A Russian Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” ground attack aircraft was shot down over the city of Maasran in Idlib, Syria, on Feb. 3, 2018. The aircraft, RF-95486/06 Blue (ex Red), was involved in airstrikes in region and had just fired rockets on a ground target.
Video seen on social media shows what appears to be a person, claimed to be the Russian Su-25 pilot, descending by parachute after the aircraft was hit. The BBC reported that Russia’s defense ministry said: “The pilot had enough time to report that he had ejected in an area controlled by the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra.”
Based on report and the above videos the aircraft was hit by a MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System): most probably a Chinese FN-6 passive infrared homing (IR) man portable air defence system known to be in the hands of the Jidahists.
According to reliable sources within the Russian military who spoke to TheAviationist.com, the pilot did reach the ground and then engaged unknown ground forces. Our Russian source tells TheAviationist.com that photos from the scene show the pilot’s personal firearm and that, “One store [ammunition magazine] is completely empty, the other two are consumed more than half. The pilot led the fight.” The source claimed the weapon shown in the photos is a Russian Stechkin automatic pistol or APS. This weapon is widely carried by Russian military and federal law enforcement.
Additional sources on Russian social media report that the pilot carried a grenade and may have detonated it close to himself as insurgent forces closed in on him. There is no official confirmation of this information.
Anyway, the pilot was captured and killed. The Russia-based, independent Conflict Intelligence Team posted photographs they say showed the dead body of the pilot and a paper recommending a man named Major Roman Filipov for a state award that was allegedly filled out by Russian air group commander Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Aksyonov.
Novaya Gazeta quoted an unidentified Defense Ministry source as confirming that the pilot was Filippov. According to the newspaper, he was a Ukrainian pilot from Crimea, the Ukrainian region that Russia annexed in 2014.
Video from alleged to be from the crash scene clearly show the wing of an Su-25 with Russian markings along with a damaged engine and fire among debris.
TheAviationist.com showed the Arabic language news broadcast to a translator in Dearborn, Michigan, who told us that the reporter in the video, identified as “Journalist Moazom Al-Chamie”, says the aircraft was shot down by a shoulder fired missile after being spotted by drivers in a truck. The reporter also goes on to say that another Russian Su-25 remained in the area after the incident, and that the men shown in the video hoped to shoot it down as well.
According to Iranian journalist Babak Taghvaee the Su-25 shot down on Feb. 3 2018 was one of six Su-25s of RuAF’s 368 ShAP recently deployed from Sevastopol, Crimea to Hmeymim Air Base, Syria.
The loss of this Su-25 is the 11th Russian aircraft destroyed by enemy action or in accidents during the Russian involvement in the Syrian campaign. Considering the number of combat sorties flown by the Russians over Syria, and the increasing number of man portable air defense systems (MANPADS), these losses could be characterized as low for a campaign of this size.
Russian observers remarked that an absence of infra-red decoy flares being ejected from the Su-25 shown in the videos is unusual. It is common to see a series of bright flares ejected from an aircraft as a countermeasure to heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.
Video seen on social media showed Su-25 attack aircraft over the same area being engaged by anti-aircraft guns. One video showed an Su-25 taking a near miss as a proximity fused anti-aircraft round detonates near its left wing root.
Following the downing of the Su-25 reports began to appear on Twitter that numerous air strikes were occurring in the area where the aircraft was downed.
It’s that wonderful time of year when veterans, their friends, and their families go out to enjoy a little spooky fun around town. They’ll have fun with the decorations, getting into goofy costumes, and, overall, just enjoying the spirit of the season — but there’s just one place veterans tend to avoid: haunted houses.
We don’t avoid these because of their intended scariness — far from it. Veterans just don’t seem to have the same reaction as most civilians. We tend to have one of three reactions to being put in what is, essentially, a guided maze filled with actors dressed like our favorite monsters: Either we’re way too in to how cool what’s going on around us is, we just can’t suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it, or, well, we’ll get to the last one in a minute.
Perfect for war! Terrible for Halloween fun…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justis Beauregard)
1. We aren’t scared the same way
Once you’ve spent some time in the military, certain things just don’t scare you the same way. I’m not saying that seeing someone dressed as a distressed clown brandishing a chainsaw (with the teeth taken out for safety) isn’t objectively terrifying — it definitely is.
But veterans spent years learning how to always switch their “fight or flight” response in one direction. Once you’ve done your time, that response never really shuts off. You may not be fighting every monster you see, but you’re not going to run through the haunted house like most guests.
Then again, having attention to detail is never fun…
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Ronald Bailey, 100th Missile Defense Brigade Public Affairs)
2. Our attention to detail overshadows the rest of the “fun”
We keep level heads and analyze every tiny detail of what’s going on while others are cowering. We notice the tiny things. This works absolute wonders in haunted escape rooms — but that same cannot be said for haunted houses.
You’ll look for and find things that break the immersion. You’ll stop admiring/being spooked out by all of the scary stuff and simply get through the thing like there’s some kind of reward at the end — there isn’t. The experience of the haunted house was the reward.
You might also get asked to leave if you stack your family by sector of fire they’d take as they enter the room.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Devon Tindle)
3. We will use room-clearing techniques as we go through
There’re only so many spots for actors to hide throughout a maze: behind that door, at the end of the hallway, behind all those curtains. Coincidentally, these are the exact same spots that most veterans remember from room-clearing drills.
The ideology is the same, but instead of jumping out to attack a squad of infantrymen, the haunted house actors are just trying to help you celebrate the Halloween spirit. It actually gets a bit disappointing when the veteran thinks to themselves, “if I were them, I’d totally set up an ambush point here at the funnel of death,” only to realize the actors didn’t get your memo.
“Want to see a real horror monster? You should see my old drill instructor when faced with an unsecured wall locker.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Pedro Cardenas)
4. We will one-up creepy moments with real-life stuff
There’s a certain expectation that guests at haunted houses will suspend disbelief enough to allow themselves to be scared and enjoy the experience. That kind of goes out the window when you can’t help but notice that the “blood” splotches on the walls don’t really line up with how arterial blood would actually spew out of that “zombie’s” neck.
That’s fine and all, but it ruins the fun for the other people in your party. Nobody really wants to hear us say, “oh, you think this is scary? Try losing your weapon in a porta-sh*tty as your FOB is getting indirect fire! Now that’s scary!”
We know, bro. We know.
What’s actually a scary thought is that your MACP Level 1 isn’t going to do jack sh*t against a security guard who likes tasing people.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham)
5. We tend to get a bit… punchy… around the actors
You knew this one was coming. No, you can’t punch the actors that jump out at guests. They’re not allowed to touch you and you’re not allowed to feed them their teeth.
In fact, it’s against the law — and everyone will laugh at you if you try to say that some minimum-wage-earning teenager in a cheap costume at a haunted house that you knowingly and willingly paid money to visit is actually some monster.
Plus, most haunted houses have cameras and security guards in place for just such occasions. So, uh, just don’t do it.
The U.S. is beefing up its presence around the Korean Peninsula ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics by deploying stealth bombers, at least one extra aircraft carrier, and a new amphibious assault ship to the region.
Coming after Washington agreed to postpone massive annual military maneuvers with South Korea until after the Games, North Korea says the U.S. is trying to put a chill on its renewed talks with Seoul.
“Such moves are an unpardonable military provocation chilling the atmosphere for improved inter-Korean relations,” the North’s ruling party said in a commentary published over the weekend.
Representatives of both Koreas held a second round of talks Jan. 15 near the Demilitarized Zone to try to pave the way for a North Korean delegation to join the Pyeongchang Games.
The U.S. has officially welcomed the talks and the moves represent routine training and scheduled upgrades, according to U.S. military officials.
Tensions remain high and the military deployments are significant.
Last week, the Pacific Air Forces announced three B-2 “Spirit” stealth bombers with approximately 200 personnel have been deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to the Pacific island of Guam.
The statement said the deployment is intended to provide leaders with “deterrent options to maintain regional stability.”
But the Guam deployment hits an especially sore nerve and plays on a key vulnerability for Pyongyang, which is probably the message Washington had in mind as it seeks to make sure nothing happens during the Olympics and also let Pyongyang know its decision to postpone the exercises is not a sign of weakness.
Last year, flights by B-1B bombers from Guam to the airspace around Korea were a major flashpoint, prompting a warning from North Korea that it had drawn up a plan to target the waters around the island with a missile strike that it could carry out anytime Kim gave the order.
The B-2 is more threatening.
It’s the most advanced bomber in the Air Force and, unlike the B-1B, can carry nuclear weapons. It’s also the only known aircraft that can drop the Air Force’s biggest bomb, the 14,000-kilogram (30,000-pound) GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
The “MOP,” capable of penetrating deep into the ground to destroy reinforced tunnels and bunkers, was explicitly designed with North Korea in mind.
The B-2 deployment came just days after the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier departed for the western Pacific in what the Navy called a regularly scheduled deployment. South Korean media reports say the carrier and its strike group will reach waters near the Korean Peninsula ahead of the start of the Games on Feb. 9.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, whose home port is just south of Tokyo in Yokosuka, is also in the region, and North Korea has accused the U.S. of planning to send another carrier, the USS John Stennis from Bremerton, Washington.
The Marines announced on Jan. 14 the arrival in southern Japan of the USS Wasp, an upgraded amphibious assault ship that can carry troops and launch the corps’ new F-35B stealth fighters. It can carry 30-plus aircraft, including the F-35s, which are designed for vertical takeoffs and landings.
The ships and bombers could figure largely in a U.S. response to any military emergencies during the Games. North Korea may view them as a greater and more imminent threat.
Aircraft carriers, virtually impervious to any attack the North could mount, are floating platforms for sustained air assaults, while the F-35 fighters could be a key part of any potential strike on Kim Jong Un himself.
Anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems were stationed on Chinese outposts in the contested South China Sea, in yet another signal that China intends to cement its presence on the disputed islands.
Sources familiar with US intelligence reports said the weapons systems were installed on three fortified outposts in the Spratly Islands, west of the Philippines, according to a CNBC report.
The YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles would provide China the ability to engage surface vessels within 295 nautical miles of the reefs; and the HQ-9B surface-to-air missiles are expected to have a range of 160 nautical miles, CNBC reported.
“We have consistently called on China, as well as other claimants, to refrain from further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features, and to commit to managing and resolving disputes peacefully with other claimants,” a Pentagon official said to CNBC. “The further militarization of outposts will only serve to raise tensions and create greater distrust among claimants.”
“These would be the first missiles in the Spratlys, either surface to air, or anti-ship,” Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters.
(Photo by Jeff Hilton)
“Before this, if you were one of the other claimants … you knew that China was monitoring your every move. Now you will know that you’re operating inside Chinese missile range. That’s a pretty strong, if implicit, threat,” he said.
China’s increased military presence in the region comes amid another maneuver, one which exacerbated concerns among the US military and its allies. US officials said that in early April 2018, intelligence officers detected China was moving radar and communications-jamming equipment to the Spratly Island outposts.
“This is not something that the US will look kindly on or think they can overlook.” Stratfor military analyst Omar Lamrani told Business Insider editor Alex Lockie, when asked about potential moves to jam communications channels. “The US will likely seek to counter this in some way,” he said.
Hotly disputed, $3.4 trillion shipping lane
Six countries, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, are contesting at least part of the chain of islands, reefs, and surrounding waters in the South China Sea. Located between Vietnam and the Philippines, the natural resources and trade routes that pass through the Spratly Islands are a lucrative venture for the countries — around $3.4 trillion in trade is reportedly transported through the South China Sea every year.
China has been one of the most prominent claimants to territory in the South China Sea since the 1980s. It currently has around 27 outposts throughout the islands and has continued to outfit them with aircraft runways, lighthouses, tourist resorts, hospitals, and farms.
According to some experts, the creation of civilian attractions in the region signals that China is undertaking a two-pronged approach in attempts to legitimize its ownership — by arguing it has a vested interest in the region, both militarily and otherwise.
In April 2018, US Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, nominated to lead the US’ Pacific Command, said Beijing’s “forward operating bases” in the South China Sea appeared complete.
Davidson said China could use the bases pose a challenge the US and “would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants.
“China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Austin-class amphibious transport docks are old. The Ponce, the youngest ship in the class, was commissioned in 1971.
Still, they remain very capable vessels. According to a Navy fact sheet, they can carry up to 900 troops, two air-cushion landing craft, or a single landing craft utility. The vessels can also carry a half-dozen helicopters.
With this sort of capability, some retired Royal Navy officers are concerned. Among them is retired Adm. Lord West.
“Such a ship is an offensive weapon and could play a significant role as part of an invading force. It is more unfortunate that this is happening as we are about to lose HMS Ocean from service without a direct replacement,” he told the Daily Mail, referring to the amphibious assault ship capable of holding 18 helicopters, including Apache attack helicopters and Merlin, Sea King, and Lynx transport helicopters.
The Argentineans reportedly tried to close the deal with the U.S. while Vice President Mike Pence was visiting the South American country. While the deal has not gone through yet, the implications for the United Kingdom are significant.
“The British would have to increase their protection of the Falklands in light of Argentina acquiring an amphibious assault ship,” John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org told the Daily Mail.
The Russian military has made a new claim about the downing of a passenger jet over the war zone in eastern Ukraine in 2014, asserting that the missile that brought Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 down was sent to Soviet Ukraine after it was made in 1986 and never returned to Russia.
Defense Ministry officials made the claim at a news conference in Moscow on Sept. 17, 2018, in an apparent attempt to discredit the findings of an international investigation that determined the system that fired the missile was brought into Ukraine from Russia before the Boeing 777 was shot down on July 17, 2014, and smuggled back into Russia afterward.
Kyiv swiftly disputed the Russian assertion, which a senior Ukrainian official called an “awkward fake,” while the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said that it was still waiting for Russia to send documents it requested long ago and that Russia had made “factually inaccurate” claims in the past.
In a statement to RFE/RL, the Dutch government said it had “taken notice of the publications in relation to the press conference by the Russian Ministry of Defense.”
“The Netherlands has the utmost confidence in the findings and conclusions of the JIT,” the statement added. “The JIT investigation has broad support by the international community. The government is committed to full cooperation with the criminal investigation by all countries concerned as reflected in [UN Security Council] Resolution 2166.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service in an interview, the founder of cybersleuthing outfit Bellingcat accused Russia of “lying about the content” of videos it used as evidence, and said there was “absolutely no way to know” whether the records it cited are genuine.
All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the jet, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in an area held by Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region.
The tragedy caused an international outcry and deepened tensions between Moscow and the West following Russia’s seizure of Crimea and support for the militants in their fight against Kyiv’s forces after pro-European protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.
The JIT also found that the Buk missile came from Russia’s 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade and was fired from territory held by the Russia-backed separatists.
Many of the JIT’s findings have been corroborated or supported by evidence gathered by journalists and independent investigators, such as the British-based Bellingcat.
The Russian Defense Ministry officials claimed that some of the evidence used by the JIT, including videos investigators used to track the path of the missile from Russia to Ukraine and back, was falsified. They cited alleged evidence whose authenticity and accuracy could not immediately be independently assessed.
Citing what they said were newly declassified documents, the Defense Ministry officials asserted that the missile was manufactured in Dolgoprudny, outside Moscow, in 1986 — five years before the Soviet Union fell apart — and was sent by railway to a missile brigade in the Ternopil region of western Ukraine in December of that year.
“The missile belongs to the Ukrainian armed forces and never returned to Russian territory,” said Lieutenant General Nikolai Parshin, chief of the Defense Ministry’s missile and artillery department.
In Ukraine, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia’s “statement alleging that the missile that downed MH17 had a Ukrainian footprint was yet another awkward fake [issued] by the Kremlin in order to conceal its crime, which has been proven by both the official investigation and by independent expert groups.”
Earlier, Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins cast doubt on the allegation that video footage was doctored by investigators, writing on Twitter that the Russian Defense Ministry “should probably know we have the original version of the video they’re talking about at the moment.”
“And we’ve never published it. And the JIT has it,” Higgins added in successive tweets.
In a statement on Sept. 17, 2018, the JIT said it would “meticulously study the materials presented as soon as the Russian Federation makes the relevant documents available to the JIT as requested in May 2018″ and required under a UN Security Council resolution.”
The JIT said that it asked Russia to provide “all relevant information” about the incident back in 2014, and in May 2018 “specifically requested information concerning numbers found on several recovered missile parts.”
The investigative body said that it had “always carefully analyzed” information provided by Russia, and in doing so “has found that information from the Russian Ministry of Defense previously presented to the public and provided to the JIT was factually inaccurate on several points.”
Bellingcat’s Higgins echoed that statement, telling RFE/RL’s Russian Service that “the Russian Ministry of Defense has a long and well-established track record of lying and faking evidence.”
“So, really, there is absolutely no way to know that this information is genuine,” Higgins said. He also disputed the claim that videos were doctored, accusing the Defense Ministry of making “purposely misleading” statements about video evidence and “just lying about the content.”
The new Russian assertions follow several other attempts by Russia to lay blame for the downing of MH-17 on Ukraine, including initial suggestions — now discredited — that the jet was shot down by a Ukrainian warplane.
The 298 victims of the crash are among more than 10,300 people killed since April 2014 in the war in eastern Ukraine, where fighting persists and the Moscow-backed militants continue to hold parts of the Donestk and Luhansk provinces despite internationally-backed cease-fire and political-settlement deals known as the Minsk Accords.
Most Americans know the story of Pearl Harbor, how the Japanese planes descended from the clouds and attacked ship after ship in the harbor, hitting the floating fortresses of battleship row, damaging drydocks, and killing more than 2,300 Americans. But the most coveted targets of the attack were the aircraft carriers thankfully absent. Except one was supposed to be there that morning with a future fleet admiral on board, and they were both saved by a freak accident at sea.
The USS Shaw explodes on December 7, 1941, during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Vice Adm. William Halsey, Jr., was a tough and direct man. And in November 1941, he was given a top-secret mission to ferry 12 Marine F4F Hellcats to Wake Island under the cover of an exercise. Wake Island is closer to Japan than Hawaii, and Washington didn’t want Japan to know the Marines were being reinforced.
The mission was vital, but also dangerous. Halsey knew that Japan was considering war with the U.S., and he knew that Japan had a long history of beginning conflicts with sneak attacks. He was so certain that a war with Japan was coming, that he ordered his task force split into two pieces. The slower ships, including his three battleships, were sent to conduct the naval exercise.
Halsey took the carrier Enterprise, three heavy cruisers, and nine destroyers as “Task Force 8” to deliver the planes. And those 13 ships would proceed “under war conditions,” according to Battle Order No. 1, signed by the Enterprise captain but ordered by Halsey.
All torpedoes were given warheads, planes were armed with their full combat load, and gunners were prepared for combat. Halsey had checked, and there were no plans for allied or merchant shipping in his path, so he ordered his planes to sink any ship sighted and down any plane.
If Task Force 8 ran into a group of ships, they would assume they were Japanese and start the war themselves. That’s not hyperbole, according to Halsey after the war:
Comdr. William H. Buracker, brought [the orders] to me and asked incredulously, “Admiral, did you authorize this thing?” “Yes.” “Do you realize that this means war?” “Yes.” Bill protested, “Goddammit, Admiral, you can’t start a private war of your own! Who’s going to take the responsibility?” I replied, “I’ll take it! If anything gets in my way, we’ll shoot first and argue afterwards.”
The USS Enterprise sails in October 1941 with its scout planes overhead.
Equipped, prepared, and looking for a war, Halsey and his men sailed until they got within range of Wake Island on December 4, dispatched the Marines, and then headed for home.
There is an interesting question here about whether it would have been better if Task Force 8 had met with the Japanese force at sea. It would surely have been eradicated, sending all 13 ships to the bottom, likely with all hands. But it would have warned Pearl of the attack, and might have sunk a Japanese ship or two before going down. And, the Japanese fleet was ordered to return home if intercepted or spotted before December 5.
But the worst case scenario would’ve been if Task Force 8 returned to Pearl on its scheduled date, December 6. The plan was to send most of the sailors and pilots ashore for leave or pass, giving Japan one of its prime carrier targets as well as additional cruisers to sink during the December 7 attack.
Luckily, a fluke accident occurred at sea. A destroyer had split a seam in rough seas, delaying the Task Force 8 arrival until, at best, 7:30 on December 7. A further delay during refueling pushed the timeline further right to noon.
I peered intently through my binoculars at the ships riding peacefully at anchor. One by one I counted them. Yes, the battleships were there all right, eight of them! But our last lingering hope of finding any carriers present was now gone. Not one was to be seen.
USS Enterprise sailors watch as “scores” go up on a board detailing the ship and its pilots combat exploits.
And the Enterprise would go on to fight viciously for the U.S. in the war. Halsey spent December 7-8 looking for a fight. While it couldn’t make contact in those early moments of the war, it would find earn 20 battle stars in the fighting. It was instrumental to the victories at Midway, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf.
It suffered numerous strikes, but always returned to the fight. Its crew earned the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Commendation. The ship, and much of the crew, survived the war. But the Enterprise was decommissioned in 1947.
Two great articles, linked above, were instrumental in writing this article. But a hat tip also goes out to Walter R. Borneman whose book The Admirals inspired this piece.
In the movies, secret agents face their adversaries with guns, weapons, and flashy cars. And they’re so proficient in hand-to-hand combat that they can bring enemies to their knees with the right choke hold or take them down with a well-placed aimed shot. As much as I’d like to think I was that cool, in reality, life in the CIA is much more pedantic.
What most people don’t know is that the CIA is really a massive sorting agency. Intelligence officers must sift through mountains of data in an effort to determine what is authentic and useful, versus what should be discarded. We must consider the subtleties of language and the nuance of the nonverbal. We must unwind a complicated stream of intelligence by questioning everything. In the counterterrorism realm, this process has to be quick; we have to weed out bad information with alacrity. We can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to the collection, processing, dissemination, and evaluation of terrorism intelligence. As we say in the CIA, “The terrorists only have to get it right once, but we have to be right every time.”
Contained in that massive flow is an incredible amount of useless, inaccurate, misleading, or fabricated information. The amount of bad reporting that is peddled, not only to the CIA but to intelligence agencies all over the world, is mind-boggling.
That’s precisely why one of the greatest challenges we faced as counterterrorism experts was figuring out who was giving us solid intelligence and who wasn’t. And when we were dealing with terrorists, getting it wrong could mean someone’s death.
In early 2007 when Iraq was awash with violence, many Iraqis who had formerly counted the United States as the Great Satan for occupying their country switched sides and were willing to work with Coalition Forces against Iraqi terrorists. Brave locals were rebelling against al-Qa’ida’s brutal tactics and were doing whatever they could to take back the streets from these thugs. This was a turning point in the war. Our counterterrorism efforts became wildly successful, fueled by accurate and highly actionable intelligence.
In one such case, we were contacted by one of our established sources, who was extremely agitated. Mahmud had come from his village claiming that he had seen something that sent chills down his spine. As Mahmud was driving not far from his home, he saw an unknown person exit a building that one of his cousins owned. The building was supposed to be empty and unoccupied. For reasons Mahmud could not explain, he thought that something bad was going on and that maybe the man he saw was a member of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
Up until this point, Coalition Forces had found Mahmud’s information extremely reliable. Of course, they did not know his name or personal details, but they made sure we knew that his information had checked out. They contacted us on numerous occasions to praise us for the source’s reporting, explaining that it had allowed them to disarm IEDs and detain insurgents who were causing problems in his village.
Mahmud had a solid track record. But the bits he provided this time were sketchy and lacked sufficient detail. You can’t just disseminate intelligence reports saying that a location “feels wrong,” “seems wrong,” or that some random dude you just saw “looked like a bad guy.” That kind of information does not meet the threshold for dissemination by the CIA. In this case, however, the handling case officer and I went against protocol and put the report out.
Within the hour, we were contacted by one of the MNF-I (Multi-National Force-Iraq) units with responsibility for that AOR. They regularly executed counterterrorism operations in that village and wanted to know more about the sourcing. They were interested in taking a look at the abandoned building because they had been trying to locate terrorist safe houses they believed were somewhere in the vicinity of the building mentioned in our report. They had a feeling that nearby safe houses were being used to store large amounts of weaponry and a few had been turned into VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) factories. But there was one big problem: Military units had acted on similar intelligence reports before, but the reports had been setups—the alleged safe houses were wired to explode when the soldiers entered.
A spate of these types of explosions had occurred east of Baghdad in Diyala Governorate, and while we had not yet seen this happen out west in al-Anbar Governorate, one could never be too careful. Basically, the military wanted to know: How good is your source? Do you trust him? Do you think he could have turned on you? Could this be a setup?
This was one of the hardest parts of my job. While I had to protect the identity of our sources when passing on intelligence, I had to balance this with the need to share pertinent details that would allow the military to do their job. It was critical to give them appropriate context on the sources, their access, and their reporting records, and to give them a sense of how good the report may or may not be. Given our positive track record with these military units, I knew that they would trust my judgment, and therefore, I needed to get it right. Lives were at stake.
My mind was spinning.
What do I think? Is this a setup? He’s usually such a good reporter, but what if someone discovered he was the mole?
Even if Mahmud was “on our side,” the insurgents could turn him against us by threatening the lives of his wife and kids. Similar things had happened before. I prayed, “Please, Lord, give me wisdom.”
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)
The bottom line was, I didn’t know anything for sure, and I told the military commander that. But I also remembered that just the week before, Mahmud had provided a report that MNF-I units said was amazingly accurate regarding the location of an IED in his village. They found the IED and dug it up before the Coalition Humvee rolled over it. So as of then, he was definitely good, and I told the commander that as well.
The next day, the case officer came to my desk and said, “Did you hear?”
“Mahmud’s information was spot on!”
“Really?” What a relief, I thought. “What happened?”
“When the soldiers entered the abandoned building, they found seven Iraqis tied up on the floor, barely clinging to life. It was more than a safe house. It was a torture house. There were piles of dead bodies in the next room.”
Mahmud’s intuition about the stranger he saw exiting that building had been correct. Something about the unidentified man’s behavior or appearance—the look on his face, the posture of his body, the way he walked or the way he dressed—had hit Mahmud as being “off” or “wrong.” It turned out that local AQI affiliates had commandeered the building and were using it as a base to terrorize the local population.
My colleague pulled out copies of the military’s photographs that captured the unbelievable scene. The first images showed the battered bodies of the young men who had just been saved from certain death. According to the soldiers, when they entered the building and found the prisoners on the floor, the young men were in shock. Emaciated and trembling, they kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” They could barely stand, so the soldiers steadied them as the young men lifted up their bloodstained shirts for the camera, revealing torsos covered in welts and bruises. If that unit hadn’t shown up when they did, those men would have been dead by the next day.
I swallowed hard as I flipped through the photographs of the horrors in the next room, and my eyes welled up with tears. The terrorists had discarded the mutilated bodies of other villagers in the adjacent room, leaving them to rot in a twisted mound. I could hardly accept what I was seeing. It reminded me of Holocaust photos that were so inhumane one could not process the depth of the depravity: men and women . . . battered and bruised . . . lives stolen . . . eyes frozen open in emptiness and horror.
My stomach began to churn, but I made myself look at the pictures. I had to understand what we were fighting for, what our soldiers faced every day. As much as I wanted to dig a hole and stick my head in the sand, I needed to see what was really happening outside our cozy encampment in the Green Zone.
They say war is hell; they don’t know the half of it.
Michele Rigby Assad is a former undercover officer in the National Clandestine Service of the US Central Intelligence Agency. She served as a counterterrorism specialist for 10 years, working in Iraq and other secret Middle Eastern locations. Upon retirement from active service, Michele and her husband began leading teams to aid Christian refugees.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Air Force’s pilot shortage has leaders worried not only about filling gaps in the immediate future, but also how the military and civilian airlines may suffer without fine-tuned aviators in decades to come.
As a result, Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, if given permission, may start a small group tryout for pilots testing a new program in which aviators stay at their home-duty stations longer, thus increasing their longevity and likelihood to stay in service, the head of the command told Military.com in an exclusive interview.
“Should we go with a ‘fly-only’ track?” Gen. Carlton Everhart II said in an interview July 26.
Everhart said he envisions something like this: “You stay with me for 20 years, and I let you fly. You … could maybe [make] lieutenant colonel, but you may not make higher than that.”
“Then, [we] allow you to stay at your home station for three to four years instead of two to three, so you can get some longevity,” he continued. “Then, it’s not just [flying airlift cargo or tanker planes]. You could go to [Air Education and Training Command] and help out there for three to four years to help bring on new pilots.”
“To sweeten the deal, as you come into your career, maybe in the last four years, we allow you on a ‘dream sheet’ to put your top three choices, try to get you moved to there so you can establish your family and where you want to retire,” he said.
Everhart said the ‘fly-only’ effort would still encompass wing, squadron, and group duties and deployments but — bottom line — “it’s longevity.”
The same aviator retention bonuses would also apply, he said.
“The idea being explored is seeking airmen volunteers for a professional ‘fly-only’ aviator track comprised of anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the AMC flying force,” said Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for the command, in an email. “This small group of airmen would be linked to flying jobs throughout a career.”
AMC has nearly 49,000 active-duty members and civilians; 42,000 Air Reserve component military; and 35,000 Air National Guard members, according to the command.
The mobility Air Forces has roughly 8,500 total force pilots. Throughout the Air Force, active-duty mobility pilots total 5,125, Karns said. Active-duty pilots assigned to AMC installations total 2,866.
How airmen will be selected for the ‘fly-only’ program is still being determined, the officials said, as well as how many will be involved.
Everhart said his teams are looking at the program to establish more fixed methodology behind the effort, but would like to “look at it in the next three to four months” to begin a trial run.
“There’s certain things we have to do to code these folks … and I’ve introduced the notion and got a tentative nod from [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein],” he said. “I think there’s merit there, but I’ve just got to work all the way through it, then do the small group tryout and see where we go.”
“I’m not taking anything off the table because I need them with me, I need them to fly with me,” he said.
The Issues Wearing Out Pilots
Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson have said the service was 1,544 pilots short by fiscal 2016, which includes 1,211 total force fighter pilots — with the deficit expected to grow.
Everhart said the Air Force stands potentially to lose 1,600 pilots who are eligible to separate from the service in the next four years.
He has been working with an AMC aviation retention task force for the past few months, trying to come up with recommendations as a result of airman feedback.
That feedback includes: Flying has become secondary to administrative duties; airmen desire more stability for themselves and their families; they lack support personnel; and they fear the impact of service politics on their career paths.
Airman feedback has resulted in one concrete move — the removal of additional duties, a common complaint.
In August, the service began removing miscellaneous responsibilities known as “additional duties” typically assigned to airmen at the unit level. It has since cut 29 of 61 additional duties identified under Air Force Instruction 38-206, “Additional Duty Management.”
Some duties were reassigned to commander support staffs, and civilians will be hired to take on some other duties in coming months.
Other areas are also getting scrutiny: Officials are looking at accession and promotion rates, giving commanders more freedom to think of creative solutions, and working with US Transportation Command to look at deployment requirements, Everhart said.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with headquarters Air Force A3 … so we don’t get in crossways with each other, and can we, as solution sets, put these across the entire broad perspective of the Air Force,” he said, referring to Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland, head of operations, plans and requirements.
He’s also in communication with Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, the Air Force’s chief of manpower, personnel, and services, and the Air Force Personnel Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, he said.
Lessons learned from these discussions and trial programs could then be applied to the fighter pilot community, Everhart said, but that’s still a ways out.
But the Air Force is not the only organization in crisis.
Working With Civilian Airlines
Boeing Co., the US’ largest aerospace company, on July 26 said it predicts that in the next 20 years, North American airline companies will need 117,000 new pilots to keep up with commercial demands, CNN reported.
Everhart said this incentivizes both sides to work together.
Last May, the Air Force met with representatives from civilian airline corporations such as American Airlines and United; academic institutions such as Embry Riddle University, an aeronautical university; civil reserve airfleet institutions such as FedEx; and Rand Corp., a nonprofit institution that provides research and analysis studies on public policy.
The groups established working areas, Karns said, that need critical attention, such as exploring ways to make a career in aviation more desirable; finding ways to reduce the cost of earning a civilian aviation certification — for example, a debt relief program; looking at enhanced data analysis to establish a baseline for what is actually required to meet national pilot need; exploring potential alternate pathways to becoming a pilot — possibly by accelerating timelines; and improving the effectiveness of “shared resources” of pilots who fly for both the military and commercial airlines.
“We’ve got another airline meeting coming up in September,” Everhart said, in which leaders will discuss the secondary phases for these working areas.
“We need to instill in the hearts of our American public what … aviation is all about,” he said.
Rotating Air Force Assets
AMC already employs a rotational system to keep its aircraft sustainable longer.
“In an effort to extend the life service of various mobility fleets and enhance aircraft availability, we’re looking to work with the Guard and Reserve to rotate aircraft more regularly and consistently to avoid disproportionate wear-and-tear on systems,” Karns said. “What has been known as enterprise fleet management is adjusting to what is called ‘Total Force effort to sustain and modernize the fleet.’ ”
The system rotates aircraft from the three components more often in order to “shrink … and no longer have that airlift gap,” Capt. Theresa Izell, a maintenance officer, said in March during an AMC media day at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
Could that system be applied to the pilot gap — moving pilots flying various platforms throughout, or qualifying pilots to fly more platforms?
“I think you’ve got something there,” Everhart said. “I think we already do that with cross training. We do some cross training for airframes as far as pilots flying tankers versus cargo, but I have to explore that more. I haven’t looked at it from the human dynamic prospect — and I think that’s something to pull back [on]. I love it.”
Love for Country
Everhart reiterated that time in service always comes back to the willingness to serve.
In June, the Air Force unveiled a new tiered Aviation Bonus Program, an expansion of Aviator Retention Pay that puts into place the cap authorized for the incentive under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.
Should they choose to stay, fighter and drone pilots, for example, are slated to receive the highest maximum bonus of $35,000 a year, while special operations combat systems officers would receive the least at $10,000. Officers have until Oct. 1 to decide whether they want to extend their service.
The number of pilots taking the aviator retention bonus for AMC has also slightly declined, Karns said. In 2015, the “take-rate” of pilots choosing the bonus and choosing to re-up into the Air Force was 56 percent; in 2016, that number dropped to 48 percent, Karns said.
While bonuses matter, Everhart reiterated it’s not always about the money.
“They stay in the military because what’s in their heart, and their service to America. They really believe [in] an American fighting force. That’s why they stay,” he said.
“The bonus? Sure, that’s sweet. But that’s not why I stayed,” Everhart said. “I stayed because it’s service to the nation. And that’s what I’m finding out across the board” from other pilots.
On Oct. 26, 2018, Microsoft said it plans to sell artificial intelligence and any other advanced technologies needed to the military and intelligence agencies to strengthen defense, the New York Times reported.
Microsoft decision, which the Times said was announced in a small town-hall style company meeting on Oct 25, 2018, contrasts sharply with the decision of its rival Google, which has said it will not sell technology to the government that can be used in weapons.
“Microsoft was born in the United States, is headquartered in the United States, and has grown up with all the benefits that have long come from being in this country,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith was quoted in the report as saying.
The debate about military AI among US tech companies comes as the Pentagon is in a race with the Chinese government to develop next-generation security technologies.
The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.
Employees within tech companies have protested against their companies’ involvement in military and federal law enforcement work. For example, thousands of employees signed a petition, and some even resigned, after revelations that Google had sold artificial intelligence technology to the Pentagon to analyze drone footage.
Others, such as Oracle founder Larry Ellison and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, have shown their support for the U.S. military. In a recent interview, Oracle founder Larry Ellison said of Google, “I think U.S. tech companies who say we will not support the U.S. Military, we will not work on any technology that helps our military, but yet goes into China and facilitates the Chinese government surveilling their people is pretty shocking.”
Likewise, Amazon is seen as the forerunner for winning a cloud computing contract with the Pentagon. Meanwhile, Google recently dropped out of that same bid, saying it would conflict with corporate values. As for Microsoft, it’s also seen as a strong contender for that contract.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When Elvis Presley turned 18 years old in 1953, he registered for the draft – just like every other young American male during that time. The rules governing the draft stated that all young men that were in good health were required to serve in the United States military for a minimum of two years. When he signed his name on that line, promising to serve, he had no idea of the superstar fame that would soon be coming his way.
After signing up for the draft, he graduated high school and soon began his entertainment career. Three years later in 1956, he was a film and recording star. Presley was in the middle of filming King Creole when he received his draft notice. He requested a delay so he could finish filming, which he was granted.
On March 24, 1958, with his family and friends by his side, The King reported to the Memphis draft board. Once he was sworn in and processed with others into the Army, he boarded a bus to Arkansas.
He would go on to coin the phrase “hair today, gone tomorrow” after he received his G.I. haircut.
Once Presley finished his basic training, he was on leave and managed to do a concert and recording session in Nashville. He then headed back to Ft. Hood, Texas, to complete his advanced training. His mother became ill during this time and passed away and Presley was granted leave to be with her.
When he returned to Ft. Hood, he was assigned to the Third Armored Spearhead Division. He soon boarded the U.S.S. Randall and sailed for Germany. Upon arrival, he served in Company C, which was a scout platoon. He was declared off limits to the press.
Presley would be right there in the thick of things alongside his unit. He completed all required duties. Some research suggested that he did more than what was required of him because he didn’t want people to assume he got special treatment. He would go on to earn a medal for expert marksmanship and rise to the responsibility of an NCO, all without seeking celebrity treatment.
He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1960.
There is no greater historical example of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object than the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked, harsh country that makes it very difficult for a great power to bring the full might of that power to bear against the locals. Naval forces are out and, in some area, so is air support. The harsh climate and vast nothingness and remotely populated areas makes supply lines difficult to establish and even harder to defend. But the Soviet Union opted to try anyway, invading in force in 1979.
Under Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the country was actually developing and modernizing fairly well… until his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew him in 1973. He established an Afghan Republic and everything went to hell — for many reasons. Five years later, the Pashtun Nationalist government was overthrown in favor of a Communist regime and Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefront.
Communism did not sit well with the people in rural areas, who weren’t used to the control (and taxes and land reforms) of a Communist central government. So, they started fighting back. Then-President Nur Mohammed Taraki asked the Soviet Union to help quell angry protests against a government that suddenly decided to execute so many of them for failing to comply with Communist reforms. That’s when Hafizullah Amin, the Communist Prime Minister, killed Taraki and seized power.
Then, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev stepped in.
People like this.
Seeing Afghanistan descending into chaos and worried that the Islamic Revolution in Iran might spread to Afghanistan and other traditionally muslim Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR decided to move in — and pretty much failed from day one, which was Christmas Day, 1979.
At this point, the Soviets needed to do four things: legitimize the Communist central government in Kabul, rebuild the Afghan Army, destroy resistance to the new government, and win the hearts and minds of the common people they couldn’t directly control.
“Ownership” being the operative word.
1. They could not establish the Communist government’s legitimacy
Failure was immediate, beginning with the man at the top. After just months in power, Amin was out. Literally. One of the first governmental changes the Soviets made was to kill Amin and replace him with Babrak Kamal. This turned the image of the Soviet invasion from one of an intervention to stabilize the government to one of ownership over Afghanistan.
These guys, remember?
2. They did not break the back of the resistance
While they were able to take the major cities, as well as transportation and communications centers, the Red Army quickly pushed tribal warlords into the mountainous regions, where they resolved to begin the Islamic Revolution that nobody had thought about until the Soviets invaded in the first place. Instead of conquering the country, they managed to unite Afghanistan’s disparate population against them.
There’s no Russian translation for “off the beaten path.” Apparently.
The one advantage the Red Army had over mujahideen fighters was their fleet of Hind helicopters. These allowed the Soviets to move people and equipment fast over long distances and into the high mountains. This silver lining lasted until the mid-1980s, when Stinger missiles began to appear in jihadi arsenals. With accurate anti-aircraft missiles, the mujahideen now had the ability to protect their mountainous hiding places and forced the Soviet Union to switch to a tactic of conducting nighttime raiding on enemy targets.
Soviet forces were concentrated in a mass along major highways in the country and in a series of fortified positions throughout their controlled areas. Outside of those areas, neither economy of forces nor consistent supply lines were ever established.
A map of areas controlled by insurgent groups in Afghanistan in 1985.
In places like Khost, Soviet dominance was never even established. The Red Army established a helicopter base on the outskirts of the city, but the city itself spent 11 years under siege from the Mujahideen forces, cut off from the rest of Soviet operations. When a relief column came to the base in 1987, they reset the siege as soon as the Russians left.
The Soviet Union’s previous experience with invading other countries was limited to East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Afghanistan and its people have little in common with the methods of fighting that work in Europe. The tactics employed by the Soviets were mostly of overwhelming firepower, including scorched-earth policies, carpet bombing, and the use of chemical weapons, none of which won them many friends among the people of the country they were trying to win over.
Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen.
3. The Soviets did not win over the hearts and minds of Afghan people
A narrative quickly formed that atheist Communists and traditionally Orthodox Christian Russian invaders were on a mission against Islam. Those Afghan warlords that were pushed out of major urban centers and villages came down from the mountains as a united Islamic front, the mujahideen. With the Cold War in full swing, the United States decided to help fuel the fire by supplying the mujahideen with weapons and equipment to help their jihad against the USSR.
Fighters and money flowed into the mujahideen’s ongoing guerrilla war against the Soviet Union from all corners of the Islamic world. Between 1980 and 1985, the Red Army stomped the mujahideen in a series of battles in the Panjshir Valley against the forces of rebel leaders like Ahmad Shah Massoud. But Massoud would always live to rebuild his forces and come back at the Russian bear.
The Soviets could win as many pitched battles as they wanted, kill as many Afghan fighters as possible, but the endless tide of money and men would mean that the battles would just be fought over and over. Search-and-destroy missions were not going to pacify Afghanistan. In fact, all it did was either kill the population or turned them into refugees — a full one-third of Afghanistan’s population was killed or fled during the Soviet occupation.
“Set it up like this, it goes bang. Good work, comrade.”
4. The Afghan Army was never an effective force
The Red Army brought in allied advisors from friendly countries to train the Afghan Army in warfighting methods more appropriate than the methods they actually used. Cuban troops who were familiar with insurgency operations from places like Angola and Ethiopia trained the burgeoning Afghan government troops, but the consistent lack of actual combat experience in these tactics wasted a lot of the time they could have spent creating a veteran fighting force.
Furthermore, the inefficient communications and logistics involved with large-scale Soviet operations did little to convince the nascent Afghan troops that their training methods and lessons had any real applicability in real-world fighting. When the Russians left and the Soviet Union fell, many of these trained fighters defected to the mujahideen, leading to the fall of the Afghan Communist regime.
The Soviet Union would stay in Afghanistan until February 1989. They still supported the Communist Afghan government against the mujahideen, which continued until the USSR collapsed in on itself in 1991. In April 1992, mujahideen troops under Ahmad Shah Massoud captured Kabul. But the factional violence within the jihadists didn’t stop and another civil war began.
This time, the victors were an upstart group of hardline Islamists, known as the Taliban.
On Sept. 22, 1917, a British Lewis gun team was hit by an incoming German shell during the third Battle of Ypres, near Passchendaele, Harry Patch was a member of that team. He was blown away by the blast, but his other three teammates were completely vaporized. He never saw them again. Patch struggled for years to tell that story, which he finally did before he died in 2009.
At his death, the last British Tommy to see World War I combat was 111 years, one month, one week, and one day old.
A Canadian soldier tests out a Lewis Gun similar to the one Harry Patch worked in World War I.
With Patch went our collective connection to a bygone era. While other Great War veterans outlived Patch, Patch was the last among them to fight in the mud, the wet, the disease-ridden trenches of World War I’s Western Front. He was born in 1898 and drafted into the British Army at age 18. After a brief training period, Private Patch was sent to the Western Front with the other members of his Lewis Gun team during the winter of 1916. The next year is when the German artillery round hit his position and killed his friends.
Patch was still wounded and recovering by the time of the Armistice in November 1918. For the rest of his life, he considered September 22 to be his remembrance day, not November 11.
Patch with Victoria Cross recipient Johnson Beharry in 2008.
By the time World War II rolled around, Harry Patch was much too old to join the Army and served as a firefighter in the British city of Bath instead. Patch never discussed his wartime experiences with anyone, let alone journalists, so he declined interviews until 1998, when the BBC pointed out to him that the number of World War I veterans still alive was shrinking fast. His first appearance was World War I in Colour, where he recalled the first time he came face to face with an enemy soldier. He shot to wound the man, not kill him. Patch was not a fan of killing, even in warfare.
“Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left,” he told the BBC in 2007.
Six pall-bearers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles bear the coffin of World War I veteran Harry Patch into Wells Cathedral in 2009.
Before his death, Harry Patch returned to the fields of Passchendaele where his three best friends met their end. He was going to once again meet a German, but this time there would be only handshakes. At age 106, Patch met Charles Kuentz, 107-year-old German World War I veteran who fought the British at Passchendaele. The two exchanged gifts and talked about the futility of war.
Patch wrote his memoirs at 107, to become the oldest author ever, and later watched as World War I-era planes dropped poppies over Somerset in memoriam to those who served. He died in 2009, aged 111 years, one month, one week, and one day. The bells of Wells Cathedral in Somerset were rung 111 times in his honor.