In reporting the strike, Israel said it had done so in part to warn its adversaries in the region, like Iran. But surely Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and other countries with spy services already knew the action Israel had taken.
It’s unlikely Iran or Syria needed a current reminder that Israel would fight in the skies over Syria to protect its interests after a massive Israeli air offensive downed an Iranian drone and reportedly took out half of Syria’s air defenses in February 2018.
But one element of Israel’s 2007 strike on a nuclear reactor near Deir Ezzor that bears repeating and reexamination is the fact that the terror group ISIS held control of that area for three full years.
If Syria had nukes, then ISIS might have, too
“Look at nukes as an insurance policy — at the end of the day, if you’ve got a nuke, it’s an umbrella for all of the other activity that could potentially spark conflict with your enemies,” Jonathan Schanzer, a Syria expert and the senior vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. “If your enemies want to respond to you, they’re going to feel inhibited.”
This may have been Syria’s calculus in 2007 when it set about a clandestine nuclear weapons program, reportedly with the help of embedded North Koreans.
But in 2011, a popular, pro-democratic uprising in Syria sparked what would become a civil war that has dragged on to this day. During the conflict, Syrian President Bashar Assad has lost control of the majority of his country, with some parts under the control of rebel forces, some parts under the control of Kurdish forces, and from 2014 to 2017, much of the country under ISIS’ control.
ISIS held Deir Ezzor and the surrounding regions for three solid years, during which time they looted and pillaged whatever resources were available and ready for sale, including oil from the country’s rich oilfields.
If Israel had not taken out the reactor in 2007, it’s entirely possible ISIS could have taken custody of it. With access to radioactive materials, it’s possible ISIS could have cooked up a dirty bomb for use in terrorism, or even detonated a full-on nuclear device.
It’s reasonable to expect that a nuclear-capable ISIS would have more leverage, and could possibly force concessions from its opponents or prompt other nuclear states to strike first.
Instability makes Middle Eastern nuclear programs extra dangerous
“The Middle East is unstable,” Schanzer said. “One never knows when the next popular uprising or the next moment of intense instability might hit.”
Even states like Iran, where the current government has been in power since 1979, could fall prey to a popular uprising that could collapse the regime “overnight,” according to Schanzer.
“Imagine if in Syria today we were trying to track loose nukes,” Schanzer said. “Imagine if a country like Yemen had nuclear weapons.”
While nuclear weapons may deter state actors from invading a country or pushing it too far, they do not protect against domestic upheaval, like the 2011 Syrian uprising that became overrun with Islamist hardliners like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement comes after repeated threats to pull out, but his decision to ditch the pact now could undermine the ability of the US and its partners to counter China’s ambitions in the region.
The VFA, signed in 1998, gives legal status to US troops in the Philippines. Duterte, a longtime critic of ties to the US, gave formal notice of withdrawal to the US this month, triggering a 180-day period before the exit is finalized.
Duterte believes the Philippines should be more militarily independent, a spokesman said, quoting the president as saying, “It’s about time we rely on ourselves.”
The decision is “chiefly the product of Duterte’s deep, decades-long anti-US sentiment,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat and a Southeast Asian security analyst, said in an email to Business Insider.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has “found just about any excuse he can to make threats against the alliance, be it canceling exercises or separating from the United States,” Parameswaran added.
Duterte has spurned the US since he took office and bristled at US criticism of his human-rights record. Both the US and Duterte have high approval ratings among the Philippine public, however, while a large majority there have little or no confidence in China.
“It’s a competition. China’s competing,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said Thursday at a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on Capitol Hill.
“There’s very clear recognition that China is putting pressure and using every tool within its disposal to try to draw those countries” away from cooperation with the US, Sbragia said. “That’s a condition we’re taking head on. That’s very serious for us.”
“I don’t doubt China will relish the deterioration in the US-Philippine alliance,” Parameswaran said. “Beijing has long considered US alliances a relic of the Cold War and a manifestation of US efforts to contain its regional ambitions.”
The US and the Philippines, which the US ruled as a colony during the first half of the 20th century, have a decades-long diplomatic and military relationship.
That relationship and the benefit it offers the Philippine security establishment, as well as US popularity in the Philippines, are among the reasons why Manila may not follow through on withdrawal.
Philippine officials have also hinted that the notice of withdrawal is a starting point for negotiations over the VFA, which some have said are needed “to address matters of sovereignty.” Philippine politicians have also questioned Duterte’s authority to exit the agreement.
But the US shouldn’t assume that Duterte is bluffing or looking for leverage, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“He has been anti-American his entire adult life and has been consistently saying he wants to sever the alliance and bring the Philippines into a strategic alignment with China,” Poling said in an email.
“That said, six months is a long time in politics. If Duterte walks this back, it won’t be because a plan to renegotiate with Washington plays out,” Poling added, “it’ll be because of internal pressure, possibly in response to whatever natural disaster, Chinese act of aggression, or terrorist act in Mindanao happens between now and then.”
The VFA allows US troops to operate on Philippine territory, including US Navy crews and Marine Corps units.
Ending the agreement would jeopardize the roughly 300 joint exercises the two countries conduct every year, complicating everything from port calls to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits the US to the Philippines’ defense in case of an attack. It would also be harder for the US to provide aid in response to natural disasters.
“It’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said this month.
Many naval activities will be unaffected because they can be carried out without entering Philippine territory, Poling said.
“But large-scale land and air exercises will be impossible, as they were from 1990-1999,” Poling added, referring to a period when Manila’s failure to renew a mutual basing agreement led to the withdrawal of US forces — including the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific.
Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Philippine armed forces chief of staff, has said about half of all joint military engagements would be affected by the end the VFA, Poling noted.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said joint exercises with the US would continue during the 180-day period, including the multinational Balikatan exercise that has taken place in the Philippines every spring for 35 years.
Santos Jr. has downplayed the effects of withdrawal, saying it will make the Philippines “self-reliant” and that Manila would expand bilateral exercises it has with other in the region, including Australia and Japan.
But there are legal and logistical limits on the military activities those countries can undertake with the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific.
The erosion of the US-Philippine military relationship raises the prospect of Beijing making moves like those it made in the South China Sea in the 1990s, when it occupied Mischief Reef — first with small wooden structures and then, a few months before the VFA went into force in 1999, with fort-like structures made of concrete.
In the years since, China has expanded and reinforced its presence in the South China Sea, building military structures on man-made islands there. Mischief Reef is now Beijing’s biggest outpost in the disputed waters.
“Beijing will work to make sure that a US loss is China’s gain” and build on inroads made with Duterte, Parameswaran said.
“These gains may include those that are not in the security realm, such as tightening economic ties or helping Duterte deliver on some of his domestic political goals,” Parameswaran added. “But they will nonetheless be consequential, because the broader objective is to move Duterte’s Philippines closer to China and away from the United States.”
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is not only the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the fourth-largest military in the world.
North Korea’s military is part of its foundation; Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,” used his own military service — as a guerilla fighting against the Japanese occupation of Korea — to burnish his cult of personality, according to Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield’s book, “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.”
Military service is baked into the North Korean constitution; “National defense is the supreme duty and honor of citizens,” it says, and military service is generally compulsory. Kim has never served in the North Korean military but reportedly graduated near the top of his class at a prestigious military academy, a claim that experts and a former North Korean military member found highly suspect.
North Korea spends approximately 25% of its GDP on its military, including its nuclear program, spending .5 billion each year on its forces between 2004 and 2014. It boasts 1.1 million troops, about 5% of its population, according to CFR.
According to North Korean propaganda, the 35-year-old Kim Jong Un prepared to lead this massive force by attending Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang; experts said it was more likely that he had received some instruction from military trainers associated with this university.
Some propaganda accounts cited by Fifield say Kim, who reportedly started at the academy when he was 18, was such a natural at military strategy that he was soon training his instructors.
Kim’s ‘elite’ alma mater
Kim Il Sung Military University is a “military institution for educating elite military officers,” according to Bruce W. Bennett, senior defense analyst at The RAND Corporation. It was established in 1952, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, and is one of several military training schools.
“The students of this university are middle level officers such as majors and lieutenant colonels,” Bennett said, equating the university to institutions like the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
“It is the university that is a gateway to becoming a senior officer in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Most of North Korean military generals studied in this university when they were mid-career,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.
An image of Pyongyang, with Kim Il Sung Military University outlined.
(North Korea Leadership Watch/Google Images)
Fifield’s book, and official North Korean propaganda, report that Kim studied here alongside his older brother, Kim Jong Chol.
“It was their mother’s idea to send them to the military academy, a way to bolster her sons’ claim to succession,” Fifield writes. Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Chol are the children of Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui, to whom he was not officially married. Kim Jong Il installed Ko Yong Hui and her sons in a home in his compound, ensuring they were well cared for.
Kim Jong Un reportedly entered the university in 2002, after his early education in Switzerland, and began studying “juche-oriented military leadership,” Fifield writes, referring to the North Korean concept of juche, or self-reliance. Juche is essential to the North Korean identity, although the country was economically dependent on the Soviet Union until its collapse. China is now its most important economic relationship.
“I would expect that most of the training at Kim Il Sung Military University would be on military operations, military history, and political indoctrination,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.
“But a big part of the curriculum is likely also competition between the personnel to see how they deal with each other physically and mentally, which leads to forming bonds of friendship critical as officers are promoted.”
‘A natural at military strategy’
While Kim Jong Un never served in the KPA, North Korea Leadership Watch (NKLW) contends that it’s likely some students are able to enter Kim Il Sung Military University without any prior service, straight out of high school.
NKLW describes Kim Il Sung Military University as modeled on Soviet military academies; while there might be classes on North Korean military history, the structure and academics of Kim Il Sung Military University find their closest analogs in the Soviet system.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.
According to North Korean official state media, Fifield writes, Kim Jong Un was “such a natural at military strategy that he was instructing the instructors rather than learning from them.”
He graduated on Dec. 24, 2006, Fifield writes, “with honors,” after writing a final dissertation on “A Simulation for the Improvement of Accuracy in the Operational Map by the Global Positioning System (GPS).”
But a former member of the North Korean military who now lives in the US and is familiar with the Kim family said it was unlikely that Kim Jong Un actually attended Kim Il Sung Military University, at least not in the traditional sense.
“According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University, but I couldn’t find any of his classmates or Army mates. If he really attended that university, somebody should know that he attended,” the former military member said.
“If Kim Jong Un actually attended that college, he has pictures, he has a record, and he has friends. But [none] of the North Korean elite could find his picture and his friends. I think it’s a kind of propaganda,” the former military member said, noting that the North Korean propaganda department would have exploited any evidence of Kim Jong Un having attended the university to build up his cult of personality.
Rather than actually physically attending classes, there were “probably private instructors visiting his house to give him a lecture,” the former military member said.
“Kim Il Sung Military University is a more closed university, the students are military officers, not civilians, so they can keep the secret that Kim Jong Un didn’t actually attend.”
Kim would have been unique in attending the military school named for his grandfather; “I don’t think most of the Kim family become military officers — they avoid becoming military officers,” the former military member said.
“They have a good life […] they don’t need to go [in] the military to risk their lives.”
In order to qualify for a school like Kim Il Sung Military University, potential recruits must have, “superior service records, excellent physical condition and trusted political reliability” and have “a flawless family background, be popular among fellow soldiers, and receive the approval of their commanding and political officers,” according to Joseph Bermudez’s book “Shield of the Great Leader: The Armed Forces of North Korea.”
NKLW contends that Kim probably had private tutoring for at least a few years, and that he was likely a very good student, exhausting teachers with his questions. The academics on military operations are thought to be rigorous, even if it’s unlikely Kim also participated in the physical and professional competitions that other students must face.
In whatever capacity he studied with the university’s instructors, it influenced his relationship with the North Korean military today, in particular the aggressive missile testing North Korea undertook under the third Kim leader.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On the increasingly crowded battlefields of Afghanistan, a feared, commando-style Taliban unit is gaining attention for a series of deadly attacks on Afghan security forces.
Known as “Sara Kheta” — Red Unit or Danger Unit in Pashto — it is said to be the Taliban’s elite special-forces group. Unlike regular Taliban fighters, analysts say the outfit is better trained and armed and is sent on special operations targeting bases and posts of the Afghan National Army and police force.
The so-called Red Unit’s rise has raised concerns among government forces struggling to fend off the Taliban since the withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014 and suffering record casualty rates on the battlefield.
When did it emerge?
The first mention of a Taliban “special-forces unit” was in June 2015, when Taliban fighterspublished photos on social media purportedly showing a training camp where recruits were being trained on heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.
In December 2015, the Taliban said it was unleashing its special forces to eliminate fighters allied with the militant group Islamic State (IS) that had emerged in Afghanistan earlier that year.
In August 2016, Afghan military officials confirmed the existence of the Taliban’s Red Unit in the southern province of Helmand.
But the unit has fought its way to greater prominence in the past month or so. On Nov. 1, the Taliban uploaded photos of the unit on its official Telegram account. The photos show members of Red Unit in new uniforms and armed with the kind of tactical assault gear worn by soldiers and law enforcement teams around the world.
Weeks later, Afghan officials blamed it for a spate of attacks on Nov. 13 and 14 during whichdozens of Afghan security personnel were killed in the southern province of Kandahar and the western province of Farah.
On Dec. 3, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said the commander of the new unit, Mullah Shah Wali, also known Mullah Naser, waskilled in an air operation in Helmand Province the week before.
How is it different from other Taliban units?
“What distinguishes this force from other fighting units is its intensive and longer training, the degree of vetting, its tactics, weapons and equipment, and structure,” says Borhan Osman, senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG).
“The unit is mainly used for quick interventions, high-value targets, special operations, or offensives such as capturing a highly strategic area, breaking major sieges of regular Taliban forces, jailbreaks, and escorting important leaders,” Osman adds.
Military analysts estimate the size of the unit at anywhere from several hundred to up to 1,000 fighters.
Those tactics and capabilities were on show in the November attacks when Afghan officials said the unit, equipped with lasers and night-vision gear, attacked police checkpoints and army bases and rapidly left the scene to avoid NATO air strikes. On Nov. 14, the unit drove a pickup truck loaded with explosives into a police checkpoint point and then launched attacks on 14 nearby posts, killing over two dozen police officers.
In Farah Province the same day, Taliban units with night-vision scopes killed eight police officers in their beds early in the morning. Three police officers in the province were also killed in night attacks around the same time.
The U.S. military has equipped many Afghan soldiers with night-vision equipment, but police forces rarely possess them.
“The Red Unit and regular Taliban forces use the same types of weapons: small arms, RPGs, and machine guns,” says Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long War Journal. “Typically, the Red Unit has newer weapons, and is occasionally seen with night-vision devices that have been seized from Afghan forces.”
The unit is believed to equipped with the Taliban’s most advanced weaponry, including 82-millimeter rockets, laser pointers, heavy machine guns, and U.S.-made M-4 assault rifles. They are also known to have used and possess dozens of armored Humvees and Ford Ranger pickup trucks stolen from Afghan forces.
Ahmad K. Majidyar, a South Asia and Middle East expert for the Washington-based Middle East Institute, says it is misleading to call the unit a special-forces outfit because it lacks elite commando capabilities of even the Afghan Special Forces, let alone advanced elite commando units such as the U.S. SEAL Team Six.
“The Red Team is more a heavily armed group used in surprise attacks against vulnerable Afghan security check posts,” he says. “It also has well-trained snipers that aid ordinary Taliban militants in their attack against the Afghan forces.”
The unit has also spread from southern Afghanistan, where it was established, and has expanded into eastern and western regions.
“The Red Unit poses a significant threat to Afghan forces,” Roggio says. “It has had great success on the battlefield when going head to head with Afghan units.”
Roggio says the unit operates like shock troops, often leading assaults on Afghan district centers, military bases, and outposts.
The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has said it has not seen any evidence of the Taliban possessing advanced weaponry like night-vision equipment, which Afghan officials say the militants have purchased on the black market or have accumulated after overrunning Afghan army bases.
But Afghan military officials have confirmed the unit’s capabilities.
Kandahar’s powerful police chief, General Abdul Raziq, has said the Red Unit is part of the Taliban’s “new approach and new tactics,” adding that it was “well equipped and highly armed.”
Majidyar says he expects the Red Unit to come under increasing pressure if President Donald Trump relaxes U.S. rules of engagement.
“The Taliban will suffer more significant losses on the battlefield in the coming months,” he predicts.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force’s top civilian leader didn’t mince words Sept. 20 when she doubted Moscow’s ability to make good on potential military cooperation with the United States in targeting Islamic State forces in Syria, saying Russia likely can’t be counted on to stick to the deal.
“This would be a ‘transactional’ situation, it’s not a situation where there’s a great deal of trust,” Air Force Sec. Deborah Lee James said during a briefing with reporters at the 2016 Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference here.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a deal with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in mid-September, saying that coalition and Russian aircraft would work together to target terrorist forces in Syria after a week-long cease-fire. It is unclear whether the deal will stick after reports that an aid convoy was targeted during the lull in fighting, with both sides pointing fingers at the other for breaking the terms of the short truce.
Wading into diplomatic waters, James also warned that allying with Russia could anger U.S. partners in the ongoing operations against ISIS in Syria, hinting that countries like Turkey and Baltic state partners would balk at cooperating on strikes if Russians are in the room.
“Coalition cohesion will be important,” James said. “We have more than 60 countries participating in this — we wouldn’t want to lose coalition members.”
But James offered her starkest critique of the Russian military on an issue that has increasingly plagued American military efforts overseas in the court of public opinion. Top U.S. military officials are worried that if Russia and the U.S. are jointly running air strikes, America will share the blame for bombs that go astray.
“We are extremely precise with our weaponry, Russia is not,” James said. “So we would want to have some form of accountability for the dropping of these weapons to ensure that if there are civilian casualties, clearly it’s not us.”
Military officials have been increasingly pressed on how the U.S. and its allies would work alongside Russian forces in Syria on everything from coordinating air strikes to sharing intelligence on enemy positions. Most military leaders, particularly in the Air Force, have taken a wait and see attitude, wondering whether the diplomatic rapprochement will ever result in a military alliance.
“Once the decisions are made on how this cooperation will occur … and we see that the cease-fire holds for the time that the secretary of state has laid out, then we’re going to step very carefully to make sure that what is said in terms of the intent actually results in actions,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
It was a dynamic, often turbulent, year around the military community. 2015 saw domestic terrorism, growing aggression from former Cold War adversaries, and the Pentagon dealing with unprecedented budgetary and cultural challenges. Here are WATM’s picks for the top 15 stories of the year:
1. The “American Sniper” controversy
The Clint Eastwood-helmed biopic from real-life American sniper Chris Kyle divided the U.S. like a red Starbucks cup. The film earned a whopping $100 million during its opening weekend, but inconsistencies from the book and the depictions of certain onscreen combat actions (like taking aim at a child in Iraq, for example) sparked a few anti-war tweets from actor Seth Rogen and filmmaker Michael Moore. The movie also caused a backlash about how much of a hero Kyle really was, bringing into question whether the all of the events Kyle wrote about really happened.
As much as military experts lauded the film for “getting it right” in terms of technical detail and overall atmospherics (including the challenges of reintegration) “American Sniper” also exposed that the civilian-military divide is alive and well.
2. Troops deployed to fight Ebola outbreak return from West Africa
In 2014, President Obama ordered 2,800 U.S. troops and Department of Defense personnel to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic there. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were the hardest hit, with more than 22,000 reported cases and more than 8,000 confirmed deaths from the virus. U.S. troops were vital to the mission to contain the victims and maintain the quarantines. In February 2015, all but 100 of those troops deployed returned home, not a single one infected by the virus.
“Military engineers oversaw the building of new Ebola Treatment Units; military logisticians directed the deployment of life-saving resources from across the globe; and military doctors supported the brave men and women who treated patients every day,” said Rajiv Shah, then-head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
3. Bowe Bergdahl faces general court martial
The Army, for more than a year, deliberated on just how to deal with the aftermath of the Bowe Bergdahl incident. Though it is clear Bergdahl walked away from his post during his last deployment to Afghanistan in June 2009 and was held until his release in a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in 2014, the Army stated its belief that there is no evidence Bergdahl engaged in any misconduct while held captive by the Taliban and Haqqani Network. The matter was sent before a four-star general to review the facts for a possible court martial.
In March, the Army charged Bergdahl with “desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty” and one count of “misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.” Sgt. Bergdahl’s story is now the subject of the wildly popular “Serial” podcast, featuring interviews with those for Bergdahl’s unit, as well as his Taliban captors.
4. Donald Trump blasts Sen. John McCain’s service record
Trump was speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in July when moderator Frank Luntz asked the Presidential candidate about an incident where McCain referred to Trump’s supporters as “the crazies.” Luntz referred to the Arizona Senator as a “war hero.”
“He’s a war hero because he was captured… I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump replied and then told the audience that McCain “graduated last in his class at Annapolis (Naval Academy).” After the event, Trump released a statement:
“I am not a fan John McCain because he has done so little for our veterans… I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.”
The statement was condemned by the Republican Party, other GOP hopefuls, and much of the American media. Sen. McCain did not immediately comment. McCain, who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, spent the next six years being beaten and tortured as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” He appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joeshortly after Trump’s remarks, but did not demand an apology.
“I’m not a hero,” the 78-year-old senator said. “But those who were my senior ranking officers … those that inspired us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be capable of doing, those are the people I think he owes an apology to.”
“I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country,” McCain added. “When Mr. Trump says he prefers to be with people who are not captured, the great honor of my life was to be in the company of heroes.”
5. Marines who lowered the American Flag in Havana raise it again
In January 1961, three U.S. Marines in Havana, Cuba lowered the U.S. embassy flag for the last time. The day before, President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba after a coup brought dictator Fidel Castro to power. Castro ordered all but 11 U.S. diplomats to leave Cuba.
6. U.S. troops Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos prevent terror attacks on a Paris train
In August 2015, a heavily armed Moroccan national was set to shoot up a Paris-bound train, killing as many people as possible. As he exited the bathroom, two Frenchmen attempted to wrest the would-be shooter’s AKM rifle away. One was shot through the neck, the other fell to the floor. At that point three Americans — a civilian named Anthony Sadler, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos — jumped the gunman. Stone put the man in a choke hold, taking repeated stab wounds from a box cutter, while Skarlatos took the attacker’s rifle, beating him in the head until the man lost consciousness.
As others restrained the attacker, Stone (who is an Air Force medic) tended to the wounds of the first passenger, pushing his finger on the neck artery to stop the bleeding. All survived. Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone were named Knights of the Legion d’Honneur by French President Francois Hollande. Sadler received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor (civilian equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross). Skarlatos received the Soldier’s Medal (the highest non-combat award). And Stone was awarded the Airman’s Medal, and Purple Heart. Stone also received a STEP promotion to staff sergeant after his regular promotion to senior airman.
7. First female soldiers earn Ranger Tabs
The two female officers, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, became the first women to complete the U.S. Army’s grueling Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia amid the ongoing debate about the roles of women fighting in combat. Griest is a military police officer and Haver is an Apache helicopter pilot. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The two were among 19 women who started the course. A third woman graduated in October.
8. Russia enters the Syrian Civil War
In September, Russian military aircraft carried out the country’s first airstrikes in support of President Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained his forces were attacking ISIS positions, but there were many reports of Russian forces attacking anti-regime positions. Russia’s support for Syria goes back to the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s support for Asad’s father, Hafez al-Asad who ruled Syria for almost 30 years before his death in 2000. The issue was made even more complicated after Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft for violating Turkish airspace.
9. Marine Corps publishes a study about gender-integrated units
The Marine Corps released a summary of results in September 2015 based on a nine-month study of gender-integrated units in combat situations. Called “Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force,” the four-page summary described how all-male units performed significantly better on 69 percent of tactical tasks and how female Marines were injured at twice the rate of men. The study also claimed that all-male units were faster, stronger, had less body fat, and were more accurate with every standard individual weapon like M4 carbines and M203 grenade launchers.
The study’s summary did note the performance of female Marines in individual combat situations and in current overall combat operations, saying: “Female Marines have performed superbly in the combat environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and are fully part of the fabric of a combat-hardened Marine Corps after the longest period of continuous combat operations in the Corps’ history.”
10. Training “Moderate” Syrian rebels falls apart
The first round of American-trained “moderate” Syrian fighters made their way into Syria in September 2015. They were quickly routed by or defected to the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front, a Sunni Islamist group. Al-Nusra stormed the rebel headquarters and took some of the fighters hostage. Later the same month, 75 more American-trained Syrian rebels entered the country via Turkey, where the majority of the training takes place. Almost immediately, those U.S.-backed fighters surrendered to the al-Nusra front. The “vetted” U.S.-backed leader, Anas Obaid, told al-Nusra he intentionally deceived the U.S. to get the weapons.
The U.S.’ $500 million dollar plan to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels was a disaster. CENTCOM, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, reported of the 5,400 rebels planned to be in Syria fighting ISIS this year, there were only “four or five” active fighters in country. The CENTCOM spokesman went on to say there is no way the goal could be reached in 2015. The Obama Administration nixed the plan to train rebels by October 9th.
11. Congress saves A-10 from the Air Force
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the only aircraft built specifically for a close-air support mission. The signature feature is its 30mm gatling gun, the GAU-8 Avenger. The distinctive sound made by the weapon (the BRRRRRT – created as rounds fire faster than the speed of sound), has been music to the ears of the troops on the ground, so much so that the plane has earned the nickname of “the grunt in the air.” The Air Force wanted to retire the slow-moving but stout plane to make room in their budget for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III says is “designed for the whole battlespace.” But critics claim the F-35 ill-suited for the close air support mission.
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress ordered the Air Force to produce a reliable, independent study on how they will replace the A-10’s CAS mission while providing the necessary funds to keep the Warthog flying.
12. President Obama extended U.S. military’s Afghan mission into 2017
They won’t have a direct combat role, but U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017. When President Obama leaves office in 2017, 5,500 troops will remain in Afghanistan. A resurgent Taliban and a growing ISIS threat will keep the U.S. forces busy as they work to keep the Afghan government in power.
The Obama Administration announced the extension in October. The War in Afghanistan is almost 15 years old and claimed the lives of 2,230 service members and cost more than $1 trillion. The new yearly plan costs upwards of $15 billion per year.
13. ISIS and China hack DoD computers, stealing troops’ personal data
In mid-October, a native of Kosovo was detained in Malaysia and alleged to be the hacker who had forced his way into the U.S. government software that held the personal information of U.S. troops and federal workers. The Kosovar, said to have ties to ISIS, stole data belonging to 1,300 people and gave it to the terror group’s hacking division.
One month prior, Chinese hackers forced their way into the systems of the Office of Personnel Management, and stole 5.6 million fingerprints, which, in turn, affected the compromised the records of 21.5 million Federal employees and applicants. The personal data also potentially contained information about intelligence agents posted overseas. The data included the employees’ biographical forms used when applying for sensitive or classified jobs.
14. All Combat Jobs are opened to women
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to open all military combat roles to women, rejecting limitations on the most dangerous military jobs. The secretary’s orders gave the branches until January 1st to plan their changes and force those combat roles open to women by April 1st, including infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations forces.
Women already have access to most front-line roles in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Earlier in 2015, women were integrated into the Navy’s Submarine Service. Women have been serving as fighter pilots in the Air Force and Navy since 1993, and the Army has been fighting to open its infantry positions to women since September 2015. The defense secretary’s rationale was simply that any qualified candidate should be allowed to compete for the jobs.
15. U.S. deploys special forces ground troops to fight ISIS
In a departure from the U.S. military’s policy of providing air support and “advisors” to support Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fighting ISIS (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Ash Carter authorized the deployment of additional special operations forces in Iraq to conduct raids to free hostages, capture Daesh leaders, and gather intelligence.
Earlier in the year, the U.S. deployed 3,300 troops to Iraq in training and advisory capacities, as well as support for air operations. The new standing force will be based in Iraq but conduct operations in Iraq and in Syria. The total special force could number up in the hundreds. In October, U.S. special forces and Iraqi troops conducted a raid on an ISIS compound to free 70 Iraqi prisoners, resulting in the first U.S. castualty in the war against ISIS.
Buried nearly 500 pages into the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 , Senate Bill 2987, is an interesting directive: “No later than February 1, 2019, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report setting forth a re-evaluation of the highest priority missions of the Department of Defense, and of the roles of the Armed Forces in the performance of such missions.” Despite receiving passing attention in the media, this small section of a large bill has potentially enormous long-term repercussions.
The Senate NDAA passed by a vote of 85–10 on June 19, 2018. Much of the re-evaluation that the Senate Armed Services Committee calls for in S.2987 is justified and indeed overdue. There is a glaring need to take a new look at issues such as:
Future ground vehicles that are not optimized for high-end conflict
The advantages of carrier-launched unmanned platforms over our short-legged manned Navy strike aircraft
The ways in which swarms of cheap drones can impact the United States’ ability to project power
Our overstretched special operations forces
Alongside these necessary inquiries, the requested report also asks a much bigger question: “whether the joint force would benefit from having one Armed Force dedicated primarily to low-intensity missions.” The bill tells us which Armed Force this would be: the United States Marine Corps.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joseph Jacob)
The Trump Administration’s National Defense Strategy rightly seeks to reorient America’s military on the most difficult task it can face: deterring or winning a large-scale modern war against a peer competitor. The Senate NDAA seems guided by that same logic.
The military and its civilian overseers have picked up some bad habits from the past two decades of low-intensity operations. At least one prominent retired general questions whether the US military still knows how to fight a major war. Counterinsurgency may be “eating soup with a knife,” but it is not “the graduate level of warfare.” No matter how vexing armed anthropology and endless cups of tea may be to soldiers, the challenges of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism do not compare to those of a high-tempo, high-casualty modern war. This should be obvious to even a casual student of military history, but the post-9/11 wars have generated an enormous amount of woolly thinking among both soldiers and civilians.
There are also justifiable concerns about the viability of forcible entry from the sea, the Marine Corps’ traditional mission. Since the Falklands invasion in 1982, we have seen that modern missiles will make amphibious power projection increasingly costly. The Marine Corps has taken note and for decades now has quietly been renaming schools, vehicles, and probably marching bands “Expeditionary” instead of “Amphibious.” However, America will always be a maritime nation, and “game-changing” military technologies have a mixed record.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl. Angel D. Travis)
Yet while the Senate’s requested report is asking the Secretary of Defense many of the right questions, its one attempt at an answer should be rejected outright.
The Army and Air Force undoubtedly want to get back to preparing to fight major wars, as they should. Relegating the Marine Corps to second-tier status as a counterinsurgency and advising force, however, is not in the national interest.
Militaries have historically understood that they must prepare primarily for the most dangerous and difficult operations they could face. It is far easier to shift a trained force down the range of military operations than up. The Israelis offer the most vivid recent illustration of this truth.
America already has a tradition of early bloody noses in major wars, from Bull Runto Kasserine Pass to Task Force Smith. Unless we want an even more catastrophic shock in our next major war, we must focus all four of our military services on major combat operations and combined arms maneuver. We should not forget the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, such as they are. But it is the height of folly to turn our most expeditionary and aggressive military service into a corps of advisors and gendarmes.
Instead of continuing to throw lives and money at the intractable — and strategically less important — security problems of the developing world, perhaps we should spend more time and effort avoiding such military malpractice. Let’s hope the Department of Defense concurs.
While he’s more famous for being “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War and was the first man outside of the Soviet Union to learn of Premier Joseph Stalin’s death.
The Man In Black passed the message up the chain and returned to work. Cash’s job already required that he have limited off-post privileges and contact with locals. Still, he couldn’t discuss what happened with even his close friends.
The rest of the world would soon learn of Stalin’s death and the ascent of Georgy Malenkov.
Cash, meanwhile, would leave the service honorably just over a year later and return to Texas where he had trained. He married his first wife the same year and signed with Sun Records in 1955.
He played the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time the same year.
Over the following 48 years, Cash wrote thousands of songs and released dozens of albums before his death in September 2003 at the age of 71.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and 93-year-old Pennsylvania resident Olive Veronesi wasn’t about to let things get too bleak.
CNN Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA shared a photo of Veronesi taken by a family member, with a Coors Light in hand and a plea written on a white board: “I NEED MORE BEER!!” The picture was shared more than 5 million times and Coors Light delivered on the request in a major way.
Local 93-Year-Old Woman Who Went Viral For Requesting More Beer Gets Her Wish
Veronesi said she drinks a beer every night and was down to her last few cans.
“When we saw Olive’s message, we knew we had to jump at the chance to not only connect with someone who brought a smile to our faces during this pandemic, but also gave us a special opportunity to say thanks for being a Coors Light fan,” a Coors spokesperson told CNN.
Our favorite part? She cracked one open on the front porch as soon as the cases were delivered. Cheers, Olive! We’ll definitely be raising a Coors to you.
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget guidance is asking for $1.3 billion in funding cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard at a time when the service is doing more than ever, and is already severely under-resourced.
Trump’s budget would cancel a $500 million ship that is already in production, and would likely hit other areas of the Guard, which specializes in interdicting drugs, human trafficking, and keeping a close eye on what Russia is doing in the Arctic.
“Last year, we removed more cocaine than any other year in history — well over 200 metric tons — and by all accounts, it looks like this year we are on target to at least reach, if not exceed, last year’s total,” Adm. Paul Zukunft, the commandant of the Coast Guard, told Business Insider in a phone interview, adding that even with its success and consistent operational tempo, the service is strained.
“With all the success we had last year, there were over 500 events that we had great information on, but we just did not have enough planes, enough ships, to target all 500-plus events,” Zukunft said. “We are really besieged down there,” he added, referencing Coast Guard operations off the coast of Colombia.
In addition to its operations targeting drug smugglers and human traffickers, the Coast Guard has been in and out of the Arctic region with its ice-breaking ships, especially as Russia attempts to claim parts of the region, and its rich resources, for itself.
The Arctic, which has roughly 13% of the world’s oil and about one-third of its natural gas, could potentially turn into a South China Sea-like situation. That’s because, like China has done with its creation of artificial islands in that region to gain control of shipping lanes, Russia and its fleet of 40 icebreakers has exerted itself in the Arctic to become the dominant player.
The Polar Start icebreak. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
“We’re starting to see militarization of some of their outposts,” Zukunft said.
The Coast Guard has only two icebreakers, one medium and one heavy — the latter being nearly 40 years-old.
“We’re challenged in our ability to exert leadership when, you’re the world’s most prosperous nation, yet we can only seem to afford two icebreakers,” Zukunft said. He said that ideally, the service would need a fleet of 3 heavy and 3 medium icebreakers to remain competitive.
Cuts to the budget are likely to strain other parts of the Guard, such as its coastal maritime security teams, which help to the protect the president when he’s near the shore in Mar-a-Lago, and the service’s inland fleet that maintains navigational aides and markers on waterways and in ports.
“That’s been neglected probably for a half-century,” he said of infrastructure which sees roughly $4.5 trillion in commerce pass through.
Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Langston fights the boat fire from the Coast Guard 29-foot response boat in Hopkins Point Marina in Jonesport, Maine on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. The was no one aboard at the time of the fire. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephanie Horvat)
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said in a letter to President Trump that such cuts “egregiously” conflict with his stated goals to strengthen national security.
“These proposed cuts … will guarantee negative consequences,” Hunter wrote, adding that it would “create exposures that will most certainly be exploited by transnational criminal networks and other dangerous actors.”
The Coast Guard occupies a unique role as a military branch within the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump is seeking to up the Pentagon’s budget by $54 billion by taking money from non-defense areas, such as the State Department.
Since the budget has not been finalized, a spokesman for the Coast Guard declined to comment on the matter.
When ISIS launched its attack on Mosul in 2014, they were outnumbered by opposition forces by almost 40 to one – yet they took the city. Now a group of scientists working on the frontline in Iraq have analysed what motivates such fighters in research they say could help combat extremists.
While predicting the will to fight has been described by the former US director of national intelligence James Clapper as “imponderable,” researchers say they have begun to unpick what leads members of groups, including ISIS, to be prepared to die, let their family suffer, or even commit torture, finding that the motivation lies in a very different area to traditional ideas of comradeship.
“We found that there were three factors behind whether people were willing to make these costly sacrifices,” said Scott Atran, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and the research institution Artis International.
Those factors, he said, are the strength of commitment to a group and to sacred values, the willingness to choose those values over family or other kin, and the perceived strength of fighters’ convictions – so-called “spiritual strength” – over that of their foes.
The findings support the idea, put forward by previous research, that the will to fight lies not in rational action but in the idea of the “devoted actor” – individuals who consider themselves strongly connected to a group, fighting for values considered to be non-negotiable, or “sacred.”
Writing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Atran and an international team of colleagues describe how they came to their insights by travelling to the frontline in Iraq.
As well as speaking to captured ISIS fighters, the team carried out in-depth interviews with Arab Sunni combatants, as well as Kurdish fighters from the PKK, Peshmerga, and members of the Iraqi army. The frontline approach, the authors note, was crucial to capturing the sacrifices individuals actually make for their values, rather than merely what they claim they might do.
The results revealed that all followed the model of “devoted actors”, but that the level of commitment to making costly sacrifices, such as dying, undertaking suicide attacks, or committing torture varied between groups. With the sample size of fighters small, the team also quizzed more than 6,000 Spanish civilians through online surveys.
The results revealed that the majority of civilians placed their family above a value they considered sacred. However, in a finding that echoed evidence from the frontline, the team discovered that those who placed their sacred value above their group said they were more willing to make dramatic, costly sacrifices such as dying, going to prison or letting their children suffer.
Surveys of the Spanish population also revealed that they made links between spiritual – but not physical – strength and the willingness to make sacrifices.
But the team stress that decisions made by devoted actors on the frontline were not made without emotional turmoil.
“One particular Peshmerga fighter had to make a decision when the Islamic State guys decided to enter his village – he wasn’t in a position to take his family with him and escape and get in front of the ISIS fighters, and so what he did was he left his family behind,” said Richard Davis, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and Artis International.
While being interviewed, the fighter received a phone call from his wife behind ISIS lines, knowing the penalty if caught would be death. “You could see the man getting emotional, and as he gets off the phone, he begins to lament the decision that he had to go through to leave his family behind, but he indicated that fighting for Kurdistan was more important, and that he hoped that God would save his family,” said Davis. “When you hear things like that and you see a broken man – then you recognise how difficult this was for people.”
The team note that understanding the willingness to fight and die among devoted actors could prove valuable in fostering forces against ISIS, including in exploring ways to elicit deeper commitment to, and willingness to sacrifice for, values such as democracy and liberty.
“Instead of just taking volunteers into an army, we might be able to screen who we put into the army based upon the types of values they commit to, and this would create an entirely different fighting force than the one that melted in Mosul in 2014, ” said Davis, adding that the study could also inform efforts attempting to prevent fighters from joining ISIS.
Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews welcomed the research, adding that it contributed to the understanding of terrorists as “engaged followers”. “The fundamental finding is that those prepared to kill – and die – for a cause are to be understood not in terms of a distinctive personality but in terms of their immersion in a collective cause and their commitment to the ideology of that cause,” he said.
Drones are dropping explosives on US soldiers in Syria, and it’s not clear who’s behind the attacks, the head of US Central Command, which is responsible for the region, told lawmakers on Tuesday.
National Public Radio reporter Tom Bowman first reported the attacks on Friday, observing them as he joined a patrol by US soldiers tasked with protecting oil fields in northeast Syria.
“It was a multiday attack on two of the oil fields, the first one since the US mission began last fall to protect the oil fields,” Bowman said on All Things Considered. “There were soldiers from the West Virginia National Guard at one of the fields. And early Wednesday morning, a drone carrying a mortar dropped it near where they were sleeping. No one was injured, and the soldiers quickly drove off the base.”
A drone returned before dawn on Friday and dropped more mortars. “You could see the big circular holes in the ground, pockmarks on the US military trucks and one on one of the oil tanks,” Bowman said.
Sgt. 1st Class Mitch Morgan told Bowman they sprung up when the attack began, mounted their vehicles, and left in two minutes. “As we were going out, they was raining mortars in on top of us,” Morgan said.
Bowman said Army investigators had told him that some of the mortars “were made with 3D printers, which means that obviously someone pretty sophisticated put together these mortars, perhaps a nation-state.”
‘One of my highest priorities’
Questioned on Tuesday about the incidents, US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of Central Command, said there had been attacks by unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, but disputed some of the details.
“We have reports — I don’t think as many as are in the NPR report — but yes … group 1 UAS, which are the small UAS, they’ll try to find a way to carry an explosive and fly it over.”
“The Russians have had some significant casualties in this regard, as have other nations that are operating there,” McKenzie said. “So yes, it is a problem. We look at it very hard. It’s one of my highest priorities.”
McKenzie said his command was still investigating the perpetrator but pointed to ISIS.
“If I had to judge today, I would say possibly ISIS, but [it’s] probably not a state entity operating the drones,” McKenzie told lawmakers.
ISIS has been defeated on the ground in Syria and in Iraq by a US-led international coalition and local partner forces, but it remains in pockets in both countries. ISIS has long used drones for reconnaissance and to drop explosives on opposing forces, often releasing photos and videos of the attacks for propaganda purposes.
The drone attack in Syria highlights the growing threat that small drones pose to US forces.
In early 2019, Marines used their Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System, mounted on an all-terrain vehicle strapped to the deck of the ship carrying them, to down an Iranian drone that flew within 1,000 yards of the them in the Strait of Hormuz.
McKenzie said Tuesday that such drones were a major concern.
“We aggressively pursue anything that will improve the capabilities, particularly against those group 1 and 2 UAS. That is one of the things that worries me the most in the theater every day, is the vulnerability of our forces to those small UAS,” McKenzie said.
Asked about using artificial intelligence and autonomous systems for defense against drones, McKenzie said he was “aware of some experimentation on that” but couldn’t specify.
“We have a very broad set of joint requirements to drive that, so it’s possible there’s something there,” he added.
Counter-drone systems were also included in Central Command’s unfunded priorities list, which contains funding requests not included in the budget request submitted to Congress.
Enemy unmanned aerial systems “have expanded in size, sophistication, range, lethality and numbers” and are being used throughout Central Command’s area of responsibility,” McKenzie wrote in the list, which was obtained by Business Insider.
Their “low velocity and altitude makes them difficult to detect on radar and limited options exist in effectively defeating them,” McKenzie wrote.
The letter requested .6 million for systems to “help counter these airborne IEDs and intelligence gatherers.”
Asked Tuesday if his command’s counter-drone needs were being met, McKenzie said he was “convinced the system is generating as much as it can” and that he had talked to Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the issue.
“I own a lot of the systems that are available across the entire United States inventory,” McKenzie said. “I am not satisfied with where we are, and I believe we are at great risk because of this.”
“We’re open to anything, and a lot of smart people are looking at this,” McKenzie added. “We’re not there yet, but I think the Army, having executive agency for this, will actually help in a lot of ways. It will provide a focus to these efforts. This is a significant threat.”
Two days before millions of Americans were expected to feast on turkey for Thanksgiving, a flock of birds is theorized to have been responsible for the White House lockdown in the early hours of the morning on Nov. 26, 2019.
The White House was placed on lockdown between 8:30 and 9:15 a.m. because of an unauthorized aircraft flying in restricted airspace, according to reporters on the scene.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, the US and Canada’s first responder to an aerial threat, scrambled US Coast Guard helicopters to investigate the scene. No military fighter jets were dispatched, the US military spokesman Maj. Andrew Hennessy told The Washington Post.
By the time the lockdown was lifted, it was unclear what prompted the warning.
“Upon further investigation, we found there was no aircraft,” Hennessy said, according to WRC-TV.
The WJLA reporter Sam Sweeney said the scare may have been because of a flock of birds. Birds are known to migrate south by way of the US Capitol in late October, according to The Washingtonian.
In an unrelated event several hours later, President Donald Trump pardoned one of two turkeys named Bread and Butter. The White House tradition dates back to President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Trump ended up pardoning Butter, and Bread will also live the rest of its short life at “Gobblers Rest” on the Virginia Tech campus.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.