Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

There is growing support among outside security experts for the notion that an “incident” at Iran’s main nuclear-enrichment facility last week was an act of sabotage in a shadow war aimed at setting back Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Many analysts believe that a foreign state, possibly Israel, was behind the July 2 fire at the Natanz facility in Iran’s central Isfahan Province.



The conflagration caused “considerable financial damage,” according to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, which had originally sought to downplay the incident.

An image released by Iran in the aftermath of the incident and satellite images released abroad showed significant damage — including ripped-out doors, scorch marks, and a collapsed roof — at a building where centrifuges were assembled.

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Iranian authorities have said they know the cause of the incident but have withheld any public announcement due to “security” issues.

“Many countries have a clear interest to delay the Iranian nuclear military project; one of them is Israel,” Yaakov Amidror, a retired major general and former national-security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told RFE/RL.

Iran maintains that all of its nuclear activities are peaceful, and it has opened its known nuclear sites to UN inspectors since signing a deal in 2015 exchanging curbs on its nuclear program for sanctions relief with world powers including the United States, which has since walked away from the deal.

But the United States and Israel have for years accused Iran of a long-running effort to acquire a nuclear bomb-making capability.

Previous Attacks

They are thought to have targeted Iran’s nuclear program in the past with cyberattacks and malicious software, or malware.

One of those suspected joint efforts was the Stuxnet computer worm, which damaged Iran’s nuclear infrastructure according to reports that began to emerge in 2010.

At least four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated between 2010 and 2012, engendering speculation that the killings were part of a suspected covert campaign waged by Israel against Iran’s nuclear program.

After last week’s fire at Natanz, The Washington Post on July 6 quoted a Middle Eastern security official as saying a “huge explosive device” had been planted by Israeli operatives to “send a signal” to Tehran.

“There was an opportunity, and someone in Israel calculated the risk and took the opportunity,” the unnamed official told the paper.

On July 5, The New York Times quoted “a Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the episode” as saying Israel had targeted Natanz using what the paper called “a powerful bomb.”

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied any role in the incident.

Speaking on July 5, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said his country wasn’t “necessarily” behind every incident in Iran, adding that Israel’s long-standing policy is not to allow Iran access to nuclear capabilities.

Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said Israel has demonstrated the ability “to penetrate Iran’s nuclear program,” most recently in 2018 when Israeli agents are reported to have broken into a warehouse in the Iranian capital and extracted a trove of documents detailing the country’s nuclear activities.

“It is the type of operation that Israel might conduct at any time when it sees the opportunity,” Goldenberg, who previously headed an Iran team in the Office of the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told RFE/RL.

‘Perception Of Chaos’

Speaking generally and not about this specific incident, he suggested the aim of such operations might be to delay Iran’s nuclear program “as much as possible.”

“For Israelis, there is also the additional benefit of trying to create the perception of chaos at a time when the Iranian government is struggling with an economic crisis and COVID-19,” he added.

The Natanz incident comes amid a gradual backing away by Tehran from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.

It has said its moves are a response to the May 2018 withdrawal from the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) by U.S. President Donald Trump and the reimposition of harsh U.S. sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Raz Zimmt, an Iran analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, suggested that the incident at Natanz could reflect Israeli concern about Iran’s expansion of its nuclear activities beyond the limit set in the nuclear deal, which Israel opposed.

“Not only that Iran still refuses to return to negotiations, but it has withdrawn from its commitments to the JCPOA shortening the breakout time considerably,” he said in a reference to the period needed to amass enough weapons-grade uranium to arm a nuclear weapon.

“Under those circumstances, and especially considering the possibility that it would be difficult to go back to the JCPOA whether Trump wins the U.S. elections [in November] or [Democratic challenger] Joe Biden [does], Israel is back in the dilemma of either to allow Iran to continue advancing its nuclear program up to a short distance from a breakout capability or to use covert operations, or even a military option in the future, in order to delay Iran’s nuclear program,” Zimmt said.

Tehran’s Dilemma

Any sabotage targeting Natanz, if conducted by Israel, could pose a dilemma for Tehran on how to respond. Admitting an Israeli role could be interpreted as showing that Tehran was unable to prevent such an attack and would also likely suggest a need for retaliation, which could in turn prompt Israeli action.

“The reason why authorities are not ready to point their fingers at Israel is that they would then be forced to react — at least at the same level, which would be very difficult, and it would result in Israeli retaliation,” said former Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh, who thinks Tehran’s “cautious” reaction appears to confirm the assessment that Natanz was targeted by a foreign power.

Speaking on July 7, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei suggested that reports claiming an Israeli role in the destruction at Natanz were part of a “psychological war” against his country.

“The Israeli regime should be aware that creating a norm-breaking narrative on any attack against our nuclear facilities, even if it is only propaganda, is considered as stepping in the path of violating red lines of global peace and security,” Rabiei was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

Suspicious Incidents

The fire at the Natanz facility follows several other suspicious incidents, including a June 25 explosion at a gas-storage facility near a military base east of Tehran.

That has led to speculation about a possible Israeli or U.S. effort to destabilize Iran’s clerical establishment, which is already under intense pressure due to sanctions, growing public discontent, and a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 12,000 Iranians and infected nearly 250,000, according to official figures that are thought to be a significant underreporting.

Analyst Zimmt, meanwhile, warned of the danger of speculating about connections between such events.

“It is inevitable that some of the incidents are also related to infrastructure problems due to the difficult economic situation or mismanagement,” he said.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This Orca is the Navy’s new extra large underwater drone

The orca, also called the killer whale, is a large deadly marine mammal that hunts for prey. Whales can hold their breath underwater for over an hour – and since killer whales can swim as fast as 30 knots, they can go a long way in a stealthy fashion before they turn up somewhere, catching their prey by surprise.

In one sense, it is appropriate to name the Navy’s plan for a new long-range extra-large unmanned underwater vehicle (XLUUV) after the orca. After all, it is intended to stay underwater for a long period of time and cover a fair bit of distance.


However, information obtained at the 2018 SeaAirSpace expo at National Harbor, Maryland indicates that this Orca is more like a utility player on a major-league baseball team’s bench than a cold-blooded killer.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

The Marlin unmanned underwater vehicle is ten feet long, has 18 hours of endurance, and can go at a top speed of four knots.

(Photo by Lockheed)

The Orca is intended to handle a variety of “multiple critical missions,” while leveraging existing technology. It will provide range and persistence, while operating autonomously. Lockheed’s website notes that among the missions it could carry out are intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (in essence, acting as a scout in areas a full-sized submarine cannot go, and which you don’t care if it doesn’t come back), mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare training (when you don’t have a sub around), and “indication and warning notification” (in essence, acting as an underwater picket that you don’t care about not picking up).

The Orca will also be a modular system, so that future missions can be added to the platform. This means we will likely see the system around for a long time. The impression shows that it bears a strong resemblance to a Mk 48 torpedo. This would allow it to be launched from the torpedo tubes of American subs.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

Orca could fill the gap caused by the early retirement of some Los Angeles-class submarines like USS Baltimore (SSN 704).

(U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy considers Orca to be a “Joint Emerging Operational Need.” It’s not hard to understand why. Thirty years ago, the Navy had 100 attack submarines. In September 2016, that number had fallen to 52. Many subs that were considered top of the line in the 1980s, like early Los Angeles-class attack subs, were retired instead of being re-fitted.

Thus, the Orca may help fill the gap to an extent. But maybe it would be better to get more subs, as well.

MIGHTY MEMES

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of April 5th

It’s not that I have anything against the good-natured jokes of April Fool’s Day, it’s just that I don’t believe anything for an entire day. Sure, you have your ridiculous ads from companies, like the McPickle burger from McDonald’s, but then there’s the ones that sound plausible until you stop and think about it for more than a second.

Tom Brady saying he’s going to retire? The dude still has four more fingers to go. Lockheed Martin saying they now have the technology to smell Space? That’s not how Space works. The Army announces that it’ll take the well-being of the troops into consideration and allow them to wear protective masks, under AR 670-1, in areas of with hazardous air quality? Good one.


At least there was a solid selection of memes to choose from this week! Enjoy!

(In all seriousness, the protective mask one is real — and it’s about freakin’ time.)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Broken and Unreadable)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via I Am An American Soldier)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

It took me longer than I’m willing to admit to get that the left side was port and right was starboard.

And the only way I still remember it is because ‘left’ has four letters, and so does ‘port.’ Don’t judge me.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via 1st Civ Division)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Private News Network)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Screengrab via The Salty Soldier, Credit to Reddit user u/patientbearr)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme by Ranger Up)

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch Marines bring out the big guns at one of Europe’s largest war games

Every Marine is a rifleman — we all know this to be true. One Marine and his rifle can deliver a world of hurt unto the bad guys. But it’s been a long time since Marines have relied on rifles alone to complete the mission.

In fact, Marines often employ guns that are a heck of a lot bigger than an M16 rifle, like the M777 howitzer. The M16 fires a 5.56mm round. The M777 fires 155mm rounds — nearly 28 times larger. If a Marine delivers a world of hurt with a rifle, then they deliver an entire galaxy of pain with a howitzer.

But, just as with rifles, learning how to use a howitzer requires practice — the sort of practice best done at large-scale war games.


Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

U.S. Marines with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, fire the M777 towed 155 mm howitzer during the assault support tactics 1 exercise in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructors course 2-17 at Fire Base Burt, Calif.

(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Clare Shaffer)

Believe it or not, it’s a lot more complicated than just pointing the howitzer at the enemy, loading it, and pulling the lanyard. The M777 weighs over 8,250 pounds and fires shells at targets up to 19 miles away with a normal HE round (other rounds have a longer range). This gun is operated by a crew of seven, each of whom play an essential role in sending rounds (very far) down range.

This howitzer has been used by American troops since 2005 and has seen plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan, where both soldiers and Marines have used this big gun to take out al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban. This British design has also been acquired by Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. Funnily enough, British troops don’t use this big gun.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

U.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria during combat against ISIS forces.

(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery Laning)

One motivated Marine with his rifle is bad news for the enemy — now imagine what seven motivated Marines can do with a howitzer!

Check out the video below to watch Marines practice with the M777 howitzer during this year’s Saber Strike exercise in Latvia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Persian Immortals became masters of psychological warfare

War is just as much a psychological battle as it is physical. If you’re able to convince your enemy that they have no chance of surviving before the first drop of blood is spilled, you’ve already won. No warriors in history have embodied this concept better than the Anausa or, as they’re more commonly known, the Persian Immortals.

Even their very name, “Immortal,” is a part of the mind tricks they played on their enemies. In order to keep up the image of being unkillable, they wore matching uniforms and hastily recovered their dead or wounded, fueling the illusion that none fell in battle. But that barely even scratches the surface of the psychological warfare the Persians employed to conquer 44 percent of all humanity at the height of their power in 480 B.C.


Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

As over-the-top as the rest of the film was, this is an entirely accurate scene. The rest of the movie though? Ehhh…

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

As with many early civilizations, much of the history of Achaemenid Empire (to Empire for which the Immortals fought) has been lost to time. The history we do have comes from the Greek scholar, Herodotus. Though he opposed Persia, he kept detailed battle plans of the Immortals and those that faced them.

One such example happened to make its way into the 2006 film, 300. A Spartan at Thermopylae scoffed at a Persian envoy who said their arrows could “black out the sky” by replying, “then we’ll fight in the shade.” That wasn’t just a boast — that actually happened.

The Immortals were well aware that their arrows were inferior to Spartan steel. So, instead of making them stronger, they made more of them so that every archer could unleash them in one, rapid moment, literally blacking out the sky with arrows.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

“Cats! Our only weakness!” – Some Egyptian, probably.

(Ancient History Museum)

Another example of the ferocity of the Immortals was when the Persians defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Pelusium. The Persians knew that the Egyptians were faithful to the Egyptian Goddess of Cats, Bastet. To the Egyptians, any harm done to a cat was considered great sacrilege.

Knowing this, the Persians simply drew cats on their shields and let loose a bunch of cats onto the battlefield. This alone was enough to make many Egyptians immediately surrender. When the other Egyptians manned their catapults, the Persians would let them know that they had cats with them — and that unleashed the artillery could mean killing a few felines.

If the Immortals didn’t have enough time to prepare for an individual opponent, they’d resort to their shock-and-awe cavalry, armed with sagaris, or long axes. The lightweight ax made it easy for Immortals to twirl them over their heads and swing fast enough to make an enemy’s blood splash far enough back to intimidate their foes.

At the Battle of the Granicus in 334 B.C., Alexander II of Macedon was nearly scalped by an Immortal cavalryman named Spithridates. His ax sliced clean straight through Alexander’s helmet and was just millimeters away from being a fatal blow.

After that moment, Alexander swore to the destruction of Persia. He studied their tactics and instructed his men on how to counter their advances. This took away the Persian’s edge in battle, and Alexander, from then on, took on the moniker of “the Great.”

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

This is the Russian spy unit that keeps getting caught in the act

Most of us think of highly-trained spies and espionage units as the best of the best, Cold War ninjas who would never dream of getting caught lest they be disavowed by Washington, Moscow, London, or wherever they come from.

If 1980s-era film and television has taught us anything, it’s that the Russian spy agencies are among the best of the best. If that was true, something is severely lacking lately, because one of their spy units keeps getting caught doing some high-profile greasy stuff.


Russia’s GRU unit 29155 was recently outed as the unit behind the alleged payment of bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But that’s not the only high-visibility mission that was uncovered in recent days. 29155 was also allegedly behind the effort to hack Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the assassination of former KGB spy Sergei Skripal in England, and an attempted coup in Montenegro.

The unit is part of the Russian military intelligence apparatus, responsible for intelligence gathering and operations outside of the Russian Federation. The GRU (as it’s known outside of Russia and the former Soviet Union) was not as widely known or regarded as the Soviet KGB or the KGB’s antecedents, the Russian SVR and FSB, but today it is the go-to agency for military-related operations.

Why? Because it deploys six times as many foriegn operatives as the FSB or SVR. The GRU is Russia’s largest foreign security service. But unlike the KGB, the GRU has been largely unchanged since its Soviet heyday.

The GRU is the unit that takes on the most important military operations, like say, partnering with the Taliban or killing off former Soviet spies. But Foreign Policy says their work has been pretty sloppy in the past few years.

In the case of bounties on American troops in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence services were actually able to track bank transfers between the Taliban and GRU accounts overseas. As for the other plots, it didn’t even require intelligence services. Media outlets inside and outside of Russia have been able to track members of 29155 because they kept reusing aliases with questionable cover stories to travel throughout the world.

Using these bits of information, the movement of GRU assets was relatively easy to track for the media, who published their findings. It was so easy, the information was confirmed by multiple countries’ intelligence agencies. The members of 29155 were mapped and tracked all over Europe.

Two of the 29155’s agents, Alexander Petrov (really Alexander Mishkin) and Ruslan Boshirov (real name Anatoliy Chepiga), were caught red-handed by Scotland Yard on closed-circuit tv cameras in the 2018 assassination plot of Sergei Skripal.

In that plot, the use of a Soviet nerve agent, along with the GRU operatives, led investigators not only to 29155, but to Chepiga entire graduating class of the GRU academy. From there, they uncovered plots to poison an arms dealer, interfering in elections in Spain, and even a coup in NATO member Montenegro.

Western intelligence saw the effort as a “Rosettta Stone” in reading Russian intelligence movements abroad.

Whoops.

Articles

This airman just gave her military dog a second chance at life

After nearly a year apart, it was an emotional moment when Air Force Staff Sgt. Amanda Cubbage of the 355th Security Forces Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and the military working dog she worked with in South Korea were reunited here August 8.


The dog, Rick, was flown in from Osan Air Base, South Korea, after a lengthy adoption process.

“It’s [like] getting part of your heart back,” Cubbage said.

Cubbage and Rick served together at Osan for 11 months. On duty, they conducted exercises, and bomb threat and security checks. Off duty, they were each other’s wingman.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
Photo by Capt. Allie Payne

“Being stationed in Korea unaccompanied, he was my support,” Cubbage said. “He was there for everything I needed. He was there when I was happy, he was there when I was sad. Everything I needed came from him.”

As a military working dog handler, Cubbage has worked with several other dogs. She described parting ways as bittersweet.

“It’s just like having a kid moving off and going to college,” she said. “You still love your kid. It’s just the fact that they’re growing up, they’re going out, and they’re doing other things.”

Rick was different from the other dogs, Cubbage said. He instantly won her over with his headstrong personality.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
US Air Force Staff Sgt. Amanda Cubbage, 355th Security Forces Squadron member, reunites with her recently retired military working dog, Rick, in Tucson, Ariz., August 8, 2017. Cubbage worked with Rick while she served as a MWD handler at Osan Air Base, South Korea. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Michael X. Beyer.

Rick’s Retirement

After seven years of service, Rick was retired due to his age. Cubbage found out about the opportunity to adopt him from a fellow handler. “And that’s when I reached out to the American Humane Society,” she said. “They said, ‘Absolutely, we’d love to help out.'”

Military working dogs are allowed to be adopted after retirement due to “Robby’s Law,” which was passed by Congress in 2000. The adoption process can be long and drawn out, involving tedious paperwork, immunizations, and, in Rick’s case, crossing the Pacific Ocean.

“You sit there and you wait and wait, and you just count down the days, count down the time, until you’re reunited with him,” Cubbage said.

Now that he is finally reunited with his companion, Rick will live a quiet life in retirement, filled with rest, relaxation, and plenty of treats.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The reason South Korea wants a ‘decapitation squad’ might surprise you

South Korea’s defense minister is publicly boasting that it will create a new “decapitation unit” called the Spartan 3000 with the express intent of taking out North Korean leadership, The New York Times reports.


The brigade-sized unit of between 2,000 and 4,000 soldiers will be established by year’s end, The Times reported the defense minister, Song Young-moo, as saying, adding that the military was already “retooling” helicopters and transporting planes to be able to penetrate North Korean airspace at night.

It’s out of the ordinary for a senior government leader to publicly say they are working on a plan to assassinate a foreign head of state. But there’s an interesting reason behind it: The South is trying to freak out its northern neighbor and get it to the negotiating table instead of further developing nuclear weapons.

“The best deterrence we can have, next to having our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong Un fear for his life,” retired South Korean Lt. Gen. Shin Won-sik told The Times.

Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb. The claim has not yet been independently confirmed, but some experts think North Korea may have detonated such a device or is very close to achieving it, according to Reuters.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
Kim Jong Un in a nuclear facility in North Korea. (KCNA)

While a “decapitation unit” — if created — may give Kim pause, it’s unlikely that such a force would be able to carry out cross-border raids without a deadly retaliation from Pyongyang. Part of the reason many of the US’s military options against North Korea range from bad to worse is that Seoul, a metro area with more than 25 million people, is within artillery range of the North.

Most experts think that a preemptive strike against North Korea would be perceived as an attempt at regime change and that its military leadership would most likely lash out at South Korea with artillery and chemical weapons.

“It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953,” US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in June of potential hostilities. “It will involve the massive shelling of an ally’s capital, which is one of the most densely packed cities on earth.”

Articles

These British troops launched a ‘proper angry’ bayonet charge during the Iraq War

In May 2004, about 20 British troops were on the move 15 miles south of al-Amara, near the major city of Basra in Iraq. They were on the way to assist another unit that was under fire when their convoy was hit by a surprise of its own.


Shia militias averaged five attacks per day in Basra when the U.K. troops arrived. British soldiers tried to arrest Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for supporting the violence and the locals were not happy about it. An unpredictable level of violence broke out. British troops were frequently under assault – an estimated 300 ambushes within three months.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
UK troops in Southern Iraq (U.S. Army photo)

“We were constantly under attack,” Sgt. Brian Wood told the BBC. “If mortars weren’t coming into our base, then we were dragged out into the city to help other units under fire.”

Wood and other troops from the 1st Battallion of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment were on their way to aid Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were attacked by 100 militiamen from al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army when their vehicle struck an IED. The surprise attack actually hit two vehicles carrying 20 troops on a highway south of Amarah. Mortars, rockets, and machine guns peppered the unarmored vehicles.

Rather than drive through the ambush, the vehicles took so much punishment they had to stop on the road. The troops inside dismounted, established a perimeter, and had to call in some help of their own. Ammunition soon ran low.

The decision was made: the British troops fixed bayonets.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
A UK troop with fixed bayonet. (MoD photo)

They ran across 600 feet of open ground toward the entrenched enemy. Once on top of the Mahdi fighters, the British bayoneted 20 of the militia. Fierce hand-to-hand combat followed for five hours. The Queen’s men suffered only three injuries.

“We were pumped up on adrenaline — proper angry,” Pvt. Anthony Rushforth told The Sun, a London-based newspaper. “It’’s only afterwards you think, ‘Jesus, I actually did that’.’ ””

What started as a surprise attack on a British convoy ended with 28 dead militiamen and three wounded U.K. troops.

Jihadi propaganda at the time told young fighters that Western armies would run from ambushes and never engage in close combat. They were wrong. Irregular, unexpected combat tactics overwhelmed a numerically superior enemy who had the advantage in surprise and firepower.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Pompeo warns Taliban against attacking U.S. troops

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held a video conference call with the Taliban during which the top U.S. diplomat warned the insurgents against attacking American troops in Afghanistan, the Department of State says.

A statement said Pompeo and the Taliban’s Qatar-based chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, on June 29 discussed implementation of a February agreement between Washington and the militants.


Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

“The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Earlier, the Taliban said Baradar reaffirmed during the call the group’s commitment to the peace process in Afghanistan and reiterated a pledge not to strike U.S. forces.

The call comes as U.S. President Donald Trump faces mounting pressure to explain his actions after being reportedly told that Russian spies last year had offered and paid cash to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers.

The White House has said Trump wasn’t briefed on the intelligence assessments because they haven’t been fully verified and were not deemed credible actionable intelligence.

U.S. – Taliban deal

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Taliban deal is at a critical stage at a time violence in Afghanistan has continued since a three-day cease-fire at the end of May. The Afghan National Security Council said June 30 that, since February, the Taliban had on average staged 44 attacks per day on Afghan security forces.

Under the accord, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 12,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July. If the rest of the deal goes through, all U.S. and other foreign troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-2021.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

The New York Times reported last week that U.S. intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops.

Subsequent reports by The New York Times and Washington Post reported several American soldiers may have died last year as a result of the bounties.

In particular, U.S. officials are investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

At the time of the attack, the Defense Department identified those killed as Marine Staff Sergeant Christopher Slutman, Sergeant Benjamin Hines, and Corporal Robert Hendriks.

The Taliban and the Department of State did not specifically say whether Pompeo and Baradar spoke about the report.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a series of tweets that the two sides discussed “foreign troop withdrawal, prisoner release, start of intra-Afghan dialogue, and reduction in [military] operations.”

“We are committed to starting inter-Afghan talks, as we have said before, but delays in the release of prisoners have delayed inter-Afghan talks,” Shaheen tweeted, referring to a pledge by Afghan authorities to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a condition to start the negotiations.

Baradar “noted that according to the agreement, we will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against the security of the United States and other countries,” he also wrote.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Iraq War veteran’s new novel, Empire City, answers the question, ‘What if we conquered Vietnam?’

We’ve all played the “What If” game. In the military, this can lead to some rather interesting questions: What would happen if I was in charge of this op? What if I put my hands in my pockets? What if 1st Sergeant was nicer?

In his most recent novel Empire City, Iraq War veteran and author, Matt Gallagher, answers a question that has circulated in the barracks and across many a dinner table, “What if the U.S. won the Vietnam War full WWII unconditional surrender style?” Gallagher’s novel, set half a century in the future from a North Vietnam surrender and occupation, explores an American society transformed by the Vietnam experience into an empire that would rival Rome or the colonial British. However, buried deep inside the world of Empire City, Gallagher also answers a very poignant and pressing question, “What is the real cost of victory?”


Empire City follows the journey of Sebastian Rios, a mid-level bureaucrat, who owes his career and his life to the group of veterans that came to his rescue overseas. Known as the “Volunteers,” these special operators toe the line between national treasures and Soldiers of Fortune who when not deployed to the frontlines of conflicts across the Mediterranean are living the high life in Hollywood and the clubs of Empire City – and, SPOILER ALERT – they aren’t even Navy SEALS but they do have super powers. Along with Mia, a former helicopter pilot turned Wall Street banker, Sebastian finds himself caught in a constitutional debate after a terrorist attack on the city, could, or better, should the U.S. deploy their best soldiers onto home territory?

Like the story of Caesar and his legions crossing the Rubicon, Empire City recounts the multiple layers of tradition turned upside down when a series of battle-hardened veterans decide to act. Among the key players are a former general turned presidential candidate as well as an army of foreign legionnaires who earned their citizenship by fighting America’s wars past and present. If you’d like to know one possible answer to the questions, “What if the hippie movement had failed?” Or, “What if corporate American bought and sold stakes in military units like NASCAR sponsorships?” And, “What if American patriots became their own sheepdogs?” then you’ll enjoy Empire City.

Military veterans, especially combat veterans like Gallagher, who translated his experiences into his previous books, Youngblood and Kaboom, have been known to write some of the most fascinating alternative historical novels of our time. For example, Robert Heinlein, a WWII veteran of the Pacific, went on to write the classic Starship Troopers, a must read for both military and science fiction enthusiasts. I think it’s safe to say that Empire City is the newest addition to our must-read list and Gallagher has just joined a special unit of writers that include Heinlein, Orwell and Turtledove.

Empire City is now available on Amazon or where Simon Schuster novels are sold.

Articles

Hundreds of VA employees get pink slips over White House pledge to clean up agency

Five hundred and forty-eight Department of Veterans Affairs employees have been terminated since President Donald Trump took office, indicating that his campaign pledge to clean up “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States” by relentlessly putting his TV catch phrase “you’re fired” into action was more than just empty rhetoric.


Another 200 VA workers were suspended and 33 demoted, according to data newly published by the department as part of VA Secretary David Shulkin’s commitment to greater transparency. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers, and 25 physicians.

Also disciplined were a program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability Office, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chief of police, and a chief of surgery.

Many housekeeping aides and food service workers — lower-level jobs in which the department has employed felons and convicted sex offenders — were also fired.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. DoD Photo by Megan Garcia

Scores of veterans have died waiting for care while VA bureaucrats falsified data to procure monetary bonuses, but fixes have been slow to come by largely because the union that represents VA employees has used its political muscle with Democrats to emphasize job security for government employees.

Former President Barack Obama originally appointed Shulkin as a VA undersecretary. By the end of the Obama administration, however, Shulkin had grown increasingly frustrated with the American Federation of Government Employees union and other groups defending bad employees’ supposed right to a government check even when they hurt veterans.

“Just last week we were forced to take back an employee after they were convicted no more than three times for DWI and had served a 60 day jail sentence … Our accountability processes are clearly broken,” Shulkin said at the White House.

In addition to reluctance by managers to vigorously pursue firings, the overturning of firings after the fact by the Merit Systems Protection Board — often with little public acknowledgment — has been a longstanding problem.

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President Donald Trump. DoD Photo by Maj. Randy Harris

Shulkin asked for new legislation that reduces the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in answer, and Trump signed the bill in June.

The published data predates those new powers, and does not note which disciplinary actions were later overturned.

One record shows a “senior leader” being removed January 20, while another record shows a “senior leader” being demoted April 21. Those appear to refer to the same person — disgraced Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin — who returned to work in a lesser job after he appealed to the MSPB.

Former Obama Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald seemed to have so little grasp on firing employees that in August 2016, he said that he had fired 140,000 employees, a figure that made little sense since that would be nearly half the workforce.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
Former Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin. DoD Photo by Joseph Rivera Rebolledo.

He said “you can’t fire your way to excellence” and blamed “negative news articles” for a morose culture, rather than the individuals perpetrating the misconduct described in those articles.

Though high-level hospital officials were affected, according to the data covering the first six months of the Trump administration, relatively few disciplinary actions occurred in the central offices where Washington bureaucrats work. Those employ fewer people than the hospitals, but repeated scandals have also shown such employees looking out for one another to preserve each others’ jobs.

There were five firings in the Veterans Health Administration Central Office, including one senior leader. There were also two in the Office of General Counsel, and one in the office of Congressional and Legislative affairs.

The data does not include employees’ names, and does not show which employees were on new-employee probationary status. Employees can be fired much more easily during their first year.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site
Former Obama Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald. Photo from US Department of Veterans Affairs.

During the Obama administration, McDonald lamented that in the private sector “you cut a deal with the employee and you’re able to buy them out,” but said you cannot do that in government.

Yet VA repeatedly made five and six-figure payments to bad employees to get them to quit after they threatened to gum up the works by appealing disciplinary actions. The department even allowed Hamlin to offer a low-level employee $300,000 to quit after she refused to help management retaliate against a whistleblower who exposed Hamlin’s arrest.

The agency paid more than $5 million in settlements to employees under McDonald, which had the effect of encouraging bad employees to relentlessly appeal and make unsupported charges of discrimination when they were targeted for discipline, in an often-successful attempt to convert punishment into reward.

Shulkin said he “will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged … and not as a matter of ordinary business.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Michael F. asks: Are executions really held at midnight like shown in the movies? If so, why?

By the time Rainey Bethea was executed on Aug. 14, 1936, most of the United States had ceased executing people publicly. However, in Kentucky in 1936 an execution could still be held publicly and, according to the jury at his trial, Bethea deserved such an end, though not without controversy given the fact that the whole thing from murder to scheduled hanging took place in only about two months. On top of that, this was the case of a young black man who had previously only been convicted of a few minor, non-violent crimes being sentenced to death for rape and murder without any real defense on his behalf. He also claimed the confessions he gave were given under coercion. Whatever the case, the jury deliberated for less than five minutes and returned with the sentence of death by hanging, a mere three weeks after the crime was committed.


Approximately 20,000 people gathered around the gallows to witness the execution. When the time came, the trap door was opened and the rope snapped Bethea’s neck. After 14 minutes, his body was taken down and he was confirmed dead. This was the last public hanging ever performed in the United States.

So what does any of this have to do with executions being held at midnight? While a common Hollywood trope is the classic execution at midnight, it turns out for most all of history, this really wasn’t a thing. As with the case of Bethea, executions were largely a public spectacle and, outside of mob murders, people weren’t exactly keen on gathering at night to watch someone be killed; so executions tended to occur at more civilized hours.

Suspicions mount of foreign hand in fire at sensitive Iranian nuclear site

(Flickr photo by Alan Levine)

Interestingly, the fact that people preferred day time executions actually appears to be one of the chief reasons executions were, for a time in the United States, initially switched to late night, giving us the Hollywood trope that has largely endured to this day.

The earliest examples of this change occurred in the late 19th century as certain states began looking to curtail the spectacle that was public executions. As professor John Bessler of the University of Baltimore School of Law states, “There was pickpocketing at these public executions, thefts and sometimes violence. They were trying to get rid of the mob atmosphere that attended these public executions.”

The fix was easy — simply move the execution time to an hour when most people are sleeping, getting rid of the boisterous crowds and accompanying extra media coverage.

Now, given the switch to banning public executions completely, you might at this point be wondering why the nighttime time slot endured and became popular enough for a time to become a common trope?

One of the principal reasons often cited is simply to cut down on potential for more red tape in certain cases. While there are exceptions, in many states in the U.S. death warrants were, and in some cases still are, only legal for one day. If the execution is not carried out on the specified date, another warrant would be required which, as you might imagine for something as serious as killing someone legally (and ensuring the executioner cannot be charged for murder), this is a lot of paperwork and not always a guarantee. By starting at midnight, it gives the full 24 hours to work through potential temporary stays of execution, if any, before the time slot has ended and a new death warrant must be procured.

That said, perhaps more importantly, and a reason cited by many a prison official, is simply the matter of staffing. Executions performed at the dead of night see the inmates locked up in their cells, with minimal guard presence needed. Thus, prison workers don’t have to worry about any potential issues with the inmate populace during an execution. Further, some normal staff can easily be diverted to handling various aspects of a nighttime execution without taxing the available worker pool, a key benefit given prison systems are notoriously understaffed in the United States.

All this said, contrary to popular belief, midnight executions are not really much of a thing anymore. There are a variety of reasons for this, but principally this is as a courtesy for the various people processing and working on the appeals. For example, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor notes, “Dispensing justice at that hour of the morning is difficult, to say the least, and we have an obligation … to give our best efforts in every one of these instances.”

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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

(Flickr photo by kyle tsui)

Arguments for a switch in time slot have also been made on behalf of the loved ones of both the condemned and victims. These people were formerly made to arrive a couple hours before the execution at midnight, and would then have to stay until after it was carried out if they wanted to witness it. Even with no delays, this tended to see them not processed out the door until a few hours after midnight. And if there were temporary stays of execution, they might have to skip a night’s sleep to be sure they were there to watch someone, perhaps a loved one or potentially the opposite, die.

There is also the issue of overtime. While ease of staffing is generally listed as a positive reason for late night executions, it turns out that as states began to move the executions into the light of day again, issues with the other inmates during daytime executions never really manifested, while overtime costs to keep the necessary staff on hand to process the execution at night were not trivial. For example, in the execution of Douglas Franklin Wright in 1996, staff assigned to the execution cost just shy of an extra ,000 (about ,000 today) in overtime compared to if the execution had been carried out in the daytime. Some prisons have also taken to simply implementing special modified lockdown procedures during executions to free up normal staff while reducing the risk of issues with the rest of the inmates.

What about the potential paperwork problem? This has easily been worked around by many states who’ve moved to daytime executions. For example, in Missouri they just switched the time limit to 24 hours, regardless of date. What matters is just the starting time. Other states simply have moved to longer periods like a week or ten days granted for such a warrant.

Thus, contrary to what is often depicted in films, midnight executions have gone the way of the dodo in the United States, though there are a few places in the world that still prefer to execute people in darkness. For example, in India executions are typically carried out before sunrise, with the stated reasoning being staffing convenience — as was the case in the U.S., at these hours more staff are available to handle the execution before normal daily activities begin.

Bonus Fact:

  • Botched executions are surprisingly common, for example occurring in about 7% of all executions in the United States. Historically, between 1890 and 2010 in the United States, 276 executions were messed up in some way, sometimes dramatically. One young black teen, who very much appears to have been innocent of the crime he was convicted of, even had to be sent to the electric chair twice. After the first attempt at killing him failed and he had to be brought back to his cell, the subsequent controversy over whether it was legal to try to kill him again brought to light the fact that there really wasn’t any evidence against him other than a forced confession. We’ll have more on this in an upcoming episode of our podcast The BrainFood Show, which you can subscribe to here: (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed)

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.