The Army is starting formal production of a new Self-Propelled Howitzer variant engineered for faster movement, better structural protection, improved drive-train ability, new suspension, and advanced networking tech, service and industry developers said.
The new vehicle is built with a more capable, larger chassis, designed as an initial step toward building a next-generation cannon able to outgun existing Russian weapons.
As part of a longer-term plan to leverage the new, larger chassis built into the Army’s new M109A7 variant, the Army’s Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center is beginning work on a new cannon able to hit enemies out to 70 kilometers, senior Army developers said.
“Right now we have the 39 caliber cannon we have had since the 80s. We are range limited and the Russians can outgun us and shoot farther,” Maj. Gen. David Bassett, former Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, said last Fall at the service’s AUSA annual symposium. “If you had not replaced the chassis first, you would never be able to put that larger cannon on there.”
A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS-guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago, its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets — such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, which also reaches 70-kilometers.
In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology, and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks, and fast-growing attack drone fleet all point to a growing need for the U.S. to outrange and outgun potential adversaries.
Furthermore, given the Pentagon’s emphasis upon cross-domain warfare, land weapons are increasingly being developed to attack things like enemy ships, aircraft, and ground-based air defenses; naturally, the idea is to pinpoint and destroy enemy targets while remaining at a safer, more protected distance. Deputy Program Executive Officer for Missiles Space, Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch told Warrior the service is making a decided push to upgrade and develop longer-range weapons as a way to address current threats — and re-adjust following more than 15 years of counterinsurgency.
For example, senior Pentagon leaders have told Warrior Maven that there is some ongoing deliberation about placing mobile land-based artillery — such as a Paladin — in areas of the South China Sea as a credible deterrent against Chinese ships and aircraft.
Building a higher-tech, more lethal Paladin
Following years of development and advanced engineering, the Army and BAE Systems are now formally entering full-rate production of the new M109A7 and accompanying M992A3 ammunition carrier vehicles. BAE officials said the new Howitzer, designed to replace the existing M109A6 Paladin, will have 600-volts of onboard power generation, high-voltage electric gun drives, and projectile ramming systems.
Bassett described the A7 as a turret ring down revamp, including a new hull along with a new suspension and power-train. The new Howitzer will, among other things, greatly improve speed and mobility compared to the A6.
“In the past, the A6 Paladin was the slowest vehicle in the Army. It needs to leapfrog. We are restoring that mobility so it will be one of the faster vehicles. Howitzers can now outrun 113s,” Bassett said.
Also, as part of maintenance, life-cycle, and service extension — all aimed to improve logistics — the new Howitzer is built with an engine and other parts common to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and emerging Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
Improved onboard power is, similar to other emerging higher-tech platforms, designed to enable the vehicle to quickly accommodate upgrades and new weapons technologies as they may evolve — such as lasers or advanced ammunition.
The advanced digital backbone and power generation capability provides significant growth potential for future payloads, a BAE Systems statement said.
One senior Army official told Warrior Maven that improved combat connectivity can enable multiple Howitzers to quickly share firing data, as part of a broader effort to expand battlefield networking and operate in more dispersed formations depending upon mission requirements.
The Army is also now working with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office to explore additional innovations for the Howitzer platform.
Army Howitzers are now firing a super high-speed, high-tech, electromagnetic Hyper Velocity Projectile, initially developed as a Navy weapon, an effort to fast-track increasing lethal and effective weapons to warzones and key strategic locations, Pentagon officials said.
While initially conceived of and developed for the Navy’s emerging Rail Gun Weapon, the Pentagon and Army are now firing the Hyper Velocity Projectile from an Army Howitzer in order to potential harness near-term weapons ability, increase the scope, lethality, and rangeability to accelerate combat deployment of the lethal, high-speed round.
The railgun uses an electromagnetic current to fire a kinetic energy warhead up to 100 miles at speeds greater than 5,000 miles an hour, a speed at least three times as fast as existing weapons.
Firing from an Army Howitzer, the hypervelocity projectile can fire at high speeds toward enemy targets to include buildings, force concentrations, weapons systems, drones, aircraft, vehicle bunkers and even incoming enemy missiles and artillery rounds.
“We can defend against an incoming salvo with a bullet. That is very much a focus getting ready for the future,” Dr. William Roper, Director of the Pentagon’s once-secret Strategic Capabilities Office, told Scout Warrior among a small group of reporters last year.
The Navy won’t file criminal charges stemming from the drowning death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace in SEAL training.
The San Diego County medical examiner had ruled the 21-year-old sailor’s May 6, 2016, death in a swim tank in Coronado a homicide, saying in a July 2016 autopsy report that the “actions, or inactions, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death.”
Navy Cdr. Liam Hulin, director of the Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command, reviewed the findings of a Naval Criminal Investigative Services probe and determined that Lovelace’s drowning “was not the result of a crime and will not pursue criminal charges against any personnel in connection with the death,” according to a statement issued on April 10 to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Lovelace family,” said Hulin in the statement. “No loss of life in training is an acceptable loss.”
A safety review into the incident that had been put on pause by the criminal investigation will now begin, according to the Navy.
The 21-year-old Lovelace died during Combat Swimmer Orientation, a test that takes place in the first week of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training to assess a SEAL candidate’s swimming abilities.
Students tread water and perform what the Navy says are survival skills that include removing a swim mask, uniform, and their boots.
The county medical examiner’s autopsy report revealed that a SEAL instructor repeatedly dunked Lovelace and that the student’s drowning was exacerbated by a heart condition.
“To honor those who have fallen in combat we must provide the most realistic and operationally relevant training possible. To honor those who have fallen in training we must effectively mitigate the risks of that training,” said Capt. Jay Hennessey, Commander, Naval Special Warfare Training Center.
“[Naval Special Warfare] training has been refined over more than 50 years, informed throughout by lessons learned in combat overseas as well as in training at home. We learn not only from our successes, but also from operational and training failures, mistakes and accidents. While these tragic occasions are infrequent, they greatly impact our small close-knit force and magnify the responsibility we feel to our teammates who have paid the ultimate price.”
U.S. Navy SEALs splash into the water from a combat rubber raiding craft attached to an 11-meter rigid hull inflatble boat, during a capabilities exercise, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story. (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary L. Johnson III.)
The medical examiner’s probe indicated that Lovelace suffered from an anomalous coronary artery, which might have contributed to sudden cardiac death during the intensive training exercise. Although Lovelace appeared conscious when pulled out of the pool, witnesses said his [skin] had turned purple, his lips blue.
Navy officials have long contended that the medical examiner’s homicide ruling meant only that Lovelace died “at the hands of another” and did not necessarily suggest a crime had been committed.
Lovelace was from Crestview, Florida. Navy officials briefed his father in Florida on April 8.
“We have maintained contact with the Lovelace family,” said Naval Special Warfare spokesman Capt. Jason Salata. “Our primary point of contact, is Seaman Lovelace’s father. He is designated as his official next of kin, as a courtesy the Navy has also reached out to Seaman Lovelace’s siblings and offered counseling and other services. As part of the prosecutorial review of this case, the father’s input was carefully considered.”
In an email to the Union-Tribune, Salata said that the criminal probe followed Pentagon protocols standard to any death that occurs in training. Led by the Navy Region Southwest’s chief trial counsel, a team of prosecutors with no ties to the SEALs reviewed the probe’s findings before they were forwarded to Naval Special Warfare’s commanders.
When asked by the Union-Tribune if any SEAL instructors would receive letters of reprimand or counseling statements for their role in the incident, Salata wrote that no other action “is being taken on anyone in connection with the case.”
Students in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class 279 participate in a surf passage exercise during the first phase of training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf passage is one of many physically strenuous exercises that BUD/S class 279 will take part in during the seven weeks of first phase. (U.S. Navy photo by Kyle Gahlau)
Salata said that the Navy intends to make the probe’s findings public once criminal investigators close their case.
Lovelace was only in the first week of a student’s six-month odyssey to become a SEAL. A notoriously difficult course, only about a quarter of the candidates make it through without dropping out.
In the wake of his drowning, Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command paused the program to review and reinforce protocols for pre-training briefs, emergency action, and all in-water instruction procedures, Navy officials told the Union-Tribune.
The Navy added instruction on the signs and symptoms of water training injures and lifesaving procedures.
Today, two additional safety observers are in the water with the class, plus two safety swimmers at the water’s edge to remove struggling students quickly. The instructor-student ratio now is one to seven; it was one to 10.
In 2016, 75 students could be in the water at one time. Now, no more than 49 can enter the pool.
He was at least the fifth SEAL student to die during training over the past three decades.
In 1988, John Joseph Tomlinson, 22, from Altoona, Pa., died of hypothermia near the end of a 5 1/2 -mile ocean swim off Coronado in the 17th week of the 25-week course.
Ten years later, Gordon Racine Jr., 25, of Houston died during a pool exercise in his first month of training.
In 2001, Lt. John Anthony Skop Jr., 29, of Buffalo, N.Y., died during a “Hell Week” swim.
Three years later, Boatswain Mate 1st Class Rob Vetter, 30, died at a Coronado hospital days after he collapsed during a conditioning run in the second week of the program.
“Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test is essential reading for anyone seeking to come to terms with our endless wars…. A riveting, on-the- ground look at American policy and its aftermath.” – Phil Klay, author of Redeployment
John Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan (2003-2010) as a State Department political advisor to Marine Corps generals. From Sadr City and Fallujah in Iraq to the Khost and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan, Weston was often the only non-military presence alongside our armed forces.
After returning home, he grappled with the aftermath of these wars. How, and when, will they end? How will they be remembered? And how do we memorialize the American, Iraqi and Afghan lives that have been lost and changed by more than a decade and a half of war, while reckoning with the unpopularity of the conflicts themselves?
In “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Knopf, May 24), Weston recounts his travels from Twentynine Palms in California to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the American hometowns of Marines who fell during his watch. Along the way, he introduces American troops, Iraqi truck drivers, Afghan teachers, imams, mullahs and former Taliban fighters, all while grappling with the larger questions these wars pose.
Hailed as “the conscience of our wars” (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post), Weston weaves together these American, Iraqi and Afghan stories and offers them as a national mirror, asking us to take an unflinching look at these wars and where they leave America today. As he writes, “It’s past time for this kind of shared reckoning … When we look into that mirror, as uncomfortable as it may be, let’s not turn away.”
U.S. KIA, Fallujah, 2006–2007. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)
See more about “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan” here.
Moscow has for the first time test-fired its Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile outside the Russian soil during a drill in Tajikistan, targeting a simulated terrorist camp located 15 kilometers from the Tajik-Afghan border.
Colonel Yaroslav Roshchupkin, an aide to the commander of Russia’s Central Military District, made the announcement on June 1 in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in the administrative center of Sverdlovsk Oblast.
Roshchupkin added that Uragan (Hurricane) rockets were also used in the joint military exercise named Dushanbe-Antiterror 2017 from May 30 to June 1 in Tajikistan.
Russia’s show of missile readiness took place amid mounting concerns over the deployment by the US Air Force of long-range nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress bombers and 800 airmen to the UK in support of joint exercises with NATO allies and partners taking place across Europe in June.
The NATO exercises are to take place near Russia in the Baltic Sea, the Arctic and along Russia’s border with several NATO partners.
On June 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated the expansion of US missile systems across the world is a “challenge” to his country and necessitates Moscow’s response in the form of a military build-up in the region.
The Russian president also warned against the negative impact of Sweden’s potential NATO membership on bilateral Moscow- Stockholm ties.
He said Russia will have to take additional security measures should Sweden join the Western military alliance.
“If Sweden joins NATO, it will negatively affect our relations because it will mean that NATO facilities will be set up in Sweden so we will have to think about the best ways to respond to this additional threat,” Putin said, adding, “We will consider this [membership] as an additional threat for Russia and will search for the ways to eliminate it,” Putin added.
Watch the actual test launch of the Iskander-M missile during Russia’s recent anti-terror exercise.
President Donald Trump has kicked off a four-nation European tour by bashing NATO as unfair to US taxpayers.
Combined with his pending meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland, Trump has allies fretting over the risk of damage he could do to the decades-old NATO military alliance.
“Getting ready to leave for Europe,” Trump tweeted on July 10, 2018. “First meeting – NATO. The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. On top of that we lose 1 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs ( Barriers)!”
Trump has been pressing fellow NATO countries to fulfill their goal of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense by 2024. During his presidential campaign, he suggested he might come to the defense only of NATO nations that fulfilled that obligation. He continues to criticize NATO countries that spend less than that share.
President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stolenberg
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
NATO’s Article 5 says any member of the alliance can invoke a mutual defense if it’s attacked. The US is the only nation to have invoked that clause, doing so after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. NATO allies responded with nearly two decades of support for US operations in Afghanistan.
Still, Trump complained July 9, 2018, that the US was “spending far more on NATO than any other Country.”
“This is not fair, nor is it acceptable,” Trump added, insisting that NATO benefited Europe “far more than it does the U.S.”
“On top of this the European Union has a Trade Surplus of 1 Million with the U.S., with big Trade Barriers on U.S. goods. NO!” he protested.
NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.
Trump expected to encounter protests in the UK
Also as part of this trip, Trump, who has compared the Brexit vote to leave the European Union to his own election, will be making his maiden presidential trip to Britain at a fraught time for British Prime Minister Theresa May. Two Brexit proponents in her Cabinet, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, resigned within hours of each other this week in protest of her plan.
Trump’s visit is expected to attract large protests in London and elsewhere in Britain.
Trump and Putin’s meeting raises eyebrows
Trump’s weeklong trip to Europe will continue with a stop in Scotland before ending with a sit-down in Helsinki with Putin.
The meeting will be closely watched to see whether Trump will rebuke or embrace Putin, who has repeatedly denied meddling in the 2016 election, something the US intelligence community says Russia did with the goal of helping Trump.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Department of Justice Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team (J-CODE) and Europol on Tuesday announced the conclusion of Operation DisrupTor, which resulted in 179 arrests throughout the world and the seizure of $6.5 million in cash and virtual currency, 500 kilograms of drugs, and 63 firearms. According to a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) press release, the operation was “a coordinated international effort to disrupt opioid trafficking on the Darknet.”
The joint international task force developed follow-on intelligence after completing Operation SaboTor on March 12, 2019, where they infiltrated and shut down the notorious dark web e-commerce site, the Wall Street Market (WSM). According to a DOJ press release, the WSM was “a sophisticated online marketplace available in six languages that allowed approximately 5,400 vendors to sell illegal goods to about 1.15 million customers around the world. […] WSM functioned like a conventional e-commerce website, but it was a hidden service located beyond the reach of traditional internet browsers on the Tor network, a service designed to conceal user identities.”
“Criminals selling fentanyl on the Darknet should pay attention to Operation DisrupTor,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in the press release. “The arrest of 179 of them in seven countries—with the seizure of their drug supplies and their money as well—shows that there will be no safe haven for drug dealing in cyberspace.”
Operation DisrupTor was conducted throughout the world with arrests executed in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, Austria, and Germany. Out of the approximately 500 kilograms of drugs confiscated, 274 kilograms were seized in the US including opioid prescriptions such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and its street version, heroin. Methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, and “medicine containing addictive substances in the United States” were also among the drugs seized.
One of the raids conducted through the joint efforts of the FBI, United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in support of Operation DisrupTor took place in Southern California. The Los Angeles J-CODE team successfully apprehended members of the drug trafficking organization that operated under the code name “Stealthgod” on the dark web. This group is suspected to be one of the largest methamphetamine distributors that J-CODE has apprehended so far. According to the DEA press release, the group conducted “more than 18,000 illicit drug sales to customers in at least 35 states and numerous countries around the world.”
Former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the establishment of the FBI-led J-CODE on Jan. 29, 2018, in a press release. Since then, J-CODE has taken down several dark web sites in an effort to combat the opioid pandemic and the people responsible for it. J-CODE has expanded its partnerships to both domestic and international allies for operations like DisrupTor and SaboTor.
Law enforcement on scene in Southern California after one of the raids on the “Stealthgod” drug trafficking network. Photo courtesy of the FBI/Flickr.
E-commerce sites like the WSM are hosted on the darknet, also known as the dark web, which functions like the regular World Wide Web but with encryptions to disguise the users on it. The darknet was previously a stronghold for both criminals and noncriminals. Besides criminals using it to prevent law enforcement and/or the mainstream media from identifying illegal transactions ranging from sex trafficking to illicit drug sales, political dissidents have used the darknet to keep their identities secret.
Sessions had a stark warning for criminals on the dark web after announcing J-CODE. “Criminals think that they are safe on the darknet, but they are in for a rude awakening,” he said in the press release. “We have already infiltrated their networks, and we are determined to bring them to justice. […] The J-CODE team will help us continue to shut down the online marketplaces that drug traffickers use and ultimately that will help us reduce addiction and overdoses across the nation.”
He is widely known as a Hollywood animation legend who worked at the studios that created Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. But Hal Geer also flew 86 combat missions as a combat cameraman in World War II.
According to a report by the Hollywood Reporter, Geer died Jan. 26 at the age of 100. According to IMDB, his credits included the movies “Daffy Duck: Fantastic Island,” “Bugs Bunny: All-American Hero,” and “The Bugs Bunny Mystery Special” as well as over twenty short cartoons.
Geer’s World War II service took him over the China-Burma-India Theater, flying in Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and North American B-25 medium bombers assigned to the 14th Air Force under Major General Claire Chennault, who founded the legendary Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group.
According to a 2007 report in the Ventura County Recorder, Geer made the documentary film “China Crisis” while serving. Geer told the Recorder that this World War II film was the one he was the most proud of.
In a 2005 interview with China Youth Daily, Geer discussed more about his time with the 14th Air Force. “China Crisis” discussed how the United States supported the 14th Air Force, getting supplies over what was called “The Hump.”
Today, it’s better known as the Himalaya Mountains. The film also covered the Japanese Army’s 1944 offensive in China (which doesn’t get as much press when compared to how America advanced in the Pacific that year). Thirteen combat cameramen shot over 300 hours of footage to make a film that was less than an hour long. Five cameramen were killed in action.
“China Crisis” had been slated to be shown along as part of a 1946 War Bonds drive. That drive would not take place, as Japan surrendered in August 1945 after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Perhaps, someday, DOD will find a way to make that film, and many others, available online for Americans to view.
US Air Force special operators evacuate wounded service members during a training exercise with an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter. A U.S. special operations team is currently trapped in Marjah, Afghanistan and one of the Pave Hawks sent to rescue them has crashed. Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Taylor
More than a dozen U.S. Army special operations soldiers are trapped in Marjah, Afghanistan, taking cover in a compound surrounded by enemy fire and hostile Taliban fighters after a U.S. special operations solider was killed earlier in the day, senior U.S. defense officials told Fox News late Tuesday.
A U.S. official described the “harrowing” scene to Fox News, saying there were enemy forces surrounding the compound in which the special operations team sought refuge.
“On the map there is one green dot representing friendly forces stuck in the compound, and around it is a sea of red [representing hostile forces],” the official told Fox News.
A U.S. military “quick reaction force” of reinforcements arrived late Tuesday and evacuated the U.S. special operations soldier killed in action, and the two wounded Americans in the compound, according to a U.S. defense official.
The crew of the disabled helicopter also evacuated safely, the official said.
The rest of the U.S. special operations team remain in the compound to secure the damaged HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter in an area surrounded by Taliban fighters.
An AC-130 gunship has been called in for air cover as the U.S. troops now wait out the night.
Earlier in the day, two USAF HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were sent to rescue the U.S. special operations team. One of the helicopters took fire and waved off the mission and flew back to base.
The other helicopter’s blades struck the wall of the compound while attempting a rescue of the special operations team, according to defense officials who compared the scene to one similar to the helicopter crash inside Usama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on the mission to kill the Al Qaeda leader in May 2011.
The joint U.S. and Afghan special operations team was sent to Marjah to clear the area of Taliban fighters, who have retaken most of the town since November.
There were nine airstrikes on Tuesday in support of a clearing operation.
Earlier in the day, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed to reporters that the fighting in Marjah remains ongoing.
“There’s fighting on the ground as we speak,” said Cook.
“Everything’s being done to secure the safety of those Americans and the Afghan forces,” he added.
The Taliban in recent weeks has focused its efforts on retaking parts of Helmand, and the U.S. has countered with U.S. special operations forces working with Afghan troops.
Iran is negotiating a controversial 25-year agreement with China that has led to accusations that parts of Iran are being sold to Beijing.
Some critics — including the U.S. State Department — are comparing the proposed deal to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay between Persia and tsarist Russia, under which the Persians ceded control of territory in the South Caucasus.
Iranian officials have dismissed the criticism as baseless while promising to make the text of the agreement public once it is finalized.
What Do We Know About The Agreement?
The pact was proposed in a January 2016 trip to Iran by Chinese President Xi Jinping during which the two sides agreed to establish their ties based on a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, while announcing discussions would begin aimed at concluding a 25-year bilateral pact.
The announcement received the support of Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was quoted by Iranian media as saying that the agreement reached between the two sides was “wise.”
The text of the agreement, which will need to be approved by parliament, has not been released. But in recent days an 18-page document has been making the rounds on social media that outlines future cooperation between the countries, including Chinese investment in Iran’s energy sector as well as in the country’s free-trade zones.
RFE/RL cannot verify the authenticity of the document, which has been cited by some Iranian and Western media as a leaked version of the planned pact between Iran and China.
Analysts note the agreement being circulated is very light on details and appears to be the framework of a potential deal.
According to the text, which is labeled “final edit” on its front page and dated the Iranian month of Khordad — which starts May 21 and ends June 19 — the two sides will also increase military and security cooperation while working on joint-projects in third countries.
Iran has in recent months increasingly reached out to China in the face of growing U.S. pressure to isolate Tehran. China remains Iran’s main trading partner but trade between the two sides has dropped due to U.S. pressure in recent years.
Analysts say China is not ready to give Tehran the support it seeks while also suggesting that some of the cooperation envisaged in the pact may never materialize.
Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said, given its importance, the U.S. will always trump Iran for China.
“Iran is a small, risky market, sanctions have severely impeded business [there], and the regime is isolated,” she told RFE/RL. “Meanwhile, China has major economic interests in the U.S. and the trade war is still an important concern for China, which will inevitably shape its relationship with Iran.”
“If we look into what we know about the document and make some educated guesses, we see that the agreement is little more than a comprehensive road map based on the 2016 framework, which does not resolve the main issue of the China-Iran partnership — its implementation,” Jacopo Scita, an Al-Sabah doctoral fellow at Durham University, told RFE/RL.
Why Is The Treaty Controversial?
The pact is being discussed at a time when Iran is under intense pressure due to harsh U.S. sanctions that have crippled the economy and a deadly coronavirus pandemic that has worsened the economic situation.
The timing as well as the scope and duration of the agreement has led to increased concerns that Tehran is negotiating with China from a position of weakness while giving Beijing access to Iran’s natural resources for many years to come.
A distrust in the Iranian authorities that intensified after a deadly November crackdown on antiestablishment protests and the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet — which was initially seen as a coverup — has also contributed to the criticism of the proposed deal.
A lack of trust in China, as well as rising anti-China sentiments due to the coronavirus pandemic, has also contributed to the controversy surrounding the pact.
Tabatabai, the co-author of a book on Iranian ties with Russia and China, says the relationship between Tehran and Beijing has long been perceived as benefiting China far more than Iran.
“The perception isn’t fully inaccurate,” she said. “From the elite’s perspective, China makes big promises and delivers little. And from the population’s perspective, China has been benefiting from the sanctions on Iran, it’s flooded the Iranian market, pushed out Iranian businesses, and has delivered products that are subpar.”
She added: “Many Iranians feel like this deal will cement this unbalanced relationship.”
What Are The Critics Saying?
Criticism of the planned pact appears to have increased following comments by former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who warned in a speech in late June that a 25-year agreement with “a foreign country” was being discussed “away from the eyes of the Iranian nation.”
Others have since joined the criticism, including former conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, who appeared to suggest on Twitter that before signing the pact Iran should raise the fate of Muslims who are reportedly being persecuted in China.
Scita, who closely follows Iranian-Chinese relations, says some of the hype and anger surrounding the agreement were boosted by public figures with political agendas, including Ahmadinejad, who is said to be eying the 2021 presidential election.
The exiled son of the shah of Iran, the country’s last monarch who was ousted following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has also criticized the pact.
Reza Pahlavi, who’s taken an increasingly active role against the Islamic republic, blasted the “shameful, 25-year treaty with China that plunders our natural resources and places foreign soldiers on our soil.” He also called on his supporters to oppose the treaty.
The Persian account of the U.S. State Department referred to the planned agreement as a “second Turkmenchay” and said that Tehran is afraid to share the details of the pact because “no part of it is beneficial to the Iranian people.”
What Are Iranian Officials Saying?
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that Tehran was negotiating an agreement with China “with confidence and conviction,” while insisting there was nothing secret about it.
Since then, officials have defended the deal while dismissing claims that Iran will sell discounted oil to China or give Kish Island to Beijing.
President Hassan Rohani’s chief of staff, Mahmud Vaezi, said over the weekend that the framework of the agreement has been defined, adding that the negotiations are likely to be finalized by March 21.
Vaezi also said the agreement does not include foreign control over any Iranian islands or the deployment of Chinese military forces in the country.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement comes after repeated threats to pull out, but his decision to ditch the pact now could undermine the ability of the US and its partners to counter China’s ambitions in the region.
The VFA, signed in 1998, gives legal status to US troops in the Philippines. Duterte, a longtime critic of ties to the US, gave formal notice of withdrawal to the US this month, triggering a 180-day period before the exit is finalized.
Duterte believes the Philippines should be more militarily independent, a spokesman said, quoting the president as saying, “It’s about time we rely on ourselves.”
The decision is “chiefly the product of Duterte’s deep, decades-long anti-US sentiment,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat and a Southeast Asian security analyst, said in an email to Business Insider.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has “found just about any excuse he can to make threats against the alliance, be it canceling exercises or separating from the United States,” Parameswaran added.
Duterte has spurned the US since he took office and bristled at US criticism of his human-rights record. Both the US and Duterte have high approval ratings among the Philippine public, however, while a large majority there have little or no confidence in China.
“It’s a competition. China’s competing,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said Thursday at a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on Capitol Hill.
“There’s very clear recognition that China is putting pressure and using every tool within its disposal to try to draw those countries” away from cooperation with the US, Sbragia said. “That’s a condition we’re taking head on. That’s very serious for us.”
“I don’t doubt China will relish the deterioration in the US-Philippine alliance,” Parameswaran said. “Beijing has long considered US alliances a relic of the Cold War and a manifestation of US efforts to contain its regional ambitions.”
The US and the Philippines, which the US ruled as a colony during the first half of the 20th century, have a decades-long diplomatic and military relationship.
That relationship and the benefit it offers the Philippine security establishment, as well as US popularity in the Philippines, are among the reasons why Manila may not follow through on withdrawal.
Philippine officials have also hinted that the notice of withdrawal is a starting point for negotiations over the VFA, which some have said are needed “to address matters of sovereignty.” Philippine politicians have also questioned Duterte’s authority to exit the agreement.
But the US shouldn’t assume that Duterte is bluffing or looking for leverage, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“He has been anti-American his entire adult life and has been consistently saying he wants to sever the alliance and bring the Philippines into a strategic alignment with China,” Poling said in an email.
“That said, six months is a long time in politics. If Duterte walks this back, it won’t be because a plan to renegotiate with Washington plays out,” Poling added, “it’ll be because of internal pressure, possibly in response to whatever natural disaster, Chinese act of aggression, or terrorist act in Mindanao happens between now and then.”
The VFA allows US troops to operate on Philippine territory, including US Navy crews and Marine Corps units.
Ending the agreement would jeopardize the roughly 300 joint exercises the two countries conduct every year, complicating everything from port calls to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits the US to the Philippines’ defense in case of an attack. It would also be harder for the US to provide aid in response to natural disasters.
“It’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said this month.
Many naval activities will be unaffected because they can be carried out without entering Philippine territory, Poling said.
“But large-scale land and air exercises will be impossible, as they were from 1990-1999,” Poling added, referring to a period when Manila’s failure to renew a mutual basing agreement led to the withdrawal of US forces — including the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific.
Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Philippine armed forces chief of staff, has said about half of all joint military engagements would be affected by the end the VFA, Poling noted.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said joint exercises with the US would continue during the 180-day period, including the multinational Balikatan exercise that has taken place in the Philippines every spring for 35 years.
Santos Jr. has downplayed the effects of withdrawal, saying it will make the Philippines “self-reliant” and that Manila would expand bilateral exercises it has with other in the region, including Australia and Japan.
But there are legal and logistical limits on the military activities those countries can undertake with the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific.
The erosion of the US-Philippine military relationship raises the prospect of Beijing making moves like those it made in the South China Sea in the 1990s, when it occupied Mischief Reef — first with small wooden structures and then, a few months before the VFA went into force in 1999, with fort-like structures made of concrete.
In the years since, China has expanded and reinforced its presence in the South China Sea, building military structures on man-made islands there. Mischief Reef is now Beijing’s biggest outpost in the disputed waters.
“Beijing will work to make sure that a US loss is China’s gain” and build on inroads made with Duterte, Parameswaran said.
“These gains may include those that are not in the security realm, such as tightening economic ties or helping Duterte deliver on some of his domestic political goals,” Parameswaran added. “But they will nonetheless be consequential, because the broader objective is to move Duterte’s Philippines closer to China and away from the United States.”
Sheik Abdul Hasib is a stout Pakistani who chose to fight under the flag of ISIS in eastern Afghanistan. The area he chose as his redoubt is the border with Pakistan, not too far from where Osama bin Laden and the Arab-speaking jihadis chose to build caves and fight the Soviets in the ’80s. Now seeking to tax poppy growers in the Nangahar province and establish ISIS Khurahsan, the long-haired Pakistani Orakzai tribal fighters have been streaming over four mountain passes from the Khyber and Orakzai regions in Parchinar since 2015. Since then, they’ve terrorized the locals, beheading children and elders alike, and launched a number of violent attacks in Afghanistan.
The Afghan anti-terrorist force began in Kabul and expanded to other major urban areas. Unlike the military, they’re trained by the world’s most elite counter-terrorism units to work in intense scenarios in which hundreds of civilians may be at risk. Photo from Recoilweb.com
ISIS established a foothold in the Pakistan tribal areas in mid-2014 with the fracturing of the “little T” Taliban that was made up of former Pakistan-based Taliban fighters. Leaderless, they flowed northward into Afghanistan in 2015 when around 70 ISIS trainers travelled from Syria to school them in tactics, public relations, and ambushes. Led by Abdul Rauf Khadem, a former bin Laden confidant, ISIS began paying three times the Afghan government salary, and twice that of the Taliban. They launched their new sub brand, ISIS-Khurasan, with brutal videos of hapless villagers being blown up and other filmed executions. Islamic religion tradition insists that horse-mounted jihadis carrying the Black Flags of Khurasan will signal the retaking of the Holy Land and the end of Christianity. Not surprisingly, ISIS PR cameramen filmed chubby Pakistanis jogging and jerking along on Afghan nags carrying black flags in their videos.
The cash and the PR campaign worked. In September 2015, the UN estimated ISIS penetrated 25 out of the 34 provinces.
The Crisis Response Unit is legendary in Afghanistan. They’re never seen in public and stay on their base until a crisis occurs, and then they deploy in minutes directly into a hostage situation. Photo from Recoilweb.com
When I met with Resolute Support commander General “Mick” Nicholson in December, he made it clear that although the NATO side of the war was treading water, the counter-terrorism fight wasn’t hindered by a lack of funding or increasing intensity. While the USA waited patiently for the election to end, General Nicholson made his move.
On April 13, 2017, the sky lit up above Achin and the ground shook through eastern Afghanistan as US special operations forces dropped a 12,000-pound MOAB munition that detonated above the exact area ISIS selected as their headquarters.
Nicholson’s air strike had maximum effect. The USA turned the ISIS fighter’s concealment and isolation into their damnation. About 90 fighters were killed instantly by the pressure wave and collapsing buildings.
Although the rank and file of ISIS K were decimated, the work of actually finishing the job was left to US ground operators and Afghans. Ten days later, at 10:30 p.m., 50 US Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos went in on the location of Sheik Hasib, gunning him down about a mile away from where the bomb went off in Mohmand Valley. As in all special operation ground missions, drones, AC 130s, F16s, and Apaches provided constant top cover and ISR support. Down below, air controllers coordinated the troops moving forward, calling out targets and hostiles for Afghan commandos. ISIS in the east was snuffed out like a candle.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The top leadership and 35 members of ISIS were finally removed because they had crossed the line. They had carried out a devastating March 2017 attack on a 400-bed military hospital in Kabul in which ISIS personnel disguised as medical staff killed scores of people. Enough was enough.
Although MOAB was a global headline grabber and there’s every indication that America is getting back into the fight, much of the dirty work of killing terrorists face to face has been left to the Afghans. It’s for this reason that I visited a little-known counter-terrorism unit high above the hills of Kabul.
It’s Friday, the day off in Afghanistan, but Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the head of Afghanistan’s elite’s counter-terrorism team, has invited me over. He’s clean-shaven, tall, and eager to meet me. He runs the Afghan Crisis Response Unit 222, or CRU 222 for short. He’s unapologetic about his team. His and his men’s job is to kill terrorists in Kabul. Fast.
It’s a brutally simple idea taught to them originally by the SAS and carried forward in their training by American, and now Norwegian, commandos. When suicide bombers try to take hostages en masse, the unit’s mission is to get in and kill them without restraint. In their brutal experience, the faster they kill terrorists the lower the casualties.
Their spotless base sits on the old site of Camp Gibson, overlooking the outskirts of Kabul.
Kabul is the fifth fastest growing city in the world. Under the Taliban in 2001 the population was barely 1.5 million; today almost 4 million people call Kabul home. Photo from Recoilweb.com
Mubariz walks me around the camp and explains the unit has three groups, one active, one in training, and one in reserve. On operations they have a 60-man protection unit and three operations groups. They work 15 days on and 15 days off, and they’re set up to respond to a crisis quickly; their goal is to be out the door within five minutes of a call.
He expresses pride that his men can “assess a situation, form a plan, and have all the belligerents dead within minutes. Instead of the hours it used to take, now we can be ready in three minutes.”
To underline the seriousness and intensity of their task, he estimates that last year 97 of his 7,000-person, nationwide staff were killed. The high-casualty rate doesn’t faze his enthusiasm for the task.
The training for the anti-terrorist squad lasts four months with a dropout rate of 10 to 15 percent of the class. “We get better training than the commandos, but we work together,” Raqib tells me, talking about another Afghan special mission unit that operates in the rural areas of the country. “We recruit from all over the country.”
I want to understand how this unit ended the March 2017 hospital attack, the most brutal terrorist act after the recent bomb attack at Camp Shahin. He offers to have his men perform a demonstration.
The men roll up to a practice building in armored Humvees, dismount, and take a knee; they lay out a protective circle and deploy snipers. They set up a command and control center, gather intel, and agree on an entry plan. Then, the teams deploy and breach, clearing each room until they reach the top.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The men are fast, aggressive, and their actions appear well rehearsed. But this is an empty building with a journalist sticking a camera in their faces, not a burning building with martyrs killing their way to a 72-virgin afterlife.
The 222 benefits from the knowledge passed on by foreign military advisors. Norwegians from the Marinejegerkommandoen were also on hand supervising and offering training guidance. The Norwegians declined to be officially interviewed, but 222’s opinion of them is effusive. “We love it when they taught us how to shoot off the back of motorcycles in the dark,” one commando laughs.
To understand 222’s tactical response to the Kabul hospital attack, I met with the officer (unnamed at his request) that led the hospital attack.
The soft-spoken colonel describes the siege. “It was Wednesday, March 8, 8:45 in the morning. The first car bomb went off at 9 a.m. at the rear of the hospital. By 9:45 a.m. we were stuck in all kinds of traffic. We travel in armored Humvees, five men to a vehicle. We had to hit cars to get out them out the way. We were waved around to a different entrance from the normal entrance when the second car bomb went off.”
The remnants of a vehicle bomb during the March 8, 2017, ISIS attack on the Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in Kabul. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The eight-story pink Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital is in the Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul and is the largest military hospital in Afghanistan. Named after the last prime minister before the Soviets landed, the staff provides medical care to members of the Afghan military and their families. There are also two floors filled with wounded Taliban fighters along with a VIP wing; in addition, there are soldiers housed here who are wounded so seriously they can’t be sent home.
“It was complicated when we arrived on scene because we had more than 1,000 doctors, patients, and visitors.” The colonel says there were 400 beds in an eight-floor building and an unknown number of terrorists wearing suicide vests with grenades, knives, and rifles inside. “I was just thinking how we can protect civilians before we can kill the terrorists.”
The men ISIS sent to cause mayhem weren’t just suicide bombers, but fourth-generation suicide fighters called inghimasis, or “those who plunge” into battle. The four attackers were let into the hospital by an employee, the colonel tells us. They put on white lab coats and began to shoot indiscriminately, using knives to kill bedridden victims to conserve ammunition.
“Once the Afghan Army commandos arrived, I stopped everyone and explained how we can work together. We have British SAS tactics; the Afghan Special Forces uses American [tactics]. We have different training and tactics, and we could kill each other.”
The units deconflicted by leap-frogging each other as they cleared the buildings seven floors, floor by floor.
“We are clearing each room, but ultimately we run to the shooting,” says the colonel. “The problem was most of the victims were being stabbed with knives and [the attackers] were dressed in lab coats like many of the hostages. On the second floor we killed the third man; we shot him, and he blew up. Again we ran to the shooting. In various rooms, there were people hiding. The gunman had killed one or two people in each room.”
The responders killed another shooter on the fourth floor as he was hiding behind a bed. “We found another terrorist on the fifth floor. We shot him, and he blew up.”
Like many Afghans, and out of respect for the dead, he won’t describe the specifics of the dozens of victims. Most of the people had been killed with knives. Later I find out from one of the men who was there that a pregnant women, the wife of a military officer, screamed, “You can’t kill me!” He looks down and describes the brutality, “They cut out her child and then killed her.”
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
Finally, there were 65 hostages on the top floor being held by the last gunman.
“I had heard shooting from the rooftop, and I requested an air drop,” says the Colonel. “The Mi-17 will carry 15 troops and can land on the roof where people were fleeing. Some were on the window ledges outside. [Our] snipers were using the windows, but there weren’t clear shots in the confusion. There is a green house on the top floor, and we went up and found the hostages.”
“We were using CS grenades and wearing gas masks,” he says. “It’s hard to see through the mask when you’re running and the smoke. So I aimed for his center of his vest and he exploded, killing some of the hostages.” When I ask him why he didn’t take a head a shot he looks up and just gives me a pained look.
“I think we were done by 14:00. We then had to coordinate the removal of the dead and wounded, and order ambulances since all the staff had fled.”
At the end, over 60 people were dead and roughly as many were wounded.
The attackers were trained in Pakistan and were reportedly told to kill as many people as possible before detonating their suicide vests. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
UNDERSTANDING THE ENEMY
Colonel Mir Ebaidullah Mirzada from Kapisa province explains how ISIS recruits and trains for these attacks. “I was in military school in high school, then I joined CID police. I spent 31 years in the intelligence service,” he says. His job now is to make sense of these attacks and understand the enemy. That enemy, he says, is increasingly more foreign.
The history of the CRU also coincides with violent attacks launched from Pakistan.
“There was a series of attacks in Kabul in 2005. At that time there was no special unit. They sent police, members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Army, and there were a lot of civilian casualties. It was then they decided to create the CRU. National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar established a division of special police when he was interior minister.”
The work of CRU 222 is not without sacrifice. In 2016, 97 members of the Afghan national anti-terrorism group were killed. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The first unit was 222. They started with 100 members; now they have around 7,000. Ebedullah was one of the originals. “We started with Hungarian and Bulgarian AKs, Russian PiKas (PKM), and Iranian RPGs. We swapped to Russian AKs [after] seven years with a gift of 20,000 AKs, and now, thanks to the US Embassy, we’re using M4s.
The men of the 222 still have to tape their flashlights to the barrel and make do with Chinese knockoff gear. They favor the bright green laundry bag camo pattern sprayed on their gear. It used to take three hours for the unit to jock up, and now it takes them less than five minutes to get out of their compound. Still, a Colonel gets by on $600 a month, and some of the men aren’t fully kitted. But they don’t complain. He pulls out the dossier on the attack on the hospital attack.
More than 70 percent of Kabul’s population lives in illegal settlements like these hillside homes built without permits or proper sanitation. These migrants include thousands of former jihadis returning from Pakistan. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
“The attackers were from Pakistan, two from Tajikistan, and two were Afghan. The people know that Pakistan is behind this.” He takes pains to read the next sentence carefully.
“They trained for four months by Major Ahmad from ISI Punjab, in Mansehra near the military base at Rawalpindi. This information comes from the ‘other side,'” he noted with a smile. Manserhra is only 13 miles north of where bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad.
Recruiting is done from the madrasas, free religious schools sponsored by Sunni donors from the Gulf area.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
Mirzada lays out the training process. “They pass three steps to come. The first step is for ISI people who operated under the guise of being scholars who train young people. They identify those who respond to extreme ideology.”
Despite the steady stream of violent attacks, the people of Kabul go on with their daily lives. In 16 years the country has experienced dramatic growth and education. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
“In the madrasa they’re separated, and when they say, ‘I want to be a martyr,’ they’re ready. Then the preparation work stops. They blindfold them and take them to a military base. There they’re trained about three months on weapons, explosives, and what destiny awaits them in paradise. Before the plan [takes] place they set up companies to provide fake IDs, transportation, and lodging. They transport them to Kabul without weapons.”
Typically, he says, they’re between 14 and 25 years old, mostly from poor families. Their family gets paid 400,000 Pakistani rupees, just under $4,000 US, after they’ve reached the end of their path to martyrdom.
“The handlers train them again to get used to the area where they speak Pashto,” Mirzada says. “There are also people who know Farsi. Once they learn the area, then they ship in the weapons. There are also people who are responsible to make the film. Even when they rush and fight, they’re always filming. Before they attack they film a speech and they get injections to make them brave.”
The elite reputation of CRU 222 attracts hundreds of young Afghan recruits; 15 percent will drop out during training. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
One witness in the media insists he heard one of the men talking to “Mullah Sahib,” which sounds like Mullah Hasib, the head of the ISIS cell in Nangahar. The man gunned down after the MOAB was dropped by US forces. Mirzada closes the file.
When and if another hostage situation occurs, CRU 222 sits waiting for the call, stopwatch at the ready.
Moscow authorities have struggled to clear the streets and told children they could skip school after the Russian capital was hit by massive snowfall.
The national meteorological service said on Feb. 5 2018 that more than the monthly average of snow fell on Moscow over the weekend, with the height of snow reaching up to 55 centimeters in some parts of the capital.
“That’s an anomaly of course,” Nadezhda Tochenova, the deputy head of the Hydrometeorological Center, told AFP news agency.
However, she denied claims that the snowfall was an all-time record.
Calling the event “the snowfall of the century,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin hailed utility workers and other municipal employees he said had kept the city “functioning normally.”
“There is no collapse, no catastrophe,” Sobyanin told journalists.
The mayor said on Feb. 4 2018 that one person had been killed when a tree brought down electricity lines, and that 2,000 trees collapsed due to the massive snowfall.
The city authorities said more than 100 of those trees fell on vehicles.
Thousands of city workers have been working to keep Moscow’s roads and the subway system open, while the Russian military said it had sent soldiers to help clear snowdrifts on the streets.
Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov said snowplows had cleared 1.2 million cubic meters of snow from the streets.
Meanwhile, the emergency services urged drivers to use public transport unless there was “extreme need,” and Moscow authorities announced that children need not come to school, although they would remain open.
The heavy snowfall triggered the cancellation or delay of dozens of flights at Moscow’s airports, as well as power failures in hundreds of smaller towns around the city.
Officials at the Emergency Situations Ministry said that heavy snowfall also affected the regions of Leningrad, Tatarstan, Saratov, Penza, Ulyanovsk, Kaluga, and Vladimir, where power cuts affected tens of thousands of people.