Defense Secretary Mark Esper has made the Trump administration aware of his concerns with the appropriation of the US military’s uniforms by law-enforcement agencies as they face off with protesters in cities like Portland, Oregon, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday afternoon.
“We saw this take place back in June, when there were some law enforcement that wore uniforms that make them appear military,” Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said to reporters, referencing the George Floyd protests throughout the country earlier this year.
“The secretary has a expressed a concern of this within the administration, that we want a system where people can tell the difference,” he added.
The confusion became apparent after video footage and pictures showed law-enforcement officials, many of whom refused to identify themselves or the agency they were working for, wearing the US Army’s camouflage uniform as they confronted demonstrators.
This confusion has been compounded after other activists, such as members of the Boogaloo movement, wore pieces of the same uniform or carried with them military-style gear to the same protests throughout the country.
Customs and Border Protection’s immediate-response force, also known as the Border Patrol Tactical Unit, often wear military uniforms with custom patches.
Members of this group were sent to Portland to quell the protests, which went on for over 50 days and were linked to the defacement of federal buildings, according to CBP. The Border Patrol Tactical Unit’s actions at the protests were scrutinized after video footage showed its agents detaining someone suspected of assault or property destruction and whisking them away in an unmarked minivan. The incident prompted lawmakers to demand an investigation.
US Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously highlighted his concerns about the optics of law-enforcement officials dressing like military service members while responding to protests, saying there needs to be clear “visual distinction” between the two organizations.
“You want a clear definition between that which is military and that which is police, in my view,” Milley said during a congressional hearing on July 9. “Because when you start introducing the military, you’re talking about a different level of effort there.”
When the 95th Infantry Division joined the struggle in Northern France, they could not possibly have imagined the enormous task they would soon face. They landed in France in September and first entered combat towards the end of October. Their first actions were in support of the larger attack on the fortress city of Metz.
The last force to conquer the city was commanded by Attila the Hun in 415 AD, more than 1,500 years before WWII.
While the city was always heavily defended, the French updated the fortifications prior to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. These fortifications included some fifteen forts that ringed the city.
After France’s capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War, the region of Alsace-Lorraine, which included Metz, was annexed by Germany.
Prior to the First World War, Germany enhanced the fortifications around Metz by adding an additional 28 forts and strongpoints in a second ring outside the first. When the French retook possession of the city after the war, they incorporated the new German defenses into the Maginot Line. This included upgrading many positions with rotating steel turrets housing artillery.
By October, when the 95th joined the fray, little progress had been made in cracking the cities defenses.
Beginning in early November, the division’s first order of business was to secure several bridgeheads in the area. This was done under the guns of the German forts and against stiff resistance on the ground. 1st Battalion 377th Infantry Regiment reported over 50% losses after successfully making a river crossing at Uckange.
At the same time the 2nd Battalion, 378th Infantry Regiment secured a bridge at Thionville.
With the Americans approaching the forts, the Germans launched numerous counterattacks to drive them from their bridgeheads. All along the line the Americans threw the Germans back with heavy casualties.
Now with their positions across the river were secured, it was time to go to work on the forts.
Under the command of Colonel Robert Bacon, the two battalions that made the river crossing joined the division reconnaissance troop and a tank company to form Task Force Bacon.
The task force tore down the east bank of the Moselle towards Metz, capturing five towns in the first day. The next day, an additional six towns were captured by the task force. A journalist traveling with the task force described the attitude of its commander:
“Col. Bacon was given a self-propelled 155, but he didn’t use it exactly as the books say it’s supposed to be used. His idea of correct range for the big gun was about 200 yards. Result was that a considerable number of buildings required remodeling later.”
That night the task force reached the outskirts of Metz.
While Task Force Bacon was giving the Germans hell, the rest of the division was driving down the west bank of the Moselle and reducing German forts. The division then executed an assault crossing of the river under heavy fire and also made their way into the outskirts of the city.
At this point, the outer ring of forts was broken and the men now faced the formidable inner ring.
On Nov. 18, ten days after joining the fight for Metz, a patrol from the 95th linked up with elements of the 5th Infantry Division attacking from the south. They now had Metz surrounded.
The two divisions then launched an all-out attack on the city. As the men of the 5th Infantry Division stormed the forts to the south, the 95th instead decided to use deception.
Col. Samuel Metcalfe of the 378th Infantry Regiment, tasked with leading the assault, wanted to do an end run around the line of forts to his front but he needed to keep the Germans distracted to do so. A small task force of infantry and support personnel was left in front of the forts and told to make as much noise as possible. The trick worked like a charm and within several hours the regiment rolled up six of the forts from the rear.
As the onslaught continued, American forces entered the fortress city of Metz. It was an achievement unmatched in over 1,000 years.
Still the fighting continued.
During the heavy fighting to take the city, the 95th Infantry Division had its first Medal of Honor recipient. Over the course of several days Sgt. Andrew Miller repeatedly led his squad in reducing German pillboxes and machine gun positions. Often single-handedly and at close range, Miller stormed the positions and captured German prisoners. At one point – outnumbered four-to-one – he convinced his would-be killers to instead surrender to him.
In a week of fighting in and around Metz, Miller was responsible for the destruction of at least five enemy machine gun emplacements, killing three German soldiers, and capturing 32. Unfortunately, Miller was killed in action a week after the capture of Metz while once again leading his men from the front.
During the valiant fighting, the war correspondents covering the battle took to calling the 95th Infantry Division “the bravest of the brave.”
So, I finally got around to binge-watching Netflix’s Space Force recently. It’s nowhere near as bad as critics are making it out to be. The writers knew enough about military culture to poke fun at our soon-to-be real sister branch while simultaneously giving it a solid storyline to keep me invested. And, uh. Yeah. That’s about it. Pretty solid and I enjoyed it. I hope it gets a second season, but I hope it can flesh out some of its side characters a bit more.
If you can’t tell, my normal schtick of riffing on military news in the opener of these memes pieces is going to be a lose/lose situation this time for fairly obvious reasons. There are many more voices out there that could probably articulate the proper words for this situation far better than I could. I don’t want to take anything away from those conversations. I curate memes and practice a stand-up routine that will probably never get me to a late-night writer gig. I think I’m funny, but I’m probably not.
But that’s why we love memes, isn’t’ it? It’s a brief distraction from the sh*tstorm of daily life and outside is currently a Cat-5 Sh*ticane. It’s the slight exhale of breath at a mildly funny meme followed by a, “Heh. That sucks. I remember doing that sh*t.” That gets us through whatever we’re doing. Memes won’t undo whatever it is that’s going on around us, but it’s a good quick break from it all.
So just sit back. Relax. And remember what Bill and Ted taught us… Just be excellent to each other. Anyways, here’s some memes.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Marines getting a new sniper rifle that’s forcing the legendary M40 into secondary roles. What you may not know, however, is that the new rifle, the Mk 13 Mod 7, is closely related to the weapon used by Craig Harrison to record one of the longest-range kills in history.
The Mk 13 Mod 7 is based on Accuracy International’s Arctic Warfare sniper rifle, which has been sold to civilians, militaries, and police forces around the globe. The version used by the Marine Corps is chambered for the .300 Winchester Magnum round, uses a five-round detachable magazine, and has an effective range of roughly 1,300 yards. Other versions of the rifle are available, chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO and .338 Lapua.
Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison used the L115A3 version of the Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum to make the record shot in 2009.
(Photo by Mike Searson)
Accuracy International offers an even more powerful version of this rifle, the Arctic Warfare Magnum, which has been acquired by a number of forces internationally. The AWM comes chambered in either .300 Winchester Magnum or .338 Lapua. In 2009, this rifle (using .338 Lapua rounds) was used by Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison to kill a Taliban machine-gun team from a distance of 2,707 yards — a record at the time.
The L115A3 rifle, which held the record for the longest sniper kill until May 2017.
(Photo by UK Ministry of Defense)
Prior to the Global War on Terror, the mark for the longest sniper kill in history was held by Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock of the United States Marine Corps, who used a modified M2 machine gun to take out an enemy at 2,500 yards in 1967. Since then, the record has been eclipsed four times, including twice in March 2002 by Canadian snipers in Afghanistan.
The US’s F-35, from the Joint Strike Fighter program, is the most expensive weapons system of all time and a fighter jet meant to revolutionize aerial combat, but Turkey, a US NATO ally, looks poised to let Russia destroy the program from within.
Turkey, a partner in the F-35 program, has long sought to operate the fighter jet and Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile-defense system at the same time.
But experts have told Business Insider that patching Russia through to NATO air defenses, and giving them a good look at the F-35, represents a shocking breakdown of military security.
On March 5, 2019, US Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of US forces in Europe, told a Senate Armed Services Committee that the idea was as bad as it sounds.
“My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that’s working with Russian systems, particularly air-defense systems, with what I would say is probably one of most advanced technological capabilities,” Scaparrotti said.
“Anything that an S-400 can do that affords it the ability to better understand a capability like the F-35 is certainly not to the advantage of the coalition,” NATO Allied Air Commander Gen. Tod Wolters said in July 2018.
NATO worries about “how much, for how long, and how close” the F-35 would operate near the S-400s. “All those would have to be determined. We do know for right now it is a challenge,” he continued.
Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Business Insider that NATO countries “don’t want to be networking in Russian systems into your air defenses” as it could lead to “technology transfer and possible compromises of F-35 advantages to the S-400.”
Russia wouldn’t just sell Turkey the radars, batteries, and missiles and then walk away, it would actively provide them support and training. Russian eyes could then gain access to NATO’s air defenses and also take a good look at the F-35.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The F-35’s fate in Turkey’s hands?
Because NATO is an alliance formed to counter Russia, allowing Russia to learn information about its air defense would defeat the purpose it and possibly blunt the military edge of the most expensive weapons system ever built.
But the US has little choice now. Turkey has pivoted away from democracy and has frequently feuded with its NATO allies since a 2016 attempted coup prompted the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to consolidate power.
Turkey holds millions of Syrian refugees and has helped stem the number of refugees entering Europe. Turkey has expressed fury at the White House for years over the US support of Kurds in Syria and Iraq during the fight against ISIS. Turkey brands the militant Kurdish units “terrorists.”
The F-35 holds advantages besides stealth, including a never-before-seen ability to network with other fighters, but the S-400 remains a leading threat to the fighters.
Russia, if it spotted an F-35 with its powerful counter-stealth radars, would still face a steep challenge in porting that data to a shooter somewhere that could track and fire on the F-35, but nobody in the US military wants to see Russia looped in to the F-35’s classified tactics and specifics.
I’m a Vietnam veteran. Like in any war, we had moments of extreme, close encounters and moments of boredom. We came home to a political nightmare where we were hated, spit upon, and called names. I, like many that came home, suffered from survivor’s guilt and something that we’d never heard of at the time: PTSD.
We went to Vietnam as soldiers and came home as individuals, so I lost contact from my unit. I never contacted the VA; I had enough of the military. I was young, strong, and independent. I could deal with anything at the time. I went back to school, got a job, got married, began a family with two wonderful kids. I was living the dream but I had a secret that I kept from everyone.
As I aged, my PTSD turned into “flashbacks,” nightmares, and three suicide attempts. The last was the worst. I sat on our kitchen floor at midnight, mad and scared. That’s when I contacted the VA Suicide Hotline and was convinced to go to the VA Hospital. I snuck some clothes from our bedroom. I was going to sneak out, but my wife woke up and demanded to drive me.
I got the help I needed from VA through the Prolonged Exposure Therapy Program (PE). My family now knows everything. It’s been six years and counting with no flashbacks, nightmares, or suicide attempts. My life and my family’s lives have changed. I believe I came through all this hell for a reason, and that is to help other veterans who suffer. The suicide rate among all veterans absolutely scares me, but most troubling is those who were like me: the 70% who don’t have any contact with the VA.
Get the help you need. Do it.
Watch Dave, his family and his therapist explain how Prolonged Exposure Therapy brought him back to a full and happy life.
See how treatment helped Dave enjoy walking in the woods behind his house, something he’d been avoiding for decades.
Go to AboutFace to hear more about PTSD and PTSD Treatment from veterans who have been there.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
North Korean officials are reportedly perusing columnist Michael Wolff’s blockbuster book, “Fire and Fury,” the tell-all that paints a mostly unflattering picture of a tumultuous Trump-led White House, a former diplomat said.
“They were very keen to study Donald Trump when I was there in December,” Jonathan Powell, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff, told CNN. “They were reading ‘Art of the Deal,’ and wanted to discuss the book and what it showed about the president.”
“Art of the Deal,” a book coauthored by Trump in 1987, was partly a biography and a broad outline of Trump’s approach to making deals throughout his business career.
“When I went back at the beginning of this year, they were reading ‘Fire and Fury’ – all on PDFs, not buying the book itself, and trying to discuss what that told them about Trump too,” Powell said.
Based on other reports, members of North Korea’s government have been attempting to analyze Trump and decipher his methodology of governing. In 2017, North Korean officials previously reached out to Republican-linked analysts and think tanks in Washington because they “can’t figure him out,” according to a person familiar with the situation.
“Their number-one concern is Trump,” the source said to The Washington Post.
Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” took political and media circles around the country by storm after its release in January 2018. It provided a rare behind-the-scene look at pivotal moments throughout Trump’s 2016 campaign and the beginning stages of his presidency.
However, critics have questioned some of the wilder claims made in the book and questioned the reliability of some of its sources. Wolff has also admitted that he was not sure if all the claims in the book were true, and that there were times he knew his sources were lying to him.
“Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue,” Wolff noted in the book’s prologue. “These conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The year is 1979. The aftermath of the battle left 60 humans killed in action and an untold number of the enemy’s troops mortally wounded. It was the U.S. Army’s Special Forces’ greatest threat — and no one would ever know about it. The Green Berets were dispatched to Dulce, New Mexico, to keep alien forces underground and away from the rest of the world.
Schneider claims he was working on a highly secretive, underground base on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in New Mexico, near Dulce, a Colorado border town. He told the Huffington Post he first became suspicious of the project’s true intention when he noticed American Special Forces soldiers operating in and around the area.
They don’t just send Green Berets to New Mexico for no reason. Schneider alleged the gray aliens were conducting bizarre medical experiments on mankind, both live humans and samples of DNA. He said that deep underground, the “Grays” would absorb human and cow blood for sustenance.
Schneider finally came out with his story in the mid-1990s. Two years later, he killed himself with a catheter cord – a suicide that has some screaming “foul play.” At the time, the engineer said he began construction on the underground base just like he would any other base, by drilling holes. This time, however an acrid smell like burning garbage emerged from the drilled holes. That’s when the fighting started.
Then, one day, he turned around and came face-to-face with what he called a “7-foot-tall, stinky, gray alien.” Immediately, the engineer grabbed his pistol and took two of them down. A third one blew off some his fingers with a kind of laser blaster. That’s when one of the Green Berets sacrificed himself to save Schneider’s life.
The scuffle turned into a full-blown battle that killed 60 humans. Green Berets reacted instantly, bringing all the firepower they could bear on the aliens. The aliens responded by shooting blue bolts of radiant power with movements of their hands. The kind of bolts that blew Schneider’s fingers off were turning the Special Forces soldiers inside out. Eventually, the aliens relented, retreating deeper into the complex.
What happened in the years that followed is anyone’s guess.
Before his death, Schneider alleged that there were more than 1,400 of these underground bases all over the world, each with a price tag of billion. The 192 bases inside the U.S. are also said to be interconnected. While there is no further information on what started the underground alien war or if it continues to this day, residents of nearby Dulce attest to strange happenings in areas near the base.
Is there anything else that aggravates already overworked military spouses more than micro complaints from their civilian friends? Probably not.
Being married to the military is a lot like hastily extinguishing small government-issued trash can fires, only to realize you will never put them all out no matter how hard you try. The government loves issuing trash can fires, and by year three, you learn to sit back and roast marshmallows over them instead.
Yes, military spouses evolve quickly from the simple state that was their civilian life to the constant state of chaos surrounding a life of service. Nothing is more annoying than forcing a passive-aggressive “oh that must be hard for you” head nod when Susie starts rattling off her civilian life complaints.
See if your friend’s grievances made our list.
When their spouse’s 48-hour business trips are made to seem as hard as a deployment
Civilian- “Oh your spouse is away a lot too? My John, he has to travel a whole three times a year for work and I just don’t know what to do with myself during those weekends he’s away.”
If eyes could emit laser beams, military spouses would be the first to be equipped with them. How many times have you as a spouse had to endure this comparison? No Susan, John’s work trips to Denver are nothing like the average work trips that the military sends our spouses on. A good day is when you find out your spouse did not get recycled in Ranger school (again) and you’ll see them in a short 60 days from now.
When they complain about having the same boring job for the last 10 years
Civilian- “Ugh, you are so lucky not to have to work. I’ve been at this same boring job for the last 10 years and I can’t wait to retire.”
To an outsider looking in, an unemployed military spouse living in Hawaii might seem like a choice or even a benefit, but the military community knows better. Not only are there periods where military life keeps us from working, but the few of us who do, find it near impossible to find the kind of employment that offers such unicorn benefits like retirement.
When their schedules are “so busy”
Civilian- “We are busy bees I tell you. The kids have their sports and I just have to find time to shop for the right piece to go above the mantle before it just drives me nuts. Don’t even get me started on how I had to push back my hair appointment.”
The first year after a PCS for military spouses involves the trial and error of everything from coffee shops to dentists, to assessing what is still missing or broken from the move. By the time we get settled in enough to get our kids in sports clubs or half-ass decorate the living room, new orders roll in. Nothing is busier than a military spouse eating a “fridge purge” sandwich on the way to baseball where she plans to make the seventh call to find out when the movers are coming this week taking her to a place she has to Google to find.
When they complain about that one time they had to move
Civilian- “Moving (down the street) was a nightmare. It took forever to go through our things. I never want to do that again.”
Nothing brings salty military spouses more joy than to hear your tragic horror story about your move down the block to that custom home you designed yourself which will perfectly meet every single one of your family’s needs. That sounds hard.
Yes, we military spouses who can live entire decades of our lives half packed and ready to move (again) in 18 months sympathize with your hardship. We who live as lifelong renters in someone else’s 1999 cookie-cutter home with beige everything feel bad that it was difficult to pick precisely the right marble for your countertops. We who must label trash cans as “do not pack” cannot fathom how difficult it was for you to leisurely watch the actual professional movers delicately move your furniture with actual customer service in mind.
We are military spouses and we have zero time for your civilian complaints.
A funeral was held Jan. 10 for a Texas soldier whose 92nd Infantry Division was the only African-American Army division to fight in Europe and who was buried for decades as “unknown.”
The service was held at Houston National Cemetery for Army Pfc. Lonnie Eichelberger, a 20-year-old from Waco who died in heavy fighting with German forces in Italy just months before Germany’s surrender in 1945.
For decades, he was among nearly 73,000 U.S. service members from WWII who are unaccountable.
“It has brought closure that he has been identified,” said his great-nephew, Cheyenne Eichelberger, who explained that family members knew only that his uncle was killed in action somewhere in Europe.
Army officials notified the family in 2016 that Defense Department scientists had identified the remains using dental and anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence.
Pfc. Eichelberger enlisted at a time the Army was segregated and he was assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division, which, in 1944 and 1945, fought at the westernmost portion of the Allied line in northern Italy, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an arm of the Defense Department.
“That’s the forgotten piece,” Cheyenne Eichelberger said Jan. 10. “Minorities have served in every war and conflict that America has been involved in.”
His uncle was declared missing after a battle near Strettoia, Italy. Remains recovered near there after the war in Europe ended could not be identified and eventually were buried in 1949 at the American cemetery in Florence, Italy, designated as remains X-193.
Decades later, information was obtained linking X-193 to two soldiers in the 92nd Infantry who still hadn’t been identified, so the remains were disinterred in 2016 and ultimately one set was identified as Eichelberger’s, according to DPAA.
Of the approximately 73,000 service members in WWII whose remains have not been recovered, more than 3,600 were from Texas.
A US Navy flattop deployed to the Pacific has been flying a battle flag featuring Captain America’s iconic red, white and blue shield, photos from the ship’s deployment show.
The USS America (LHA-6), the first of a new class of amphibious assault ship, chose its battle flag, also known as a house flag, just before it deployed to the Indo-Pacific late last year.
The ship, the fourth to bear the name America, went for the superhero treatment.
“The iconic Captain America symbol — the First Avenger for this first-in-class fifth-generation amphibious assault ship — was the perfect fit,” Capt. Luke Frost, the ship’s commanding officer, told Insider.
Frost said the flag choice was “bold, graphic, with a clear patriotic and easily-identifiable association with the name ‘America.'”
In the vast Marvel Comics universe, Captain America, whose alter ego is Steve Rogers, is a patriotic supersoldier who fought the Axis Powers before being trapped in ice and revived in the modern age.
An experimental serum gave the Army soldier his power, but it is his almost-indestructible circular vibranium shield that is most representative of the character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1940s.
Captain America is more than just Rogers. Others, such as close friend and Air Force veteran Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, have also taken up the shield and the captain’s mantle to carry on the fight. And now, a ship filled with Navy sailors and Marines have made the fictional weapon its emblem in a show of joint warfighting at its best.
The first US naval vessel to bear the name “America” was a 74-gun ship of the line, the first ordered for the Continental Navy. The name was passed on to a troop transport vessel and later to a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier.
The current USS America, which was commissioned in 2014, is different from other amphibious assault ships in that it lacks a well deck and features increased space for aviation assets.
The Navy and the Marines have used the ship for “Lightning Carrier” experiments, which have involved loading the ship up with a heavy configuration of around a dozen F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
In photos from the amphibious assault ship’s recent deployment, a lighter configuration of the fifth-generation fighters can be seen on the America’s deck as the new battle flag flies above.
Battle flags are a Navy tradition with a long history.”From Oliver Hazard Perry’s ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship’ flag at the Battle of Lake Erie to George Dewey’s ‘FIGHT!’ flag in the Battle of Manila and into the modern era, battle flags or ‘house flags’ have been used to motivate, rally, and inspire ship’s Sailors and Marines,” the America’s CO told Insider. “These flags express unit pride and the fighting spirit of the crew.”
In addition to its new flag, the America also features a number of other star-spangled decorations, such as the doors of the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) launcher cells, The Drive, which first reported the ship’s new flag, noted.
The three Russian journalists who were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) had arrived in the war-torn country to investigate the reported presence there of a shadowy Russian paramilitary force whose units are said to have fought in Ukraine and Syria.
Colleagues of Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko say the trio were making a documentary about the private Russian military company Vagner, which French and Russian media reports had previously reported to be operating in the CAR.
CAR officials say the journalists were ambushed and killed by unidentified assailants.
The Russian government has never officially confirmed the presence of Vagner employees in the African country and denies that the firm’s contractors act on Moscow’s orders. The private military firm is reportedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, though Prigozhin has previously denied that he is linked to the company.
Here are five things you need to know about Russian military contractors working in the CAR.
Anti-Balaka militia in Gbaguili.
1. Why are Russian contractors there?
The Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been subjected to a UN Security Council arms embargo since 2013, when an armed, mainly Muslim coalition known as Seleka seized power. Christian armed formations fought back, and the violence saw thousands killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes.
In 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president of the CAR, but much of the country remains controlled by various armed formations, primarily ex-Seleka fighters and the Christian alliance known as Anti-balaka. The UN established a peacekeeping mission in the CAR in 2014.
In December 2017, Russia secured an exemption to the Security Council arms embargo, allowing Moscow to deliver arms and training for what a UN panel of experts describes as part of a multinational effort — including the European Union Military Training Mission — to boost the capabilities of the CAR’s military and security forces.
“Our only request was that the Russian delegation submit additional information on the serial numbers of the weapons…so that we can track weapons going into CAR,” AFP cited an unidentified U.S. official as saying at the time.
2. How many are there, and what are they doing?
In December 2017, Russia notified the Security Council committee overseeing the CAR arms embargo of the involvement of 175 Russian “instructors” in a training mission, according to a report by a UN panel of experts issued in July 2018. Of those personnel, 170 were identified as civilian instructors, while the remaining five were from the Russian military, the report says.
According to the panel, Russian instructors have been involved in a range of tasks, including: escorting convoys of building materials for hospitals; providing security for hospitals donated by Russia; and training police officers as a requirement for equipping them with Russian weapons.
The panel also said that a Russian national had been appointed as a national security adviser to Touadera and that the Russian is “engaging with armed groups” to discuss issues including “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, national reconciliation,” and the sharing of revenue derived from the exploitation of natural resources.
In June 2018, two government soldiers and one Russian instructor were wounded in an attack by militia fighters while traveling to the south of the country, the panel said.
3. Why is Vagner said to be operating in the CAR?
Several media reports over the past year have indicated that Vagner contractors may be working in the CAR. In March 2018, a reporter for the Russian news site Znak.com visited a facility reportedly operated by Vagner outside the southern Russian city of Krasnodar. The reporter cited a military veteran who lives in the town where the facility is located as saying that Vagner mercenaries were set to be sent “to Africa” for a “training” mission.
Two weeks later, the Russian Foreign Ministry publicly discussed the 175 Russian “instructors,” saying they had been sent to the CAR in “late January-early February,” but without indicating whether the civilian personnel were employees of Vagner or another military contractor.
The Russian investigative journalism news site The Bell in June 2018 cited an unidentified source as saying that Vagner employees were training CAR forces. And in July 2018, Yevgeny Shabayev, a leader of a Cossack organization who says he visited Vagner fighters injured in a deadly February 2018 clash with U.S. forces in Syria, published a letter stating that private Russian military contractors have operated in the CARand “an array of other African and Arab countries.”*
An editor at the Investigation Control Center, the outlet funded by billionaire Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky that financed the investigation conducted by the three journalists killed in the CAR, said on August 1, 2018that the team had reached the facility where they believed Vagner operatives were stationed but were told they needed accreditation from the country’s Defense Ministry.
The president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera.
4. What is Russia’s interest?
Russia says it is seeking to restore peace in the CAR with the provision of arms and training to government forces.
“Russia’s assistance is carried out as part of the common efforts of the international community to strengthen the national security units of CAR,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Artyom Kozhin said in a March 22, 2018 statement.
But Moscow has also made no secret of its economic interests in the country’s natural resources.
“Russia is exploring the possibilities of the mutually beneficial development of Central African natural resources,” Kozhin said. “The prospecting-mining exploration concessions began in 2018. We believe these projects will help stabilize the economic situation in CAR, promote the construction of the infrastructure, and serve as a basis for drawing additional investment to the country’s economy.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Touadera in the Russian city of Sochi in October 2017, with the ministry saying that the officials “reaffirmed their countries’ resolve” to bolster bilateral ties “and pointed to the considerable potential for partnership in mineral resources exploration” and energy.
While Russia touts its weapons shipments and training efforts in the CAR as an effort to stabilize the country, the report by the UN panel of experts released in July 2018 said that new weapons obtained by government forces have motivated rebel militias to boost their own stockpiles.
“The recent acquisition of weaponry by the Government has created an incentive for the active rearmament of ex-Selaka factions,” the report said.
The panel added that armed militia representatives had told them that “since the government had opted for the military option (training, rearming, and attacking) instead of the political process, armed groups needed to be prepared.”
The experts’ report noted a worsening of the security situation in Bangui and Bambari, citing “serious outbreaks of violence, including in areas where the situation had previously improved.”
*Correction: This article has been amended to clarify that Yevgeny Shabayev’s letter stated that private Russian military contractors, not necessarily Vagner, have operated in the Central African Republic.