These are the new 'most-wanted' al-Qaeda terrorists - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

Osama bin Laden is dead. ISIS has been disbursed to the winds. Al-Baghdadi saw the wrong side of Army Special Forces. That means it’s open season on terrorists’ most-wanted leaders. Since no one usually wants to carry this mantle, the United States government sometimes has to decide for them. In the weeks following the death of ISIS’ first caliph, the State Department announced a $10 million reward for two members of our old enemy, al-Qaeda.


These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

If you’re looking for a cool couple of million and have some spare time…

Michael Evanoff, the assistant secretary for diplomatic security, told reporters that the State Department was announcing a reward for two senior members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s offering million for information on Sa’ad bin Atef al-Awlaki and up to million for Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi. The United States alleges the two terror group members have encouraged its membership to make attacks against the United States and its citizens.

Al-Qosi is a Sudanese national who was Osama bin Laden’s driver and cook from 2006 to 2010. He was captured by American forces and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, where he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. The former driver and cook was released to Sudan in July 2012 in exchange for his cooperation. Al-Awlaki is a senior commander for AQAP who was also a field commander for AQAP fighting the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

Which means he’s probably as good at war as the Saudis.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi is not any kind of field commander or operative, at least not that the United States has released. The Supreme Court has since ruled material support for terrorism is not a war crime and therefore cannot be prosecuted under the Guantanamo military tribunals, but he has not challenged his previous convictions. Instead, he turned to advocating support for attacks on American nationals and American military forces worldwide, which put him in the State Department crosshairs.

At the Second Battle of Mukalla in 2015, Sa’ad bin Atef al-Awlaki was a field commander who led troops against the Saudi coalition. American troops were stationed near Mukalla, but not much is known about the interactions between U.S. and AQAP forces during the battle. AQAP was forced to abandon the town.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An interview with one of the last WWII Marine fighter pilots

Sam Folsom, born July 24, 1920 in Quincy, Massachusetts, was one of the first echelon of 17 Marine fighter pilots with Marine Fighter Squadron 121 tasked with defending Guadalcanal. He is also one of the last living Marine Corps WWII combat pilot.

It was the summer of 1941, while Folsom was attending a flight training program in Jacksonville, Florida, that the unthinkable happened.

“I was lying in my bunk in Florida,” Folsom recalled. “I turned on the radio and it blared out ‘Pearl Harbor has been attacked’, so I did what any patriotic American would’ve done. I jumped to my feet, got dressed and ran to the door as fast as I could.”


Folsom completed training at the end of 1942 and received orders to Miramar, California, where he checked into his new unit, VMF-122. Later, the squadron was combined with another to form VMF-121. Folsom’s assigned fighter plane was a Grumman F4F Wildcat which he trained in for months before his unit was sent overseas to New Caledonia briefly, before being sent to Guadalcanal in early September, 1942.

“I spent six or eight months on the west coast in a squadron with about 40 pilots and only eight or 10 planes, so as you can imagine none of us got much training,” Folsom said.

Folsom arrived to the Island Oct. 8.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

A U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-3 in non-specular blue-grey over light-grey scheme in early 1942.

The first few days of combat were rough for Folsom. In training the highest they had ever flown was roughly 10,000 feet and previously Folsom had only fired his guns once in a training exercise. Then suddenly his unit was sent on a mission dispatched at 30,000 feet where they found themselves above a Japanese formation of G4M Betty Bombers with an escort of fighter planes. When they dived down to attack Folsom lost control. After recovering and regaining control, he closed in on the bombers and pulled the trigger only to find out his guns wouldn’t fire. Due to the lack of flying experience at this altitude the unit didn’t realize that lubricating the weapons before flying would freeze the lubricant at this high of an altitude.

“I never remember being frightened,” he said. “Just mad as hell going through this with your life on the line and having my guns not firing.”

Folsom and the other pilots had to return to base considering the conditions of their weapons.

Towards the end of the squadron’s tour, the pilots received more experience flying in support of combat operations than they ever did through their training. Later, Folsom and his squadron had found themselves above another bomber formation. The bombers had already attacked and were returning home when Folsom dived down and closed in on the two bombers.

“I closed in on two Japanese bombers, one of which was directly in my sights and I shot him down,” Folsom said. “I pulled over to the side and I shot down the other one. It was just like a training exercise.”

Eventually, Folsom was completely out of ammunition and flew back to base. The Japanese fighter planes escorting the bombers closed in on Folsom. Folsom found himself in a dogfight without any means of defense. His plane was shot multiple times, but he still managed to escape and make it back to base.
Folsom said that wasn’t the only time he found himself in a dogfight without ammunition. On one occasion, Folsom was attacked by approximately six Japanese fighter planes, which damaged his plane and wounded his left leg.

After his three-month tour in Guadalcanal he was transferred to Samoa, ending his time with VMF-121. During Folsom’s time with VMF-121 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart for his actions in Guadalcanal. In total, he shot down two Japanese Betty Bombers and one Japanese fighter plane. He continued his career in the Marine Corps and served nearly 18 years, retiring in 1960 as a lieutenant colonel.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

SOF veteran thinks outside the box for TBI treatment and beyond

Green Beret Travis Wilson is like most members of the Special Operations community. He normally looks at problems and sees two options: find a way around or blow your way through it. The latter worked for Travis downrange, but after multiple IED strikes, enough flashbangs in the face to make even Chuck Norris cringe, and a freefall accident (yeah, seriously, you read that right), Travis, now CEO of Time for a Hero, is taking on a problem that has stopped even the most talented doctors in the world: traumatic brain injury, or TBI.


TBI is often the result of an explosion or crash, both of which are common in the Special Operations community. However, unlike a broken leg or even a gunshot wound, brain injuries just don’t heal like the rest of the body. Even worse, no brain injury is the same, which is what keeps doctors from finding an effective treatment.

As a result, symptoms such as confusion, amnesia, insomnia, and depression can last for months and even years. This is exactly the world Travis found himself in after six deployments and numerous doctors reporting that there was no long term cure for his injuries. So, Travis took matters into his own hands or, more accurately, his own mind.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

Travis serving as a Green Beret in Afghanistan

(Courtesy of Travis Wilson)

“It just didn’t make sense to me,” Wilson said. “The doctors were saying there is no cure, but having been a medic, I knew the body was resilient and could heal from all kinds of trauma. I knew there had to be a better answer.”

As a combat medic and exercise science major, Travis knew that the body had an uncanny method to fix itself, but he searched for a treatment that could specifically help brain cells repair themselves. That’s when Travis stumbled upon the founder of Time for a Hero and an unlikely, out-of-the-box solution: stem cells.

I know what you’re thinking: Stem cells? The highly politicized, seemingly creepy, and crazy expensive voodoo treatment that relies on cells harvested like something out of The Matrix? Yep, that’s right, except that Travis and the founders found a stem cell treatment that relies upon the host’s own cells and can be applied to multiple injuries, including TBI.

There was only one problem: The treatment was offered out of the country and was exclusive to the super wealthy and celebrities — you don’t think Tom Cruise has really aged backwards, do you?

Even though you may see stem cell “clinics” in the states, the truly innovative “body heal thyself” kind of treatments aren’t currently approved by the FDA, and aren’t covered by most insurance companies.

Even though the treatment costs roughly ,000 per session, access was a problem Travis could overcome. Travis paired with the founder of Time for a Hero to underwrite all costs for SOF veterans to travel to undergo stem cell therapy. The procedure uses the patient’s own stem cells harvested from the adipose tissue using liposuction (a plus if you’ve been out of the gym for a minute) and then injects the cells into the body using an IV therapy and direct injection into multiple joints.

Mesenchymal Stem cells, which are basically cells that haven’t figured out what they want to be when they grow up (much like most of us), travel through the body and, once they reach the brain, attach themselves to regenerate growth in trauma areas. To date, Travis and his team have sponsored over twenty SOF veterans through this remarkable treatment, and the veterans have reported significant improvement in their cognitive and physical wellbeing.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

Travis undergoing Mesenchymal stem cell treatment

(Courtesy of Travis Wilson)

“We’ve seen some remarkable improvement in overall quality of life and thought processes,” Travis said. “These guys are sleeping again and are thinking more clearly for the first time in a long time. Many of these veterans feel alive again.” But there is an added bonus here that we didn’t expect: anti-inflammation, which Travis thinks can be used on the battlefield.

Travis went on to explain that millions of stem cells flooding the body results in positive anti-inflammatory (think bigger than just motrin) effects that allow the body to heal more rapidly. Travis and his team are starting to explore the idea of stem cell treatment on the battlefield, before years of trauma is left untreated.

“The research and data we are collecting from these SOF veterans during their stem cell treatment could help save lives on future battlefields. As a former combat medic, I know how critical it can be to reduce trauma in the first few minutes of an injury. We have a chance to help the body start to heal almost immediately.”

Travis and the Time for a Hero team are planning to treat many SOF veterans this year and will continue to collect data to support other stem cell programs. Travis and his team have even recently been using an app to monitor cognitive growth after the treatment. “I don’t know if the treatment will make you smarter, but it sure as hell has made things more clear for me.”

“We have hundreds of special ops men — and women — on our waiting list and that list is growing everyday. So we’re out spreading the word, letting people know what we’re doing, and asking for help every chance we get.”

For more information on TBI, or how to sponsor a SOF veteran’s treatment, please visit www.timeforahero.com.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US military brings stability to villages near Air Base 201

Growing trust between the local community and U.S. service members, and fostering good relationships with the government in the area surrounding a new base increases the chance of local support for airmen deployed there in an effort to bring stability to the region.

The U.S. Army’s 411th Civil Affairs Battalion are experts in nurturing relationships in host countries. Partnering with local community groups and base groups, civil affairs specialists have donated food, supplies, built classrooms and built solar powered wells in the communities surrounding Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger. They also trained technicians on how to maintain the solar panels.


This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army pilots share their cockpit with autonomous bots

Recently, Army pilots got to tool around with an autonomous helicopter kit that could one day make all Army rotorcraft capable of autonomous flight, completing tasks as varied as take off and landing, flying across the ground and behind trees, and even selecting its own landing zone and landing in it with just a simple command.


US Army Pilot Tests ALIAS’ Autonomy Capabilities in Demonstration Flight

www.youtube.com

The pilots were given access to the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), an optionally-piloted helicopter filled with tech being developed under a DARPA grant. The idea isn’t to create a fleet of ghost helicopters that can fly all on their own; it’s to give pilots the ability to let go of the stick for a few minutes and concentrate on other tasks.

According to a DARPA press release,

During the hour-long flight demonstration, [Lt. Col. Carl Ott, chief of Flight Test for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Aviation Development Directorate] interfaced with the autonomous capabilities of the system to conduct a series of realistic missions, including aircrew tasks such as low-level terrain flight, confined area takeoffs and landings, landing zone selection, trajectory planning, and wire-obstacle avoidance.
These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

Lockheed Martin’ MATRIX Technology is created to help pilots by allowing them to focus on complex tasks while the helicopter pilots itself.

(DARPA)

“The Army refers to this as Mission Adaptive Autonomy. It’s there when the pilot needs the aircraft to fly itself and keep it free of obstacles, so the pilot can focus on more of the mission commander type role. But the pilot is able to interact with the system to re-suggest, re-route or re-plan on the fly,” said Ott.

But SARA has a pretty robust bag of tricks. When pilots call on it, the helicopter can land or take off on its own, select its own safe landing zones using LIDAR, avoid obstacles including wires and moving vehicles, and can even fly across the ground and behind obstructions, like trees, to hide itself.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

A U.S. Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter lands during training with U.S. Marines.

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rachel K. Young)

Of course, the Army needs the technology from SARA to be ported over to Army helicopters, like the UH-60 Blackhawk, and that’s coming in the next few months, according to Sikorsky. The package, known as MATRIX Technology, should theoretically work on any aircraft, and porting it to rotary aircraft should be fairly easy.

“We’re demonstrating a certifiable autonomy solution that is going to drastically change the way pilots fly,” said Mark Ward, Sikorsky Chief Pilot, Stratford, Conn. Flight Test Center. “We’re confident that MATRIX Technology will allow pilots to focus on their missions. This technology will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT).”
These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

An optionally piloted UH-1H helicopter drops off supplies during a May 2018 exercise at Twentynine Palms, California.

(Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory Matt Lyman)​

The Marine Corps has been doing its own experiments with autonomous rotary flight. Their primary program is the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System on the Bell UH-1H platform, which can take off, fly, land, plan its route, and select landing sites on its own using LiDAR. So, similar to the MATRIX platform.

AACUS comes from Aurora, a Boeing subsidiary, and has already been successfully installed on Bell 206 and Boeing AH-6 helicopters. It uses off-the-shelf hardware components combined with the proprietary algorithms. One big advantage of AACUS is that infantrymen on the ground can directly request flights to their location without necessarily having to route it through a pilot.

As helicopters are cherished assets during a real fight, though, it’s almost certain that requests for aviation will require an officer signing off, whether it’s an AACUS or a MATRIX bird.

Articles

Here’s the technique Navy SEALs use to swim for miles without getting tired

With the beginning of summer, pools all over the US are opening for recreational swimming — but in the Navy, recruits are getting ready for the brutal Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, or BUD/S, that will turn some of them into Navy SEALs.

In the SEALs, where recruits of the elite special operations unit are pushed to their limits, there is no room for inefficiency. So it developed a more efficient swimming stroke: the combat swimmer stroke.

The stroke combines the best elements of breaststroke and freestyle to streamline a motion that not only reduces resistance on a swimmer’s body, but makes the swimmer harder to spot underwater.

Here’s a sample of the stroke:

Unlike freestyle, the combat sidestroke calls for the swimmer to stay submerged for most of it.

To do the combat swimmer stroke, dive in or kick off as you would in freestyle, but at the end of your glide, do a large, horizontal scissor kick instead.

Now comes the unique part — as the horizontal scissor kick tilts your body so that one arm is slightly higher than the other, pull that arm back while leaving the other outstretched.

Turn your face up toward the surface as you pull that arm down, take a breath, and begin to pull down your other arm. Another scissor kick, then reset your arms. You should not switch your orientation or the order in which you pull back your arms.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:

MIGHTY TRENDING

Comedy Bootcamp helped this Army vet hone her standup routine

Isaura Ramirez is an Army veteran and alumna of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) Comedy Bootcamp program. ASAP is an organization based in Virginia that builds communities for veterans, servicemembers, and military families through classes, performances, and partnerships in the arts. As part of their mission, ASAP offers a Comedy Bootcamp for veterans to explore and develop their comedic abilities.


Isaura served in the Army for 13 years before seizing the opportunity to attend the ASAP Comedy Bootcamp. Isaura has approached comedy as a way of expressing her unique perspective of being a veteran. Comedy has helped her, as she put it, “direct her anger and frustration into something positive.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than ever before

A group of eminent scientists behind the “Doomsday Clock” symbolically moved its time forward another 30 seconds on Jan. 25, marking an alarming one-minute advancement since 2016.


“As of today, it is two minutes to midnight,” Rachel Bronson, the president and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which sets the clock’s time, said during a press briefing.

The clock is a symbol created at the dawn of the Cold War in 1945, and its time is set by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group founded by researchers who helped build the first nuclear weapons during the Manhattan Project.

The Bulletin began publicly adjusting the clock in 1947 to reflect the state of dire threats to the world, primarily to address the tense state of U.S.-Soviet relations and the risk for global nuclear war.

But since the closing of the Cold War in 1991, the clock has come to represent other major threats, such as climate change, artificial intelligence, and cyberwarfare.

“This year, the nuclear issue took center-stage yet again,” Bronson said. “To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger, and its immediacy.”

Why the Doomsday Clock’s time was moved forward

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists
In January 2018, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock forward 30 seconds, to two minutes to midnight. (Image from Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

For the 2018 time shift, members of the Doomsday Clock panel squarely took aim at the rhetoric and actions of President Donald Trump, who has said he is pushing for a nuclear arms race.

Bronson and the panel specifically cited a leaked draft of the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which lays out U.S. strategy surrounding its nuclear arsenal and suggests that the president intends to act on his word.

“The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review appears likely to increase the types and roles of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense plans and lower the threshold to nuclear use,” the panel said in an 18-page statement emailed to Business Insider.

The panel also noted the worrisome state of nuclear programs and security risks in Pakistan, India, Russia, and North Korea in its decision to move the clock forward, as well as Trump’s lack of support for a deal to monitor Iran’s nuclear program. The tense situation in the South China Sea, over aggressive Chinese claims to territory, also played a role in the group’s decision, according to the statement.

Also Read: Trump’s leaked nuclear report suggests Russia has a doomsday device

The Doomsday Clock experts are also gravely concerned about the state of the warming planet, the resulting climate change, and a fractured global effort to confront and mitigate its worst threats by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The group said in its statement that it is “deeply concerned about the loss of public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in facts themselves — a loss that the abuse of information technology has fostered.”

The time of two minutes “is as close as it has ever been to midnight in the 71-year history of the clock,” Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Arizona State University and a Bulletin chair member, said during the briefing.

The last time the Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight followed U.S. and Soviet test detonations of thermonuclear (or hydrogen) bombs in 1953.

Here’s how scientists have shifted the clock’s time from its creation through 2017:

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists
A timeline of the Doomsday Clock’s setting from 1947 through 2017. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The 2018 shift is the sixth instance the time has been moved to three minutes or less until midnight — the others were in 1949, 1953, 1984, 2015, and 2017.

How to turn back the clock

The Doomsday Clock and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists are not without their critics, however.

Writer Will Boisvert argued in a piece published in 2015 by The Breakthrough Institute that the symbology may be counterproductive to actually solving the problems the Bulletin hopes to spur action on:

Apocalypticism can systematically distort our understanding of risk, mesmerizing us with sensational scenarios that distract us from mundane risks that are objectively larger. Worse, it can block rather than galvanize efforts to solve global problems. By treating risks as infinite, doom-saying makes it harder to take their measure — to prioritize them, balance them against benefits, or countenance smaller ones to mitigate larger ones. The result can be paralysis.

Yet members of the Bulletin, who announced their Doomsday Clock decision at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, noted their full statement comes with multiple recommendations for turning back their clock, including:

  • Trump should, “refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea.”
  • The U.S. should open multiple lines of communication with North Korea.
  • A global effort to push North Korea to stop testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
  • The Trump administration should support the deal to oversee and inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities.
  • The U.S. and Russia should enact peacetime measures to avoid border conflicts in Europe.
  • Peaceful U.S.-Russian negotiations on nuclear weapons should resume.
  • Governments around the world “should redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” beyond the Paris Agreement.
  • The international community should rein in and penalize any misuse of information technology that would “undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself.”

But Krauss said that if governments are unwilling to lead the way in fighting threats to global civilization, the people will have to step up their efforts to do so.

“It is not yet midnight and we have moved back from the brink in the past,” Krauss said. “Whether we do so in the future may be in your hands.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Microsoft doubles-down on promising AI support to military

Microsoft President and chief lawyer Brad Smith doubled down on his promise to always supply the US military with “our best technology” as “we see artificial intelligence entering the world of militaries around the world.”

Smith made his comments in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network on Dec. 5, 2018.

Generally speaking, tech companies have never questioned whether to supply the US military with their best technology — at least until 2018, when Google employees rose in protest against Project Maven, a pilot program with the Pentagon to supply AI-powered image recognition technology for drones.


Googlers didn’t want the AI technology they are developing to be used for weapons. After an employee uprising, Google essentially agreed to their wishes, all but taking itself out of the enormously lucrative defense market.

Microsoft and Amazon have been quick to raise their hands and say, “we’ll take your business.” The largest US tech makers, like Microsoft, already earn big bucks selling tech to the US federal government and military agencies. How big? Just one contract to supply the CIA with Microsoft cloud services signed earlier this year will generate hundreds of millions, according to Bloomberg.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The Pentagon is also on the verge of awarding a billion contract to one cloud provider — probably Amazon— unless fellow competitors like Microsoft and Oracle can convince it to divvy the deal up among multiple clouds. Not surprisingly, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has publicly taken a similar stance to Microsoft in support of the US military. Notably, Google withdrew from consideration for this same deal, saying that it could conflict with its values.

All of which is to say, with his statements, Smith gets to pursue an enormous area of business, declare Microsoft’s patriotism and slide a not-so-subtle dig at his competitor Google, all at the same time.

Here’s the full text of what Smith told Bartiromo when she asked if technology companies should help the United States (emphasis ours):

“I think that’s right. This country has always relied on having access to the best technology, certainly the best technology that American companies make. We want this country and we especially want the people who serve this country to know that certainly we at Microsoft have their back. We will provide our best technology to the United States military and we have also said that we recognize the questions and at times concerns or issues that people are asking about the future.
As we see artificial intelligence entering the world of the militaries around the world, as people are asking about questions like autonomous weapons, we’ll be engaged but we’ll be engaged as a civic participant. We’ll use our voice. We’ll work with people. We’ll work with the military to address these issues in a way that I think will show the public that we live in a country where the U.S. military has always honored the importance of a strong code of ethics.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Taliban, the government, and Islamic State: Who controls what in Afghanistan?

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 Government

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

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.”

Islamic State

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.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China prepares forces in contested waters for war

China’s commander-in-chief has ordered the military command overseeing the contested South China Sea to “concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspected the Southern Theater Command Oct. 25, 2018, again stressing the need build a force that can “fight and win wars” in the modern age. “We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war,” he explained, adding that the command has a “heavy military responsibility” to “take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.”


“You’re constantly working at the front line, and playing key roles in protecting national territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” Xi said, according to the China Daily, “I hope you can fulfill such sacred and solemn missions.”

The powerful Chinese leader has made strengthening and modernizing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a top priority.

As Xi delivered his speech in Guangdong province, Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe warned that China will not give up “one single piece” of its territorial holdings, adding that “challenges” to its sovereignty over Taiwan could lead China to use military force.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

(DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

The US Navy recently sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait, a move that, like the US military’s frequent bomber overflights and freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, angered Beijing.

Tensions have been running particularly high in the South China Sea in recent months, with regular US B-52 bomber flights through the region and Chinese PLA Navy warships challenging American military ships and aircraft that venture too close to Chinese-occupied territories in the disputed waterway.

US Navy Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said Oct. 29, 2018, that the US Navy will continue to carry out freedom-of-navigation operations and challenge “illegitimate maritime claims.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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That time a badger lived in the White House

President Theodore Roosevelt is known for being a Rough Rider, a trust-buster, and coining the infamous phrase, “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” He also turned the White House into a veritable menagerie during his stay there. He, of course, had plenty of cats and dogs, but he was known for keeping guinea pigs for his children, and several of his sons had rabbits as well as a bright blue macaw named Eli Yale.

Arguably his most exotic pet, and probably the most unpredictable animal to inhabit the White House, was a real-life badger.


These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists
Theodore Roosevelt, like the badger, don’t give a f*ck. (Giphy)

 

While on a railroad tour through the West, President Roosevelt stayed for several days in Sharon Springs, Kansas. After he’d fulfilled his presidential duties of talking with residents and giving speeches, he was getting ready to head further west when a girl named Pearl Gorsuch, who was twelve-years-old at the time, came up to him to ask if he’d like a badger.

Not exactly your average fan gift.

Whether the president didn’t actually think she was serious, or if he was immediately ready to take a badger on a train ride, no one’s really sure. But when Pearl returned, she had with her a two-week-old badger, as well as the rest of her family.

Roosevelt graciously showed the family (and accompanying badger) around his private rail car, and gave Pearl a locket and a carnation as a thank you. When he took the badger, he was delighted when it started nibbling on his fingers. He named the badger Josiah after Pearl’s father and took it with him in his private car.

On the rest of his trip, Josiah proved to be good-natured, even when met with young children who were enchanted by the animal. Roosevelt wrote to his own children to inform them that he’d be bringing the badger home, and that he’d nicknamed Josiah “Josh” for short.

As the Roosevelt family did have plenty of dogs, a badger-specific cage had to be built, including two feet of underground space for him to burrow.

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists
The Roosevelt family with Skip, just one of their many pups. (upload.wikimedia.org)

 

Roosevelt himself loved setting the badger loose, as Josiah was known for biting ankles, and the family soon learned to stand clear when he was out of his cage.

Archie Roosevelt, who was the second youngest of six children, was nine when Josiah arrived at the White House and laid the best claim to the animal. He would walk around the grounds holding Josiah around the waist. When Teddy expressed concern that Josiah might take advantage of the positioning to bite Archie’s face, Archie insisted that little Josh only bit legs, not faces.

Though Josiah the badger did come home with a penchant for nipping but an overall friendly demeanor, he eventually lost his pleasant attitude. He may have grown overwhelmed by the bustle of the Roosevelt’s White House, or just succumbed to his primal nature, but whichever reason, the result was the same.

The Roosevelt family had him placed in the Bronx Zoo in New York, which was probably for the best both for the animal and the family. However, they continued to visit him, just to make sure he didn’t develop any abandonment issues.

Though each president has had different pet preferences—the Coolidge family actually had a pet raccoon named Rebecca—it’s safe to say that Teddy Roosevelt came the closest to running a zoo out of the White House. But really, who’d refuse a little girl in a small town in Kansas handing you a baby badger?

These are the new ‘most-wanted’ al-Qaeda terrorists
First Lady Grace Coolidge shows off her pet racoon, Rebecca, at the White House Easter Egg Roll April 18, 1927. (Courtesy of the George W. Bush White House Archives.)
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Vietnam vets meet the soldier who saved them from a VC ambush

Fifty-one years after saving a squad of U.S. Marines from walking into an ambush by Viet Cong, Don Medley walked into a surprise gathering organized to honor him.


Members of the squadron Medley saved May 12, 1966, gathered Friday at Stone Hearth restaurant in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for a surprise dinner. Medley, a former U.S. Army Warrant Officer, had believed he and his wife, Dianne, were meeting one of the Marine veterans, Earl Davis, and his wife, Claudia, for dinner.

In reality, three other men Medley saved, along with their wives, were waiting to meet him. Those honoring him traveled from South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee.

“I told my wife that one day I’d like to meet some of the guys on the ground that I helped,” Medley said. “This is the day.”

Medley, of Hodgenville, appeared stunned and overwhelmed by the handshakes, hugs and greetings he received as he stood near the doorway of the room reserved for the occasion.

“Thank you, for my wife and kids,” one man said.

The words “thank you” repeatedly resounded in the room that held a dining table adorned with a centerpiece of white flowers highlighted with small U.S. flags. Placemats also were emblazoned with U.S. flags.

“This is such an honor for me,” Medley said, his voice wavering as he received gifts of gratitude. “It’s unbelievable.”

Like other members of Bravo Company of 1st Marine Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Earl Davis had wondered over the years who the Cessna pilot who saved them was. After an article was published in Vietnam magazine last year, Medley’s identity became known.

Davis received contact information for Medley on Dec. 26. He decided to coordinate the surprise gathering.

During the gathering, Medley recounted the day he was flying his Cessna over a rice paddy and noticed Marines advancing toward a trench line holding enemy forces. He dropped a smoke grenade on which he had scrawled a brief message warning the Marines, but they continued to advance.

He soon noticed there were more enemies in a tree line, making the number much larger. He dropped a second smoke grenade warning them and included the words, “I’m calling Arty,” referring to notifying artillery. His message saved them, the men said.

“We’ve been looking for this guy for over 50 years,” Ray Maurer said. “I just broke up when I saw him.”

Maurer and his wife, Bernadette, made the trip from Georgia.

Carl Whipple of Tennessee attended the gathering with wife, Myrtle Ruth.

“We all wanted the opportunity to meet him,” he said.

Whipple described the experience as heartfelt and said it was “a God thing” that sent Medley to fly over the squad 51 years ago.

“We’re indebted,” he said.

Dan Ferrell of Missouri said the gathering was a much-needed opportunity to express his thanks to Medley.

“I’ve never been able to put this behind me,” said Ferrell, who has post-traumatic stress disorder.

Medley was presented with a watch that was set at 10:30, the approximate time he dropped the first smoke grenade. He also was given mementos including a framed collection of items, among which was a signed letter of thanks.

Choking up in the process, Davis read the letter during the presentation. Later, he said the emotion he felt at that time summed up what he was feeling and how special the occasion was.

“It means a whole hell of a lot,” he said.

Similarly, Medley visibly was moved during the gathering and said the items he received will be displayed with honor in his den.

“It’s overwhelming,” Medley said. “This vindicates my whole year in Vietnam.”

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