“People would come up to me after seeing the work and show me their scars,” Meyer said. “They take their shirt off, pull down their pants or lift up a dress, everybody wanted to tell me. That was seventeen years ago and I’ve been doing this since.”
Originally, Meyer shied away from printing veterans’ wounds. Though he comes from a family with military tradition, he didn’t feel he had the credentials to do it.
“I’m not in that world,” he said. “There’s a couple of other veteran projects and usually they have a much closer relationship to it than I do.”
That all changed a few years ago. Someone close to Meyer returned from Iraq after several tours as a helicopter pilot and killed himself.
“I thought I should approach this subject by letting people tell their stories, because he never told any of us that he was struggling,” Meyer said. “Apparently, he had some damage in his jaw from shrapnel, and they wouldn’t let him fly because the jaw was deteriorating.”
So Meyer decided to tell veteran stories, but that has created a different problem: He needs more veterans to become works of art. He was offered an exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, but he couldn’t find enough scarred vets to participate so he had to postpone the show indefinitely.
“I think it was very systemic of the fact that a very small percentage of people fight over there,” Meyer said. “It’s a different culture and these are people who have a different sense of what being patriotic and being an American and defending us is.”
One of Meyers’ subjects, Jerral Hancock, is missing an arm, is paralyzed, and burned.
“Almost his whole body is scarred from burns,” Meyer said. “He had a lot of texture, so I went in and I have his tank that he had been in sort of marching across, rolling across his scar. I try to give it a narrative, but also make it a beautiful piece of artwork.”
“It was cool seeing war and our scars put to art, and it was an interesting experience going through Ted’s art,” Hancock said. “I would recommend it to other vets because it helps show the reality of war for those who don’t understand the sacrifices made.”
Working with wounded warriors changed the way Meyer sees the veteran community. A man who spent his life with people in physical and emotional crisis gained an appreciation for a new group he’s never known and relates that experience to the world.
“They’ve given a tremendous amount and don’t feel bitter about it,” Meyers said. “There’s a moral integrity to that I find lacking most everywhere else.”
Meyer has an upcoming show for his “Scarred for Life” project at Muzeumm Gallery in Los Angeles from February 6th through March 1st. If you’re a veteran with scars and a story you’d like turned into art, contact Ted Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. forces are establishing observation posts in Northeast Syria to further deny escape routes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.
The spokesman said the observation posts will be set up to deter ISIS fighters that try to flee the middle Euphrates River valley into Turkey to the north.
Army Col. Sean Ryan, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, updated reporters on ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks.
(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
“These observation posts will provide additional transparency and will better enable Turkey’s protection from ISIS elements,” Ryan said.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced the observation posts last week in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters.
The move follows close consultation and collaboration with Turkey, both at the military and State Department levels, according to a DOD News report.
Also in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces arrested a senior ISIS official accused of involvement in the assassination of Sheikh Bashir Faysal al-Huwaidi, an Arab chieftain in Raqqa, Ryan said.
“This targeted operation undermines the enemy’s ability to operate in the shadows, and allows the SDF to ultimately eliminate sleeper cells that continue to threaten civilians and prolong their demise,” the spokesman added.
The U.S.-led coalition and its partners will continue to fight the terrorists and degrade their capabilities, he said.
“It’s important to take the fight to the enemy [and] we must continue to consolidate our considerable gains,” Ryan said.
Near Manbij, the alliance between Turkish and U.S. forces in the Combined Joint Patrols allows forces to continue to deny terrorists access to the area, he added, and noted that over time, it has become a community that is thriving.
“This stability is the direct result of the focus of our NATO ally Turkey and through cooperation with local officials from Manbij,” the spokesman said.
ISIS remnants are fortifying their positions and digging in for a protracted campaign, Ryan said.
“We should remain patient [because] fighting will continue to be intense as we continue to pressure the enemy into smaller and smaller spaces,” he said. “This is the last real physical terrain held by enemy forces, and they will continue to wage a resistance as they steadily lose relevance.”
This Militia is Threatening American Troops in Syria | NYT – Visual Investigations
Along the Syria-Iraq border, the 8th Iraqi Army Division continues to reinforce border security by engaging and repelling ISIS militants as they try to flee the offensive in the middle Euphrates River valley, Ryan said.
“Iraqi units continue to conduct coordinated strikes even as ISIS elements probe border positions with vehicle-borne [improvised explosive devices], motorcycles, small-arms fire and mortars,” he added.
The Iraqi air force on Nov. 20 launched two airstrikes targeting an ISIS weapons facility and a building that housed 30 ISIS fighters, Ryan said, adding, “This operation also signifies the ability of the Iraqi security forces to protect its border and uproot cells.”
In Mosul, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air support carried out a security operation in Menkar village that resulted in five enemy fighters killed.
“[This] operation demonstrated ISF are strengthening their intelligence gathering to disrupt enemy operations and protect the Iraqi citizens from bombings and kidnappings,” the spokesman said.
Another successful ISF operation resulted in the death of an ISIS senior leader, code-named Katkut, Ryan said, adding that the operative was known to have planned and conducted attacks in Hadr, southwest of Mosul. He was killed in Saladin province after fleeing from the scene of an attack earlier in the week.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDOD)
On Day 1 of her training as an astronaut, Navy Lt. Kayla Barron walked out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and watched with her new colleagues as the moon partially blotted out the sun.
Eclipse glasses in hand, the Naval Academy graduate said she began to get a sense of her place in at the agency. The astronauts are some of NASA’s highest-profile employees, but Barron said they’re just one part of the team.
“Everybody here is really excited about what they’re doing and doing really interesting things,” Barron said August 22 in an interview. “In a big-picture sense, everybody comes to work for the same reason.”
Barron, 29, was working as an aide at the academy in Annapolis when she was selected earlier in the summer to become an astronaut. She’ll now embark on two years of training with 11 other NASA candidates and two Canadians.
Many of the lessons will focus on the workings of the International Space Station, but there is a chance that members of the 2017 class — the agency’s largest in years — could end up on a mission to Mars.
“There’s a lot for us to learn, a lot of new things to master,” Barron said.
Among them: working from the back seat of a training jet, practicing spacewalks in a pool, and getting to grips with speaking Russian.
Barron was initially interested in pursuing a career as a naval aviator, but couldn’t meet the eyesight requirements. But now NASA will train her on its supersonic T-38 jets, working alongside a pilot and learning about making quick decisions and communicating clearly and getting used to extreme G-forces.
Barron will keep her Navy rank but said NASA’s astronaut office blends military and civilian cultures — a reflection of the varied backgrounds of the trainees.
“It’s an interesting kind of melting pot,” she said.
The trainees are expected to bring their own ideas to the class and learn from one another.
Barron, who has a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and served as one of the first female officers on a submarine, said her military experience taught her about working as an engineer under extreme conditions.
“I think that gives me a bit of perspective on how you can keep your equipment and team running when you’re in a hostile place with limited resources,” Barron said.
During a question-and-answer session between the trainees and three astronauts on the International Space Station, biochemist Peggy Whitson said being able to fix things is one of the most important parts of the job.
“You can’t be hesitant about taking something apart and putting it back together,” Whitson said.
Barron, who said she’s both excited and nervous about learning Russian, asked the astronauts what advice they had about working with crew members from other nations.
Col. Jack Fischer said that it was important not just to learn the language but to gain an understanding of the other culture.
“It’s no different from how you would figure out how to get along with anyone in a small-group dynamic,” he said.
Barron is originally from Richland, Wash., but will now be living in Houston near the space center.
“We all live out in town,” she said. “We have a real life outside of work.”
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.
Since the close of the Cold War, military parades have been associated with authoritarian powers, like China, Russia, and North Korea, who show off their newly built military platforms to the chagrin of military analysts around the world.
While the U.S. has the best military in the world, there are some things Russia, China, or North Korea can do in a parade that the U.S. simply can’t.
For example, Pennsylvania Avenue probably can’t handle a long convoy of heavy military vehicles. Today’s M1 Abrams tanks weigh a whopping 67 tons. World War II-era military parades featured tanks that weighed about half that.
The weight and treads of an Abrams tank might just tear up the road. When China and Russia put on military parades, they roll through state-of-the-art military vehicles, while the U.S.’s main battle tank was first built in 1979. In many ways, Russia and China’s parades would likely outclass the U.S.’s in terms of how new their equipment is.
Will Trump show nukes?
Additionally, Russia, China, and North Korea like to parade their ICBMs around, but the U.S. can’t really do that. Unlike the authoritarian nuclear powers across Asia, the U.S. parks its ICBMs in silos, not atop huge military trucks.
When the U.S. does move its ICBMs around, it does so in plain-looking trucks. The U.S. has paraded nuclear weapons down Pennsylvania Avenue before, but today’s nuclear weapons are far more discrete looking.
But there is a nuclear platform that would make sense for a parade and avoid tearing up the road — nuclear bombers. The U.S. could fly B-2 and B-52 bombers overhead, as well as stealth jets, like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.
In terms of air power, the U.S. has much more to show off than Russia, China, or North Korea, which can’t even fly its planes due to a lack of fuel.
The U.S. has something Russia, China, and North Korea can’t touch
While the U.S. military doesn’t exactly lend itself to parading, it has something worth showing off that China, Russia, and North Korea can’t touch — soldiers who actually want to be there.
The pride of the U.S. military is not any one single platform, or any combination thereof. All major militaries have planes, tanks, and missiles, but the U.S. has an all-volunteer force, while Russia, China, and North Korea rely on conscripts.
Even more important than troops marching though, are the people watching. In the U.S., anyone of any status can think and say or write what they like about the soldiers. They can attend, or not. The revelers on the sidelines of the parade w0uld be proud U.S. citizens attending of their own free will.
That’s simply not the case in North Korea, Russia, and China.