It’s no secret: America loves the legendary generals who have taken key positions of power in the Trump administration.
But the nation’s trust and dependence on these men to lead them through challenging political times may be misplaced, retired Adm. Mike Mullen said Thursday.
Mullen, who served as the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, said the way the nation is turning to these generals betrays a tendency not inherently American.
“I am increasingly — I’m not surprised, but I am concerned about the dependence of the American people on Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly and Rex Tillerson,” he told an audience at the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2017 Naval History Conference in Annapolis.
(Adm. Mullin is a member of the We Are The Mighty board of directors)
Mattis, McMaster and Kelly — who serve as secretary of defense, national security adviser and White House chief of staff, respectively — all attained four-star rank in the military. McMaster remains on active duty.
“The question that I ask is how did we get here, to a point where we are depending on retired generals for the stability of our citizenry,” he said. “And what happens if that boulder breaks, first of all, and when.”
President Donald Trump has encouraged reverence for the generals in his administration, particularly Mattis, whom he has referred to by the nickname “Mad Dog” and praised on Twitter as a “general’s general.”
Mattis, who was lionized by troops while in the Marine Corps for his care for his men and straightforward style, had been out of uniform for only four years when he was nominated to serve as defense secretary.
Congress passed a one-time waiver of a law requiring defense secretaries to have been out of the military for at least seven years to allow Mattis to serve.
In a congressional hearing held prior to the waiver vote, military experts advised that Mattis be confirmed, but warned the waiver should not be used again for a long time to preserve the tradition of civilian leadership of the military.
In the past, Mullen has been outspoken about the civilian-military divide and has publicly criticized the recent trend of general and flag officers becoming keynote speakers at political conventions and publicly endorsing candidates for president.
He reiterated these views Thursday, saying that while retired officers have the right to endorse, they do damage to the military by eroding its reputation for impartiality.
Mullen qualified that he knows Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, and called them “extraordinary individuals in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”
But he suggested it sets a dangerous precedent to turn to them as a focal point for national leadership.
“I have been in too many countries globally where the generals, if you will, gave great comfort to their citizens,” Mullen said. “That is not the United States of America. It may be temporarily now; I can only hope that it won’t be in the future. And despite each one of these individuals’ greatness, there are limits.”
In addition, he said, experience on the battlefield does not translate directly to leadership in the political sphere.
“When I walked into the Oval Office for the first time, that is an environment I’d never been in before, ever,” Mullen said. “… There is no reason these individuals, who are exceptionally good, had any better preparation in that regard. They are trying to figure it out as we go.”
Recent press reports, he said, have called the generals the “bulwark” of the administration.
“And one of the questions is, will that bulwark last, and what happens if and when it doesn’t,” Mullen said. “My own belief is, it won’t.”
Soldiers leaving military service have a lot to prepare for as they transition from active duty to the civilian workforce. Thanks to the Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program, this transition can set soldiers up for success through the sometimes tricky process of translating military service and military occupational specialties to civilian workforce skills, resume writing and opportunities to participate in vocational certificate programs.
One program available at Fort Jackson offers service members a chance to trade their Army Combat Uniform for fire retardant bunker gear, equipment regularly used by firefighters to protect them from the intense heat from fires. The program is called Troops to Firefighters, and one Fort Jackson soldier has taken full advantage of what the program has to offer.
“Going through the Soldier for Life program here at Fort Jackson, I had a leader who was looking for information for his wife and he said ‘Hey man, they have a firefighter program here and they pay for it,'” said Staff Sgt. James Hall, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment. “So I did it.”
Chief Curtis Maffett, vice president of Training Troops to Firefighters speaks to the class during the 911 dispatch operators program, designed to assist veterans, transitioning service members, and family members in becoming nationally certified firefighters and 911 emergency dispatch operators.
(Photo by Ms. LaTrice Langston)
Hall has served on active duty for more than 20 years and is set to retire in August 2019. He, like all separating soldiers, attended a mandatory separation brief where he learned about the Troops to Firefighter program. He said he never thought about becoming a firefighter before the briefing, but he submitted a packet to enroll in the program, and a few weeks later he received the news that he had been accepted.
“I’d been leaning towards becoming an electrician; that’s what my Family business is,” Hall said. “But I really fell in love with firefighting after going to the fire academy.”
With the support of his unit’s chain of command, Hall was placed on permissive temporary duty to attend the South Carolina Fire Academy. After a grueling eight weeks, Hall graduated and returned to his regular duties with his company.
“I thought it was definitely physically challenging,” Hall said. “It’s not the easiest job, but it’s very rewarding.”
Hall said his military training as an infantryman helped prepared him for the physical demands a firefighter faces daily. The weight of the bunker gear is similar to the combat load of body armor and ammunition. He also explained how military structure is equally similar to a firehouse, including the camaraderie and style of training found within most military units.
“I think James is a very good fit to go into the fire service,” said Pete Hines, assistant chief of the Fort Jackson Fire Department. “He is intelligent. He can think. I wish he could stay [here at Fort Jackson].”
Members of the Fort Jackson Fire Department pose in front of two of their fire engines.
(Photo by Ms. Elyssa Vondra)
Hall graduated the fire academy in March 2019 but remains on active duty until he starts his terminal leave at the end of May 2019. With the support of his commander and Hines, Hall was able to keep his newly acquired skills sharp by spending a few days out of the week working for the Fort Jackson Fire Department. There, Hall’s duty day is like the other firefighters. He helps to maintain his personal protective equipment, the fire vehicles, the firehouse and respond to fire calls. Hall was also afforded opportunities to attend additional fire training classes to expand his firefighting certifications that will make him more attractive to prospective fire departments in Texas when Hall moves his Family back home in May 2019.
Hall’s successful completion of the program and his volunteer service with the fire department will allow him to begin seeking employment with a local fire department as soon as he is settled in Texas. Hall said he believes the transition will be a smooth one thanks to the program, support from his Family and support from his chain of command.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the Fort Jackson Fire Department, (the program) and my unit,” Hall said. “Any of these programs that are available, I say take advantage of them while they are here.”
The Troops to Firefighter program is one of many offered to transitioning soldiers. Other programs include lineman, trucking, piping, solar energy and more. To find more information about these programs, contact the Soldier For Life – Transition Assistance Program office at www.sfl-tap.army.mil or 1-800-325-4715.
December 2017, the Marine Corps wowed a small audience in Quantico, Virginia, with a demonstration of a fully autonomous UH-1 Huey helicopter that could navigate, conduct pre-set missions, and even assess landing conditions, all without a human in the loop.
The secret ingredient was the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System, or AACUS, a kit that can be mounted on a rotary-wing aircraft to transform it from a manned aircraft to an autonomous one. And now, AACUS is a finalist for an elite aviation award.
According to the Office of Naval Research, which leads the AACUS program, it’s now a finalist for the 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy, awarded by the National Aeronautic Association for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”
Previous recipients have included the NASA/JPL Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity Project Team; the X-47B, developed by Northrop Grumman and the Navy as a carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle, and still reportedly in the running for the MQ-25 program; and the team that designed the F-22 Raptor, among others.
“We at ONR are very excited and proud of the AACUS team that was selected as a finalist for this very prestigious Collier Trophy,” Dr. Knox Millsaps, director of the division of Aerospace Sciences in ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, said in a statement released by ONR. “But our greatest sense of excitement and pride comes knowing we’ve provided a technology that could help the Marine Corps warfighter stay out of harm’s way during resupply missions.”
AACUS, which is designed to be so easy to use that a Marine can program a mission after a few minutes of training, is expected to be an asset for logistics and resupply missions, providing a way to get beans, bullets, medical supplies and more to units downrange without risking a human pilot and crew.
The Corps next plans to place the technology in units for realistic testing as part of its Sea Dragon 2025 experimentation effort later this fiscal year.
The AACUS is competing against eight other finalists for the Collier trophy, according to the ONR announcement.
They include: Boeing 737 MAX; Cirrus Aircraft Vision SF50; Edwards Air Force Base F-35 Integrated Test Force; NASA/JPL Cassini Project Team; Perlan Project; TSA, ALPA and A4A Known Crewmember and TSA PreCheck Programs; Vanilla Aircraft VA001; and Zee Aero Division of Kitty Hawk Corporation.
A winner is expected to be announced March 23, 2018.
French-made anti-tank weapons supplied to the Kurds and U.S. versions given to the Iraqi Security Forces have been blunting a main method of attack by the Islamic State, according to Kurdish and U.S. Central Command officials.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces used the MILAN (Missile d’Infanterie Leger Antichar, or light infantry anti-tank missile) to stop ISIS counter-attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in the successful push to take the northwestern Iraqi town of Sinjar last week, according to the Kurdish Security Council and Western reporters traveling with the Kurds.
The MILANs were used to defend against at least 16 vehicle-borne IED suicide attacks by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in the initial stages of Operation Free Sinjar, according to Kurdish commanders cited by Rudaw, the Kurdish news agency.
The U.S. has also been supplying hundreds of AT-4s — a shoulder-fired, Swedish-made recoilless weapon — to the ISF. The AT-4s have been appearing on Iraqi Security Forces frontlines in the long-stalled effort to retake Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.
In addition, Syrian fighters backed by the U.S. have been using U.S. BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically- tracked, Wire-guided, or TOW, anti-armor missiles supplied by the CIA against the armored columns of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to Syrian activist groups.
The MILANs, portable medium-range, anti-tank weapons manufactured by Euromissile in Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, have become standard weapons for NATO allies and other countries. The system was initially developed for the French and German armies.
Germany began supplying the MILANs and other weapons directly to the Kurds last year to avoid the chokepoint that can develop by shipping arms through Baghdad. The Germans have also taken Kurdish officers back to Germany for training in the use of the MILANS.
Rudaw quoted Gen. Araz Abdulkadir, commander of the Kurdish 9th Brigade, as saying, “The MILANs are very important” in offensives in stopping ISIS suicide attacks with vehicle-borne IEDs. “They greatly improve the morale of the Peshmerga. The troops know it is a very clever weapon, which can stop any car bomb.”
ISIS used the weapons to devastating effect in shattering Iraqi defenses in taking Ramadi last May in a major setback for the campaign to degrade and defeat the terrorist group. Iraqi forces fled the city, leaving behind much of their equipment.
Following the fall of Ramadi, a senior State department official, speaking on background, said that ISIS used a coordinated series of at least 30 suicide car and truck bombs to take out “entire city blocks” as the ISF fell back.
Since the capture of Ramadi, the U.S. has launched airstrikes specifically targeting sites where ISIS was believed to be manufacturing vehicle-borne IEDs.
In an August briefing to the Pentagon, Marine Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea said that airstrikes had destroyed a facility near the north-central Iraqi town of Makhmur where ISIS was making vehicle-borne IEDs.
“These strikes, conducted in coordination with the government of Iraq, will help reduce the ability of Daesh to utilize their weapon of choice – VBIEDs,” Killea said, using an Arabic term for ISIS.
In several briefings to the Pentagon from Baghdad, Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Centcom’s Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, has described the supply of AT-4s to the ISF and the training by U.S. troops of the Iraqi Security Forces in their use.
Warren said ISIS uses the vehicle-borne IEDs “almost like a guided missile” in the offense to break Iraqi Security Forces lines and allow advances.
The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress he lacks the spy aircraft needed to verify any “denuclearization” agreement that might come out of the proposed summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
“I don’t have enough because there isn’t enough to go around,” Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said of the available intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee March 15, 2018.
In response to questions from Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, Harris said Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft, Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence, and WC-135 Constant Phoenix “sniffer” aircraft are vital to his mission monitoring North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
All three aircraft are “critical to intelligence collection,” he said, adding the WC-135 is taking on added importance following the stunning announcement that Trump had agreed to meet with Kim.
“I don’t know where we’re going to end up with the talks,” Harris said, “[but] I do see demand increasing, clearly” for the use of the WC-135 and its ttop-secretequipment that can collect atmospheric samples and determine whether nuclear testing has taken place.
The WC-135 “helps me understand the nature of North Korea’s nuclear testing,” he said.
The problem with ISR assets, Harris said, is that other combatant commands want them and they must be allocated by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
“The WC-135, I have to ask for it and, when I ask for it, I get it,” he said.
Harris had a suggestion for Trump that is a wrinkle on President Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” axiom for arms reductions negotiations. In the case of talks with North Korea, “I think it’s distrust but verify,” he said.
“We have to enter this eyes wide open,” Harris said, but “the fact that we’re talking at all has a positive framework about it. We haven’t lost anything by talking … the opportunity to engage has value itself regardless of the outcome.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who set the stage for the potential Trump-Kim summit by inviting North Korea to the Winter Olympics and then getting an offer from Kim to meet, pushed ahead with preparations for the negotiations.
Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said a high-level negotiating team would meet with North Korean counterparts later in late March 2018 to lay the groundwork and set the agenda for Moon’s anticipated meeting in April 2018 with Kim at the Panmunjom peace village in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
“This inter-Korean summit should be a turning point for fundamentally addressing the issue of peace on the Korean peninsula,” Im said.
Yonhap quoted Moon as saying, “Our firm stance is that we can’t make concessions [on denuclearization] under any circumstances and conditions” in the negotiations.
Trump caused a flap on his own agenda for the talks in mid-March 2018 when his comments at a private fundraiser leaked. He appeared to suggest that he might pull U.S. forces out of South Korea unless the U.S. received more favorable terms on trade agreements.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” he said, The Washington Post reported. “We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”
Trump glossed over the trade issue in a phone call to Moon on March 16, 2018 in which he renewed his commitment to go ahead with the summit, probably at the end of May 2018, although a time and place have yet to be set.
A White House readout of the phone call said Trump “reiterated his intention to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by the end of May 2018. The two leaders expressed cautious optimism over recent developments and emphasized that a brighter future is available for North Korea, if it chooses the correct path.”
In his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Harris was characteristically blunt on issues in the region.
Harris noted that his testimony would be his last before the committee. He will soon retire after 39 years of service and has been nominated by Trump to be the next ambassador to Australia.
On the North Korea talks, Harris said, “As we go into this, I think we can’t be overly optimistic on outcomes. We’ll just have to see where it goes if and when we have the summit. North Korea remains our most urgent security threat in the region.”
“This past year has seen rapid and comprehensive improvement in North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities despite broad international condemnation and the imposition of additional United Nations security resolutions,” he said.
“It is indisputable that KJU [Kim Jong-un] is rapidly closing the gap between rhetoric and capability,” Harris added. “The Republic of Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of North Korea’s threats for years; now, that shadow looms over the American homeland.”
He scoffed at the notion that the Trump administration had been considering a so-called “bloody nose” strategy that would involve limited strikes on North Korea to rein in Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
“We have no bloody nose strategy. I don’t know what that is. The press have run with it,” Harris said.
“I’m charged with developing, for the national command authority, a range of options through the spectrum of violence, and I’m ready to execute whatever the president and the national command authority directs me to do, but a ‘bloody nose’ strategy is not contemplated,” he said.
The strategy that does exist, Harris said, is for full-spectrum warfare that would obliterate the North Korean threat.
“We have to be ready to do the whole thing, and we are ready to do the whole thing if ordered by the president,” he said.
By way of farewell, Harris said that during his time at PaCom, “I have had the tremendous honor of leading the soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Department of Defense civilians standing watch for the largest and most diverse geographic command.
“These men and women, as well as their families, fill me with pride with their hard work and devotion to duty. I’m humbled to serve alongside them,” he said.
Military investigators are trying to piece together the cause of a crash that killed 15 Marines and a sailor in Mississippi in July, but it could be a year or more until any information becomes public.
In the meantime, the Marine Corps’ fleet of KC130T transport planes remains grounded. That plane is similar to the one that crashed near Itta Bena on July 10.
April Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Naval Safety Center, said August 21 that final reports often don’t become public for 12 to 18 months following a crash. Even then, much of the information in the reports is often withheld from public view.
“Ours are done solely to ensure what happened doesn’t happen again,” Phillips said, saying that various military commanders must endorse the report before it’s finished.
Marines and other investigators finished collecting debris August 3, recovering all of the plane’s major components, said Marine Forces Reserve spokeswoman Lt. Stephanie L. Leguizamon. She said last week that there’s still work going on to clean up the crash area.
Naval Safety Center investigators are both reconstructing the wreckage and interviewing witnesses. Their report will ultimately include recommendations to enhance safety.
Victims included nine Marines based at Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, who flew and crewed the plane, plus six Marines and a Navy Corpsman from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The passengers were headed for pre-deployment training in Yuma, Arizona. Cargo included at least some ammunition.
Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James has told reporters that whatever went wrong began when the plane was at cruising altitude. Most of the plane pancaked upside down into a field, but part of it, including the cockpit, broke off and landed far from the fuselage and wings. Debris was scattered for miles over fields, woods, and ponds.
Witnesses said they saw the plane descend from high altitude with an engine smoking, with some describing what pilots call a “flat spin,” where a plane twirls around like a boomerang.
Phillips said the plane didn’t have an in-flight data recorder. That, plus the lack of survivors, could make the debris crucial to determining what happened.
“A lot it, in this case, is likely to come from forensic evidence,” she said.
Phillips said the C-130 and its variants have historically been one of the safest planes operated by the Marine Corps. The Navy classifies its most serious incidents as Class A mishaps, involving death, permanent disability, or more than $2 million in damage. Only two in-flight Class A mishaps were recorded before the Mississippi crash, both in 2002. A KC-130R experienced a flash fire and crashed into a mountain in Pakistan while nearing an airfield, killing seven people. A KC130F crash landed shortly after taking off inCalifornia, causing injuries but no deaths.
The New York squadron is the last Marine unit flying the KC-130T version and is scheduled to upgrade to a newer version in 2019. Only the remaining 12 KC-130Ts are affected by the grounding.
On Sept. 10, 2019, US and Iraqi forces dropped 80,000 pounds of munitions on Qanus Island, in Iraq’s Salah-al-Din province, to destroy what Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) called a “safe haven” for ISIS fighters traveling from Syria into Iraq.
“We’re denying Daesh the ability to hide on Qanus Island,” Maj. Gen. Eric T. Hill, the commander of OIR’s Special Operations Joint Task Force, said in a press release, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Myles Caggins tweeted a video of the operation on Sept. 10, 2019, that shows bombs carpeting the tree-lined island from end to end, saying the island was “Daesh infested.”
Air Force Central Command tweeted an additional statement, saying that the strikes come at the “behest of the Iraqi government” and that Qanus Island is believed to be “a major transit hub and safe haven for Daesh.”
A spokesperson for OIR told Insider that ISIS casualties were still being assessed but that there were no casualties for the coalition or the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services. A small cache of abandoned weapons was found on the island, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson said the number of ISIS militants on the island at the time of the strike was unknown.
After the group’s supposed defeat in March, the Islamic State regrouped in Syria and Iraq, partly as a result of troop withdrawal in Syria and a diplomatic vacuum in Iraq, according to a Pentagon Inspector General’s report. The report also blamed Trump’s focus on Iran for the resurgence, saying that the administration’s insufficient attention to Iraq and Syria also contributed to ISIS’s ability to regroup, even though it has lost its caliphate.
While ISIS is not nearly as powerful as it once was — the Pentagon estimates the group has only 14,000 to 18,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria at present, compared with the CIA estimate of between 20,000 and 31,500 in 2014 — it is still carrying out assassinations, crop burnings, ambushes, and suicide attacks.
OIR said that it targeted the area because ISIS militants were using the tiny island to transit from Syria and the Jazeera desert into the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Makhmour, and the Kirkuk region. The dense vegetation there allowed militants to hide easily, according to OIR.
Airstrikes on Qanus Island, Iraq, on Sept. 10, 2019.
The airstrikes, carried out by US Air Force F-35 Lightning II and F15 Strike Eagles, came in the midst of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s new policy to consider flights in Iraqi airspace hostile unless they are preapproved or a medical emergency. That policy took effect on Aug. 15, 2019. These aircraft typically carry Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which are precision-guided air-to-surface munitions.
According to the release, Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services are carrying out additional ground operations on the island to “destroy any remaining Fallul Daesh on the island.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US Navy is looking at a number of ways to increase its presence in the Arctic around Alaska, including deployments of the service’s advanced maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, the Navy’s top civilian official said in December 2018.
Asked by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan about the US presence in that part of the world, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 12, 2018, that the Navy was present under the sea and in the air and “looking at how we can get up there” in other capacities.
“If I had a blank check for everything, it’d be terrific, to ice-harden ships, but with the demand that we have right now, it is unaffordable,” Spencer said, adding that it would be possible to send assets up there seasonally as sea ice melts.
“You and I did go look on the coast up there for a potential strategic port,” Spencer told Sullivan. “I think the Coast Guard, in concert with the Navy, we should definitely flesh out what could possibly be done.”
A US Navy P-8 Poseidon.
“When it comes to using Alaska in the Arctic area for training, the commandant and I have talked about this — plans to go look at doing something this summer, possibly on Adak, for training,” Spencer added, referring Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, who was also at the hearing.
Spencer said he and Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran “have talked about possible P-8 [deployments] up to Adak. There are definite training uses, and there’s definite ability to affect the National Defense Strategy with Arctic activity.”
The Navy and Marine Corps presence in Alaska is currently small, with some sailors and Marines stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, the latter personnel there as part of a reserve unit.
Marines have been deployed to Norway on a rotational basis since the beginning of 2017, and Oslo recently said that it would ask the US to increase their numbers and move them farther north, closer to that country’s border with Russia.
The Navy has also made moves toward higher latitudes, sending an aircraft carrier above the Arctic Circle for the first time since the early 1990s as part of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, which took place in October and November 2018. Navy officials have stressed that they intend to be more active in the Arctic going forward.
Neller has emphasized that his command is focusing on training for harsh conditions.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment disembark an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter after a simulated raid on Indian Mountain radar system as part of Exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Fort Greely, Alaska, March 12, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brianna Gaudi)
In March 2018, Marines joined soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Alaska for Arctic Edge 2018, where they trained “to fight and win in the Arctic,” the head of Alaskan Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, said at the time.
A few weeks after that exercise, Neller told Sullivan during a Senate hearing that the Marines “have gotten back into the cold-weather business.” In August 2018, while traveling through Alaska with Spencer, Sullivan said that the Marine Corps was “looking at spending a lot more time in Alaska.”
Adak Island is at the western edge of the Aleutian Islands. The naval facility, which was on the northern side of the island, took up more than 76,000 acres and was an important base for submarine surveillance during the Cold War.
The airstrip there has been in commercial use since the Navy shut down military operations in 1997.
Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, left, meets with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, right, in Nome to discuss the construction of deep-draft ports in western Alaska, Aug. 13, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco)
The Navy is currently grappling with operational and maintenance challenges brought on by more than two decades of continuous operations around the world — a situation that has been complicated by discussions of expansion and by uncertainty about its budget in the future as it builds new supercarriers and designs a new generation of ballistic missile subs that will carry nuclear warheads.
Returning to Alaska would present an array challenges, according to Jeffrey Barker, a deputy branch head for policy and posture on the chief of naval operation’s staff.
US Navy crew members on board a P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 man their workstations while assisting in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 March 16, 2014 in the Indian Ocean.
(US Navy photo)
“We want to be agile, but sustainability is key,” Barker said at the beginning of December 2018 during a Wilson Center event focused on the Arctic. “We don’t really want to do anything if we can’t sustain it, so that’s a huge part of that, and the infrastructure to that.”
“When Secretary Spencer went around Alaska, he was asked a lot of questions, and he asked us a lot of questions about how much would it cost to go back to Adak,” Barker said. “He was shocked — gobsmacked is what he said — when the report that we gave him said id=”listicle-2623753290″.3 billion.”
Barker said that Spencer clarified that he only wanted to use the facility “for a couple of weeks here and there,” and when asked about the plan after the hearing on Dec. 12, 2018, Spencer said the base was up to that task.
“The airstrip is in great shape,” he told Breaking Defense, which first reported his comments about a potential P-8 deployment. Spencer added that the Navy may have to pay to clean up one of the hangars.
But the airport, he said, “has a fuel farm up there that Air Alaska is using to fuel its planes. It has de-icing platforms that we could use for fresh water washdowns for the P-8. They have lodging up there that is supposedly coming forward to us on a rental availability, so it really isn’t a big bill.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Speech at the military parade marking the 72nd anniversary of Victory in the 1941–45 Great Patriotic War, in 2017.
President Vladimir Putin said the Russian Navy will get 40 new ships and vessels this year, as he attended a naval parade in St. Petersburg marking Navy Day in Russia.
The parade in St. Petersburg on July 26 featured 46 ships and vessels and over 4,000 troops and aimed to “demonstrate the growing power of our navy,” Putin said.
Putin said 40 ships and vessels of different classes will enter service this year, and that the Russian Navy will be equipped with hypersonic weapons to boost its combat capabilities.
The combination of speed, maneuverability, and altitude of hypersonic missiles, capable of travelling at more than five times the speed of sound, makes them difficult to track and intercept.
Russia has made military modernization its top priority amid tensions with the West that followed Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
Similar parades marking Russia’s Navy Day on July 26 took place in the Far Eastern cities of Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk, Sevastopol in the annexed Crimea region, the seaport towns of Severomorsk and Baltiysk, Kaspirsk in the south of Russia, and the port city of Tartus in Syria.
Earlier this week, during a ceremony of keel-laying for new warships in Crimea, Putin pledged to continue an ambitious program of building new warships, saying that Russia needs a strong navy to defend its interests and “help maintain a strategic balance and global stability.”
Marines will soon get the option to swap crunches on their physical fitness test with a plank. Officer candidates reporting to training in January 2020 will be the first to see the change.
The Marine Corps updated its graduation requirements Nov. 8, 2019, for candidates reporting to Officer Candidates School in 2020. Members of Officer Candidate Course No. 233 will be the first to have the option to perform a plank on their PFT.
Candidates will have to hold a plank for at least a minute and three seconds to get the minimum score required on that portion of the PFT to be admitted to and graduate from OCS.
The requirement is the same for men and women, regardless of age. Marine recruits who ship to boot camp after Jan. 1, 2020, will also have the options of doing a plank in place of crunches.
Marine officials announced in June 2019 that a plank would be allowed on the abdominal strength section of the PFT. The exercise must be held for four minutes and 20 seconds to receive the full 100 points.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson)
In September 2019, the Force Fitness Division and Force Fitness Readiness Center put out a video detailing the proper form. Marines must be in a push-up position with feet hip-width apart, with arms bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbow so the forearms rest flat on the ground. The Marine’s hips must be raised off the floor, and hands must touch the ground either lying flat or in fists.
Officer candidates can opt for the plank in place of completing 70 crunches within two minutes.
All candidates need at least a 220 on their PFT to be accepted into OCS and then a 235 or higher to graduate.
The new rules will apply not only to candidates reporting to OCS in January 2020, but all future classes, according to a Marine Corps administrative message announcing the new requirements.
Sailors will replace sit-ups with a plank on the Navy Readiness Test sometime this year. That service is currently gathering data from about 600 sailors before setting new scoring requirements.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”
When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”
He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”
When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”
In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”
He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.
Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.
August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.
Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.
The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.
Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.
On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.
Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.
Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.
Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.
On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”
Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.
The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.
At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)
Mattis put on spot over attacks
In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.
They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.
At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”
The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.
“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.
“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”
At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.
“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”
“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.
“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.
“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.
“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.
For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.
Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’
“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.
“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.
Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.
Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.
Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.
Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)
In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.
“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.
“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.
Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.
In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”
Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”
Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.
“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”
The strategy — what strategy?
In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.
“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.
The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.
The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”
“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”
In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”
“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.
“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.
“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”
Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress
The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.
In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.
“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.
At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.
The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”
In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.
“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.
“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.
‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’
As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.
Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.
The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.
In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.
“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.
Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.
Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.
The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.
Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.
“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”
Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.
“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.
The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.
Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.
In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.
“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Speaking Jan. 10, 2019, at a forum on maritime priorities in Washington, D.C., Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said the service doesn’t “do things as a one-time deal” and is assessing the integration of an all-female platoon within one of the battalion’s companies to determine whether it is a model the Corps should continue, rather than training female recruits in a single battalion, as is current protocol.
“The assessment is to see how we can more closely align integration,” Green said.
But completely integrating platoons, with men training side-by-side with women, is not likely to occur anytime soon, he added.
“What we ask individuals to do at recruit training is a lot more physical and challenging than any other service. We all know that. Who we recruit, we must take them and transform them into Marines. We want to give every individual the greatest opportunity for success,” Green said at a forum hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute at the Center for International and Strategic Studies.
U.S. Marines with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, and Oscar Company, 4th Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, take part in Tug-of-War during the Field Meet at 4th Recruit Training Battalion physical training field on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., April 21, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sarah Stegall)
A platoon of 50 female Marine recruits began training Jan. 5, 2019, in 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, marking the first time women have trained outside the all-female 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
The service decided to integrate the women as a single platoon in a traditionally male company rather than make them wait until later in the year, when there would be enough women to activate 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
Women now make up 8.9 percent of Marine recruits, Green said. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller has said he’d like to grow the Marine Corps to 10 percent female.
Marine officials say they are increasing outreach to potential female recruits. But Green said Jan. 10, 2019, that a challenge to recruiting both men and women has been high schools nationwide that block military recruiters from approaching students.
The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act required public high schools to give military recruiters as much access to campuses as is given to any other recruiter. But some school districts have blocked access to military personnel, Green said.
“It’s difficult to get into some schools. I’d like to see a more open-door process but, in some schools, there’s no entry point. We are protecting the people in these high schools, and there are people in these high schools who want to serve. The door shouldn’t be slammed shut and closed,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Iran carried out a military drill on Sept. 21, 2018, aimed at showing the US how it could shut down oil shipping in the Persian Gulf as more US sanctions loom in November 2018, but the display was underwhelming at best.
The US will slap Iran with sanctions on its oil exports on Nov. 4, 2018, a date that marks six months since the US’s withdrawal from the Iran deal. Iran essentially responded by saying that if its oil exports are blocked, it will take military measures to block oil exports from other countries, including US allies.
“If the enemies and arrogant powers have an eye on the borders and land of Islamic Iran they will receive a pounding reply in the fraction of a second,” Iranian media quoted Colonel Yousef Safipour as saying of the drills.
On Sept. 22, 2018, Iran will stage a large military drill with up to 600 navy vessels, its state media said. This number likely includes Iran’s fast attack craft, or military speedboats that have harassed US ships in the past.