“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,'” Mr. Trump said, describing the general’s view of torturing terrorism suspects. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.'” He added: “I was very impressed by that answer.”
Torture, Mr. Trump said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”
It amounts to a “remarkable” reversal for the president-elect, as the Times put it. It also somewhat contradicts the position of Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has said that “all options are on the table.” Before he campaigned for Trump, however, Flynn criticized the practice.
The debate over waterboarding in enhanced interrogations has a larger legal barrier than what President George W. Bush faced in the past. While Bush authorized the practice after the 9/11 terror attacks through legal memos, President Barack Obama ordered the practice to stop through an executive order. That order was later codified into law in 2015.
Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March that the use of waterboarding is “inconsistent with the values of our nation.” Dunford previously served as Mattis’ deputy at 1st Marine Division.
President Trump’s recent declaration of a new Space Force was met with ridicule in many quarters. Yet, the reality is that the United States does urgently need a dedicated military space branch that is separate from its Air Force.
The rise of these competitors poses real challenges for the United States, including most worryingly a possible militarization of space by unfriendly forces. China demonstrated this peril in 2007 when it used a satellite killer to destroy one of its own satellites, raising the possibility that it could deploy a battery of these kinetic kill vehicles to paralyze America’s communications grid in a future war. This is merely the tip of the iceberg of what China and others could do if they are allowed to dominate space, including constructing orbital missile platforms that could be used to intimidate or even attack the United States and its allies.
Resource competition is also a major concern, with the need to locate and tap into alternative resource pools becoming increasingly important as the world burns ever more rapidly through its remaining natural resources. The potential for the harvesting of metals, minerals, water, and other materials from the moon and asteroids by states such as China and Japan could begin as early as 2025. If the United States lags behind its rivals in building the capacity and human expertise in this area, as well as in protecting its own efforts to conduct this kind of resource harvesting, this will have a ripple effect on its ability to maintain its superpower status, both in space and terrestrially.
Finally, terrestrial communications increasingly depend upon Global Navigation Satellite Systems. America has possessed relative hegemony in this area through its Global Positioning System for decades, but this is now coming under fire from the new Chinese Beidou, European Galileo, and Russian GLONASS systems – with Japan and India in close pursuit. American can ill afford to risk having its systems potentially compromised should one or more other powers decide to try to shut its communications network down once their version is fully operational.
American Society of International Law Space Interest Group
Space law is deficient
The United States needs to protect its interests and prevent other states from achieving dominance in space. It cannot depend upon international law acting as a check against the potential overreach and aggression of other states in this domain. One reason for this is that most space laws were drawn up during the Cold War and, as a result, are often vague towards current day issues or omit them altogether. This provides considerable leeway for the rising space states to act aggressively under the pretext of operating in legal grey zones, even if their actions go against the spirit of the law.
Even in those cases where the law is clear, the new space states may break it to achieve particularly high priority goals (even if they will never acknowledge their acts as breaches of the law). History is plagued with examples of these violations on earth, such as the recent Russian illegal annexation of Crimea and China’s decision to disregard the 2016 ruling by the International Court of Justice against its activities in the South China Sea. There is no reason to believe that states that have placed their strategic interests ahead of the law on earth in the past are likely to behave any differently in space in the future.
The limitations of international space law, along with the likely willingness of the rising space states to disregard it when advantageous to them, means that the United States needs to supplement its respect for the law with the maintenance of an effective military space force. This is essential for helping it to protect and advance its interests in space, as well as to avoid falling behind its rivals.
Some analysts might agree with the above points but argue that this force requirement can be best met by maintaining America’s military space assets inside its Air Force.
This was the same logic that was advanced regarding the Air Force itself during the early 20th century, at which time America’s air assets were housed primarily in the Army and to a lesser degree the Navy. Keeping America’s military air assets split between the Army and Navy was a bad idea because it inherently shepherded the use of air power towards the accomplishment of ground and maritime goals. This prevented America’s air power from achieving its full potential by hampering the appearance of a more comprehensive approach towards airpower at tactical, operational, and strategic levels, often referred to as “Air-Mindedness.” The narrow-sightedness of this approach was finally recognized and corrected in 1947 when the U.S. Air Force was created as a separate branch.
Today, most of America’s military space assets operate as Air Force Space Command in the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). This places them as a branch of the Air Force, operating under a broader combined command that involves seven different mediums. This may be admirably inter-service in intent, but subordinating America’s military space assets to other entities in this way limits the ability of space power specialists to develop a “Space-Mindedness” in the same way that keeping America’s air assets within the Army and Navy hindered the development of “Air-Mindedness.” This curtails America’s space assets from being able to concentrate on pivotal new space challenges, such as space-to-space (rather than just space-to-ground) interactions with rival powers and the defense of American military and civilian equipment in orbit and beyond.
Despite these advantages, considerable opposition has been voiced against moving America’s military space assets out of the Air Force. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that considerable clamor also broke out against the idea of an independent Air Force before 1947.
Some of the backlash is probably fuelled by the well-known maxim that government agencies inherently resist efforts to slim themselves down. Resistance also likely stems from a habitual attachment to known structures and systems, along with the other inevitable causes of reticence towards change that afflict most organizations facing major shake-ups. These reasons are insufficient to reject the creation of a separate Space Force, but they do speak to the need for the transition to carefully planned and sensitively handled.
There is also a fear that an independent Space Force might become parochial and that coordination between the new agency and the Air Force would suffer. This concern has some merit, but it is still flawed. When the Air Force was detached from the Army back in 1947, inter-service rivalries did occur, but the two branches have worked on ironing these out, and cooperation has improved. They certainly have a better relationship now than they would have done if one had continued to be hierarchically superior to the other. There is no reason to believe that an independent Space Force would abandon its ties with the Air Force, but the two agencies would want to acknowledge the concern and work to ensure that inter-agency coordination endures and even grows after the split.
We live in a world where China, India, and other powers are rushing to the Moon and beyond with their space programs. The United States cannot depend exclusively upon international space law to preserve its leadership in this domain, but must instead create an independent Space Force that can work holistically to protect and advance American interests in space.
The 2001 film “Tomb Raider” had a ton of acting talent, including two Oscar winners (Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie), as well as a future 007 (Daniel Craig). But it also has inspired a prototype that could find its way to U.S. special operators.
At the 2017 Armament System Forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, We Are The Mighty met Paul J. Shaskan, the Founding Partner and Chief Innovation Officer of Torrent Loading Systems, LLC. Shaskan has devised a piece of gear inspired by the 2001 hit film – which is being rebooted.
Shaskan has developed a rapid loader that holds three magazines for just about any semi-automatic pistol – including the Beretta 92FS that is the basis for the M9 currently in service and the SiG-Sauer P320 that is the basis for the new XM17 Modular Handgun System. Rather than having to fumble with the magazines and retrieve them from a pouch, the magazines are held at an angle, and the pistol is lowered on to them. Once the magazine is seated, the pistol is pulled away with the magazine in it.
“We understand that the sidearm is a secondary system for most military operations, but when it is a necessity, we also believe the operator should have the advantage even with his secondary weapon,”Shaskan told WATM in an e-mail. “The device is mountable on a MOLLE or on the belt and is completely detachable and replaceable in the field.”
In Tomb Raider, Lara Croft’s rig wasn’t spring-loaded, but it did have the magazines positioned for an easy reload. Then again, Lara Croft wasn’t using MOLLE gear.
The device, which has been in development for four years, is currently undergoing a final round of testing that is expected to be completed by the end of June. In essence, special operations forces may have gear that was inspired by an Angelina Jolie film.
Below, here’s the opening scene of Tomb Raider – to see what inspired this new gear.
Rights groups are calling for the release of an Afghan man with a special visa given to those who assist the United States military overseas who has been held by immigration authorities for nearly three weeks.
Abdul, whose full name is not being revealed for security reasons, arrived at the Newark, New Jersey airport on March 13 as part of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. Afghans who are in life-threatening danger are eligible for this status.
“Border agents coerced him into signing away his fundamental rights, even though the federal government understood his life was in danger in Afghanistan because of his service to the United States,” Jeanne LoCicero, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
The man and his family had previously been attacked by the Taliban armed group. U.S. immigration authorities are trying to deport him.
Abdul, who holds a sponsorship letter from a retired U.S. Army sergeant, worked as a cashier for five years at a cafeteria next to the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul until February, shortly before he departed for the United States.
Instead of a warm welcome, Abdul was detained on arrival.
“If they had stamped his passport, he would be a lawful U.S. resident,” Jason Scott Camilo, an immigration lawyer representing Abdul, told Al Jazeera.
Camilo said the Afghan was initially interrogated for 28 hours by agents from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs (ICE) agencies.
The lawyer said Abdul was without legal counsel for more than a day. He was held in “a big waiting room. There’s a couple of jail-like cells without beds…he couldn’t sleep,” Camilo said.
Shortly before his scheduled deportation, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) filed a case on Abdul’s behalf, which was denied. It then filed an emergency appeal and a court placed a temporary stay on his deportation pending a review of his case.
Abdul has since passed an initial interview for refugee status and is awaiting a court review in mid-April. However, he remains locked up in the Elizabeth Detention Center, a private facility contracted by ICE.
Betsy Fisher, IRAP’s policy director, said Abdul’s detention is part of a larger clampdown on the Special Immigrant Visa program.
In December 2016, then-president Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which only allocated 1,500 more SIV visas. With so few visas available, Fisher explained, interviews for applicants at the U.S. embassy in Kabul ended on March 1.
“There are roughly 10,000 people still waiting for SIVs,” Fisher told Al Jazeera. “The fact that applicants are now in indefinite limbo because Congress has failed to provide the number of visas we knew were needed is a disgrace and abandonment of our allies.”
Abdul is the second Afghan SIV recipient to be detained in March. On March 4, a family of five that had been granted approval to move to the U.S. because of their father’s work was detained in Los Angeles.
Al Jazeera contacted ICE and CBP for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
The Syrian government has asked Iran to take over the supervision and payroll of thousands of Shi’ite militiamen fighting alongside Russian and Syrian troops in support of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a government source and a news report.
The pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasel reported that it obtained a Syrian defense ministry document saying the Assad regime has approved a plan to give Iran responsibility for paying foreign fighters – mostly Shi’ites of varying nationalities. Shi’ite fighters mostly are paid in cash from Iran, the Syrian government and coffers of the Lebanese-based, pro-Iranian Hezbollah, according to analysts.
Iran would foot the bill alone in the future, a Syrian official told VOA on the condition of anonymity, confirming the Al Wasel report.
“The number of Shia militia has increased dramatically during the last two months,” the official said. “While a big part of these militia were recruited by Iran, a relatively big part was recruited by the Syrian government directly. We are speaking about more than 50,000 militants from different nationalities. The Syrian government requested that Iran provide for all of the mentioned militias.”
The document from Al Wasel put the number of fighters to be paid at 88,733 — a figure analysts say is exaggerated. They estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria fighting alongside thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Tehran-affiliated Shiite militia Hezbollah and assorted Shiite militia made up of renegade Pakistanis, central Asians and other nationalities. Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of Iran’s elite Quds Force or other elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units have been killed fighting in Syria.
Tehran says its forces are in Syria to protect the Zeinab Shrine in Damascus, a Shi’ite holy site. But since 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime in its war with rebel groups across the country, at first sending advisers, then forces from the IRGC and expanding far beyond the shrine area.
Iran has long expressed a desire to command a unified army in the region, particularly in Syria, and its growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals. In an interview with the Mashregh news agency last August, Mohammad Ali Falaki, an IRGC leader, announced formation of a unified army in Syria which appears to have come to loose fruition.
“It would hardly be abnormal for Iran’s IRGC to be controlling yet more Shia jihadists,” said Talha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute.
In the long run, the formation of a unified army in Syria under Tehran supervision appears very practical, analysts say.
“It seems plausible that the Syrian government shift the responsibility for management and organization of the militias, especially where financial burden is concerned,” said Rasool Nafisi, a Middle East affairs expert in Washington.
Asserting its military prowess would help Iran push its political agenda in the region, some analysts believe.
“The bigger and more advanced army you control, the stronger voice you have,” said Daryoush Babak, a Washington-based retired Iranian military adviser.
But unifying Assad supporters under Tehran’s umbrella could worsen sectarian conflict in the region between Shi’ites and Sunni, analysts say.
Iran is looking for any chance to increase its influence and gain an upper hand against Saudi Arabia, its strongest rival in the war of minds and hearts, analysts say. Saudi Arabia and Iran support rival groups in Syria’s civil war. And In a speech in Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump accused Tehran of contributing to instability in the region.
“Tehran and Riyadh … keep contradicting each other to prove whose ideology leads the region,” said Nafisi.
While Syria has relied on Iran militarily in the fight against rebels and Islamic State, it’s unlikely to grant Tehran a controlling foothold in the country, analysts say.
“In Syria, it is not likely to happen as long as the Assad regime harbors ambitions of regaining sovereignty rather than being reduced to an Iranian protectorate,” said Alfoneh.
The Army is fast-tracking an emerging technology for Abrams tanks designed to give combat vehicles an opportunity identify, track and destroy approaching enemy rocket-propelled grenades in a matter of milliseconds, service officials said.
Called Active Protection Systems, or APS, the technology uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs. Systems of this kind have been in development for many years, however the rapid technological progress of enemy tank rounds, missiles and RPGs is leading the Army to more rapidly test and develop APS for its fleet of Abrams tanks.
“The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army’s Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.
The idea is to arm armored combat vehicles and tactical wheeled vehicles with additional protective technology to secure platforms and soldiers from enemy fire; vehicles slated for use of APS systems are infantry fighting vehicles such as Bradleys along with Stykers, Abrams tanks and even tactical vehicles such as transport trucks and the emerging Humvee replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
“The Army’s expedited APS effort is being managed by a coordinated team of Tank Automotive Research, Development Engineering Center engineers, acquisition professionals, and industry; and is intended to assess current APS state-of-the art by installing and characterizing some existing non-developmental APS systems on Army combat vehicles,” the Army official said.
General Dynamics Land Systems, maker of Abrams tanks, is working with the Army to better integrate APS into the subsystems of the Abrams tank, as opposed to merely using an applique system, Mike Peck, Business Development Manager, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Peck said General Dynamics plans to test an APS system called Trophy on the Abrams tank next year.
Being engineered as among the most survivable and heavily armored vehicles in existence, the Abrams tank is built to withstand a high degree of enemy fire, such some enemy tank rounds, RPGs, rockets and missiles. Abrams tanks can also carry reactive armor, material used to explode incoming enemy fire in a matter that protects the chassis and crew of the vehicle itself. However, depending upon the range, speed and impact location of enemy fire, there are some weapons which still pose a substantial threat to Abrams tanks. Therefore, having an APS system which could knock out enemy rounds before they hit the tank, without question, adds an additional layer of protection for the tank and crew. A particular threat area for Abrams tanks is the need the possibility of having enemy rounds hit its ammunition compartment, thereby causing a damaging secondary explosion.
APS on Abrams tanks, quite naturally, is the kind of protective technology which could help US Army tanks in tank-on-tank mechanized warfare against near-peer adversary tanks, such as a high-tech Russian T-14 Armata tank. According to a report in The National Interest from Dave Majumdar (Click Here for Story), Russian T-14s are engineered with an unmanned turret, reactive armor and Active Protection Systems.
A challenge with the technology is to develop the proper protocol or tactics, techniques and procedures such that soldiers walking in proximity to a vehicle are not vulnerable to shrapnel, debris or fragments from the explosion between an interceptor and approaching enemy fire.
“The expedited activity will inform future decisions and trade-space for the Army’s overarching APS strategy which uses the MAPS program to develop a modular capability that can be integrated on any platform,” the Army official said.
Rafael’s Trophy system, Artis Corporation’s Iron Curtain, Israeli Military Industry’s Iron Fist, UBT/Rheinmetall’s ADS system, and others.
DRS Technologies and Israeli-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are asking the U.S. Army to consider acquiring their recently combat-tested Trophy Active Protection System, a vehicle-mounted technology engineered to instantly locate and destroy incoming enemy fire.
Using a 360-degree radar, processor and on-board computer, Trophy is designed to locate, track and destroy approaching fire coming from a range of weapons such as Anti-Tank-Guided-Missiles, or ATGMs, or Rocket Propelled Grenades, or RPGs.
The interceptor consists of a series of small, shaped charges attached to a gimbal on top of the vehicle. The small explosives are sent to a precise point in space to intercept and destroy the approaching round, he added.
Radar scans the entire perimeter of the platform out to a known range. When a threat penetrates that range, the system then detects and classifies that threat and tells the on-board computer which determines the optical kill point in space, a DRS official said.
Trophy was recently deployed in combat in Gaza on Israeli Defense Forces’ Merkava tanks. A brigade’s worth of tanks used Trophy to destroy approaching enemy fire such as RPGs in a high-clutter urban environment, he added.
“Dozens of threats were launched at these platforms, many of which would have been lethal to these vehicles. Trophy engaged those threats and defeated them in all cases with no collateral injury and no danger to the dismounts and no false engagement,” the DRS official said.
While the Trophy system was primarily designed to track and destroy approaching enemy fire, it also provides the additional benefit of locating the position of an enemy shooter.
“Trophy will not only knock an RPG out of the sky but it will also calculate the shooter’s location. It will enable what we call slew-to-cue. At the same time that the system is defeating the threat that is coming at it, it will enable the main gun or sensor or weapons station to vector with sights to where the threat came from and engage, identify or call in fire. At very least you will get an early warning to enable you to take some kind of action,” the DRS official explained. “I am no longer on the defensive with Trophy. Israeli commanders will tell you ‘I am taking the fight to the enemy.’
The Israelis developed Trophy upon realizing that tanks could not simply be given more armor without greatly minimizing their maneuverability and deployability, DRS officials said.
Trophy APS was selected by the Israel Defense Forces as the Active Protection System designed to protect the Namer heavy infantry fighting vehicle.
Artis Corporation’s Iron Curtain
A Virginia-based defense firm known as Artis, developer of the Iron Curtain APS system, uses two independent sensors, radar and optical, along with high-speed computing and counter munitions to detect and intercept approaching fire, according to multiple reports.
Iron Curtain began in 2005 with the Pentagon’s research arm known as DARPA; the APS system is engineered to defeat enemy fire at extremely close ranges.
The systems developers and multiple reports – such as an account from Defense Review — say that Iron Curtain defeats threats inches from their target, which separates the system from many others which intercept threats several meters out. The aim is to engineer a dependable system with minimal risk of collateral damage to dismounted troops or civilians.
The Defense Review report also says that Iron Curtain’s sensors can target destroy approaching RPG fire to within one-meter of accuracy.
Iron Curtain’s radar was developed by the Mustang Technology Group in Plano, Texas.
“Iron Curtain has already been successfully demonstrated in the field. They installed the system on an up-armored HMMWV (Humvee), and Iron Curtain protected the vehicle against an RPG. Apparently, the countermeasure deflagrates the RPG’s warhead without detonating it, leaving the “dudded” RPG fragments to just bounce off the vehicle’s side. Iron Curtain is supposed to be low weight and low cost, with a minimal false alarm rate and minimal internal footprint,” the Defense Review report states.
Israel’s IRON FIST
Israel’s IMISystems has also developed an APS system which uses a multi-sensor early warning system with both infrared and radar sensors.
“Electro-optical jammers, Instantaneous smoke screens and, if necessary, an interceptor-based hard kill Active Protection System,” IMISystems officials state.
IRON FIST capability demonstrators underwent full end-to-end interception tests, against all threat types, operating on the move and in urban scenarios. These tests included both heavy and lightly armored vehicles.
“In these installations, IRON FIST proved highly effective, with its wide angle protection, minimal weight penalty and modest integration requirements,” company officials said.
UBT/Rheinmetall’s Active Defense System
German defense firms called Rheinmetall and IBD Deisenroth, Germany, joined forces to develop active vehicle protection systems; Rheinmetall AG owns a 74% share, with the remainder held by IBD Deisenroth GmbH.
Described as a system which operates on the “hard kill” principle, the ADS is engineered for vehicles of every weight class; it purports to defend against light antitank weapons, guided missiles and certain improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“The sensor system detects an incoming projectile as it draws close to the vehicle, e.g. a shaped charge or antitank missile. Then, in a matter of microseconds, the system activates a protection sector, applying directed pyrotechnic energy to destroy the projectile in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle. Owing to its downward trajectory, ADS minimizes collateral damage in the zone surrounding the vehicle,” the company’s website states.
The unnamed NGA employee — whose work does not involve unmanned aerial vehicles — was off-duty at the time and self-reported the incident to the Secret Service the following day.
NBC News has more:
Law enforcement officials say an employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency turned himself in after losing track of the drone while testing it in bad weather. He said he did not realize the unmanned aerial device landed at the White House until he saw news reports the next morning.
President Obama was not present at The White House during the incident, as he is currently traveling in India. When asked about the drone which he said you can “buy in Radio Shack,” Obama pushed for drone regulations.
“You know that there are companies like Amazon that are talking about using small drones to deliver packages … There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife.” Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.”
US Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the entire Air Force bomber fleet, ordered a safety stand down for its B-1B Lancer bombers on June 7, 2018, following an emergency landing by a Lancer in Texas in May 2018.
“During the safety investigation process following an emergency landing of a B-1B in Midland, Texas, an issue with ejection seat components was discovered that necessitated the stand-down,” the command said in a release. “As issues are resolved aircraft will return to flight.”
A B-1B bomber from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas made an emergency landing at Midland International Airport in western Texas on May 1, 2018, after an in-flight emergency. Emergency responders made it to the runway before the plane landed, and none of the four crew members onboard were injured.
It was not clear what caused the emergency, though fire crews that responded used foam on the plane.
Photos that emerged of the bomber involved showed that at least one of its four cockpit escape hatches had been blown, but the ejection seat did not deploy.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. JT May III)
The B-1’s four-man crew includes a pilot, copilot, and two weapons officers seated behind them. All four sit in ejection seats and each seat has an escape hatch above it, according to Air Force Times. Pulling the ejection handle starts an automatic sequence in which the hatch blows off and a STAPAC rocket motor launches the seats from the aircraft. The entire process takes only seconds.
It was not clear at the time of the incident whether the blown hatch or hatches had been recovered or whether the ejection seats had failed to deploy.
A Safety Investigation Board, a panel made up of experts who investigate incidents and recommend responses, is looking into the incident at Midland, the Global Strike Command release said.
The Global Strike Command stand-down order comes about a month after the Air Force ordered a day-long, fleet-wide stand-down while it conducted a safety review following a series of deadly accidents. At the time, the Air Force said it was seeing fewer accidents but that 18 pilots and crew members had been killed since October 1, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Hunkered down in sniper positions on the top floor of an abandoned building in the Syrian city of Raqqa, two Americans and a British volunteer face off against Islamic State snipers on the other side of the front line. The trio, including two who were battle-hardened by experience in the French Foreign Legion and the war in Iraq, have made the war against IS in Syria their own.
They are among several US and British volunteers in the decisive battle against the Islamic State group for Raqqa, the city in northeastern Syria that the militants declared the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The men joined US-allied Syrian militias for different reasons — some motivated by testimonies of survivors of the unimaginable brutality that IS flaunted in areas under its control.
Others joined what they see as a noble quest for justice and a final battle with the “heart of darkness,” in a belief that violence can only be met with violence.
Taylor Hudson, a 33-year old from Pasadena, compares the fight for Raqqa to the 1945 Battle of Berlin in World War II that was critical to ending the rule of Adolf Hitler.
“This is the Berlin of our times,” said Hudson, who doubles as a platoon medic and a sniper in the battle against the militants. For him, IS extremists “represent everything that is wrong with humanity.”
Syria’s war, now in its seventh year, has attracted foreign fighters to all sides of the complicated conflict.
Islamic extremists from Europe, Asia, and North Africa have boosted the ranks of the Islamic State group, as well as rival radical al-Qaeda-linked groups. Shiite Iranian and Lebanese militias have sided with the Syrian government, deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict that has killed over 400,000 people and displaced over 11 million, half of Syria’s pre-war population.
On the anti-IS side — though far less in numbers than the thousands of foreigners who swelled the IS ranks — most Western foreign volunteers have been drawn to the US-allied Kurdish militia known as The People’s Protection Units, or by their Kurdish initials as the YPG. The US military has developed a close relationship with the YPG and its extension, the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the war against IS.
Some Western volunteers have died in battle — earlier in July the YPG announced that 28-year-old Robert Grodt, of Santa Cruz, California, and 29-year-old Nicholas Alan Warden, of Buffalo, died in the battle for Raqqa.
Since launching the push on Raqqa on June 6, the US-backed forces have conquered a third of the city.
Hudson, who has been fighting in Syria for the past 13 months, said he was moved to tears by stories in the media of Iraqi Yazidi women who were enslaved by IS militants and looked for a way to help. A pharmacy student who learned combat medicine in the field, he said he had treated some 600 wounded ahead of the march onto Raqqa.
The presence of Western anti-IS volunteers in Syria has created something of a conundrum for their governments, which have often questioned them on terrorism charges.
“I am not a terrorist,” said Macer Gifford, a 30-year former City broker in London, who came to Syria three years ago to volunteer first with the Kurdish militia. Now he is fighting with an Assyrian militia, also part of the US-backed forces battling IS militants.
“I am here defending the people of Syria against terrorists,” he added.
Gifford has been questioned by both his British government and by the US government. At home, he has written and lectured about the complex situation in Syria, offering a first-hand experience of IS’ evolving tactics.
He believes the militants can only be defeated by sheer force.
“The Islamic State (group) is actually an exceptional opponent,” Gifford said. “We can’t negotiate them away, we can’t wish them away. The only way we can defeat them is with force of arms.”
For Kevin Howard, a 28-year old former US military contractor from California who fought in Iraq in 2006, the war against the Islamic State group is more personal.
A skilled sniper who prides himself in having killed 12 IS militants so far, Howard said he is doing it for the victims of the Bataclan Theatre in France, where the sister of one of his best friends survived. The Nov. 13, 2015 attacks claimed by IS killed 130 people at Paris cafes, the national stadium, and the Bataclan, where 90 died.
“This is a continuation of that fight, I think if you leave something unfinished, it will remain unfinished for a lifetime,” he said, showing off his 1972 sniper rifle.
On his forehead and neck, he has tattooed the “Rien N’empêche” — or “Nothing Prevents”— words from the song of the French Foreign Legion in which he served, and “life is pain.”
“For me this is a chance to absolutely go to the heart of darkness and grab it and get rid of it,” he added.
From his sniper position on Raqqa’s front line, he peeked again through the rifle hole. For Howard, the orders to march deeper into the IS-held city can’t come soon enough.
His father worked three jobs to put him through private school. He served in the US Navy as a nuclear weapons transshipment pilot, before winning a National Football League Superbowl title with the New York Giants.
He is now president at Academy Securities, a broker-dealer founded in 2009 that employs veterans and service-disabled veterans in areas like investment banking and trading.
McConkey sat down with Skiddy von Stade, CEO of finance career services company OneWire, to talk about his background, and Academy Securities.
During that conversation, he laid out why experience with the military is valuable for those who want to break into the cutthroat financial services industry.
Military culture is honesty, integrity, loyalty, teamwork and by the way, service. We’re in a service industry. Who knows more about those qualities than military veterans? When those qualities and experiences come into helping our clients, it really resonates.
We’re a small company, growing. We’d like to be a bulge-bracket investment bank broker-dealer at some point. We don’t have the resources that the big banks have, but we’re nimble, we’re quick, and we have differentiated types of value that we add. We got nine senior-level retired generals and admirals, people who have fingers on the pulse of geopolitical macro world we live in. And that’s a value to customers if they’re in capital markets. If they’re managing money.
Securing a port can be the type of job that hits the three Ds: dull, dirty, and dangerous.
Often, those charged with that security operate using rigid-hull inflatable boats or other small craft – often in proximity to huge vessels like Nimitz-class carriers or large amphibious assault ships.
One wrong move, and Sailors or Coast Guardsmen can end up injured – or worse.
However, the Navy may be able to reduce the risk to life and limb, thanks to a project by the Office of Naval Research called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, or “CARACaS.”
With CARACaS, a number of RHIBs or small craft can be monitored remotely, thus removing the need to put personnel at risk.
According to a U.S. Navy release, these “unmanned swarming boats” or USBs, recently carried out a demonstration in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, where they were able to collaborate to determine which one would approach a vessel, classify it, and then track or trail the vessel.
The USBs also provided status updates to personnel who monitored their activity.
“This technology allows unmanned Navy ships to overwhelm an adversary,” Cdr. Luis Molina of the Office of Naval Research said. “Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge.”
A 2014 demonstration primarily focused on escorting high-value ships in and out of a harbor, but this year, Molina noted that this year, the focus was on defending the approach to a harbor.
The biggest advantage of CARACaS? You don’t need to build new craft – it is a kit that can be installed on existing RHIBs and small boats.
Moscow first sent fighter jets to Syria in 2015 to help the Assad government, which is a large purchaser of Russian arms. In the first few months of 218, Russia and the Syrian regime have increased bombing runs in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta, killing, injuring and displacing thousands of civilians.
Here are the 11 kinds of military jets and planes Russia has in Syria now:
The Israeli satellite images showed two Su-57s at Hmeimim air base.
The Su-57 is Russia’s first fifth-generation stealth jet, but they are only fitted with the AL-41F1 engines, the same engine on the Su-35, and not the Izdelie-30 engine, which is still undergoing testing.
The satellite images from July showed 11 Su-24 Fencers, but that number might now be 10, since one Fencer crashed in October, killing both pilots.
The Su-24 is one of Russia’s older aircraft and will eventually be replaced by the Su-34, but it can still carry air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, as well as laser-guided bombs.
The July satellite images showed three Su-25 Frogfoots.
The Frogfoot is another of Russia’s older attack aircraft. It’s designed to make low-flying attack runs and is comparable to the US’s legendary A-10 Warthog.
Su-25s had flown more than 1,600 sorties and dropped more than 6,000 bombs by March 2016, just six months after their arrival in Syria.
One Su-25 was also shot down by Syrian rebels and shot the pilot before he blew himself up with a grenade in early February 2017.
This photo, taken near the Hmeimim air base in 2015, shows an Su-25 carrying OFAB-250s, which are high-explosive fragmentation bombs.
This shows a Russian airmen fixing a RBK-500 cluster bomb to an Su-25 in Syria in 2015.
The satellite images from July showed three Su-27SM3 Flankers, which were first sent to Syria in November 2015.
The upgraded Flankers, which are versatile multirole fighters, were deployed to the war-torn country to provide escort for its other attack aircraft, among other tasks.
The satellite images from July 2017 showed four Su-30SMs.
The Su-30SM, a versatile multirole fighter that’s based off the Su-27, carries a variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs.
The July 2017 satellite images showed six Su-34 Fullbacks.
The Fullback, which first deployed to Syria in September 2015, was Russia’s most advanced fighter in the war-torn country for over a year.
It carries short-range R-73 and long-range radar-guided R-77 air-to-air missiles. It also carries Kh-59ME, Kh-31A, Kh-31P, Kh-29T, Kh-29L, and S-25LD air-to-ground missiles.
The picture shows a Russian airman checking a KAB-1500 cluster bomb on a Su-34 in Syria in 2015.
This shows Russian airmen installing precision-guided KAB-500s at the Hmeimim air base. One airman is removing the red cap that protects the sensor during storage and installation. The white ordnance is an air-to-air missile.
The video below shows a Fullback dropping one of its KAB-500s in Syria in 2015:
The July 2017 satellite images showed six Su-35S Flanker-E fighters.
The Flanker first deployed to Syria in January 2016 and is one of Russia’s most advanced fighters, able to hit targets on the ground and in the air without any air support.
The July 2017 satellite images showed one A-50U Mainstay.
The A-50U is basically a “giant flying data-processing center” used to detect and track “a number of aerial (fighter jets, bombers, ballistic and cruise missiles), ground (tank columns) and surface (above-water vessels) targets,” according to Sputnik, a Russian state-owned media outlet.
10. IL-20 “Coot”
The Coot “is equipped with a wide array of antennas, IR (Infrared) and Optical sensors, a SLAR (Side-Looking Airborne Radar) and satellite communication equipment for real-time data sharing,” according to The Aviationist.
It’s one of Russia’s most sophisticated spy planes.
11. An-24 “Coke”
The An-24 Coke is an older military cargo plane.
Below is one of the July 2017 satellite images, showing many of Russia’s fighters lined up.
latest sat image (15 Jul 2017) shows 33 jets at the Russian Air Base in Latakia: 11 Su-24, 3 Su-25, 3+6 Su-27/35, 4 Su-30 and 6 Su-34 pic.twitter.com/BrVaSsAL5z
Since 2015, Russian airstrikes in Syria have taken out many ISIS fighters — although their numbers are often exaggerated — but they have also killed thousands of civilians.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that between September 2015 and March 2016 alone, Russian airstrikes had killed about 5,800 civilians.
Russia and the Syrian regime have increased bombing runs in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta, killing 290 civilians in one 48-hour period late February 2018.
“No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” the UN recently said in a statement. “Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?”
A number of monitoring groups have also accused Russia of deliberately targeting hospitals and civilians, but Moscow barely acknowledges the civilian deaths and often denies it.
“How do you get posted at a location such as Area 51 or the Pentagon while in the military?”
I feel bad because no one actually answered this question. You see, in the military, there are a finite number of jobs at each location. Depending on the branch or the assignment, the average PCS (Permanent Change of Station) rate is about 4 years (shorter for a remote tour or a deployment). So someone will be assigned to work at the Pentagon and then after 4 years they’ll be due for a transfer, leaving their position open.
Let’s say you’re graduating from boot camp in August (congratulations, you did it, you little hero!) and Airman Snuffy is gonna PCS in August, leaving his Pentagon position open. You now have the option to go work at the Pentagon!
Your command will rate you based on your performance and recommend you for your list of assignment preferences. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your number one choice (the Pentagon I guess?) and if you’re not, well, bring mittens to Minot.
But you weren’t *really* asking about the Pentagon, were you? You were asking about aliens.
How to get posted at Area 51 | Dumb Military Questions 104
How to get posted at Area 51 | Dumb Military Questions 104
Area 51 is the most exciting conspiracy theory in the U.S. military. Aliens could be real! Just imagine!
But trust me, my little tinfoil-hat tribe, if there were actually aliens in a bunker in Nevada, you just know some boot would have instagrammed them by now. If the inability of humans to keep secrets doesn’t satisfy you, then you can fill out a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Security Agency. They’re required by law to pretty much share any information they have on anything really — they’ll just redact anything classified. You win some, you lose some.
“My husband is a Marine who makes fun of anyone in a different branch of service. Is this normal?”
Navy vet August Dannehl had a great stream of responses to this: “We’re all family but we’re all talking sh** on each other, you know? Marines, Army…they’re all stupid. Navy, we’re all gay. Air Force, bougy-as-f***.”
And I mean, I can’t protest this, especially since the next cut showed Air Force captain Mark Harper sporting business casual in pastel and a rainbow unicorn Pomeranian. 100% Air Force.
His name is Ding Dong and he’s a perfect gentleman.
“What level of self-reliance training do Green Berets have? What can they actually do?”
Actually, I don’t even want to spoil the answers to this one. Go to 1:17 of the video and watch Harper dominate this question. We’re done here.
“What would a real-life U.S. military party do in a scenario like the first Predator movie?”
It’s possible that U.S. Air Force vet Tara Batesole is the only one to have seen a Predator film in this group, but U.S. Marine Graham Pulliam had some thoughts as well: “Not run around shirtless with a machine gun?”
Why not, Pulliam? What do shirts have to do with killing monsters?