The US Navy broke with its tradition of hyping up F-35 deployments when it sent the USS Essex jump-jet carrier into the Western Pacific with a deck full of the revolutionary fighter jets this week — and it could signal a big change in how the US deals with its toughest adversaries.
When the USS Wasp became the first small-deck aircraft carrier to deploy with US Marine Corps F-35Bs in early 2018, the media was in on it. But the Essex’s departure marks a change, as the Navy announced the deployment only after the ship departed, USNI News noted.
The Navy regularly deploys capital ships like small- and large-deck carriers for patrols around the world but has only twice deployed ones like these.
The F-35 has become the most expensive weapons system in history and earned its share of criticism along the way as costs ballooned and deadlines fell through. The Marine Corps’ F-35B is designed to land vertically and take off from short runways, like an amphibious assault ship, and will replace the AV-8B Harrier in ground and air attack missions; the Navy’s F-35C has a tailhook to snag an arresting cable and land on an aircraft carrier.
The Navy wants to change the media’s expectations regarding ship deployments to the Pacific, sources told USNI News.
The US military usually prides itself on publicizing its ship deployments and often says its carrier deployments are drawn up apolitically and months ahead of time, but insisting on some level of secrecy betrays that.
The flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in the Luzon Strait.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan McFarlane)
What does the US Navy have to hide in the Pacific?
The US has major adversaries in the Pacific — namely China and, to a lesser extent, North Korea.
It makes sense that with dialogue underway with North Korea, the US would want to quiet big deployments to the Western Pacific, and a high-profile deployment of next-generation stealth jets could seriously spook North Korea.
But it’s China’s navy that poses the biggest threat to the US, and it’s possibly the reason the US is staying quiet.
When the USS Ronald Reagan, the US’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier in Japan, patrolled the South China Sea, which China unilaterally claims as its own in defiance of international law, the US said very little about it. Repeated requests for comment from Business Insider went ignored.
The US uses its Navy to challenge what it calls excessive maritime claims of dozens of nations around the world in passages called “freedom of navigation” operations. Basically, if a country claims an excessive amount of maritime territory, the US usually sails a destroyer through to inform it that its claims are not recognized.
China views these patrols as a challenge to its sovereignty and makes a big deal out of them. For the US, it’s better if the challenges to China’s claims are the norm and not a news story. Some observers have speculated that the US wants to send a message to China’s military leadership without the publicity that may compel them to escalate.
By keeping quiet high-profile deployments to the Pacific, the US could be signaling that it’s getting ready to put the ball back in China’s court, with high-end military hardware checking it and disputes handled between navies rather than via press releases.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The A-10 Thunderbolt is arguably the best close-air support plane in history thanks, primarily, to its GAU-8 cannon. The seven-barreled, 30mm Gatling gun holds 1,129 rounds and can chew up a modern tank. Despite its massive success in the air, the GAU-8 has proven to be far more versatile. Believe it or not, the GAU-8 is also at the heart of a last-ditch, anti-missile system used by a number of navies. That system is called the Goalkeeper.
The Goalkeeper uses a combination of sophisticated radars to detect incoming threats, typically missiles, and fires rounds from its cannon to obliterate the target before it can harm the ship. In function, this defense system is very similar to the U.S.’s Phalanx — the albino-R2D2 looking thing found on virtually every American ship built since the 1980s. The Phalanx, by comparison, uses the M61, a 20mm Gatling gun. It’s been upgraded over the years and has an effective range of roughly one mile.
The Phalanx, however, cannot completely prevent a ship from taking damage — the system’s range is too short to guarantee full diffusion. That being said, the damage a ship endures after an incoming projectile is struck by the gun is from fragments rather than a direct hit. The ship may spend a lot of time replacing radars and fixing other gear, but it beats being sunk. The Goalkeeper, on the other hand, intends to reduce the risk of even that damage
According to NavWeaps.com, the Goalkeeper has almost twice the effective range of the Phalanx. The longer range and more powerful rounds mean that when an enemy missile is hit, not as many fragments hit the ship — and those that do will do so with much less energy. This reduces the damage done to the ship and can even make the difference between keeping a ship in the fight and going back to port for lengthy repairs.
The Royal Netherlands Navy and the Royal Navy initially used the system. South Korea later acquired a number of the systems for their surface combatants and the system now serves with the Peruvian, Belgian, Qatari, Chilean, and Portuguese navies.
See the Goalkeeper bring BRRRRRT to a ship in the video below!
Military service isn’t for everyone. Many potential recruits are passionate about enlisting but can’t due to some limitation while others who would make perfect applicants have no interest. The Pentagon doesn’t sweat the loss of young adults who aren’t eligible or have no interest, however, because of the many able troops willing to raise their right hand and pick up the slack.
But, in more recent years, the number of eligible enlistees has been getting smaller and smaller.
According to recently released data from the Pentagon, only 10 million of the 34 million young Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are eligible to serve in the military. This is the continuation of a trend observed in 2014. To properly sustain the ranks, recruiters need to find the U.S. Army 80,000 new troops, the Marine Corps needs 38,000, the Air Force needs 33,000, and the Navy needs 31,000 annually. This brings the total to 182,000 troops per year. To make those numbers, 1.82% of the total 18-24-year-old American population that can enlist must do so.
The military relies on a constant flow of new recruits to fill in the gaps left by troops who left the service that year. That number grows and shrinks with each passing year, but if a manpower shortage becomes too great, it could spark a national security emergency.
But that’s a long ways off.
There are many reasons for disqualifying potential recruits. In recent years, the biggest disqualifier has been obesity. Basic training isn’t designed to get unhealthy people into fighting shape — it’s about getting reasonably fit people combat-ready. It’s not uncommon for potential recruits to get fit before they even step in a recruiter’s office.
The recruits who spend work months slimming down often take their service much more seriously. The same goes for other disqualifying factors, like education (which can be fixed with studying for the ASVAB or earning a GED) and financial concerns (which can be overcome through aid and personal perseverance).
If they’ve worked to earn their spot on the team, they won’t take it for granted.
In Oct. 2014, Pemberton met Laude in a bar while he was on leave. The two checked into a nearby hotel where he attacked the transgendered woman when he found out she was born a male. He admitted to the attack but maintained she was alive when he left the hotel.
Laude was found strangled with her head in the room’s toilet.
The case strained relations between the two countries. The Philippines, a former U.S. territory, will hold Pemberton until the two governments reach a consensus on where he should serve his prison term. There are calls in the Philippine government to end its military relationship with the United States.
Laude with her German fiancé, Marc Sueselbeck
The current status of forces agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines allows the Philippines to prosecute members of the U.S. military, but the U.S. government is to hold them until all court proceedings are finished.
Pemberton is also ordered to pay the U.S. equivalent of $95,350 to the family of the victim.
Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader who lives in constant fear of assassination, has reportedly hired Russian ex-KGB bodyguards to protect him in case of an attempt on his life.
Japan’s Asahi Shinbum reported that Kim hired about 10 former KGB counter-terrorism agents to train his bodyguards on how to detect and respond to terrorist attacks.
The KGB, the former Soviet Union’s main security and spy agency, had decades of practice in defending high-value targets against attempts at regime change.
The source told Asahi Shinbum that Kim was particularly scared of US advanced-weapons systems, like the Gray Eagle drone the US is set to operate in South Korea in 2018.
However, it’s unclear how counter-terrorism bodyguards could protect Kim against a drone high in the sky raining down bombs.
South Korean media has reported that the US and South Korea have been working together on a “decapitation force” to kill the North Korean leader in the event that Pyongyang becomes intolerably aggressive.
Kim has a history of going to extreme measures to shore up his reign over North Korea, with some reports saying he killed his half-brother Kim Jong Nam to thwart a Chinese-backed coup attempt.
President Donald Trump said June 20, 2018, that the repatriation of the remains of U.S. troops listed as missing from the Korean War has already begun. However, military officials who would assist in the work of repatriating these troops have yet to confirm any movement on their promised return.
“We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back,” Trump told a cheering crowd at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, Reuters reported.
The White House transcript of the event quoted Trump as saying “We got back our fallen heroes, the remains.”
It was not immediately clear what Trump meant by “sent back,” or where the process stood in terms of delivering the remains into the custody of the U.S. military, but the Wall Street Journal reported June 20, 2018, that the return was imminent and could involve more than 250 sets of remains.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
The Journal’s report, citing a U.S. official, said that Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, was likely to preside at a solemn repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base south of Seoul.
Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, said June 21, 2018, at the annual conference of the National League of POW/MIA Families that he has been working closely on arranging for repatriations with Kelly McKeague, director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
Schriver, who represented the Pentagon at talks with the North Koreans in the Demilitarized Zone and at the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said the U.S. had a plan in place for repatriations.
“We’re ready to go as soon as we get agreement on the part of the North Koreans,” he said.
“I’m very confident that this is one we can move out quickly on,” Schriver continued in his speech. “We think they have 200 or so box sets of remains and we hope there’s a unilateral repatriation soon.”
In a statement on June 18, 2018, DPAA said that DPRK officials had in the past indicated that had up to 200 sets of recovered remains in their possession.
“The commitment established within the Joint Statement between President Trump and Chairman Kim would repatriate these as was done in the early 1990s and would reinforce the humanitarian aspects of this mission,” DPAA said.
Once the remains are returned, they were to be transferred to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and the DPAA’s Central Identification Laboratory for the painstaking and lengthy process of identification for the return of the remains to the families.
Spokesmen for DPAA were not immediately available for comment on Trump’s remarks but said Tuesday that DPAA had yet to be notified to prepare for returns.
At the Pentagon June 20, 2018, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that discussions on the return of remains were “ongoing right now, but I don’t have any updates for you. I know that we’re engaged on it.”
At the Singapore summit, Trump and Kim signed a joint declaration committing to the “immediate repatriation” of already identified POW/MIA remains of U.S. troops.
According to DPAA, more than 7,800 Americans have not been accounted for from the Korean War.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The Sikorsky S-70 platform is one of the most popular and versatile medium-lift utility helicopters with the U.S. military and government agencies. As a result, it can be seen in a variety of color schemes. Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawks can be found sporting a dark gull gray scheme while Navy SH-60 Sea Hawks bear a lighter maritime gray. Army UH-60 Black Hawks are painted in a dark green while their Special Forces 160th SOAR MH-60 counterparts are completely blacked out. However, there is one color that can be seen on multiple S-70-based aircraft and many others besides.
When serious wildfires break out on the west coast, state and local firefighting teams are augmented by the National Guard. Ground forces are often employed cutting fire breaks while air assets are used to rescue fire victims and attack the fire directly. However, air operations in the middle of a fire are extremely dangerous. High winds, thick smoke, and extreme heat make for a difficult flying environment that can challenge even the most experienced aviators. The firefighting effort against the 2020 Creek Fire has already produced 7 Distinguished Flying Cross recipients who heroically braved the deadly conditions and ignored orders to abort their mission to save hundreds of people trapped by the flames.
A UH-60 Black Hawk of the CA National Guard 1-140th Aviation Battalion (Assault) (Army National Guard)
Although modern technology like night vision goggles and advanced sensor suites can assist pilots in navigating through the treacherous conditions that they face while fighting fires, one low-tech firefighting modification is applied to every military aircraft that flies against a fire. While their gray and green paint schemes help to reduce their visual signature in their respective combat environments, they can serve as a hazard in a firefighting situation where visibility is low and heavy air traffic results in increased risk of mid-air collisions. In order to mitigate this, military aircraft used to fight fires are painted with a fluorescent paint called shocking pink.
The result of an agreement between the California National Guard and CAL FIRE, shocking pink is the official color that is applied to aircraft from outside agencies that are assigned to battle fires. Aircraft identification numbers are repainted in the vivid color along with thick stripes on the tail and fuselage. “There can be a lot of aircraft fighting the fire in the fire lane,” said Chief Warrant Officer Bruce Pulgencio, a pilot with the California Guard’s 1-140th Aviation Battalion (Assault). “We need to see each other as well as ground forces need to see us.”
Spc. Nicholas Ehrenheim of the 351st Aviation Support Battalion applies pink paint to a Black Hawk (Army National Guard)
Although shocking pink is the official color, it is not always what is used. As a result of heavy firefighting focus in California, resources in surrounding states have been heavily reduced. During the 2018 wildfires in Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to assist in the firefighting effort. National Guard units stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord quickly mustered and gathered their firefighting equipment. However, one resource that was lacking was the shocking pink paint for their aircraft. “They ran out of paint,” Black Hawk crew chief Spc. Noah Marshman said as he applied pink paint to his aircraft. “They just went to the craft store.” The use of craft store paint highlights both the necessity of the brilliant color and the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the soldiers.
If you ever see a military aircraft overhead with pink markings, know that it’s being crewed by service members on their way to fight a fire…not that you could miss it.
The USS North Carolina was what they called a “fast” battleship, designed for long range shooting matches with other ships of war. She was faster than any other ship in the U.S. fleet when she was built.
“I was 17 when I came aboard this thing,” says James Bowen, a World War II veteran and USS North Carolina sailor. “I saw that thing and said ‘Nothing can hurt me on that thing.’ So I think of this as my second mother.”
“It brings back a lot of memories, if you walk around the ventilators,” says Louis Popovich, another USS North Carolina veteran. “It’s amazing how you can be reminded of an area by breathing some of the air.”
By the end of WWII, submarine warfare and aircraft carriers made the more expensive heavy gun warships like North Carolina all but obsolete. The last use of a battleship in combat was in Desert Storm, but by then they were firing Tomahawk missiles. Slowly over the next 50 years, the battleships of WWII were decommissioned one by one.
The North Carolina was opened to the public in 1963 and is now moored at Wilmington, N.C, where those interested in hearing more stories from the men who fought aboard her can visit.
While the ship will be there for the foreseeable future, the veterans’ firsthand stories will not. An estimated 430 WWII veterans die every day and by 2036, they will all be gone — but not forgotten.
In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.
It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.
Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.
Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”
Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.
Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.
Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.
But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.
On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.
The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.
Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.
The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.
“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”
The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.
During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.
“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Radicalized In Pakistan
The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.
The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.
The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.
Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.
The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.
War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.
But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.
The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.
Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.
‘We Were All Scared’
Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.
Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.
“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”
Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.
“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”
During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.
The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.
By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.
By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.
The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.
Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.
Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.
Negotiating An End To War
In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.
But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.
For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.
Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.
“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.
“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”
Road Map For Afghanistan
The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.
More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.
But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.
“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.
But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.
Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.
There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.
The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.
The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.
“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”
The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.
Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.
But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.
Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.
Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.
“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”
Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.
“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”
On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day which serves as a day to honor all those who serve in the sister-service branches.
The men and women of the military have made exceptional sacrifices and so on Armed Forces Day and all other military appreciation days, we can do small acts to show our gratitude to them.
Below are some ideas of how to show your appreciation:
1. Volunteer at a VA hospital or donate your time to a veterans group.
There are 152 veteran medical centers in the US as well as hundreds of clinics, outpatient and nursing facilities. Call your local VA medical center or community to learn more about donating your time.
2. Talk to veterans or an active service member.
(Photo by Russell Sellers)
Ask questions about their service, why they joined the military and listen to their stories. A little interest can go a long way.
3. Visit a memorial.
All across the US, military members are honored through monuments that memorialize their service and sacrifice. Washington DC is home to 8, but monuments dedicated to members of the military can be found throughout the nation.
4. Put together a care package.
(Department of Defense photo)
With so many USO centers sending a comforting package is easy. Check with your local center to ensure that they can send out the package. You can fill them up with snacks and non-perishable food, toiletries, stationery or purchase a pre-made package.
Cities across the US celebrate Armed Forces Day with parades. Some of the most famous parades can be found in the cities of Torrence, California, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.
7. Offer to help a military spouse.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch)
While expressing gratitude to service members is encouraged, so is helping out their families. With one person at home, daily tasks can get overwhelming and a break is welcome. Offer to cook a meal, drive them somewhere or watch their children for a few hours.
8. Fly a flag, the correct way.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Dennis Rogers)
Sometimes the simplest expressions of gratitude are the most appreciated. Make sure that if you do fly America’s Stars and Stripes you follow the code.
9. A simple thank you.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Snider)
Sometimes this is the most honest expression of gratitude to those who serve our country.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When Ultimate Fighting Championship hall-of-famer Forrest Griffin was in the octagon, he knew who to turn to when a pummeling led to lacerations — Air Force Reserve Citizen Airman Dr. (Col.) Gregory Hsu.
That’s because Hsu, who serves as the Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the U.S. Pacific Air Forces surgeon general, is a highly experienced ophthalmologist and plastic surgeon with over 24 years of experience.
Hsu is a solo-practitioner in Las Vegas and has operated his own eye clinic for the past two decades. As a doctor who specializes in diseases of the eye, he has to be at the top of his game when it comes to patching his patient’s faces after their treatment.
That skill, said Griffin, is what makes Hsu so valuable to the UFC and its fighters. When someone gets cut in a fight, that wound has to be closed up in such a way that it doesn’t open back up or form scar tissue, which leaves the skin susceptible to opening up in the future.
The UFC is a popular mixed martial arts fighting organization started in 1993. According to the UFC website, fighters must be skilled in many forms of hand-to-hand combat, including jiu-jitsu, karate and boxing. It produces more than 40 live events annually and is the largest Pay-Per-View event provider, broadcasting in 129 countries, 28 languages and reaching 800 million households.
Hsu’s and Griffin’s UFC histories are tightly intertwined. Griffin was a contestant on season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show in 2005; a top contender for season champ and a spot in the UFC. In the penultimate fight, he received a cut severe enough that the safety commission wanted to disqualify him from the final fight. That’s when Hsu got the call.
“I knew the [chief financial officer] of The Ultimate Fighter and he asked if I could do a suture job that would hold up through the fight,” said Hsu.
Hsu closed the wound to the satisfaction of the safety board and Griffin went on to win the final fight and earn a spot in the UFC at a time when the fighting format was exploding in popularity. Today, Griffin is retired from fighting but he continues with the organization, serving as the vice president of athletic development at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas.
Like Griffin, Hsu continues to work for the organization, supporting both the reality TV series, which is carried on Fox Sports 1, and eight to 10 major UFC events each year.
When Hsu is not stitching fighters or running his eye clinic, he serves his country as the IMA to the U.S. Pacific Air Forces surgeon general. The doctor said he was a late-comer to the military but joined because he wanted to give back to his country. He originally joined the Nevada Air National Guard but later switched to the Air Force Reserve, becoming a traditional reservist at the Nellis Air Force Base clinic. However, after being selected for promotion to colonel, he had to look for a position that would match his new grade. In 2015 he applied for his current position as an IMA. He was hired and promoted to his current rank.
Hsu said moving to the IMA program, where he can directly support the active-duty Air Force, has been a great ride, but working the budget, manpower and policy side of operations was a new experience for him.
“Integrating guidance to best meet the needs of PACAF down to the Airman, and seeing how we promote and deliver care, was an eye opening experience,” he added.
IMAs are Air Force Reserve Airmen assigned to augment active-component military organizations and government agencies. They have participation requirements similar to members in the traditional reserve. However, most IMAs perform all of their required annual duty all at once; 24 to 36 days per year, depending on the assignment.
In 2017, Hsu used his duty time to represent the PACAF surgeon general at exercise Talisman Sabre 2017, a joint training activity with the Australian military.
“It was like lifting the hood of a car to see a new aspect of how it works,” he said of the experience that had him operating alongside Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, as well as Australian forces.
Hsu said it can be a balancing act to serve with the Air Force while also managing his business, UFC gig and family, but ultimately he loves being in uniform and helping to get the mission done.
The balancing act is something Hsu excels at. Griffin said he didn’t even know Hsu was in the Air Force until once when Doc, as the fighters call him, wasn’t at a fight.
“I asked where he was and he was at some sort of crazy exercise,” said the former fighter.
The doctor said he provides two primary services that keep the UFC fighters happy. First, good-quality plastic surgery keeps them healthy and returns them to the fight faster. Second, is the ability to skip a lengthy emergency room visit, allowing injured fighters to participate in press conferences, meet with fans and be a part of the post-fight buzz.
Hsu said it can be intimidating dealing with the fighters, especially following a loss when “you can cut the depression with a knife” or the fighter can’t calm down. But, with fighters sometimes lining up four to five deep, his presence is definitely needed.
The cuts are not typical for what he would see in his clinic. Hsu described them as challenging.
“Sometimes it takes me an hour to work on these guys,” he said. “The cuts are from gloves, knees, hands, they’re not the same as planned cuts in surgery.”
The worst injury Hsu said he handled was after a fight between Tito Ortiz and Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. Ortiz came out of the fight with a ripped eyelid and eyebrow and had to spend 45 minutes in Hsu’s suture room having it repaired.
“He didn’t care about his face, he was just pissed that he lost,” said Hsu, adding that his efforts ensured there was no permanent disfigurement from the injury.
As the sport has grown more professional, so have the demands on Hsu. Originally, the fighters were grateful for the quality, ring-side medical care. Now, with publicity, sponsorship and announcing jobs, Hsu said it’s also important for the fighters to come off the operating table looking good.
Griffin noted that Hsu has been a huge part of UFC, working the biggest shows of the year and taking care of stitches and any eye-related injuries.
“Post-fight medical care is one thing we really care about,” said Griffin. “It lets our fighters get back to training and fighting as soon as possible.”
Hsu, who knows most of the fighters personally, said they ask him to take good care of their faces.
“My work has to be perfect; everything, every time,” he said, adding “I love it, it’s a great ride.”
It’s no secret that veterans and coffee go together like peanut butter and jelly. As more and more people separate from active duty to pursue their passions, the number of boutique coffee companies run by prior service folks is only growing.
One of the newest is Ranger Candy Coffee. Ranger Candy is run by a former US Army mortarman who served a total of eight years both on active duty and with the National Guard. The company launched earlier this year with the goal of bringing high-quality coffee to service members, first responders, and outdoorsmen. The HMFIC at Ranger Candy also owns a home remodeling company, giving us hope that the American work ethic isn’t completely dead.
Ranger Candy starts with hand-selected, single-origin Arabica beans that they import from 18 different countries. The beans are then blended, roasted, ground, and shipped by the Ranger Candy crew anywhere in the US or to anybody working overseas with an APO/DPO/FPO. They offer light, medium and dark roasts available in six different grinds from fine to espresso to coarse, with a couple of settings in between. You can purchase quantities from 12 ounces to 12 pounds as well as K-Cups.
We received our own sample of Ranger Candy in a re-sealable 12-ounce bag that kind of reminded us of an MRE pouch. We’re not sure if that was on purpose or if we happen to be feeling nostalgic. Said sample was a standard grind dark roast sourced from Tanzania. We know it came from Tanzania because the label on the bag includes a list of all 18 countries they source from, and they will conveniently “check the box” next to the country of origin for your particular bag of coffee. In fact, you can specify the country of origin when you order. Do you prefer Mexican coffee to Costa Rican? Or Indian? Or Ugandan? You can specify the country of origin when you place your order. If you’re not sure what you prefer, the Ranger Candy website includes tasting and origin notes for each of the countries they source from.
For our Tanzanian sample, tasting notes were chocolate, cherries, and caramel. We caught the chocolate and think maybe we tasted a little bit of cherry on the finish, but couldn’t find the caramel. Your mileage may vary. But we also learned that our coffee was grown at an elevation of 5,900 feet in the Mbeya region.
Ranger Candy coffee runs .99 per 12 ounce bag, regardless of country-of-origin. They also offer a line of mugs and swag to accompany your cup of joe. Check them out at www.rangercandycoffee.com or on your social media of choice.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, recently completed a mission to cut a resupply channel through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea, but the ship’s 150-strong crew grappled with engine failure and flooding during the trip.
The Seattle-based Polar Star left port in December for Antarctica to support Operation Deep Freeze 2018, the U.S. military’s contribution to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is run by the National Science Foundation. The Polar Star was charged with clearing a path through 15 miles of ice — some of it up to 10-feet thick.
The Polar Star traveled through nearly 300 miles of pack ice before it reached fast ice, which is ice that’s actually connected to Antarctica, on Jan. 8, the Coast Guard said. After passing through the fast ice, the Polar Star reversed course to break the ice up further, clearing a channel for resupply ships.
“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” Polar Star commanding officer Capt. Michael Davanzo told Maritime Executive.
On Jan. 11 2018, there was a failure in one of the ship’s three main gas turbines, which produce the power needed for the ship’s propellers to break up thick, multi-year accumulations of ice. The Polar Star’s crew traced the problem to a programming error between the engine and the ship’s electrical system — which, like much of the ship, dates back to the 1970s.
Five days later, a shaft seal failed, allowing 20 gallons of frigid seawater a minute to flood the engine room. The crew responded quickly, stanching the flow with an emergency shaft seal. Afterward, they were able to remove the water from the ship’s engineering space and perform more permanent repairs on the faulty seal.
“The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty,” Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, told Maritime Executive.
McMurdo Station, opened in 1955, is one of three stations operated year-round by the National Science Foundation and acts as a staging area for teams headed to the South Pole and other research stations deeper in Antarctica. It is built on the southernmost patch of solid ground that is still accessible by ship. Its average temperature in January, which is a summer month, is 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Summertime supply deliveries allow the station to stay open.
In addition to the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Army, and National Guard personnel contribute to Operation Deep Freeze, which is led by Pacific Air Forces.
The Polar Star, which was commissioned in 1976, is the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, and it can break ice up to 21 feet thick. (It has one medium icebreaker, the Healy, which mainly does scientific work.) The Polar Star’s sister ship, the Polar Sea, was commissioned the same year but left service in 2010 because of repeated failures in its main engines.
In 2017, the Coast Guard determined that the Polar Sea would be too expensive to refurbish, even though its hull remains sound. The Polar Star was refurbished in 2012.
Many of the parts needed to keep the Polar Star running are no longer in production. Coast Guard personnel pull needed gear from the Polar Sea, but they’ve also had to order secondhand parts from eBay. The ship sails with a year’s supply of food in case it gets stuck.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has said the Polar Star is “literally on life support,” and the service plans to build at least three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fill out the fleet. The first one is expected by 2023.
The harsh conditions in the polar regions take a toll on the 41-year-old Polar Star. It is scheduled to return to the U.S. in March, at which point it will go into drydock for repairs. It is the only Coast Guard cutter to go into drydock every year.
“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” Midgette told Maritime Executive.