This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SPORTS

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

TetraSki, a new technology was integrated into the 33rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, held in Snowmass Colorado from March 31 to April 5, 2019. The technology was integrated in the clinic for the second year in a row to help promote independence in skiing and life. The Tetradapt Initiative began over 10 years ago when founder and visionary, Jeffrey Rosenbluth, MD, of Tetradapt Community dreamed of helping people living with paralysis.

As a result of this initiative, people who are completely paralyzed can now enjoy downhill skiing and sailing in a new way. The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic has grown to assist nearly 400 profoundly disabled veterans. The Clinic has provided Tetradapt Community with a platform to showcase their technology, bringing hope to veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological conditions and other disabilities.


“We are honored to work with the VA. Many people are not involved in adaptive sports as they feel that they can’t get involved. The technology was not available in the past.” said Rosenthal.

“We want to help people with real complex physical disabilities enjoy normal activities.”

Tetra-ski: Advanced Technology at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

www.youtube.com

Dr. Rosenthal is currently the Medical Director of the Spinal Cory Injury Acute Rehabilitation program at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, Salt Lake City, Utah and at South Davis Community Hospital, Bountiful, Utah, where he oversees Sub-acute and long term acute Spinal Cord Injury programs. He became interested in rehabilitation medicine and technology at the very beginning of his career. After graduating from New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York and completing his residency at University California (UC) Davis, Davis, California with a focus on rehabilitation medicine, Dr. Rosenthal landed his first job at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

His dreams of impacting the lives of those living with paralysis were coming true. He joined the University of Utah’s adaptive sports rehabilitation program and began developing the university’s very own TetraSki equipment.

“I fell in love with rehabilitation technology and what adaptive ski was doing for people. I was given the opportunity to work with veterans after completing my residency at UC Davis. I wanted to continue my work with veterans. Rehabilitation technology amazed me,” said Dr. Rosenthal. “That was the beginning.”

Hitting the slopes

A unique technology and the only one like it in the world, the TetraSki provides independent turning and speed variability through the use of a joystick and/or breath control, using a sip-and-puff technique. The sip-and-puff switch does not require hand availability and activates by simply sipping and puffing breaths of air in and out, causing the chair to be directed in whichever direction it is instructed. The TetraSki is ideal for individuals with the most complex physical abilities.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

Vietnam War Veteran Robert Johnson from Hines, Illinois, on TetraSki at Winter Sports Clinic 2019.

For the first time in adaptive sports, skiers can use the joystick and sip-and-puff functionality simultaneously. The feature allows users to enjoy downhill skiing in their own ski chair. A tether-to the instructor is used as an emergency brake but is not used for turning directions.

U.S Army and Vietnam Veteran Robert Johnson of Hines, Illinois experienced the TetraSki first hand at the Winter Sports Clinic, last year in 2018. Mr. Morris is a patient at the David Hines Jr. Veteran Affairs (VA) Hospital, Hines, Illinois and became involved with the hospital’s adaptive sports program 5 years ago. He is an appropriate candidate for Tetra-Ski and considered to be “more involved,” meaning, having more extreme impairment. When asked what he enjoyed most about Tetra-Ski he said,

“The TetraSki is amazing. I like to lean in and out when I ski. Individuals who don’t have as much coordination ability as I do would really love it! The sip-and-puff is very useful for those who are high level quadriplegics. The technology is perfect.”

After three years of development by the University of Utah Rehabilitation Research and Development team, three TetraSkis will be provided to nine national adaptive ski program partners for shared use during the 2018/2019 ski season, and VA is among the lucky group. Tetradapt Community works in coordination with the University of Utah’s best engineering, research, business and medical experts to design manufacture to deliver the state-of-the-art TetraSki equipment.

Money is not the goal

Tetradapt Community is nonprofit and does not plan to sell the TetraSki in the market place. The goal is to expose the technology to the public for fundraising purposes. The technology is leased to VA Adaptive Sports programs and other adaptive sports programs. The company has received funding from VA Adaptive Sports and other private organizations, receiving roughly between ,000.00- 120,000.00 dollars each year in funding.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

TetraSki.

“We had a good idea and wanted to see it carried out in the market, not for profit but for people to see its commercial potential,” said Dr. Rosenthal.

The National Disabled Sports Clinics empower those with perceived limitations by participating in adaptive sports that improve their overall health and outlook. The clinic is made possible through a longstanding partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs. Tetradapt Community hopes to continue to its involvement with the winter sports clinics and the VA is excited to create more awareness of the Tetradapt initiative, giving hope back to individuals with physical impairments. The therapy and joy that this technology provides to veterans is immeasurable. When asked what impact he feels the TetraSki will have on our veterans and the future Dr. Rosenthal commented,

“The technology requires a huge cultural and mind shift. “It’s a shockingly independent experience,”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

‘Terrible, tragic mistake:’ Top general warns enemies not to test US military readiness

The Pentagon’s top leaders said Thursday they can see a “light at the end of the tunnel” of the COVID-19 pandemic and stressed that the U.S. military remains a force in readiness, with fewer than 2,000 cases out of more than two million troops available to support contingency operations.

During an internet broadcast Thursday morning, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned adversaries that it would be a “terrible, tragic mistake if they thought that … [they] can take advantage of any opportunities … at a time of crisis.”


“The U.S. military is very, very capable to conduct whatever operations are necessary to defend the American people,” Milley said. “We will adapt ourselves to operating in a COVID-19 environment. We are already doing that.”

As of Thursday, 1,898 service members had confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 389 soldiers, 367 airmen, 164 Marines, 597 sailors and 381 National Guard members.

Given that the Defense Department has 2.3 million troops, including the National Guard and reserve components, the services are “ready today and will be ready tomorrow,” Milley said.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

“I’m absolutely confident that we are very ready to handle any mission that comes our way,” added Defense Secretary Mark Esper during the broadcast. “Why is that? It’s because our commanders and NCOs have taken measures to protect our members.”

Less than .09 percent of U.S. forces have confirmed COVID-19 infections, and nearly all are “mild or moderate” cases, according to Esper. Sixty-four service members have been hospitalized for the coronavirus.

By contrast, .13 percent of the U.S. population have confirmed cases of the illness.

“We also have far, far, far smaller numbers of hospitalizations. …. I attribute that to the measures we took very early on, going all the way back to 3 February when we issued our first guidance to the field in regard to health protection,” Esper said.

According to Esper and Milley, the DoD has more than 50,000 service members responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes 29,400 National Guard members, as well as 17,000 members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and thousands of military medical personnel.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said Thursday that many of the military medical personnel are now serving in civilian hospitals, filling in for staff members who have become ill or need rest — especially in hard-hit areas like New York City.

The strategy is a switch from the initial intent for military health professionals to treat patients transported to field hospitals such as the Javits Center in New York, he said.

“We have thousands of reservists — medical professionals — deployed all over the country from their normal lives at home to the middle of New York City, in hours or days, leaving their families, leaving their homes, running toward the trouble,” Hyten said.

To date, 113 service members of the 1,898 infected have recovered from the coronavirus. One service member, Army National Guard Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, died March 28.

A sailor from the carrier Theodore Roosevelt became gravely ill Thursday and was transported to an intensive care unit after being discovered unresponsive in his room by shipmates, Hyten said.

“We are hoping that the sailor recovers. We are praying for him and his families and his shipmates,” he added.

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

Humor

6 easy ways for a grunt to be accepted by POGs

The greatest divide in the U.S. Military is between grunts and the POGs. For as long as this divide has existed, the higher-ups have been trying to find ways to close this gap. To you peacemakers, we say, “good luck.”


Today, we offer insight on how an infantryman can earn respect from their rear-echelon counterparts.

Related: 6 ways for a POG to be accepted by grunts

6. Don’t act like your job is more important

Even though every other job in the military exists to support the infantry, it’s a good idea to stay humble when interacting with a POG. After all, it’s a team effort.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

5. Teach POGs how to wear their gear

If you see a POG wearing their gear all f*cked up, just pull them aside and give them a hip-pocket class on wearing it right. That is all.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
Teach them what not to bring while you’re at it. (Image via DVIDS)

4. Help a POG learn infantry tactics

It might be a headache introducing grunt concepts to a POG, but teaching them how to properly clear a room helps build friendships and better teamwork.

This one might save your life one day — and this’ll give POGs something to show their friends back home.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
Circle up and host a quick master class. (Image via U.S. Department of Defense)

3. Get a damn haircut

POGs generally always have access to haircuts. So, of course, they expect that every grunt ought to keep clean as well — even after spending several weeks in the field or in a place where the only barbers are in your platoon.

And most of the so-called “barbers” learned to cut hair from YouTube tutorial videos.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
Long hair is acceptable if you’re a part of special operations. (Image via Army Times)

2. Don’t act like your experience gives you rank

This one undoubtedly grinds a POG’s gears. Even if you have numerous deployments under your belt, respect everyone’s rank and speak to them with tact.

Just because that brand-new second lieutenant is fresh out of college and has no military experience doesn’t make them less of a Marine. Always say sh*t like, “with all due respect, sir,” before jumping directly into, “kiss my lower-enlisted ass, sir.”

That way, everyone wins!

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
Even if that POG has been spending their whole career behind a desk, swallow your pride and show respect. (Image via DVIDS)

Also read: 5 reasons you should know about the hardcore Selous Scouts

1. Stop being so cool

Let’s face it, they don’t put the 0161 postal clerk on the posters in the Marine Corps recruiting office. No — they put the 0311 Infantry Riflemen and/or the 0351 Infantry Assaultmen on those posters!

Everyone knows these jobs are cool, just make sure you show some respect to everyone, including mailmen MOS.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
So cool. (Image via SOFREP)

*Bonus* Have some manners.

Make sure you thank the cook bringing you hot chow or the motor vehicle operator for the ride back to the rear. After all, without them, it’s cold MREs and long hikes.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
You know you would have preferred a ride home instead of walking through this crap. (Image from USMC)

MIGHTY MOVIES

Here’s what ‘Project Blue Book’ creator, David O’Leary, has to say about UFOs

Project Blue Book is a mystery series about U.S. Air Force-sponsored investigations into UFOs from the early 1950s to the late 1960s. Dr. Allen Hynek teams up with Captain Michael Quinn to gather evidence to explain a plethora of phenomenons happening across the United States. I had the opportunity to sit down with the Creator of the series, David O’Leary, for an interview.

The show’s third episode premieres tonight, January 22, at 10/9c on HISTORY.


New UFO Drama Series “Project Blue Book”: First Look Trailer I HISTORY

www.youtube.com

What inspired you to write on the topic of UFOs?

UFOs have been a lifelong passion for me, to be honest. I grew up in New York City and I remember going to E.C.E.T. as a little kid and leaving Reese’s Pieces on my window sill. When I was nine years old, I dragged my father to see this famous UFO encounter movie called Communion, [which is] a book that they turned into a movie starring Christopher Walken. I dragged my father to this scary, real-life abduction movie when the it came out in 1989.

Given the fact that, in many cases, people are embarrassed or reluctant to talk about [their experiences,] I very quickly came to assess, these are not attention-seekers looking a weird form of fame, but they genuinely encountered something strange and they’re trying to make sense of it.

My focus, initially, was sort of present day, what was happening with UFOs in the 80s and 90s — that’s when I really started to educate myself. America has this sort of strange and mysterious history in regards to this phenomenon. You can’t look at that without looking at the premier official investigation into UFOs, which was of course, Project Blue Book.

It baffled me that, for 17 years, between 1952 and 1969, the U.S. Air Force was officially looking into these matters and going out there and investigating cases. What baffled me even more was the fact that the chief scientific adviser of Project Blue Book, a civilian astrophysicist who is a complete UFO skeptic with a trained eye, tries explain what people are seeing in the sky and emerges on the other side as a believer. Not only in the notion that UFOs represent an intelligence in our skies that we have yet to understand, but also in the fact that Project Blue Book was, in part, a disinformation campaign.

He spent the rest of his life going out there and investigating cases and wrote several books on the subject.

I thought, what if we did a television show rooted in fact, where every week we looked into these different cases that happened and examine them just like Hynek examined them in Project Blue Book?

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

(HISTORY)

The cast includes many high-ranking officers who deny Hynek’s findings. How true-to-life are these responses from the military?

Very accurate. One of the people I was able to meet was the last living director of Project Blue Book, his name is Lt. Colonel Robert Frend. He was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II and he’s 98 years old. He worked with Hynek and Project Blue Book. He was instrumental in the information on a day-to-day basis — what did Project Blue Book look like? How did it function? How did they get reports? How did it work when they went to examine cases? How did cases come in?

He spoke to high-ranking men who could come and go as they please that would take their files, examine their files, and change their files. [On one hand,] there was the public face of Project Blue Book and then there were the generals who controlled Project Blue Book with their own agenda. Our main characters are the men stuck in the middle.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

(HISTORY)

These sightings began at the start of the Cold War. Did our deadlock between the Soviet Union influence the decisions to keep the investigations classified?

Oh yeah, majorly. UFOs, even during World War II — they would call them “foo fighters” then — both sides of the conflict were seeing things in the sky. Each side was convinced that the other side had some sort of technology that would emerge once the war was over. The war ended and nobody claimed responsibility for what they were seeing. Certainly, as we move into the 50s, five or six years after World War II, most historians believe that that’s when the modern UFO era began — Roswell, Kenneth Arnold, “flying saucers” was coined, all that. It became again this notion of: Is what we’re seeing in our sky some sort of weaponry? Aircraft? Intelligence-gathering device that the other side has that we’ve miscategorized?

A lot of sightings would occur over military bases and weapons tests and that was a genuine fear. “Oh my gosh, the Russians have a technology that is surveying our bases!” UFO sightings were also happening in Russia, but they were not as well known. The U.S. Government was the only one that launched an official investigation into these matters, at least at first.

It became this idea that flying saucers might be man-made technology that we couldn’t fathom yet, and that they were built by our enemies. That was just as scary as anything. On the show, we tried to remain true to that aspect of it. Are we dealing with the Russians or not?

US Fighter Jets Encounter Unknown Flying Object [UFO] – With Pilots Audio

www.youtube.com

I’ve worked for the government before and it is incredibly hard for them to admit to investigations, even if they’re declassified. Were there any barriers in your way when you were gathering research for this project?

Fortunately, through the Freedom of Information Act, the Project Blue Book files are now in the National Archives and are searchable online. Although this was not always the case. It used to be, for many many years, the only way to access these files was to literally go to Washington D.C. and ask for them, one at a time.

Another barrier that I think is sort of interesting is that the official [statement] from our government is Project Blue Book. The official answer today is, “Listen, we’ve looked into this matter for 17 years, from 1952 to 1969, until Project Blue Book was closed after it was deemed that UFOs do not pose a threat to National Security.” The Truth is, that’s not when the government stopped investigating UFOs. The New York Times did this incredible piece on the -million-per-year program where they were researching UFOs. It became clear that the seriousness with which the military takes UFOs has never gone away, it’s just been removed from the public sphere all together.

Now they claim that that program is closed as well, but what can you believe if they said this matter was put to rest in 1969 and then you find out as recently as a couple of years ago, there’s another program looking into the matter, too. They were willing to spend million of taxpayer money researching this — and that’s just what we know about. I’m sure there are many others.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

(Wright-Patterson Air Force Base)

There’s a good probability some of our audience may have had grandparents stationed on bases that appear during the show’s timeline. What locations can we expect to see in the arc of the show?

We go to Fargo, North Dakota, to look into a famous case that happened near a military base there. We to go to Texas, West Virginia… I don’t want to give them all away because I want people to be surprised by the cases we examined. Even if we give some of them away in the trailer, we still travel the country. We wanted to showcase the totality of this phenomenon across the country, and we go to Washington D.C. itself at one point.

What I think is nice about each episode is that they end up having a particular flavor to it. If we’re going into the South, you feel it. If we’re in the Pacific North West, you feel it. If we’re in the middle of the country or a big city like D.C., each episode has a different vibe.

Of course, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, plays a huge role [because] that’s where Project Blue Book was based in Dayton, Ohio.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

Do you personally believe that we are not alone in the universe?

I do, I 100% believe we are not alone in the universe. I think the fact that we’re one planet, orbiting in one solar system, amongst many solar systems, in one galaxy amongst many galaxies says enough. There is a line on the show that I wrote,

“The probability of us being alone in the universe is zero.”

That is something I certainly believe.

[However,] in regards to what UFO themselves are, I keep an open mind. I’m in the Dr. J. Allen Hynek camp of thought. I really do believe that UFOs are real and that they do represent an intelligence in our skies that we have yet to understand. I’m as open to [the idea] as he was, but he never explicitly said “aliens.”

He expresses an extraterrestrial hypothesis among others, such as inter-dimensional phenomenon, time travel, suggesting that UFOs are a life form that evolved on the planet that we are yet to understand, or extraterrestrial artificial intelligence. He lays out all these different theories.

Is there anything you’d like to say to our service members and veterans?

I’m so happy and feel so fortunate that we can talk to you guys as a military representation in film and media. There’s so much show content written [in that area], and I know our actors did a ton of research, especially Michael Malarkey, who plays the young Air Force Captain. He really wanted to understand what it was like being in the Air Force back then — he actually grew up in Ohio and had a friend stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He asked if he could hop into a plane because he needed to know how it feels to really fly and be one of those guys.

I’ve gotten close with Michael Harney, who plays one of our generals on the show. His character was originally inspired by a few different generals and General Hoyt Vandenberg. He went down the rabbit hole: Who are these men? What is it like to be that high-ranking of an official? What kind of weight of the world do they hold?

To the viewers and the readers of We Are The Mighty, we really do make the effort to get the military aspects of the show correct. I’m sure there’s going to be something we failed at, but we did have military advisers.

There are plenty of skeptics, believers, and people in between. The show walks that fine line. Even if people say we went deep into X-Files territory or something like that from the trailer, they will be pleasantly surprised to see not everything is as it seems. There are always two answers to every story because the truth is, simply, we don’t know. The show tries to keep an open mind while rooted in real-life findings.

The third episode of the hit series, Project Blue Book, premieres on HISTORY on January 22 at 10PM PST, 9 central. Be sure to catch new episodes each week as they’re released!

MIGHTY CULTURE

10 signs that you’re a military parent

Military parents: we’re one great big, loving, dysfunctional family. We may have a lot of differences, but we also have a lot in common. Find out the answers we received when we asked a group of military parents to complete the statement “you know you’re a military parent when…”


This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

(Pixabay)

1. You stalk the mailman.

You can especially relate to this when your military member is a recruit or trainee. There are no phone calls, text messages, emails coming through. If you’re waiting to hear from them, all you can do is wait until the mailman comes rolling down the street and stops at your mailbox with your fingers crossed.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

2.  Whenever you hear the National Anthem your heart fills with pride.

You’re at a stadium sports arena for a game or concert, and you hear the national anthem. You stand a little taller, sing a little louder and you see that veteran in the audience still standing at attention all these years later and a tear trickles down your face, and can’t help but feel an enormous sense of pride.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)

3. You can bring any conversation back to the fact your child is in the military.

Parents are the best at this, aren’t we? You often sit and listen to your friends talking about their kids at college or high school, you wait for the perfect moment to tell them all about your child in the military. “Did I tell you Johnny is getting ready to deploy right now?”

4. You wear RED on Fridays

Remember Everyone Deployed means you wear red on Fridays to let all those serving overseas on deployment know they’re not forgotten; that a nation they’re fighting for is praying for them, is thinking of them constantly, and is proud of them.

5. Your new favorite vacation destination is the Permanent Duty Station of your military member.

A non-military parent may schedule their vacations to a sunny beach destination, or maybe even an amusement park. Not military parents! Our vacations are now to wherever our child is stationed, whether it’s in the desert, the cold, overseas, or wherever else our military member is living at that time. “Woo hoo, it’s time to go to 29 Palms!”

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

(USAF)

6. You now understand and use military time and the phonetic alphabet.

You tell your co-worker you’ll be getting off work at 1630. They look at you with a confused expression on their face and you say, “Oh, I mean 4:30 p.m. I’m sorry, I’m so used to using military time with my son/daughter in the military now.” (As an aside, this a great way to start that conversation about your child in the military – see #3 above.)

7. You have a military t-shirt for every day of the week, along with pins and hats.

You can’t get enough of military swag! Whether it represents the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marines, you have t-shirts, hats, socks, earrings, necklaces, pins, stickers for your car. You name it, military parents have something for every occasion, and they wear or display it loud and proud.

8. You see the proud parent of a “insert college university name here” and you laugh.

You can’t help but giggle. Their child might have went to a top college or university, but your child is a part of the finest fighting military in the world. Go USA!

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski

(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)

9. You’ve become an expert at mailing out care packages where the items inside aren’t as much as the postage to send it.

You do this especially when your military member is deployed overseas. Baking cookies, brownies, sending wipes, toiletries, etc., are all great ways to stay connected with your loved one, and often gives them something that they truly need. A lot of the time, the cost of sending the package outweighs the monetary value of what’s inside!

10. You know that things can and will change.

If there’s one thing a military family, including military parents, has to be, it’s flexible. Your loved one’s plans can change at the drop of a hat, so you have to learn to go with the flow and be supportive.

There were over 250 comments from parents around the country when I asked for feedback. I could only choose 10. Which of these was your favorite? Share your comments below – we would love to read them!

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

Articles

US forces are quickly cutting off ISIS’ only escape route in Syria

The offensive to destroy ISIS in Syria took a big step forward recently with US military advisers, helicopters, and artillery helping position a force of about 500 soldiers near a strategic damn outside of Raqqa, ISIS’s Syrian capital.


The US military, along with Kurdish forces and the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Foces rebel group, have moved to put a stranglehold on Raqqa with shelling, air support, and ground forces at the last route in and out of the city, according to a press release.

Related: US asks Europe to deploy more troops for ISIS fight

Operation Inherent Resolve, the 68-nation mission to destroy ISIS, flew in fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed rebel group, behind enemy lines to a strategic dam.

“It takes a special breed of warrior to pull of an airborne operation or air assault behind enemy lines,” Col. Joe Scrocca, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve told the Times.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
Marines with the 11th MEU train in Djibouti. Leathernecks from the 11th MEU reportedly just deployed to Syria to bolster an assault on Raqqa. | US Marine Corps photo

“Seizing Tabqah Dam will isolate Raqqah from three sides and give the SDF the strategic advantage and launching point needed for the liberation of the city,” said the release. But while the US says they’re mainly backing local forces, they seem poised to take on a more active role with conventional forces fighting ISIS on the ground in Raqqa.

The Pentagon has been considering sending as many as 1,000 ground troops to help take back Raqqa from ISIS, which would signal a reversal of the Obama-era policy to fight ISIS via train and equip methods and airstrikes.

The coalition says they’ve conducted more than 300 airstrikes around Raqqa in the past month.

Raqqa, situated along the Euphrates river in the mostly barren Easter Syria has been ISIS’ main Syrian stronghold since 2014.

The US, Inherent Resolve coalition partners, and local forces have been involved in a massive air and ground campaign to rid the country of the terrorist group while simultaneously carrying out similar operations in neighboring Iraq.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
ISW

A spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Articles

World’s most-advanced aircraft carrier one step closer to completion

The massive USS Gerald R. Ford will head out to sea for builders’ trials next month in a critical test before the US Navy intends to commission the ship later this year, USNI News reports.


The Ford will improve on the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers with a rearranged flight deck, improved launching and landing systems, and a nuclear power plant with outsized capabilities that can integrate future technologies such as railguns and lasers.

Also read: The F-35 may be ready for prime time

The Ford’s commissioning will bring the count of full-sized carriers to a whopping 11 for the United States — more than the rest of the world combined.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
Tugboats maneuver the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) into the James River. | US Navy

The ship will sail out for a test of its most basic functions like navigation and communications, as well as a test of its nuclear-powered propulsion plant.

Its most advanced features, like its electromagnetic catapults for launching bomb- and fuel-laden jets from the deck, will not undergo testing.

This badass chair allows paralyzed vets to ski
Newport News Shipbuilding floods Dry Dock 12 to float the first in class aircraft carrier, Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua J. Wahl

The Ford, like almost any large first-in-class defense project, has encountered substantial setbacks and challenges as the Navy and contractors attempt to bring next-generation capabilities to the US’s aircraft carriers. Notably, the Navy has expressed doubts about the advanced arresting gear, which helps speeding planes land quickly and gently, saying it may scrap the program in favor of the older system used on Nimitz-class carriers.

But the Navy is determined to commission the Ford sometime this year, as calls for increasing the Navy’s size and strength come from the Trump administration and outside assessments.

MIGHTY MOVIES

US Navy Super Hornets ‘buzz the tower’ during filming for ‘Top Gun’

Two F/A-18 Super Hornets tore past an air traffic control tower at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada June 2109 during filming for the “Top Gun: Maverick,” a sequel to the classic 1980s fighter jet flick.

Kyle Fleming, who captured the spectacular flyby on video, told The Aviationist that it was necessary to recreate the iconic “buzz the tower” scene from the first “Top Gun” film.


Here’s the scene from the 1986 film starring Tom Cruise, who will reappear in the sequel.

Top Gun: ‘It’s Time to Buzz the Tower’

www.youtube.com

A public affairs spokesman for NAS Fallon confirmed to Business Insider that Paramount Pictures was out at the air base from June 10 through June 28, 2019, filming air operations using both in-jet and external cameras.

The spokesman explained that while he say what they were doing, he couldn’t detail how the footage would be used in the film. Paramount Pictures media relations division could not be reached for comment.

Production of the new film started in 2018.

The sequel scheduled for release summer 2020 will see Cruise again play the role of hotshot pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, now a Navy captain who is expected to be mentoring a new class of pilots, including the son of his deceased naval flight officer Lt. j.g. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Air Force workhorse that proves a C-130 can do anything

The EC-130H Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system with a primary mission to disrupt enemy command and control infrastructures limiting adversary coordination and force management.

The aircraft is a heavily modified variant C-130 Hercules, one of the most important and longest flying airframes in Air Force history.

From the outside the aircraft may look like a normal Hercules, but internally the advanced electronic warfare and electronic attack computer systems enables the Air Force to locate, listen and jam enemy communications.


The effect of the non-kinetic denial is not permanent, but it provides the desired result of blocking the enemy across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The effectiveness of the Compass Call is in creating a fog of war for enemy fighters making them easier targets for U.S. ground forces.

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Frank Von Heiland, 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron co-pilot, checks his oxygen mask on an EC-130H Compass Call aircraft at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan Sept. 12, 2014.
(Photo by Evelyn Chavez)

The Air Force is the only operator of the EC-130H and the Compass Call has been providing air space superiority over its 35-year operational life. The aircraft has demonstrated a powerful effect on enemy command and control networks in multiple military operations including Kosovo, Haiti, Panama, Libya, Iraq, Serbia, and Afghanistan.

Development and design

The EC-130H had its first flight in 1981, was delivered to the Air Force in 1982 and reached initial operating capability in 1983.

The aircraft’s EC identifier stands for special electronic installation transport.

A weapon of the Cold War it was original designed to provide suppression of enemy air defenses and spent its early years monitoring integrated air defense systems under the Warsaw Pact.

The aircraft is powered by four turboprop engines and has a flight speed of 300 mph and a flight range of nearly 2,300 miles.

The airborne tactical weapon system has been modified through the years with each update providing stronger avionics systems, radars and a more powerful digital signal analysis computers and subsystems.

The EC-130H aircraft carries a combat crew of 13 people. Four members are responsible for aircraft flight and navigation, while nine members operate and employ the EA mission equipment permanently integrated in the cargo/mission compartment.

The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft.

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Tech. Sgt. Shane Kerns, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron expediter, walks the wing of an EC-130 Compass Call aircraft while conducting a pre-flight check at an air base in Southwest Asia.
(Photo by Raheem Moore)

The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology.

Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.

Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability,” providing improved aircraft performance and survivability.

A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capabilities.

In 2017 the Air Force announced plans for a Compass Call replacement platform based off the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft. The new platform has been designated EC-X.

Operation and deployment

All 14 Compass Call aircraft are assigned to Air Combat Command. The 55th Electronic Combat Group consisting of two operational squadrons, the 41st and the 43rd Electronic Combat Squadron operates the EC-130H. The 55th ECG is a tenant unit of the 355 Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, which reports to the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.

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U.S. Air Force Airmen repair engine one of an EC-130H Compass Call during Exercise BUSHWACKER on the flightline at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 26, 2014.
(Photo by Chris Massey)

The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict.

Did you know

  • Since it’s introduction in 1954 there have been 54 modified variants of the C-130
  • The EC-130H was introduced in 1983 and began providing airborne attack capabilities in 1989 supporting U.S. Army Rangers during Operation Just Cause in Panama.
  • The EC-130H is one of four main U.S. electronic warfare aircraft, along with the EA-18G Growler, EA-6B Prowler and the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon, which form the Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) triad.

EC-130H Compass Call fact sheet:

General characteristics

Primary function: electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defenses and offensive counter information

Builder:

Lockheed

Power plant:

Four Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines

Thrust:

4,910 prop shaft horsepower

Wingspan:

132 feet, 7 inches (40.4 meters)

Length:

97 feet, 9 inches (29.8 meters)

Height:

38 feet, 3 inches (11.4 meters)

Speed:

300 mph (Mach .4)

Range:

2,295 miles

Ceiling:

25,000 feet (7,576 meters)

Maximum takeoff weight:

155,000 pounds (69,750 kilograms)

Armament:

non-kinetic energy waveforms

Crew:

13 (two pilots, navigator, flight engineer, two electronic warfare officers, mission crew supervisor, four cryptologic linguists, acquisition operator and an airborne maintenance technician)

Initial operation capability:

1983

Unit cost:

$165 million

Inventory:

Active force, 14

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

Articles

Why US battleships should stay right where they are — in mothballs

There’s a mystique to battleships. Whenever inside-the-Beltway dwellers debate how to bulk up the US Navy fleet, odds are sentimentalists will clamor to return the Iowa-class dreadnoughts to service. Nor is the idea of bringing back grizzled World War II veterans as zany as it sounds.


We aren’t talking equipping the 1914-vintage USS Texas with superweapons to blast the Soviet Navy, or resurrecting the sunken Imperial Japanese Navy super-battleship Yamato for duty in outer space, or keeping USS Missouri battleworthy in case aliens menace the Hawaiian Islands. Such proposals are not mere whimsy.

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Built to duel Japan in World War II, in fact, battleships were recommissioned for the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. The last returned to action in 1988. The Iowa class sat in mothballs for about three decades after Korea (except for USS New Jersey, which returned to duty briefly during the Vietnam War). That’s about how long the battlewagons have been in retirement since the Cold War. History thus seems to indicate they could stage yet another comeback. This far removed from their past lives, though, it’s doubtful in the extreme that the operational return on investment would repay the cost, effort, and human capital necessary to bring them back to life.

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Numbers deceive. It cost the US Navy $1.7 billion in 1988 dollars to put four battlewagons back in service during the Reagan naval buildup. That comes to about $878 million per hull in 2017 dollars. This figure implies the navy could refurbish two ships bristling with firepower for the price of one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. One copy of the latest-model Burke will set the taxpayers back $1.9 billion according to Congressional Budget Office figures. Two for the price of one: a low, low price! Or, better yet, the Navy could get two battlewagons for the price of three littoral combat ships—the modern equivalent of gunboats. Sounds like a good deal all around.

But colossal practical difficulties would work against reactivating the dreadnoughts at low cost, despite these superficially plausible figures. First of all, the vessels no longer belong to the US Navy. They’re museums. New Jersey and Missouri were struck from the Navy list during the 1990s. Engineers preserved Iowa and Wisconsin in “reactivation” status for quite some time, meaning they hypothetically could return to duty, but they, too, were struck from the rolls, in 2006. Sure, the US government could probably get them back during a national emergency, but resolving legal complications would consume time and money in peacetime.

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USS Iowa (BB-61) fires a full broadside of her nine 16″/50 and six 5″/38 guns during a target exercise near Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Photo from DoD.

Second, chronological age matters. A standard talking point among battleship enthusiasts holds that the Iowas resemble a little old lady’s car, an aged auto with little mileage on the odometer. A used-car salesman would laud its longevity, assuring would-be buyers they could put lots more miles on it. This, too, makes intuitive sense. My old ship, USS Wisconsin, amassed just fourteen years of steaming time despite deploying for World War II, Korea, and Desert Storm. At a time when the US Navy hopes to wring fifty years of life out of aircraft carriers and forty out of cruisers and destroyers, refitted battleships could seemingly serve for decades to come.

And it is true: stout battleship hulls could doubtless withstand the rigors of sea service. But what about their internals? Mechanical age tells only part of the story. Had the Iowa class remained in continuous service, with regular upkeep and overhauls, they probably could have steamed around for decades. After all, the World War II flattop USS Lexington served until 1991, the same year the Iowas retired. But they didn’t get that treatment during the decades they spent slumbering. As a consequence, battleships were already hard ships to maintain a quarter-century ago. Sailors had to scavenge spares from still older battleships. Machinists, welders, and shipfitters were constantly on the go fabricating replacements for worn-out parts dating from the 1930s or 1940s.

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This problem would be still worse another quarter-century on, and a decade-plus after the navy stopped preserving the vessels and their innards. Managing that problem would be far more expensive. An old joke among yachtsmen holds that a boat is a hole in the water into which the owner dumps money. A battleship would represent a far bigger hole in the water, devouring taxpayer dollars in bulk. Even if the US Navy could reactivate the Iowas for a pittance, the cost of operating and maintaining them could prove prohibitive. That’s why they were shut down in the 1990s, and time has done nothing to ease that remorseless logic.

Third, what about the big guns the Iowa class sports—naval rifles able to fling projectiles weighing the same as a VW Bug over twenty miles? These are the battleships’ signature weapon, and there is no counterpart to them in today’s fleet. Massive firepower might seem to justify the expense of recommissioning and maintaining the ships. But gun barrels wear out after being fired enough times. No one has manufactured replacement barrels for 16-inch, 50-caliber guns in decades, and the inventory of spares has evidently been scrapped or donated to museums. That shortage would cap the battleships’ combat usefulness.

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Nor, evidently, is there any safe ammunition for battleship big guns to fire. We used 1950s-vintage 16-inch rounds and powder during the 1980s and 1990s. Any such rounds still in existence are now over sixty years old, while the US Navy is apparently looking to demilitarize and dispose of them. Gearing up to produce barrels and ammunition in small batches would represent a non-starter for defense firms. The navy recently canceled the destroyer USS Zumwalt‘s advanced gun rounds because costs spiraled above $800,000 apiece. That was a function of ordering few munitions for what is just a three-ship class. Ammunition was simply mot affordable. Modernized Iowas would find themselves in the same predicament, if not more so.

And lastly, it’s unclear where the US Navy would find the human expertise to operate 16-inch gun turrets or the M-type Babcock & Wilcox boilers that propel and power battleships. No one has trained on these systems since 1991, meaning experts in using and maintaining them have, ahem, aged and grown rusty at their profession. Heck, steam engineers are in short supply, full stop, as the Navy turns to electric drive, gas turbines, and diesel engines to propel its ships. Older amphibious helicopter docks are steam-powered, but even this contingent is getting a gradual divorce from steam as newer LHDs driven by gas turbines join the fleet while their steam-propelled forebears approach decommissioning.

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Steam isn’t dead, then, but it is a technology of the past—just like 16-inch guns. Technicians are few and dwindling in numbers while battleship crews would demand them in large numbers. I rank among the youngest mariners to have operated battleship guns and propulsion-plant machinery in yesteryear, and trust me, folks: you don’t want the US Navy conscripting me to regain my proficiency in engineering and weapons after twenty-six years away from it, let alone training youngsters to operate elderly hardware themselves. In short, it’s as tough to regenerate human capital as it is to rejuvenate the material dimension after a long lapse. The human factor—all by itself—could constitute a showstopper for battleship reactivation.

Battleships still have much to contribute to fleet design, just not as active surface combatants. Alfred Thayer Mahan describes a capital ship—the core of any battle fleet—as a vessel able to dish out and absorb punishment against a peer navy. While surface combatants pack plenty of offensive punch nowadays, the innate capacity to take a punch is something that has been lost in today’s lightly armored warships. Naval architects could do worse than study the battleships’ history and design philosophy, rediscovering what it means to construct a true capital ship. The US Navy would be better off for their inquiry.

Let’s learn what we can from the past—but leave battleship reactivation to science fiction.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia’s new missile ships aren’t really all that powerful

A new ballistic missile submarine wasn’t the only new vessel the Russian Navy got this November.


The new Karakurt-class corvette — dubbed “Typhoon” — was launched at the Pella shipyard in St. Petersburg Nov. 24, after a short ceremony.

The Typhoon, only the second Karakurt-class corvette made so far, is the latest example of the Russian Navy’s increased reliance on small and heavily armed ships that can carry a massive payload of missiles. Russia plans to make 18 Karakurt-class corvettes in total.

The small vessels, comparable to the US Navy’s littoral combat ships, and known in the naval world as corvettes, were originally designed for use in the littoral zone, the area of water close to the shore. As such, the corvettes are much smaller than the frigates and destroyers that are the traditional focus of navies around the world.

Russia, however, has always had difficulty competing with its rivals in this regard, and now seems to have turned to smaller vessels. Russia used its corvettes for missile strikes on targets deep inside Syria, proving that corvettes are just as capable and threatening as their bigger naval brethren.

What makes the Karakurt-class so potentially dangerous is the fact that it is a much more improved version of Russia’s previous corvettes.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrWFu0SL25o

 

The Karakurt-class corvettes have a displacement of only 800 tons (compared to over 900 for Russia’s Buyan-M class), can operate in the deep sea for fifteen days, has an operational range of 2,500 nautical miles, and has stealth technology that will make it even harder for potential enemies to target, given their small size.

But it’s the Karakurt-class’ armament that makes the threat so apparent. It is equipped with eight vertical launching systems that can carry either supersonic P-800 Oniks anti-ship missiles or Kalibr-NK cruise missiles.

The Kalibr-NK missile has a range of 2,500 kilometers (approximately 1,553 miles), while the p-800 Oniks has a range of 500 kilometers (approximately 310 miles). The Kalibr-NK was the missile used against ISIS targets deep inside Syria.

The ship also has an AK-176MA 76.2mm automatic gun in the front, capable of firing 150 rounds per minute, and can engage targets as far away as 15km.

Read Also: This is why the Russian Navy is such a basket case

In terms of anti-air defenses, the Karakurt is equipped with a naval version of Russia’s Pantsir-S1, called the Pantsir-M. It is a combined surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery system that can shoot down targets up to 20km away.

In essence, the Russians seem to have created a small ship that is as fast as a destroyer and just as capable, but smaller.

However, the Karakurt-class may not be the thing that keeps NATO commanders awake at night.

Michael Kofman, a research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses specializing in Russian military affairs, told Business Insider that although the corvette is very capable, its threat level “must be placed in perspective.”

“Russia and NATO are, in some respects, on the same team when it comes to over-blowing Russian military capabilities and engaging in a bit of threat inflationism,” Kofman said in an email.

“It is true the corvettes can hold most of Europe at risk with cruise missiles,” Kofman said. “But conventional cruise missiles don’t do all that much and it would take quite a few corvettes to equal the strike power of even a single US destroyer.”

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The guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) arrives at its new homeport in San Diego. Zumwalt, the Navy’s most technologically advanced surface ship, will now begin installation of combat systems, testing and evaluation, and operation integration with the fleet. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Emiline L. M. Senn)

Kofman also notes that despite its stealth technology and increased seafaring capabilities, it still has lower endurance and survivability in comparison to other vessels, making the Karakurt not cost-effective for any type of ground-attack role.

Rather, the corvette is most likely to excel in an anti-ship role. “It is more than likely intended to venture out and fire salvos at enemy surface action groups or carrier strike groups should they get near Russian maritime approaches,” Kofman said.

However, he said that despite this, the Karakurt-class corvette is a good investment for Russia, saying that “it is an effective platform for fielding long-range, anti-ship weapons, and thus deterring in conflict NATO or US forces.”

Articles

This is how the military is integrating women

Gender integration is vital for the success of women in the military, the commander of US Southern Command said July 13 at the closing ceremony of the second Women in Military and Security Conference held in Guatemala City, Guatemala.


Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd made opening and closing remarks at WIMCON 17, a two-day conference on gender perspectives in force development and military operations co-hosted this year by the Southcom commander and the Guatemalan armed forces.

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Photo courtesy of Southcom

In attendance were US Ambassador to Guatemala Todd D. Robinson, Guatemala Chief of Defense Maj. Gen. Juan Perez, and regional leaders.

The first WIMCOM was held last year in Trinidad and Tobago.

Over the past two days, Tidd said, “we’ve shared insights and observations and learned from one another’s experiences. We’ve celebrated our progress and identified the obstacles that still remain in our paths. And we’ve reinforced … a commitment to equality, a commitment to equity, a commitment to opportunity.”

The admiral said the Western Hemisphere offers a potential model for regional cooperation on gender integration and advancing gender perspectives.

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U.S. Marines PFC. Cristina Fuentes Montenegro (Center Left) and PFC. Julia R. Carroll (Center Right) of Delta Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry – East (SOI-E), stand at parade rest during their graduation ceremony from SOI-E aboard Camp Geiger, N.C., Nov. 21, 2013. (U. S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl. Nicholas J. Trager, Combat Camera, SOI-E/Released)

“This week we’ve seen how much we have to share with one another, and I know this is only the beginning of setting the standard for the rest of the world,” Tidd added.

Community of Interest

The Southcom commander proposed two ideas for the group going forward, the first being to commit to establishing a formal community of interest to further the topic.

“Southcom will happily take on the task to find the best tool for continuing this vitally important conversation,” he said, “and we will use the contact information you provide today to share this forum once we create it.”

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Logo for the Women in Military and Security Conference held July 10-13 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Gender advisors — subject matter experts attending the conference — are ideal members, Tidd added, but other personnel also will add value and over the next year the community can work on issues identified at WIMCOM 2017 as focus areas for improvement.

Second, the admiral said, is a need to collect better data to document progress.

“We have a term in English called baselining — determining a minimum starting point to use for comparisons,” he explained. “There’s clearly a lot more work to be done on [the kinds of] data we need to gather and share, but we’ve all heard this week about the importance of using data to further this message.”

Regional Observatory

Southcom, he said, offered to serve as a regional observatory to help keep track of integration progress by country, regional advances and obstacles to advancement.

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Female soldiers negotiate obstacles during the U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s cultural support program which prepares all-female Soldier teams to serve as enablers supporting Army special operations combat forces in and around secured objective areas. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Klika)

Tidd added, “If you will get us the data and research, we’ll help collate it and make it available for our collective use.”

Other highlights from the meeting included the idea that equality for women in the military requires male acceptance and collaboration; that qualification and advancement for everyone should be based on capability, competency and character; and that fair standards should be set and all should be required to meet them.

The admiral also asked for ideas or recommendations for the focus of WIMCOM 2018.

“I sincerely hope that you’ll seek to replicate the face-to-face, candid conversations we sought to foster in this conference,” the admiral said. “Hopefully this is just the beginning, not the end, of those types of conversations.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Taliban went from international pariah to U.S. peace partner in Afghanistan

In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.


It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.

Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.

Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”

Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.

Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.

Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.

But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.

The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.

Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.

The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.

“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”

The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.

During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.

“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Radicalized In Pakistan

The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.

The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.

The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.

Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.

The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.

War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.

But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.

The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.

Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.

‘We Were All Scared’

Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.

Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.

“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”

Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.

“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”

During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.

U.S.-Led Invasion

The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.

By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.

By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.

The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.

Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.

Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.

Negotiating An End To War

In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.

But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.

For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.

Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.

“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.

“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”

Road Map For Afghanistan

The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.

More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.

But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.

“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.

But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.

Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.

There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.

The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.

The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.

“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”

Red Lines

The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.

Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.

But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.

Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.

Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.

“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”

Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.

“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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