Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS - We Are The Mighty
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Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

ISIS terrorists have taken over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and attracted thousands of new recruits, but the group has also brought some of its former adversaries back into the fight: American military personnel.


Known as the Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL, it is the Islamist militant group responsible for ethnic cleansing, mass rape, and the destruction of antiquities throughout Iraq and Syria. The Arabs fighting the group call them Daesh, which is an acronym of the group’s name in Arabic and also happens to mean “a bigot who imposes his views on others” (and they will cut out your tongue for calling them that).

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
But they’ll hurt or kill you for pretty much anything, so…

The group started out as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, then merged with other groups as Zarqawi was killed and the U.S.-led war in Iraq continued. It took many forms and went underreported in the West until after the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. In 2013, the group split from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni group fighting the Asad government in Syria, declaring a new Islamic State, a caliphate — which muslim groups around the world (including al-Qaeda) flatll condemned. In 2014, when a string of military victories against Iraqi government forces saw Daesh approaching Baghdad on one front and trapping thousands of ethnic Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq. The Yazidis were sure to be slaughtered if Daesh forces caught up to them. Who saved the Yazidis from certain death? The Kurds.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
If this were a video, they’d be walking in slow motion.

The Kurdish militia in Iraq, the Peshmerga, are the most effective fighting force in the region. Their sister service in Syria, the YPG, are battle hardened from fighting the Asad government and other Islamist faction in the Civil War since 2011. NATO air power provided cover for the already-capable Kurdish ground forces makes the Kurdish militia the best hope for pushing Daesh back into Syria and then cutting off their ability to win followers and wage war. Daesh is well-armed, well-equipped, and well-financed, while the Kurdish Peshmerga need all the help they can get.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
A Jewish volunteer spray-painted on the walls of a captured ISIS stronghold (FB Photo: Lions of Rojava)

Reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War before World War II — when foreigners flocked to that fight — people are coming from all over the world to fight ISIS. Called Heval (“friend”) by their Kurdish allies, Americans are joining the Peshmerga’s International Brigade, the Syrian YPG’s Lions of Rojava, or a number of other Kurdish units fighting Daesh, and two-thirds of them are U.S. military veterans. Former Army reservists, Marines, Rangers, and other U.S. military veterans are coming by the dozens, lest the Daesh brand of violence engulf the whole world, like Fascism did after the Spanish Civil War. Each has their own reason for coming, each left their own lives behind.

Jordan Matson, from Wisconsin, was among the first to volunteer. He didn’t spend a long time in the Army, but he’s ready to stay with the Kurds for the long haul.

As of September 2015, the YPG boasted more than a hundred American ex-military members. The Peshmerga had only a handful, as those who are discovered by U.S. forces in Iraq are routinely forced away from the front.

Sean Rowe is from Jacksonville, Florida. He did two tours in Iraq while in the Army.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

“This is something I feel compelled to do,” Rowe told his hometown newspaper. “Women and children are being slaughtered over there. They need our help. I know we can make a difference.” Rowe is an Ohio native who founded Veterans Against ISIS so he could “take the fight to them.”

Bruce Windorski is a 40-year-old former Army Ranger from Wisconsin. He is fighting in Syria with Jamie Lane, a decorated Marine veteran from California. Windorski’s brother was killed when his helicopter was shot down in Kirkuk. He originally ventured to Kirkuk to make peace with that. He went to fight in Syria instead. Lane saw footage of ISIS capturing Anbar province, where he served during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
Lane in Iraq

“My friends were killed on these very streets,” Lane told the Wall Street Journal. “I felt a big part of my PTSD is trying to find a reason for that mayhem and bloodshed, and I thought maybe if I go back I can fill that hole.”

Lane joined through the Lions of Rojava Facebook Page, which advertises: “Welcome to our Family Brothers and Sisters. Join YPG…and send ISIS terrorists to Hell and save Humanity.” Some even come back to America to help other veterans get into the fight. Lu Lobello of Las Vegas, Nev. is one such veteran.

“America is not fighting Islamic State,” Lobello, a Marine, told the Wall Street Journal. “But Americans are.”

In the video above, the Americans recall being pinned down as ISIS fighters closed in on their position, saved at the last minute by an armored Kurdish bulldozer. They hopped in while the driver covered their movement and drove the dozer with his feet.

“There’s evil in this world that needs to be dealt with,” Kurt Taylor, a former soldier from Texas told Fox News. “They’re no joke. They’re very disciplined, highly effective fighters. If we’re not careful, they’ll win.”

With Taylor is an unnamed Marine from Washington State and Aaron Core, a former Tennessee National Guardsman whose tour in Iraq ended in 2010. When the terrorist organization killed journalist James Foley in August of 2014, he was determined to come back. They do not get paid for their time with the Kurds.

Samantha Johnston left her three children with a care taker and came to Iraq to help the children there.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

“These children here who are homeless, orphaned; mothers and sisters have been raped and sold, fathers who have been killed,” Johnston told the Daily Mail. “They are suffering, and I knew that I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. I couldn’t look my children in the eyes and say, ‘I didn’t do anything to help.'”

Patrick Maxwell is a real estate agent in Austin, Texas. When he was in Iraq as part of his Marine Corps duties, he never saw the enemy, never fired a shot. Maxwell, who separated in 2011 and had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life, still considers himself a warrior.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
Maxwell in a YouTube video

“I figured if I could walk away from here and kill as many of the bad guys as I could,” Maxwell told the New York Times. “That would be a good thing.”

Roberto Pena joined the Marines in 2001 and deployed to Iraq in 2003. He fought as a Rifleman in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 and fully understands the risks of going back to fight ISIS today.

“It’s about humanity itself,” he told NBC San Diego. “We cannot let atrocities continue to happen and history keep repeating itself, where we just turn a blind eye.”

This month, a UK-based investigative journalism organization called Bellingcat released the results of a study it conducted on why Americans go to fight ISIS. Like the few mentioned here, some go out of a sense of moral need, some go for religious beliefs, and some are veterans who struggle to rejoin civilian life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klNTv9P8sYg

Americans who go off to Iraq and Syria to join Daesh face numerous criminal charges if they return. That isn’t so for those going off to fight them. Governments of Canada and the Netherlands openly say there are no consequences for citizens going to fight ISIS in Iraq or Syria.

Running off to join the Kurdish fighters is easy, but not without its risks, of course. In June, Keith Broomfield of Massachusetts died during the battle for Kobani, a town on the Syrian-Turkish border. Broomfield believed a divine message told him to fight for the Kurds. Turkey has since entered the conflict and as part of its ongoing war with Kurdish separatists, has taken to bombing Kurdish positions where Western fighters might gather before advancing on ISIS positions. Looming large, too, is the prospect of being captured by Daesh.

The Peshmerga have since stopped accepting foreign volunteers. Other militias still do, but since most of the groups in the field in the region, including the YPG’s sister militia in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers Party (or PKK) are considered terror groups by the United States and allies, the unwary volunteer my end up fighting for the wrong side.

 

NOW: Meet the “Angel of Death” who’s trolling and killing ISIS fighters

OR: This 25 year old mom left her three kids behind to fight ISIS

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Skunk Works’ next classic will be a drone

Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works, the creators of iconic aircraft like the SR-71 Blackbird, F-22 Raptor, and F-117 Nighthawk, is now turning its skills towards drone helicopters.


The Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded Systems is designed as a autonomous, vertical take-off drone that can be attached to vehicles, cargo capsules, casualty evacuation pods, and other payloads.

The entire system could be controlled by troops in the field with tablets and phones and would require a landing area half the size of a helicopter of similar strength.

Currently, the Marine Corps is leading the requirements planning for the drone, but they hope to get the other services involved to help share costs. The craft begins ground tests in Jan. 2016 and is scheduled for flight tests in Jun. 2016.

Lockheed Martin already has one autonomous helicopter to their credit. The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter supported Marines in Afghanistan. The K-MAX flew on its own between destinations while remote pilots took over for sensitive maneuvers.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Military families call for the right to withhold rent in privatized housing disputes

Army Col. Scott Gerber said he had to pay out-of-pocket for an independent inspector to verify mold infestation and water damage in his home in an effort to get the attention of the private company running base housing at Fort Meade, Maryland.


Military spouse Linda Gherdovich said she had similar problems with mold at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.

“The only reason we knew [it was there] was because our kids were getting sick,” she said.

Gherdovich said she had to pay ,700 to an outside inspector to verify her claims, and she’s still fighting to get reimbursement.

In testimony Tuesday before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Gerber and Gherdovich echoed the demands of other military families for an expansion of the recently approved Tenant Bill of Rights to let them withhold rent in disputes over repairs and maintenance of privatized military housing.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

And in a following panel the same day, representatives from four military housing companies said that they supported giving that right to military families.

They also expressed varying levels of regret for the military housing problems that have been detailed in numerous reports and hearings, including mold and pest infestation, poor performance on fulfilling work orders, and negligence in responding to tenants’ complaints.

In his prepared statement, Richard Taylor, president of Balfour Beatty Communities, said, “I would like to begin by saying that we sincerely apologize for having fallen short of the high standards our nation’s military families deserve.

“We fully accept that we must make improvements, and we are determined to regain the trust and confidence of our residents and our military partners,” he added.

On Feb. 25, the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the secretaries of the service branches had signed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights, which was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

There were 15 provisions in the bill, including “the right to a written lease with clearly defined rental terms” and “the right to reside in a housing unit and a community that meets applicable health and environmental standards.”

The Pentagon’s announcement acknowledged that three rights were missing from the list — access for tenants to a maintenance history of their units, a detailed process for dispute resolution, and the withholding of rent until disputes are resolved.

The military will work with the private companies and Congress to get those three provisions added to the list, the Pentagon said at the time.

At the hearing, Gerber said the right to withhold rent is vital to leveling the playing field with the private companies.

He said he and his wife, Sandy, “lived through two mold-infested homes,” adding “our situation wasn’t unique.”

Military families need “the ability to hold that contractor accountable. We need an easy mechanism to stop that [Basic Allowance for Housing]” from going to the private companies during disputes, Gerber said.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

In a separate panel at the hearing, representatives of four companies managing private housing on military bases said they are in favor of adding the ability to withhold rent and the other two missing provisions to the Tenant Bill of Rights.

Denis Hickey, chief executive officer of Lendlease Americas, said under questioning, “We realize we can and must do more” to improve conditions.

“Obviously, some of our families feel our company has come up short,” said Jeff Guild, vice president of Lincoln Military Housing. The company is resolved to “repairing a culture of trust with our residents,” he added.

Heath Burleson, a senior vice president at Corvias Group, said the company had gotten away in the past from the “basic blocking and tackling” needed to keep homes in good repair. “I believe we’re on the right path, but we’re not done,” he said.

After listening to the company representatives, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, the subcommittee’s chair, said, “all of your testimony is very nice now, [but] the system was set up as a gravy train for your companies.” There’s no accountability to military families, she added.

“It is outrageous,” she said.

The military contributed to the failures of the system through inattention and poor oversight of the performance of the private companies involved in military housing, said Pete Potochney, the acting assistant secretary of defense for sustainment.

“The fact that we’re having this hearing and others like it is saddening,” Potchney said. “We simply took our eye off the ball” over the years in oversight of military housing.

“We sure as hell didn’t do a great job,” he added.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

Iran wants to join the ‘carrier club’

Iran has decided it wants to join the aircraft carrier club, with Tehran’s Deputy Navy Commander for Coordination making a statement to Iran’s Fars News Agency.


According to a report by the Times of Israel, Adm. Peiman Jafari Tehrani reportedly said, “Building an aircraft carrier is also among the goals pursued by the navy and we hope to attain this objective.”

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Noble

Currently, the United States, India, China, Russia, Brazil, and France operate conventional aircraft carriers. Spain, Japan, Italy, and Thailand operate aircraft carriers for short take-off, vertical landing aircraft — with the United Kingdom in the midst of building two. India also operates an old V/STOL carrier.

Iran has a substantial domestic arms industry and has built its own warships, including the Peykan-class missile boats and the Jamaran-class frigates.

Iran also claims to have deployed the Bavar 373, a knock-off of the SA-10 anti-aircraft missile, and to have copied the RQ-170, an example of which was captured in 2011. Iran also has built modified versions of the Northrop F-5, known as the Saeqeh.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. | Wikimedia photo by Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the Iranian navy to look into constructing nuclear-powered military vessels, according to a report by the Daily Caller. Currently, only the United States, India, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France have such vessels in service.

2016 was notable for a number of incidents where Iranian forces harassed or threatened United States Navy personnel.

In January, Iran held a number of U.S. sailors for 15 hours after one of the boats there were on had engine trouble. This past summer, Iranian harassment reached the point where USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots.

United States Navy aircraft received threatening messages from Iran in September. The following month, Iranian-backed rebels damaged HSV 2 Swift, a former U.S. Navy vessel, then carried out multiple attacks on the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason, prompting retaliation from the Mason’s sister ship, USS Nitze (DDG 94).

Articles

The most important battlefield innovation is not a weapon

Great aircraft and vehicles aren’t very useful without somewhere to park them, and troops need good cover to keep them safe from attacks. So, for all the innovations coming out of DARPA and the weapons being developed by the military, it’s the humble Hesco barrier that became an icon of security in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The barriers are a staple of deployed-life where they formed many of the outer perimeters and interior walls for NATO installations.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
Photo: US Navy Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael B. Watkins

Originally invented by a former British miner to shore up loose earth in his backyard, the Hesco was first used for military defense in the Gulf War. The basic Hesco design is a wire mesh crate with fabric liner that can be folded flat for storage and transportation. To deploy them, engineers simply open them up and fill them with dirt and rocks. When they want to get fancy about a permanent wall, they can then apply a concrete slurry to the sides and top to seal them.

Even without a slurry added, the walls provided impressive protection. A group of engineers in Afghanistan in 2005 had a limited space to build their wall and so modified the barriers to be thinner. They then tested the modified version against static explosives, RPGs, and 40mm grenades. This thinner version was heavily damaged but still standing at the end of the test. In the video below, go to the 0:45 mark to skip straight to the tests.

Hescos even provide concealment from the enemy while troops are putting them in.

The famous Restrepo Outpost was constructed by soldiers who slipped up to a summit they needed to capture at night and began building fortifications around themselves. They dug shallow trenches for immediate cover and then began to fill Hescos with dirt and rocks for greater protection. When the enemy fired on them to stop construction, some troops would fire back while others would get down and keep pitching rocks into the barriers.

A similar method of construction under fire was used by soldiers in the Battle of Shal Mountain.

Though the original Hesco were great, the company still updates the design. When the military complained that breaking down Hesco walls took too long, the company created a recoverable design with a removable pin that would allow the dirt to fall out. Later, they developed an apparatus that could be attached to a crane to remove multiple units at once.

To rapidly build new perimeter walls like those needed to expand Bagram Airfield as the NATO footprint grew, a trailer was developed that could deploy the barriers in a long line. Each trailer can deploy a barrier wall over 1,000 feet long.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIqDEO7Z7DM

The barriers were so popular with troops that multiple people named animals rescued from Afghanistan after them.

NOW: Here’s how the military takes civilian tech and makes it more awesome

OR: Boeing has patented a ‘Star Wars’-style force field

MIGHTY TRENDING

Martin Luther King Jr.: Planting trees in whose shade he would never sit

On September 20, 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. arrived at the Blumstein’s department store in Harlem, New York for a book signing. His new book “Stride Toward Freedom” chronicled the Montgomery bus boycott that began when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. The boycott had come to a close in December of 1956, when the Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public buses was indeed unconstitutional. It was a watershed moment for both the Civil Rights movement and for America itself.

As a crowd formed in the shoe section of Blumstein’s, King took his seat behind a roped-off section of the store. Soon, eager readers were lining up to catch a moment of the influential figure’s time and his signature for their book. He exchanged brief pleasantries with each person as they approached the table, and as a 42-year-old woman in a stylish outfit and sequined cat’s eye-glasses took her turn, King’s demeanor was no different.

“Are you Martin Luther King?” The woman reportedly asked through a notable southern accent.

“Yes,” King replied, but before he could go on any further, the seemingly ordinary woman threw herself at the table and the man behind it, plunging a seven-inch pen knife into King’s chest.

Bystanders responded by pulling the woman away from King and pinning her on the floor as she shouted, “I’ve been after him for six years. I’m glad I done it!”

King, a man who was no stranger to threats, seemed somehow stoically calm, despite the serious bleeding from his chest. As his fans and supporters surrounded him, ushering him toward medical help, he was heard counseling them, soothing their collective anxieties as though he knew everything was going to be okay.

“That’s all right. Everything is going to be all right,” King was heard saying.

Of course, King couldn’t know it would be all right. Maybe it was just in his nature to ease the burden on others. With the knife still in his chest, King was lifted in his chair and carried out to an ambulance that would rush him to Harlem Hospital. Shortly thereafter, the police would march the same dangerous woman back into King’s company. This time there were no books to sign. The police wanted him to confirm that the women they had in custody was indeed his attacker. When they’d placed her under arrest, they also recovered a loaded .25 caliber pistol from her bra.

Related: THE STUNNING COMBAT HISTORY OF THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN

Despite the terrible attack, King was lucky. The seven-inch knife had punctured his chest just a fraction of an inch away from his aorta, or the main artery that carried blood from his heart to the rest of his body. King, who remained conscious and soothing throughout the ordeal, had only narrowly escaped death, but the risk hadn’t passed. He was rushed into surgery, where he had two ribs removed from his side to allow the knife to be pulled out without causing further damage.

“The X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery,” Dr. King later said in his famed ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop’ speech.

“And once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.”

He would leave the hospital days later with a new scar in the shape of a cross over his heart. Despite the brutal attack, he was resolute when questioned by the press: He bore no ill will toward the woman who had stabbed him and reaffirmed his position that non-violence is the only way to manifest the type of positive change he sought for his country.

The attacker, whose name was Izola Curry, didn’t look like the sort of person most would expect to attack Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Curry was a fashionable middle-aged Black woman, but beneath her polished exterior laid a turbulent and troubled mind. Curry was a paranoid schizophrenic who had struggled with her mental health for years. In her confused state, she’d grown convinced that King and the NAACP were conspiring with communists against her. To King, however, the attack was a symptom of a greater illness than even Curry’s schizophrenia.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

“A climate of hatred and bitterness so permeates areas of our nation that inevitably deeds of extreme violence must erupt,” he said at the time.

“The experience of these last few days has deepened my faith in the relevance of the spirit of nonviolence, if necessary social change is peacefully to take place.”

King would continue to change the world for another decade, before yet another act of violence would rob him of the remainder of his life. It could be argued that, as of that fateful day in 1958, he was acutely aware of the risk his efforts posed to his safety. If he did feel fear somewhere beneath the obvious empathy he felt for the woman who attacked him, however, it never showed. King did not shy away from his work, nor his beliefs, no matter the risk.

Related: 3 BLACK SERVICE MEMBERS WHO HELPED SHAPE HISTORY

Now, as we prepare to honor the memory and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. some 63-years after his death, the story of the near fatal attack offers some uncomfortable parallels with today’s America. As rhetoric about race, mental illness, and the danger of radicalized beliefs permeate our national discourse today just as it did in 1958, we could all learn something from King’s ability to find a catalyst for positive change in even the darkest of places.

In King’s final public speech, he recalled the 1958 attack and how close he came to death… but even amid telling the story, King’s focus was not on his own mortality, but rather on the goodness he found in others as a result of the experience, and the progress he envisioned for America to come.

He told the story of a 9-year-old white girl who wrote to him to say that she’d read that if he had sneezed while the blade was in his chest, he almost certainly would have died.

“And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze,” King recounted.

King went on to echo the young girl’s sentiment, using it to remind the audience about the important steps the Civil Rights movement had made in the years that followed. King didn’t recount these events like he was listing his own victories, but there was an air of pride about his statements. King, like so many great Americans before him, saw each victory and failure as another part of the struggle that has defined America since its very inception. America, he knew, has always been defined by the aspiration for a better tomorrow, the drive to become a more perfect union.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
(Public Domain)

“If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.

I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.”

For all of his philosophical wisdom, King was, at his heart, a pragmatic man. He saw the complexity, the hate, the love, the anger, and the joy all woven into the fabric of his nation. He knew his goals were grander than one man, no matter his eloquence and empathy. He knew that the progress he helped usher in was delicate, and that the fight for our nation’s soul was far from over. King knew America would never be perfect… but importantly, he knew that it was in the effort, in the aspiration, that America’s true greatness had always, and will always, lie.

Related: GENERAL CHARLES “CQ” BROWN CONFIRMED AS AMERICA’S FIRST BLACK SERVICE CHIEF

In a way, it’s deeply tragic that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to look out over the crowd of supporters that had gathered on that April day in 1968 and know that he wouldn’t be there to see America embrace the equality he longed for… but King was a great American. Like our Founding Fathers, King knew that a society grows great when men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. Progress, like a tree, needs time to take root.

Today, our nation continues to struggle with some of the same issues it faced during King’s days of fighting for equality, as well as daunting new ones that stretch beyond the horizon. America has always been imperfect, but our greatness doesn’t lie in what we are. The real America has always been found in what we, its people, strive to become.

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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This soldier risked everything to save his friend in Tal Afar

Gary Villalobos left his civilian life to join the United States Army. By 2005, he found himself in Tal Afar, Iraq, as Sgt. First Class Villalobos. It was there he learned the true meaning of fear — and what it takes to overcome that fear to try and save one of his own.


“What I think about when I think about my four deployments in Iraq, I’m glad I was part of it,” Villalobos says. “I took part in something greater than myself, something significant. But most importantly, you know what I think about is the hundreds of people, the hundreds of soldiers that I connected with at a different level. Shared hardships really bring people together.”

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
Villalobos in Iraq.
(Courtesy Gary Villalobos)

Now-Master Sgt. Gary Villalobos came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1970, moving into a small shack near the beach behind his grandmother’s house in California. By the time he graduated from high school, he had a job that wasn’t going anywhere. It was just after the 1991 Gulf War and young Gary watched as that war’s heroes were greeted triumphantly upon their return to the U.S.

So, he went to an Army recruiter. Twelve years later, the United States invaded Iraq and, in 2005, Villalobos was in Tal Afar for only a month before he found himself directing Iraqi soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry to take on an insurgent group and capture their leaders.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
(AARP Studios)

Villalobos and Army officer Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe took 14 Iraqi Army troops on a patrol to capture those leaders, stepping into an alleyway — an alleyway that was also an ambush killzone.

The Army officer took the full brunt of at least four AK-47s, not one shot hitting above his waist. .

Villalobos tried to suppress their fire but the incoming sounded like it was coming from all sides. Gunfire poured in on Villalobos and the patrol as he tried to make sense of the ambush. He suddenly realized he had an edge and chucked his only grenade as hard as he could into the ambush. The firing stopped and he was able to pull his officer out.

The enemy melted away.

Back to FOB Sykes, Villalobos learned Col. Crowe didn’t make it.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Terrence Crowe.

Crowe and Villalobos went on numerous patrols together and became quite close. They went on nearly every mission together. Crowe was a native of Upstate New York and was a talented carpenter in his civilian life.

“He treated me with dignity and respect,” Villalobos says. “Part of the reason I feel guilty is because I was not in the front, where I should have been. He should have been in the rear, or at least the middle… but not point man.”

Villalobos was awarded the Silver Star for making sure he pulled Crowe out of the ambush. To him, it’s the most important award, representing the sacrifice that Colonel Crowe made.

“I don’t see it as something I earned… I just wanted to get Colonel Crowe out of there,” he says.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Don’t believe it: Chuck Norris is not dead

The celebrity dead rumor mill is at it again. This time the (supposed) victim is Chuck Norris. According to rumors circulating on social media, the 80-year-old martial arts action movie star and Air Force veteran was felled by the novel coronavirus.

What fools these mortals be.


Norris, who served in the Air Force in Korea and beyond, is alive and well still, and maybe forever. He’s just the latest target of the endless rumor mill surrounding celebrity deaths — a rumor mill that had better watch its back.

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

Especially if it’s going to target Chuck Norris. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Corporal Ben Eberle)

Celebrities are frequently the targets of such rumors, dating all the way back to Mark Twain, who was famously reached for comment about his own death in a June 1897 issue of the New York Journal. Beyonce, Clint Eastwood and — arguably the most famous — Paul McCartney have all supposedly died before their time.

The age of COVID-19 has brought out a lot of new rumors surrounding celebrity deaths, given the misunderstandings about the virus and its lethality. Many celebrities have (really) contracted it, including actors Tom Hanks and Tony Shalhoub, singer-songwriter Pink and even the UK’s Prince Charles. All went into isolation to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chuck Norris isn’t one of those. Chuck Norris puts the coronavirus in isolation.

According to the Poynter Institute, the Chuck Norris rumor comes from a Facebook post on June 11th in the group “Are You Not Entertained?” It read:

“Corona Virus claims a black belt. Carlos Ray ‘Chuck’ Norris, famous actor and fighter, died yesterday afternoon at his home in Northwood Hills, TX at the age of 80.”

Like many things on Facebook, readers apparently only read one part of the gag and then ran with it to spread the “news” among their networks. If they had kept reading, they would have arrived at the obvious joke.

“However, after his minor inconvenience of death, Chuck has made a full recovery, and is reported to be doing quite well. It has also been reported that the Corona virus is in self isolation for 14 days due to being exposed to Chuck Norris.”

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(Are You Not Entertained/Facebook)

Remember to keep a skeptical eye toward rumors of celebrity deaths. Just because your favorite celebrity’s name is trending somewhere, doesn’t mean they’ve met their maker. They might have instead met Chuck Norris.

As for Chuck, when Chuck Norris actually decides to die, you’ll know. Chuck Norris doesn’t cheat death, he wins fair and square.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Saddam Hussein buried Iraq’s air force in the desert

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 looking for nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, American troops found a lot of bizarre things – toilets and guns made of gold, a Koran written in blood and Saddam’s romance novel. While they didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, they did manage to find some weapons. Specifically, they found aircraft buried in the sand next to a perfectly good airfield.


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Iraqi Freedom

One day in 2003, American forces near al-Taqqadum Air Base in Iraq began pulling scores of Mig-25 Foxbat fighters and SU-25 Frog Foot fighter-bombers out of the sand. The aircraft were missing wings but, for the most part, remained fairly well-kept despite being in the sand for who-knows-how-long. If Saddam wasn’t giving inoperable planes a good burial, one wonders why he would intentionally put his planes in the ground.

The answer starts with the fact that the Iraqi Air Force sucked at defending Iraqi airspace.

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But they were suuuuuuper good at bolting to other countries to escape the enemy.

In the Iran-Iraq War that lasted until the late 1980s, the Iraqi Air Force could reasonably hold its own against the superior U.S.- bought aircraft flown by the Islamic Republic of Iran at the time. But Iranian fighter pilots were very, very good and Iraqi pilots usually had to flee the skies before the onslaught of Iranian F-14 Tomcats. Against other Middle Eastern powers, however, Saddam Hussein’s air power could actually make a difference in the fighting – but that’s just against Middle Eastern countries. The United States was another matter.

Iraqi pilots were ready to go defend their homeland from the U.S.-led invasion, but the Iraqi dictator would have none of it. He knew what American technology could do to his aircraft, especially now that the U.S. was flying the F-22. They would get torn to shreds. He also remembered what his pilots did in the first Gulf War when sent to defend the homeland. They flew their fighters to the relative safety of Iran rather than face annihilation, and Iran never gave them back.

Saddam wanted his air force. So he decided to keep them all safe.

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(US Air Force)

At al-Taqqadum and al-Asad air bases, the dictator ordered that his most advanced fighters be stripped and buried in the sand near the airfields. In retrospect, this was probably a good decision for the aircraft. Whatever was left unburied was quickly and forcibly dismantled by the U.S. Air Force on the ground during the invasion. In trying to fight off the Coalition of the Willing, Iraq’s air forces all but disappeared.

Saddam hoped that by saving the aircraft in the sand, he could prevent their destruction and when he was ready (because he assumed he would still be in power after all was said and done), he could unbury them and use their advanced status to terrify his enemies and neighbors.

That, of course, didn’t happen.

Articles

How much of a threat does Russia pose to NATO and the US?

How much of a threat do Russia’s emerging 5th-generation stealth fighter, nuclear arsenal, high-tech air defenses, anti-satellite weapons, conventional army and submarines pose to NATO and the U.S.?


Current tensions between Russia and NATO are leading many to carefully assess this question and examine the current state of weaponry and technological sophistication of the Russian military — with a mind to better understanding the extent of the kinds of threats they may pose.

Naturally, Russia’s military maneuvers and annexation of the Crimean peninsula have many Pentagon analysts likely wondering about and assessing the pace of Russia’s current military modernization and the relative condition of the former Cold War military giant’s forces, platforms and weaponry.

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A T-90A battle tank in Moscow | Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin

Russia has clearly postured itself in response to NATO as though it can counter-balance or deter the alliance, however some examinations of Russia’s current military reveals questions about its current ability to pose a real challenge to NATO in a prolonged, all-out military engagement.

Nevertheless, Russia continues to make military advances and many Pentagon experts and analysts have expressed concern about NATO’s force posture in Eastern Europe regarding whether it is significant enough to deter Russia from a possible invasion of Eastern Europe.

Also, Russia’s economic pressures have not slowed the countries’ commitment to rapid military modernization and the increase of defense budgets, despite the fact that the country’s military is a fraction of what it was during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s.

While the former Cold War giant’s territories and outermost borders are sizeably less than they were in the 1980s, Russia’s conventional land, air and sea forces are trying to expand quickly, transition into the higher-tech information age and steadily pursue next generation platforms.

Russia’s conventional and nuclear arsenal is a small piece of what it was during the Cold War, yet the country is pursuing a new class of air-independent submarines, a T-50 stealth fighter jet, next-generation missiles and high-tech gear for individual ground soldiers.

A think-tank known as The National Interest has recently published a number of reports about the technological progress now being made by Russian military developers.  The various write-ups include reporting on new Russian anti-satellite weapons, T-14 Armata tanks, air defenses and early plans for a hypersonic, 6th-generation fighter jet, among other things. Russia is unambiguously emphasizing military modernization and making substantial progress, the reports from The National Interest and other outlets indicate.

For instance, Russia has apparently conducted a successful test launch of its Nudol direct ascent anti-satellite missile, according to The National Interest.

“This is the second test of the new weapon, which is capable of destroying satellites in space. The weapon was apparently launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility north of Moscow,” the report from The National Interest writes.

In addition, The National Interests’ Dave Majumdar reported that Russian Airborne Forces are set to form six armored companies equipped with newly modified T-72B3M  tanks in the second half of 2016. Over the next two years, those six companies will be expanded to battalion strength, the report states.

Russia is also reportedly developing a so-called “Terminator 3” tank support fighting vehicle.

During the Cold War, the Russian defense budget amounted to nearly half of the country’s overall expenditures.

Now, the countries’ military spending draws upon a smaller percentage of its national expenditure. However, despite these huge percentage differences compared to the 1980s, the Russian defense budget is climbing again. From 2006 to 2009, the Russian defense budget jumped from $25 billion up to $50 billion according to Business Insider – and the 2013 defense budget is listed elsewhere at $90 billion.

Overall, the Russian conventional military during the Cold War – in terms of sheer size – was likely five times what it is today.

Overall, the Russian military had roughly 766,000 active front line personnel in 2013 and as many as 2.4 million reserve forces, according to globalfirepower.com. During the Cold War, the Russian Army had as many as three to four million members.

By the same 2013 assessment, the Russian military is listed as having more than 3,000 aircraft and 973 helicopters. On the ground, Globalfirepower.com says Russia has 15-thousand tanks, 27,000 armored fighting vehicles and nearly 6,000 self-propelled guns for artillery. While the Russian military may not have a conventional force the sheer size of its Cold War force, they have made efforts to both modernized and maintain portions of their mechanized weaponry and platforms. The Russian T-72 tank, for example, has been upgraded numerous times since its initial construction in the 1970s.

On the overall Naval front, Globalfirepower.com assesses the Russian Navy as having 352 ships, including one aircraft carrier, 13 destroyers and 63 submarines. The Black Sea is a strategically significant area for Russia in terms of economic and geopolitical considerations as it helps ensure access to the Mediterranean.

Analysts have also said that the Russian military made huge amounts of conventional and nuclear weapons in the 80s, ranging from rockets and cruise missiles to very effective air defenses.

In fact, the Russian-built S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft air defenses, if maintained and modernized, are said to be particularly effective, experts have said.

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A prototype of Russia’s fifth-generation jet, the PAK FA. | Wikipedia Commons

Citing Russian news reports, the National Interest reported that the Russians are now testing a new, S-500 air defense systems able to reportedly reach targets up to 125 miles.

In the air, the Russian have maintained their 1980s built Su-27 fighter jets, which have been postured throughout strategic areas by the Russian military.

Often compared to the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 Eagle fighter, the Su-27 is a maneuverable twin engine fighter built in the 1980s and primarily configured for air superiority missions.

Rand Wargame

While many experts maintain that NATO’s size, fire-power, air supremacy and technology would ultimately prevail in a substantial engagement with Russia, that does not necessarily negate findings from a recent Rand study explaining that NATO would be put in a terrible predicament should Russia invade the Baltic states.

The current NATO force structure in Eastern Europe would be unable to withstand a Russian invasion into neighboring Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the Rand study has concluded.

After conducting an exhaustive series of wargames wherein “red” (Russian) and “blue” (NATO) forces engaged in a wide range of war scenarios over the Baltic states, a Rand Corporation study called “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank” determined that a successful NATO defense of the region would require a much larger air-ground force than what is currently deployed.

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In particular, the study calls for a NATO strategy similar to the Cold War era’s “AirLand Battle” doctrine from the 1980s.  During this time, the U.S. Army stationed at least several hundred thousand troops in Europe as a strategy to deter a potential Russian invasion. Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that there are currenty 30,000 U.S. Army soldiers in Europe.

The Rand study maintains that, without a deterrent the size of at least seven brigades, fires and air support protecting Eastern Europe, that Russia cold overrun the Baltic states as quickly as in 60 hours.

“As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options,” the study writes.

“AirLand” Battle was a strategic warfighting concept followed by U.S. and allied forces during the Cold War which, among other things, relied upon precise coordination between a large maneuvering mechanized ground force and attack aircraft overhead.  As part of the approach, air attacks would seek to weaken enemy assets supporting front line enemy troops by bombing supply elements in the rear. As part of the air-ground integration, large conventional ground forces could then more easily advance through defended enemy front line areas.

A rapid assault on the Baltic region would leave NATO with few attractive options, including a massive risky counterattack, threatening a nuclear weapons option or simply allowing the Russian to annex the countries.

One of the limited options cited in the study could include taking huge amounts of time to mobilize and deploy a massive counterattack force which would likely result in a drawn-out, deadly battle. Another possibility would be to threaten a nuclear option, a scenario which seems unlikely if not completely unrealistic in light of the U.S. strategy to decrease nuclear arsenals and discourage the prospect of using nuclear weapons, the study finds.

A third and final option, the report mentions, would simply be to concede the Baltic states and immerse the alliance into a much more intense Cold War posture. Such an option would naturally not be welcomed by many of the residents of these states and would, without question, leave the NATO alliance weakened if not partially fractured.

The study spells out exactly what its wargames determined would be necessary as a credible, effective deterrent.

“Gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states,” the study writes.

During the various scenarios explored for the wargame, its participants concluded that NATO resistance would be overrun quickly in the absence of a larger mechanized defensive force posture.

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NATO military forces

“The absence of short-range air defenses in the U.S. units, and the minimal defenses in the other NATO units, meant that many of these attacks encountered resistance only from NATO combat air patrols, which were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The result was heavy losses to several Blue (NATO) battalions and the disruption of the counterattack,” the study states.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia could be likely Russian targets because all three countries are in close proximity to Russia and spent many years as part of the former Soviet Union, the study maintains.

“Also like Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia are home to sizable ethnic Russian populations that have been at best unevenly integrated into the two countries’ post-independence political and social mainstreams and that give Russia a self-justification for meddling in Estonian and Latvian affairs,” the study explains.

The Rand study maintains that, while expensive, adding brigades would be a worthy effort for NATO.

Buying three brand-new ABCTs and adding them to the U.S. Army would not be inexpensive—the up-front costs for all the equipment for the brigades and associated artillery, air defense, and other enabling units runs on the order of $13 billion. However, much of that gear—especially the expensive Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles—already exists,” the study says.

The actual NATO troop presence in Eastern Europe is something that is still under consideration, a recent report in Military.com sites sources saying NATO is now considering adding more troops to its Eastern flank as a way to further deter Russia.

However, while the Pentagon’s ongoing European Reassurance Initiative calls for additional funds, forces and force rotations through Europe in coming years, it is unclear whether their ultimate troop increases will come anywhere near what Rand recommends.

At the same time, the Pentagon’s $3.4 Billion ERI request does call for an increased force presence in Europe as well as “fires,” “pre-positioned stocks” and “headquarters” support for NATO forces.

Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that more solidarity exercises with NATO allies in Europe are also on the horizon, and that more manpower could also be on the way.

For example, an exercise known as Swift Response 16 began May 27 and is scheduled to run through June 26 in Poland and Germany; it include more than 5,000 soldiers and airmen from the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how soldiers illegally brewed beer on deployment

Alcohol is a staple of military culture and troops have been consuming it en masse since the first sailor left port for lands unknown. But as times have changed, so, too, have the rules of consumption. Since the good ol’ days, the rules for drinking have become much stricter — especially in combat zones. But, that doesn’t stop service members from finding a way to get their fix.

Reddit user Lapsed_Pacifist shared a story of how he and his buddies essentially made home brews out of their makeshift barracks room during one of their deployments — violating the UCMJ for a cold one.


If you plan to brew beer out of your barracks room (we don’t recommend it), make sure you do plenty of research beforehand and exercise extreme caution — and, of course, don’t go telling people we gave you the idea.

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Of course, no one has control over what someone else sends them… Right?

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brian Ferguson)

It all started when a soldier deployed to Iraq wanted the taste of the sweet nectar known as beer but, of course, couldn’t find enough to quench his thirst. He had friends mail him some hoppy, carbonatedcontrabandknowing that not all of the mail coming into base would be checked, and that worked out for a while— butit just wasn’t enough.

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This is what one of these kits looks like.

(Photo by Coin-Coin)

This soldier had heard tales of another member of his unit stashing brewing equipment in locations throughout another base but, where he was living, obtaining such materials was no easy task. After a discussion with some friends, they decided to risk it all by ordering, directly from Amazon, a home-brewing kit.

After a tense waiting period, their equipment finally arrived and they were able to begin their own underground (and highly illegal) brewing operation.

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Don’t f*ck with the UCMJ.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Naomi Griego)

Now, possessing alcohol in a combat zone violates the Uniformed Code of Military Justice — but it seems like these guys didn’t give a flying f*ck. Their goal was to have the sweet taste of alcohol bless their tongues, fill their bloodstreams, and mingle with their livers.

In no time at all, their room began to smell like a chemist’s lab and their adventure in illicit alcohol picked up speed.

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This is how the professionals do it.

(Photo by Hong Reddot Brewhouse)

You see, the home-brewing kit they ordered only could only produce 3 gallons of beer with every fermentation cycle, which took a couple of weeks. They had several months left of their deployment, and they simply couldn’t wait that long to drink so little.

So, what did they do? They started fermenting in plastic water bottles. To use a direct quote from the story,

Professional brewers and distillers don’t brew or distill in plastic 2-liter water bottles of dubious origin because, in short, they are not f*cking morons.
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Cheers!

(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Evan Loyd)

Needless to say, their illicit brewing company, referred to as “Riyadh Brewing Corporation, Ltd. (Established 2008),” ended up blowing up in their faces — literally. The plastic bottles couldn’t withstand the pressure build-up and they ended up losing more of their stock than they wanted.

Thankfully, they were able to clean up the mess and cover their tracks before anyone too high in their chain of command could find out — and now we have this beautiful story to laugh about.

To read the full story, check it out here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of October 4th

And just all on the same day, the Army gets rid of their ACU-UCP uniforms, and the Navy ditches their NWU Type I’s. Now it’s all about the more practical OCP’s and NWU Type III’s. Meaning, the Navy no longer rocks their blueberries, and the Army can no longer hide on Grandma’s couch.

Now that we’re no longer wearing those dumb designs, can we all agree that they were stupid to begin with? I mean, don’t get me wrong. The ACU’s were like wearing pajamas compared to the BDU’s but the color pallet was clunky, they had pockets on their knees for God knows why, and the pants always ripped right down the crotch at least once per working party.


Whatever. So long, ACU’s and Blueberries. You won’t be missed. Anyways, here are some memes.

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(Meme via Not CID)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via ASMDSS)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via Call for Fire)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

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(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via Private News Network)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via SFC Majestic)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments)

Articles

HOAX: This fugitive Mexican drug lord just threatened to destroy ISIS

A blogger took the world by storm with a fake story about notorious drug cartel leader and infamous prison fugitive Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán reported sent an email directly to self-proclaimed caliph and leader of Daesh (aka ISIS), Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, threatening a military response if the terrorist organization continues disrupting Sinaloa Cartel shipments to the region.


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El Chapo after his 2014 incarceration (photo by Day Donaldson)

How El Chapo would have Baghdadi’s personal email address is not known, and went unquestioned by many (including WATM) but the encrypted email was said to be leaked from a blogger known to have ties to El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel, one of the three main drug cartels operating in Central and South America.

According to CartelBlog, the Middle East is an emerging market for cocaine, ecstasy, and other party drugs, which does not sit well with ISIS ideology, so the terrorist group’s fighters would have to destroy drug shipments whenever they’re discovered. Except drug use is one of many ways ISIS pays the bills. If anything, ISIS would capture Sinaloa shipments because they’re competition.

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Part of the email was purported to read:

“You [ISIS] are not soldiers. You are nothing but lowly p*ssies. Your god cannot save you from the true terror that my men will levy at you if you continue to impact my operation. My men will destroy you. The world is not yours to dictate. I pity the next son of a wh*re that tries to interfere with the business of the Sinaloa Cartel. I will have their heart and tongue torn from them.”

The terror group gained notoriety for its brutal torture acts, barbaric fighting, and ruthless killings, all of which were perfected by drug cartels when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a teenager.

But how awesome would it actually have been to see ISIS get a taste of its own medicine.

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