Despite persistent power shortages, North Korea is reportedly selling electricity to China for cash.
The deal, which reportedly began on Feb. 9, 2018, will see China pay between $60,000 and $100,000 a month for power generated by a hydroelectric dam close to the border between the two countries, according to Seoul-based news outlet Daily NK.
“The Supong Hydroelectric Generator in Sakju County is providing the energy to a Chinese factory that produces fire proofing materials. The [North Korean] authorities are accepting payments in the form of cash,” a source in the local North Korean province told Daily NK.
The source also said the export project has been named “The January 8 Fund,” after the birthday of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. His father, Daily NK reported, also had a similar project that earned foreign currency named after his birthday on Feb. 16.
According to Daily NK, North Korea’s usual priority is to first power “idolization sites” for the country’s two previous leaders, government organizations, and munitions factories, before civilian homes or buildings.
Fewer than one-in-three North Koreans have access to electricity, the World Bank estimates, and nighttime satellite images show what that looks like for most of the country.
Unsurprisingly, the Sakju generator doesn’t provide electricity for ordinary citizens, rather it reportedly usually powers a munitions factory, meaning military production could be affected by the power sale to China.
The desire to reroute electricity away from a munitions factory indicates how desperate sanctions have made Pyongyang to earn foreign currency.
The US Army on Feb. 6, 2019, announced that it would buy an Israeli missile-defense system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defenses just don’t work.
“The U.S. Army has announced its intent to procure a limited number of Iron Dome weapon systems to fill its short-term need for an interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC),” a US Army statement sent to Business Insider read.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, indigenously designed with a 9 million US investment backing it, represents the world’s only example of working missile defense.
While the US, Russia, and China work on high-end missile systems meant to shoot down stealth aircraft in ultra-high-tech wars with electronic and cyber warfare raging along the sidelines, none of these countries’ systems actually block many missiles, rockets, or mortars.
Iron Dome launches during operation Pillar of Defense, November 2012.
On the other hand, Israel’s Iron Dome has shot down more than 1,200 projectiles since going operational in 2011. Constant and sporadic attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria have turned Israel into a hotbed of rocket and mortar activity, and the system just plain works.
Not only do the sensors and shooters track and hit targets reliably, the Iron Dome, unlike other systems, can tell if a projectile is going to miss a target and thereby save a 0,000 interceptor fire.
While the system does not run entirely without error, US and Israeli officials consistently rate the dome as having a 90% success rate on the Gaza border, one of the most active places in the world for ballistic projectiles.
But the US already has missile defenses for its forces.
The US, unlike Israel, which is surrounded by enemies bent on its ultimate destruction, doesn’t get many enemies firing ballistic missiles at its forces. Still, to protect its soldiers, the Army typically deploys Patriot defenses to its bases to protect against short-range missile attacks. In Iraq, the US Army also experimented with a Phalanx gun system that would rapid fire 20mm rounds at incoming rockets and mortars.
Overall, the US Army’s statement announcing the Iron Dome purchase made it clear that this would just be a short-term buy while the US assesses its options.
“The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats… it should be noted that the U.S. Army will assess a variety of options for” the long term, the statement continued.
But the Army is well aware of its own Patriot system and any planned or possible updates.
By buying an Israel system with a great track record and overlooking a US system with a checkered past, the US may have finally admitted its shortcomings in missile defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Sailing saved Ronnie Simpson’s life. He was an 18 year old high school senior in Atlanta, Georgia when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Drawn to service by the events of September 11, Ronnie joined the Marine Corps Infantry the day after the war started.
Less than a year later in March 2004, he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines.
“I was a .50 cal gunner on top of a Humvee,” he recalls. “Four months into my deployment, we were ambushed during a night-time convoy, and an RPG hit the ground near my Humvee. The rocket bounced up and exploded in the air one meter from me. I had broken ribs, detached retinas, a bleeding brain which created sub-retinal fluid, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a blown-out left lung and my tongue was blown into my airway. I was temporarily knocked unconscious. Because I wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive, Marines in my truck thought I was dead. It was actually a textbook blast injury. The Corpsman in my Humvee, Doc David Segundo, was injured too but he got up, cleared my airway, and saved my life.”
Simpson, now 30 years old, spent a lot of time recovering both physically and mentally. Most of his TBI symptoms weren’t permanent (he credits the helmet technology for that). Despite having burns over 10 percent of his body, many of those scars aren’t visible.
“It fucked me up pretty good,” he says. “Unless you knew me though, you’d never know I’m hurt. I have no visible scars unless I take my shirt off. Then I have many.”
Simpson is legally blind and can’t obtain a driver’s license. Though his body healed, his mental state took much longer. He reevaluated his life and experiences through a 9,000-mile bike trek across Europe and Asia in 2009 and more than 50,000 miles at sea, both healing counterpoints to his experiences in Iraq.
“My time in theater and my travels have shaped my perspective,” Simpson says. “There’s a lot of good and beauty in this world, and I want to add to that. Our program is about helping the men and women that are coming back – the veterans – the people we should be looking out for. We in the veteran community have these experiences and while we may interpret them differently, this shared experience can bring us together. We can come together to create profound and impactful programs to help the veterans from these two wars as well as something permanent and sustainable for veterans of future conflicts.”
Sailing is the catalyst for Simpson’s initiative. Not only his love for sailing but how he changed his life and how he aims to change the lives of others.
“I joined the Marines at 18, was injured in combat at 19, my dad died four months after I got hurt, and by 20 I was medically retired,” Simpson says. “By 22 I was a lost soul. I had reached my deepest, darkest point. I’m fearful of what would have happened if I hadn’t flipped the script. I broke off an engagement, sold my house, and moved from Texas to California. That move was my re-birth as a new person.”
On the California coast, he found his calling. After living so recklessly, he became completely focused on becoming a racing sailor and making the most of his life. Seven years later, Simpson now travels the world as a professional sailor and sailing writer.
“It helped me heal,” Simpson says. “These adventures help you positively adrenalize yourself in a sustainable manner. Guys who come back from places like Fallujah have experienced adrenaline like most will never know, and again need to achieve that heightened state of existence. But where will they find it? Drugs, alcohol, or doping the pain away with pills? I can put you on the helm of a racing sailboat in the middle of the night and it will rock your world. This is a healthy way to get that fix.”
It’s not just about giving people the fix of adrenaline they were accustomed to while in combat. For Simpson and his sailing nonprofit – Coastal and Offshore Recalibration Experience, or CORE (www.medicinalmissions.com/CORE), that community of veterans is the most important result.
“Because that’s what it is: a Community,” he says. “On a sailboat you can put anyone into a job they can do, regardless of their injury. It’s a sport that doesn’t care if you have arms or legs. That’s a big part of it. Everyone has an assigned, defined role. There’s a chain of command, a defined mission, teamwork is critical and constant risk management is all part of the game. The parallels between racing sailboats and combat are incredible. When you combine that with the peacefulness and serenity of heading to sea with your brothers and sisters, it’s a powerful experience.”
Simpson and his best friend Army veteran Walter Kotecki, created a sailing program within an existing wounded-veteran nonprofit, raised $50,000 through yacht clubs and private donors, and gave a sailing experience to 30 veterans over the course of four clinics in 2012 and 2013.
“There’s always a steep learning curve when you start your own thing. We flew vets to San Francisco,” he says. “They had the whole range of injuries from PTSD to multiple amputees to blindness. We used sailing, surfing, yoga, nature walks, kayaking, art and more to help these guys look past their injuries and realize that anything is possible, no matter their injury, while re-establishing that sense of camaraderie and community that so many have lost since leaving the service.”
It was so successful and the veterans so responsive Simpson and Kotecki decided to strike out on their own earlier this year, forming CORE.
“I had a Vietnam vet hook me up with a racing sailboat and an opportunity,” says Simpson. “He passed that torch to me and told me to pay it forward. Here’s my chance to hook somebody else up. Let’s re-build that community and keep that torch going.”
CORE is seeking veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to participate in more sailing clinics throughout California, with the first being in San Francisco in October of this year. They will be accepting applications until August 31. For 2016, CORE is planning six to eight clinics up and down the California coast.
The most ambitious plan for CORE is participating in the 2017 Transpacific Yacht Race – where they will train a full crew of combat-wounded veterans to sail from Los Angeles to Honolulu, the first time ever that such a crew would be assembled.
“Our goal is to help reduce the rate of veteran suicide in this country. Sailing is one of the tools that we use,” he says.
Simpson is now featured in a series of short films produced by Craftsman, We Are The Mighty, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), showing how IAVA empowers veterans as they transition back to civilian life.
“It’s admirable for companies like Craftsman to reach out to veterans groups to benefit the guys and girls that are coming back,” Simpson says. “I see a positive shift in awareness about issues that affect veterans, how we can improve the care of veterans, and how we can achieve a more holistic healing approach instead of pumping them full of drugs.”
Craftsman is donating $250,000 to IAVA and from May 25 – July 4, for every new follower of @Craftsman on Instagram, Craftsman will donate an additional $1 to IAVA (with a minimum donation of $5,000).
“I am honored to be part of this and stoked that a big corporation is out to make a difference of stemming the tide of 22 veterans a day,” Simpson says. “I’m excited that they believe in what we’re doing, and to work on this next mission of saving lives by reaching out to the veteran community.”
Last week, I read an article on this site called, “America, Where Are You Going?” in which the author (anonymous) bemoaned recent social and political activism of his or her fellow military spouses.
I read all the way to the second page, where one line jumped out above all the rest: “However, that mutual understanding and respect that our spouses should never be publicly political seem to have fallen to the side for a few…” (emphasis added).
Dear Anonymous, I could not disagree with this sentiment more. Here is my rebuttal.
For over twenty years, I’ve served my country by making sure that my spouse’s home and family are taken care of. I make lunches and brush hair and comfort babies when they haven’t seen their daddy in too long. I make sure that if he is called to deploy, he can leave our family knowing that we are taken care of and focus on the job in front of him. I love my country. My work isn’t a sacrifice so much as it is an act of patriotism and pride.
At the same time, it is out of a deep and abiding love for my country that I recognize her flaws and errors. It is also my duty to speak up and call for change.
In 1830 the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, and my ancestors were robbed of their homeland in Mississippi. Choctaw Nation would start the trek west to Oklahoma where they would be confined to a reservation in a wholly new environment. My ancestors survived, though many others didn’t.
This story was told to me as a child. I could hear the pain in my grandmother’s voice as she retold the story her grandma told her. The early 1800s was one of many dark chapters in American history. But my Nation grew strong and built a future in Oklahoma.
Ever since then, I have been firmly grounded in the understanding that my country has deep flaws that we should all mourn. We also have the promise of freedom and the opportunity to grow that is lacking in so many places around the world. My American story goes back far beyond the first European settlers, then later was enriched by Italian and Welsh ancestors. I am rooted in this country in deep ways. This makes me both confident in the future that is possible and aware of the blemishes within.
Part of my duty as a patriot, as a military spouse, and as an American is to speak out against actions that harm our citizens and dishonor our history. Of course we can be publicly political! We’re stakeholders in this great American experiment, aren’t we? That means we get a say in how our country’s run. In fact, as military spouses who have lived in all different kinds of places, we have unique insights on how different systems work. Our perspective is tremendously valuable to the political process.
Those who suggest that spouses should never be political are likely the spouses who benefit most from the way things are now. I do not have that luxury. My Nation does not have that luxury. For us, our existence is political. If we do not speak up, we risk being erased entirely.
At the very end of the article, the author wrote: “The military is not just one entity, it is a family made up of individuals, all with different outlooks on life, political affiliations, religions, every race, and every culture imaginable.”
On this we can agree. Military spouses are no more of a monolith than any other demographic in America. I have military spouse friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Gay, Transgender, socialists, and conservatives. All of us come into this military life with passions and beliefs, some that change and some that grow stronger. The shared experience of serving together bonds us across those differences with a strength that is rarely seen in civilian circles.
So of course: I no more speak for all military spouses than they speak for me. (I’ll add that in the original New York Times article I’m pretty sure this author referred to, that was made abundantly clear.) However, it does not mean that we do not speak at all. On the contrary, we cannot and must not remain quiet when we see injustices. We can and must stand up and say enough.
If you’re interested in political activism like me and what to know where to start, I recommend checking out the Secure Families Initiative. They host nonpartisan webinar trainings on how to be the best advocate you can be, whether that’s lobbying your elected officials or simply telling your story. It’s a super cool community of kickass military spouses!
My voice is important, my voice is unique, and my voice is mine. I am not speaking for my spouse or anyone else, but I am speaking for what I believe is best for my family, national security, and my country.
The U.S. Coast Guard has an under-recognized place in World War II history, fighting German spies before the U.S. entered the war and immediately taking on convoy escort duties, weather patrols, and anti-submarine missions after America declared war on the Axis Powers. One of the Coast Guard crews that bravely shouldered the load was the USCGC Campbell which, in icy Atlantic waters, took bold action to finish off a German U-boat that attempted to attack it.
Crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell pose with their mascot, Sinbad, in World War II.
(U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office)
The Campbell was part of a class of 327-foot Coast Guard cutters specially designed for high-speed service on the high seas. It spent much of World War II protecting convoys and, in February 1943, was one of the escorts for Convoy ON-166. This was before the bulk of German submarines were chased from the Atlantic in “Black May,” and the wolf packs were on the prowl to cut off supplies to Europe and starve Britain into submission.
The Campbell’s involvement started with rescuing 50 merchant mariners from the water. It had to dodge a German torpedo during the rescue, and then it pressed the attack against U-753, heavily damaging it and forcing its withdrawal. It spent the rest of the night driving off German U-boats until it finally attempted to get back to the convoy.
Crewmembers load a Mk. VII depth charge onto the HMS Dianthus, another escort of ON-166, during World War II.
(Imperial War Museums)
In the pre-dawn darkness, Campbell was 40 miles behind the convoy, essentially alone and attempting to catch up and help kill more German submarines. But then a shape emerged from the inky blackness. U-606 was bringing the fight to the Campbell and attempting to engage it before it could meet up with the convoy.
U-606 had three kills to its name, including two ships of ON-166. But it had been damaged while sinking those earlier ships, and attacking the Campbell was a greedy and potentially risky move. Attacking from the surface exposed its position to the American crew and would allow the Campbell to employ its gun crews as well as depth charges.
When the Campbell spotted the sub, it went one step further. Cmdr. James A. Hirshfield ordered a ramming maneuver, swinging the ship about to slam its hull against the submarine.
The Campbell’s bold maneuver came at a cost, though, as the side plating ruptured and salt water began to pour in. Cmdr. Kenneth K. Cowart supervised damage control while also helping to ensure that sufficient engine power was on hand for the continued maneuvering and fighting.
Meanwhile, on the deck, the men controlling the depth charges had managed to drop two during the ram, damaging U-606 further. And deck gun crews began pouring fire onto the stricken sub, attempting to disable or kill it before it could unleash its own deadly barrage against the cutter.
In this melee, an all-Black gun crew of a three-inch gun battery distinguished itself for bravery, accurately concentrating its damage on the sub’s deck and conning tower.
He led the remaining crew through four days of damage control without engine power before finally receiving a tow back to port for repairs. The Campbell survived the war. Hirshfield received the Navy Cross for his actions, and Cowart and Cmdr. Bret H. Brallier received Silver Stars for their parts in saving the cutter.
Louis Etheridge, the man who led that all-Black gun crew on the three-inch battery, later received a Bronze Star for his work that February.
Drones have become an integral part of modern warfare, and the low supply of drones led the US Armed Forces to approve using off-the-shelf drones made by the Chinese giant DJI. However, on August 2, the order came to pull all DJI drones from service – immediately.
The problem is that the US is not the only one using the drones. ISIS and Hezbollah have made wide use of them as well, and the Pentagon worries that their familiarity with the drone’s control systems will makes them a ripe hacking-target that could provide valuable intelligence, such as troop movements.
“All units must cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow-on direction,” read the order, which was signed by Army Air Directorate’s deputy chief of staff Lt. General Joseph Anderson.
In a statement to SUAS News, DJI said that “we are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision.”
“We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the US Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues. We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities’.”
The operational risks associated with drones are not new to Israel. In the 1997 ‘Shayetet Disaster,’ Hezbollah utilized information obtained from an unencrypted IDF drone to lay an ambush that killed 11 commandos from the elite Shayetet-13 Special Operations unit.
The terror militia was able to intercept signals sent out by Israel Air Force unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that conducted reconnaissance over the soldiers’ planned route in the five days that preceded the raid. The UAV’s signal was unencrypted and Israel’s enemies could therefore see the video being sent out in real time.
Hezbollah thus gained advance knowledge of the raid and had time to rig powerful explosives at points on the route where they expected the commando soldiers to pass. A force made up of 16 soldiers walked into the ambush and 11 were killed. Four more were injured and only one, the radio operator, was unhurt and called in the rescue force.
Assets like the S-400 air-defense system — believed to be able to target aircraft from as far as 250 miles away, even the latest stealth aircraft — have been set up around Kaliningrad, which is Russia’s exclave on the Baltic Sea, further south on the Crimean Peninsula and around the Black Sea, and on the Syrian coast, which provides a base from which to reach into the eastern Mediterranean.
Surface-to-air missile systems deployed around Kaliningrad, which is tucked between Poland and Lithuania, were “layered in a way that makes access to that area difficult,” retired Air Force Gen. Frank Gorenc told The New York Times in January 2016, when he was head of the US Air Force in Europe and Africa.
“There are varying degrees of capabilities” at each of those sites, Ben Hodges, who led the US Army in Europe before retiring as a lieutenant general at the end of 2017, told Business Insider at the beginning of November 2018.
“But the one in Kaliningrad and the one in Crimea are the most substantial, with air- and missile-defense and anti-ship missiles and several thousands of troops” from Russia’s army, navy, and air force, Hodges said. “That’s part of creating an arc of A2/AD, if you will.”
Russian state media said another battalion of S-400 missiles had assumed combat duty in Crimea at the end of November 2018, amid a state of increased tension with Ukraine over a violent encounter between their navies in the Black Sea.
Other air-defense systems, including the less advanced but highly capable S-300, are deployed in the region, including in the Black and Baltic seas. Other deployed A2/AD assets include coastal missile batteries firing anti-ship missiles.
When those systems — long embraced by Moscow to counter NATO’s technical and numerical superiority at sea and in the air — are paired with electronic-warfare and radar systems, the concern is they could limit NATO’s freedom of movement, especially in situations short of all-out war, when offensive options are restrained.
But “the alliance is alive to these challenges” and would “be prepared to use all the different things that would be required” in response to them, Hodges said, without elaborating.
Russian S-400 Triumph launch vehicle.
Navy Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, who recently took over the Navy’s newly reestablished Second Fleet, which oversees the eastern half of the Atlantic Ocean, echoed Hodges during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Nov. 28, 2018.
“Without going into things I shouldn’t talk about, I’m confident that we can operate in an A2/AD environment, in a contested environment,” Lewis said when asked about Kaliningrad and A2/AD. “In fact, I know we can.”
“I know we can with our carrier force. I know we can with our surface force. We have a very clear way of doing that. It is based upon maneuver,” he added. “It’s based upon physical maneuver. It’s based upon maneuver in the spectrum, and it’s based upon our ability to keep quiet when it’s time to keep quiet and talk when it’s time to talk.”
There was still room for improvement, Lewis said, but he was confident US forces could get there.
“That’s something that we’re really, really focused on, and we have been focused on for a number of years now, and we’re getting a lot better.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A lot of great things happened this week. The U.S. is in a full-on trade war with everyone. There’s a news draft of the latest tax form for this year, the Supreme Court’s wildcard justice announced plans to retire, and Trump is going to meet Putin face-to-face.
Is this good? Is this bad? We’re not here to tell you that. And honestly, you should decide for yourselves. We’re here right now to give you memes. Dank memes. And in the world of dank military memes, the fallout from the Space Force is ongoing.
Imagine the Space Force JROTC.
Just add salt. A lot of salt.
(Decelerate Your Life)
They already left for their dream job at American Airlines.
Ice 101 and shrimp are never going to happen.
But welcome to the Navy.
A 0.00 ring, but still.
In nomini paratus.
We hardly knew ye.
Moon dust. Moon dust everywhere.
He just gained the knowledge of Enlisted Jesus.
Glad someone can talk to those animals below decks.
Despite the military defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and most of Syria, the extremist group still has around 20,000 to 30,000 militants in the two countries, according to a United Nations report.
The report circulated on Aug. 13, 2018, said the estimate came from governments it did not identify. It includes a “significant component” of foreign fighters.
The militants were equally divided between Iraq and Syria, said the report to the Security Council by experts monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
Many of the key IS operatives were being relocated to Afghanistan, where the group has between 3,500 and 4,000 fighters and is growing, the experts said.
The militant group led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also has significant affiliated supporters in Libya, Southeast Asia, and West Africa.
Military training in Erbil, Iraq, Jan. 25, 2018. This training is critical to enabling local security forces to secure their homeland from ISIS. Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Anthony Zendejas IV)
Islamic State overran large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, but by January 2018, the group was confined to small pockets of territory in Syria.
According to the UN report, IS “is still able to mount attacks inside Syrian territory. It does not fully control any territory in Iraq, but it remains active through sleeper cells.”
The flow of foreign fighters to IS in Syria and Iraq has come to a halt, the experts said, but “the reverse flow, although slower than expected, remains a serious challenge.”
They said Al-Qaeda’s global network also “continues to show resilience,” with its affiliates and allies much stronger than the IS group in some spots, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia, and Africa’s Sahel region.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new transnational organized-crime task force on Oct. 15, 2018, furthering a crackdown on crime that he said has been a Trump administration priority since Day 1.
“The same day I was sworn in as attorney general, President Trump ordered me to disrupt and dismantle these groups,” Sessions said in remarks delivered in Washington, DC.
The Justice Department, following Trump’s lead, has intensified its efforts against the transnational gang MS-13, which started in the US and is now based in Central America. Sessions designated the group a priority for the department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which he said had been able to hit it “from all angles.”
Sessions directed that task force, as well as Justice Department officials, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration to name the top transnational criminal groups threatening the US. Subcommittees within the new task force will focus on the five groups named by those officials.
“I have ordered each of these subcommittees to provide me with specific recommendations within 90 days on the best ways to prosecute these groups and ultimately take them off of our streets,” Sessions said.
Below, you can see the five groups on which the Justice Department’s new task force will focus.
The gang started among migrants from Central America, El Salvador in particular, who fled civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of them ended up in Southern California, where, without family networks or other connections, they gravitated toward gangs.
Deportations returned many members to their home countries in the 1990s and 2000s, where the gang blossomed in the post-conflict environment.
The gang’s influence has since spread throughout the region, including to the US, where it often carries out extortion, robberies, and other crimes in areas with large migrant communities, like the Washington, DC, suburbs or Suffolk County on Long Island.
Though MS-13 members have committed particularly heinous crimes, experts have said the Trump administration misunderstands the reach and power the gang.
“Our research found that MS-13 is hardly a lucrative network of criminal masterminds,” Steven Dudley, a senior fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, wrote in early 2018. “Instead, it is a loose coalition of young, often formerly incarcerated men operating hand to mouth across a vast geographic territory.”
The Jalisco New Generation cartel, or CJNG
The Mexican organized-crime group CJNG is the youngest group on the list compiled by the Justice Department. It is believed to have sprung from one faction of the Sinaloa cartel, which is also on the list, around 2010.
Based in the southwest state of Jalisco, the CJNG has grown rapidly since then, expanding throughout the country. It often violently forces out competitors and has corrupted numerous law-enforcement officials.
It has focused on synthetic drugs like crystal meth, and it has helped push up homicide rates along Mexico’s Pacific coast, fighting for control of ports needed to bring in precursor chemicals needed to make those drugs. The CJNG has expanded into other criminal enterprises; in some parts of Mexico it is believed to be fighting for a piece of the lucrative oil-theft trade.
Perhaps the group’s most high-profile crime was shooting down a Mexican army helicopter over Jalisco in May 2015. The shoot-down killed six soldiers, who were among 15 people killed in wave of violence in the state that day. (Mexican authorities said in 2018 they caught the suspects responsible for bringing down the helicopter.)
In the years since, the CJNG and its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka “El Mencho,” have become high-profile targets. The capture of a number of CJNG financial operators, including the wife of “El Mencho,” in recent years likely indicates Mexican authorities are trying to go after the gang’s money. (Though the wife was released on bail in September 2018.)
The group also appears to be facing competition at home. A group called the Nueva Plaza cartel, believed to be led by a one-time confidant of Oseguera, is thought to be challenging it on its home turf in Guadalajara, with backing from groups like the Sinaloa cartel.
Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he is extradited to New York, January 19, 2017.
(Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office)
The Sinaloa cartel
Over the past two decades, the Sinaloa cartel has risen to the top of Mexico’s narco hierarchy, operating throughout the country and around the world, linking coca fields in South America and drug labs in Mexico to consumers in the US, Europe, and parts of Asia.
Formed in the western state of the same name, the Sinaloa cartel emerged in the 1990s, after the breakup of the powerful Guadalajara cartel. Led by cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Sinaloa cartel muscled rivals out of valuable territories, including cities bordering the US.
In the process, the cartel helped stoke dizzying bloodshed in Mexico, making its cities some of the most violent in the world.
The cartel’s outlook has been cloudy since Guzman’s January 2016 arrest, which came about six months after he broke out of jail for the second time. Rumors of a looming third breakout appeared to be snuffed out in January 2017, when Mexican officials whisked him to New York and turned him over to the US.
Since then, the Sinaloa cartel appeared ready to crack up. Guzman’s sons and presumed heirs to the cartel were kidnapped by rivals in late 2016, and in early 2017 they were challenged by Guzman’s former right-hand man and his son.
But Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a shadowy cartel chieftain who helped form the group with Guzman and is backing Guzman’s sons, appears to have reestablished some of the cartel’s “cohesion” and avoided a major fracture.
The Sinaloa cartel is better understood as an alliance of factions rather than a hierarchical cartel — a organizational structure that is believed to give it some resiliency in the face of law-enforcement pressure.
The Gulf clan, or the Gulf cartel, was long one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups moving cocaine from South America to the US and meting out shocking violence along the way.
Gulf cartel’s formation can be traced to the mid-1980s in northeast Mexico, where criminal elements and officialdom have long intertwined. Around that time, it began cutting deals with Colombian traffickers and soon vaulted from a relatively small-time marijuana and heroin business to a billion-dollar cocaine smuggling operation.
The cartel also corrupted government officials, federal and local police forces, and attorneys general. In the late 1990s, it also began developing a military wing, recruiting former Mexican special-forces soldiers to help form a group of enforcers known as the Zetas.
The Gulf cartel and the Zetas began to split in the late 2000s, sparking inter- and intra-cartel fighting that still makes northeast Mexico one of the country’s most violent regions.
In recent years, the Gulf cartel has “lost strength and has experienced rapid turnover in leadership,” the DEA said in its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. But the group remains influential in northeast Mexico, moving drugs into South Texas and controlling distribution hubs in US cities like Houston and Atlanta.
Hezbollah posters in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War.
Hezbollah, or the “Party of God,” is the only group on the Justice Department’s list with its origins outside the Western Hemisphere.
It emerged after Israel’s 1982 invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, which came amid a civil war in the latter country that ran from 1975 to 1990.
A Shiite Muslim political party and militant group, Hezbollah receives significant support from Iran and has fought with Iran in Syria to support that country’s dictator, Bashar Assad.
That campaign has improved Hezbollah’s operational capabilities and added to its weapons stockpiles, now believed to include weapons like guided missiles, armed drones, and anti-tank missiles.
Israel has launched strikes in Syria to deter Iran and Hezbollah and has increased its readiness to counter Hezbollah and Iranian action there. Hezbollah’s growing role in Lebanon and its expanding military capabilities have led experts to warn a future war between it and Israel could be bigger and more violent that the 2006 Lebanon War.
The US, which considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has pushed Lebanon to cut Hezbollah’s access to its financial sector.
The group has also been active in the US and the Western Hemisphere for some time, though its focus there is believed to be on money laundering.
People in the region with links to the group are almost all considered not to be active members but rather “associates,” though at least one man has been accused of conducting surveillance in the US in support of potential Hezbollah attacks.
The US has also accused numerous Venezuelan officials of links to Hezbollah, including through an alleged black-market scheme to sell passports. Though some intelligence officials have said those allegations are overstated.
Hezbollah-linked actors in the region’s “activities have largely been involved in logistics support, providing funds back to Lebanon to Hezbollah itself,” Adm. Kurt Tidd, the former head of US Southern Command, told the Senate in early 2016.
The threat to the US
“Transnational Criminal Organizations — whether they are gangs, drug trafficking cartels or terrorist groups — are a scourge,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who will lead the new task force, said alongside Sessions on Oct. 15, 2018. “They sow violence and sell poisonous drugs. They bribe public officials and fuel corruption. They terrorize law-abiding citizens.”
While the groups named are responsible for violence and criminal activity in the US and the region, experts have differed with the Trump administration’s assessment of them.
While the gang’s members have committed heinous acts in the US, their crimes mostly target immigrant communities. Though the group’s members in the US have contact with leaders in Central America, the organization itself is decentralized and largely involved in crimes like extortion, drug possession, and homicide, as it isn’t powerful or organized enough for transnational drug-trafficking.
“The cartels use gang members. They use individuals that are living here in the United States to basically do the distribution and the logistics here in the United States,” Mike Vigil, former director of international operations for the DEA, told Business Insider in 2017.
Even as violence in Mexican border cities has risen over the past decade, violence in US cities next to them has been below-average. And incidents of cartel-related violence in the US have usually been limited to people with ties to the cartels (though there have been cases of mistaken identity).
Hezbollah is also active in the US, but it appears largely focused on fraud and money laundering. Throughout the region, the group’s activities appear limited to financial and logistical support for the organization based in Lebanon.
Intelligence officials have also disputed assertions by US politicians that the Venezuelan government is collaborating with Hezbollah and other militant groups.
“The whole Hezbollah line has been distorted for political purposes by the more extreme elements of the US right wing,” a former CIA senior official told Reuters in early 2018.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Oscar Davis Jr. wasn’t in uniform. He had no maroon beret. And the 92-year-old could hardly be expected to jump from an airplane.
But in a room filled with 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers on Saturday, Davis fit right in.
“He’s still one of us,” said Capt. Andrew Hammack, commander of A Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. “He’s just not currently reporting for duty.”
More than 70 years ago, a much younger Davis was assigned to “Animal” Company of the 505th PIR. He served with the unit in Holland and then Belgium during World War II.
It was in the latter, amid the Ardennes forest and the Battle of the Bulge, that Davis was wounded.
With the Germans shelling his unit, Pvt. Davis — then assigned as a radiotelephone operator — was knocked down by a large piece of shrapnel.
Only the radio on his back protected him from sure death. But the German artillery barrage also knocked down a tree and through a stroke of bad luck, that tree landed on Davis, pinning him and causing a significant spinal injury.
The young paratrooper would spend three weeks paralyzed from the waist down, but would ultimately rejoin his unit in Germany.
The wait for recognition for his injuries, however, was much longer.
In a dining room at Heritage Place in Fayetteville, where Davis now lives, the old paratrooper finally received his Purple Heart Medal, 72 years, one month, and two weeks after he earned it.
The medal, awarded to troops who are wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States, traces its roots to the nation’s oldest military medal, the Badge of Military Merit that was first awarded by Gen. George Washington.
Davis had long ago been told he would receive the honor. But the award paperwork was never signed amid the business of the war.
Decades later, he said the medal was worth the wait, smiling from ear to ear as Lt. Col. Marcus Wright leaned down to pin it to his jacket.
“This has been some day,” Davis said. “I couldn’t believe all this was going to happen. I just want to thank the lord.”
Friends, family, and more than two dozen soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division attended the ceremony.
Wright, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, presided over the event.
“All I can say about this is, ‘Wow,'” he said. “I’m absolutely honored to be here today.”
Wright said Davis was part of the division’s storied history. And played an important role in the 82nd Airborne earning one of its many nicknames.
Following the war, with the division assigned to occupation duty in Berlin, Wright said Davis and another soldier were working a checkpoint when an officer’s vehicle drove past.
Davis and the other paratrooper snapped to attention “like any good enlisted soldier,” Wright said. When the vehicle passed them, they relaxed, but realized the car had slowed to a stop just past their post.
They watched as the car backed up through their checkpoint, as the two soldiers again snapped to attention, he said. Then the vehicle pulled forward again, as the paratroopers snapped to attention a third time as the car finally drove off.
A short time later, the sergeant of the guard arrived and informed the paratroopers that famed Gen. George Patton was in the vehicle. And that he was so impressed by their discipline that he had to drove by and see it again.
Patton would give the 82nd Airborne Division its nickname of “America’s Guard of Honor,” saying, “In all my years in the Army and all the honor guards I have ever seen, the 82nd’s honor guard is undoubtedly the best.”
Wright said there’s little doubt Davis contributed to the good impression the division’s paratrooper had on Patton.
“This fine young gentleman here is part of that legacy,” he said. “This is part of our history.”
After the medal was awarded, dozens of people waited in line to shake the veteran’s hand and offer their congratulations. Soldiers from A Company presented Davis with a unit coin and a shirt.
The medal ceremony was the culmination of nearly two years of work by the Veterans Legacy Foundation, a Harnett County-based volunteer organization that has helped more than 100 veterans receive military awards that are owed to them.
John Elskamp, executive director of the foundation, said volunteers scoured an archive of war reports to find proof of Davis’ injuries.
The Purple Heart was the latest medal the group had recovered for Davis. In late 2015, the group helped the World War II veteran to receive the Bronze Star and other medals that were awarded to him in a ceremony at the U.S. Army Airborne Special Operations Museum.
The Army is now performing concept modeling and early design work for a new mobile, lethal, high-tech future lightweight tank platform able to detect and destroy a wider range of targets from farther distances, cross bridges, incinerate drones with lasers and destroy incoming enemy artillery fire – all for the 2030s and beyond.
The new vehicle, now emerging purely in the concept phase, is based upon the reality that the current M1A2 SEP Abrams main battle tank can only be upgraded to a certain limited extent, senior Army officials explained.
The Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, is now immersed in the development of design concepts for various super high-tech tank platforms, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Scout Warrior in an exclusive interview.
Bassett emphasized the extensive conceptual work, simulation and design modeling will be needed before there is any opportunity to “bend metal” and produce a new tank.
“We’ve used concept modeling. What are the limits of what you can do? What does a built from the ground up vehicle look like? We are assuming, if we are going to evolve it, it is because there is something we can’t do in the current vehicle,” Basset explained.
The new tank will emerge after the Army first fields its M1A2 SEP v4 upgraded Abrams tank in the 2020s, a more lethal Abrams variant with 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared Sensors for greater targeting range and resolution and more lethal Advanced Multi-Purpose, or AMP ammunition combining many rounds into a single 120mm round.
The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.
The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will also include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links and laser warning receivers.
However, although Army developers often maintain that while the latest, upgraded high-tech v4 Abrams is much more advanced than the first Abrams tanks produced decades ago, there are limits to how much the existing Abrams platform can be upgraded.
A lighter weight, more high-tech tank will allow for greater mobility in the future, including an ability to deploy more quickly, handle extremely rigorous terrain, integrate new weapons, cross bridges inaccessible to current Abrams tanks and maximize on-board networking along with new size-weight-and-power configurations.
Although initial requirements for the future tank have yet to emerge, Bassett explained that the next-generation platform will use advanced sensors and light-weight composite armor materials able to achieve equal or greater protection at much lighter weights.
“We will build in side and underbody protection from the ground up,” Bassett said.
Bassett said certain immediate changes and manufacturing techniques could easily save at least 20-percent of the weight of a current 72-ton Abrams.
The idea is to engineer a tank that is not only much more advanced than the Abrams in terms of sensors, networking technology, force tracking systems, an ability to control nearby drones and vastly increased fire-power – but to build a vehicle with open-architecture such that it can quickly accommodate new technologies as they emerge.
For instance, Bassett pointed out that the Abrams was first fielded with a 105mm cannon – yet built with a mind to potential future upgrades such that it could be configured to fire a 120mm gun.
“The vehicle needs to have physical adaptability and change and growth ability for alterations as one of its premises – so it can learn things about energy and power and armor. The Army really needs to think about growth as an operational need,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Smith explained how, for example, Humvees were not built for the growth necessary to respond to the fast-emerging and deadly threat of roadside bombs in Iraq.
The new tank will be specifically engineered with additional space for automotive systems, people and ammunition. As computer algorithms rapidly advance to allow for greater levels of autonomy, the Abrams tank will be able to control nearby drones using its own on-board command and control networking, service developers said.
Unmanned “wing-man” type drones could fortify attacking ground forces by firing weapons, testing enemy defenses, carrying suppliers or performing forward reconnaissance and reconnaissance missions while manned-crews remained back at safer distances.
Bassett, and developers with General Dynamics Land Systems, specifically said that this kind of autonomy was already being worked on for current and future tanks.
Active protection systems are another instance of emerging technologies which will go on the latest state-of-the-art Abrams tanks and also quite likely be used for the new tank. Using computer algorithms, fire control technology, sensors and an interceptor of some kind, Active Protection Systems are engineered to detect, track and destroy incoming enemy fire in a matter of milliseconds.
The Army is currently fast-tracking an effort to explore a number of different APS systems for the Abrams. General Dynamics Land Systems is, as part of the effort, using its own innovation to engineer an APS system which is not a “bolt-on” type of applique but something integrated more fully into the tank itself, company developers have told Scout Warrior.
The use of space in the new vehicle, drawing upon a better allocation of size-weight-and-electrical power will enable the new tank to accommodate better weapons, be more fuel efficient and provide greater protection to the crew.
“If you have less volume in the power train, you can get down to something with less transportability challenges,” he said. “If you add additional space to the vehicle, you can take out target sets at greater distances.”
While advanced Abrams tanks will be using a mobile Auxiliary Power Unit to bring more on-board electrical power to the platform for increased targeting, command-and-control technologies and weapons support, mobile power is needed to sustain future systems such as laser weapons.
The Army cancelled its plans for a future Ground Combat Vehicle, largely for budget reasons, some of the innovations, technologies and weapons systems are informing this effort to engineer a new tank for the future.
Design specs, engineering, weapons and other innovations envisioned for the GCV are now being analyzed for the new tank. In particular, the new tank may use an emerging 30mm cannon weapon planned for the GCV – the ATK-built XM813.
The XM813, according to Army developmental papers, is able to fire both armor-piercing rounds and air-burst rounds which detonate in the air in proximity to an enemy in defilade, hiding behind a rock or tree, for example.
The computer-controlled and electronically driven weapon can fire up to 200 rounds per minute, uses a dual-recoil firing system and a semi-closed bolt firing mode, Army information says.
Light Weight 120mm Cannon
The new tank may quite likely use a futuristic, lightweight 120mm cannon first developed years ago for the Army’s now-cancelled Future Combat Systems, or FCS; FCS worked on a series of “leap-ahead” technologies which, in many instances, continue to inform current Army modernization efforts.
The FCS program developed next-generation sensors, networking, robots and a series of mobile, high-tech 27-ton Manned-Ground Vehicles, or MGVs.
The MGVs included a Non-Line-of-Sight artillery variant, Reconnaissance and Surveillance, Infantry, Medical and Command-and-Control variants, among others. One of the key vehicles in this planned future fleet was the Mounted Combat System, or MCS.
The overall MGV effort was cancelled by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 because Gates felt that the 27-ton common chassis was not sufficiently survivable enough in a modern IED-filled threat environment.
Although the MGVs were engineered with a so-called “survivability onion” of networked sensors and active protection systems to identify and destroy approaching enemy fire at great distances, many critics of FCS felt that the vehicles were not sufficient to withstand a wide range of enemy attacks should incoming fire penetrate sensors or hit targets in the event that the sensor malfunctioned or were jammed.
The Army’s MCS program developed and test-fired a super lightweight 120mm cannon, called the XM360, able to fire existing and emerging next-generation tank rounds. The lightweight weapon being developed for the MCS was two-tons, roughly one-half the weight of the existing Abrams 120mm cannon.
The MCS was to have had a crew of two, a .50 caliber machine gun, and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.
In fact, the Army’s recent Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically mentions the value of adapting the XM360 for future use.
Next-Generation Large Caliber Cannon Technology. The XM360 next-generation 120mm tank cannon integrated with the AAHS will provide the M1 Abrams a capability to fire the next generation of high-energy and smart-tank ammunition at beyond line-of-sight (LOS) ranges. The XM360 could also incorporate remote control operation technologies to allow its integration on autonomous vehicles and vehicles with reduced crew size. For lighter weight vehicles, recoil limitations are overcome by incorporating the larger caliber rarefaction wave gun technology while providing guided, stabilized LOS, course-corrected LOS, and beyond LOS accuracy
Bassett said the potential re-emergence of the XM360 is indicative of the value of prototyping and building subsystem technologies.
The MCS was test-fired at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., in 2009. The platform used an aluminum turret and three-man crew using an automatic loading system. Also, the MCS was engineered to fire 120mm rounds up to 10 kilometers, what’s called Beyond-Line-of-Sight using advanced fire control and targeting sensors, General Dynamics developers explained at the time.
Special new technology was needed for the XM360 in order to allow a lighter-weight cannon and muzzle to accommodate the blast from a powerful 120mm tank round.
Elements of the XM360 include a combined thermal and environmental shroud, blast deflector, a composite-built overwrapped gun, tube-modular gun-mount, independent recoil brakes, gas-charged recuperators, and a multi-slug slide block breech with an electric actuator, Army MCS developmental documents describe.
Smith added that a lighter-weight, more mobile and lethal tank platform will be necessary to adjust to a fast-changing modern threat environment including attacking RPGs, Anti-Tank-Guided Missiles and armor-piercing enemy tank rounds. He explained that increased speed can be used as a survivability combat-enhancing tactic, adding that there are likely to be continued urban threats in the future as more populations migrates into cities.
“Never forget what it is you are trying to use it for,” Smith said.
Army researchers recently tested ground robots performing military-style exercises, much like soldier counterparts, at a robotics testing site in Pennsylvania recently as part of a 10-year research project designed to push the research boundaries in robotics and autonomy.
RoMan, short for Robotic Manipulator, is a tracked robot that is easily recognized by its robotic arms and hands — necessary appendages to remove heavy objects and other road debris from military vehicles’ paths. What’s harder to detect is the amount of effort that went into programming the robot to manipulate complex environments.
The exercise was one of several recent integration events involving a decade of research led by scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory who teamed with counterparts from the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University and General Dynamics Land Systems.
As part of ARL’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance, the work focused on state-of-the-art basic and applied research related to ground robotics technologies with an overarching goal of developing autonomy in support of manned-unmanned teaming. Research within the RCTA program serves as foundational research in support of future combat ground vehicles.
An Army robot plans what to do to address a debris pile, full of objects.
(U.S. Army photo)
The recent robot exercise was the culmination of research to develop a robot that reasons about unknown objects and their physical properties, and decides how to best interact with different objects to achieve a specific task.
“Given a task like ‘clear a path’, the robot needs to identify potentially relevant objects, figure out how objects can be grasped by determining where and with what hand shape, and decide what type of interaction to use, whether that’s lifting, moving, pushing or pulling to achieve its task,” said CCDC ARL’s Dr. Chad Kessens, Robotic Manipulation researcher.
During the recent exercise, RoMan successfully completed such as multi-object debris clearing, dragging a heavy object (e.g., tree limb), and opening a container to remove a bag.
Kessens said soldier teammates are able to give verbal commands to the robot using natural human language in a scenario.
“Planning and learning and their integration cut across all these problems. The ability of the robot to improve its performance over time and to adapt to new scenarios by building models on-the-fly while incorporating the power of model-based reasoning will be important to achieving the kinds of unstructured tasks we want to be able to do without putting soldiers in harm’s way,” Kessens said.