Nazi subs prowled the Gulf of Mexico during World War II.
Herbert G. Claudius was in command of the patrol ship USS PC-566 in 1942. His mission and that of his crew was to monitor the Louisiana coast and its territorial waters for signs of any Nazi u-boat activity. On July 30, 1942, they got their chance, sinking a submarine that was preying on American shipping. For this, he was awarded the Legion of Merit with a Combat V device. The medal was issued in 2014, 72 years after the action.
At the time, Claudius was relieved of command for the same action.
USS PC-566 was a submarine chaser patrol boat, much like the one seen here.
In all, Hitler sent around 22 or more u-boats into the Gulf of Mexico at the outset of World War II, and they were successful. The submarines prowling the coasts of Texas and Florida picked off an estimated 50 ships during the war. They were wreaking absolute havoc on American shipping, and the United States Navy was only able to sink one of them. That’s the u-boat taken down by Claudius’ USS PC-566 and her crew.
On July 30, 1942, the passenger liner SS Robert E. Lee was torpedoed and sank by U-166 45 miles south of the Mississippi River Delta. Upon entering the area, Claudius and his crew spotted U-166’s periscope and dropped depth charges into the water until an oil slick bubbled up to the surface – proof positive they hit their target, possibly destroying the boat.
When Claudius reported the action to the Navy, the Navy was skeptical because the crew of PC-566 had not yet received anti-submarine training and admonished the crew of the patrol boat for poorly executing the attack. Their skipper was relieved of his command and sent to anti-submarine school instead of receiving the Legion of Merit he so richly deserved. After reviewing the evidence presented to the Navy by Ballard and by oil companies who also found the wreck, the Navy reversed course, just 72 years too late.
In a 2014 ceremony, Claudius’ son, also named Herbert G. Claudius, received his father’s Legion of Merit from then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert at the Pentagon. The elder Claudius, who died in 1981 after 33 years of Naval service, “would have felt vindicated.”
The battle against explosives and stemming civilian casualties in Afghanistan remains a top priority for U.S. forces there.
“For more than 40 years, Afghanistan has been bombed, shelled and mined,” according to the Alun Hill video below. “Old Soviet mines and shells still litter the countryside.”
Insurgents use these dangerous relics, innocuous household items and other explosive materials smuggled in from Pakistan to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which they use against American forces. Explosives that are undetonated can remain dormant for years before being uncovered by unsuspecting civilians. Most of the casualties now in Afghanistan come from these items, said Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) Manager Hukum Khan Rasooly.
Watch how these dangerous weapons are made and destroyed:
Boeing’s B-52H Stratofortress will be in service into the 2040s — a long career for the eight-engine bomber. But what of the earlier versions of the B-52? What is happening to them? Well, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty consigned many to a fate reminiscent of the French Revolution.
The luckiest B-52s were placed on static display – many as “gate guardians” outside air bases and some in museums. A few others ended up as training airframes – permanently grounded, but still serving.
The so-called “BUFFs” sentenced to elimination were taken to a “conversion or elimination facility.” The United States chose the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to be that facility.
Once there, the BUFF was to be “eliminated” in accordance with the Treaty. Here’s that that protocol says must be done:
“(a) The tail section with tail surfaces shall be severed from the fuselage at a location obviously not an assembly joint;
“(b) The wings shall be separated from the fuselage at any location by any method; and
“(c) The remainder of the fuselage shall be severed into two pieces, within the area of attachment of the wings to the fuselage, at a location obviously not an assembly joint.”
The tool for this is surprisingly simple. According to a CNN report, it was a 13,500-pound blade that is hoisted about 60 feet above the BUFF. Then the blade drops like a guillotine (vive la France!).
The planes are then left out for 90 days to allow a Russian satellite to verify that the planes have gone through the “elimination” protocol. After that, they will be taken to be scrapped. Among those that have met that fate, according to CNN, was “Memphis Belle III,” a descendant of the famous World War II bomber. Each plane has 150,000 pounds of aluminum and other metals that will likely be soda cans, a car fender, or the stereotypical razor blades.
Below is a video showing this process underway from the ground level.
Purchasing new gear can be a daunting challenge thanks to an internet ripe with strong opinions and the tribal mentality we sometimes develop around the brands we’ve come to love. Somebody on the internet thinks you have to spend a fortune to get anything worth having, someone else thinks that guy is an idiot, and everyone thinks they know what’s best for you.
When it comes to knives, the waters get even muddier thanks to a mind-boggling variety of manufacturers, styles, purposes, and production materials. Whether you’re a budget minded-fisherman in need of a decent pocket knife or you’re the fanciest of knife snobs with very particular tastes regarding the amount of carbon in the steel of your blade, there’s a laundry list of options awash in the sea of internet retailers–begging the question, just where in the hell is a guy supposed to start?
The biggest difference between a knife I made and a knife I bought is knowing exactly who to be mad at if it under performs.
Over the years, my hobbies, passions and professional pursuits have helped me develop a powerful respect for good quality knives, eventually leading me to put together a workshop to start making knives of my own. But don’t let my knife-snob credentials fool you; my favorite knife is still the one that does the job without prompting an angry “how much did you spend?” phone call from my wife. That balance of function and budget has led me to develop a simple three-question system to help anyone pick the right knife for their pocket, bank account, and needs.
What do you need the knife to do?
A good knife serves a specific purpose, a decent knife can get you out of a jam, and a bad knife tries to do everything.
Is your knife primarily going to be for self-defense or for opening Amazon packages at the office? Do you plan to rely on it for survival or as a general utility knife? Before you even open your browser and start perusing knives, knowing what you need the knife for will go far in narrowing down your options.
Survival knives, for instance, should almost always be “full-tang” fixed blades. That means the metal of the blade extends all the way through the handle in one solid piece, offering the greatest strength you can get out of the sharpened piece of steel on your hip. If you’re looking for a bit of easily concealable utility, on the other hand, a good quality folding pocket knife would do just fine.
You’ll be tempted to look for a knife that can do it all, but beware: any tool designed to do everything tends not to do anything particularly well.
How and where do you expect to carry the knife?
Crocodile Dundee may have been happy to carry a short sword around L.A., but for most of us, the knives we carry need to fit in with our lifestyles. Corporate environments would likely frown on you walking into HR with a machete strapped to your belt, and a keychain Swiss Army Knife probably won’t cut it if you’re planning to spend a weekend in the woods with that group of angry old Vets that used to be your fire team. The frequency and way you plan to carry the blade will help inform your shopping.
No matter what Batman says, I’ve yet to find a way to carry batarangs around inconspicuously.
If you plan to carry the knife in your pocket as a part of your EDC, consider the space in your pocket and how it’ll feel when you stand, sit, and go about your normal daily duties. If it’s heavy, bulky, or pokes at you… chances are it’ll get left on the kitchen table instead of in your pocket.
If, however, you plan to keep the blade in a day pack or your glove box, you have more options regarding size and weight. If you’ve got to cover a lot of miles on foot, every ounce counts; if you’re stowing the blade in your trunk, you can get liberal with the tonnage.
How much do you want to spend?
You may know what you want the knife to do and how you intend to carry it, but the final purchase will always be determined by budget.
These knives range in price from under (to make) to name brand special editions that never hit the market. They’re also all just sharp pieces of metal. It helps to remember that.
If you’re an enthusiast that loves a carbon-heavy blade that’ll hold an edge you can shave with until the cows come home, you can find some knives that cost as much as the used cars high school kids take to class. If you’re an everyday Joe looking for a blade made out of 1095 stainless (and you don’t mind hitting it with a sharpener from time to time), you’ll have options in the checkout line at Walmart.
A good knife does cost more than a bad one, but don’t let that mentality guide you into the poor house. I’ve seen some pretty crappy blades go for a premium just because of the names associated with them.
Read reviews, shop around, but above all, trust your gut. A knife you like carrying will always be more useful than one you leave at home.
No, the U.S. did not suddenly become a monarchy, nor are we even starting to think about it. But Americans, despite their historical disagreements with the idea of royalty, are very much enamored with some of the world’s royal families. The Shah of Iran, Princess Grace of Monaco, and (of course) the House of Windsor in the United Kingdom have all been the subject of Americans’ interest for a time.
The fact is that the United States could well have been a kind of constitutional monarchy, with George Washington on the throne. A small cabal of Continental Army officers wanted to give that a go, being unsure of a republican government. Washington rebuffed the men, and the rest is history – but what if there had been one chair to rule all of the United States? Who today could win that game of thrones?
Deal with it.
1. Queen Elizabeth II
This one is pretty obvious. As the current reigning monarch of the last monarch that ruled what we now call the United States, reverting back to a monarchy would see the U.S. go along with who the British Empire proclaimed to be the rightful heirs to the throne throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, which brings us to Queen Elizabeth.
Looks like the Prince enjoys a few smokes with his beers. Welcome to America.
2. Ernst August V, the House of Hanover
When the United States won its independence from Britain, the reigning monarch was King George III of the House of Hanover. The Hanoverians ruled the British Empire until the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1901 but if we were to give Hanover the throne of the United States to pick where they left off, the current head of the House of Hanover would be H.R.H. Prince Ernst August V, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, son-in-law of Princess Grace of Monaco, and public urination aficionado.
3. Louis Alphonse de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou
Also known in some circles as Louis XX, the Duke of Anjou is the current pretender to a French throne that no longer exists and is the direct descendant of Louis XVI. Louis XVI, of course, is the last Bourbon king of France before the French Revolution caused his head to be removed from the rest of his body. It could be argued that since the Louisiana Purchase of French North America resulted in doubling the size of the young United States, French kings have a legitimate claim to any would-be American throne.
Spanish King Felipe VI meets President Donald Trump at the White House.
4. King Felipe VI of Spain
Since many of the United States current possessions were once Spanish possessions, it makes sense that the current King of Spain, King Felipe VI, be considered for the U.S. throne. Making Felipe’s claim even stronger is that he is also descended from the Bourbon king Louis XVI and is the second cousin to France’s Duke Louis Alphonse de Bourbon.
5. Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon
Remember that time the French people got rid of their king (we just briefly mentioned it)? Eventually, the country was ruled by First Consul – later Emperor – Napoléon Bonaparte. Bonaparte ruled France as it sold its North American possessions to the United States in 1803. Well, he still has living heirs, the most prominent being Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, a descendant of Napoléon’s youngest brother Jérôme, and the Emperor’s great-great-great-great-nephew.
Who? seen here with Pope Benedict XVI.
6. Count Maximilian von Götzen-Iturbide
Much of what is today the United States once belonged to Mexico before the U.S. took it in the Mexican War of 1846. At that time, Mexico was ruled by the dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. But before Mexico took on a republican form of government, it was ruled by a legitimate Mexican Emperor, Augustin I. He ruled very briefly before being executed and overthrown, but his living descendants include Count Maximilian von Götzen-Iturbide, the current head of Mexico’s royal family.
Who says we can’t have a Queen? Or Tsarina?
7. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
Given the number of Russian holdings in North America, it’s not crazy to consider a Russian claim to the throne. Russia’s last possession, Alaska, was sold to the United States during the reign of Tsar Alexander II, grandfather to the last official Russian Tsar. As many are aware, the Imperial Romanov’s reign over Russia ended when the family was murdered by Bolsheviks during Russia’s transition to becoming the Soviet Union. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna is now the recognized head of the Imperial Family of Russia, now that there are no more male members of the Romanov Dynasty left.
8. Andrew Romanov, Prince of Russia
Wait, I thought I said there were no more male Romanovs? I did, but monarchy is tricky. If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be so many stupid wars about who gets what throne. Prince Andrew is a direct descendant of Tsar Nicholas I, whose reign ended with his death in 1855. His grandmother was Russian Duchess Xenia who fled Russia in 1917 aboard a British warship. Romanov is a World War II veteran of the British Royal Navy who even lived in California for a time.
How do you like them apples, your Royal Highness?
9. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Yes, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, consort of the British Monarch, actually has a claim to the throne of Imperial Russia, and as a result, a weak but possible claim to the fictional throne of the United States. Since Philip is both great-great-grandson of Tsar Nicholas I and grandnephew of the last Tsarina Alexandra Romanov, it gives him a claim to the same lands and titles.
Your potential Queen of the United States is in the center, wearing purple.
10. Princess Owana Ka’ohelelani Salazar
If Alaska gives Russia a claim to the throne of the United States, why not Hawaii? Before Hawaii became a U.S. territory by annexation in 1898, it was a sovereign republic, led by American businessman Sanford Dole. Before that, though, it was a sovereign kingdom, ruled by Queen Liliʻuokalani, a native Hawaiian. Though Queen Liliʻuokalani’s dynastic succession ended with her death in 1917, the royal lineage continued, and today the head of the Hawaiian royal family is HRH Princess Owana Ka’ohelelani Salazar, who is also an accomplished steel guitar player.
Fort Bragg is sending thousands of additional soldiers to Afghanistan to bolster US forces in the nation’s longest war.
Approximately 2,200 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers began quietly deploying this month, part of a long-discussed troop surge that involves more than 3,000 US service members on top of the more than 10,000 already serving in Afghanistan.
The local soldiers — part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team — were alerted to the mission earlier this month and quickly deployed. Once in Afghanistan, they will be reunited with their brigade leadership and about 1,500 soldiers from the brigade who deployed to Afghanistan earlier this year.
Those soldiers are spread throughout the country, from Bagram Airfield and Kabul to Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
They also have a variety of missions, tasked with training, advising, and assisting Afghan partners and providing security for other US forces in the country.
The commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla, said the latest deployments are an example of how the division’s paratroopers remain ready for whatever the nation asks.
“This past week, the remainder of our 1st Brigade Combat Team departed Fort Bragg to join their fellow Devil Brigade paratroopers already engaged in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan,” Kurilla said. “We were directed to provide additional forces in Afghanistan and, as always, we stand prepared to provide combat power on short notice while continually maintaining readiness for other contingencies should those emerge. We are the 82nd Airborne Division; this is who we are and the business we are in.”
The 82nd Airborne Division is part of the nation’s Global Response Force — which is tasked with deploying anywhere in the world on short notice. The division’s paratroopers also are often in high-demand by combatant commanders around the world.
The 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team returned from Iraq, Kuwait and Syria this week, following a nine-month deployment in support of the fight against the Islamic State.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team, in addition to the paratroopers in Afghanistan, also has several hundred soldiers in Kosovo, deployed as part of a peacekeeping mission.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which has soldiers training at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, is serving on the Global Response Force.
And the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade has had soldiers deployed to South Korea and the Horn of Africa in the past year.
This month, the division also deployed several hundred paratroopers — most from the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade — to Florida where they are part of Hurricane Irma relief efforts.
Kurilla said the division focuses on sustainable readiness to ensure its paratroopers are able to deploy rapidly when the nation calls.
That means working to avoid the peaks and valleys of readiness from past training models. Those models — fueled by regular deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan — would see units train up to reach peak readiness just before a deployment only to have that readiness plummet once the unit returned and soldiers began to leave for other units while newer troops replaced them.
“We can’t afford those kinds of cliffs and valleys in today’s uncertain environment,” Kurilla said. “Instead, we maintain a model whereby our paratroopers maintain a continuously high level of readiness.”
That means that even when a unit is deployed, paratroopers will rotate in and out of theater to attend professional development schools, transfer to new units, or even retire. New paratroopers are brought into the organization through rear detachment units, rapidly trained, and then sent into theater to join their fellow paratroopers.
Commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Griffis, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs.
“This model allows units to sustain readiness while deployed, and to return from deployment ready to immediately move on to the next mission as required,” Kurilla said.
The general said his paratroopers are ready to deploy anywhere in the world in as little as 18 hours, no matter the threat or mission.
“But, more than just that, we are prepared to have multiple elements from the division deployed all while continuing to maintain readiness and preserving combat power for the long haul,” he said. “In an era of near-persistent conflict, this is what sustainable readiness must look like.”
“In an environment in which persistent, unpredictable threats loom, it is important to maintain this readiness model that allows us to counter those threats as they emerge,” Kurilla added.
While the latest deployments to Afghanistan came with short notice, they were not completely unexpected.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team, like most of the 82nd Airborne Division, has repeatedly deployed to the country, with the most recent tours in 2012 and 2014.
And when 1st Brigade soldiers deployed in June, Col. Tobin Magsig told the paratroopers remaining at Fort Bragg to be prepared. He said those not set to deploy would stand ready in case they were needed.
In addition to the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, Army officials in Alaska announced that an additional 1,000 soldiers there would also be deploying to Afghanistan.
Those soldiers are part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Originally, 1,200 paratroopers from the brigade were slated to deploy to Afghanistan, but the pending troop increase in Afghanistan increased that number to about 2,100 soldiers.
The 1st Brigade soldiers have deployed in small groups over more than a week.
On Sept. 13, nearly 150 paratroopers waited to deploy from a building at Pope Field. They said they had been eagerly awaiting the call that would send them to join their brigade in Afghanistan.
“Absolutely,” said 1st Lt. Mason Bell when asked if the soldiers were ready. “We’ve been waiting for the word since June.”
Bell and other soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment had said their goodbyes to families and friends earlier in the day. Now, with a huge American flag as a backdrop, they waited the last several hours before leaving for Afghanistan.
For the past several months, the soldiers had received several tentative dates for deployments. But nothing was ever final.
Then, last month, President Trump made a national address recommitting the United States to the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.
“That’s when we kind of knew it would go down,” said 2nd Lt. Alexander Rodino.
The soldiers had about a week’s notice that they would deploy. They spent that time preparing themselves and their families for what is expected to be a six- or seven-month deployment.
Some, like Staff Sgt. Adam Watkins, will be returning to Afghanistan for the first time in years. Watkins last deployed to the country seven years ago. He said he’s eager to see what has changed in that time.
He said finally knowing that the unit is leaving was a relief to his family, who had dealt with a constant “will they or won’t they” for the past several months.
“We are finally here,” Watkins said. “That part is over.”
Bell said families were understanding of the mission.
“It’s mixed emotions,” he said. “They’re proud of us. But they’re worried, too.”
The soldiers expect to hit the ground running, they said.
“We train all the time,” Rodino said. “Very few of us get to go do what we train to do.”
“We’re excited,” added Bell. “We’re getting to join the others in our brigade. And we’re serving our country.”
It’s Monday, you’re staring down another week of work and need some convincing that there’s reason to feel anything but dread. Enter: the work joke. Having an arsenal of funny but clean, work-appropriate jokes at your disposal can be handy for lightening the mood and boosting morale when the stress of work (and childcare, and the pandemic, and and…) sets in. Work jokes are even handier in the era of Zoom, where social awkwardness reigns and a corny joke can take the edge off. Even, and especially, in a pandemic, creating brief, good moments in your day can help everyone’s mood. Here are some of the best.
1. A conference call is the best way to get a dozen people to say bye 300 times.
2. To err is human. To blame it on someone else shows management potential.
3. Why did the scarecrow get promoted? Because he was out standing in his field!
4. All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.4.
5. Why do I drink coffee? It always me to do stupid things faster and with more energy.
6. You know what they say about a clean desk. It’s a sure sign of a cluttered desk drawer.
7. Why did she quit her job at the helium factory? She refused to be talked to in that voice.
8. What did the employee do when the boss said to have a good day? Went home.
9. What does a mathematician say when something goes wrong? Figures!
10. What did one ocean say to the other? Nothing, they just waved.
11. The first five days after the weekend are the hardest.
12. I get plenty of exercise at work: jumping to conclusions, pushing my luck and dodging deadlines.
13. Q: Why did the can crusher quit his job?
A: Because it was soda pressing.
14. Whoever stole my copy of Microsoft Office, I will find you! You have my word!
15. I gave up my seat to a blind person on the bus. And that’s how I lost my job as a bus driver.
16. My teachers told me I’d never amount to much because I procrastinate so much. I told them, “Just you wait!”
17. Our computers went down at work today, so we had to do everything manually. It took me 20 minutes to shuffle the cards for Solitaire.
18. When I got to work this morning, my boss stormed up to me and said, “You missed work yesterday, didn’t you?” I said, “No, not particularly.”
19. Why does Snoop Dogg use an umbrella? Fo drizzle.
20. Why are chemists great at solving problems? Because they have all of the solutions!
21. Why did the developer go broke? Because he used up all his cache.
22. Have you heard about the guy who stole the calendar? He got 12 months!
23. Why don’t scientists trust atoms? They make up everything.
24. What does the world’s top dentist get? A little plaque.
She doesn’t look like much. Weighing in at just under 19,000 tons, this ship doesn’t have much in the way of firepower, either. She’s relatively slow with a top speed of 23 knots. So, when you look at a Blue Ridge-class ship, you may wonder to yourself, “just what the heck is this thing’s purpose?”
The short answer: She’s the brains of the fleet. To be more precise, she’s there to “provide command and control for fleet commanders” according to the United States Navy. But it’s not entirely uncommon for a lesser-armed ship to take on such an important role.
Back in World War II, the auxiliary USS Argonne (AG 31) served as a flagship in the South Pacific for Admiral William F. Halsey. The transport USS MacCawley (APA 4) was used as the flagship for Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner until its loss in a friendly fire incident in 1943. The United States even converted a pair of amphibious ships, USS Coronado (APF 11) and USS LaSalle (AGF 3), to act as fleet flagships during the Cold War.
USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) in the South China Sea.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Behnke)
The two-ship Blue Ridge-class, however, was built specifically for the task of enabling a fleet commander to handle his fleet. As a small, mobile command post, it is much less vulnerable to attacks from terrorists or enemies. There’s a lot of ocean to hide in, so you have to search really hard to find it.
If worst comes to worst, the Blue Ridge does have some emergency firepower. For self-defense, the ship is outfitted with two Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems. These 20mm guns are a last-ditch defense against incoming missiles, but this ship is intended to be well out of harm’s way. Its primary weapons are its array of communications antennae, allowing commanders to handle operations across an entire theater if need be.
The reason for these ships in one photo: It provides a secure location for command and control, allowing admirals and generals to run operations.
(DOD photo by Cherie A. Thurlby)
The Blue Ridge-class command ships will be around for at least 20 more years, if not longer — not bad for ships that were commissioned nearly 50 years ago!
Learn more about the brains of the United States Navy’s fleet in the video below.
Afghanistan has long been one of the world’s biggest producers of opium, which is used to make heroin, and the Taliban has made a lucrative business from taxing and providing security to producers and smugglers in the region.
But the militant group has expanded its role in that drug trade considerably, boosting its profits at a time when it is making decisive gains against the Afghan government and its US backers.
According to a New York Times report, the Taliban has gotten involved in every stage of the drug business. Afghan police and their US advisers find heroin-refining labs with increasingly frequency, but the labs are easy to replace.
The country has produced the majority of the world’s opium for some time, despite billions of dollars spent by the US to fight it during the 16-year-long war there. Afghan and Western officials now say that rather than getting smuggled out of Afghanistan in the form of opium syrup, at least half of the crop is getting processed domestically, before leaving the country as morphine or heroin.
Those forms are easier to smuggle, and they are much more valuable for the Taliban, which reportedly draws at least 60% of its income from the drug trade. With its increasing focus on trafficking drugs, the Taliban has taken on more of the functions a drug cartel.
“They receive more revenues if they process it before it has left the country,” William Brownfield, former US Assistant Secretary for Drugs and Law Enforcement, told reporters in the Afghan capital Kabul earlier this year. “Obviously we are dealing with very loose figures, but drug trafficking amounts to billions of dollars every year from which the Taliban is taking a substantial percentage.”
An Afghan farmer can be paid about $163 for a kilo of raw opium, which is like a black sap. Once it is refined into heroin, it can be sold for $2,300 to $3,500 a kilo at regional markets. In Europe it has a wholesale value of about $45,000.
Opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been consistently high since the US invasion in 2001. In 2016, there was a 10% jump in the area under cultivation, making it one of the three highest years on record. Initial data indicated 2017 was another record year, according to The Times, with government eradication efforts continue to be stymied throughout the country.
Seizures of chemical precursors, which are needed to process opium, have spiked, and the amount of processed morphine and heroin seized has risen considerably, now outstripping that of opium.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that without drugs, the war in Afghanistan “would have been long over,” and a senior Afghan official told The Times that, “If an illiterate local Taliban commander in Helmand makes a million dollars a month now, what does he gain in time of peace?”
The Trump administration has said its new strategy in Afghanistan is aimed at convincing the group there is no way to win on the battlefield, but its growing role in the drug trade is likely to make some elements of the Taliban less disposed to negotiations with the Kabul.
“This trend has real consequences for peace and security in Afghanistan, as it encourages those within the Taliban movement who have the greatest economic incentives to oppose any meaningful process of reconciliation with the new government,” the UN has said.
The Taliban’s move into heroin processing comes as it gains ground against the government, particularly in areas where the drug is produced.
A unit of several hundred Afghan commandos, working with US special-forces advisers, is tasked with interdicting the flow of drugs. But their work is often undermined by Afghan officials (including ones from their own unit) complicit in the drug trade or hindered by insecurity that persists in much of the country.
“In Helmand, we were targeting to do more than 2,000 to 3,000 hectares of eradication,” Javid Qaem, Afghanistan’s deputy minister of narcotics, told The Times. “We couldn’t do anything there, none at all, because Helmand was almost an active battlefield, the entire province.”
Helmand, home to an estimated 80% of Afghanistan’s opium poppies, is a “big drug factory,” a Western official told AFP earlier this year. “Helmand is all about drugs, poppy and Taliban,” he said.
While the US Drug Enforcement Administration has said that a minuscule portion of the heroin seized in the US is from Southwest Asia, heroin sourced to Afghanistan makes up a significant amount of what is found on the street in Europe.
The State Department has said 90% of the heroin found in Canada and 85% of that found in the UK can be tracked back to Afghanistan.
According to the 2017 European Drug Report, “most heroin found in Europe is thought to be manufactured [in Afghanistan] or in neighbouring Iran or Pakistan.” (Drug addiction has exploded in Iran, with opium making up two-thirds of consumption.)
Heroin is Europe’s most common opioid, with an estimated retail value between 6 billion and 7.8 billion euros, according to the report, produced by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
A U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone took out a Soviet-made T-72 tank in eastern Syria on Feb. 10 2018 in a “self-defense” strike after pro-regime forces fired on U.S. advisers and allied Syrian fighters.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of Air Forces Central Command, acknowledged that the battlespace in Syria is becoming increasingly contested as more operators move into the area, making response decisions ever more complicated.
“… We rely upon our folks who are on the ground to make that decision, primarily the ground force commander,” Harrigian told reporters from the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, during a video teleconference briefing.
“What happened in that particular scenario is the tank that fired was within an effective range to target our SDF and advisers on the ground, which clearly provides [the ground commander] the ability to defend himself. And he made that decision, appropriately so, and that was the result,” he said.
Harrigian would not speculate on who was operating the tank — Russian forces or those belonging to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He said he was not aware of any other provocations against the coalition that day.
The MQ-9 mission occurred the same day an Iranian drone was downed over Israel. Israel launched a counterattack “on Iranian targets” in Syria in response to the drone’s intrusion, during which an Israeli F-16 was targeted and crash landed back in Israeli territory.
“We fully support Israel’s right to defend themselves, particularly against threats to their territory and their people,” Harrigian said.
The attacks come days after pro-Assad forces attacked the Syrian Defense Forces in Deir el-Zour Province. The U.S. on, Feb. 7, 2018, launched significant air and firepower in response to protect coalition service members working with the SDF in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity.
The U.S. sent up F-22A Raptor advanced stealth fighters, along with MQ-9 drones, to watch as a three-hour battle began Feb. 7, 2018, while “a variety of joint aircraft and ground-based artillery responded in defense of our SDF partners, including F-15E Strike Eagles,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, AfCent spokesman, told Military.com last week.
Harrigian says officials are still assessing how many pro-regime forces were killed as a result but estimates it was approximately 100. Other reports suggest that more than 200 were killed, with a number of news outlets saying the militants were made up of Russian mercenaries.
Harrigian would not comment on the makeup of the forces.
“What we saw coming at us was approximately a battalion-sized unit,” he said. “We continue to look at what those forces were composed of … and it’s going to take some time to fully understand who was down there … and there’s a fair number of groups involved with this, and it’s always difficult to sort that out.”
He added, “This is executed as self- defense, and we are going to defend ourselves. We all need to be crystal clear about that. We’re going to do that first — defend ourselves appropriately — and then … we’ve got to work through exactly who it was to understand [the threat].”
U.S. forces will continue to watch the area, but Harrigian noted the goal “is to get back to fighting” the Islamic State.
“It clearly is a very complicated and complex environment,” he said. “For both our forces on the ground and … for our forces in the air, this environment requires the professionalism and discipline of a force that’s able to manage and understand the environment in such that we can make timely decisions and understand how were going to protect ourselves, and get after the ISIS fight.”
Turkey is looking into joining a Chinese- and Russian-led alliance known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Sunday at the end of his official tour of Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
Erdogan said he met with SCO leaders over the weekend and expressed his interest in joining the Eurasian political, economic, and military alliance as an alternative to joining the European Union, which has not been receptive to Turkey’s repeated bids for membership that began in 1963.
France, Germany, and Belgium — home to Brussels, where the EU is headquartered — have long opposed Turkey’s accession into the EU. Erdogan’s reluctance to sign on to certain membership requirements and his increasingly authoritarian leadership over Turkey have also sparked concern among European leaders that he is not committed to a Western conception of human rights and civil liberties.
Thousands of Turkish civil servants — as well as military personnel, police officers, academics, and teachers — have been purged or arrested on suspicion that they were associated with a failed coup in July of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Dozens of journalists, primarily those working for opposition newspapers, have also been arrested since the attempted coup, while several opposition outlets have been shut down altogether.
Erdogan insisted in a recent interview with “60 Minutes” that “these measures are being taken by prosecutors and judges in full accordance with the rule of law.” But the crackdown has led the European Commission to warn Turkey that it is “backsliding” in human rights and democracy — an accusation Erdogan appeared to scoff at.
“From time to time, we see insults directed at myself, claims that there was no freedom of expression in Turkey,” Erdogan said on Sunday. “Meanwhile, terrorists prance around in French, German, and Belgian streets. This is what they understand of freedom.”
A rejection, or a bluff?
Increasing disenchantment with the EU and the perception that he is being lectured to by the US — which supports anti-ISIS Syrian Kurds viewed by Turkey as terrorists — has apparently spurred Erdogan to look east, where his domestic policies have not been heavily scrutinized or condemned.
“Erdogan feels much more comfortable and at home among the authoritarian regimes of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization rather than facing the scrutiny and criticism of the European family of nations,” Aykan Erdemir, an expert on Turkey and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider on Monday.
Joining or even threatening to join the Shanghai bloc — which is heavily influenced by Russia and China — would rattle the West and, as Erdogan said on Sunday, would “considerably broaden” Turkey’s “room for maneuver.”
“If Turkey were to actually join the SCO, it would, of course, drastically alter relations with the US and NATO,” Michael Koplow, a Middle East analyst and policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, told Business Insider on Monday.
“It would be viewed as a rejection of the Western alliance and make it incredibly difficult to include Turkey in any type of high-level strategic dialogue, given concerns about Russian expansionism,” he said, adding that Turkey, unlike other NATO members, is already a partner country to SCO dialogue.
Still, many analysts are skeptical that Erdogan is prepared to put his money where his mouth is. He has been flirting heavily and publicly with Russia since the summer, but it is unclear whether a closer alliance with Russia and China would benefit Turkey politically or economically.
“Erdogan’s weather vane foreign policy characterized by frequent U-turns is based neither on values nor principles,” said Erdemir, a former member of Turkish parliament. He noted that Erdogan made the same announcement about possible SCO membership during a November 2013 meeting with Putin, yet never acted on it.
Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian and Eurasian affairs and fellow at the Wilson Center, said the SCO is “not a cohesive economic or political bloc” and would offer little to Turkey in practice other than to “instill the perception that the West is somehow ‘losing Turkey’ and should chase Erdogan to get it back.”
‘A rogue and dysfunctional’ ally
Complicating the Western temptation to write off Erdogan’s comments as empty threats, however, is Turkey’s recent deal with the EU to help stem the flow of refugees trying to enter Europe from Syria.
“Erdogan knows that the EU views Turkey as critical to staunching the flow of refugees into Europe,” Koplow said. “He has a long history of making these types of threats in order to pressure Europe into concessions of various sorts. It’s a gambit that will probably be successful if recent history is any guide.”
Over the summer, the EU agreed to pay Turkey €3 billion ($3.2 billion) — and German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to speed up Turkey’s EU bid — if Turkey pledged to harbor the vast number of refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Europe.
Turkey’s entry into the SCO would also complicate its relationship with NATO.
“In theory, SCO membership would not require Turkey’s exit from NATO,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, told Business Insider on Tuesday. “In practice, however, it would severely strain Ankara’s ties with other NATO members.”
Ultimately, however, Bremmer believes Erdogan is just looking for leverage.
“Erdogan wants the US to rely less on the Syrian Kurds and to extradite [Fethullah] Gulen rather than a signal of a historic and strategic shift away from the West,” he said, noting that many existing SCO members don’t necessarily want Turkey to join.
“Erdogan himself said yesterday relations with the US and NATO are on track, so I think there’s lots of smoke, no fire here,” he added.
Erdogan told CBS over the weekend that Turkey is “moving in the same direction with NATO that we have always done.” But July’s failed coup appears to have made him only more determined to stomp out dissent, whether from his own citizens or the international community.
Erdemir, meanwhile, predicted that Turkey’s “gradual drift from NATO” would continue.
“Putin will make sure that this is a slow and painful process for Turkey and the transatlantic alliance,” he said. “He knows that as a rogue and dysfunctional NATO ally, Turkey is of greater use to Moscow than as a defector to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”
Before taking office as POTUS, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a white house of his own — a smaller, less notable white house, located in Warm Springs, Georgia. Now a museum of all things FDR, the late president built the house in 1932. He first came to this location of West-Central Georgia in 1924, while seeking treatment for his polio in the natural buoyant waters.
It was a combination of warm mineral water — sitting at a year round 88 degrees — and physical exercise that helped ease his symptoms. Into his presidency, FDR used the Little White House as a vacation retreat, where he’s said to have visited a total of 16 times, often for weeks with each stay.
In fact, it’s said that FDR drew many of his ideas for the New Deal from his small town visits, specifically the Rural Electrification Administration.
Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation
In 1927, FDR purchased the land that hosted its popular warm waters. Formerly known as Bullochvile, the area had become a tourist destination for residents of Savannah and Atlanta, including those with symptoms of yellow fever. Through his ownership, he rebuilt the area’s “ramshackle” hotel that housed pools of natural mineral waters, and began bringing in polio survivors to bask in these healing waters.
FDR became so interested in hydrotherapy that he eventually founded the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. It was funded by the Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, known today as the March of Dimes. Their rehab efforts were available for a wide variety of ailments, including post-polio syndrome, amputation, spinal cord injuries, brain damage, and stroke.
The area is preserved as the Warm Springs Historic District, where buildings have been maintained to their looks from the Roosevelt era, with the exception of a cottage that burned down in 2001 due to a suspected lightning strike.
Visitors can head to the Little White House for a trip back in time; the space is said to be preserved as it was the day Roosevelt died. (Yes, you can even see the very room where he passed.) Other highlights include his custom Ford convertible and the Unfinished Portrait, a painting that was being made of FDR when he suffered a stroke.
Take a feel of the warm waters by hand on your tour, or plan ahead for a swim; the springs are open to public swimming once a year on Labor Day weekend.