In October 2014, ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq was at its maximum. The radical Islamist group controlled land stretching from central Syria all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad including major cities like Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Raqqa.
Although the region ISIS controlled was mostly desert, it encompassed an array of ethnic and religious groups, including Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Shiite Arabs, and Sunni Arabs. Many of the non-Sunni groups were the victims of targeted violence by ISIS, which perpetrated genocide against the Yazidis and Assyrians.
The map of ISIS territory from October 2017 shows that the group has lost all of its major urban strongholds and is now confined to the sparsely-inhabited border territories between Iraq and Syria.
Nevertheless, experts say the sparse desert area that ISIS has fallen back on is part of the same Sunni-majority region that fueled its rise.
“When we invaded and conquered Iraq in 2003 we created ungoverned space for Sunni Arabs in Iraq which then spilled over in nearby Syria,” Professor Robert Pape, who heads the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago, told Business Insider. “The worry here is that as that area of Iraq and Syria now could remain ungoverned space from the perspective of the Sunni Arabs, this problem may just simply fester and continue.”
Active-duty servicemembers and veterans share many common experiences which often sets us apart from civilians. We can come together over a tour-of-duty station, a shared commander or unit, or the unforgettable aspects of our training. But it’s often our dark sense of humor — stories about Jody, tales of ass-grabbing antics on and off post, and the ribbing of comrades and competing branches alike — which underpins military culture and unites the community. That’s why I was excited when I recently discovered a growing non-profit organization, Irreverent Warriors, whose mission is to bring service members and veterans together using humor and camaraderie. Their target is to improve mental health and end veteran suicide through humor.
I was intrigued.
Fortunately for me, Irreverent Warriors was organizing a very popular event that I could attend right in New York City: a Silkies Hike. The hike was designed to get veterans, active-duty soldiers, reservists, and retired servicemembers together (in Silkies shorts — also known as “ranger panties” or “Catch-Me-F**K-Me’s”) to be among friends and build new bonds. The New York City Silkies Hike was just one of five going on that day. The hikes were held throughout the country and drew hundreds of hikers.
“As of now, we have 65 hikes scheduled for 2021,” Irreverent Warriors CEO Cindy McNally said. “We doubled the number of hikes in two years!”
But the group does more than Silkies Hikes. According to McNally, the organization has put together “camping trips, Silkies Olympics, boat trips, community clean-ups, events to serve disabled and senior vets, and much more.”
And the events are strictly for the military. The purpose is to ensure that members know that everyone who participates either wears the uniform or has worn it before.
That was reassuring for me. I knew my dirty jokes and endless f-bombs would be welcomed — even encouraged. That toilet humor doesn’t always fit well with civilians, but a soldier, airman, marine, or seaman (quick chuckle) will always get it.
So I went for it, Silkies and everything.
Warriors SP at 0830 hours led by event organizer, Marc Herzog, taking point and donning the black Irreverent Warriors flag.
As if sensing my newness, Irreverent Warriors New York Area Leader Marc Herzog told me that his first social event in 2017 “was the most amazing experience ever.”
“I found my people for the first time,” he added.
Another Irreverent Warriors member, a Marine named Kevin Bunn, assured me: “Many of us shared your experience… we’re not gonna push you. I know where you were and I know what you’re going through.”
In fact, I was quite comfortable around every hiker. I knew what type of people was around me: gritty, hard-working, selfless Americans who would jump at any opportunity to help a brother or sister in uniform.
Kevin confirmed what my gut knew: “[The vets] need these events to keep them from feeling isolated,” he said. “Just one or two events gets them through the year.”
The Warriors report to formation for a photo in Times Square, NYC. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Martinez, Marine.)
I also knew they can party, as I have done many times before (probably too much). And some partying was the first thing I saw that morning.
As we mustered at the start point in Central Park, many Irreverent Warriors members cracked open beers. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous that this affair would get out of control. As a former officer, I knew the math: soldiers + booze = debauchery.
But it turned out to be everything but that.
No matter how many drinks some Warriors had, (and a few had a lot!) they knew what line not to cross. No one urinated on the street, left garbage behind, or damaged any property. With the exception of some slurring and a little stumbling, it was pure professionalism at its finest. I was impressed, a little relieved, and totally at home.
On many occasions, curious onlookers asked the Warriors about the purpose of the group. No matter who answered, the response was always the same: “We bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicide.”
A small platoon-sized element poses for a picture at one of the checkpoints, Washington Square Park, NYC.
Another Warrior, “A.A. Ron,” was asked what the group meant to him: “I met a lot of vets through IW,” he replied. “Regardless of when you served, we’re the same. We’re here for each other to lift our spirits and to enjoy our lives and the lives of others lost.”
The New York City hike hit its climax at Ground Zero. As we rounded a city corner in the Financial District, we were confronted by the Freedom Tower. The direct view of the building and how it dominated the landscape captured everyone’s attention. The party atmosphere quickly dipped into a somber state. The group, whose mood had been one of partying and incessant chanting, became silent. We all felt the same way, we all knew what this meant.
As we mustered outside the Freedom tower, several Warriors took the stage to tell their stories of those lost and remembered. The message was clear: you are not alone!
After a moment of silence, a prayer, and warm hugs we gathered our belongings and carried on with the mission, as all Warriors do.
What would happen if the U.S. found itself facing off against the rest of the world? Not just its traditional rivals, but what if it had to fight off its allies like the United Kingdom, France, and South Korea as well?
In short, America would stomp them. Especially if it pulled back to the continental U.S. and made its stand there.
First, the U.S. has the world’s largest Navy, by a lot. With ships displacing 3,415,893 tons, the mass of the U.S. Navy is larger than the next 8 largest navies combined. And the American ships, as a whole, are more technologically advanced than those of other countries. For instance, only America and France field nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. France has just one while America has 10 with an 11th on the way.*
And that’s before the U.S. Coast Guard gets into the mix. While the Coast Guard isn’t an expeditionary force, it could use its C-130s and other sensor platforms to give the Navy more eyes across the battlespace. It’s counterterrorism operators could protect government leaders and secure American ports.
Second, America’s air power is the strongest in the world. Currently, it has approximately 14,000 planes and helicopters spread across the five services. That’s more aircraft than the next 7 countries combined.
The world’s only operational fifth-generation fighter, the F-22, would conduct constant air patrols across the land borders of the U.S. to prevent any incursion by enemy bombers. The Army’s Patriot missile launchers would help stop enemy jets or missiles and Stinger/Avenger missile crews would shoot down any low-flying planes or helicopters.
The Army and Marine Corps’ almost 9,000 tanks would team up with thousands of Stryker Anti-Tank Guided Missile vehicles, Apache and Cobra helicopters, and anti-tank missile teams carrying Javelins and TOW missiles to annihilate enemy armor.
The world’s most advanced tanks, like the Leopard or the Merkava, would be tough nuts to crack. Artillery, aircraft, and anti-tank infantry would have to work together to bring these down. But most tanks worldwide are older U.S. and Soviet tanks like the Patton or the T-72 that would fall quickly to missile teams or Abrams firing from behind cover.
The other combat troops trying to make their way through the shattered remains of their air support and the burning hulks that were once their tanks would find themselves facing the most technologically advanced troops in the world.
American soldiers are getting weapon sights that let them pick out enemies obscured by dust and smoke. Their armor and other protective gear are top notch and getting better.
Chances are, even infantry from France, Britain, or Russia would have trouble pushing through the lines in these conditions. But even if they did, the Marines and 101st Airborne Division would be able to swoop in on helicopters and Ospreys while the 82nd Airborne Division could drop thousands of reinforcements from planes to close any openings.
And all of this is before America becomes desperate enough to launch any nuclear weapons. If the enemy actually did make it through, they’d face nuclear strikes every time they massed outside of a city. And their forces still trying to reach the border would be easy pickings.
Minuteman III missiles are designed to strike targets far from American shores but they could annihilate an advancing army moving from Houston to Dallas just as easily. Navy Trident missiles could be fired from submarines in the Gulf of Mexico to destroy units waiting for their turn to attack at the border. Northern Mexico and southern Canada would become irradiated zones.
So don’t worry America, you are already behind one hell of an impenetrable wall.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said that only America field nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, is also nuclear-powered. WATM regrets this error.
WATM received this piece from a Marine reader deployed to Almaty, Kazakhstan, who was concerned about the scandal engulfing the Marine Corps over allegedly illegal postings of photos of female Marines on Facebook and other social media outlets. The views expressed in this piece are his own.
My views on the recent scandal are simple: sharing someone else’s nude photo with friends at the barracks is as equally reprehensible as sharing it on social media. There is no honor in either situation. If you justify the first, the latter will shortly follow.
I think the bigger problem here is that we have not done a good enough job fostering a culture of chivalry in the Marine Corps.
While we’ve done exceptionally well with regards to physical fitness, physical appearance, and discipline, we’ve also allowed a culture where “locker room talk” is not only acceptable, but somehow considered “manly” — and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This issue is neither unique to the Marine Corps nor the military. This behavior plagues our schools and workforces, and is a detriment to our society as whole.
It’s true that we are a product of the society we recruit from, but it is also true that as Marines, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Making Marines doesn’t simply mean training them for duty, but instilling in them the values and ethics that will in turn mold them into better citizens.
We have a proven record of doing just that, but we regularly fall short with our commitment to female Marines, as evident with recent events.
On March 14, 2017, Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, told Congress he understands this kind of behavior is a problem in the Marine Corps, and he honestly confessed to not having a good answer in regard to how to fix it.
He took full responsibility as the Commandant, and I commend him for it. He didn’t make excuses; he acknowledged the deficiencies and I genuinely believe he is seeking a sustainable solution. That took humility and courage, which are characteristics of exceptional leaders.
To get to that end goal, I think it’s important we start at the beginning.
Men and women from all over the U.S. and our territories flock to Marine Corps Recruit Depots San Diego and Parris Island every year to become Marines. Currently, the requirements to even get accepted to attend Marine Corps recruit training are higher than in that of recent years.
The Marine Corps looks for quality men and women who will add value to our force and while we may come from different backgrounds and walks of life, in the end, we’re all united in our love of Corps and country.
Many of these recruits are fresh out of high school and still in their teens, which means that sex is typically the first and last thing on their mind and a big reason why the Marine Corps has traditionally conducted much of the training separately in order to reduce distractions and make the most out of those twelve weeks.
Male Drill Instructors are known to use sexual innuendos and lewd comments about women to help male recruits remember the skills and knowledge they need to graduate. While this might be an effective way to get the male recruits to absorb the information quickly, it also exacerbates a problem that we’ve already acknowledged takes place in our society, and therefore fosters a culture that is not conducive for chivalry to thrive.
It teaches Marines that disrespecting their female counterparts, by making lewd comments about them, is acceptable.
While this might be a common practice in the civilian sector, we should, and must, hold ourselves to a higher standard.
The Marine Corps’ core values are honor, courage, and commitment. While some Marines may not follow all of these, the truth of the matter is that most do, and it is our responsibility — as noncommissioned officers, staff noncommissioned officers, and officers — to instill these values in all of our Marines by setting the example and holding each other accountable.
I can’t tell you how much I love this organization as we’re perhaps the last real warrior culture that exists today.
We’re known as modern day Spartans, Devil Dogs, etc., but I think that some may have misunderstood what it means to be a warrior. Some equate it to being hostile and irreverent towards women. Some, unfortunately, believe part of being a man means to degrade our female counterparts even though Spartans were known to hold their women in the highest regard and medieval knights were the ones who created the concept of chivalry to begin with.
My hope is that we as Marines can grasp this concept and set the example for the rest. We are known to be “First to Fight,” and it’s a term we’re proud to bear.
We thrive on being known as standard-bearers, and that is a privilege and honor that should, and must, also extend to how we choose to lead.
The rapid turn toward diplomacy could defuse building tensions over the North’s accelerated testing of missile and nuclear devices to develop a nuclear-armed long- range missile that can target the U.S. mainland.
The Trump administration has led a “maximum pressure” campaign that imposed tough sanctions on Pyongyang, and planned for possible military action, if needed, to force the Kim government to give up its nuclear program.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was delighted with the progress being made to reduce regional tensions and facilitate direct talks between Trump and Kim.
The Chinese leadership has closely consulted the U.S. and South Korea on the prospects of talks. Lu Chao, a North Korea expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Science in China said Beijing has nothing to fear from being left on the sidelines of the upcoming summit between Washington and its ally in Pyongyang.
“Beijing’s role will not be diminished. Neither will China’s interests be compromised if the U.S. engages in direct talks with the North Koreans,” said Lu.
The Global Times, China’s Communist Party newspaper, also reacted to the prospect of a Trump/Kim summit by urging the Chinese people to “avoid the mentality that China is being marginalized.”
Yet other China scholars in the region worry that Trump’s diplomatic initiative could undermine Beijing’s influence and further strain already tense relaxations between Xi and Kim.
“There is evidently anxiety on the progress being made in the absence of its [China’s] influence all of a sudden,” said Seo Jeong-kyung, a professor with the Sungkyun Institute of China Studies in Seoul.
North Korea has still not reacted to Trump’s response, nor confirmed the offer for a summit that was communicated though a South Korean envoy that met with Kim in Pyongyang.
If the summit does happen, Trump would be the first head of state who Kim Jong Un will meet since he came to power in 2012. The North Korean leader has yet to meet with Chinese President Xi.
Even though North Korea is dependent on China for over 90 percent of its trade, relations between the two allies has been strained over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The young leader of North Korea has also not cultivated friendly ties with China, and has repeatedly ignored Beijing’s calls for Pyongyang to refrain from provocative missile and nuclear tests.
In contrast, Kim Jong Il, the father of the current North Korean leader, often visited with the leaders in Beijing, despite his own disagreement with China over nuclear weapons. In the 2000s China led six party talks – that included the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Russia — to reach a denuclearization deal. But in 2009 Kim Jong Il walked away from these talks to resume his country’s nuclear development program.
President Xi’s frustration with past failure and with the young North Korea leader may also be part the reason why Beijing is willing to sit out the denuclearization talks this time.
“China wants to play some role, but the greatest obstacle is Kim Jong Un’s hostility against China,” said Shi Yinhong, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
Improving U.S.-North Korea relations could further estrange Kim from Xi. With a nuclear deal in place, the Trump administration would no longer need Beijing’s support on sanctions and could take a more confrontational approach to deal with Chinese trade issues and to counter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
For China, there are clear benefits to a North Korea nuclear deal. It would reduce the potential for conflict in the region and restore expanding cross border economic activity.
Rather than lead to confrontation with the U.S. on other issues, there is also speculation that Beijing could leverage its support of U.S. led sanctions to end Washington’s objections to China’s claims in the South China Sea, or to the “One China Principle” on Taiwan.
“There have been discussions about trying to obtain the cooperation of the U.S. to unify Taiwan into China, after securing a good deal with the U.S. on the North Korea issue,” said Seo Jeong-kyung, with the Sungkyun Institute of China Studies.
A nuclear deal would also increase pressure on the United States and South Korea to reduce their military presence and remove the THAAD missile defense shield that was deployed on South Korea in 2017.
An Iraqi outpost with US and Australian military advisers in western Mosul was hit with an ineffective “low grade” mustard agent by Islamic State forces on Sunday, according to CBS News.
At least six Iraqis were treated for breathing issues at a field clinic, while none of the advisers were believed to have been injured.
The Pentagon released a statement saying that the ineffective attack “further displays the desperation of ISIS as they seek to hold an untenable position in Mosul,” ABC Australia reported.
“My advice right at the moment is no Australian troops were affected but Australian forces did provide assistance following the attack, said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “That’s my current advice received in last few minutes.”
US defense officials in Iraq could not be reached for comment.
This was reportedly the second chemical attack in recent days — an Iraqi military officer also claimed that ISIS forces launched a rocket loaded with chlorine in the al-Abar district in West Mosul, one Associated Press report said.
This wouldn’t be the first time ISIS militants were allegedly using chemical agents to fend off coalition fighters. Troops embedded with the Kurdish forces also reported that ISIS was using chemicals in their mortar attacks, judging by the coloration of its plumes of smoke.
Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, has seen heavy action since Iraqi Security Forces launched their campaign earlier this year to liberate the ISIS-controlled city.
Since then, ISF troops, backed by the coalition forces, have managed to reclaim the sparsely populated areas of eastern Mosul, however, the battle to retake western Mosul still rages on — with large portions of it requiring door-to-door combat. Some reports claim that more than half of western Mosul has been liberated.
“Wheel of Fortune” is one of the most popular game shows in the country — running every weekday night at 7:30 PM Eastern Standard Time on most TV stations.
According to a report from the Independent Journal Review, during a November 2015 taping for the Veterans Week shows, Nura Fountano did something that has since gone viral.
During the “Final Spin” puzzle, Fountano, who had a commanding lead over the other two contestants, Troy and Steve, began to make some… questionable letter guesses. She picked the letters “Z,” and “X” and in at least one case, let time run out.
Steve ultimately correctly guessed the puzzle, “Following Footprints,” and won $6,400. Troy, the other vet, came away with $4,300.
The author, who was twice selected for in-person auditions for Jeopardy, notes that there is a minimum of $1,000 in prizes for each contestant. However, contestants usually have to pay for their own airfare and hotel stays related to the appearance on the shows.
The video clip below ends before we find out if Nura won the bonus round – but we think she is a winner, anyhow.
For a radio tower and surrounding buildings operated by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) near the Texas-Mexico border, vultures are no joke. Around 300 of the carnivorous birds have roosted in its radio tower, and are creating communications issues thanks to their corrosive vomit and feces.
Quartz reports that CBP filed a request for information that includes details about the problems the vultures have created at the radio tower, which is now entirely coated in “droppings mixed with urine” that have also fallen on the ground and surrounding buildings below, where people work and equipment is kept.
Furthermore, a CBP spokesperson told Quartz that workers have anecdotes of the vultures dropping prey from as high as 300 feet above, creating a “terrifying and dangerous” work environment for the past six years.
Vultures regurgitate a corrosive vomit as a defense mechanism that can kill bacteria on their legs but also eat away at the metal radio tower, making it unsafe for maintenance workers to climb it and reducing the tower’s lifespan.
An adult Turkey Vulture at Santa Teresa County Park, San Jose, California, USA.
Large groups of vultures also smell like corpses – the species is known, of course, for feeding on dead flesh, or carrion. Undigested bones and fur can be found at the base of where vultures roost.
But CBP can’t kill the vultures, as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act made that illegal in 1918. Instead, the agency is searching for a “viable netting deterrent” to stop the vultures from roosting on the radio tower. CBP told Quartz that it’s working with the Fish and Wildlife Agency, the USDA, environmental experts, and the Texas State Historical Preservation Officer to find a solution that doesn’t harm any of the vultures.
The agency also says there are no nests or baby birds in the tower. There are plans to clean and repair the radio tower before installing nets by August, before the natural heavy roosting cycle begins in the fall.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
Russia, already the owner of the world’s longest Arctic coastline, has spent the past few years bolstering its presence there.
Now changes wrought by climate change are giving Moscow more territory to work with in the Arctic as the US is still looking for ways to get into the high north.
Russian sailors and researchers explored five new islands around the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean off Russia’s northern coast during an expedition in August and September 2019.
The islands, ranging in size from about 1,000 square yards to 65,000 square yards, were first spotted in 2016 but not confirmed until the expedition by Russia’s Northern Fleet and the Russian Geographical Society.
The new islands are “associated with the melting of ice,” expedition leader Vice Adm. Aleksandr Moiseyev said on Oct. 22, 2019, according to state news agency Tass. “Previously these were glaciers, but the melting of ice led to the islands emerging.”
The discoveries come as Moscow has boosted its military presence in the region, refurbishing Cold War-era bases, setting up new units, opening ports and runways, and deploying radar and air-defense systems.
In all, Russia has built 475 military facilities in the Arctic over the past six years and deployed personnel, special weapons, and equipment to them, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March 2019.
US officials regard Russian activity in the Arctic as “aggressive” and have questioned their Russian counterparts on it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Russian officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, upon arrival at the remote Arctic islands of Franz Josef Land, Russia, March 29, 2017.
“When I was as at the [Arctic Conference in 2017] and [with] the Russian ambassador … I asked him, ‘Why are you repaving five Cold War airstrips, and why are there reportedly 10,000 Spetsnaz troops up there?'” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said at a Brookings Institution event on Oct. 23, 2019, referring to Russian special operation forces.
“He said, ‘search and rescue, Mr. Secretary,'” Spencer added.
Asked whether Russia was a competitor or partner or both in the Arctic, Spencer said he “would love to say both” but expressed concern.
“I worry about their position there,” he said, pointing to the Northern Sea Route, which cuts shipping time between Europe and Asia by 40% compared to the Suez Canal route but runs through Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. In April, Moscow said foreign ships using that route would have to give notice and pay higher transit fees.
“That said, dialogue must remain open. We have to keep those avenues of communication,” Spencer added. “You’ve seen the arguments compared to the Suez Canal, the time and dollar savings by going over north, that’s happened. It’s going to continue to happen. We have to be present.”
Catching up in the high north
The emphasis on the Arctic is a part of the “great power competition” described in the 2018 US National Defense Strategy, which outlined a turn away from two decades of combat against irregular forces in the Middle East and toward revisionist foes like Russia and China.
But the US still has some catching up to do when it comes to the Arctic.
The US has just one heavy icebreaker, the decrepit Polar Star, operated by the Coast Guard. Russia, which gets some 25% of its GDP from the Arctic, has more than 40 icebreakers of varying sizes with more on the way. The Coast Guard recently awarded a contract to build three new icebreakers, but the first isn’t expected until 2024.
Marines have deployed on rotations to Norway since 2017 and taken part in exercises in Alaska with the Army and Air Force in an effort to get used to harsh conditions at higher latitudes. But the Navy’s biggest moves have come at sea.
Sailors and Marines aboard the USS Gunston Hall observe an underway replenishment with the USNS John Lethall, Oct. 6, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Colbey Livingston)
“We did Trident Juncture. We went north of the Arctic Circle, [and for the] first time since 1996 we had a carrier strike group and amphib ships north of the Arctic Circle,” Spencer said at the Brookings event.
Trident Juncture in late 2018 was NATO’s largest exercise since the Cold War and included the carrier USS Harry S. Truman. One of the Navy ships accompanying Marines to the exercise, the USS Gunston Hall, was banged up by rough seas during the journey.
“We learned a lot, where we had to shore up our learning and where we had to shore up our sets and reps,” Spencer said. “Gunston Hall hit some heavy weather, [which] tore the hell out of the well deck.”
Some sailors suffered minor injuries aboard the Gunston Hall, which had to return to the US. Bad seas also forced another ship, the USS New York, to detour to Iceland, but it eventually made it to the exercise in Norway.
“I’ll write a check for that kind of damage any single time, when I saw what we’d learned from going up there,” Spencer said.
Sailors signal an E-2D Hawkeye ready for launch on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 27, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)
The Truman’s trip above the Arctic Circle after a two-decade absence, like the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s participation in the Northern Edge exercise in Alaska for the first time in a decade, is significant, and recent Navy exercises in Alaska laid the groundwork for future training up there, but whether the Navy will be back for good is uncertain.
“We will be in the Arctic Circle … in the high north in the Atlantic and the high Pacific in the Bering Straits on a regular basis,” Spencer said at the Brookings event.
“Will we have permanent basing up there? I don’t know. Would I like to see a logistic center up there — something like a Nome [in Alaska] — that would be great,” Spencer added.
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer with Cmdr. Kevin Culver, commanding officer of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock, in Seward, Alaska, Sept. 17, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 2nd Class Nicholas Burgains)
As of late September 2019, the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, which is tasked with finding innovative and cost-effective methods to meet the Pentagon’s high-priority environmental needs, was deciding on proposals to guide Arctic infrastructure projects, according to John Farrell, executive director of the US Arctic Research Commission, who sat in on the panel making the decision.
“They were in the midst of making final selection on proposals to directly address this very topic of Arctic infrastructure design — a design tool that would look at the rapid environmental changes that are going on and give guidance to engineers better than the current guidance they have, which is outdated, about how to design infrastructure that will last 20, 30, 40 years in a rapidly changing environment,” Farrell said at a Hudson Institute event at the end of September 2019.
“This is of great importance to places like Thule Air Force Base in Greenland and other bases that we have in the north, not just in the US but pan-Arctic,” Farrell said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On Jan. 27, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, formally ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. On Apr. 30, 1975, the country of South Vietnam formally came to an end as North Vietnamese tanks rolled across bases and airfields and into the southern capital of Saigon.
While many look back and see the war as a waste of money, manpower, and materiel given the outcome, there are more than 475 million people who would disagree.
The foundation of that figure of 475 million is the current population of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It doesn’t mention the relatives of those populations who are no longer alive and didn’t live under the constant threat of global Communism because of the line in the sand drawn by American forces in Vietnam.
World War II-era Navy veteran, Georgetown University professor, and former member of the National Security Council under four presidential administrations, William Lloyd Stearman, wrote about the accomplishments of the United States in the Vietnam War in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece. In it, he argues that the Vietnam War was not only winnable, the North Vietnamese were constantly surprised that the Americans didn’t cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail by invading Laos – a move the NVA thought was inevitable – and thus, win the war for the South.
The U.S. didn’t want to widen the war, but if the NVA was already in Laos. It was already wider.
While the 96-year-old Stearman spends much of the article rehashing the causes for the outcome of the Vietnam War, the important aspects he adds to the discussion are what the United States and her allies actually achieved through their involvement there, rather than dwelling on what we lost. He argues that without the intervention of the U.S. in Vietnam, the West would have been forced into harder choices in more difficult areas as Communist insurgencies rocked other countries in the region. Quoting Singapore’s visionary leader Lee Kuan Yew, who wrote about this subject in his memoirs:
“In 1965, when the U.S. military moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed insurgencies and the communist underground was still active in Singapore. Indonesia [was] in the throes of a failed communist coup. America’s action enabled noncommunist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975, they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no U.S. intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would most likely gone communist.”
Lee Kuan Yew is famous for taking Singapore “from third world to first world” in a single generation.
The U.S. troop buildup in South Vietnam in 1965 spurred Britain to reinforce Malaysia. That same year, Indonesian forces were inspired by anti-Communist action and troop build-ups in the region and successfully fought off a Chinese-led Communist insurgency there. If the insurgency in Indonesia were successful, it would have spread to the Philippines and forced the U.S. to come to the Philippines to fight the Communists, rather than in North Vietnam.
That situation, Stearman argues, would have been far worse and far more costly than the fighting in Vietnam.
President Donald Trump said he plans to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan in a speech August 21 and continue the longest-running war in American history.
Currently, there are about 9,800 US troops stationed in Afghanistan and more than 26,000 contractors.
The Pentagon defines a defense contractor as “any individual, firm, corporation, partnership, or other legal non-federal entity that enters into a contract directly with the DOD to furnish services, supplies, or construction.”
US defense contractors versus US troops deployed to Afghanistan in last decade. Image by Skye Gould via Business Insider.
This also includes intelligence analysis, translation and interpretation, as well as private-security contractors — who began taking over roles once held by uniformed soldiers after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The defense industry has also made incredible profits since 2001, including nearly $100 billion in Afghanistan since 2007.
The graphic above compares the number of US troops and defense contractors in Afghanistan over the last decade.
A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close ties to neighboring Iran and opposes efforts aimed at ending the 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan has emerged.
The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, or Party of Islamic Guardianship, is believed to have split from the mainstream Taliban soon after the United States and the militant group signed a landmark peace agreement in February.
The formation of the splinter group underlines the possible divisions within the Taliban, which has seen bitter leadership transitions and growing internal dissent in recent years.
It is unclear whether the new splinter group will rally broad support but its emergence could pose a new hurdle for the U.S.-Taliban deal, which has been undermined by violence, disputes, and delays.
Under that agreement, international forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Afghan government.
‘Early Stages Of Forming’
Antonio Giustozzi, a Taliban expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said it appears the new splinter group is based in Iran, which shares a 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan and has a sizeable Afghan population.
“It’s still in the early stages of forming,” said Giustozzi, adding that the military strength and the leadership of the faction is unknown.
An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that the new splinter group has not been “officially announced.” The official said members of the group included radical Taliban commanders and members of small Taliban offshoots.
A new report by a United Nations monitoring team made public on June 1 said that “at least one group of senior Taliban” had “formed a new group in opposition to any possible peace agreement.”
The breakaway faction was “composed mainly of dissident senior Taliban members residing outside Afghanistan,” said the report, which was based on information provided by Afghan and foreign intelligence and security services, think tanks, experts, and interlocutors.
Iran Building Taliban ‘Combat Capabilities’
The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami joins a growing list of Taliban factions that support continued fighting against Afghan and international troops.
“There are several Taliban leaders, fronts, and commanders who oppose peace and are linked to Iran,” said Giustozzi.
Among them, he added, is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban and the head of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction that is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
That is despite Haqqani’s op-ed in February in The New York Times, in which he voiced support for the peace deal with the United States.
Haqqani, who is the Taliban’s operational chief, has a million U.S. bounty on his head. He is the son of the late radical Islamist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Al-Qaeda-linked network blamed for some of Afghanistan’s deadliest suicide attacks.
The Haqqani network has strong ties to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But Giustozzi said the network is “getting closer” to Iran as Islamabad and Riyadh cut funding to it.
Other Iran-linked Taliban leaders who oppose peace efforts include Mullah Qayum Zakir, a powerful battlefield commander and the former military chief of the Taliban until 2014. A former inmate in the infamous U.S. prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Mullah Zakir has the backing of hard-line field commanders.
Mullah Zakir leads a conservative Taliban faction along with Ibrahim Sadr, the Taliban’s former military commission chief. In October 2018, Sadr was among eight Taliban members designated global terrorists by the U.S. Treasury Department.
“Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with monetary support and individualized training in order to prevent a possible tracing back to Iran,” the Treasury Department said, adding that “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities.”
An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new splinter group included the followers of Sadr.
The officials said the new group also includes members of the Feday-e Mahaz (Suicide Brigade) a small, hard-core offshoot of the mainstream Taliban.
The group is believed to be led by Haji Najibullah, a loyalist to radical Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a U.S.-led attack in Helmand Province in 2007.
Iran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan. Tehran also provided help to U.S. forces as they toppled the Taliban regime. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.
Tehran has confirmed it has contacts with the Taliban but insists that it is aimed at ensuring the safety of Iranian citizens in Afghanistan and encouraging the Taliban to join peace talks.
But U.S. officials have accused Tehran of providing material support to the Taliban, an allegation it denies.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January accused Tehran of “actively working” to undermine the peace process in Afghanistan, adding that Iran was supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
In a report released in November, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said Iran provides financial, political, training, and material support to the Taliban.
“Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government,” the report said, adding that Iran’s support enabled it to advance its interests in Afghanistan and attain “strategic depth” in the country.
Taliban Divided Over Peace
The emergence of the Taliban splinter group has exposed serious divisions within the militant group.
The Taliban is believed to be divided over a peace settlement.
Its political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to a peace deal but hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan demand the restoration of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001.
Internal Taliban divisions have intensified after the death of founder and spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.
Some Taliban commanders accused his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, of covering up Mullah Omar’s death and assuming leadership of the extremist group without proper approval.
Mullah Mansur struggled to quell the internal dissent and reconcile feuding factions, with some commanders splitting from the group and challenging his leadership.
Mullah Mansur was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.
The succession of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a low-key Islamic scholar who was Mullah Mansur’s deputy, was also opposed.
But experts said the Taliban has overcome the succession crises, has fended off competition from the global appeal of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite a deadly war against foreign and Afghan forces.
Borhan Osman, an independent analyst and a leading expert on Islamic extremism and the militant networks operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, said divisions within the Taliban are not yet visible.
“So far the Taliban has been successful in spinning the agreement with the United States as an outright victory,” he said.
Osman said the Taliban’s unity will be tested during intra-Afghan talks, when Afghan and Taliban negotiators will discuss a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing deal.
The negotiations were scheduled to start in March but were delayed by disputes over the release of Taliban prisoners by the government and escalating militant attacks.
“The Taliban will be forced to come up with specific positions on issues and present their vision for a future Afghanistan,” said Osman.
The Taliban has been ambiguous on key issues, including women’s rights, the future distribution of power, and changes to the Afghan Constitution, reflecting the divisions within the group.
Many expect intra-Afghan negotiations to be complex and protracted, considering the gulf between the sides on policy and the sharing of power between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Internal rifts and rivalries have led to the emergence of various Taliban offshoots over the years, although many lack the military strength and support to pose a threat to the mainstream group.
The High Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — led by Mullah Mohammad Rasul — has been engaged in deadly clashes with fighters from the mainstream Taliban in southern and western Afghanistan since 2015, leaving scores dead on both sides.
The clashes have left the offshoot severely weakened, experts said, with many considering the group to be militarily irrelevant.
Mullah Rasul is believed to receive arms and support from Afghan intelligence in an attempt to divide the militant group.
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.
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