Early one morning in Galeana, Mexico, a series of pickup trucks pulled up to a small, unassuming house. It was like many houses in the state of Chihuahua, except this one was occupied by the family of a man who decided to stand up to the drug cartels that had for so long terrorized his friends and neighbors. The man (along with a friend who had come by to check on the commotion) were dragged away at gunpoint. The narcos drove them down the street and shot them.
That was the last straw. Now there’s a new force standing up to the cartels terrorizing the people and government of Mexico, a resistance is coming from what you might think of as an unlikely source: The Mormon Church.
The war on drugs in Mexico has seen an uptick in violence in recent years. When the government switched its tactics to take down the higher-ranking members of the cartels, their successes left power vacuums in their wake, which sparked wars for dominance among individuals inside the cartels. As a result, the drug-related violence has only gotten more widespread and more intense as time wore on. The violence is ten times deadlier in Mexico than in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Vice reporter and founder Shane Smith drove down to Chihuahua to talk to the long-established Mormon colony run by the Lebaron family, descendants of the first Mormon settlers in the region. The Lebaron family, like most who stand up to bullies, were just pushed around once too often, as a result of kidnappings, extortion, and ultimately, murder.
Vice founder Shane Smith with the Mexican Federal Police at a Chihuahua road block.
Mormons first came to Mexico in 1875 to escape persecution from the U.S. government for their beliefs, specifically plural marriage – also known as polygamy. Those who refused to adhere to the United States’ demand to end the practice came to Mexico where they could continue what they saw as not only a divine right, but a commandment. Their descendants still live there to this day, just south of the border.
The murders in Galeana were the result of the Mormon colonies who put pressure on the cartels through their political partners in the Mexican government. After one of their own was kidnapped, they told the government to do something about it, or they would do it themselves. The kidnapped child was returned unharmed, but shortly after, the Mormons paid the price with the lives of Benjamin Lebaron and his friend Luis Widmar.
Firearms smuggled from the United States into Mexico and captured by the Federales.
That changed the game. The Mormons went through the process of getting gun ownership rights in the country, no small feat. Then they called in the Federales, who use their colony – a known safe haven from narcos – as a base of operations, intercepting drug smugglers on major highways in Chihuahua, conducting patrols and raids, and watching the traffickers as they work. The Mormons themselves have also joined the fight, they have adopted the tactics of U.S. troops fighting insurgents in the Iraq War, setting roadblocks and observation posts of their own.
Word got around to the narcos, eventually. Rumor has it the Mormons employ scouts and snipers to defend their colonies. The drug traffickers are all known to the Mormons now, their vehicles and faces easily identifiable to Church leaders, who work in close concert with the Mexican federal police. Their enduring vigilance has led to an uneasy stalemate in violence and kidnappings. They still occur, but with much less frequency.
In the military, sometimes things just get lost in transit. Gear goes adrift, paperwork gets filed wrong, and soldiers with no training in parachuting from a perfectly good airplane end up getting thrown out of a perfectly good airplane. It was bound to happen, and frankly, we should be a little surprised it took so long.
On Feb. 22, 2000, U.S. Army Spc. Jeff Lewis made his first ever parachute jump from a C-130 aircraft at Fort Bragg, N.C. The only problem was that no one had ever trained Specialist Lewis on how to jump from an airplane with the Army. Lewis was with the 82nd Airborne, so his unit was correct, it just turns out he wasn’t a paratrooper. He was a supply clerk. The then-23-year-old never mentioned anything to the jumpmaster because he wanted to do what the Army expected him to do.
“The Army said I was airborne-qualified,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t going to question it. I had a job to do, and I had to believe in what I was doing.”
A Jumpmaster can be held responsible for any training accident.
Lewis did eventually go to jump school, becoming airborne qualified just a few weeks after jumping out the airplane door for the first time. He was also promoted in that timeframe. But Lewis didn’t go out the door entirely unprepared. He took the 82nd’s one-day refresher course for those soldiers who are already airborne-qualified, and it might have saved his life. After stepping out of the airplane on the wrong foot, his equipment apparently got tangled. He was able to open the canopy by kicking with his feet, as instructed in the class.
Even though the troopers were doing a static line jump, the jump was only half the instruction necessary. The other half is, of course, the landing. Paratroopers are trained to land safely using certain techniques that redistribute the energy from the force of their fall. Even with the chutes, they can hit the ground as fast as 15 miles per hour. The untrained or new paratroopers can snap their legs when landing incorrectly and taking the brunt of the fall.
This could have been his first jump.
There’s a reason paratroopers train for weeks to learn to properly stick the landing. The chutes used by the Army aren’t like civilian chutes. They’re designed to get the trooper to the ground faster. While the Army could definitely afford safer, easier-to-use parachutes, the entire point of paratroopers is to get them on the ground and fighting as fast as possible. The more time they spend suspended in mid-air, the more opportunity enemy troops have to light them up.
All sailors, from the “old salts” to the newly initiated are familiar with the following terms:
Chit: A chit in the Navy refers to any piece of paper from a form to a pass and even currency. According to the Navy history museum, the word chit was carried over from the days of Hindu traders when they used slips of paper called “citthi” for money.
Scuttlebutt: The Navy term for water fountain. The Navy History Museum describes the term as a combination of “scuttle,” to make a hole in the ship’s side causing her to sink, and “butt,” a cask or hogshead used in the days of wooden ships to hold drinking water; thus the term scuttlebutt means a cask with a hole in it.
Crank: The term used to describe a mess deck worker, typically a new transferee assigned to the mess decks while qualifying for regular watch.
Cadillac: This is the term used to describe a mop bucket with wheels and a ringer. When sailors are assigned to cleaning duties, they prefer the luxurious Cadillac over the bucket.
Knee-knockers: A knee-knocker refers to the bottom portion of a watertight door’s frame. They are notorious for causing shin injuries and drunken sailors hate them.
Comshaw: The term used when obtaining something outside of official channels or payment, usually by trading or bartering. For example, sailors on a deployed ship got pizza in exchange for doing the laundry of the C-2 Greyhound crew that flew it in.
*Younger sailors may use the term “drug deal” instead of comshaw.
Gear adrift: The term used to describe items that are not properly stowed away. The shoes in this picture would be considered gear adrift. Also sometimes phrased as “gear adrift is a gift.”
Geedunk: The term sailors use for vending machine and junk food.
Snipe: The term used to describe sailors that work below decks, usually those that are assigned to engineering rates, such as Machinists Mates, Boilermen, Enginemen, Hull Technicians, and more.
Airdale: These are sailors assigned to the air wing — everyone from pilots down to the airplane maintenance crew.
Bubble head: The term sailors use to describe submariners.
Gun decking: Filling out a log or form with imaginary data, usually done out of laziness or to satisfy an inspection.
Muster: The term sailors use interchangeably for meeting and roll call.
Turco: The chemical used for washing airplanes.
Pad eye: These are the hook points on a ship’s surface used to tie down airplanes with chains.
Mid-rats: Short for mid rations. The food line open from midnight to 6:00 a.m. that usually consists of leftovers and easy-to-make food like hamburgers, sandwich fixings, and weenies.
Roach coach: The snack or lunch truck that stops by the pier.
Bomb farm: Areas on the ship where aviation ordnancemen men store their bombs.
Nuke it: The term used when a sailor is overthinking a simple task. Here’s how the Navy publication, All Hands describes the term:
“The phrase is often used by sailors as a way to say stop over thinking things in the way a nuclear officer might. Don’t dissect everything down to its nuts and bolts. Just stop thinking. But that’s the thing; sailors who are part of the nuclear Navy can’t stop. They have no choice but to nuke it.”
Captain Sam Axelrad was a U.S. Army doctor in the Vietnam War. One day in 1966, a North Vietnamese soldier, Nguyen Quang Hung, was brought to Axelrad to amputate an arm because gangrene had started to spread in his wound. What happened to the lost arm next might surprise you.
“When I amputated his arm our medics took the arm, took the flesh off it, put it back together perfectly with wires,” Axelrad told BBC World Service. “And then they gave it to me.”
Dr. Axelrad kept the arm for more than 50 years. In 2013, he returned to Vietnam determined to give Hung his arm back.
“I can’t believe that an American doctor took my infected arm, got rid of the flesh, dried it, took it home and kept it for more than 40 years,” Hung said, adding that he was very lucky to only lose an arm when so many of his fellow soldiers were killed.
Hung, whose Army paperwork had been lost in the years since the end of the war, will use his arm as proof of service in an effort to get a veteran’s pension.
“I’m very happy to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century.”
Bonnie Carroll understands the cost of war as intimately as anyone in America – not the dollars and cents cost but the price paid by families for generations after warriors fall in battle. A few years after losing her husband in a military aircraft mishap in Alaska, Carroll turned her grief into action and founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, better known as “TAPS.”
“Twenty years ago there was no organization for those grieving the loss of a loved one who died while serving in the armed forces,” Carroll said while overseeing a recent TAPS event for nearly 50 surviving children held at the U.S. Naval Academy. “We are the families helping the families heal.”
“Grief isn’t a mental illness,” she continued. “It isn’t something you can take a pill for or put a splint over. Grief is a wound of the heart, and there’s no one better to provide that healing than those who’ve walked this journey and are now trained to help the bereaved. And as they help others they continue their own process of healing.”
Carroll pointed out that TAPS has strong relationships and formalized memorandums of understanding with all of the Pentagon’s branches of services but that the mission of assisting survivors is best done by a private organization and not a government bureaucracy.
“We have protocols in place so that when a family member dies, the families are told that TAPS exists,” Carroll said. “They will not be alone.”
That wasn’t always the case. For the first three years of TAPS’ existence the organization had trouble breaking through the mazes that surrounded the entrenched (and generally ineffective) agencies charged with dealing with the families of the fallen.
That changed dramatically in 1997 after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, attended a TAPS gathering. “Hearing the stories and seeing the healing taking place was a game changer for him,” Carroll said. “When he got up to speak he said, ‘I really didn’t get it until I was here tonight. I didn’t realize how powerful this organization is.'”
And most importantly with respect to DoD’s responsibilities, the general said, “We can’t do for you what you must do for each other.”
Shalikashvilli went on to speak about the loss of his first wife 25 years earlier, which caused his second wife to lean over to Carroll and remark, “He’s never talked about this in public before.”
“In a room where he felt so safe, where he felt like he was in a place where you could share without judgment, he opened up,” Carroll said. “He got it.”
Shalikashvili went to the Joint Chiefs the following week and directed every branch of the service to connect with TAPS.
“We walk alongside the casualty officers,” Carroll said. “When they knock on the door, when they brief families on the benefits, they let the families know that there will always be comfort and care for them.”
The utility of TAPS was made evident on 9-11 when they moved into the space in the Sheraton across from the Pentagon where the FBI had been gathering forensic evidence. “As hope faded of finding remains, TAPS very quietly moved in,” Carroll said. “We were there for six weeks with peers to provide support for the families.”
On the day the family support center closed – all the remains that could be identified had been so, and some families would be going home without resolution – the general in charge said, “We are headed into war and don’t know what lies ahead.” He pointed to the TAPS staffers dressed in red shirts along the conference room’s back wall. “For those in the room who have lost loved ones, the red shirts will be there forever.”
“It was a wonderful hand off,” Carroll said. “Many of those families are still with us today.”
With a small percentage of Americans actually associated directly with the military, TAPS’ role has also been to educate a disengaged public. Carroll told an anecdote about a young boy who refused to wear anything to elementary school but the jeans he was given by his older brother – a soldier who was killed in combat shortly thereafter. The boy’s teacher sent a note home telling the mother that he would be sent home if he didn’t wear something besides those jeans. The mother was emotionally upset and unsure how to react, so she reached out to TAPS for advice.
“We contacted the school’s principal and suggested he help us educate the teacher on how to better deal with the child’s situation,” Carroll said. “We also recommended the teacher allow the boy to do a ‘show and tell’ to the class about his brother and his dedication and sacrifice.” The school took the TAPS staff advice and the situation improved for all parties – civilians and survivors – after that.
TAPS has a core staff of 77 people running seminars, a national help line, doing case work, and facilitating “Good Grief” camps (the organization’s signature offering). Ninety-two percent of the full-time staff are survivors of fallen warriors. The staff is supplemented by more than 50,000 volunteers nationwide.
On this day at the Naval Academy, surviving children team up with midshipmen mentors and do team building exercises in Halsey Fieldhouse and then break into smaller groups for discussions about loss and healing.
“One of my good friends lost her brother in Afghanistan,” Midshipman 4th Class Kyle McCullough, a member of the Midshipmen Action Group, said. “She told me about TAPS and how they helped her through a rough time with her family. When I heard [TAPS] was coming to the Naval Academy I jumped on the opportunity to come out and volunteer.”
For more information on the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors go to taps.org or call the toll-free TAPS resource and information helpline at 800-959-TAPS (8277).
Tiffany Marquis is no stranger to serving her community through volunteerism. Together with her active neighborhood, she’s turned quarantine walks into decorative art treasure hunts with sidewalk chalk displays, massive egg hunts, and even painted sign photo ops.
When Marquis learned from another Family Readiness Group leader that troops were seeking resources for incoming troops facing quarantine after deployment, she quickly pulled resources together.
“Another FRG leader had seen my spouse of the year Facebook page and thought I might be able to help her and reached out. We had never met before, but this is just what you do. We are all here for the same mission, the same cause,” said Marquis.
All returning soldiers were facing a 14-day quarantine in the barracks no matter what their living or marital status was.
“You want them to be comfortable. You want to make what they are going through easier if you can,” Marquis said.
Marquis called upon her contact at NC Packs 4 Patriots, a nonprofit organization supporting service members and families out of North Carolina through care and comfort item donations.
“I met the organization at a back to school drive years earlier. Immediately you get the understanding that they are there to help, to show up. When I called them, they were immediately on board asking me what I needed,” Marquis said, who volunteers her time at the organization whenever possible.
Marquis didn’t stop at calling upon just one organization; she put the ask out to her community Facebook page where the group has regularly shown up for each other throughout the pandemic.
“People were excited to help however they could. Within a few days I had over 15 packs of toilet paper and facial tissue.” While these items may seem obvious on the list of comfort, given the scarcity of local stockpiles nationwide, it speaks volumes to the love and selflessness of those contributing to the project.
“Not only did we get hygiene kits, but we had plenty of favorite snack items donated as well,” she explained. Snacks represent normalcy in America for soldiers. Receiving the comforts of home upon arrival is one small way to help with the reintegration process.
The efforts of Marquis and her neighborhood throughout this tough season is a prime example of how capable and strong the military community is no matter what obstacle they are facing. “We weren’t going to let this pandemic stop us from supporting each other,” stated Marquis confidently.
“The FRG overall is a team. As a leader your goal is to support the unit however you can throughout deployments, homecomings, or with fundraisers.” Marquis and the FRG leader who reached out for support are now mutually invested in the success of each other and their missions, exchanging help and resources to rise to meet the need.
In uncertain times and with plenty of units across all service branches facing similar situations, the example set here is one to follow.
“It starts with one person,” Marquis shared. “One person to form a team and the team then moving forward in the right direction.”
North Korea reportedly launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile in April of last year that failed a few seconds into flight and came crashing down on a North Korean city.
The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda and David Schmerler, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, cited a U.S. government source as saying the missile failed a minute into flight and never went higher than 70 kilometers.
That initial minute of boosted flight propelled the missile 39 kilometers away to Tokchon, a city of about 200,000 people in North Korea’s interior, according to Panda and Schmerler’s investigation.
Satellite imagery scanned by the authors shows damage to industrial or agricultural buildings near a residential area. The Hwasong-12, with unburned liquid fuel, could still cause a massive explosion even without a warhead, though the authors concluded there were most likely few casualties.
The wider threat of failed missile tests
But the fiery crash of a North Korean missile into a populated town demonstrates yet another threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
North Korea has twice fired a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan. A similar failure in the launch process could see a large liquid-fueled missile crashing down on a populated Japanese town.
If such an accident were interpreted as a deliberate attack, it could spark a wider conflict.
The Taliban have killed more than 200 Afghan soldiers and police officers in four provincial districts in the last three days, with the heaviest losses occurring in the key city of Ghazni just south of Kabul, according to The New York Times.
More than 100 Afghan security forces have been killed in Ghazni, about 40 to 100 were killed in the Ajristan District, more than 50 were killed at a base in Faryab Province, and at least 16 were killed in the northern Baghlan Province, The New York Times reported.
Afghan defense minister Tariq Shah Bahrami said Aug. 13, 2018, that 194 Taliban fighters and at least 20 civilians had also been killed, according to TOLO News, adding that 1,000 extra Afghan troops have been sent to quell the situation.
“With the deployment of additional troops to the city, we have prevented the collapse of Ghazni province,” Bahrami said, according to The Washington Post.
But there have been contradictory reports about how much of Ghazni the Taliban has taken.
“Ghazni City remains under Afghan government control,” Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell, a spokesman for Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, said MAug. 13, 2018, adding that the situation was “relatively quiet” despite admitting the US has carried out more than a dozen airstrikes in the area since Aug. 11, 2018.
But Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of the Ghazni provincial council, told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on Aug. 12, 2018, that only “the police headquarters, governor’s office, and a few departments are under Afghan forces’ control. … The rest are under the Taliban fighters’ control.”
And Mohammad Arif Shahjahan, a lawmaker from Ghazni, told CNN on Aug. 13, 2018, that the Taliban fighters still controlled several governmental buildings and had even taken the police headquarters.
Videos posted on social media on Aug. 12, 2018, even appear to show Taliban fighters strolling through the streets.
‘Every night fighting, every night the enemy are attacking us’
“We’re running out of hospital rooms; we are using corridors and available space everywhere,” Baz Mohammad Hemat, the director of the hospital in Ghazni, told The New York Times, adding that 113 dead bodies and 142 wounded had gone through the hospital.
“Bodies are lying around, they have decomposed, and no one is doing anything to evacuate them,” Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, a provincial council member, told The New York Times.
Meanwhile in Ajristan District, located about 90 miles west of Ghazni, the Taliban drove two vehicles packed with explosives into an Afghan commando base on Aug. 10, 2018, killing nearly 100 government troops, The Times reported.
In the northern Faryab Province on the border of Turkmenistan, an Afghan Army base had been under attack for nearly three weeks in one provincial district when the Taliban launched a heavy assault on the base on Aug. 10, 2018, killing more than 100 security forces, The New York Times reported.
“We don’t know what to do,” Captain Azam in Faryab told The Times, apparently before the Taliban launched the major assault. “Every night fighting, every night the enemy are attacking us from three sides with rockets.”
Azam was killed shortly after talking to The Times over the phone, The Times reported.
These Taliban assaults are the largest since the group assaulted the capital of Farah Province in May 2018, an event that unfolded much like the one in Ghazni, with Kabul and Resolute Support downplaying the situation, and local reports showing and saying that the Taliban took much of the city.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Declassified CIA documents give guidance for UFO photographers
The past few years have seen a massive resurgence in UFO research and discussion, both throughout the media and, publicly speaking, from elements of the nation’s own defense apparatus. From 2017’s revelation that the Pentagon had been directly funding investigations into unusual sightings (along with a litany of other unusual phenomena) to last month’s announcement that the U.S. Navy was formalizing UFO reporting procedures, it seems clearer now than ever that something unusual is going on in the skies above our pale blue dot, and that Uncle Sam wants to know what it is.
Of course, for those that have served in high ranking positions throughout America’s defense and intelligence apparatus over the decades, that comes as no revelation at all, as the U.S. Government actually has a long and illustrious history of covert and semi-covert investigations into the unknown.
Some of these efforts, like Project Blue Book, aimed to explain away sightings of strange lights in the skies, while others, like these declassified documents from the CIA’s archive, had a different aim. These documents were meant to serve as a how-to manual to capture the best possible images of flying saucers (or whatever they may be) for further examination. These documents may not prove the existence of alien visitors, but they certainly prove that even America’s foreign intelligence service has long had their eye on the skies.
The CIA readily acknowledges its involvement in UFO investigations dating all the way back to its very inception in 1947, which UFO buffs will be quick to note was the same year as the now-legendary Roswell incident. According to the CIA, they closely monitored Defense Department UFO initiatives throughout this era, even going so far as to draft up the document shown below offering ten tips to UFO investigators who had been struggling to capture clear images of the strange phenomena. This included an attached “UFO Photographic Information Sheet” to be filled out by the photographer whenever a sighting occurred.
The CIA’s guidance for UFO Photographers was, according to the CIA, first published in 1967 and remained classified until December of 2013, though it wasn’t until three years later that the document was uploaded to the CIA’s digital archive, making it readily available to readers from all over the world.
According to the CIA, these are the tips you need to follow in order to get the best possible evidence of your UFO encounter:
“Guidance to UFO Photographers” was first published in 1967 and declassified in 2013.
(Courtesy of the CIA Archive)
1. Have camera set at infinity.
2. Fast film such as Tri-X, is very good.
3. For moving objects shutter speeds not slower than one hundredth of a second should be used. Shutter and f-stop combination will depend upon lighting conditions; dusk, cloudy day, bright sunlight, etc. If your camera does not require such settings, just take pictures.
4. Do not move camera during exposure.
5. Take several pictures of the object; as many as you can. If you can, include some ground in the picture of the UFO.
6. If the object appears to be close to you, a few hundred feet or closer, try to change your location on the ground so that each picture, or few pictures are taken from a different place. A change in position of 40 or 60 feet is good. (This establishes what is known as a base line and is helpful in technical analysis of your photography.) If the object appears to be far away, a mile or so, remain about where you are and continue taking pictures. A small movement here will not help. However, if you can get in a car and drive l/2 to a mile or so and-take another series of pictures this will help.
Single images of UFOs don’t offer much in the way of context (the photographer of this UFO believes it may be a bird)
(Image captured by James Havard on Flickr)
7. After pictures of UFO have been taken, remain where you are: now, slowly, turning 360 degrees take overlapping, eye level, photography as you turn around. By this technique the surrounding countryside will be photographed. This photography is very valuable for the analysis of the UFO you have just photographed.
8. Your original negative is of value. Be sure it Is processed with care.
9. If you can, have another negative made from the original.
10. Any reproductions you have made for technical study and analysis should be made from the original negative and should be printed to show all the picture including the border and even the sprocket holes, if your film has them.
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.
Spinoffs are a curse of entertainment. Any successful TV series soon spawns one or two others that are of suspect quality and have a vague connection to the original. For instance, the overwhelmingly popular Friends led to the creation of the underwhelming Joey. AfterMASH tried (and failed) to piggyback off of the successes of M*A*S*H.
But did you know warships also generate spinoffs? In fact, Russia pulled off a one-of-a-kind spinoff from one of its most successful ships.
The Russian navy destroyer ADM Chabanenko (DD650), right, moves past the French navy frigate FS Ventose (F733) while getting underway during the 2011 FRUKUS (French, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) event.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marie Brindovas)
The Udaloy-class destroyers were built for protecting high-value assets, like Kiev-class carriers and Kirov-class battlecruisers, from NATO submarines. Udaloy-class vessels carried two 100mm guns, two quad SS-N-14 Silex launchers, 64 SA-N-9 Gauntlet point-defense surface-to-air missiles in eight eight-round launchers, four quad 53mm torpedo tube mounts, and four AK-630 close-in weapon systems. The destroyer could also operate two Ka-27 Helix anti-ship helicopters.
The Russian navy destroyer RFS ADM Chabanenko (DD 650) fires the AK-130-MR-184 130 mm gun at a distant target during a gunnery exercise as part of the at-sea phase of FRUKUS 2011.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Darren Moore)
That’s some serious firepower — a submarine captain would have some trepidation having to take those on. But the Udaloy was a little weak in one crucial area: fighting surface ships. The SS-N-14 and the 533mm torpedoes could be used against ships, but they were primarily intended to hunt subs. In short, the Udaloy was out-ranged by the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, which was in service with U.S. Navy three years before the first Udaloy was commissioned. So, in 1989, the Soviet Union laid down what they hoped would be the answer to this shortcoming.
Despite plans to build several, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union would leave this vessel as the only one of its kind. The Admiral Chabanenko underwent a lengthy construction process — it took ten years to be commissioned. For this ship, the Soviets turned to the Udaloy’s contemporary, the Sovremennyy, as a baseline. The Admiral Chabanenko replaced the two 100mm guns with a twin 130mm gun mount, the quad SS-N-14 mounts were replaced with quad SS-N-22 Sunburn launchers, and the four AK-630s were replaced with CADS-N-1 close-in weapon systems.
Doylestown Brewing Company, located in Doylestown, Pa., has a mission that is bigger than just making fine craft beer. They use their platform as a local brewery to honor one of their hometown heroes, Travis Manion.
Travis Manion, a Doylestown native, was killed in action while serving in Iraq in 2007, and his family established the Travis Manion Foundation in his memory. The foundation hosts events such as leadership expeditions for veterans and families of fallen heroes, youth character development through a combination of informal discussions and activity-based learning, and community engagement.
A motto and conviction that Travis lived by was the phrase “If not me, then who,” words that Travis spoke before leaving for his final deployment. This motto has inspired a movement across the nation to promote character, leadership, and service. Joe Modestine of Doylestown Brewing Company was one such individual inspired by Travis, and for the last seven years has been brewing “If Not Me, Then Who” Blonde Ale.
Initially brewing the beer for various events and fundraisers, the support has grown dramatically.
“We have gotten calls and messages from all over the United States,” said Modestine of the brews’ popularity. “Everyone is excited about the beer and the ability to support the foundation. For every case of beer we sell, .00 goes back to the foundation, and just within the last couple of months, we have raised over 00, but that is just the beginning.
With the demand for the beer reaching all over the country we know we would never be able to support each chapter so what we are getting ready to launch is a program where we team up with a local brewery in each state, provide them the rights and recipe to brew the beer and support that state and foundation’s efforts. This has never been done before in the beer world, and we can’t wait to get things started.”
Doylestown Brewing Company
Doylestown Brewing Company has been in business for over nine years now, and their beers are currently primarily available in the Philadelphia area, with the goal of having their products available from coast to coast by the year 2022. They have used their business as a platform to educate and advocate for causes meaningful to them, and the people of Pennsylvania. In addition to their support of the Travis Manion Foundation, the company also brews Duffy’s Cut Irish Style Red Ale, which honors the 57 Irish immigrants and railroad workers that tragically died of cholera in August of 1832 while constructing a stretch of railroad west of Philadelphia.
Modestine added, “We are completely honored to be working with the foundation on this project. I often think of Travis and wonder if he would have liked the beer; believe me, that is the only concern I have. I would have wanted his approval and hope that I did him proud, the way he has for so many others.”
An Iraqi grandmother who leads a militia of 70 men fighting the Islamic State in the Salahuddin province to avenge the killings of her family members doesn’t mess around.
Wahida Mohamed Al-Jumaily, better known as Um Hanadi, started fighting al-Qaida in 2004 and later made ISIS the target of her war against jihadis. ISIS is responsible for the deaths of Um Hanadi’s first two husbands, father and three brothers, which she says justifies any means to kill them.
“I fought them, I beheaded them, I cooked their heads, I burned their bodies,” she told CNN.
Um Hanadi, 39, now says she’s at the top of ISIS’s most wanted list. Bombs have been detonated outside her house several times and she has received death threats from the group, including personal ones from leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Six times they tried to assassinate me,” she told CNN. “I have shrapnel in my head and legs, and my ribs were broken. But all that didn’t stop me from fighting.”
The force is backed by Iraqi ground forces in the area, which provides the militia with weapons.
“She lost her brothers and husbands as martyrs,” Gen. Jamaa Anad, commander of Iraqi ground forces in the Salahuddin province, told CNN. “So out of revenge she formed her own force.”
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