President Barack Obama commuted the majority of WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence on Tuesday, with only three days left in office.
Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act, among other charges, in 2013 after she stole secret documents from a computer system she had access to while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq and leaked them to WikiLeaks in 2010.
She received a 35-year sentence for the leak and has served seven years in Fort Leavenworth. She will now be freed in five months, on May 17.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told The New York Times on Tuesday that there’s a “pretty stark difference” between Manning’s case and that of former government employee Edward Snowden.
“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”
Snowden declared his support for Manning on Twitter.
“In five more months, you will be free. Thank you for what you did for everyone, Chelsea. Stay strong a while longer!” Snowden tweeted.
The president has not granted clemency to Snowden.
Obama pardoned 64 other people on Tuesday and shortened the sentences of 209 prisoners. Over his two terms, Obama has commuted the sentences of 1,385 people and granted 212 pardons.
In April 1978, an Afghan tank commander rushed to tell President Mohammed Daoud Khan of a coming coup attempt. The President ordered his tank commander to circle to the presidential palace. Khan did not want to be caught off guard. He had only taken the reins of power from the King of Afghanistan five years before and didn’t want the monarchists coming back to power.
But when the critical moment to stop the coup came, the tank commander, with tanks surrounding the president, turned his guns on the palace. He was part of the coup all along.
The day after the revolution.
As coup attempts go, it was relatively bloodless, and thankfully short. But this coup would set Afghanistan on a path that would destroy it from within for the next fifty years or more. Daoud Khan and his family were killed in the palace that day, and the Communists under Nur Muhammad Taraki would ascend to the presidency of Afghanistan. Daoud was himself not a member of the Communist party, but the Communists did help him overthrow the monarchy. Once in power, the new president tried to keep Afghanistan non-aligned in the Cold War.
But when you share a border with the Soviet Union, that just doesn’t seem likely to happen.
Khan, on the right, shaking hands with senior Afghan military leaders
The problem with being non-aligned is that you can really lean one way or the other. When you ask for favors from a superpower, they expect you to fall in line. So it went for Daoud, who asked for help from the Soviets to settle a border dispute with Pakistan. He struggled to keep the USSR out of Afghan foreign policy thereafter. When a rivalry in the Afghan Communist Party ended with the murder of a faction leader, the Afghans were convinced it was Daoud whose hands were dirty – and that they were next. He didn’t have any of them assassinated, but he did have them arrested after protesting the government.
That sealed his fate.
The palace on the day of the coup.
It was on April 27, 1978, that Daoud’s trusted tank commander turned on him. He had already defected to the Communist party. By noon, more tanks were rumbling to the palace, the Army occupied important areas of the city, and the Afghan Air Force took to the skies, all against Daoud and his supporters. When the rebels captured the radio station Radio Afghanistan, they announced to the people what was happening.
By the next morning, the President and his family were dead, the palace was lit up like swiss cheese, and the Communists were in control of the country. It turns out Daoud and his brother charged out of the palace toward the army, guns blazing, like a scene out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Which eventually led to a Soviet invasion.
The reforms implemented by the Communists were mixed, as was the public reaction to the change in power. The new regime was brutally repressive, executed political prisoners, and brutally put down any resistance from the countryside. This repression turned the people against their Communist government, which triggered the Soviet Union’s Brezhnev Doctrine – any threat to Communist rule in any Communist government is a threat to all Communism everywhere.
The Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan for some nine years. The war was a brutal stalemate that severely set back the development of both countries and may have led to the downfall of the USSR.
How much of a threat do Russia’s emerging 5th-generation stealth fighter, nuclear arsenal, high-tech air defenses, anti-satellite weapons, conventional army and submarines pose to NATO and the U.S.?
Current tensions between Russia and NATO are leading many to carefully assess this question and examine the current state of weaponry and technological sophistication of the Russian military — with a mind to better understanding the extent of the kinds of threats they may pose.
Naturally, Russia’s military maneuvers and annexation of the Crimean peninsula have many Pentagon analysts likely wondering about and assessing the pace of Russia’s current military modernization and the relative condition of the former Cold War military giant’s forces, platforms and weaponry.
Russia has clearly postured itself in response to NATO as though it can counter-balance or deter the alliance, however some examinations of Russia’s current military reveals questions about its current ability to pose a real challenge to NATO in a prolonged, all-out military engagement.
Nevertheless, Russia continues to make military advances and many Pentagon experts and analysts have expressed concern about NATO’s force posture in Eastern Europe regarding whether it is significant enough to deter Russia from a possible invasion of Eastern Europe.
Also, Russia’s economic pressures have not slowed the countries’ commitment to rapid military modernization and the increase of defense budgets, despite the fact that the country’s military is a fraction of what it was during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s.
While the former Cold War giant’s territories and outermost borders are sizeably less than they were in the 1980s, Russia’s conventional land, air and sea forces are trying to expand quickly, transition into the higher-tech information age and steadily pursue next generation platforms.
Russia’s conventional and nuclear arsenal is a small piece of what it was during the Cold War, yet the country is pursuing a new class of air-independent submarines, a T-50 stealth fighter jet, next-generation missiles and high-tech gear for individual ground soldiers.
A think-tank known as The National Interest has recently published a number of reports about the technological progress now being made by Russian military developers. The various write-ups include reporting on new Russian anti-satellite weapons, T-14 Armata tanks, air defenses and early plans for a hypersonic, 6th-generation fighter jet, among other things. Russia is unambiguously emphasizing military modernization and making substantial progress, the reports from The National Interest and other outlets indicate.
“This is the second test of the new weapon, which is capable of destroying satellites in space. The weapon was apparently launched from the Plesetsk test launch facility north of Moscow,” the report from The National Interest writes.
In addition, The National Interests’ Dave Majumdar reported that Russian Airborne Forces are set to form six armored companies equipped with newly modified T-72B3M tanks in the second half of 2016. Over the next two years, those six companies will be expanded to battalion strength, the report states.
Russia is also reportedly developing a so-called “Terminator 3” tank support fighting vehicle.
During the Cold War, the Russian defense budget amounted to nearly half of the country’s overall expenditures.
Now, the countries’ military spending draws upon a smaller percentage of its national expenditure. However, despite these huge percentage differences compared to the 1980s, the Russian defense budget is climbing again. From 2006 to 2009, the Russian defense budget jumped from $25 billion up to $50 billion according to Business Insider – and the 2013 defense budget is listed elsewhere at $90 billion.
Overall, the Russian conventional military during the Cold War – in terms of sheer size – was likely five times what it is today.
Overall, the Russian military had roughly 766,000 active front line personnel in 2013 and as many as 2.4 million reserve forces, according to globalfirepower.com. During the Cold War, the Russian Army had as many as three to four million members.
By the same 2013 assessment, the Russian military is listed as having more than 3,000 aircraft and 973 helicopters. On the ground, Globalfirepower.com says Russia has 15-thousand tanks, 27,000 armored fighting vehicles and nearly 6,000 self-propelled guns for artillery. While the Russian military may not have a conventional force the sheer size of its Cold War force, they have made efforts to both modernized and maintain portions of their mechanized weaponry and platforms. The Russian T-72 tank, for example, has been upgraded numerous times since its initial construction in the 1970s.
On the overall Naval front, Globalfirepower.com assesses the Russian Navy as having 352 ships, including one aircraft carrier, 13 destroyers and 63 submarines. The Black Sea is a strategically significant area for Russia in terms of economic and geopolitical considerations as it helps ensure access to the Mediterranean.
Analysts have also said that the Russian military made huge amounts of conventional and nuclear weapons in the 80s, ranging from rockets and cruise missiles to very effective air defenses.
In fact, the Russian-built S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft air defenses, if maintained and modernized, are said to be particularly effective, experts have said.
Citing Russian news reports, the National Interest reported that the Russians are now testing a new, S-500 air defense systems able to reportedly reach targets up to 125 miles.
In the air, the Russian have maintained their 1980s built Su-27 fighter jets, which have been postured throughout strategic areas by the Russian military.
Often compared to the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 Eagle fighter, the Su-27 is a maneuverable twin engine fighter built in the 1980s and primarily configured for air superiority missions.
While many experts maintain that NATO’s size, fire-power, air supremacy and technology would ultimately prevail in a substantial engagement with Russia, that does not necessarily negate findings from a recent Rand study explaining that NATO would be put in a terrible predicament should Russia invade the Baltic states.
The current NATO force structure in Eastern Europe would be unable to withstand a Russian invasion into neighboring Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the Rand study has concluded.
After conducting an exhaustive series of wargames wherein “red” (Russian) and “blue” (NATO) forces engaged in a wide range of war scenarios over the Baltic states, a Rand Corporation study called “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank” determined that a successful NATO defense of the region would require a much larger air-ground force than what is currently deployed.
In particular, the study calls for a NATO strategy similar to the Cold War era’s “AirLand Battle” doctrine from the 1980s. During this time, the U.S. Army stationed at least several hundred thousand troops in Europe as a strategy to deter a potential Russian invasion. Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that there are currenty 30,000 U.S. Army soldiers in Europe.
The Rand study maintains that, without a deterrent the size of at least seven brigades, fires and air support protecting Eastern Europe, that Russia cold overrun the Baltic states as quickly as in 60 hours.
“As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options,” the study writes.
“AirLand” Battle was a strategic warfighting concept followed by U.S. and allied forces during the Cold War which, among other things, relied upon precise coordination between a large maneuvering mechanized ground force and attack aircraft overhead. As part of the approach, air attacks would seek to weaken enemy assets supporting front line enemy troops by bombing supply elements in the rear. As part of the air-ground integration, large conventional ground forces could then more easily advance through defended enemy front line areas.
A rapid assault on the Baltic region would leave NATO with few attractive options, including a massive risky counterattack, threatening a nuclear weapons option or simply allowing the Russian to annex the countries.
One of the limited options cited in the study could include taking huge amounts of time to mobilize and deploy a massive counterattack force which would likely result in a drawn-out, deadly battle. Another possibility would be to threaten a nuclear option, a scenario which seems unlikely if not completely unrealistic in light of the U.S. strategy to decrease nuclear arsenals and discourage the prospect of using nuclear weapons, the study finds.
A third and final option, the report mentions, would simply be to concede the Baltic states and immerse the alliance into a much more intense Cold War posture. Such an option would naturally not be welcomed by many of the residents of these states and would, without question, leave the NATO alliance weakened if not partially fractured.
The study spells out exactly what its wargames determined would be necessary as a credible, effective deterrent.
“Gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states,” the study writes.
During the various scenarios explored for the wargame, its participants concluded that NATO resistance would be overrun quickly in the absence of a larger mechanized defensive force posture.
“The absence of short-range air defenses in the U.S. units, and the minimal defenses in the other NATO units, meant that many of these attacks encountered resistance only from NATO combat air patrols, which were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The result was heavy losses to several Blue (NATO) battalions and the disruption of the counterattack,” the study states.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia could be likely Russian targets because all three countries are in close proximity to Russia and spent many years as part of the former Soviet Union, the study maintains.
“Also like Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia are home to sizable ethnic Russian populations that have been at best unevenly integrated into the two countries’ post-independence political and social mainstreams and that give Russia a self-justification for meddling in Estonian and Latvian affairs,” the study explains.
The Rand study maintains that, while expensive, adding brigades would be a worthy effort for NATO.
Buying three brand-new ABCTs and adding them to the U.S. Army would not be inexpensive—the up-front costs for all the equipment for the brigades and associated artillery, air defense, and other enabling units runs on the order of $13 billion. However, much of that gear—especially the expensive Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles—already exists,” the study says.
The actual NATO troop presence in Eastern Europe is something that is still under consideration, a recent report in Military.com sites sources saying NATO is now considering adding more troops to its Eastern flank as a way to further deter Russia.
However, while the Pentagon’s ongoing European Reassurance Initiative calls for additional funds, forces and force rotations through Europe in coming years, it is unclear whether their ultimate troop increases will come anywhere near what Rand recommends.
At the same time, the Pentagon’s $3.4 Billion ERI request does call for an increased force presence in Europe as well as “fires,” “pre-positioned stocks” and “headquarters” support for NATO forces.
Officials with U.S. Army Europe tell Scout Warrior that more solidarity exercises with NATO allies in Europe are also on the horizon, and that more manpower could also be on the way.
For example, an exercise known as Swift Response 16 began May 27 and is scheduled to run through June 26 in Poland and Germany; it include more than 5,000 soldiers and airmen from the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
Everyone has to start somewhere. It’s not as if a young boy from Tikrit woke up one day and decided he would be known as “the Butcher of Baghdad.” It’s far more likely such a boy would just become a butcher. (And for the record, Saddam Hussein was trained to be a lawyer.)
Dictators are just like the rest of us (at least, at first). If they’re not born into powerful families, they will likely need to help their families make extra cash to survive or just make a living on their own until circumstances afford them the chance to take hold of the state’s coffers while stomping on the necks of their enemies real and perceived.
Here are the ways a few brutal dictators made ends meet while waiting for their big breaks:
Ho Chi Minh – Baker
The leader of the Vietnamese independence movement that liberated his home country from colonial France, as well as the figurehead for the North Vietnamese who fought the United States during the 1960s and 1970s also brought a brutal form of Communism to Vietnam. 50,000 to 100,000 people are thought to have been killed in his rise to power. He once said: “Anyone who does not follow the line determined by me will be smashed.”
Ho Chi Minh in 1921 (French National Library photo)
Before that, he claimed to be a baker at the Parker House Hotel while living in Boston in the early years of the 20th Century. He also spent time living in New York City, working in a series of menial labor jobs.
Pol Pot – Teacher
Born Saloth Sar, Pol Pot studied a number of disciplines as young man, but proved as capable a student as he was a capable leader, which is to say, not at all. He failed as a student in both France and his native Cambodia. When he came back, he taught at a school in the capital of Phnom Penh until he was forced out by the government.
In response, he changed his name to Pol Pot and took charge of the Khmer Rouge, ousting the government and installing himself as leader in 1975. He ruled for four years, presiding over the deaths of a million Cambodians after implementing disastrous economic, agricultural, and cultural reforms. Luckily for the average Cambodian, Vietnam invaded in 1979 to overthrow the regime.
Adolf Hitler – Artist
The boy who was all set to become a priest dropped out of the seminary in 1903 to be come a professional painter. His works were exact, unremarkable, unemotional landscapes that “was ripe for instruction he never received.” He moved to Vienna in 1908 and struggled there as a poor artist while the city’s culture incubated his racist and anti-Semitic ideas.
He left Vienna to dodge the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s draft for World War I. He was deemed unfit for service later anyway. He did volunteer in the Bavarian Army as a dispatch runner.
François Duvalier – Doctor
Haiti’s 40th president was a democratically elected black nationalist and classically trained doctor, which made him an excellent butcher of 30,000-60,000 Haitians. His education also earned him the nickname “Papa Doc.”
The 41st President of Haiti was his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who was handed the name “Baby Doc,” despite not being a doctor at all. Baby Doc fled Haiti after a 1986 rebellion toppled the government.
Benito Mussolini – Author
Many dictators penned books. Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book is one of the bestselling books of all time. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. Mussolini wrote romance novels. That’s right, romance novels.
The Cardinal’s Mistress tells the tragic story of,a 17th-century Catholic clergyman and his mistress. Lines like “cast a ray of your light into my darkened soul,” do much toward explaining why he was made to take the other fork in the career road, the one marked “dictator.”
Bashar al-Asad – Opthalmologist
A graduate of Damascus University, Asad spent time as a doctor in his father’s (Syrian “President” Hafez al-Asad) army. He studied ophthalmology at London’s Western Eye Hospital. He returned to Syria when his brother Bassel was killed in a car crash to be groomed to take over for his father as “President” of Syria. Before ascending to leadership, his only administrative role ever, was head of the Syrian Computer Society.
Than Shwe – Mailman
The man who shipped almost a million Burmese people off to jungle gulags and work camps led one of the most repressive, autocratic regimes in the history of Earth. The military junta led by Than Shwe even executed Buddhist monks by the hundreds, dumping their bodies in the wilds and countrysides of Burma.
As a younger man, fresh from school, Than Shwe worked at the Meikhtila Post Office as a postal clerk before enlisting in the Burmese Army and becoming an officer who would later be Prime Minister.
Muammar Qaddafi – Goat Herder
No one knows exactly when Qaddafi was born, but it’s widely known his family comes from a Bedouin tribe of nomads who were illiterate and didn’t maintain birth records. His father was a camel and goat herder who wanted his son to attend school.
Qaddafi would seize power in 1969 while the pro-Western King Idris was away on state business. Qaddafi increased the Libyan quality of life at the cost of mass political repression and extrajudicial killings. In the early days of the Civil War that would lead to his overthrow and death, he ordered his army to starve the citizens of his own cities and kill any government troops who surrendered to the rebels.
Stalin – Weatherman
Joseph Stalin, the brutal Russian dictator and one of the deadliest dictators in history was actually born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, a Georgian seminary student with webbed toes. He dropped out of the seminary and worked as a meteorological clerk before joining Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Movement. He started using the name Stalin around 1912.
The estimated number of people killed by Stalin’s regime and its policies range between three and sixty million Soviet citizens, with the higher victim estimates being more common among experts.
These are the guys who have lived the American dream. Five former enlisted warriors from various services who raised their right hand when it was time to serve, then got out and hustled to earn what they knew could be theirs.
Mr. Edson’s service began during the Korean War when he enlisted in the Army, where he spent three years in the signal corps.
Once out, Edson began selling his own racing boats from a parking lot in Seattle, Washington. He eventually bought the rights to Bayliner Marine for a reported $100.00 and developed the company. Edson sold it to Brunswick for $425 million.
He joined the billionaire’s club through sound investing and now reportedly spends his days flying helicopters and cruising yachts.
When Abraham finished his service with the infantry in 1947 Europe, he returned stateside where he bought the Thompson Medical Company. At the time, the company had revenue of $5,000.00 annually. Today, the company is still around and is doing quite well.
He joined the billionaire’s club through his interest in the weight-loss industry, which led to his development of Slim-Fast Foods. You may have heard of it.
Mr. Murdock dropped out of school in the 9th grade and was drafted into the Army during WWII. Once out, Murdock moved to Detroit and was homeless for a time, but he managed to get a $1,200 loan to buy a failing diner.
He flipped it for a small profit that he used to move to Arizona. There, Murdock began a career in real estate, acquiring many businesses, including the pineapple and banana producer Dole Food Company, which he developed into the giant it is today.
Murdock joined the billionaire’s club by selling his 98-percent share of the sixth largest Island of Hawaii. He believes in health and has vocal plans to live to see his 125th birthday.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) appears to have a new bomber in its ranks, and it could boost China’s military strength in disputed waterways.
Satellite images of the PLANAF base at Guiping-Mengshu in Guangxi Province, China show what observers suspect are Xian H-6J bombers, new naval variants of the upgraded H-6Ks that have been in service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) since 2011, IHS Janes first reported Oct. 11, 2018.
The new bombers are believed to carry three times as many anti-ship missiles as their predecessor, with experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Missile Defense Project predicting that the new aircraft will be paired with the YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missile, which can cover roughly 400 km in about six minutes.
The Chinese PLAN has at times found itself in tense showdowns with the US military. When the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom-of-navigation operation near Chinese military outposts in the Spratly Islands in early October 2018, the Chinese navy dispatched the Type 052C Luyang II-class guided-missile destroyer Lanzhou to confront the American warship.
The PLANAF H-6Js would give China extra firepower in any potential conflict. The H-6Js are also thought to have a greater range of about 3,500 kilometers, allowing these aircraft to patrol almost all of the South China Sea with mid-air refueling.
The satellite photos, taken on Sept. 7, 2018, appeared on Twitter around the start of October 2018.
The PLANAF appears to have at least four H-6Js in its arsenal, but it will presumably want to establish a full regiment, The Diplomat explained.
Chinese bombers have been increasingly active above contested waterways, such as the East and South China Seas, in recent years, according to a 2018 Department of Defense report on China’s military power.
“The PLA has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against US and allied targets,” the report said. In 2017, the PLA flew a dozen operational flights through the Sea of Japan, into the Western Pacific, around Taiwan, and over the East and South China Seas — all potential regional flash points.
In recent months, the US military has been putting pressure on China with regular B-52H Stratofortress heavy long-range bomber flights through the East and South China Seas, with the most recent occurring in October 2018.
A B-52 Stratofortress.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo)
“One US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bomber, deployed to the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted a routine training mission Oct. 10, 2018,” Pacific Air Forces told Business Insider on Oct. 12, 2018. “The bomber integrated with four Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) F-15Js in the vicinity of the East China Sea before returning to Guam.”
China has previously characterized these types of flights as “provocative,” criticizing the US for its repeated flybys in August and September 2018.
The recent flight, like the many others before it, was in support of US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence operations, which are intended to send a deterrence message to any and all potential challengers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Pentagon is considering sending an additional 1,000 conventional troops over the next few weeks into Syria, ahead of an upcoming offensive against the ISIS capital of Raqqa.
The troops would likely come from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit — currently on its way to the region — and the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, which recently made its way to Kuwait, according to a report in The Washington Post by TM Gibbons-Neff.
The proposed increase in conventional forces would follow similar deployments in recent weeks that have supplemented special operations forces, of which roughly 500 have been on the ground for some time.
A convoy of US Army Rangers riding in armored Stryker combat vehicles was seen crossing the border into Syria last week to support Kurdish military forces in Manbij. The convoy, identified by SOFREP as being from 3rd Ranger Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, was the most overt use of US troops in the region thus far.
The Ranger deployment was followed soon after by a contingent of US Marines from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine regiment, which left their ships to establish a combat outpost inside Syria that is apparently within striking distance of Raqqa.
“For the base in Syria to be useful, it must be within about 20 miles of the operations US-backed forces are carrying out,” the Post wrote.
Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for OIR, told Business Insider previously that the moves into Syria were to pre-position US forces so they can provide logistical and fire support to “Syrian partnered forces” who will eventually assault Raqqa.
The Marines and Rangers will provide the “commander greater agility to expedite the destruction of ISIS in Raqqah. The exact numbers and locations of these forces are sensitive in order to protect our forces, but there will be approximately an additional 400 enabling forces deployed for a temporary period to enable our Syrian partnered forces to defeat ISIS,” Dorrian told Business Insider.
He added: “The deployment of these additional key enabling capabilities allows the Coalition to provide flexible all weather fire support, training and protection from IEDs, and additional air support to our Syrian partners.”
Meanwhile, US special operations forces, who are said to be taking a training and advisory role with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, were quietly given more latitude to call in precision airstrikes and artillery. As the AP reported in February, advisors are now able to call in airstrikes without seeking approval from an operations center in Baghdad.
Additionally, advisors were embedded at lower echelons of Iraqi security forces at the brigade and battalion level, rather than division — meaning that US forces are increasingly getting closer to direct combat.
The presence of additional US ground troops inside Syria — even miles from the frontline — would bring with it considerable risk. Combat outposts often draw rocket and mortar fire, in addition to small arms. Last March, a Marine outpost established to support the operation to retake Mosul, Iraq came under rocket attack by ISIS militants, killing Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin.
A total of nine American service members have been killed in OIR combat operations, while 33 have been wounded, according to Pentagon statistics.
There is also additional risk from the US’ partnership with Syrian Kurdish fighters known as the YPG, or People’s Protection Units. Though the Pentagon seems to believe the YPG would be the most effective force in the Raqqa fight, the unit is considered a terrorist group by Turkey.
Turkey has so far refused to compromise, insisting the US use a different Syrian rebel group, Reuters reported.
“Our soldiers will not be fighting together with people who shot us and killed our soldiers and are trying to kill us,” one senior Turkish security official, briefed on recent meetings between Turkish and U.S. strategists, told Reuters.
This is a far cry from the current Air Force brass’ ringing endorsement of the “game-changing” aircraft. But with the aircraft costing about $100 million each, and with the highest price tag ever associated with developing a weapons system, perhaps Yeager thinks the money would be better spent on training pilots and maintaining a more traditional Air Force.
So I thought to ask him what he thought about restarting the F-22, the world’s first fifth-generation aircraft. While the F-22 costs are also very high, it functions a bit more like a traditional fighter jet than the multirole F-35, which I thought maybe Yeager would appreciate. So what did he think?
So there you have it. According to perhaps the greatest living military pilot, the entire fifth generation of US Air Force jets are a waste of money.
2015 was a good year for movies. Anticipated series continuations from franchises like Terminator, Jurassic Park, and James Bond met with mixed success. Star Wars came back in a big way, as did the Avengers. Marvel’s Ant-Man was a surprise hit while The Fantastic Four saw even the most die-hard Marvel fans struggle to stay in the theatre for the duration of the movie.
But it was a good year for military movies the world over. The world’s best war and conflict films from the past year are at your fingertips. A few movies are a great way to recover from New Years’ Eve.
1. Beasts of No Nation
Netflix made a foray into conflict films this year with its critical hit Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba as a warlord recruiting child soldiers to fight in a civil war in Liberia. The government falls as the warlords forces attack a village under international protection. A young boy named Agu flees after his father is shot and is captured by the NDF, rebel guerillas.
The film captures the brutality of life as a child soldier, with rampant drug use, rape, and murder of civilian noncombatants. The powerful film holds a 93% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Cartel Land
This is a film about vigilante groups fighting drug cartels in the Mexican Drug Wars. The most shocking part of Cartel Land is that its a documentary, and you can see the characters and events unfold as they did in the real world.
The brutal film was shot in Mexico and Arizona. It garnered a 94% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is currently shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination.
3. Kilo Two Bravo
Released in 2014 in Europe as Kajaki, Kilo Two Bravo is the story of a small group of British soldiers stationed near the Kajaki dam in Afghanistan.
Though set during the modern day Afghan War, Kilo Two Bravo is more horror-thriller than a traditional set piece war film. The outcome is a realistic, critical success with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes critical rating.
4. Krigen (“A War”)
Danish Army Company commander Claus Michael Pedersen and his men are stationed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. During a routine mission, the soldiers are caught in heavy Taliban crossfire. In order to save his men, Claus makes a decision that ultimately sees him return to Denmark accused of a war crime.
Claus’ wife Maria is trying to hold everyday life together with a husband at war and three children missing their father. This film is remarkable for its depiction of what life is like for the wife and children of deployed troops. The war hits those at home every bit as much as it affects the men who fight it. The film also uses real Danish Army veterans.
5. April 9th
2015 saw a lot of WWII films produced the world over. April 9th, also from Denmark, depicts the Nazi invasion of Denmark as bicycle and motorcycle companies are deployed to hold off the German Blitzkrieg until reinforcements arrive.
Denmark, of course, couldn’t resist the Nazi onslaught and fell in only six hours.
In the last full year of World War II, the Eastern Front was the most brutal battleground in the world. This Estonian film depicts the 1944 Battle of the Tannenberg Line through the Battle of Tehumardi. The war for Estonia was very different, as it bordered both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, each with mutually exclusive ideologies.
More than ideology, its location forced Estonians to choose sides during the war, pitting Estonians in the Wehrmacht against Estonians in the Soviet Red Army. The film shows the war from both sides.
7. Baahubali: The Beginning
This film is a Telgu and Tamil film. It’s the fictional story of two ancient brothers at war. One prince returns to free his mother the queen who was wrongfully usurped by his elder brother.
The two-part blockbuster is also the most expensive Indian film ever made. It took a full year of preproduction, 25 artists made 15,000 storyboards, there were 380 shooting days over three years, 2,000 stuntmen worked on it, and thousands of weapons and props were used.
8. Hyena Road
This Canadian film is eagerly anticipated outside of Canada. It’s the story of Canadian forces building a road deep into Taliban territory, creating a dirt track that can only be driven in armed convoys protected by snipers. The road is strategically crucial to defeating the Taliban.
The theme of war being bad while those who fight are inherently good continues in Hyena Road but the depiction of the deployed life and combat by Canadian Forces by Canadian writer Paul Gross is authentic and realistic.
9. The Battle for Sevastopol
When the Nazis invade the Soviet Union in 1941 a young girl, Lyudmila, joins the Red Army. She turns out to be a natural sniper, and her impressive skills impress those around her. Her wounds keep her from fighting on, so she travels to the United States to press for a second front.
This film is actually about a real Red Army sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, one of WWII’s deadliest snipers. The movie hero fights in the Battles of Odessa and Sevastopol. She racks up 309 confirmed kills, she is sent to the US to campaign for American support. She meets Eleanor Roosevelt, just as the real Pavilchenko did. This joint Russian-Ukrainian project is like the Mockingjay on steroids but, you know, real.
Last week, we published a blurry shot of a U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom flying inverted during an intercept mission on a Russian Tu-95 Bear. The photograph went viral and reached Robert M. Sihler, the author of the shot, who was so kind to provide some interesting details about the image that brought to mind one of the most famous scenes in Top Gun movie.
“Although I don’t remember the exact date, the mission occurred in either late 1973 or early 1974. The F-4C belonged to the 57th FIS at Keflavik NAS. The mission was a standard intercept of a “Bear” by two F-4s after the alert crews were activated,” Bob wrote in an email to The Aviationist.
I was a Navigator, or in the F-4, a Weapons System Officer. I entered the USAF in Oct 1969. On active duty, I spent a couple of years at Norton AFB, CA in C-141s. From there, I trained in the F-4 and spent one year at Keflavik, Iceland. Following that, I went back to C-141s at Charleston AFB, SC from 1974 to 1977. I left active duty and spent the next 14 years in C-130s at Andrews AFB, MD and Martinsburg ANGB, WV. I retired as a Lt Col in Dec 1991. The assignments to Iceland were generally either one or two years. I elected to do one year without my family accompanying me there. Others chose to bring their families for two years.
Dealing with the close encounters with the Tu-95s:
“At that time, we probably averaged two intercepts of “Bears” per week. They were the only aircraft we saw while I was there. Generally, the intercepts occurred on Fridays and Sundays, at the “Bears” flew from Murmansk to Cuba on training and, we guessed, “fun” missions. Generally, we did these barrel rolls at the request of the Soviet crewmembers. They gave us hand signals to let us know they wanted us to do it. They photographed us as well. The Cold War was winding down and the attitudes on both sides had improved,” Sihler explains.
When asked whether the barrel roll was difficult or unsafe maneuver, Bob has no doubts: “Not really! The Soviets, at the time, gave us hand signals asking us to “perform” for them. The rolls were not dangerous at all.”
The famous shot of the inverted flying F-4 Phantom (the aircraft was actually ending a barrel roll):
An F-4C from 57th FIS escorts a Tu-95 intercepted near Iceland in the early 1970s:
The same 57th FIS F-4C that performed the barrel roll around the Tu-95 depicted during the same intercept mission:
A Tu-95 as seen from a Phantom’s cockpit:
A big thank you to Robert Sihler for answering our questions and providing the photographs you can find in this article.
By 1944, the tides of the war in the Pacific had turned against the Japanese Empire. The United States and its allies repelled the Imperial Japanese Navy in critical battles like Midway, Milne Bay, and Guadalcanal. The stage was set for the U.S. to retake the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese were getting desperate. Low on ships, manpower, and material, they turned to the one thing they had in abundance — zeal for the Emperor.
That zeal led to the surprise kamikaze attacks that have come to define the war in its closing days. The amazing video producers at AARP are dedicated to keeping the memory of veterans of every American war alive and their latest offering is the story of Phil Hollywood aboard the USS Melvin at the Surigao Strait in incredible 4K video.
The Melvin was a Fletcher-class destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet Support Force moving to help the Allied landing at Leyte. But first, they had to get through the 47-mile Surigao Strait. Waiting for them was a fleet of Japanese battleships ready to halt their advance and stymie the allied landing — and the famous return of General Douglas MacArthur to his beloved Philippine Islands.
Phil Hollywood was a young sailor who enlisted after Pearl Harbor at age 17. He was aboard the Melvin at Surigao and talked to AARP about his role as a Fire Controlman 2nd Class during what would become the last battleship-to-battleship combat in the history or warfare. The Melvin was his first assignment, a ship made of, essentially, engines, hull, and guys with guns.
“It was everything I ever wanted in a fighting ship,” he said. “Facing the enemy was everything. I didn’t think of anything else.”
Former U.S. Navy FC2 Phil Hollywood, a World War II Pacific veteran, looking at photos of destroyers from that era.
The Melvin was supposed to be looking for flights of Japanese planes via radar and alert the main landing area at Leyte. It was not safe to be on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, even by the standards of that war. Some 77 destroyers were lost in the war and 17 of those were from kamikaze attacks. Hollywood’s battle station was at the top of the director, moving guns on target.
“There were moments I was afraid, not sure if I was going to live or die,” he told AARP. “But one thing’s for certain, I wanted to fight and save our ship. The patriotism was raging in my blood.”
World War II veteran Philip Hollywood enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was just 19 when he took part in one of history’s greatest naval battles.
Hollywood recalled what it was like to face the kamikaze pilots in battle. The pilots were not well trained. For many, it was their first and last flights, and the planes were loaded up with weapons so traditional flight profiles weren’t really able to be used by the enemy pilots. It was a frightening experience. It seemed like no matter how much they threw at the pilots, they kept coming.
“During a kamikaze attack, being in the main battery directory, we were on telescopes,” he recalled. “It looked like he was coming down our throats. I was frightened, my heart was pounding, one looked like it was gonna hit us. We kept hitting him and hitting him… until I could see the flex of his wings breaking up.”
That was the moment he looked death in the face. Luckily, the plane crashed into the ocean. For Hollywood, it was both a sigh of relief and a moment to think about. Maybe the first thought other than avenging Pearl Harbor – which says a lot for the salty combat sailor Hollywood was by this time.
“It was a new experience,” he said. “Trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive. Anyone at that time who says they weren’t scared… I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
The Destroyer USS Melvin.
The Battle of Surigao Strait was really a part of the greater Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in military history. It put 300 American ships against some 68 Japanese ships. The Japanese had always believed that one great naval battle could knock the United States out of the war and win it for Japan. This was a must-win battle for both sides, and it showed. The fighting at every level was intense but only one side could come out on top, and it wasn’t the Japanese.
Surigao was just the beginning of the greater battle, and sailors like FC2 Phil Hollywood and the crew of the Melvin started off the biggest naval battle of all time, a battle that would rage on for three full days.
Three Phase-1 human clinical trials evaluating an Army-developed Zika purified inactivated virus vaccine, known as a ZPIV, have shown it was safe and well-tolerated in healthy adults and induced a robust immune response. Initial findings from the trials were published early in December in the medical journal “The Lancet.”
Each of the three studies included in the paper was designed to address a unique question about background immunity, vaccine dose or vaccination schedule. A fourth trial with ZPIV is still underway in Puerto Rico, where the population has natural exposure to other viruses in the same family as Zika (flaviviruses), such as dengue.
“It is imperative to develop a vaccine that prevents severe birth defects and other neurologic complications in babies caused by Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, WRAIR’s Director for Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Zika program co-lead and the article’s lead author. “These results give us hope that a safe and effective vaccine will be achievable.”
Across the three trials, a total of 67 healthy adult volunteers (55 vaccine, 12 placebo) received two vaccine injections, four weeks apart. Researchers measured the immune response by monitoring levels of Zika virus-neutralizing antibodies in the blood. More than 90% of volunteers who received the vaccine developed an immune response against Zika.
“Not only is the development of a Zika vaccine a global public health priority, but it is also necessary to protect Service Members and their families,” said Col. Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program and Zika program co-lead.
The ZPIV vaccine candidate was developed as part of the U.S. Department of Defense response to the 2015 outbreak of Zika virus in the Americas. WRAIR researchers conceived the ZPIV vaccine in February 2016 and were able to advance the candidate to a Phase 1 human trial by November of the same year.
“WRAIR has previously steered to licensure a similar vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, a flavivirus in the same family as Zika, which helped speed our vaccine development effort,” said Dr. Leyi Lin, who led one of the trials at WRAIR.
In the volunteers who received the vaccine, neutralizing antibody levels peaked two weeks after they completed the 2-dose vaccine series, and exceeded the threshold established in an earlier study needed to protect monkeys against a Zika virus challenge. Researchers also found that antibodies from vaccinated volunteers protected mice from a Zika virus challenge, providing insight into how this vaccine might prevent Zika infection.
Next steps include evaluating how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts, and the impact of dose, schedule and background immunity. Michael added that, “Army researchers are part of integrated, strategic US Government effort to develop a vaccine to protect against Zika.”
The ZPIV program is led by Col. Michael and Dr. Modjarrad. The principal investigators at each of the study sites were Dr. Leyi Lin at WRAIR, Dr. Sarah L. George at SLU and Dr. Kathryn E. Stephenson at BIDMC. The sponsor of the investigational new drug application for two of the studies (WRAIR and SLU) is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The BIDMC study is investigator-sponsored by Dr. Kathryn Stephenson.