No, the man eating alone in a diner in Nuuk wasn’t Fezzik — a friendless, brainless, helpless, hopeless giant, unemployed in Greenland.
Nonetheless, U.S. Coast Guard Seaman Katlin Kilroy, dining in the same restaurant during a port visit to Greenland’s capital, took pity on the man and decided to cover the cost of his dinner. Her action set off a chain of events that resulted in an international exchange of goodwill — and a merit award.
“Paying it forward” is how Kilroy was raised in Apex, North Carolina, a town of roughly 45,000 southeast of Raleigh, she said in an interview with Coast Guard public affairs personnel, published in a news release.
“My parents used to carry around sandwiches and socks for those down on their luck. We didn’t give money, but we’d give time or buy a meal and spend time with people. Listen to them,” Kilroy said.
But instead of purchasing provisions for a person she thought was in need, Kilroy inadvertently fed the man serving as premier of Greenland, a position roughly equivalent to president or prime minister, setting off a chain of events that led to a VIP visit to the Coast Guard medium endurance cutter Campbell.
During her encounter with Premier Kim Kielsen, according to the Coast Guard release, they talked about his careers before he entered politics, as a mariner and a police officer. He then expressed interest in visiting Campbell and its crew — unexpected attention that could have landed Kilroy in hot water.
Campbell’s commander, Capt. Thomas Crane, embraced the opportunity and welcomed Kielsen aboard. Crane then accepted a personal tour of Nuuk from the nation’s top politician.
“Her chance encounter in Nuuk directly strengthened our nation’s position in an increasingly competitive Arctic domain through relationship building. Seaman Kilroy is a true shipmate,” Crane said in the release.
Kilroy has been in the Coast Guard for nearly two years, enlisting in 2018. As a non-rate described as having an affable disposition and knack for reaching people, she slipped naturally into a public affairs role, supplementing the work of the PAOs at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, Virginia, for much of her fledgling career.
She got a chance to deploy as a public affairs representative with the medium endurance cutter Tahoma, as well as the Campbell, in August 2020 when no other rated petty officers were available, covering joint Arctic operations and exercises with the U.S. Navy, and Canadian, French and Danish maritime forces.
Her performance during the 85-day mission, documenting events and photographing Coasties at work, as well as the chance encounter at dinner, earned her the Coast Guard Achievement Medal.
“We could not have been happier with her performance,” Crane said. “She enabled top-level real-time visibility of these operations, reaching more than 6.6 million people.”
Kilroy is now on her way to being a Coast Guard public affairs specialist, according to the service.
And the man she bought dinner for? He is probably most well-known in the U.S. for scoffing at President Donald Trump’s pitch in 2018 to purchase Greenland — a proposal that came up during a conversation between the president and Danish ambassador Lars Gert Lose.
Denmark and Greenland both nixed the idea outright.
“Greenland is not Danish. Greenland is Greenlandic. I persistently hope that this is not something that is seriously meant,” Kielsen said.
After his encounter with Kilroy, Kielsen lost his reelection bid for the chairmanship of his party — a defeat that may lead to his ouster as premier. So, while Kielsen is not exactly unemployed in Greenland, his political future is uncertain.
To Kilroy, paying for a stranger’s meal anywhere, regardless of stature, is a natural extension of her Southern hospitality.
“People also see me in uniform … They pay it forward, and I do too. In this case, it happened to be the premier, and we had a nice conversation,” Kilroy said.
I’ve already made up my mind that if the Space Force starts opening up its doors to include combat arms within my lifetime, I’d be at the recruiting office in a heartbeat. It doesn’t matter that knowing how I’d react, I’d probably be a random Red Shirt who’d have his back turned at the worst possible moment and say something ironic like “the coast is clear!” before getting eaten by something.
Then Senator Ted Cruz in a Senate hearing advocating the Space Force planted the ultimate idea in my head… Space Pirates. Sure, the memes were taken slightly out of context because he was referring to rogue nations attacking satellites and not the swashbuckling buccaneers we’re thinking of. But is it a bad thing that kinda makes me want to join the Space Force even more?
It’ll take far too long for us to make first contact with aliens yet it’ll only take a few decades for space travel to be affordable enough for us to get down on some Firefly or Babylon 5-type action. We’re counting on you, Elon Musk. Make this dream come true!
While we wait for the cold dark reality that the Space Force will probably be far less exciting in our lifetimes than pop culture expects, here are some memes.
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via Team Non-Rec)
“I don’t know, Hanz, he said something about my mother being a hamster and my father smelling like elderberries.”
Fun fact: The insult from Monty Python was actually implying that King Arthur’s mom reproduced fast like a small rodent and his father was a drunk who could only afford the lowest quality wine. The more you know!
White House officials are reportedly looking to schedule a second meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in New York City in September 2018, in an attempt to progress from the two leaders’ first summit in Singapore.
Trump and Kim pledged after their June 12, 2018 summit to work toward “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, but experts have criticized its vagueness and absence of language committing North Korea to the US’s goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” — which Pyongyang has routinely refused to carry out.
John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, said on July 1, 2018, that the US plans for North Korea to dismantle its chemical, biological, nuclear, and ballistic missile programs in a year’s time.
Trump could dangle a second meeting in New York as an incentive for North Korea to follow that timeline, officials told Axios.
(Airbus Defense and Space and 38 North)
Some North Korea experts, however, have questioned Pyongyang’s willingness to make good on Trump’s nuclear goals.
Satellite images taken nine days after the Singapore summit showed North Korea continuing to build on the infrastructure at a key nuclear reactor.
A senior US intelligence official also said that Pyongyang was continuing to “deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles.”
Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also told Axios that the Trump administration “needs to get a commitment to a full declaration” and have international experts in North Korea “sealing stuff and installing cameras” to ensure North Korea sticks to its promises.
If Kim does visit New York in September 2018, it will be the longest journey he has ever taken as North Korean leader.
For many women, their newfound freedom signals an evolving paradigm for women in the country.
“We need the car to do our daily activities. We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out — so we need transport,” Amira Abdulgader told Reuters. “It will change my life.”
Women can now pursue jobs that require the use of a car, like any number of the popular ride-hailing services.
“It’s not only equality, it’s about building our country together,” said Enaam Gazi Al-Aswad, who had been poised to become the nation’s first female driver for ride-hailing app Careem, according to CNBC.”It’s about community … Women and men equally now in Saudi Arabia, not like before.”
While the nation is celebrating the historic moment of progress, May 2018 the government doubled down on activists who had been campaigning for the right to drive. At least 12 prominent women’s rights activists were arrested since May 15, 2018, according to Human Rights Watch. The organization said some of the activists were held on charges similar to those for which other activists are serving long prison sentences.
Women have risked fines and imprisonment for decades
Women have been barred from driving since 1957, as part of the country’s strict interpretation of Islam. While there was no formal law against it, women who drove in public faced fines and could be arrested. While there no clear explanation for why women shouldn’t drive, supporters of the rule argued that driving could lead to women socializing with men, which was seen as potentially disrupting the established order inside Saudi’s patriarchal society.
But activists have been campaigning against the policy for years.
In 1990, 47 women were arrested after driving through the streets of Riyadh in defiance of the ban. The movement grew stronger in 2007 when a group calling itself the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia petitioned then-King Abdullah to repeal the rule. On International Women’s Day in 2008, the movement’s cofounder Wajeha Huwaider filmed herself driving and posted the video on YouTube, which received international media attention.
(Photo by Andrew A. Shenouda)
The movement has continued to grow over the years.
Because of her activism, Al-Sharif was detained and released several times, and told not to drive or discuss her situation with the media. Manal has written several books, including Daring to Drive: a Saudi Woman’s Awakening. She is seen as one of the world’s most influential women on the subject. She now resides in Australia and remains an active critic of the Saudi government, using her experience to push for change.
“I got involved with the [Women2Drive] campaign because women were invisible. It almost feels like women don’t exist in Saudi Arabia,” she told Business Insider.
She says many factors have influenced the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia.
“It is institutional oppression, and it’s carried out not only through policy, but also a general attitude that men have towards women,” she said. “We are faced with two evils: The government restricts women with policy, and male guardians restrict women through culture.”
She said a woman’s place in society starts young, with young girls going through “systematic humiliation” from primary school through college. She says girls should be nurtured to become confident leaders, not mired in shame.
Still, Al-Sharif says she has been amazed by the pace of change in Saudi Arabia over the last year. Since Mohammed Bin Salman ascended to power, the country has lifted its ban on cinemas, appointed women to positions of power, and allowed women to attend soccer matches at major stadiums.
“King Abdullah wanted to make changes for women but wasn’t able to do a lot because of internal politics,” she said. “Mohammed Bin Salman has been pushing real change, and has been paving the way for full inclusion of women in the economy and society.”
The 32-year-old Crown Prince has been pushing for modernization and a complete economic and cultural overhaul in the country through his Vision2030 program. Al-Sharif says Prince Mohammed’s desire to revamp the economy has resulted in major policy changes for women.
“The government is realizing how important it is to the economy to educate and include women,” she said. “They have no choice — the economy is our best reformer.”
But Al-Sharif says there is a lot of work to do.
“Lifting the ban on women’s driving didn’t come overnight, it’s been consistent campaigning to change people’s consciousness.”
Al-Sharif says change needs to happen in “all facets of society,” from education to policy to media, and even home life.
She is now campaigning to end Saudi Arabia’s restrictive guardianship laws, which require men to make decisions for women on matters including education, health care, and travel.
“Destructive behavior needs to end and we need to create a culture of respect. Policy can change, but its the attitude that is the real obstacle.”
A bright future for Saudi women, but a long way to go
Dr. Lina Abirafeh, the director at the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, told Business Insider that she has seen surface-level changes enhancing women’s rights, but Saudi society has some work left to do.
“Positive steps are being taken but Saudi Arabia still lags behind in terms of women’s rights. Saudi Arabia ranks very low in measures for gender equality compared to other countries.”
She noted that in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, ranking health, education, economic, and political engagement, Saudi Arabia ranked at 141 out of the 144 countries listed.
Abirafeh said small changes in the last year have impacted women’s quality of life, and signal positive change to come.
“The ban on driving had long served as a symbol of the country’s repressive attitude towards women and their denial of women’s rights and fundamental freedoms,”Abirafeh said, adding that there are many other inequalities that need to be addressed.
“Driving is clearly the most symbolic — and visible. This in a society where men and women hardly interact, and where women need a male guardian to make decisions and give permissions on their behalf.”
“These recent changes are important, but they come with many conditions and caveats. There might be a strategy to appear liberal in the global arena but it is hard to tell if there is genuine intention for real change within the society — or if these are tokenistic,” she said.
She believes Saudi Arabia can do much more for reform at all levels, including repealing laws that discriminate against women, reviewing the country’s extreme interpretations of religious texts that deny women freedom of mobility and bodily autonomy, and reaching out to communities to change the patriarchal ethos that exists.
“There is a need to progress gradually but also to be clear that the goal is full equality — without exceptions,” Abirafeh said.
She remains hopeful for the future, but is not convinced that Saudi society is prepared for full equality and the implications that come with it.
“Inequalities are many, and attitudes will take a long time to change. It doesn’t seem that there is broad-based buy-in to women’s rights among the population — yet. And as long as patriarchy prevails, this is a clear impediment to women achieving full rights and equality.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Two Army Rangers who were killed in Afghanistan earlier this week may have been struck by friendly fire, the Pentagon said.
Sergeant Joshua Rodgers, 22, and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, 23, both deployed from Fort Benning, Georgia, died during a Wednesday night raid targeting the emir of the Islamic State, a group also known as ISIS and ISIL. A third soldier was injured during the operation but is expected to recover.
Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, said officials are investigating whether the soldiers were killed by American forces or Afghan commandos involved in the raid. He said it was “possible” the Rangers were struck by friendly fire but there are “no indications it was intentional,” he said.
“War is a very difficult thing, in the heat of battle, in the fog of war the possibility always exists for friendly fire, and that may have been what happened here and that is what we are looking into with this investigation,” he said.
Officials said 50 Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos were dropped by helicopter into the Nagarhar Province, located about a mile fro the site where the United States dropped the MOAB on April 13.
Several IS leaders and operatives were killed in the raid.
“We did know going in that this was going to be a very tough fight,” Davis said. “We were going after the leader of ISIS in Afghanistan and doing it in a way that required us to put a large number of people on the ground as part of this mission, and it was a mission that appears to have accomplished its objective but it did so at a cost”
As the fighting in Mosul has started, some ISIS militants have been trying to make a fast getaway. Not a bad idea when you consider the atrocities they’ve committed and the size of the force lining up to drive them out.
According to the British newspaper The Sun, though, some of these militants have been trying to escape under the radar by dressing as women. For at least two of them, though, it didn’t work out – Kurdish peshmerga fighters saw through the disguise and nabbed them.
The tactic sometimes worked, as a 2009 article by the New York Daily News described how some Taliban insurgents were able to slip away from Marines. Items of clothing like the burqa also were used to hide weapons and explosives.
Navy veteran and Food Network Allstar, August Dannehl cooks a four course meal for his fellow vets based on stories from their service. A braised pork belly inspired by the MRE’s feared dehydrated pork product, Chicken Tagine inspired by a training mission in Morocco – these elements provide the backdrop for a holiday celebration between veterans.
Donna’s first visit to Morocco was for a training mission with the Marine Corps. It was on this trip that she and her unit befriended the owner and crew of a small local restaurant. They would eat there so often that their business provided new clothing for all of the servers and their families and when it came to leave, they were made this delicious parting meal.
Chicken Tagine w/ Preserved Lemon and Saffron CousCous
Inspired by Donna’s Service in Morocco
8 lg. chicken thighs
2 tbs spice mix
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
1 large white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 tbs grated fresh ginger
2 tsp saffron
2 tb tomato paste
2 cups low-salt chicken stock
1 cup castelvetrano olives
3 ½ tbs sweet paprika
1 tbs garlic powder
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbs ground coriander
2 tbs ground turmeric
1 tbs ginger powder
½ tbs ground cardamom
2 ½ tsp ground allspice
3 cups couscous
3 cups low-salt chicken stock
4 tbs. unsalted butter
2 tsp. saffron threads (crumbled)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
½ bunch cilantro, leaves
Prepare the CousCous by heating the chicken stock, butter and saffron over medium-heat until boiling. Add couscous and reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10-12 minutes (until couscous is tender). Add salt, pepper and drizzle of olive oil to taste. Set aside.
Combine the spices in a dry sauté pan set over low heat, and toast them gently until they release their fragrance, 2 minutes or so. Transfer to a bowl, and allow to cool. Preheat oven to 350. Season the chicken thighs with the salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of the spice mix, along with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large dutch over over medium heat, and sear the chicken in batches, starting skin-side down, until the thighs are browned. Remove all but two tablespoons of the fat in pan, then return it to the heat, and brown the cauliflower and add the chicken.
Reduce heat below the pan, and add the onion, garlic, ginger and saffron. Cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, lemons and chicken stock and simmer until reduced by 1/3. Cover pot and transfer to over for 30 mins.
Serve with on top of couscous with cilantro garnish.
Oh boy, picking just one military news story and riffing on it is going to be hard this week.
Let’s see… The Coasties beat the Marines in a sniper competition. The Marines drew another skydick over Miramar. Civilians learned that the Air Force has enough money to waste hundreds of thousands on easily broken coffee mugs. A soldier got arrested in South Korea for kicking a policeman in the nads. And the Commander-in-Chief said he’d, “send in the military — not the guard — but the military,” effectively discrediting the efforts of over half a million guardsmen.
Because I can’t come up with anything funnier than reality has been this week for the military, I’ll just remind you that your Cyber Security cert is almost expired. You should probably get on that.
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Meme via Hooah My Ass Off)
(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)
(Meme via Battle Bars)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Private News Network)
(Meme via Ranger Up)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Untied Status Marin Crops)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via US Army WTF Moments)
13. The perfect Halloween costume doesn’t exi-
No, seriously. You should probably get your Cyber Security training done.
A heavily armed man is patrolling the hallways of a Florida school. His only job? Prevent a mass shooting.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that Harold Verdecia, a 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan has been hired as the first guardian at the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida. Verdercia wears body armor and carries a Glock 19X handgun, but it’s his Kel-Tec “Bullpup” rifle, loaded with exploding rounds, that’s raising eyebrows.
MSA Principal Bill Jones outlined to the Herald-Tribune a specific scenario — shooter armed with a rifle, clad in body armor, looking to cause maximum damage — in justifying the unusual move of arming his school’s guardian with a rifle.
Verdercia completed 144 hours of training facilitated by the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office. He also went through extra training to carry the rifle on school grounds.
Palmetto’s Manatee School of the Arts Ramping up more Safety and Security
Security experts, however, seem skeptical of Jones’s insistence that a semi-automatic rifle is appropriate for the job. Walt Zalisko, a retired police chief and police management consultant, told the Herald-Tribune that the school would be safer with its rifles locked away and its guardian building relationships with students, not singularly focused on a mass casualty event.
Michael Dorn, president of a company that has performed security assessments of dozens of school systems in Florida, told the New York Times that a long gun is a more dangerous weapon for someone to take from an officer and that it’s harder for an officer to subdue and handcuff a suspect when he’s carrying such a gun.
Jones doesn’t seem to mind the criticism. He’s currently reviewing applications and hopes to hire a second rifle-toting guardian soon.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Veterans Day isn’t just a day to pause and reflect on the great sacrifices that troops have made in the name of this great country. It’s also a day of celebration and a moment for troops and veterans to take in the gratitude of the American people.
So, businesses across the country offer some sort of deal to anyone with a military ID, uniform, or veteran apparel, like a campaign cap. Sure, a free order of chicken wings might not be a fair trade for all that veterans have done for us, but it’s greatly appreciated nonetheless.
To help you properly celebrate Tactical Thanksgiving, we’ve put together a little guide here to make sure you don’t miss a spot on your tour of appreciation. Put the following places on your list and get ready for deals — all for the low, low price of just the gas in your car.
This list highlights types of businesses you should check out. For a list of specific spots that have officially announced Veterans Day discounts or freebies ahead of time, look here. Keep in mind, this list isn’t comprehensive and discounts may be subject to availability, but it’s definitely worth a read.
Make sure to adjust your schedule to account for a free breakfast, lunch, dinner, second breakfast, supper, late-afternoon snack…
Restaurants all over the country offer Veterans Day discounts — and that’s amazing. Most places you’ll go to will have little ways of making their meals more patriotic, too, like Red, White, and Blue Pancakes at IHOP or a burger adorned with a little American flag toothpick.
While the more well-known, chain restaurants are often able to take the financial hit of offering free meals, they might be extremely crowded — like, 2-hour-wait-times crowded. Meanwhile, the smaller, locally-owned spots may offer something smaller, like a free side, but you’ll likely get better service and a more personal “thank you.”
If you’re not the type to enjoy small talk during a haircut, at least it’s better than giving yourself a free haircut.
Getting a really good haircut isn’t cheap. And the places that offer a cheap chop typically aren’t all that good. For one day of the year, at least for veterans, this decision is made much easier, as even the good places offer their services for extremely low prices — some even offer free cuts.
What’s nice about getting a free haircut — in contrast to most other things on this list — is that when you let your barber know that you’re a veteran, it actually initiates a conversation. It’s much more personal than a quick thanks and a line item on the receipt.
If you’re in the Chicago area, I highly encourage you to take a visit to the National Veterans Art Museum. Every exhibit in there is made by our brothers- and sister-in-arms.
(National Veterans Art Museum)
Plenty of museums are free for veterans year round. Those that aren’t, however, typically offer free admission on Veterans Day.
If you look through the pamphlet of most any history museum, you’ll likely find that warfare is a central theme. And when you look deeper into most of the paintings in art museums, you’ll see that many of the beautiful pieces, adored by critics and enthusiasts alike, were created by veterans.
What better way to honor a fellow veteran’s work than by spending the day admiring some of it?
They always put on an amazing show for the troops and veterans at Disneyland on Veterans Day.
(Screengrab via 1st Marine Division Band)
Amusement parks and casinos
Many amusement parks close their gates around Labor Day — but some use Veterans Day as their final celebration of the year. This is perfect for veterans with kids or grandkids as it’s a way for the kiddos to enjoy the benefits of their service.
Or, if you’re not excited by cartoon mascots dancing around, know that most casinos on Veterans Day offer free cash credits for veterans. If you play your cards right (literally), you can take that free money walk away. Or just play one or two games and walk out with the remainder. Whatever floats your boat.
Nothing says “thank you for your service” better than a free beer or five.
Your favorite bar
When the day comes to a close, there’s no better way to end a day of celebration than with a nice, hard drink. Head down to your local bar and you can probably get a free drink — either from the bartender or other patriotic patrons.
This one isn’t ever written down as an official thing, but it’s mostly agreed upon that bars will give veterans a free drink or two on Veterans Day.
Russia has warned the US that its military and allied Syrian forces are ready to attack a key US-held base near the borders of Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, US defense officials said in a CNN report published on Sept. 6, 2018.
The Kremlin is said to have accused the US-led coalition base At Tanf of protecting nearby militants, with Russia delivering two warnings in the past week, CNN said, citing US officials. At Tanf, from which a coalition of dozens of US troops and Syrian rebels launch operations against the Islamic State terrorist group, is seen as a critical location within the scope of Iranian, Syrian, and Russian influence in the region.
“We have absolutely advised them to stay out of At Tanf,” a US official told CNN. “We are postured to respond.”
“The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing it support,” another official added. “However, if attacked, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces.”
US troops would not need permission from superiors to defend themselves if attacked, which the US reiterated to the Kremlin, CNN reported.
A state-sanctioned attack by Russia could spark a flashpoint conflict in the region. Tensions were raised in February 2018 after dozens of Russian mercenaries were killed during a failed assault on a US-held position near the city of Deir al-Zor.
Russian forces have not recently been seen amassing their troops; however, the US military is still on alert, officials said. Senior military officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are aware of the warnings, CNN said.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
(Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
Russia’s warnings come amid a looming assault by Syrian and Iranian forces against the city of Idlib, where Syrian rebels have been cornered. Russia delivered an ominous warning in August 2018 that some experts saw as an indication that the Syrian government might indiscriminately use chemical weapons against the city.
The US followed with a threat of its own, warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that if he “chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately.”
“President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
Featured image: Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting 50. Cal Weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The fate of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners jailed in Afghanistan is threatening to turn into a major stumbling block in efforts to end the 19-year war in the country.
The Taliban is demanding the release of the detainees before the launch of direct negotiations between Afghans and the Taliban over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing arrangement.
Those intra-Afghan talks, slated for mid-March, will begin after the United States and the Taliban sign a historic peace deal that will trigger the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Experts said the issue of Taliban prisoners could be a key obstacle in launching the country’s peace talks or, conversely, be used as a bargaining chip to exact concessions from the militants.
There are fears that the release of thousands of Taliban fighters could deprive the Kabul government of a key amount of leverage and undercut the peace process by strengthening the Taliban’s position on the battlefield.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on February 26 that Kabul will free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces held by the militants.
Shaheen said the “trust-building measure” was a prerequisite for the launch of the intra-Afghan talks.
He added that the prisoner release was part of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, although Afghanistan is not a signatory to that bilateral agreement.
But the Taliban and the United States have not yet disclosed the contents of the deal.
The Kabul government has ruled out releasing the prisoners before the start of talks.
“When we, as the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, enter into negotiations with the Taliban and they demand the release of their prisoners, it will naturally be discussed, and will take into account the laws and interests of our people and [our decision] will be based on the consensus that will arise at that stage,” said Sediq Sediqqi, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, on February 20.
‘Quid Pro Quo’
Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said the issue could be used as a “political stumbling block or a bargaining chip.”
“Bargaining chip can mean quid pro quo,” he said.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the Afghan government could offer the Taliban a major concession before intra-Afghan talks with the expectation that the militants will reciprocate.
Kugelman said that could mean the insurgents agreeing to reduce violence during the negotiations, which analysts expect to be complicated and protracted.
The United States and the Taliban agreed to a weeklong reduction of violence across Afghanistan before the signing of the peace deal. The partial truce has largely held, with a dramatic decrease in Taliban attacks from around 75 per day down to under 15.
The militants contest or control nearly half of the country.
A similar truce during intra-Afghan talks has been mooted, although the Taliban has not commented on the possibility.
But analysts warned that there was a risk in the government giving away one of its primary bargaining chips at such an early stage of the peace process.
“The Taliban has ample leverage because it’s in no hurry to conclude a peace deal,” said Kugelman. “If it receives a major concession it may hold out and demand more before giving something up in return.”
10,000 Taliban Prisoners
There are an estimated 10,000 Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan. But the militants have said that some of those detained were accused of being sympathizers or members of the group, often to settle old scores, and are not actually combatants.
There have been several high-profile prisoner swaps and releases of insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.
In November 2019, two Western hostages were released from Taliban custody in exchange for three senior Taliban prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction.
The prisoner swap was seen as an attempt to kick-start U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks over rising Taliban attacks.
In 2014, five senior Taliban members were released from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.
All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are based in Qatar, where they have taken part in negotiations with U.S. officials.
In 2013, former President Hamid Karzai controversially released scores of Taliban prisoners from a formerly U.S.-run prison near Kabul as an attempt to convince the militants to open direct talks with Kabul.
The move failed to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Analysts said some of those freed returned to the Taliban, bolstered their ranks, and increased the insurgency’s efficacy on the battlefield.
China is working hard to bring new stealth fighters and bombers online, and the US is preparing to push back with its F-35 stealth fighter, a US general commanding US air assets in the Pacific region told Bloomberg.
The Chinese military, according to US intelligence, is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to provide penetrating strike capabilities. China’s new J-20 stealth fighter could be operational this year, and the country is also considering turning its J-31 stealth fighter into a stealthy carrier-based aircraft for the Chinese navy’s future carriers.
China’s air force is the largest in the region and the third largest in the world with 2,500 aircraft and 1,700 fighters, bombers, and attack aircraft. China is one of only three nations to develop a fifth-generation fighter, and if it successfully fields a nuclear-capable stealth bomber, it will be one of only three countries with a complete nuclear triad.
Gen. Charles Brown told Bloomberg this week that rising F-35 deployments will be needed to counter these developments. Talking about his observations of the way the Chinese operate, the commander of US Pacific Air Forces said, “They’ll continue to push the envelope to figure out does anybody say or do anything.”
“If you don’t push back it’ll keep coming,” he added, noting that the J-20 represents a “greater threat” in the Pacific.
The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) transits the waters of the South China Sea.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)
Brown recently told Japanese reporters he expects the US and its allies in the Pacific to have as many as 200 F-35s operating in the region by 2025.
A US Marine Corps F-35B squadron deployed to Japan at the start of 2017, and later that same year, a dozen US Air Force F-35As deployed to the Pacific for a six-month rotation.
The US military has also been experimenting with the “Lighting Carrier” concept, turning flattop Navy amphibious assault ships into light aircraft carriers outfitted with stealth fighter jets, and the US Navy is moving closer to fielding aircraft carriers armed with F-35Cs.
US allies Japan, South Korea, and Australia are all part of the F-35 program.
Chinese analysts, according to Chinese media, have argued the Chinese J-20 fighter will have “overwhelming superiority” over the F-35, giving it the ability to take on the so-called “US F-35 friends circle.”
While China’s new fighter has some advantages, range in particular, it is generally considered to be less capable than its fifth-generation counterparts in the US military.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.