A Navy lieutenant who lost his life while working to save his passengers in a C-2 Greyhound crash Nov. 22 may be recommended for an award, an official said Nov. 27.
Lt. Steven Combs, the pilot of the aircraft, was one of three sailors who died when the aircraft crashed Nov. 22 in the Pacific Ocean en route to the carrier Ronald Reagan from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Eight other sailors, including the co-pilot, were rescued from the water.
Combs managed to execute a landing on the water, giving the four aircrew and seven passengers the best opportunity to get clear of the aircraft and reach safety. The difficulty of such a landing with the cargo aircraft was compounded by high seas, which by some reports reached 10 to 12 feet, said Cmdr. Ronald Flanders, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces.
“They did not have a lot of notice that they were going to have to ditch just miles from the carrier,” Flanders told Military.com. “To use the words of his co-pilot who told us, ‘[Combs] flew the hell out of that plane.'”
Flanders added that the possibility of a posthumous award for Combs in light of his actions was under discussion.
Combs, who was commissioned in 2011 and reported to Fleet Logistics Squadron 30 in 2015, had served aboard Ronald Reagan as a detachment assistant operations officer and administrative officer, according to a Navy release. During his career, he had logged more than 1,200 flight hours and 100 carrier-arrested landings.
Navy personnel were able to rescue the eight survivors within an hour of the C-2 going down southwest of Okinawa. On Nov. 25, the Navy identified those lost as Combs, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment), Airman Matthew Chialastri, and Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso.
Multiple sources have reported that engine failure is suspected as a cause of the crash, though an investigation is still underway.
“Clearly there was something amiss with the aircraft and basically they were not close enough to the carrier to try to bring it in,” Flanders said.
On Nov. 25, the Ronald Reagan held a memorial service to commemorate the lives of Combs, Chialastri, and Grosso.
Capt. Michael Wosje, the commander of the Reagan’s Carrier Air Wing 5, paid special tribute to the fallen pilot.
“The loss of one of our pilots weighs heavily on the entire Carrier Air Wing Five team. Lt. Combs will always be remembered as a hero,” Wosje said, according to a news release. “I am proud to have flown with him.”
The commander of the carrier, Capt. Buzz Donnelly, also honored the sailors who died.
“The loss of these crew members hits across the entire ship with great significance,” said Capt. Buzz Donnelly, Ronald Reagan’s commanding officer. “On behalf of the entire crew of USS Ronald Reagan, I extend heartfelt prayers and sincere condolences to the families and friends of the three shipmates we lost.”
Less than a week after the tragic crash, the Navy has not moved to suspend or pause flight operations for the aging Greyhound, the service’s carrier onboard delivery platform for personnel and logistics.
Flanders noted that the current batch of the aircraft, C-2A(R), which began flying for the Navy in the mid-1980s, has an almost unprecedented safety record. There has been only one previous fatality — a tragic 1988 mishap in which an individual walked into the aircraft’s prop arc.
“This mishap was the first of its kind in several decades,” Flanders said of the most recent crash.
The Greyhounds now flying for the Navy recently underwent a service-life extension program that was completed in 2015. The transports are set to be retired and replaced by Navy-variant CMV-22 Ospreys in the mid-2020s.
Keeping the troops well fed is a big part of how the military works. Navy veteran and pop-up chef August Dannehl knows this better than most. In the WATM series “Thank You For Your Service” August cooks a four-course meal for his fellow vets, and each course is inspired by a veteran’s story from his or her time in uniform.
When he came home from Afghanistan, Max’s mom prepared the classic Nicaraguan Carne Asada dish with fried plantains. It was a symbol of prosperity and transition into good times from his childhood. When he was young, his mother was a new immigrant to the U.S. and as a single mother, it was sometimes hard for her to put food the table. This dish always served as an embodiment of her love and stayed with Max from his home to overseas.
Short Rib Carne Asada w/ Bacon Jam, Apricot Mojo and Platanos
Inspired by Max’s Mother’s Nicaraguan Carne Asada
8 beef short ribs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 thin slices bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 carrots, diced
2 jalapeno, finely minced
1 medium onion, diced
Splash of red wine
4 cups Cola
4 cups beef broth (low sodium)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbs apricot jam
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 1/2 teaspoons ground
2 Green Plantains
Corn Oil for Frying
Salt and Pepper to taste
Season short rib liberally with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and bacon in heavy, oven-proof pan on medium heat. Once bacon starts rendering fat into the pan, add carrots, garlic, onion and jalapeño. Sweat for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
Sear short ribs in pan, working in batches to not crowd pan. If pan starts to look dry, add olive oil. Once all sides of every short rib are browned, deglaze pan with red wine and add cola. Let simmer for 10 minutes on stove to reduce.
Meanwhile, prepare the mojo by adding all ingredients but the olive oil in a blender. Slowly increase blend speed to reach about 4 out of 10. Slowly add olive oil through the top until the sauce becomes the consistency of smooth salsa.
Once cola is reduced by half add beef broth, thyme, rosemary and place entire pan (with top) into a 325° oven and braise for 4 hours. Remove short ribs and add flour to braising components to make jam. Stir ingredients for 4-5 minutes or until ingredients bind together.
Prepare platanos by slicing plantain, frying in 350° oil until light brown, smashing with side of a knife and then frying again until crispy (about 2 mins).
Grill short rib for 2-3 mins just to add final touch of smoke and fire to the meat. Then plate by adding platano and mojo to plate topped with meat and bacon jam.
Coalition air power had a busy Veterans’ Day Weekend while attacking the Islamic State of Iraqi and Syria, also known as ISIS.
Across Iraq and Syria, 84 airstrikes were carried out against the terrorist group, 27 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Iraqi forces have been trying to liberate from ISIS since October.
The attacks took place as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the region. Iraqi forces are moving towards the city, in an offensive expected to take months, according to a DOD News article.
“In my judgment, what Mosul does is reduce ISIL inside of Iraq back to an insurgency with terrorist actions and get them to a level where Iraqi security forces with a minimum level of outside support will be able to manage the violence inside Iraq,” Dunford said. “It denies ISIL freedom of movement and sanctuary inside Iraq.”
The terrorist group was in retreat as their eastern defenses around Mosul collapsed, and the Iraqi Army claimed to have secured the Intisar district of the city, and was moving into the neighborhood of Salaam.
As Coalition forces move in, there have been reports of increasing atrocities carried out by ISIS. According to VOA news, one video released by the terrorist group showed four children — none older than 14 — being forced to execute alleged spies. ISIS had developed “hand grenade” drones and was using them around Mosul.
In other news about the fight against ISIS, the BBC reported that ISIS carried out a half-dozen bombings around Baghdad, and a tweet from CombatAir reported that a Russian MiG-29K Fulcrum operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov was lost.
According to a Nov. 11 release, 24 air strikes were carried out by coalition forces, seven of which took place near Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged seven mortar systems, an artillery system, three vehicles, and two weapon caches. Other targets hit that day included a command and control node, oil production facilities, three supply routes, fighting positions, heavy machine guns, a storage container, and a bulldozer.
A Department of Defense release on Nov. 12 reported that five out of 23 strikes that day took place near Mosul. Those five strikes hit a fighting position; five mortar systems; two tunnel entrances; two heavy machines guns; four vehicles; a vehicle bomb; and a weapons cache. The other 18 strikes blasted a number of other targets, including a headquarters building; six oil wellheads; five fighting positions; and six ISIS “tactical units.
The Marine Corps is getting ready to launch a test to determine if lighter footwear will improve the performance of Marines at boot camp.
According to a release from Marine Corps Systems Command, the test, to be run during a future recruit training cycle, will involve two lightweight boots designed for warmer climates: the Danner Reckoning Hot Weather Boot, currently available to Marines for optional wear; and the Rocky Tropical boot, which has participated and performed well in recent wear tests assessing jungle footwear for Marines.
The Marine Corps plans to order 700 pairs of each to issue to an equal number of male and female recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. They will be compared to the standard Marine Corps combat boot during the test, according to the release.
During the three-month test, users will be monitored to determine if there is a decrease in lower extremity injuries for those wearing the lighter boots, according to the release.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Brianna Gaudi)
“The feedback we’ve received from Marines on the Reckoning boots, is positive,” Todd Towles, project officer for the Clothing and Equipment Team at Marine Corps Systems Command, said in a statement. “The boots are lightweight, durable, and there’s virtually no break-in period.”
While officials did not say when the test is set to take place, they have already begun to procure the boots it requires.
On March 22, 2018, the Marine Corps published an intent to sole source 700 pairs of the Reckoning boot. It published a request for a quote on the Rocky boot.
This most recent effort follows a series of wear tests in 2016 and 2017 involving tropical boot prototypes. The tests, which took place in Hawaii and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California, involved boots made by four different companies: Rocky Boots, Bates Footwear, Altama, and Danner.
While the Marine Corps has not publicized full results of those tests, they said the Rocky brand performed well during testing.
Tony Sutter was at work when he noticed photos of a vandalized sign pop up on his neighborhood watch group on Facebook Sunday afternoon. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a Purple Heart City, which falls under the Purple Heart Trail program. One of their signs marking Highway 11 had been spray painted black.
According to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, “The purpose of the Purple Heart Trail is to create a symbolic and honorary system of roads, highways, bridges, and other monuments that give tribute to the men and women who have been awarded the Purple Heart medal.” The signs serve as visual reminders of the sacrifices US men and women have made on behalf of their country.
Sutter served in the US Army for six years and was injured during his last deployment to Afghanistan. His grandfather, who recently died, was a Vietnam War veteran. He has seen the rigors of war through the psychological toll it takes as well as seeing brothers and sisters wounded or killed overseas. So seeing the vandalized sign hit a nerve.
The sign in Sioux Falls that was partially vandalized. Tony Sutter believes whoever was responsible didn’t spray paint the upper portion because the sign stands approximately 10 feet tall. Photos courtesy of Tony Sutter.
Sutter explained that regardless of what the vandal’s intentions were, “make your own sign and do whatever you want with it, but something that the city of Sioux Falls thought was appropriate to show some respect for our wounded veterans [should be left alone] — I couldn’t tolerate it, I gotta clean that up.”
“If I could prevent somebody from having that heartache or that feeling of disrespect [from seeing that sign vandalized] — if I could prevent that from at least one veteran or one person in general, maybe a family member of a veteran who’s been wounded, I’d say that’s a job well done,” Sutter said.
Sutter has an extensive background with mechanics and painting, so removing paint from the sign was not a problem. He grabbed a ladder and the proper chemicals to remove the paint and set out to Highway 11 and 57th Street, where the sign is located. Sutter was shaking in anger and shock over the disrespect someone had for the wounded veteran community. He thought about all of his friends and family who had been wounded while serving in the military as he scrubbed the paint away.
Though Tony Sutter specialized in radios and radio repair, he used his background before the military to assist his fellow troops with generators while deployed to Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Tony Sutter.
The connection with his grandfather was most present in his mind. Sutter’s grandfather was a US Marine who served during the Vietnam War. They used to share quiet moments together — just being around each other was comforting due to their separate but similar experiences in war.
Sutter went through a dark period in his life that included a divorce and the weight of his past experiences weighing him down. He broke down while talking with his grandfather and, with his grandfather’s support, decided to seek help. Within about a year, his grandfather sought help with his own experiences from Vietnam.
Sutter is aware of the hard times Vietnam veterans endured upon their return to the US after deployments. They were spit on and labeled as dysfunctional. When Sutter saw the Purple Heart City sign vandalized, he immediately thought of the Vietnam veterans, especially his late grandfather.
“You don’t mess with my family, and we’re all family,” Sutter said of the military and veteran communities. “Whether we know each other or not, […] we’re there for each other. I know for a fact my grandpa [was] looking down yesterday, and he had a big smile on his face. And I know that I made him proud because that’s who he helped raise — was that person that I became, to look out for other people and not just myself.”
The US believes North Korea fired a missile shortly before midnight Japan time, or 11 am EST July 28, a defense official confirmed to Business Insider — and initial estimates indicate it could be the longest-range missile ever tested by the Hermit Kingdom.
“I can confirm that we detected a launch of a ballistic missile from North Korea,” Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told Business Insider. “We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, as had been expected” Capt. Jeff Davis later said in a Pentagon release.
Ankit Panda, a senior editor at the Asia-focused news website The Diplomat, cited a US source as saying that the missile flew for 47 minutes, reaching an altitude of 2,300 miles and traveling 620 miles. Such a long flight time and high crest suggest a tremendous range.
While North Korea had already demonstrated an intercontinental range with the July 4 test of its Hwasong-14 ICBM, the missile launched July 28 appeared capable of reaching New York or Washington, DC. Yet as with the previous launch, it is unclear whether North Korea has developed the technology to accurately deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.
The missile on July 28 may have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, according to the Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
As launching an ICBM at full range could easily be interpreted as an act of war, North Korea lofts its missiles on a steep angle. Therefore a missile that flies only a few hundred miles toward Japan can still demonstrate a range of many thousands of miles.
For weeks, US intelligence monitoring North Korean military sites had predicted another missile test. July 27 marked the Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War, a North Korean holiday celebrating the end of the Korean War on July 27, 1953.
North Korea has a pattern of launching missiles on historically significant dates, like its July 4 debut of an ICBM, but the weather July 27 was poor, possibly preventing a launch.
Typically, North Korea waits until the day after a launch to release photos or video from the event, which researchers analyze for insights into Pyongyang’s shadowy missile program.
Army Capt. James E. Miller, one of the first aviators in the U.S. military and the first U.S. aviation casualty in World War I, has been named recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross nearly 100 years after his heroic actions over France in 1918.
On the 242nd birthday of the Army, during a twilight tattoo ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert M. Speer presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Miller’s great-grandson, Byron Derringer.
“We’re very proud today to have some of the descendants from James Miller’s family here and able to represent him and a lineage of what he achieved on those battlefields as the first individual who gave his life in that war in aviation,” Speer said.
The presentation of the cross to a World War I soldier is significant, given that the theme for this year’s Army birthday is, “Over There! A Celebration of the World War I Soldier.”
America Enters World War I
The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. On Dec. 7, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany’s ally.
“This is the 100th anniversary of [America’s entry into] World War I,” Speer said. “And it’s the 242nd birthday of our Army. But 100 years ago, there were significant changes in terms of the character of war. You had at that time, for the first time, the Army going off to war in foreign lands with our allies, fighting side-by-side with our allies, and representing the United States — which placed the United States into a significant leadership role in the world.”
Speer said several aspects of warfare changed during World War I, including the development of armor units and precision artillery. One of the most significant developments, however, was that the U.S. military had “aviation for the first time as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps,” he said.
“We have a privilege today to be able to recognize not only the heraldry of our total 242 years but also that point and time, where we recognize, late, a Distinguished Flying Cross for an American hero,” Speer said.
As part of a twilight tattoo event at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., held on honor of the Army’s 242nd birthday, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer, left, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, right, present a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for Army Capt. James E. Miller to Miller’s great-grandson, Byron Derringer, center, June 14, 2017.
Early 20th Century Aviation Warfare
As a soldier in World War I, Miller was one of the first to make use of new aviation technology. The captain took command of the 95th Pursuit Squadron on Feb. 10, 1918 — just 10 months after the United States declared war on Germany. The men in the squadron were the first American-trained pilots to fight in the war.
On March 9 of that year, Miller, Maj. M. F. Harmon and Maj. Davenport Johnson began the first combat patrol ever for the U.S. Army Air Services. They flew 180-horsepower, French-built SPAD XIII aircraft. The aircraft, a biplane, is named for its developer, the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés.
Harmon’s plane experienced trouble early in the sortie, and so he was unable to continue on the patrol. But Miller and Johnson pressed on together and crossed into enemy territory. There, they fought off two German aircraft, but soon met more. It was then that Johnson’s aircraft experienced trouble with the machine guns.
Miller Fights On
According to the DFC citation, Johnson was forced to leave Miller to continue the fight against German aviators on his own.
“Miller continued to attack the two German biplanes, fearlessly exposing himself to the enemy, until his own aircraft was severely damaged and downed behind the German lines, where he succumbed to his injuries,” the citation reads. “Miller’s actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Army Air Services and the American Expeditionary Forces.”
Afterward, Derringer said of both the recognition and the twilight tattoo that accompanied the recognition, “it’s spectacular, I know that the family, everybody, is just honored to be here.”
Donald Stratton, who served aboard the USS Arizona when it was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, passed away on Feb. 15, 2020. He was 97 years old.
Stratton was born and raised in Nebraska and joined the Navy in 1940 at the age of 18 right after finishing high school. He heard rumors of war and figured it was best to join sooner rather than later.
When he was asked why he joined the Navy he said, “My theory was you either had a nice place aboard a ship and were high and dry or you didn’t have anything. In the Army, you were crawling around in the mud and everything else, and I didn’t want to do that.”
After finishing training, he was sent to Washington state, where he would be assigned to his first duty station, the USS Arizona. When he saw the ship for the first time, she was in dry dock. He said, “It was quite a sight for an old flatlander like me to see a 35,000-ton battleship out of the water.”
The Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship that was commissioned during the First World War. While she didn’t see action then, the Navy made good use of her first in the Mediterranean and later in the Pacific. She was 908 feet in length and had twelve 45 caliber, 14-inch guns as part of her armament.
When the Arizona made its way down to Pearl Harbor, Stratton went with her. Stratton and the rest of the crew settled into the routine of training and exercises, both in port and out at sea. There was no doubt in his mind that the U.S. was preparing for war. Like most Americans, though, he was still shocked at how the war began.
The “day that would live in infamy” started out pretty routinely for Stratton and the thousands of other Sailors and Marines at Pearl Harbor. He woke up for Reveille and went to get chow. After bringing oranges to a buddy in sick bay, he stopped at his locker and headed up top. He heard screams and shouts and followed everyone’s points to Ford Island. There he saw an aircraft bank in the morning light and the distinctive rising sun emblem on the plane. Stratton quipped, “Well, that’s the Japanese, man – they’re bombing us.”
Stratton ran to his battle station, calling out coordinates for his anti-aircraft gun crew. His crew soon realized that they didn’t have range on the bombers and watched in horror as the Japanese made their bombing runs.
The Japanese had 10 bombers assigned to attack the Arizona. Of the bombs dropped, three were near misses, and four hit their target. It was the last hit that would prove catastrophic for the Sailors and Marines on board. The bomb penetrated the deck and set off a massive explosion in one of the ship’s magazines. The force of the explosion ripped apart the Arizona and tore her in two.
Stratton had the fireball from the explosion go right through him. He suffered burns over 70% of his body and was stuck aboard a ship that was going down rapidly. Through the smoke, he could make out the USS Vestal and a single sailor waving to him. He watched as the Sailor waved off someone on his own ship and tossed a line over to the Arizona. Stratton and five other men used the rope and traversed the 70 foot gap to safety. Stratton never forgot the sailor yelling, “Come on Sailor, you can make it!” as he struggled to pull his badly burned body to safety.
Two of the men who made it across died alone with 1773 other men on the Arizona. Only 334 men on the ship made it out alive. The Arizona burned for two days after the attack.
Stratton was sent to San Francisco where he spent all of 1942 recovering from his wounds. His weight dropped to 92 pounds, and he couldn’t stand up on his own. He almost had an arm amputated too. Shortly thereafter, he was medically discharged from the Navy
Stratton then decided that he wasn’t going to sit out the rest of the war. He appealed to the Navy and was allowed to reenlist, although he had to go through boot camp again. He was offered a chance to stay stateside and train new recruits, but he refused. He served at sea during the battles of the Philippines and Okinawa where he worked to identify potential kamikaze attacks. He called Okinawa “82 days of hell.”
Stratton left the Navy after the war and took up commercial diving until his retirement. He settled in Colorado Springs, and he actively participated in Pearl Harbor reunions and commemorations. Stratton wanted to make sure people didn’t forget about the men who died that day.
It was at one of those reunions in 2001 that Stratton’s life found another mission to complete. He found out the Sailor aboard the USS Vestal was named Joe George. When the attack commenced the Vestal was moored to the Arizona. After the catastrophic explosion, an officer ordered George to cut lines to the Arizona as it was sinking. George frantically motioned to men trapped on the Arizona, burning to death. The officer told them to let them be and cut the lines.
George waved him off and threw a safety line and saved men, including Stratton. Stratton learned that George had passed away in 1996, so he wouldn’t get a chance to thank him. But to his disbelief, George had never been commended for saving his fellow Sailors.
The Navy looked at the incident and decided they couldn’t award a Sailor for saving lives because he disobeyed an order from an officer. (Some things never change.)
Stratton and fellow rescued Sailor, Lauren Bruner, took up the cause to get George awarded. They met nothing but resistance from the Navy. From 2002 to 2017 Stratton repeatedly tried to get George honored but was ignored. It wasn’t until 2017 when he was able to meet with President Donald Trump and then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis that the ball started rolling. Shortly thereafter, George’s family was presented with a Bronze Star with “V” for George’s heroic actions that day.
The fate of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners jailed in Afghanistan is threatening to turn into a major stumbling block in efforts to end the 19-year war in the country.
The Taliban is demanding the release of the detainees before the launch of direct negotiations between Afghans and the Taliban over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing arrangement.
Those intra-Afghan talks, slated for mid-March, will begin after the United States and the Taliban sign a historic peace deal that will trigger the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Experts said the issue of Taliban prisoners could be a key obstacle in launching the country’s peace talks or, conversely, be used as a bargaining chip to exact concessions from the militants.
There are fears that the release of thousands of Taliban fighters could deprive the Kabul government of a key amount of leverage and undercut the peace process by strengthening the Taliban’s position on the battlefield.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on February 26 that Kabul will free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces held by the militants.
Shaheen said the “trust-building measure” was a prerequisite for the launch of the intra-Afghan talks.
He added that the prisoner release was part of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, although Afghanistan is not a signatory to that bilateral agreement.
But the Taliban and the United States have not yet disclosed the contents of the deal.
The Kabul government has ruled out releasing the prisoners before the start of talks.
“When we, as the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, enter into negotiations with the Taliban and they demand the release of their prisoners, it will naturally be discussed, and will take into account the laws and interests of our people and [our decision] will be based on the consensus that will arise at that stage,” said Sediq Sediqqi, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, on February 20.
‘Quid Pro Quo’
Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said the issue could be used as a “political stumbling block or a bargaining chip.”
“Bargaining chip can mean quid pro quo,” he said.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the Afghan government could offer the Taliban a major concession before intra-Afghan talks with the expectation that the militants will reciprocate.
Kugelman said that could mean the insurgents agreeing to reduce violence during the negotiations, which analysts expect to be complicated and protracted.
The United States and the Taliban agreed to a weeklong reduction of violence across Afghanistan before the signing of the peace deal. The partial truce has largely held, with a dramatic decrease in Taliban attacks from around 75 per day down to under 15.
The militants contest or control nearly half of the country.
A similar truce during intra-Afghan talks has been mooted, although the Taliban has not commented on the possibility.
But analysts warned that there was a risk in the government giving away one of its primary bargaining chips at such an early stage of the peace process.
“The Taliban has ample leverage because it’s in no hurry to conclude a peace deal,” said Kugelman. “If it receives a major concession it may hold out and demand more before giving something up in return.”
10,000 Taliban Prisoners
There are an estimated 10,000 Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan. But the militants have said that some of those detained were accused of being sympathizers or members of the group, often to settle old scores, and are not actually combatants.
There have been several high-profile prisoner swaps and releases of insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.
In November 2019, two Western hostages were released from Taliban custody in exchange for three senior Taliban prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction.
The prisoner swap was seen as an attempt to kick-start U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks over rising Taliban attacks.
In 2014, five senior Taliban members were released from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.
All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are based in Qatar, where they have taken part in negotiations with U.S. officials.
In 2013, former President Hamid Karzai controversially released scores of Taliban prisoners from a formerly U.S.-run prison near Kabul as an attempt to convince the militants to open direct talks with Kabul.
The move failed to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Analysts said some of those freed returned to the Taliban, bolstered their ranks, and increased the insurgency’s efficacy on the battlefield.
While the US’s new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, was undergoing testing off the East Coast last month, the Royal Navy’s new carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, was landing and launching jets in UK waters for the first time in a decade and the venerable French carrier Charles de Gaulle was setting off on its first deployment since its 18-month-long midlife overhaul ended late last year.
That activity is a sign the French and the British “are now back in the big carrier business,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of the Navy’s recently reestablished 2nd Fleet, said this month in Washington, DC.
“Having that global carrier force is real beneficial. That helps our operational dilemma quite a bit,” Lewis added in response to a question about his command’s partnerships with European navies.
The Queen Elizabeth and its sister carrier, Prince of Wales, have a long life ahead of them, and France is wrapping up studies on a potential future carrier of its own. The Ford and the two carriers following it will also serve for decades, but changes could be coming for the size and role of the US carrier fleet.
Lewis deployed as an exchange pilot aboard the British carrier HMS Invincible, which was sold for scrap in 2010, and while on the USS Harry S. Truman, he sailed with the carrier HMS Illustrious, which was sold for scrap in 2016.
The Illustrious had already turned in its airplanes, “so we actually used US Marine AV-8Bs,” Lewis said, referring to the AV-8B Harrier short takeoff and vertical landing jet, which is being replaced by the F-35B.
“They used US Marine AV-8Bs on that ship then, and it’s something that’s pretty easy to do,” Lewis said. “The Queen Elizabeth is a pretty nifty ship because … it was basically designed around the F-35.”
“We’ll be sailing through the Mediterranean into the Gulf and then to the Indo-Pacific region with F-35B variants, both UK and US Marine Corps,” Edward Ferguson, minister counsellor defense at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, said this month.
“This is a really powerful, interoperable US-UK capability that has huge potential that hasn’t yet been tested in the high north, but I think we certainly see potential in the North Atlantic, up into the high north, as well as globally,” Ferguson said at an Atlantic Council event. “This is a 50-year capability. It’s been designed to be flexible.”
The first-in-class Ford finished aircraft compatibility testing at the end of January, successfully launching and landing five kinds of aircraft a total of 211 times. The second-in-class carrier, John F. Kennedy, was launched in December.
The next two Ford-class carriers have been named — Enterprise and Doris Miller, respectively — but won’t arrive for years, and it’s not certain what kind of fleet they will join.
“The big question, I think at the top of the list, is the carrier and what’s the future going to look like and what that future carrier mix is going to look like,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said on January 29 at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments event. Modly spoke as the Navy conducted its own force structure assessment.
The carrier and its strike group are now the Navy’s centerpiece, with the carrier air wing as the main offensive force and the strike group’s destroyers and cruisers mostly in a defensive role.
The future fleet will have to be “more distributed to support distributed maritime operations,” its sensors and offensive weapons spread across different and less expensive ships, Modly said.
Modly pointed to the Indo-Pacific region as one where the Navy has to be a lot of places and do a lot of things at once, and the Navy has experimented with breaking those escort ships away from the carrier to act in a more offensive role as surface action groups.
The Ford-class carrier “is going to be an amazing piece of equipment when it’s done,” but those carriers are billion apiece, Modly added, “and that’s not including the cost of the air wing and everything else.”
“I think we agree with a lot of conclusions that [carriers are] more vulnerable,” Modly said. “Now of course we’re developing all kinds of things to make it less vulnerable, but it still is a big target, and it doesn’t give you that distribution.”
The Navy is required by law to have at least 11 carriers in service, and plans for a 355-ship fleet include 12 carriers, a number the Navy is set to reach by 2065. But Modly said the focus should be on the coming years rather than planning to 2065, when “we’ll all be dead.”
“You should think about what we can actually do,” he added, “and I think that number is going to be less” than 12.
Such a shift could spark backlash like when the Navy broached plans to cancel the Truman’s mid-life refueling, which would have cost billion and kept it in service for 25 years, in order to pay for unmanned vessels and other emerging technologies to counter the carriers’ vulnerabilities to new weapons, like long-range Chinese missiles.
The Navy relented on that, but Modly admitted the changes he mentioned would require further discussion with lawmakers.
“We’d have to talk to them about this, and I think this … can’t be a discussion that we just have inside the walls of the Pentagon,” Modly said. “I think as many people that get involved in this, the better. Congress obviously has interest. Our shipbuilding industry has interest. We all do.”
The carrier’s future will have to be considered when formulating the acquisition and building plan for the carrier after the Miller, the as-yet unnamed CVN-82, Modly said, adding that such thinking will be influenced by changes in the surface fleet and the threat environment.
But the Miller likely won’t arrive until the early 2030s.
“Thankfully, we have some time to think about that,” Modly said. “We don’t have time to think about the other things, like the unmanned systems, the smaller [amphibious ships], that amphib mix,” he added. “We’ve got to start getting answers to those now.”
Army personnel recently traveled from Germany to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for testing and training on new variants of the Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle.
The soldiers tested out Strykers armed with a 30mm cannon as well as with a common remote-operated weapons station that allows soldiers inside the vehicle to fire Javelin antitank guided missiles.
Twelve of the Stryker variants — six with 30 mm cannons and six with Javelin missiles — will head to Germany in January for more evaluation by US troops before the Army hopes to deploy them to a forward position in Europe next summer.
Troops from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, who took part in the testing in Maryland, spoke highly of the new features on the vehicle, which has been nicknamed “Dragoon” after the regiment.
(Army News Service (ARNEWS) | YouTube)”It’s doing a lot more damage and you’re getting better effects,” Staff Sgt. Randall Engler said.
Previous variants of the Stryker have been armed with either an M2 .50-caliber machine gun or an MK19 grenade launcher. The request for more firepower came in response to recent military operations by Russia.
“This capability coming to [2nd Cavalry] is directly attributable to Russian aggression and we are actively working with our foreign partners in how to help shape our formation,” said Lt. Col. Troy Meissel, the regiment’s deputy commanding officer, according to the Army.
The new armaments don’t make the Stryker a fighting vehicle, but Meissel said the search for heaftier weapons stems from the reduction in manpower in Europe from 300,000 during the Cold War to about 30,000 now.
“How do we, as an Army, make 30,000 soldiers feel like 300,000?” Meissel said. “This new ICV-D is one of the ways that can help us do that.”
A Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle-Dragoon fires 30 mm rounds during a live-fire demonstration at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Aug. 16, 2017. Army photo by Sean Kimmons
Advancements in Russian armor have been cause for concern among military planners in the West. Moscow’s new Armata tank will reportedly be outfitted with an active-protection system, which uses radar and projectiles to detect and counter antitank and anti-armor weapons.
The US Army is also looking at APS for the Stryker and its Abrams tank, though the latest variant of the RPG is rumored to have an APS countermeasure.
Relations between Russia and US allies in Eastern Europe have grown more contentious in recent months, particularly in the run up to Russia-Belarus military exercises in September that will reportedly see 60,000 to 100,000 Russian troops deployed to Belarus and western Russia.
Countries in the Baltics have warned of more ambitious Russian espionage efforts, and NATO aircraft have tangled with their Russian counterparts numerous times in over the last year.
The US has done several military exercises with partners in the region this year and increased deployments, including of Patriot missile air-defense systems, to NATO member-states in Eastern Europe.
Military.com has more footage of the new Stryker variants in action.
Mark Tufo wrote Zombie Fallout, a 16-book series that follows Marine Corps veteran and family man Mike Talbot as he tries to keep his family safe in a world overrun by zombies.
Like the character Talbot, Tufo served in the Marine Corps before returning to civilian life, starting a family, and adopting an English bulldog. The similarities end when Talbot’s neighborhood is taken over by flesh-eating and brain-hunting zombies, forcing him and his family to fight their way out.
Tufo’s writing about the zombie apocalypse is a refreshing take on the genre because the character of Talbot thinks tactically about what he’s doing. He drives his jeep slowly to protect his radiator, keeps food handy, and has survivors pull watch. And the whole family knows how to use their guns, obviously.
Now, Talbot and his family might be getting their own TV series. Brad Thomas, a television producer and fan of the series, has teamed up with Tufo to bring the zombie epic to the silver screen. WATM got to spend a day with them and some military veteran fans on the set as the crew filmed a teaser for the show.
U.S. Marines and Sailors with Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji participated in the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center’s third annual English camp Aug. 23 to Aug. 25, 2019, at CATC Camp Fuji, Shizouka, Japan.
The English camp served to provide 30 Japanese schoolchildren in the local community to learn English and experience American culture through a myriad of group activities with U.S. service members. The 30 selectness were chosen out of a pool of approximately 300 applicants.
“The children don’t have much of an opportunity in school to interact with English-speakers,” said Ayano Quentin, the host nation relations liaison with CATC Camp Fuji. To Quentin, this program gives these children the opportunity to have conversation practice with native English-speakers.
While at the youth center, the service members assisted the children with conversations and interactions in shopping, ordering food, sending mail, etc.
Employees with the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center, schoolchildren and volunteers from the local community, and U.S. service members with Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji pose for a photograph during the youth center’s third annual English camp at the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center in Gotemba, Shizouka, Japan Aug. 23, 2019.
(Photo by Cpl. Marvin E. Lopez Navarro)
“The local community here really likes Americans,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Donnie Nelson, the CATC Camp Fuji chaplain. “This event is a great relationship-building opportunity and it’s also a time for these young students to learn English and also come onto our base.”
One of the signature events of the camp involves the participants visiting and touring Camp Fuji. There, the Japanese children are able to apply their English speaking skills while also witnessing several displays from the Camp Fuji Provost Marshal Office, fire station, and library.
In addition, all of the participants on the second day of the camp came back to the youth center to sing and dance to music popular with Japanese and American youths around a bonfire.
“The atmosphere felt very positive,” Nelson said, “the smiles, the games, and the music certainly played into that.”
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Sophia Meas, left, the warehouse chief with Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp Fuji and native of Modesto, Calif., and Sgt. Justin Dodd, the range control chief with Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp Fuji and native of Cornelia, Ga., pose for a photograph during the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center’s third annual English camp at the Camp Fuji Fire Station in CATC Camp Fuji, Shizouka, Japan Aug. 24, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan H. Pulliam)
Nelson also stated that the Marines and sailors served as positive role models for the children.
The English camp is the largest community relations event Camp Fuji has with the local community where it has managed to garner national media coverage. Even though this camp has been held twice previously, this year’s English camp had over 300 child applicants from the local Japanese community.
CATC Camp Fuji provides U.S. Forces the premier training facility in Japan, supports operational plans, and strengthens relationships with joint and Japanese partners in order to ensure U.S. forward deployed and based forces are ready for contingency operations.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.