Well, it looks like cluster bombs won’t be riding off into the sunset any time soon. The Pentagon has officially decided to hold off on enforcing a planned ban on the weapon system, which previously set to take effect on January 1, 2019.
According to a report by the Washington Post, the decision was made by “senior Pentagon leadership” and ensures that the systems will continue to be purchased. This same ban would have also restricted rockets used by the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, as well as versions of the BGM-109 Tomahawk, AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon, the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), and the MGM-164 ATACMS II.
A Nov. 30 memo, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, stated that “adversaries and potential adversaries have developed advanced capabilities and operational approaches specifically designed to limit our ability to project power.” As a result, the DOD decided to reverse the ban to avoid “military and civilian casualties” caused due to “forfeiting the best available capabilities.” It should be noted that, under certain circumstances, cluster bombs can do things that “smart bombs” can’t.
The decision drew criticism from Senator Patrick Leahy, who said, “on the eve of that deadline, the Pentagon has decided to go back on its commitment, just as it did after pledging to develop alternatives to antipersonnel landmines more than two decades ago.” Leahy and Senator Dianne Feinstein had sponsored legislation to codify policy from the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions into law.
Doctors, nurses, and other embarked medical personnel aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) conducted a mass casualty training exercise in preparation for visiting medical sites in Central and South America, Oct. 13, 2018.
The exercise tested Comfort’s crew in mass casualty triage, care, and first-aid practices. Participants included multi-service members, partner nation service members, and mission volunteers.
“A mass casualty event, by nature, is chaotic,” said Lt. Jessie Paull, a general surgery resident embarked on Comfort. “Being able to practice, it gets your nerves under control.”
Lt. Cmdr. Cynthia Matters, from Claremore, Okla. assigns surgeries during a mass casualty exercise aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph DeLuco)
The event started on the flight deck of the ship and continued down to Comfort’s casualty receiving area.
“Getting the team squared away is essential to execute this mission during a real event,” said Paull.
Sailors, aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, conduct stretcher bearer training during a mass casualty drill.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Devin Alexondra Lowe)
The exercise included various medical procedures, including basic medical triage techniques, blood tests, and computed tomography (CT) scans.
Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Lammers, an anesthesiologist assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort, practices patient transfer during a mass casualty exercise.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph DeLuco)
“This is exactly what I would hope to see coming from a group of professionals on, essentially, day three of our mission,” said Capt. William Shafley, commander, Task Force 49.
Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Barnhill, an anesthesiologist assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort, conducts surgery preparation training during a mass casualty exercise.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph DeLuco)
Comfort is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity with the Americas.
Rockets fired on a market in a government-controlled neighborhood of Damascus on March 20, 2018, killed 35 people and wounded more than 20 others, Syrian state-run media said, marking one of the highest death tolls in a single attack targeting the capital.
The government blamed rebels in the eastern suburbs of Damascus for the attack on the Kashkol neighborhood. The capital, seat of President Bashar Assad’s power, has come under more frequent attack as government forces continue to pound rebel-held eastern Ghouta, with military backing from Russia.
With government forces tied up in the month-long offensive on eastern Ghouta, Islamic State militants seized a neighborhood on its southern edge, forcing the government to rush in reinforcements.
IS militants captured the neighborhood of Qadam on March 19, 2018, a week after rebels had surrendered it to the government. At least 36 soldiers and pro-government militiamen were killed in the clashes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said dozens more were captured or wounded.
In 2017, the Islamic State group lost the swath of territory it had controlled in eastern Syria since 2014 — and where it had proclaimed its self-styled “caliphate” — but it retains pockets of control in areas across Syria, including two neighborhoods on the southern edge of Damascus.
On March 19, 2018, the militants pounced on Qadam from the neighboring Hajr al-Aswad and Yarmouk neighborhoods, which they control. More than 1,000 rebels and their families had earlier fled Qadam for rebel-held territory in the north of the country, instead of submitting to the Damascus authorities.
There was no comment from the Syrian government following the IS seizure of Qadam.
The government’s assault on eastern Ghouta has displaced 45,000 people, the United Nations said March 20, 2018, while tens of thousands more are living in desperate conditions in northern Syria, where a Turkish military campaign is underway.
In eastern Ghouta, rescue workers were still retrieving bodies from the basement of a school that was bombed March 19, 2018, by government or Russian jets, a spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defense group said.
The bodies of 20 women and children were retrieved from the rubble, said the group, also known as the White Helmets. The school in the town of Arbin was being used as a shelter by residents.
Oways al-Shami, the Civil Defense spokesman, said continued bombing was slowing down rescue operations.
“They’re not able to use their heavy vehicles because the planes are targeting the Civil Defense directly,” al-Shami said of the rescuers.
Residents in Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta, also reported indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes.
“I haven’t been able to go out to look for food since yesterday,” said Ahmad Khansour, a media activist who spoke to The Associated Press from a basement in the town. He reported 175 strikes since March 19, 2018.
At least 36 people were killed under the hail of strikes on March 20, 2018, according to the Observatory.
Government forces abruptly intensified their fire on Douma on March 18, 2018, after a six-day reprieve to allow a limited number of medical evacuations. In the meantime, they made sweeping advances against other areas of eastern Ghouta, leaving just a fraction of the enclave still outside the government’s control.
“There’s nowhere left to attack” but Douma, Khansour said.
A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Andrej Mahecic, told reporters in Geneva on March 20, 2018, that although tens of thousands have fled the fighting in eastern Ghouta, thousands more were “still trapped and in dire need of aid,” adding that a shortage of shelters was “a major concern.”
Meanwhile, the U.N. children’s agency said some 100,000 people were trapped in rural areas of the northern Syrian district of Afrin and in need of humanitarian aid after Turkish and allied Syrian forces drove out a Syrian Kurdish militia there.
UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said the agency hadn’t been able to deliver health and nutrition supplies to the district in 20 days, and water trucks had stopped deliveries since March 15, 2018. The agency estimates 50,000 children are among those who need humanitarian aid in Afrin.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said it was able to deliver 25 tons of humanitarian aid items, like blankets, diapers, lamps, and water tanks, to displaced Afrin families.
Reports of looting in the largely deserted town spread on March 20, 2018, as more photos emerged showing allied Syrian rebel fighters attached to Turkey’s military campaign breaking into shops, stealing goods and cattle, and hauling off tractors and motorcycles amid scenes of celebration.
It is proving an embarrassment to Turkey, which is battling perceptions that the Syrian opposition forces it has aligned with are corrupt, unprofessional and jihadist.
A top U.N. representative in Syria, Sajjad Malik, raised the alarm on Twitter, reporting “looting, destruction of properties exodus of civilians” from Afrin.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said his country was “sensitive” to reports of looting and promised Turkey “will not allow it.”
A Syrian opposition body published the phone numbers of military police commanders in the area, urging anyone who witnesses looting to file complaints with them.
Also March 20, 2018, at least nine people were killed in airstrikes targeting a camp for displaced people in rebel-held Idlib province in the northwest of the country, according to the Observatory and the Civil Defense. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
Charles Jenkins, a U.S Army deserter to North Korea who married a Japanese abductee and lived in Japan after their release, has died. He was 77.
Jenkins was found collapsed outside his home in Sado, northern Japan, Dec. 11 and rushed to a hospital and later pronounced dead, a group representing families of Japanese abductees to North Korea said Dec. 12.
Japan’s NHK national television said he died of a heart failure.
Jenkins, of Rich Square, North Carolina, disappeared in January 1965 while on patrol along the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea. He later called his desertion a mistake that led to decades of deprivation and hardship in the communist country.
Jenkins met his wife Hitomi Soga, who was kidnapped by Pyeongyang in 1978, in North Korea and the couple had two daughters, Mika and Blinda. His wife was allowed to visit Japan in 2002 and stayed. Jenkins and their daughters followed in 2004.
Once in Japan, Jenkins in 2004 was subject to a U.S. court-martial in which he said he deserted because of fear of being sent to fight in Vietnam. He pleaded guilty to desertion and aiding the enemy and was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 25 days in a U.S. military jail in Japan.
Jenkins and his family lived in Soga’s hometown of Sado, where he was a popular worker at a local souvenir shop and could often be seen posing in photos with visiting tourists.
Soga is one of 13 Japanese that Tokyo says were kidnapped by the North in the 1970s and 1980s as teachers of Japanese culture and language for agents spying on South Korea. Pyongyang acknowledged the abductions and allowed a Japan visit in 2002 for Soga and four others, who eventually stayed.
Jenkins, in his 2005 autobiographical book To Tell the Truth and in appearances at conferences on North Korean human rights, revealed that he had seen other American deserters living with women abducted from elsewhere, including Thailand and Romania.
After settling in Japan, he visited North Carolina to see his mother and sister, but he said he had no plans to move back to the U.S.
The Pentagon is said to be exploring dates for such a parade. But if it does happen, Trump wouldn’t be the first U.S. president, or even the first modern one, to hold a military parade in Washington, DC.
There’s a long history of military parades in the U.S., but its recent history is anchored in the Cold War when the U.S. showed off nuclear missiles long before North Korea’s Kim dynasty even had the capability.
Recent history of U.S. military parades — and their nukes
In 1953 and 1957, Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugurations included nuclear-capable missiles rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Both Kennedy and Eisenhower presided over some of the tensest days of the Cold War-era nuclear-arms race with the Soviet Union.
In Kennedy’s case, a frightened U.S. had just watched the Soviets’ Sputnik satellite, mankind’s first, passing through the skies. American schoolchildren were drilled on how to hide under desks in the event of a nuclear attack. After all, if the Soviets could put a satellite in space and fly it around the world, they could also put up the bomb.
On the other end of the Cold War, when the U.S. emerged victorious from the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush brought back the military for another parade.
The U.S. victory had been decisive, with Saddam Hussein’s army, the world’s third-largest at the time, decimated by superior U.S. military power. Though 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. casualties were forecast in the conflict, where chemical weapons had killed scores of civilians, fewer than 300 U.S. troops died.
The U.S. brought its troops home for a parade in June 1991, when Bush’s approval rating was soaring.
Later that year, the Kremlin lowered the Communist hammer-and-sickle flag for the last time. The Soviet Union imploded, and the Cold War ended.
The Cold War is back on, parades and all
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has withdrawn troops from Europe and taken measures to reduce its military footprint and nuclear stockpiles. The Obama administration increasingly treated Russia like a partner and less like a competitor.
But late in Obama’s presidency, the tide started to turn. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 to a muted U.S. and NATO response.
China, over the same period, embarked on a massive, ambitious campaign to rebuild its military and dominate the South China Sea, a shipping lane where annual commerce worth trillions of dollars passes through, and where China has ignored international law in building artificial islands in contested territory.
The return to Cold War footing for Eastern powers isn’t Trump’s doing and didn’t happen on his watch, but the U.S.’s embrace of a new Cold War definitely is.
Trump takes aim at China and Russia, looking to fight fire with fire
The Trump administration recently released a series of documents outlining the U.S.’s foreign policy and military bearings. In the National Defense Strategy, the National Security Strategy, and the Nuclear Posture Review, the Trump administration has consistently named its biggest challenges as taming the rises of Russia and China.
On a chilly May morning, the city of Murrieta, CA dispatched a firetruck to a new home. Dozens of men, women and children congregated the driveway. The sounds of Rolling Thunder could be heard in the distance. As if on cue, the wind picked up and the huge American flag streaming from the ladder of the firetruck began to wave. American Legion Riders escorted wounded Army veteran Sgt. Nicholas Mendes to his new specially adapted home, and the community was there to welcome him.
This is the work of Homes for our Troops.
HFOT builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes across the United States for those who have been severely injured in theater of combat since September 11, 2001. The non-profit’s purpose is to assist wounded warriors with the complex process of integrating back into society.
Army Sergeant Nicholas Mendes, who was a gunner with the 10th Mountain, 3rd Brigade, is one of 214 veterans to thus far be living in one of these homes. On April 30, 2011, an IED detonated beneath his vehicle in Sangsar, Afghanistan. The explosion, set off by a 1200-pound command wire device, caused multiple fractures to his vertebrae and rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. Mendes had previously served in Iraq in 2008.
After being presented with the key to his new home, Mendes’ wife held the microphone up to his mouth so he could address the audience of well-wishers.
“Bear with me, I didn’t write anything down – because my arms don’t work.” Mendes joked. “It’s just crazy looking back on everything, this all started with a Google search, and then putting in an application to a foundation that I didn’t know if they’d ever write me back…”
Not only did they write him back and build him a home, Homes for our Troops is working with Mendes to allow him to reclaim his independence. The adapted features in his home remove much of the burden from his wife and family and allow him to focus on recovery and his plans to pursue a career in real estate.
“These men and women are not looking for pity. They’re looking to rebuild their lives.” said Bill Ivy, Executive Director of HFOT. “We have an extremely talented group of men and women who are either in homes or that we are building homes for. The whole idea is to get them back going to school, back into the work force, raising families. Since 2010 we’ve had over 100 children born to families living in our homes. So it is about the next generation and moving forward. We have a tremendous amount of successes out there.”
Homes for Our Troops lays a foundation for these men and woman to continue on after their injuries. Although their way of life has undergone major changes, their spirit and desire to serve remains. Many of these home recipients are able to rehabilitate to the point where they enter the workforce and give back to their community as teachers and counselors.
Two HFOT recipients started a non-profit together called Amputee Outdoors. Another recipient, Joshua Sweeny is an American gold medal sledge hockey player and Purple Heart recipient who competed in 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. Four recipients participated in the recent Invictus games, and one even spent a month in a tent to raise awareness for veteran homelessness.
“There’s duty, there’s honor and self sacrifice. Death nor injury does not diminish those qualities in our soldiers. It is a testament to the love of this country” said David Powers of Prospect Mortgage – one of the key ceremony speakers. “Duty is the mission, the lesson is the sacrifice for our country, and for our freedom.”
For more information visit the Homes for Our Troops website.
Facebook is waging a constant war against online trolls looking to interfere with foreign politics, and the social media giant just gave us an inside look at the latest battle.
On Oct. 21, 2019, Facebook announced it identified and removed four separate networks of interconnected accounts engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” In other words, these were four separate groups posting misleading content on Facebook under fake accounts, groups or pages on Facebook.
Facebook said three of the networks originated in Iran, while the fourth was based in Russia. These networks included about 200 accounts and pages that shared divisive memes and content meant to influence people in the United States, Latin America, and parts of North Africa.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the four networks were discovered as a part of the company’s efforts to police organized campaigns launched by fake accounts. Collectively, the banned accounts had more than 250,000 followers and their posts could’ve reached many more people.
“We detected this activity as part of our ongoing review of suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior ahead of US elections,” Gleicher wrote in a blog post. “We’ve shared information with our industry partners, policy makers and law enforcement and will continue working with others to find and remove this behavior.”
Facebook said most of the fake accounts it finds originate from Russia, Iran, and China, and they post about politics in various parts of the world. According to Facebook, much of the “inauthentic behavior” was designed to spark a response from people on both sides of major political issues, though some repurposed articles from Iran’s state media. Most posts were responses to high-profile political figures or other media sources.
Facebook showed this example posted by a fake group claiming to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The people behind this operation often posted on both sides of political issues including topics like US elections, environmental issues, racial tensions, LGBTQ issues, political candidates, confederate ideas, conservatism and liberalism,” Gleicher said of the Russia-based accounts. “They also maintained accounts presenting themselves as local in some swing states, and posed as either conservatives or progressives.”
With the 2020 US presidential election on the horizon, Facebook has been vocal about its efforts to combat political trolls. The social media platform has been widely criticized for allowing misinformation to spread across the platform, and an investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office found that dozens of Russian agents were involved in a coordinated campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Speaking to the press during a conference call on Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s pre-emptive detection of these fake accounts should serve as encouragement that the company is making strides on security.
Zuckerberg said the company now has 35,000 employees focused on security, and says the company is now spending more on security than its made in revenue during 2012, the same year Facebook went public.
“There’s still a long way to go before election day, and we have a big responsibility to secure our platform and stay ahead of the sophisticated new threats to the integrity of elections here and around the world. Personally this is one of my top priorities for the company.” Zuckerberg said. “Elections have changed significantly, and Facebook has changed too. We are confident that we are more prepared heading into 2020 to fight interference and protect the integrity of our elections.”
In addition to tightened security behind the scenes, Facebook will also roll out new features designed to help people verify questionable sources online. Facebook will introduce a new tag that shows when an ad or post has been fact-checked by a third party, and news sources that are run by a local government will be labeled as such. Additionally, people creating a group or page will have their real name and location listed with Facebook for verification, to prevent foreign entities from posing as local people.
Facebook said the creator of this post was based in Russia.
Facebook continues to face harsh criticism from Democratic presidential candidates for allowing misinformation on the platform and in paid advertisements, specifically. Last week, Zuckerberg defended the company’s stance to allow some types of misinformation, so long as it doesn’t lead to violence or other immediate harm. During a speech at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg said the policy was rooted in his belief in freedom of expression.
With social media becoming one of the primary venues for political discussion in recent years, the incentive to dominate the conversation or weaponize political feelings to create conflict is greater than ever. Facebook and other social media platforms will have to deal with constant attempts to disrupt natural discourage, and separate what’s authentic from what’s not.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.
Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.
The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.
WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.
The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.
The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.
Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.
Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.
Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.
The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.
But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.
President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.
“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.
The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.
The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”
Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.
The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.
The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.
“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”
Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.
The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.
The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.
From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.
The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.
“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.
“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”
The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.
Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.
Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”
Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.
According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”
Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”
Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.
This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.
In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.
According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.
The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.
The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.
The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.
The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.
Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”
“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”
But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.
Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.
“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.
The US Army on Feb. 6, 2019, announced that it would buy an Israeli missile-defense system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defenses just don’t work.
“The U.S. Army has announced its intent to procure a limited number of Iron Dome weapon systems to fill its short-term need for an interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC),” a US Army statement sent to Business Insider read.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, indigenously designed with a 9 million US investment backing it, represents the world’s only example of working missile defense.
While the US, Russia, and China work on high-end missile systems meant to shoot down stealth aircraft in ultra-high-tech wars with electronic and cyber warfare raging along the sidelines, none of these countries’ systems actually block many missiles, rockets, or mortars.
Iron Dome launches during operation Pillar of Defense, November 2012.
On the other hand, Israel’s Iron Dome has shot down more than 1,200 projectiles since going operational in 2011. Constant and sporadic attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria have turned Israel into a hotbed of rocket and mortar activity, and the system just plain works.
Not only do the sensors and shooters track and hit targets reliably, the Iron Dome, unlike other systems, can tell if a projectile is going to miss a target and thereby save a 0,000 interceptor fire.
While the system does not run entirely without error, US and Israeli officials consistently rate the dome as having a 90% success rate on the Gaza border, one of the most active places in the world for ballistic projectiles.
But the US already has missile defenses for its forces.
The US, unlike Israel, which is surrounded by enemies bent on its ultimate destruction, doesn’t get many enemies firing ballistic missiles at its forces. Still, to protect its soldiers, the Army typically deploys Patriot defenses to its bases to protect against short-range missile attacks. In Iraq, the US Army also experimented with a Phalanx gun system that would rapid fire 20mm rounds at incoming rockets and mortars.
Overall, the US Army’s statement announcing the Iron Dome purchase made it clear that this would just be a short-term buy while the US assesses its options.
“The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats… it should be noted that the U.S. Army will assess a variety of options for” the long term, the statement continued.
But the Army is well aware of its own Patriot system and any planned or possible updates.
By buying an Israel system with a great track record and overlooking a US system with a checkered past, the US may have finally admitted its shortcomings in missile defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Air Force scientists and weapons developers are making progress developing swarms of mini-drones engineered with algorithms which enable them to coordinate with one another and avoid collisions.
Senior Air Force officials have said that the precise roles and missions for this type of technology are still in the process of being determined; however, experts and analyst are already discussing numerous potential applications for the technology.
Swarms of drones could cue one another and be able to blanket an area with sensors even if one or two get shot down. The technology could be designed for high threat areas building in strategic redundancy, Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Groups of coordinated small drones could also be used to confuse enemy radar systems and overwhelm advanced enemy air defenses by providing so many targets that they cannot be dealt with all at once, he said.
Zacharias explained that perhaps one small drone can be programmed to function as a swarm leader, with others functioning as ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) platforms, munitions or communications devices. He also said there is great strategic and tactical value in operating a swarm of small drones which, when needed, can disperse.
“Do you want them to fly in formation for a while and then disaggregate to get through the radar and then reaggregate and go to a target? They can jam an enemy radar or not even be seen by them because they are too small. The idea is to dissagregate so as not to be large expensive targets. In this way if you lose one you still may have 100 more,” he explained.
An area of scientific inquiry now being explored for swarms of drones is called “bio-memetics,” an approach which looks at the swarming of actual live animals — such as flocks of birds or insects — as a way to develop algorithms for swarming mini-drone flight, Zacharias added.
“It turns out you can use incredibly simple rules for formation flight of a large flock. It really just takes a few simple rules. If you think of each bird or bee as an agent, it can do really simple things such as determine its position relative to the three nearest objects to it. It is very simple guidance and control stuff,” Zacharias said.
Also, small groups of drones operating together could function as munitions or weapons delivery technology. A small class of mini-drone weapons already exist, such as AeroVironment’s Switchblade drone designed to deliver precision weapons effects. The weapon, which can reach distances up to 10 kilometers, is engineered as a low-cost expendable munition loaded with sensors and munitions.
Air Force plans for new drones are part of a new service strategy to be explained in a paper released last year called “autonomous horizons.” Air Force strategy also calls for greater manned-unmanned teaming between drones and manned aircraft such as F-35s. This kind of effort could help facilitate what Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said about mini-drones launching from a high-speed fighter jet.
In the future, fighter aircraft such as the F-35 or an F-22 may be able to control drones themselves from the cockpit to enhance missions by carrying extra payload, extending a surveillance area or delivering weapons, Air Force scientists have said.
Zacharias explained this in terms of developments within the field of artificial intelligence. This involves faster computer processing technology and algorithms which allow computers to increasingly organize and integrate information by themselves – without needing human intervention. Human will likely operate in a command and control capacity with computers picking the sensing, integration and organization of data, input and various kinds of material. As autonomy increases, the day when multiple drones can be controlled by a single aircraft, such as a fighter jet, is fast approaching.
Drones would deliver weapons, confront the risk of enemy air defenses or conduct ISR missions flying alongside manned aircraft, Zacharias explained.
The Pentagon is in the early phases of developing swarms of mini-drones able launch attacks, jam enemy radar, confuse enemy air defenses and conduct wide-ranging surveillance missions, officials explained.
The effort, which would bring a new range of strategic and tactical advantages to the U.S. military, will be focused on as part of a special Pentagon unit called the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO.
While the office has been in existence for some period of time, it was publically announced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during the recent 2017 budget proposal discussions. The new office will, among other things, both explore emerging technologies and also look at new ways of leveraging existing weapons and platforms.
Carter said swarming autonomous drones are a key part of this broader effort to adapt emerging technologies to existing and future warfighting needs.
“Another project uses swarming autonomous vehicles in all sorts of ways and in multiple domains. In the air, they develop micro-drones that are really fast, really resistant. They can fly through heavy winds and be kicked out the back of a fighter jet moving at Mach 0.9, like they did during an operational exercise in Alaska last year, or they can be thrown into the air by a soldier in the middle of the Iraqi desert,” Carter said. “And for the water, they’ve developed self-driving boats which can network together to do all kinds of missions, from fleet defense to close-in surveillance, without putting sailors at risk. Each one of these leverages the wider world of technology.”
Meanwhile, the Office of Naval Research is also working on drone-swarming technology through an ongoing effort called Low-Cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarming Technology, or LOCUST. This involves groups of small, tube-launched UAVs designed to swarm and overwhelm adversaries, Navy officials explained.
“Researchers continue to push the state-of-the-art in autonomy control and plan to launch 30 autonomous UAVs in 2016 in under a minute,” an ONR statement said last year.
A demonstration of the technology is planned from a ship called a Sea Fighter, a high-speed, shallow-water experimental ship developed by the ONR.
Army Defends Against Mini-Drones
While swarms of mini-drones clearly bring a wide range of tactical offensive and defensive advantages, there is also the realistic prospect that adversaries or potential adversaries could use drone swarms against the U.S.
This is a scenario the services, including the Army in particular, are exploring.
The Army launched swarms of mini-attack drones against battlefield units in mock-combat drills as a way to better understand potential threats expected in tomorrow’s conflicts, service officials said.
Pentagon threat assessment officials have for quite some time expressed concern that current and future enemies of the U.S. military might seek to use massive swarms of mini-drones to blanket an area with surveillance cameras, jam radar signals, deliver weapons or drop small bombs on military units.
As a result, the Army Test and Evaluation Command put these scenarios to the test in the desert as part of the service’s Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
The mini-drones used were inexpensive, off-the-shelf commercial systems likely to be acquired and used by potential adversaries in future conflict scenarios.
The drones were configured to carry special payloads for specific mission functions. Cameras, bomb simulators, expanded battery packs and other systems will be tested on the aircraft to develop and analyze potential capabilities of the drones, an Army statement said.
The mini-drones, which included $1000-dollar quadcopters made by 3-D Robotics, were placed in actual mock-combat scenarios and flown against Army units in test exercises.
“Acting as a member of the opposing force, the drones will be used for short-range missions, and for flooding the airspace to generate disruptive radar signatures. They will also be used as a kind of spotter, using simple video cameras to try and locate Soldiers and units,” an Army statement from before the exercise said.
There were also plans to fit the drones with the ability to drop packets of flour, simulating the ability for the swarm to drop small bombs, allowing the drones to perform short-range strike missions, the Army statement said.
“Right now there’s hardly anyone doing swarms, most people are flying one, maybe two, but any time you can get more than one or two in the air at the same time, and control them by waypoint with one laptop, that’s important,” James Story, an engineer with the Targets Management Office, Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, said in a statement last Fall. “You’re controlling all five of them, and all five of them are a threat.”
A prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been sent back to his native Saudi Arabia to serve out the remainder of a 13-year sentence, making him the first detainee to leave the U.S. base in Cuba since President Donald Trump took office.
The Pentagon announced the transfer of Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi in a brief statement on May 2, 2018. He had originally been scheduled to return home as part of a plea deal no later than Feb. 20, 2018.
Al-Darbi pleaded guilty before a military commission at the U.S. base in Cuba in 2014 to charges stemming from an al-Qaida attack on a French oil tanker. He is expected to serve out the rest of his sentence, about nine years, in a Saudi rehabilitation program as part of a plea deal that included extensive testimony against others held at Guantanamo
His lead defense counsel, Ramzi Kassem, said the transfer was the culmination of “16 long and painful years in captivity” by the U.S. at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, with his children growing up without him and his own father dying.
“While it may not make him whole, my hope is that repatriation at least marks the end of injustice for Ahmed,” said Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who has represented the prisoner since 2008.
Al-Darbi was captured at the airport in Baku, Azerbaijan, in June 2002 and taken to the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan. He has testified to being kept in solitary confinement, strung up from a door in shackles, deprived of sleep and subjected to other forms of abuse as part of his early interrogation.
In a statement released by Kassem, who was part of a legal team that included two military officers, al-Darbi described what he expected to be an emotional reunion with his family in Saudi Arabia.
“I cannot thank enough my wife and our children for their patience and their love. They waited sixteen years for my return,” he said. “Looking at what lies ahead, I feel a mixture of excitement, disbelief, and fear. I’ve never been a father. I’ve been here at Guantanamo. I’ve never held my son.”
His transfer brings the number of men held at Guantanamo to 40, which includes five men facing trial by military commission for their alleged roles planning and supporting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack and another charged with the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Tina M. Ackerman.)
Al-Darbi, 43, pleaded guilty to charges that included conspiracy, attacking civilian objects, terrorism and aiding the enemy for helping to arrange the 2002 al-Qaida attack on the French tanker MV Limburg. The attack, which killed a Bulgarian crew member, happened after al-Darbi was already in U.S. custody and was cooperating with authorities, according to court documents.
Al-Darbi could have received a life sentence but instead got 13 years in the plea deal. He provided testimony against the defendant in the Cole attack as well as against a Guantanamo prisoner charged with overseeing attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2002-2006. Neither case has gone to trial.
Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the war crimes proceedings at Guantanamo, said in a February 2018 Defense Department memo that al-Darbi provided “invaluable assistance” to the U.S.
“Al-Darbi’s testimony in these cases was both unprecedented in its detail regarding al-Qaida operations and crucial to government efforts to hold top members of that group accountable for war crimes,” Martins wrote.
The agreement to repatriate al-Darbi was made under President Barack Obama, whose administration sought to gradually winnow down the prison population in hopes of eventually closing the detention center. Trump reversed that policy and has vowed to continue using the detention center.
In a separate statement on May 2, 2018, the Defense Department said it had sent the White House a proposed set of guidelines for sending prisoners to Guantanamo in the future “should that person present a continuing, significant threat to the security of the United States.” A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to provide any details about the new policy.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are negotiating a major production deal with Netflix, The New York Times reported on March 8, 2018.
The pending deal would bring exclusive content from the Obamas to the streaming site’s 118 million subscribers. It was not immediately clear what types of content they would deliver to the site, but Eric Schultz, a former adviser to the president told the Times: “President and Mrs. Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire.”
Indeed, the Obamas have continued that in the year following their departure from the White House. Additionally, Obama has sought to remain politically engaged, posting messages to Twitter, often in response to major national news.
Barack and Michelle Obama hold massive audiences on social media — 101 million for the former president and more than 10 million for the former first lady. A deal with Netflix could potentially expand their reach even further.
The Times notes that the Obamas have no plans to use Netflix as a vehicle to dish out responses to their critics.
One possible show idea, the newspaper said, could involve Obama discussing topics that were germane to his policies as president — including health care, voting rights, and immigration, The Times said.
Those topics comprise portions of the legislative agenda he exercised during his time in the White House — many of which President Donald Trump has sought to roll back since he took office.
News of the pending deal follows several big tie-ups between Netflix and some Hollywood heavy-hitters — including a $100 million agreement with Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, and a $300 million dollar, five-year deal with Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy.
The financial terms of the potential Obama-Netflix agreement are not yet clear. In 2017, the Obamas reportedly inked a record-setting $60 million deal to write two memoirs — one each for the former two-term president and first lady.
Team Rubicon is used to jumping in head first to support those in need. From serving during natural disasters like earthquakes or supporting the aftermath of a hurricane, they’ve done it all. Or at least they thought they had. The COVID-19 global pandemic may have changed everything, but Team Rubicon was ready.
After watching the slow relief efforts for the devastating earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince in 2010, two marines didn’t like what they saw. So, they decided to change the narrative. Jake Wood and William McNulty gathered supplies, a volunteer group filled with veterans, first responders and medical professionals. Within days they deployed to Haiti.
Team Rubicon was born in those moments and has spent the last decade serving the world. They support those in need by doing things like partnering with Feeding America and coming in to administer aid after natural disasters internationally. Ten years after those marines decided to act, Team Rubicon continues to support the world. It is through this service that they are giving purpose and community to transitioning veterans.
Their mission is to serve the underserved.
Army Reserves Lieutenant Colonel Michael Gorham knows all about the importance of purpose. When he transitioned from active service to the reserves, he was a bit lost himself. He found Team Rubicon in the midst of needing something more in his life. He is now the Deputy Director of operations for California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii. After watching the pandemic wreak havoc on normal volunteer operation capability, he had an idea.
“I was on the next door app and saw people who need a roll of toilet paper…elderly people who were afraid to go out,” said Gorham. So, he started talking about the need for neighborhood support. Within days, Team Rubicon launched a new initiative, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which gave volunteers the ability to safely serve their communities through the pandemic. To date they have over 3,000 acts of service in neighborhoods throughout the country.
That’s not all they are doing.
Team Rubicon is also setting up field hospitals and building COVID-19 testing sites. “Two months ago, nobody would have thought this is where we’d be. We need to be prepared to pivot to help wherever society needs us,” said Gorham. He continued, sharing that Team Rubicon has many opportunities for those who want to serve to get into their communities and make an impact.
Although Team Rubicon has a mission for veterans, you do not have to be one to be a volunteer. “I think Team Rubicon is a space for veterans and like-minded servants. You don’t need to be a veteran or a first responder or have some sort of title in order to be a servant,” shared Gorham. He explained that many people have a deep need to do more and feel like something is missing from their lives and Team Rubicon wants to help fill that.
Gorham shared that the CEO of Team Rubicon has said repeatedly that they are aiming to be the world’s largest volunteer fire department.
They are well on their way.
To learn more about Team Rubicon and how you can serve, click here.