As the partial federal government shutdown enters its fourth week, another group is about to get hit in the pocketbook: retirees of the Coast Guard.
The 50,000 annuitants on the Coast Guard’s rolls will see their first missed check Feb. 1, 2019, if a budget agreement is not reached or another arrangement made, a service spokesman confirmed to Military.com.
“In order for the Coast Guard to pay its active-duty, reserve, civilian, and retired members, the service will require an FY19 appropriation, a continuing resolution, or passage of an alternative measure,” Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride said in a statement.
The partial shutdown, which began Dec. 22, 2018, was originally expected to affect end-of-year paychecks for all members of the Coast Guard.
But active-duty service members saw a last-minute save due to “extensive research and legal analysis,” Coast Guard officials announced Dec. 28, 2018. A determination was made that the service had the authority to dole out the remainder of pay and allowances for the month, despite the lapse in appropriations.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
The Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, worked hard to make sure that those on the retired rolls could continue to receive their paychecks as long as possible.
“In spite of the government shutdown, the U.S. Coast Guard has identified essential personnel who shall continue to report to work; they will be responsible for ensuring the retiree and annuitant payroll for USCG, [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and [Public Health Service] is run and distributed on time,” states a message posted to the Coast Guard pay and personnel center Dec. 26, 2018. “As such, you may expect timely delivery of your pay on 31 December, 2018.”
But without a new injection of funds, the next monthly pay installment is halted.
Legislation introduced in the House and Senate this month would provide pay for active-duty Coast Guardsmen as well as contractors and civilian workers out of unappropriated U.S. Treasury funds in the event of a continued shutdown. It would also provide pay for any furloughed civilian workers and “such sums [as] are necessary to provide for Coast Guard retired pay.”
The legislation still awaits passage, however.
In the Senate, the Pay Our Coast Guard Act, introduced Jan. 4, 2019, was assigned to the Senate Legislative Calendar after reading; in the House, the Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act of 2019 was introduced Jan. 9, 2019, and assigned to the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where it remains.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
For the past two months, Venezuela has been locked in a dramatic political crisis, which has seen countries around the world disavow its president and back an upstart politician in his bid to depose him.
In less than two months, Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó went from being a little-known lawmaker to the opposition leader posing one of the greatest threats to President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist rule in recent years.
But the tensions between the socialist government and the opposition party dates back more than a decade, spanning over accusations of vote rigging, violent protests, and a humanitarian crisis.
Here are the events that culminated in the current crisis.
• Socialist leader Hugo Chavez died in 2013, when his vice president Nicolas Maduro stepped in to take over. Chavez had been in charge for 14 years.
• Soon after, shortages and crime ravaged the country. Anti-Maduro mass protests broke out, and 43 people died.
• Leopoldo Lopez, the most prominent opposition leader, was charged for fomenting unrest in the 2014 protests. He spent three years in prison and is now under house arrest.
Leopoldo Lopez speaking to a crowd.
• In December 2015, the opposition party won a majority of seats in the National Assembly for the first time since Chavez took power in 1999.
• As oil prices continued plummeting, the oil-dependent economy tanked, and the government could not afford to import many foods. Maduro declared a state of “economic emergency” in January 2016.
• Maduro’s government faced significant protests in 2017 as it created the Constituent Assembly, which took over most important legislative functions. The Supreme Court also tried taking over the functions of the opposition-led National Assembly, but failed.
• On Jan. 5, 2019, the little-known lawmaker Juan Guaidó was appointed the head of the National Assembly, shorn of most of its power.
• Just five days later, Maduro started a second presidential term. His election win was dogged by accusations of vote-rigging. Domestic opposition parties, the US, and 13 other countries in the Americas do not recognize the result.
Juan Guaidó speaking at a demonstration.
• Tens of thousands of people around the country staged protests saying that Maduro’s presidency was unconstitutional and fraudulent, and told him to resign. They were met with pro-government rallies.
• On Jan. 23, 2019, Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim president, on the basis that there is no legitimate president of Venezuela, and called for free elections.
• With opposition leader Lopez still under house arrest, Guaidó emerged as the new face of the anti-Maduro movement.
• The US, Canada, and most Latin American nations immediately recognized Guaidó as interim president. Maduro severed diplomatic ties with the US in response.
• Guaidó began to urge soldiers, especially high-ranking ones, to join the opposition. The military is the backbone of Maduro’s power, with generals holding important government positions. The national guard is frequently deployed against protesters.
• In an op-ed for The New York Times, Guaidó offered amnesty to everyone opposing Maduro’s government, and members of the armed forces who haven’t committed crimes against humanity. Many members of Venezuela’s military — a solid power base for Maduro — are implicated in human rights abuses and drug trafficking, according to The Associated Press.
• Venezuela’s Supreme Court imposed a travel ban for Guaidó and froze his assets on Jan. 30, 2019, saying he is being investigated for “usurping” power.
Maikel Moreno, the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice.
(Maikel Moreno Twitter via TSJ Noticias)
• Some of Europe’s most important nations, such as Germany, France, Britain, and Spain, backed Guaidó on Feb. 4, 2019.
• On Feb. 22, 2019, Guaidó defied his travel ban. He left Venezuela to attend the “Venezuela Live Aid” concert in Colombia, organized by British billionaire Richard Branson.
• The following weekend, opposition supporters tried to bring in US-backed humanitarian aid over the Colombian and Brazilian borders, which the government closed. The armed forces barred their entry, killing two and injuring more than 300. The Venezuelan government shut the country’s bridge to Brazil on Feb. 21, 2019, and to Colombia on Feb. 23, 2019.
• International leaders rejected the possibility of sending their militaries into Venezuela to take over control. Guaidó had tweeted that “all options are open” after Maduro barred US-backed aid to enter.
• Guaidó traveled around South America to meet world leaders who back him, including US Vice President Mike Pence and the presidents of Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador.
Guaidó, Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez, and US Vice President Mike Pence meet in Colombia.
(Official White House Photo by D. Myles)
• Guaidó announced March 4, 2019, as his definitive return date to Venezuela, risking arrest and imprisonment for going against the travel ban.
Guaidó announces his return on a livestream.
(Juan Guaido’s Periscope)
• Guaidó arrived in Venezuela and passed through immigration on March 4, 2019, he said on Twitter. He was met by European diplomats.
• Thousands of supporters welcomed him at a rally where he called for a new round of protests on March 9, 2019.
• On March 5, 2019, Guaidó met with unions to win their support, he tweeted. He is planning to organize a public sector strike, but the details have yet to be confirmed. On the same day, Maduro announced an “anti-imperialist” march to rival Guaidó’s
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
People enlist in the military for a number of reasons, ranging from anywhere between the insane, “I love shooting stuff” to the more pragmatic, “I need the college money.” Many of us also join because it’s the right thing to do — at least, in our minds. Many who joined the U.S. military in the days following the September 11th attacks are looking down the barrel at their 20-year anniversary. Others joined because the rise of ISIS gave a clear picture of what evil looks like in this world.
Some needed a more direct route to the fight against ISIS. So, they traveled through Iraq or elsewhere to get to Syria, where they could join the Kurdish YPG, the People’s Protection Units, and the YPJ, the Women’s Protection Units, to form the front line against ISIS onslaught in Syria.
You can now actually watch the struggle to liberate the people of Iraq and Syria from the grips of the Islamic State. Hunting ISIS is on History every week on Tuesday at 11pm and it is a no-holds-barred look at the Westerners with the Kurds. Watch the pain and horror of those who suffer under ISIS as well as the elation of civilians and children as their homes are liberated.
The series follows a lot of vets around, but features primarily PJ, a Marine Corps veteran, and his team of Western volunteers as well as Pete, from New Jersey, who leads a team of medics supporting Peshmerga fighters in Iraq.
The lives of American combat veterans fighting ISIS in Syria was documented by camera crews who followed them through checkpoints and training and into their front-line lives in Syria. They came from all over America and all walks of life. Some picked up where they left off as veterans of the Iraq War and others simply wanted to stop the reign of terror, theft, rape, extortion, and violence that comes with ISIS occupation.
But they’re risking a whole lot more than their lives — they could be risking their own freedom.
United States law says anyone who “enlists or enters himself, or hires or retains another to enlist or enter himself, or to go beyond the jurisdiction of the United States with intent to be enlisted or entered in the service of any foreign prince, state, colony, district, or people as a soldier or as a marine or seaman … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
But that all depends on the interpretation. In the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Wiborg v. United States, the Court held that it was only illegal if the American was recruited into a foreign service. In the case of Wiborg, Americans armed themselves and made their way to Cuba to train and assist Cuban rebels fighting Spain while the U.S. was at peace with Spain.
The Kurds don’t actively recruit Western fighters, but they also don’t have a state. The Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic minority without a country of their own. Before the ISIS war, there were some 23 million Kurds in the region. But that all depends on how the Kurdish armed forces act on their own. The Peshmerga in Iraq is a pro-Western fighting force. But the Kurdish YPG in Syria – home of the International Brigades – is considered a terrorist organization by America’s NATO ally, Turkey.
You may remember the name John Walker Lindh, an American captured fighting with the Taliban in the days after 9/11. One of the key components to his defense was that he was in the armed forces of another state – the Taliban were the recognized government in Afghanistan – and that he personally didn’t attempt to join al-Qaeda or attack the United States.
The exact number of Americans and other western volunteers fighting ISIS isn’t known for sure, but the Kurds know most of them are military veterans. Though considered terrorists by Turkey, the United States considers all Kurdish forces to be an essential part of the fight against ISIS.
The one thing that is clear is that they can expect no direct help from U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria. The military and State Department are not obligated to aid volunteers in the two countries (American volunteers have, in fact, been turned away by the U.S. military). If they were caught at the checkpoints on their way back, they would go straight to a local jail.
Ralph Roberts didn’t leave the Navy with the dream of starting the world’s biggest telecommunications provider. When he left the service, television was an emerging technology and radio still dominated the airwaves. The company he would soon found would go on to be America’s largest cable provider at one point – and one of the biggest supporters of military veterans.
The story of Ralph Roberts isn’t a stereotypical rags-to-riches tale set in early 20th Century America. The young Roberts was the son of a wealthy family of immigrants who owned a number of pharmacies in the New York City area. When he was still a boy, his father died of a heart attack and, having lost their fortune, they went to live in Philadelphia. His new stepfather was also a business owner, running a successful cigar company. This early exposure to the freedom of running a self-owned business no doubt influenced Ralph’s decision to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
It was 1941 when Roberts graduated. Later that year, the United States would be pulled into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Roberts, like many wealthy businessmen, could have probably avoided service with a draft deferment or through government connections. He didn’t. Instead, he opted to join the Navy, where he served for the duration of the war at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Roberts married his wife Suzanne during his first year in the Navy.
After the war, Roberts became a “serial entrepreneur.” He started by selling a series of golf clubs, most notably a putter with which he persuaded legendary Hollywood personality Bob Hope to pose with, asking him to do a veteran a favor. He marketed it as the “Bob Hope Putter.” He then went to work in subscription sales for the Muzak company, which made… muzak, music for entertainment productions that could be easily licensed and replicated. Eventually he started working for the Pioneer Suspender Company, a business which he eventually owned. When beltless polyester pant hit the market in the early 1960s, Roberts worried it was the death knell for his business, so he began to look elsewhere.
That’s when he discovered a small cable television provider in Tupelo, Miss. that serviced some 1,200 people. Back in the early days of television, rural customers struggled to get clear reception from over-the-air broadcasters like NBC, CBS, and ABC. The focus was in providing services to major metropolitan areas. In those days, cable wasn’t a package of new and diverse channels, it was just a way to get clear reception using cable instead of a broadcast antenna.
Roberts sold his suspenders company and and bought American Cable Systems. He soon redubbed it Comcast.
Comcast would eventually become the country’s largest cable provider, a conglomerate that would acquire other, smaller cable companies and internet service providers, all with Ralph J. Roberts in his trademark bowtie at the helm. Though Roberts died in 2015, the company still regards serving veterans as a core corporate responsibility, supporting National Guard and reserve troops when they’re activated, providing low or no-cost internet services and computers to low-income veterans, pledging to hire 21,000 veterans by 2021, and funding veteran-related initiatives through partner organizations.
One such organization is the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day event that brings together important and emerging entrepreneurs, influencers, creatives, executives, and leaders who are connected to the military community. The annual conference focuses on delivering actionable insights from the stories of others and fostering an environment where people of diverse backgrounds and skill sets are motivated to forge legitimate relationships through conversation that lead to powerful collaborations.
On Thursday, U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors intercepted a pair of Russian military planes as they entered into America’s Alaska air defense identification zone (ADIZ), just days after conducting similar intercepts of Russian bombers in the same region. This time, the Russian aircraft, which were both reportedly IL-38 maritime patrol planes, had come within 50 miles of the Alaskan island of Unimak and then proceeded to spend a full four hours in the area.
A pair of F-22s, America’s most capable air superiority fighters, intercepted the Russian planes and escorted them out of the area. Thursday’s intercept marks the fifth time American fighters had to shoo Russian bombers and other aircraft away from U.S. Air Space this month, and the ninth time this year. A number of those intercepts included Russia’s Tu-95 long range, nuclear capable, heavy payload bombers, as well as Su-35 fighter escorts.
Russian Su-35 (WikiMedia Commons)
The Su-35 is a fourth-generation fighter, meaning it lacks stealth capabilities, but is still regarded as among the most capable dogfighting platforms on the planet. The Su-35’s powerful twin engines are capable of propelling the fighter to a top speed of Mach 2.25, far faster than an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and each comes equipped with thrust vectoring nozzles that allow the aircraft to perform incredible acrobatics that most other fourth and even fifth generation fighters simply can’t.
That is to say that Russia is clearly taking these incursions into America’s backyard seriously, sending some of their most capable platforms on these missions.
America’s F-22 Raptor, however, also comes equipped with twin, thrust vectoring power plants, which in conjunction with its stealth capabilities, likely makes the F-22 the most fearsome air superiority fighter on the planet.
Are Russian bomber intercepts common for the U.S. or its allies?
The short answer is yes. The United States and Russia have a long history of staring matches in the Alaskan ADIZ, but many other nations, particularly members of NATO, often mount their own intercept flights as Russian pilots encroach on their air space as well.
USAF F-22 Raptor intercepting a Russian Tu-95 bomber near Alaska earlier this month. (NORAD)
Russia regularly conducts long-distance bomber missions all over the world, sometimes prompting an intercept response from nations that feel threatened by their bomber presence. According to the BBC, Royal Air Force intercept fighters have ushered away Russian bombers and other aircraft encroaching on their airspace no fewer than ten times since the beginning of 2019.
What is Russia trying to accomplish?
Like many military operations, these flights are motivated by multiple internal and external factors.
Training and Preparation
The primary reason behind these long-range flights, particularly for heavy payload bombers, is simply training. In order to be able to execute these long range bombing missions in the event of real war, Russian pilots conduct training flights that closely resemble how actual combat operations would unfold.
It’s worth noting that the United States conducts similar long-range training flights with its own suite of heavy payload bombers, including the non-nuclear B-1B Lancer and the nuclear capable B-52 Stratofortress. Long duration missions can be dangerous and difficult even without an enemy shooting back at you — so it’s in the best interest of nations with long range bomber capabilities to regularly conduct long range flights.
Long range missions require a great deal of logistical planning as well, as bombers are often accompanied by fighters that don’t have the same fuel range as the massive planes they escort. That means not only coordinating with escort fighters from multiple installations, but also managing support from airborne refuelers and flights of Advanced Warning and Control (AWAC) planes. Executing such a complex operation takes practice, no matter the nation conducting them.
An important part of Russia’s foreign policy is maintaining the threat they represent to diplomatic opponents (like the United States and its NATO allies). Deterrence is the ultimate goal of many military operations, and demonstrating the capability to launch long-range strikes against national opponents is meant to support that doctrine.
The concept of using a strong offense as a good defense dates back to when mankind first starting sharpening sticks to defend their territory, and is perhaps best demonstrated in a modern sense by America and Russia’s nuclear deterrent approach of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The premise behind MAD is simple: by maintaining a variety of nuclear attack capabilities, it makes stopping a nuclear response to an attack all but impossible. In other words, if the U.S. launch nuclear weapons at Russia, Russia would be guaranteed to fire their own back at the U.S., and vice versa.
The promise that one nuclear attack would immediately result in a large-scale nuclear war is seen as deterrent enough to keep nuclear powers from engaging in such a terrible form of warfare… at least thus far.
The third, and perhaps most nefarious, reason behind these flights that prompt intercepts from U.S. or allied fighters is as a means of desensitizing military personnel and even civilian populations to the presence of Russian bombers or other aircraft on our doorstep.
Because each of these flights prompts a flurry of headlines form major media outlets, many Americans have taken to dismissing these flights as so commonplace they hardly warrant the webspace. Likewise within the military, conducting frequent intercepts of Russian aircraft can leave some pilots and commanders increasingly complacent about the threat these aircraft potentially pose.
Imagine a bear breaking into your trash can every couple of months. The first few times, you’d be pretty scared and concerned. You might even set up cameras and invest in some bear-spray you can use to deter the bears from coming back. After a few months of sporadic bear visits, that fear turns to annoyance, as you begin to feel as though the bear isn’t a threat to you, but is an inconvenience in your life.
After years of dealing with the same bear digging through your trash, you would likely stop seeing the bear as a threat to your safety and adopt a more neutral approach to rolling your eyes and swearing under your breath every time it comes lumbering up to your old trash can.
The bear itself is no less dangerous to you than it was the first time you saw it and panicked, but your perception of the bear has shifted. Now, while you’re aware that it could hurt you, you’ve also developed an understanding that it probably won’t. You may even start to ignore it from time to time. That unintentional complacency brought about through familiarization will leave you less primed to react if the bear suddenly does pose a threat to your safety.
The slight delay in your response, brought about by complacency, could be all the bear needs to do some real damage. The same can be said about Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers.
How to combat complacency with a Russian “Bear” in your yard
Complacency isn’t just a concern when it comes to Russian aircraft or curious bears. Letting your guard down is a constant concern for service members on the front lines of any conflict.
Military protocol is one powerful tool in the fight against complacency, because it mandates a threat response and outlines its proper execution. In other words, the U.S. Military doesn’t have to make any specific decisions at the onset of identifying a potential threat. Instead, they execute the tasks on their threat response checklist to gather vital information, prepare a response, and in these cases, intercept the bombers.
USAF F-22 intercepts Russian bomber (NORAD)
In this way, America can turn the potential threat of complacency into a valuable training operation, wherein U.S. personnel act as though this Russian bomber flight could be a real attack. Of course, the risk of complacency remains, but that’s why continuous training and preparation is an essential part of American defense.
Whether it’s Russian bombers or a wayward Grizzly, if you treat every interaction like it could be dangerous, you’ll be better prepared in the event that it is.
Since at least 2015, the Air Force has been talking about mounting lasers on planes and jets, such as AC-130s and F-15s and F-16s. Lockheed Martin was recently awarded a $26.3 million contract to develop lasers for fighter jets.
It’s unclear what capabilities a sixth-generation fighter would have, but some have speculated it could have longer range, larger payloads, and an ability to switch between a manned and an unmanned aircraft. It might also be able to travel at hypersonic speeds, carry hypersonic weapons, and more.
Defense News reports that the Air Force hasn’t selected a developer for the F-X, also known as Next-Generation Air Dominance or Penetrating Counter Air, but hopes to put it into service around 2030.
The AFRL says it will “listen and learn from the scientific community, higher education and business professionals through a series of conversations and outreach events” at universities across the US this spring and summer.
“In order to defend America, we need your help to innovate smarter and faster,” the AFRL’s website says. “Our warfighters depend on us to keep the fight unfair and we will deliver.”
In addition to the F-X, the AFRL video features the Air Force’s Loyal Wingman initiative, in which a manned fighter jet commands and controls a swarm of attack and surveillance drones.
It also showcases the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Gremlins program and the Air Force’s Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, known as Champ, a conceptual missile designed to cause electronic blackouts.
Keep your dog on a leash. Make sure your pet doesn’t bark. Clean up after them.
These are the rules that have been enforced in 2018 in Jinan, eastern China, which launched its “Civilized Dog-Raising Credit Score System” system to enforce responsible dog ownership, according to Sixth Tone.
Most notably, China is setting up a mandatory country-wide ranking system system that will monitor the behavior of its enormous population, and rank them all based on their “social credit.” The vast program is due to be fully operational by 2020, but pilot programs have already taken off across several cities.
How it works
Jinan’s dog credit system is similar to the other ranking systems that are proliferating across the country, and aims to improve people’s behavior.
The program, launched January 2017, is compulsory and gives registered dog owners a license that begins with 12 points, according to Sixth Tone.
(Flickr photo by Lindsey B)
Points are deducted for things like walking the dog without a leash or collar, not cleaning up after them, and neighborhood disturbances. Good deeds, like volunteering at a local shelter, can increase owners’ points.
The sticks and carrots
The points system appears to have worked.
In August 2018, authorities said 80% of dog owners now use leashes, according to Sixth Tone, and complaints about dogs biting or barking were down by 65%, the state-run China Daily reported in August 2018.
Since the enforcement of the system, more than 1,400 dog owners have also been fined or lost points on their license.
Those who lost all their points had their dogs confiscated and were required to pass a test on regulations required for pet ownership.
A local dog owner told Sixth Tone that when registering her dog, the pet was vaccinated, implanted with a microchip and had its picture taken. The owner then received a tag with a QR code that police can use to look up the dog breed, age, immunization status, plus the owner’s personal information and number of license points.
The tag also allows for geolocation, and costs around plus annual tag inspections for an additional cost.
(Photo by Alan Levine)
The new system also allows police to confiscate dogs that are unregistered by the state. China’s state-owned Legal Daily newspaper praised the credit system and called for it to be implemented across the country.
Several cities have also adopted stricter pet ownership laws. In Qingdao, located along the coast in Shandong, citizens are only allowed to have one dog per person and ban certain dog breeds.
The Chinese government has also introduced widespread measures to monitor its citizens and encourage good behavior.
The country is working to combine its 170+ million security cameras with artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology to create a vast surveillance state and keep tabs on its 1.4 billion inhabitants.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Taliban says it has appointed five militants who spent more than a decade in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay to be members of its political office in Qatar, where they will take part in any future Afghanistan peace talks.
The five former Taliban commanders — Mohammad Fazl, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Noorullah Noori — were settled in Qatar following their release from the U.S. detention center in Cuba in 2014, but until now had not been directly involved in political activities, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Oct. 31, 2018.
The men were released as part of a prisoner exchange in return for former Taliban captive, U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
The Taliban announcement came amid gathering momentum for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
Qatar has emerged as a principal contact point between the Taliban and the U.S. government. In October 2018, Taliban officials met the recently appointed U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the militants have a political office that serves as a de facto embassy.
Recently appointed U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad.
They met there in 2018 with U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells.
Taliban officials said the five Taliban commanders were close to the militant group’s late founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and are also close to its current leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada.
One Taliban official told Reuters that as former Guantanamo prisoners, they had been subject to restrictions on their movements, but they are now free to travel and attend peace negotiations.
The appointments follow the release by Pakistan in October 2018 of senior Taliban figure Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
A Taliban official told AFP the group had requested the release of Baradar and several others at the meeting with Khalilzad.
There’s one thing everyone can agree with President Donald Trump on about the street gang MS-13: The group specializes in spectacular violence. Its members attack in groups, in the woods, at night, luring teens to their deaths with the promise of girls or weed. One Long Island boy told me he doesn’t go to parties anymore because he worries any invitation could be a trap. A victim’s father showed me a death certificate that said his son’s head had been bashed in, then lowered his voice and added that the boy’s bones had been marked by machete slashes, but he didn’t want the mother to know that. A teenager who has left the gang told me he considers himself dead already, and is just trying to make sure MS-13 doesn’t kill his family.
I’m spending the year reporting on MS-13 members and their associates. I’ve been combing through their text messages. I’m talking with the detectives building cases against killers not yet old enough to buy cigarettes. And I’ve been spending long evenings with the gang’s victims, who often start crying as soon as they start talking about the violence that has marred their lives. Everyone agrees the gang is bloodthirsty. Most of the other assertions I’ve heard from the Trump administration about MS-13 have almost no connection to what I’m seeing on the ground.
1. MS-13 Is Not Organizing to Foil Immigration Law
Trump often talks about how MS-13 has carried out a string of murders in the suburbs outside New York City. One of the first things I did when I started reporting was talk to the ex-girlfriend of the gang leader charged with ordering six of those killings in 2016 and 2017. The girl sat at a Panera Bread in a Long Island strip mall and told how he had kidnapped and raped her shortly after her 15th birthday, threatened her family, and forced her to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. As I talked to her, I imagined a man like the ones I had seen in news reports on MS-13 — chins jutted out, arms strong from lifting weights, and gothic tattoos of the letters M and S on their faces and chests. I was shocked when I eventually saw this gang leader in court; he was a baby-faced 19-year-old who blushed when girls waved to him from the gallery. The indictment against him laid out killings that were ordered in response to adolescent trash talking.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called MS-13 the most brutal of the gangs driving the drug trade, and promised to go after the group like the government went after mob boss Al Capone. Really, experts have found the gang has barely any role in the international drug trade. The Congressional Research Service said that it could be misleading to call MS-13 a transnational criminal organization at all, because it has no central leader or global ambitions. The gang is made up of sometimes competing cliques, often led by teenagers most interested in wielding power over other young people in their immediate circles.
On Long Island, a detective told me police officers call MS-13 members “mighty munchkins,” because they have often not yet hit their growth spurts and tend to commit their crimes in large groups. They meet at night because, while other criminal organizations have massive international revenue streams, these guys — even the leaders — have to work menial jobs and sometimes go to school during the day. Each clique has its own shot caller, and its own hyperlocal focus. On Long Island, the gang’s focus has often been on controlling the halls of a single high school.
2. MS-13 Is Not Posing as Fake Families at the Border
In justifying the policy of child separation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “The kids are being used as pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13.” The theory is that Central American gang leaders are showing up at the border falsely claiming to be the parents of children, and are also instructing unaccompanied minors to go to the U.S. and claim territory.
Actually, there have been fewer than 200 cases of false family claims this year — a fraction of 1 percent of the total number of families apprehended at the border — and there is no indication that any of those cases involved MS-13. Of the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have come to the U.S. since 2012, Border Patrol says only 56 were suspected of MS-13 ties.
The gang is trying to find new members, but there’s no need to step on the toes of the Mexican gangs that control human smuggling to do it. Long Island teenagers tell me that when they show up to school, gang members sit down next to them at lunch and ask them to join. Many— worn down by loneliness, boredom and the threat of violence if they try to refuse — accept the invitation.
People who study MS-13 agree that when young gang members travel from El Salvador to the U.S., they are driven by the same economic factors driving other Central American immigrants. Even the 19-year-old gang leader charged with six murders on Long Island told his ex-girlfriend he was not a member of the gang when he came to the U.S. from El Salvador. He said it was only later, in the New York suburbs, that he was recruited.
And some MS-13 members are born right here. The Suffolk County Police Department examined a sample of active MS-13 members and found that just a quarter had come to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. The natural conclusion: This is not a border issue. It’s a recruitment issue.
3. MS-13 Is Sticking Around, but It’s Not Growing
Trump talks about the gang as if it is suddenly taking over. “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S.,” he wrote in a tweet.
MS-13 has been stubbornly persistent, but it remains a boutique criminal organization, accounting for a tiny portion of 1.4 million gang members nationwide. Trump’s Justice Department says there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., the same number as 10 years ago. There’s also nothing new about MS-13 alarmism. Back in 2005, Newsweek ran a cover story about the group, citing its 10,000 members, under the headline, “The most dangerous gang in America.”
On Long Island, the murder people cite most often when talking about MS-13’s brutality is the killing of a two-year-old and his mother back in 2010. But the gang’s history goes back much further than that; the FBI set up a Long Island task force to crack down on the gang in 2003. And MS-13 never invaded the U.S at all. It was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and then mixed with California prison gang culture and was exported to El Salvador.
The group remains significantly smaller than the Crips, the Bloods and the Latin Kings; it’s also smaller than several gangs you’ve probably never heard of, like the Gangster Disciples in Chicago. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been labeled an extremist group for its anti-immigrant ideology, can’t come up with more than an average of 35 murders per year attributed to MS-13 — far fewerthan that Chicago gang you didn’t know existed.
MS-13 is not the largest, the most violent, or the fastest-growing gang, but it is the U.S. gang most strongly tied to Central America, which is where the majority of asylum-seeking teenagers come from. In that way, it’s the perfect focal point for Trump’s message of closed borders.
4. MS-13 Is Preying on a Specific Community, Not the Country at Large
When confronted in June 2018 with audio obtained by ProPublica of wailing children separated from their parents, White House Communications Adviser Mercedes Schlapp said, “What’s very heartbreaking is to watch Americans who have lost their children because of the MS-13 gang members.” But the vast majority of MS-13 victims are young immigrants, many of them undocumented.
I often think about this when I’m out reporting. In 2018 I have reached out to current gang members and added them as friends on Facebook. I’ve visited the homes of people on the local clique’s kill list, and heard their police-issued panic buttons hum under tables and behind doors. I’ve explored the wooded areas Long Island police call “the killing fields,” where bodies have been found. I feel safe doing this because MS-13 rarely goes after true outsiders — people who are not friends with any gang members or targets for recruitment. The closest I’ve found in Long Island to a totally random victim was a worker at a Central American deli who was hurt when a bullet passed through the head of a targeted victim.
The White House put out a statement in May 2018 that described recent murders carried out by “MS-13 animals.” Lost in the controversy over whether it was OK to call gang members animals was the fact that of the six identified victims, five were immigrants and the other was a child of immigrants.
5. Immigration Raids and Deportation Can Only Go So Far
Secretary Nielsen said in June 2018 that the presence of MS-13 in the U.S. is “the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws.” The loopholes she is talking about are actually specific protections contained in United Nations conventions on refugees and torture, which the U.S. ratified. The U.S. is obligated to allow Central American immigrants to stay in the country while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years. If the person pleading asylum is a minor, they are supposed to be released to relatives.
But if U.S. officials determine that a teenager is a gang member, they stay in custody. And immigration officials can also re-detain teenagers who are recruited into MS-13 once they get here. Dozens of Long Island teenagers were re-detained in 2017 on suspicion of gang ties. The problem is that it can be hard to tell who is in the gang and who is just adopting gang style. MS-13 has its own music and aesthetic, bound up in Central American pride. On Long Island, some immigrant teens use MS-13 markers as a fashion statement, the way American kids might once have worn the blue bandanas associated with the Crips because they liked Snoop Dogg.
I sat in on one hearing for a Long Island 17-year-old who had been detained for half a year after he wrote the El Salvador telephone code, “503,” in a notebook at school. He had spent some of that time in a detention center now under investigation for child abuse. At the hearing, an immigration judge ordered the teen released and openly mocked the gang charges. “I note that ‘503’ is an area code,” the judge said. “He may have had his grandmother’s phone number written in his notebook. We don’t know. But I think this is slim, slim evidence on which to base the continuing detention of an unaccompanied child.”
That’s not to say that all of the immigrant teenagers accused of gang affiliation are innocent. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested some 8,000 suspected MS-13 members in the past decade. If deportation was all it took, the gang would be gone by now.
This all matters because the gang really is terrorizing a portion of the population: young Latino immigrants in a few specific communities.
In May 2018, I accompanied the mother of a high school freshman killed by MS-13 to a Trump event on Long Island. Inside a government building, the president railed against the gang. “They killed a cop for the sake of making a statement. They wanted to make a statement, so they killed a cop,” he said. (They did not kill a cop.)
Outside, the mother drifted between a pro-Trump rally and a counter protest. She took tranquilizer pills so she could face local reporters, and then told them she was unsure if Trump really cared about victims like her. She said she hoped the president’s fixation on MS-13 might spur changes that will keep other kids from being attacked and recruited by the gang.
But for any policy to work, it needs to be rooted in reality.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has recently observed, via satellite imagery, China placing radar outposts and weapons, including antiaircraft and antimissile systems, on the islands in international waters.
In the past, China has unilaterally declared “no sail” and “no-fly zones” in the region, despite a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that its claims to the South China Sea, based on old maps, lacked merit.
China flouting international law has strained relations with the US.
Those ties took another big hit when President-elect Donald Trump broke with decades of US foreign-policy tradition and accepted a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and later tweeted about China’s “massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea.”
In response, China flew bombers along the perimeter of its contentious claims in the South China Sea in what it intended as a “message” to Trump, though it has flown the same bombers in a similar fashion before.
Harris characterized Beijing’s activity as “aggressive” and vowed to act against it if needed, Reuters reports.
The US has repeatedly challenged China’s claims in the region with freedom-of-navigation patrols, in which guided-missile destroyers sail near the disputed islands.
In July, Chinese officials warned that these patrols could end in “disaster.”
“We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea,” Harris said. “We will cooperate when we can, but we will be ready to confront when we must.”
After decades of sustained land operations, the Navy SEAL Teams are pivoting back to their underwater roots. The acquisition of the SEAL Delivery Vehicle Mark 11 has marked this strategic shift.
SEAL Delivery Vehicles are used to clandestinely transport SEAL operators closer to a target. Naval Special Warfare currently uses the venerable SDV Mark 8.
But the Mark 11 is an improvement to the old design. The new mini-submarine comes with better navigational abilities and increased payload capacity. The new vehicle also weighs 4,000 pounds more and is 12 inches longer, 6 inches taller, and 6 inches wider.
SDVs are wet submarines, meaning that water flows in the vehicle. The SEAL operators have to have underwater breathing apparatuses and wetsuits to survive. They are cumbersome and taxing on the operators, but they get the job done. Naval Special Warfare, however, is looking to add dry submarines to its fleet of midget subs – what you would think of a submarine — in the near future.
The new SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Mark 11 during navigation training in the Pacific Ocean (US Navy).
Last October, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) awarded Teledyne Brown Engineering a 8 million contract for the ten Mark 11s. The company has delivered five midget subs already, the last one in June. The remaining five are to be spaced out between Fiscal Year 2021 and 2022.
Currently, the Mark 11 is undergoing operational testing. Of particular importance is the landmark test of deploying and recovering a Mark 11 from a submarine.
Expediting the date of initial operational capability is the fact that both the Mark 8s and Mark 11s utilize the same Dry Dock Shelter (DDS) platform. DDS are attached to a submarine and carry the SDVs closer to the target.
A SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) is loaded aboard the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700). A Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) equipped submarine is attached to the submarine’s rear escape trunk to provide a dry environment for Navy Seals to prepare for special warfare exercises or operations. DDS is the primary supporting craft for the SDV (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Journalist Dave Fliesen).
The improved SDV capabilities of Naval Special Warfare are in response to the National Defense Strategy, which has marked the shift from counterinsurgency operations to near-peer warfare and categorized Russia and China as the biggest threats to U.S. national security. China, in particular, seems to be the main focus of that drive for a potent and well-maintained SDV capability.
“After decades of combat superiority across nearly all operating environments, our military now faces a world in which every domain is aggressively contested,” had said Rear Admiral Collin Green, the commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare in a discussion about the future of his force.
To begin with, there is China’s pugnacious and expansionist foreign policy in the South China Sea. The Chinese Navy, moreover, seems to be going through an arms race reminiscent of the Dreadnaught race between the United Kingdom and Germany that adumbrated the First World War. It can field more than 700 ships in the case of a conflict.
“We are adapting to the evolving strategic environment in order to remain the NSW force the nation expects – flexible, agile, networked, sustainable, and lethal. I am proud to lead this incredible force of highly skilled and creative problem solvers. Our strength lies in the diversity of thought, background, race, gender, and experience found throughout our force,” had added RADM Green.
Last year, Naval Special Warfare Command decided to reactivate SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2 (SDVT-2) as the committed East Coast SDV unit after 11 years, further signaling its commitment to return its underwater special operations roots. SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (SDVT-1) is responsible for the West Coast.
Here’s an interesting fact about the SDV Teams: Master Chief Kirby Horrell – the last Vietnam era Navy SEAL to retire from active duty after an astounding 47 years in uniform – went through the three-month-long SDV school at the age of 56 (he was promoted to Master Chief while in the course). Training dives in SDV school and the SDV Teams are no joke. Some last eight hours or even more.
The US Navy is going to eventually arm all of its destroyers with hypersonic missiles that are still being developed, White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien said Wednesday, according to Defense News.
“The Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program will provide hypersonic missile capability to hold targets at risk from longer ranges,” O’Brien said at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
“This capability,” he continued, “will be deployed first on our newer Virginia-class submarines and the Zumwalt-class destroyers. Eventually, all three flights of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers will field this capability.”
Hypersonic missiles — high-speed weapons able to evade traditional missile-defense systems — are a key area of competition between the three great powers. Earlier this month, Russia test-fired its Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile from the frigate Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov.
Given the ongoing hypersonic missile arms race, it is easy to see why the US Navy might want hypersonic missiles for its destroyers, something the Navy has previously discussed, but there are challenges.
The CPS missile is a combination of the developmental Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) and a two-stage booster, according to the Navy’s fiscal year 2021 budget overview.
Newer Zumwalt-class destroyers have larger vertical launch system (VLS) cells that could accommodate a large diameter missile with a hypersonic warhead in a boost-glide vehicle configuration, but older Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have much smaller VLS cells that would need to be modified or replaced altogether.
“I think it’s a terrible idea to try to outfit these destroyers with hypersonic missiles,” Bryan Clark, a retired Navy officer and defense expert at the Hudson Institute told Insider. Retrofitting dozens of Navy Arleigh Burkes to carry new hypersonic missiles would be expensive, he said.
What the Russian military appears to be doing is developing a new hypersonic missile to fit existing warships. The US military would be going about this in reverse, refitting existing ships to suit a new missile, a weapon that could be quickly replaced by a smaller, cheaper alternative down the road given the rapid pace of technological development.
“If the Navy makes this massive investment in retrofitting only to find in five years that these smaller weapons are now emerging, that money will be largely wasted,” Clark said, adding that the plan “doesn’t make sense.”
In addition to the steep costs of retrofitting dozens of destroyers and arming them with expensive missiles, of which the Navy may only be able to afford limited numbers, other challenges include taking warships offline and tying up shipyards for extended periods of time, potentially hindering other repair work.
Changes risk making the 500-ship plan ‘unaffordable’
Defense News reported that O’Brien also pushed the Trump administration’s vision for a 500-ship Navy, a vision that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper unveiled earlier this month to counter China’s growing naval force.
The plan, known as “Battle Force 2045,” calls for a mixture of manned and unmanned vessels and is based on recommendations from the Hudson Institute, which presented what Clark said was an affordable path to a 500-ship Navy.
A major difference between the Pentagon’s plan and the Hudson Institute study is that the Pentagon wants to build a larger submarine force, which could drive up sustainment costs, making the vision impossible to realize from a cost perspective. Each Virginia-class attack submarine with a larger missile launcher is estimated to cost .2 billion.
Retrofitting destroyers to carry hypersonic missiles would pull away funding as well. “This missile launcher thing, the additional submarines, all the additional ornaments that the Navy is looking at hanging on this fleet are going to make it unaffordable,” Clark said.
He argued that the Navy should focus on arming Virginia-class submarines with hypersonic missiles and let the destroyers be. “You don’t have to rebuild the ship to do it,” Clark explained. “That makes more sense. The Navy should be pursuing that for its boost-glide weapons.”
“That would be sufficient to provide maritime launch capability to complement what the Air Force and the Army are doing,” he said. Both the Army and the Air Force have been pursuing hypersonic weapons for existing launch platforms, such as the AGM-183 ARRW for the B-52 Stratofortress bomber.
Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.
Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.
I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.
In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.
Enter Team Cobra
A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army. They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.
Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece. Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.
Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.
Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.
Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them. I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.
When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.
In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and some of them are there today.
I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.