A Chinese government spokesman said on Thursday that the US Army may have “brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” fueling a coronavirus conspiracy theory.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called attention to a comment on Wednesday from Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledging that some Americans who were said to have died from influenza may have actually died from COVID-19.
“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected?” Zhao wrote on Twitter. “What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”
In a short thread on Twitter — a social media platform that’s inaccessible in China — Zhao demanded to know how many of the millions of infections and thousands of deaths during the latest flu season were actually related to COVID-19.
The US State Department summoned Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai Friday to protest the spokesman’s comments, Reuters reported, and the Pentagon sharply criticized Zhao’s remarks, calling them “false and absurd.”
The coronavirus first appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and since then, the pandemic has claimed the lives of thousands of people, mostly in China.
As China has faced criticism, Chinese authorities have pushed back, suggesting that the virus may have originated somewhere else. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, said in late February that “though the COVID-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China.”
The Trump administration has laid the blame firmly at China’s feet. “Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” the White House national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told reporters on Wednesday.
“It probably cost the world community two months to respond,” he added.
Geng Shuang, another Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said O’Brien’s “immoral and irresponsible” comments denigrated China’s efforts to fight the virus. He added that the US should focus on “international cooperation instead of trying to shift the blame.”
Russian state-owned media outlet Sputnik recently ripped China’s J-15 fighter jet for its many failings.
In 2001, China purchased a T-10K-3 (a Su-33 prototype) from Ukraine and later reversed engineered it into the J-15 fighter jet.
And Moscow, apparently, is still a little sour about it.
The J-15 is too heavy to operate efficiently from carriers, has problems with its flight control systems, which has led to several crashes, and more, Sputnik reported, adding that Beijing doesn’t even have enough J-15s to outfit both of its carriers.
“The J-15’s engines and heavy weight severely limit its ability to operate effectively: at 17.5 tons empty weight, it tops the scales for carrier-based fighters,” Sputnik reported, adding that “The US Navy’s F-18 workhorse, by comparison, is only 14.5 tons.”
“The Asia Times noted that Chinese media has disparaged the plane in numerous ways,” Sputnik added, “including referring to it as a ‘flopping fish’ for its inability to operate effectively from the Chinese carriers, which launch fixed-wing aircraft under their own power from an inclined ramp on the bow of the ship.”
Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.
China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, is a Kuznetsov-class carrier like the Admiral Kuznetsov, and both use short-take off but arrested recovery launch systems.
Sputnik then piled on by interviewing Russian military analyst Vasily Kashin.
“Years ago the Chinese decided to save some money and, instead of buying several Su-33s from Russia for their subsequent license production in China, they opted for a Su-33 prototype in Ukraine,” Sputnik quoted Kashin.
“As a result, the development of the J-15 took more time and more money than expected, and the first planes proved less than reliable,” Kashin added.
But as The National Interest pointed out, the former Soviet Union regularly copied Western military concepts and products.
“Considering that China has the same habit, there is a poetic justice here,” The National Interest’s Michael Peck wrote.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Pentagon is trying to finalize an order for 12 new ballistic missile submarines, the lead ship of which will be named USS Columbia (SSBN 826).
The Navy hopes to place the order before the Trump administration takes office.
According to reports by the Daily Caller and USNI News, the order will permit the Navy to start the process of designing and building the submarines. The Congressional Research Service reports that the sub will carry 16 Trident ballistic missiles, a decrease from the 24 missiles carried by the 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines presently in service.
Four other Ohio-class submarines were converted to fire BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles and to support SEALs with covert commando raids.
According to the CRS report, the Columbia-class submarines are expected to be 560 feet long and 43 feet in diameter, roughly the size of the Ohio-class submarine. The vessels will have technological improvements, notably a reactor that will not require refueling as well as taking advantage of techniques used to build the Virginia-class submarines, including modular construction and the use of open architecture to make upgrades easier.
Earlier this year, BreakingDefense.com reported that the vessels will be built by Electric Boat.
This would be the ninth ship to carry the name USS Columbia in U.S. Navy service. The eighth, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, is still in service and has the hull number SSN 771.
A 2013 Navy release states that the first Columbia-class boomer is expected to begin construction in 2021, enter service in 2027, and undertake its first deterrence patrol in 2031. According to a report by USNI News, each sub is expected to cost about $8 billion.
The big news from Turkmenistan in the last few weeks has been that the country’s mercurial president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has been absent from the news for large periods of time.
That’s unusual because he normally dominates the state-run broadcasts.
And the few times Berdymukhammedov has been on television since going on vacation nearly one month ago, his appearances have raised more doubts than offered evidence of his well-being.
While officially on vacation, that has never stopped Turkmen state media from following Berdymukhammedov around in previous years.
But his absence from nightly Turkmen television newscasts and daily reports in state print media have some people seriously considering rumors that Berdymukhammedov is in poor health or possibly even dead.
Berdymukhammedov had already been officially on vacation for almost one week when Aslan Rubaev, identified as the director of the Center for Monitoring Eurasian Problems, told the Russian radio station and Internet news site Govoritmoskva.ru that Berdymukhammedov had died of acute renal failure on July 20, 2019.
There was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why the president chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.
The news spread like wildfire across Russian-language media and it was only after a few hours later that the Turkmen embassies in Russia and Kyrgyzstanissued statements rejecting stories that the Turkmen president had died.
Before the end of the day, Rubaev was making a public apology for his remarks, saying they were unfounded.
But Berdymukhammedov had still not been seen and the rumors persisted.
Finally, on July 24, 2019, there were reports Berdymukhammedov had spoken by telephone with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev to wish him a happy birthday.
Later that evening, Turkmen television news aired footage of Berdymukhammedov inspecting plans for a new district in the capital, Ashgabat, without explaining why the president had decided to break away from his vacation to look at drawings of new bus stops.
And then Berdymukhammedov vanished from local news again.
His next appearance in state media was not until Aug. 4, 2019, when state television showed a series of clips of Berdymukhammedov riding a bicycle, exercising, firing a rifle, bowling, riding a horse, working on a new book, composing a new song, and driving an SUV through the desert to the Gates of Hell — a perpetually burning crater that resulted from an attempt to flare gas there in the early 1970s.
He also appeared on state television on Aug. 5, 2019, holding a video conference call with officials.
On Aug. 3, 2019, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s office released a statement about Medvedev’s impending trip to Turkmenistan to attend the Caspian Economic Forum in the Turkmen Caspian resort of Avaza, adding that he planned to meet there with Berdymukhammedov.
That is the proof that has been offered to show Berdymukhammedov is alive and well.
But there are still many reasons to think that something is wrong with him.
Berdymukhammedov’s appearances on state television on July 24 and Aug. 4-5, 2019, were not entirely convincing.
As mentioned, there was no explanation in the July 24, 2019 report as to why Berdymukhammedov chose to suspend his vacation for one day to occupy himself with the mundane matter of urban renewal plans in Ashgabat.
And RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, noted that Berdymukhammedov was wearing exactly the same suit and tie as he wore in a May 10 broadcast on state television, which is strange because he never wears the same suit — or even the same clothes — twice in his television appearances.
Berdymukhammedov did not speak in the footage aired on July 24, 2019, for example, to say he had just spoken with the Uzbek president, as was reported.
The Turkmen president also did not speak in the Aug. 4, 2019 footage aired on Turkmen TV, and the clips seem to be a compilation of his usual bizarre antics that are regularly shown on the evening news, and of which there is almost certainly an abundance of archive material from the cutting-room floor.
His hair is gray in the recent appearances, but that only narrows down the time frame to anytime during the last year or so, when he stopped dying it black.
The headlines of the reports seemed aimed at quieting rumors of ill health or worse.
Turkmenistan Aug. 6, 2019’s headline said, “Turkmenistan’s President Dedicates His Vacation To A Creative And Active Life,” and the Golden Age website’s headline read “The Turkmen Leader’s Vacation: Active Leisure, Literary And Musical Creativity.”
The Aug. 5, 2019 footage showed Berdymukhammedov discussing the country’s economic performance, agriculture, preparations for the Aug. 11-12, 2019 Caspian Economic Forum and the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayramy.
Image of Berdimuhamedow, on display outside the national horse-racing ground in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
But again, Berdymukhammedov did not refer to any recent event that would have proven the footage was from sometime during the last two or three weeks. The conversations could have taken place several weeks or months ago.
Absent from the video conference was any criticism of officials’ work, or reprimands for shortcomings, which are typical of these video conferences. It was also unclear why he again interrupted his vacation to hold the video conference.
Similarly, state print media had an unusual gap in reports featuring Berdymukhammedov.
News about the Turkmen president has always dominated state media coverage, going back to the early days of first Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.
A July 25, 2019 report about Berdymukhammedov congratulating new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the last news about Berdymukhammedov for more than one week on the Altyn Asyr (Golden Age) state website until a report appeared on Aug. 4, 2019, about the footage shown on state television. The same was true on state website Turkmenistan Today.
The last reports featuring Berdymukhammedov on the Russian-based pro-government website Turkmenistan.ru are from July 25, 2019; one congratulating Johnson and another about birthday wishes for Mirziyoev.
Even stranger, Turkmenistan.ru on Aug. 1, 2019 reported about the CEO of the Malaysian company Petronas, Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, visiting Avaza and meeting with Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and gas-and-oil-sector chief Yashigeldy Kakaev.
Berdymukhammedov’s name is not even mentioned in the report.
Petronas has been doing business in Turkmenistan since 1996. Petronas developed and is still working Block 1 in Turkmenistan’s sector of the Caspian Sea, “the first PSA to be awarded by the government of Turkmenistan.”
Petronas has invested more than billion in Turkmenistan and was a sponsor of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that Turkmenistan hosted. When Berdymukhammedov visited Malaysia in November 2016, he made a point of meeting with Ariffin, as he had met with previous Petronas head Dato Shamsul Azhar in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. Berdymukhammedov also met with Azhar’s predecessor, Hassan Marican, in Ashgabat in May 2009.
Despite the history of close ties to the heads of Petronas, Berdymukhammedov could not find even a few minutes to meet with Ariffin at a resort area in Turkmenistan.
On July 25, 2019, Afghanistan completed the Aqina-Andkhoi segment of a railway line that is to link Turkmenistan to Tajikistan via northern Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan has been facing hard economic times since 2015 and this should have been good news for the country. Turkmenistan sent a delegation to a ceremony launching the new line that was reported on by Turkmen media. But there was not a word attributed to Berdymukhammedov about the accomplishment and what it could mean for Turkmenistan.
Where is he?
The immediate denials of Berdymukhammedov’s death came, as mentioned, from Turkmenistan’s embassies in Moscow and Bishkek.
But how would they know? Both embassies reacted rather quickly, almost automatically, rejecting reports of bad news about Turkmenistan as they usually do.
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has not issued any statements denying the rumors Berdymukhammedov is ill or dead. In fact, while Berdymukhammedov has been on vacation it is not clear who exactly is running the country, though it does appear Foreign Minister Meredov is acting as the host to visitors.
And even Berdymukhammedov’s vacation is unusual this year.
Turkmenistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov cut the ribbon to open an exhibition.
As the Hronika Turkmenistana website pointed out, he usually only takes two weeks of summer vacation. This year, his vacation is from July 15 to August 15.
Berdymukhammedov has in the past often taken his ministers, or many of them, along with him on vacation. Some of the ministers were at Avaza playing various sports at the end of July, but Berdymukhammedov was never shown among them, which is very unusual, as he customarily is on TV instructing his ministers how to exercise properly.
Again, the media is not following Berdymukhammedov around and showing footage of him frolicking on the Caspian shores or inspecting Turkmenistan’s naval vessels or merchant fleet.
There was some footage at the very start of his vacation of him playing with his grandchildren and some kittens.
Turkmenistan has always been a unique, some would say bizarre, place, but in the last few weeks there is a feeling that things are not right. Established patterns of behavior are being ruptured without any credible explanation as to why.
It seems Berdymukhammedov has suffered some sort of problem, otherwise it would have been easy enough for him to appear on state television and say something — anything — about current events. On the other hand, Turkmen media is now devoting a great deal of effort to convince people that their president of the last 12 years is alive and healthy.
Although the first Caspian Economic Forum should be the focus of attention when it opens in Avaza on August 11, everyone will now be concentrating on whether Berdymukhammedov will make an appearance and, if he does, if he shows any signs of having suffered some illness or physical setback.
The US Navy’s Arctic muscles have atrophied over the years, so the service is working to relearn how to operate in this increasingly competitive space.
One way the Navy is doing that is by working with US allies and partners with the necessary knowledge and skills, picking their brains on how best to operate in this unforgiving environment.
Lt. Samuel Brinson, a US Navy surface warfare officer who took part in an exchange program aboard the Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec as it conducted Arctic operations, recently talked to Insider about his experiences.
Although he declined to say exactly where he went, Brinson said that he “didn’t know anyone who had been as far north” as he traveled on his Arctic mission.
The US Navy’s 2nd Fleet was reactivated last summer to defend US interests in the North Atlantic and Arctic waterways, as great power rivals like Russia and even China are becoming increasingly active in these spaces.
But there’s a learning curve.
“2nd Fleet is a newly-established fleet, and we just haven’t been operating in the Arctic as a navy much recently,” Brinson told Insider.
HMCS Ville de Quebec.
“We need to get up there. We need to practice operating. We need to practice operating with our allies. We need to get up there and experience it for ourselves as much as possible.”
That’s exactly what he did. He went on a one-month fact-finding mission in the Arctic.
Brinson, who had previously deployed to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operations (Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf), was approached by 2nd Fleet for this opportunity, which involved reporting on how the Canadian navy carries out its activities in the Arctic effectively.
“The most striking difference [between the Arctic and other deployment locations] is how remote it is,” he explained to Insider. “There are just not many towns. You go forever without seeing other ships. You go forever without seeing other establishments. The distance is a lot further between the places we were operating than it looks on a map.”
From an operations perspective, that makes logistics a bit more difficult. “The biggest challenge for going into the Arctic is logistics,” Brinson said.
“You have to have a plan where you are going and really think about where you are going to get fuel, where you are going to get food, and if you need to send people or get people from the ship, how and where you are going to do that. Everything is pretty far apart.”
“You don’t have a lot of refueling points, resupply stations,” he added. “When you get up into the Arctic, there is not really anything there, and if someone had to come get you, like if they had to send tugs to come get us, it was going to take days, like lots of days.”
The emptiness of the Arctic isn’t just a problem from a resupply standpoint. It also creates navigational problems.
“Because it’s less developed up there, it’s also been less charted,” Brinson told Insider. “We spent a lot of time switching between electronic charts, paper charts, you know, Canadian charts, Norwegian charts, etc. to navigate around where we were going. You have to use whichever chart was most complete and most up to date.”
“There’s a lot of headway that could be made on that in the future,” he added. “The more we operate up there, the more we know that, but before we send ships in to some of these places, we probably need to just survey it first.”
Views of a U.S.-Canada joint mission to map the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean in 2011.
There’s also frigid temperatures and ice to worry about.
Brinson, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was in the Arctic in August, a warmer period when the daytime highs were in the low 30s. “It was cold to me, but [the Canadians] all thought I was being silly,” he said.
In the spring, fall, or winter, the temperatures are much lower, and there is a risk of getting iced in while at port. “Right now, you pretty much only want to be up there June, July, August, and then as it starts getting into September, it starts getting too cold,” Brinson told Insider.
Even though the temperatures were higher when Brinson was there, ice was still a bit of problem. “There is enough around that you need to be extra careful, especially if it’s nighttime or foggy. There were icebergs that were bigger than the ship,” he said.
“If you were to hit something like that, it’s a huge problem,” Brinson added, recalling that he saw a polar bear roaming about on one of the icebergs with plenty of room to move around.
From the Canadians, Brinson learned how to deal with cold temperatures and ice, how to keep your water supply from freezing, which side to pass an iceberg on if there are pieces coming off it, and how to sail through an ice flow, among other things.
“Working with partners like Canada is key because they’ve never stopped operating up there,” he said. “They know things like that.”
Brinson told Insider that the US Navy has fallen behind and lost a step when it comes to Arctic operations. “What we need to do is just get back to doing it,” he said. “We need to start getting the level of knowledge back.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Syrian rebels shot down a Russian jet on Feb. 3 and then killed the pilot on the ground, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, triggering a furious barrage of dozens of airstrikes that observers say hit hospitals and killed civilians.
Adding to a chaotic weekend in the country, Turkish forces poured into Syria on Feb. 4 to fight U.S.-backed Kurdish militias there, suffering their heaviest day of losses so far with a tank being destroyed and troops coming under attack.
Caught in the crossfire are civilians, who are likely to pay the price of a furious Russia, which looks to have picked up its bombing runs to levels unseen since the fall of 2016.
Babies on stretchers, hospitals on fire
On the morning of Feb. 5, social media was replete with horrific footage believed to be taken from the ground in Syria.
The White Helmets, a volunteer organization whose members regularly pull civilians out of the rubble from bombings, posted pictures of babies in stretchers being taken from a burning hospital.
Several videos show men being treated for attacks apparently from chemical weapons, which Syria and Russia have vigorously denied using.
Russia vowed to find out who shot down its plane and where they got the weapon, which is said to be a man-portable air-defense, or Manpad, missile. Russian lawmakers went as far as saying they had information that “Western countries” had provided the system.
Other Russian officials threatened to punish countries that may have provided the weapons to the Syrians who shot down their jet, a Su-25 attack plane.
Throughout the first six years of Syria’s bloody civil war, the U.S. considered providing Manpads to Syrian rebels as a means of defending themselves against Syria’s air force, which has been accused of bombing and gassing civilians.
But as the war progressed and more and more hardline Islamist elements became entwined with the more moderate Syrian rebels, the U.S. publicly declined to provide the rebels with such weapons, which can also be used to take out commercial aircraft. Over the weekend, the Pentagon denied providing Manpads to Syrian rebels.
A new phase in the Syrian war?
But now Manpads are believed to have made their mark in Syria, possibly provided by powers that wish to erode Syria’s or Russia’s airpower or possibly plundered from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces themselves.
A soldier from the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that Turkey backs, was seen on video with a Russian-made Manpad in late January. In response to the highlighted threat from Manpads, Russia has ordered its jets to fly higher to avoid ground fire.
UPDATE: The Pentagon has identified the Special Forces soldier killed in a shootout April 8 in Afghanistan as Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Maryland. De Alencar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
A U.S. soldier was killed Saturday in Afghanistan while carrying out operations against the Islamic State group, a U.S. official said.
U.S. Navy Captain Bill Salvin, a spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, said the soldier was killed late April 8 during an operation against ISIS-Khorasan in Nangarhar province. ISIS-Khorasan is a branch of Islamic State active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of South Asia.
Reuters reported that the soldier was a member of the Special Forces.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul International Airport Wednesday morning targeting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who was making an unscheduled visit to Afghanistan.
Mattis had left the airport by the time the attack started, NBC News reports, and no casualties have been reported.
The airport said two missiles were fired toward the airport at around 11:00 a.m. local time, and the U.S. embassy warns that the attack may still be ongoing.
“At 11.36 am two missiles were fired on Kabul International Airport from Deh Sabz district, damaging the air force hangers and destroying one helicopter and damaging three other helicopters, but there were no casualties,” airport chief Yaqub Rassouli said according to USA Today.
While ISIS also claimed responsibility for the attack, that doesn’t necessarily mean the group had any involvement in carrying out the attack.
“We fired six rockets and planned to hit the plane of U.S. secretary of defense and other U.S. and NATO military officials,” one Taliban commander told NBC News. “We were told by our insiders that some losses were caused to their installations but we are not sure about James Mattis.”
NBC spoke with two unidentified Taliban commanders, who claimed that their inside sources who work security at the Kabul airport tipped them off to Mattis’s visit.
Mattis was holding a press conference away from the airport at the time of the attack, and told reporters that Afghan forces would strongly oppose the action.
“If in fact there was an attack … his is a classic statement to what Taliban are up to,” Mattis said. “If in fact this is what they have done, they will find Afghan security forces against them.”
As you may have heard already, the U.S. pulled out of Syria. Catch literally any other news agency for a hot take on that one. Me? I’d just like to point out the little things that also happened with that event. Namely, Russian troops immediately seized control of the compound the U.S. troops previously occupied.
The U.S. troops must have known something was up because they took the time to clear out literally every scrap of U.S. military hardware while not giving a single sh*t about their trash in the DFAC – much to the dismay of every DFAC NCO ever. Best of all, is the board with the Russian flag dong and other obscenities, mostly in Russian, sprawled across for the Ruskies to find.
All I’m saying is that I’m proud of you motherf*ckers is all. You’re doing Uncle Sam’s work. Anyways, here are some memes you glorious bastards.
(Meme via ASMDSS)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Photo via Infantry Follow Me)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
(Meme via On The Minute Memes)
(Meme via Call for Fire)
(Meme via Team Non-Rec)
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Private News Network)
Just for my own personal reasons, which post of mine was the final straw? Just curious…
Funny how “Ride or Die” just went until “we had a minor disagreement over something stupid.”
A Chinese military official has warned that war between the US and China is becoming “a practical reality” following the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
On January 20, an official from the People’s Liberation Army wrote on its official website that the US’s “rebalance” in Asia, its deployments to the region, and its push to arm South Korea with the THAAD missile-defense system were provocative “hot spots getting closer to ignition,” The South China Morning Post reported Friday.
Before his inauguration, Trump sparked controversy in China when he took a phone call from the president of Taiwan, going against the US’s decades-long protocol to respect a “One China” policy. At the time, Chinese officials lodged a complaint with the White House but referred to the call as a “shenanigan by the Taiwan side.”
But that hasn’t put to rest all of China’s concerns. “The Taiwan question” is a core interest to the country, which, two PLA authors wrote in December, could push a more aggressive response as the US supports independence for Taiwan and more exports of weaponry.
“We hope that the US will rein in at the brink of the precipice and avoid going farther and farther down the wrong path,” the authors wrote on the Chinese military’s official website.
For now, China seems to be trying to get a read on what a Trump administration might do, especially in the contested South China Sea. But it is continuing to build up military preparedness and overhaul its ranks,according to SCMP.
“As it’s highly unlikely that China will compromise its sovereignty claims in the face of US pressure, we can be sure that the dispute will increasingly become a risky point of contention between Beijing and Washington,” Ian Storey, a senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told the paper.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced that as part of his Afghanistan strategy, warfighters would see restrictions lifted and authorities expanded. Now, there is a sense of just what he meant in his Aug. 21 speech.
According to multiplereports, Taliban forces no longer have to be engaged with American units or with Afghan units being advised by Americans to be hit with air strikes.
Looser rules of engagement have long been advocated by a number of officials.
“You see some of the results of releasing our military from, for example, a proximity requirement — how close was the enemy to the Afghan or the U.S.-advised special forces,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Prior to the change, Taliban forces in training camps and assembly areas were not targeted, in essence creating safe havens. Now, Taliban bases are being hit. In April, prior to Trump’s speech, the United States used the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb to hit a Taliban tunnel complex.
Furthermore, American advisors will now be pushed to battalion and brigade headquarters to get them closer to Afghan units engaged in combat. American aircraft can often only provide close-air support when the units have American advisors.
“Those units with NATO and American advisers win, and those without them often do not win,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee. “So we are going to spread the number of units with advisers to bring that air support to win.”
The Secretary of Defense also noted that the tendency that the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan have shown to hide among civilian populations means that American forces will still need to ensure that they do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties.
Chuck Sweeney left the Navy as a commander in 1980, after a 22-year pilot career that included 200 combat missions, 4,334 flight hours, and 757 carrier landings.
In one week of that career, Sweeney earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight,” for his actions over Vietnam.
Sweeney, president of the national Distinguished Flying Cross Society, spoke with Insider about the unusual way he got his start as a carrier pilot, his time fighting in Vietnam, and the week he was awarded three DFCs in September 1972.
Despite his awards, “I’m no different than most other people,” Sweeney said in the 2017 documentary “Distinguished Wings over Vietnam.”
“I just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time.”
“I have a lot of friends who said they were interested in flying early on, and they always wanted to be a pilot,” Sweeney told Insider. “I really didn’t. I wasn’t against it. I just never thought about it.”
But after he was drafted in 1958, he decided to join the Navy “and see the world.”
His first assignment took him to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland as an aeronautical engineer — not exactly one of the exotic destinations Sweeney had in mind.
Sweeney first flew the S-2E anti-submarine aircraft, then volunteered to be an attack pilot, flying the A-4 Skyhawk, while he was earning a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
“They were losing a lot of pilots,” in Vietnam, Sweeney told Insider. “They were being killed or captured.”
After combat missions in Vietnam and Laos, Sweeney trained pilots in Lemoore, California. But his shore duty didn’t last long.
In July 1972, he was sent to the USS Hancock to replace Cmdr. Frank Green, the executive officer of Attack Squadron 212, who was missing in action after his aircraft was shot down.
“The next morning, I was flying my first strike against North Vietnam,” Sweeney told Insider. “Back in those days, things were happening fast.”
Sweeney’s first DFC came after a high-stakes rescue in the waters just off North Vietnam.
Lt. William Pear’s aircraft was hit and landed in the treacherous territory, and Sweeney coordinated his rescue from the cockpit of his A-4, even as he himself was under anti-aircraft fire.
“Most of the time, if you landed over North Vietnam, 99 times out of 100, you’d be captured,” Sweeney said. “But we got him back and kept him out of the Hanoi Hilton.”
Pear was the last A-4 pilot to be rescued during the Vietnam War, Sweeney said in an interview for the Distinguished Flying Cross Society Oral History Collection in 2005.
Days later, Sweeney led aircraft from the Hancock in a strike and was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross.
“We had 35 aircraft going after a target in North Vietnam, and I was leading the whole strike,” he said.
“I had planned numerous strikes and led them in training, but this was the real thing,” Sweeney said in a 2005 oral interview in the book “On Heroic Wings.”
They successfully completed the strike but met frightening resistance. North Vietnamese MiGs took off and headed toward Sweeney’s strike group, although they eventually stood down, and the group was under heavy anti-aircraft fire.
“For doing the job that I was trained to do I was awarded my second DFC,” Sweeney said in “On Heroic Wings.”
Sweeney’s third DFC came the next day, when he led three other aircraft in an alpha strike on the outskirts of Hanoi.
On a strike that close to the North Vietnamese capital, “You knew the defenses were going to be heavier,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney and other pilots dodged North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) as they headed to their target, a major railyard.
“The rule was, to avoid being hit, when [the SAM] looked like a flying telephone pole, you made this maneuver around it, kind of away from it,” Sweeney said.
“Lo and behold, this thing” — the SAM— “came up, and as it got closer, I thought ‘Oh, this has Chuck Sweeney’s name on it.'”
Sweeney managed to avoid the missile but got separated from the rest of his group and caught up just as they were preparing to attack their target.
Sweeney’s group hit a loaded train and avoided even more anti-aircraft fire as they headed back to the USS Hancock.
For over a year, the U.S. military has been looking at options for replacing the decades-old Beretta M9 handgun. As with most DoD programs, the so-called “Modular Handgun System” program is a sprawling, multi-million dollar plan to find a new pistol that takes advantage of innovations in the current firearms market and delivers a sidearm that works well for a variety of missions and troops.
Listen to the WATM podcast to hear the author and our veteran hosts discuss what the XM17 modular handgun program means to the military:
The M9 is a solid performer and is still popular among many in the U.S. military. But over the last 20 years, handgun technology — especially the use of polymers in handgun construction — has advanced well beyond the all-metal, one-size-fits-all frame of the flagship Beretta sidearm.
Both the Army and Air Force are running the search for an M9 replacement, dubbed the XM17, and have called for a do-all pistol that will fit in the hands of a wide range of troops, be more accurate and reliable than the Beretta and, most importantly, be configurable for different missions.
An ambitious goal to be sure, and some high-ranking officials in the Pentagon have argued it’s one that’ll wind up being too expensive and take too long to field, with the Army estimating it’ll take $17 million and 2 years to test the final version of the XM17.
“We’re not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon. This is a pistol,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in March. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”
Despite Milley’s frustration, the program is set for a so-called “downselect” next month to three competitor designs to move into field testing. The safe money is that the Army will settle on options from Sig Sauer, Glock and a team composed of General Dynamics and Smith Wesson.
So what do each of these companies bring to the table for a modular handgun?
By far the most popular handgun among law enforcement, military special operations and a huge swath of civilian shooters, the Glock series of polymer-framed pistols has been considered the gold standard of modern handguns since its introduction in the 1980s.
In fact, the Glock 19 is the standard-issue handgun for Army special operations troops, Air Force special operations Airmen and has recently been chosen to replace Naval Special Warfare Sig Sauer P226 pistols. Sources say the company submitted versions of its G17 (a 5-inch barreled, 9mm handgun) and the G22 (a 4.5-inch barreled, .40 caliber handgun) to the MHS program.
A Special Forces soldier fires a Glock 19 pistol at a range during joint training with Hungarian special operations forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tyler Placie)
While Glock doesn’t have a so-called “modular” gun, the pistol uses so few parts that swapping a barrel or switching the backstrap of the grip for smaller-handed shooters takes no time. Glock offers several handguns that look and operate the same as the G17 and G22 — namely the G19, G43 and G21 — that are more compact or are optimized for different shooting situations.
Long a close second to the Glock family of polymer pistols, Smith Wesson’s MP series of handguns have made serious inroads in the law enforcement and civilian markets.
Check out the utility belt of a local cop or stroll down the shooting bays of your local range, and you’re bound to see a bunch of MP 9s in holsters or on the bench. Similar to the Glock, the MP pistol is simple to operate, has few parts and fits a wide range of shooters with replaceable backstraps on its grip.
Smith Wesson MP 9. (Photo from Smith Wesson)
And, like Glock, Smith Wesson doesn’t have a truly modular handgun system. But the company makes a longer barrel MP in a variety of calibers and the wildly popular MP Shield for concealed carry. All are based on the same design as the MP 9 and have the same ergonomics — so troops shifting from the 5-inch MP 5-inch CORE on one mission to the MP Shield on another won’t have to deal with a learning curve.
Sig Sauer has been most widely known for its double action handguns (ones that have hammers instead of strikers), and the P226 is perhaps the most famous gun the company makes since it’s been the go-to pistol for Naval Special Warfare’s sailors for years.
That changed this year when the SEAL community let slip that it would be replacing its inventory of P226s with Glock 19s — in line with other special operations units in the U.S. military. In 2014, Sig announced its newest handgun, dubbed the “P320,” which uses a similar polymer frame and striker fire system as the Glock and MP.
But what makes the P320 unique among its closest competitors is that it is truly modular. Buy a stock P320 and a shooter can purchase new frames and barrels in different sizes and calibers; you can literally change the P320 from a 4.7-inch combat handgun into a 3.6-inch subcompact concealed carry gun in about a minute with a new frame, slide and barrel.
Photo from Sig Sauer
You can even switch out a 9mm to a .40 with ease. The only common part of the Sig P320 is the “fire control group” which includes the trigger and internal safety module.
The problem is the Army (and other services) don’t have a great track record of making solid decisions on new weapons that take advantage of modern technology.
For several years in the early 2000s, the Army spent a lot of time and money looking into a replacement for the M4 carbine — a rifle that derives from a pre-Vietnam design. Despite test reports that showed other options performed better than the M4, the Army decided it wasn’t enough of an improvement over the existing rifle, and the service shelved the program.
Likewise, the Mk-16 and Mk-17 SOCOM Combat Assault Rifle — or SCAR — program was originally billed as a modular rifle program, one that would eventually see a combat rifle capable of switching from, say, a short-barreled entry gun into a longer-barreled one for more distant engagements. That program was also shelved, with special ops forces mostly using the .308 caliber Mk-17 on some missions as a battle rifle.
It’s still unclear whether the XM17 program will suffer a similar fate. But it’s there’s no argument that the Beretta M9 is facing an age problem and is increasingly causing armorers headaches.
So whether it’s a Glock 19 from Cabela’s or a futuristic, modular pistol, U.S. troops should see some kind of new handgun in their armory within a few years.