Russia has begun massive military exercises across its central and eastern regions, starting weeklong war games the Defense Ministry says will involve some 300,000 personnel — twice as many as the biggest Soviet maneuvers of the Cold War era.
The Sept. 11-17, 2018 exercises, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018) and billed by Moscow as its biggest in decades — or in history — come amid persistently high tension between Moscow and the West and are being closely watched by NATO.
The war games demonstrate “Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said in late August 2018, stating that the Western alliance had been briefed about Vostk-2018 and would monitor it.
“It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence,” White said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the opening day of a Sept. 11-13, 2018 economic forum in the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok, is expected to observe the exercises briefly during his trip.
Chinese and Mongolian troops are taking part, amid ongoing Kremlin efforts to pursue closer ties with Beijing and other Asian capitals.
“We have a trusting relationship [with China] in the spheres of politics, security, and defense,” Putin said at the start of his meeting with Xi.
At a news conference after their talks, Xi also touted the relationship between Russia and China, which has a far larger population and an economy several times the size of Russia’s.
Xi, whose country is locked in a tense confrontation with the United States over trade and tariffs, said that Russia and China should work together to oppose protectionism and what he called unilateral approaches to international problems.
He said that an increasingly unpredictable geopolitical climate made partnership between Russia and China particularly important.
Up to 3,500 Chinese military personnel will take part in the “main scenario” of the drills at the Tsugol proving ground, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Sept. 4, 2018.
Alex Kokcharov, a Russia analyst at the London-based risk assessment firm HIS Markit, said that China has never before participated in war games on Russian soil that were not under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Fundamentally, the goal of this specific exercise is to project Russian military power in the Asia-Pacific region,” Kokcharov said. “If Russia had not invited China, that would have been viewed by Beijing as a potentially dangerous activity by Russia.”
President of China Xi Jinping awarded the Order of Friendship of the People’s Republic of China to Vladimir Putin, June 2018.
Russian officials have said that the war games are not meant as a threat to any particular country but are justified by what Putin’s spokesman described on Aug. 28, 2018, as a hostile international environment.
Russia’s “ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is often aggressive and unfriendly to our country, is justified, essential and without alternative,” Peskov said.
On Sept. 10, 2018, Peskov called Vostok-2018 part of “a regular, routine training process aimed at improving skills and coordination in our armed forces.”
“This is a very important exercise, but it is still part of the annual routine development of the Russian armed forces,” he said.
Relations between Russia and the West have been severely strained by Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in elections in the United States and European countries.
The war games demonstrate “Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict,” NATO spokesman Dylan White said in late August 2018, stating that the Western alliance had been briefed about Vostok-2018 and would monitor it.
“It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence,” White said.
Shoigu said that about 300,000 military personnel would take part, twice as many as the largest war games conducted by the Soviet Union: the Zapad-81 exercises in 1981.
“In some ways (Vostok-2018) will repeat aspects of Zapad-81, but in other ways the scale will be bigger,” Shoigu said.
He said it would involve more than 1,000 warplanes, helicopters, and drones; up to 80 combat and logistics ships; and up to 36,000 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other vehicles.
“Imagine 36,000 military vehicles moving at the same time: tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles — and all of this, of course, in conditions as close to a combat situation as possible,” Shoigu said.
The drills are being held in Russia’s Eastern and Central military districts, which encompass more than half of the country’s territory.
A disguised North Korean ship bound for Egypt was intercepted carrying more than 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) in what the UN called the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against [North Korea],” The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
According to a confidential report, US officials tipped off Egyptian authorities on the Jie Shun, a suspicious 300-foot-long freighter that set sail on an 8,000 mile voyage from North Korea on July 23, 2016.
The ship was registered in Cambodia and flew a Cambodian flag, in an apparent attempt to avoid unwanted scrutiny. The Jie Shun also occasionally turned off its transponder, according to a February UN report.
“The vessel’s automatic identification system was off for the majority of the voyage,” the report said, according to The Post, “except in busy sea lanes where such behavior could be noticed and assessed as a safety threat.”
But once US intelligence agencies notified Egyptian officials, the plan appeared to slowly unravel. When customs agents first boarded the vessel to inspect its goods, it appeared as if nothing was out of the ordinary. The manifest listed 2,300 tons of limonite — a type of iron ore. However, beneath the stones were 79 wooden crates that contained thousands of rocket-propelled grenades, estimated to be worth $23 million.
The rounds themselves were a practice rounds typically used for training, The Post reported. And given the quantity of the RPGs, it suggested that it was intended for thousands of recruits for a large army — lending weight to the theory that Egypt’s military was the intended recipient.
The crates were also imprinted with the name of an Egyptian company, one that diplomats refused to name, according to The Post. The official UN report also does not mention the company —only that “the private company” had its license revoked and was closed. Egypt eventually destroyed the RPGs under UN supervision.
Beyond North Korea’s limited amount of permissible international trade, which has become even slimmer following increased UN sanctions, the country remains heavily invested in illicit trade, including narcotics, counterfeit currencies, and cheap weapons.
The relationship between Egypt and North Korea is one that has been forged since the Soviet Union, according to The Diplomat. The two nations have since remained economic partners, despite the US’s watchful gaze. In 2008, Egypt invested in North Korea’s infrastructure by creating the country’s only 3G mobile phone network, giving 300,000 North Koreans access to an outdated telecommunications service.
Although it may appear that Egypt was implicated in an arms deal with North Korea, officials from the Egyptian Embassy argued that it had been transparent with the process and that it “will continue to abide by all Security Council resolutions and will always be in conformity with these resolutions as they restrain military purchases from North Korea.”
Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle of the US Air Force recently declared a squadron of 15 unmanned F-16s operationally capable, IHS Jane’s reports.
These drone versions of the F-16, called QF-16s, will provide targets for the Air Force as it tests out new weapons capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“The QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target will provide the next generation of combat training and testing for US warfighters,” a Boeing statement on the drones said.
While the old F-16s may seem like costly targets, the Air Force is touting them as a more realistic opponent than what was previously available, and they are economical to some extent because they’re made from older, retired F-16 airframes.
“The QF-16 will replace the existing QF-4 fleet and provide a higher-capability, fourth-generation aerial target that is more representative of today’s targets and threats,” the Boeing statement continued.
“This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our 5th generation aircraft and weapons,” Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, the commander of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, told C4ISRNET in an email.
Capt. Judith Epstein, clinical director, Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) Malaria Department, presented findings on the malaria candidate vaccine, PfSPZ Vaccine, at the 2018 Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS), Aug. 22, 2018.
During the breakout session called “What’s New in Infectious Disease Research in the Tropics,” Epstein gave an update on NMRC’s work with PfSPZ Vaccine, a whole organism vaccine comprised of aseptic, purified, radiation-attenuated, non-replicating, cryopreserved sporozoites. Sporozoites (SPZ) are one of the stages of the malaria parasite, which find their way to the liver after inoculation.
According to Epstein, the parasites induce a protective immune response without making copies of themselves. In other words, the weakened parasites do not replicate or get into the bloodstream, and thus do not lead to infection or disease.
“The studies on PfSPZ Vaccine are important because they bring us closer to having a malaria vaccine to prevent infection and disease in military personnel deployed to malaria-endemic regions as well as vulnerable populations residing in malaria-endemic regions,” said Epstein. “Malaria has consistently been ranked as the number one infectious disease threat facing the military, and the burden of malaria remains incredibly high worldwide.”
Epstein was the NMRC principal investigator (PI) on two PfSPZ Vaccine trials, published in Sciencein 2011 and the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2017, respectively. The former trial was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) at the University of Maryland in Baltimore (UMB); both trials were conducted in collaboration with Sanaria Inc. and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR).
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Harold Sylvester, assigned to Naval Medical Research Center Asia (NMRCA), sets and baits mosquito traps in Singapore. NMRCA is conducting research project to study the different populations of mosquitos in Singapore and their ability to transmit diseases.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh)
In mid-2017, Epstein also became the PI for the “Warfighter 2 Trial”, conducted between 2016 and 2017. The trial was conducted at NMRC and CVD-UMB. Thirty subjects were immunized at each site. The participants had their screening visits, immunizations, and follow-up appointments at the NMRC Clinical Trials Center (CTC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Subjects were immunized with PfSPZ Vaccine and then, along with control subjects, underwent controlled human malaria infection by exposure to five bites from malaria-infected mosquitoes. Subjects were then followed closely to determine whether or not they developed malaria through the evaluation of blood smears and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Infection was treated immediately with anti-malarial medication.
“In all trials, the vaccine has been demonstrated to have a very good safety and tolerability profile and has also been easy to administer,” Epstein said. “Our focus now is to enhance the efficacy and practical use of the vaccine.” Two of the most important parameters for malaria vaccine development are duration of protection and protection against non-vaccine strains.
In the “Warfighter 2” trial, NMRC researchers were able to demonstrate vaccine efficacy of 40 percent against a non-vaccine strain of malaria when assessed 12 weeks after the final injection, a marked improvement from the previous trials.
As the DoD’s premier scientific meeting, MHSRS helps to facilitate the exchange of information between almost 3,000 attendees from around the world on health care topics relevant to the warfighter. This year’s meeting was held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, Aug. 20 – 23, 2018, Kissimmee, Florida, and focused on medical innovation as a key factor in operational and mission readiness.
NMRC’s eight laboratories are engaged in a broad spectrum of activity from basic science in the laboratory to field studies at sites in austere and remote areas of the world to operational environments. In support of the Navy, Marine Corps, and joint U.S. warfighters, researchers study infectious diseases; biological warfare detection and defense; combat casualty care; environmental health concerns; aerospace and undersea medicine; medical modeling, simulation and operational mission support; and epidemiology and behavioral sciences.
NMRC and the laboratories deliver high-value, high-impact research products to support and protect today’s deployed warfighters. At the same time researchers are focused on the readiness and well-being of future forces.
Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said Friday.
However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.
Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.
Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.
DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.
“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”
Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.
Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.
Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”
“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”
But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.
“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”
That said, the military’s got gear that might give Zordon (played by Bryan Cranston) some inspiration.
1. M1A2 Abrams tank
This is one tough vehicle. In “Armored Cav,” Tom Clancy related the tale of how one Abrams tank survived being hit multiple times by T-72 main gun rounds from as close as 400 yards!
The Abrams also has superb firepower in the form of its 120mm main gun, a M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and two M240 7.62mm machine guns. In essence, this tank is already a Zord in many respects.
Might as well make it official.
2. B-1B Lancer
This plane carries a lot of firepower – 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs – and that is considering that its external weapons carriage was disabled as a result of the United States signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The plane is also fast, and capable of flying at treetop level.
3. A-10 Thunderbolt
There is no reason why the A-10 – and its ability to BRRRRRT the bad guys with the GAU-8 — shouldn’t be a Zord. It is very tough (remember how Kim Campbell brought back a busted-up A-10?). It also carries a lot of bombs.
Put it this way — even a skyscraper-sized minion of Rita’s would be hard-pressed to stand up against a squadron of baseline Warthogs, but against an A-10 Thunderbolt Zord?
4. M270 MLRS
This vehicle gets the nod for its firepower. The various rockets it fires can spread bomblets or a unitary charge. That ruins the day for infantry and enemy vehicles, but when it uses the MGM-140 ATACMS – or the Army Tactical Missile System – it could probably put the hurt on one of the skyscraper-sized monsters as well.
5. M50 Ontos
This is more a blast from the past. That said, the six 106mm recoilless rifles provide a huge punch. The rifles could fire anti-personnel or anti-tank rounds.
In Vietnam, the Ontos was deadly against enemy infantry – and given that the fighting against Rita’s minions is likely to involve a lot of hand-to-hand fighting (until she calls in her big guns), the Ontos makes sense.
6. M1097 Avenger
A lot of this has been focused on the air-to-ground aspect. But it never hurts to be ready for some ground-to-air action. DefenseNews.com notes that Boeing is proposing some upgrades to the baseline Avenger, notably the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the Longbow version of the AGM-114 Hellfire.
Now, we have no idea what any Megazord from these vehicles would look like, but given their firepower – would they need a Megazord configuration? We doubt it. We’d also like to know, what military vehicles do you think Zordon should use as the basis for his next generation of Zords?
Roger Moore, famous for his roles on the small screen and his seven films over 12 years as James Bond, died at the age of 89 in Switzerland on May 23, 2017. His family said that he died “… after a short but brave battle with cancer.”
He had previously defeated prostate cancer.
But while Moore is most famous for his acting career, a lot of soldiers could relate with the man’s little-known military service. Moore was drafted from a blue collar family in England in 1946, married his first of four wives while he was in the military, and then returned home to so little available work that he had to move to America.
In 1946 at the age of 18, Moore was an up and coming young actor and child of a police officer when his career was interrupted by conscription. He answered the call and married his friend, Lucy Woodard, who performed as an actress and ice skater under the name Doorn Van Steyn.
Moore was deployed to West Germany under the service ID number 372394 and rose to the rank of captain. After a short period, he was able to transfer into the Combined Services Entertainment Unit, a morale-boosting initiative that allowed some Cold War-era servicemen to complete their service obligation entertaining the rest of the military.
According to a June 2015 question and answer session on his website, it was in the CSEU that he really enjoyed his national service.
When he left the military after about three years, Moore returned to England to pursue acting once again. Despite his training before the service as well as his experience in the British Army, jobs were few and he wasn’t able to make much headway.
In Los Angeles, he did some modeling and bit parts before MGM signed him and put him into a series of movies, none of which were hugely successful.
Moore transferred over to Warner Brothers where he saw more success and got a role on the TV show “The Saint,” a spy series that helped lead to his being cast as the lead in “Live and Let Die,” his first James bond role.
For the next twelve years, Moore would film another six Bond movies including The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy.
He continued acting after leaving the Bond role but also expanded his work in charitable causes. It was his extensive work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF that led to his being knighted and becoming Sir Roger Moore.
The above photo is of an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper, Spc. Michael Tagalog, firing an 84mm Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle from an observation post in Afghanistan’s Nangahar Province in September 2017.
The specialist apparently fired the Multi-Role Anti-Armor, Anti-Personnel Weapons System, or Carl Gustaf, in defense of a US base in Afghanistan. Originally used by special operators, the US Army began issuing the Gustaf to soldiers in 1991 in response to an Operational Needs Statement from Afghanistan.
The Saab-made bazooka is 42 inches long, weighs about 25 pounds and can hit targets from 1,300 meters away, according to army-technology.com.
It fires a variety of munitions, including high explosive anti-tank, high explosive dual purpose, and high explosive rounds. The Gustaf can even fire smoke and illumination rounds.
Army and industry weapons developers are also currently working with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to develop a guided-munitions round for the Gustaf.
The US is quietly ramping up the nearly 17-year war in Afghanistan that has been criticized by many as a “forever war” and a game of “whack-a-mole.”
The US Army has barred its soldiers from using TikTok following mounting fears from US lawmakers that the Chinese tech company could pose a national security threat.
Military.com was the first to report the new policy decision, which is a reversal of the Army’s earlier stance on the popular short-form video app.
A spokeswoman told Military.com that the US Army had come to consider TikTok a “cyberthreat” and that “we do not allow it on government phones.” The US Navy took a similar decision to bar the app from government phones last month.
Sheik Abdul Hasib is a stout Pakistani who chose to fight under the flag of ISIS in eastern Afghanistan. The area he chose as his redoubt is the border with Pakistan, not too far from where Osama bin Laden and the Arab-speaking jihadis chose to build caves and fight the Soviets in the ’80s. Now seeking to tax poppy growers in the Nangahar province and establish ISIS Khurahsan, the long-haired Pakistani Orakzai tribal fighters have been streaming over four mountain passes from the Khyber and Orakzai regions in Parchinar since 2015. Since then, they’ve terrorized the locals, beheading children and elders alike, and launched a number of violent attacks in Afghanistan.
The Afghan anti-terrorist force began in Kabul and expanded to other major urban areas. Unlike the military, they’re trained by the world’s most elite counter-terrorism units to work in intense scenarios in which hundreds of civilians may be at risk. Photo from Recoilweb.com
ISIS established a foothold in the Pakistan tribal areas in mid-2014 with the fracturing of the “little T” Taliban that was made up of former Pakistan-based Taliban fighters. Leaderless, they flowed northward into Afghanistan in 2015 when around 70 ISIS trainers travelled from Syria to school them in tactics, public relations, and ambushes. Led by Abdul Rauf Khadem, a former bin Laden confidant, ISIS began paying three times the Afghan government salary, and twice that of the Taliban. They launched their new sub brand, ISIS-Khurasan, with brutal videos of hapless villagers being blown up and other filmed executions. Islamic religion tradition insists that horse-mounted jihadis carrying the Black Flags of Khurasan will signal the retaking of the Holy Land and the end of Christianity. Not surprisingly, ISIS PR cameramen filmed chubby Pakistanis jogging and jerking along on Afghan nags carrying black flags in their videos.
The cash and the PR campaign worked. In September 2015, the UN estimated ISIS penetrated 25 out of the 34 provinces.
The Crisis Response Unit is legendary in Afghanistan. They’re never seen in public and stay on their base until a crisis occurs, and then they deploy in minutes directly into a hostage situation. Photo from Recoilweb.com
When I met with Resolute Support commander General “Mick” Nicholson in December, he made it clear that although the NATO side of the war was treading water, the counter-terrorism fight wasn’t hindered by a lack of funding or increasing intensity. While the USA waited patiently for the election to end, General Nicholson made his move.
On April 13, 2017, the sky lit up above Achin and the ground shook through eastern Afghanistan as US special operations forces dropped a 12,000-pound MOAB munition that detonated above the exact area ISIS selected as their headquarters.
Nicholson’s air strike had maximum effect. The USA turned the ISIS fighter’s concealment and isolation into their damnation. About 90 fighters were killed instantly by the pressure wave and collapsing buildings.
Although the rank and file of ISIS K were decimated, the work of actually finishing the job was left to US ground operators and Afghans. Ten days later, at 10:30 p.m., 50 US Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos went in on the location of Sheik Hasib, gunning him down about a mile away from where the bomb went off in Mohmand Valley. As in all special operation ground missions, drones, AC 130s, F16s, and Apaches provided constant top cover and ISR support. Down below, air controllers coordinated the troops moving forward, calling out targets and hostiles for Afghan commandos. ISIS in the east was snuffed out like a candle.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The top leadership and 35 members of ISIS were finally removed because they had crossed the line. They had carried out a devastating March 2017 attack on a 400-bed military hospital in Kabul in which ISIS personnel disguised as medical staff killed scores of people. Enough was enough.
Although MOAB was a global headline grabber and there’s every indication that America is getting back into the fight, much of the dirty work of killing terrorists face to face has been left to the Afghans. It’s for this reason that I visited a little-known counter-terrorism unit high above the hills of Kabul.
It’s Friday, the day off in Afghanistan, but Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the head of Afghanistan’s elite’s counter-terrorism team, has invited me over. He’s clean-shaven, tall, and eager to meet me. He runs the Afghan Crisis Response Unit 222, or CRU 222 for short. He’s unapologetic about his team. His and his men’s job is to kill terrorists in Kabul. Fast.
It’s a brutally simple idea taught to them originally by the SAS and carried forward in their training by American, and now Norwegian, commandos. When suicide bombers try to take hostages en masse, the unit’s mission is to get in and kill them without restraint. In their brutal experience, the faster they kill terrorists the lower the casualties.
Their spotless base sits on the old site of Camp Gibson, overlooking the outskirts of Kabul.
Kabul is the fifth fastest growing city in the world. Under the Taliban in 2001 the population was barely 1.5 million; today almost 4 million people call Kabul home. Photo from Recoilweb.com
Mubariz walks me around the camp and explains the unit has three groups, one active, one in training, and one in reserve. On operations they have a 60-man protection unit and three operations groups. They work 15 days on and 15 days off, and they’re set up to respond to a crisis quickly; their goal is to be out the door within five minutes of a call.
He expresses pride that his men can “assess a situation, form a plan, and have all the belligerents dead within minutes. Instead of the hours it used to take, now we can be ready in three minutes.”
To underline the seriousness and intensity of their task, he estimates that last year 97 of his 7,000-person, nationwide staff were killed. The high-casualty rate doesn’t faze his enthusiasm for the task.
The training for the anti-terrorist squad lasts four months with a dropout rate of 10 to 15 percent of the class. “We get better training than the commandos, but we work together,” Raqib tells me, talking about another Afghan special mission unit that operates in the rural areas of the country. “We recruit from all over the country.”
I want to understand how this unit ended the March 2017 hospital attack, the most brutal terrorist act after the recent bomb attack at Camp Shahin. He offers to have his men perform a demonstration.
The men roll up to a practice building in armored Humvees, dismount, and take a knee; they lay out a protective circle and deploy snipers. They set up a command and control center, gather intel, and agree on an entry plan. Then, the teams deploy and breach, clearing each room until they reach the top.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The men are fast, aggressive, and their actions appear well rehearsed. But this is an empty building with a journalist sticking a camera in their faces, not a burning building with martyrs killing their way to a 72-virgin afterlife.
The 222 benefits from the knowledge passed on by foreign military advisors. Norwegians from the Marinejegerkommandoen were also on hand supervising and offering training guidance. The Norwegians declined to be officially interviewed, but 222’s opinion of them is effusive. “We love it when they taught us how to shoot off the back of motorcycles in the dark,” one commando laughs.
To understand 222’s tactical response to the Kabul hospital attack, I met with the officer (unnamed at his request) that led the hospital attack.
The soft-spoken colonel describes the siege. “It was Wednesday, March 8, 8:45 in the morning. The first car bomb went off at 9 a.m. at the rear of the hospital. By 9:45 a.m. we were stuck in all kinds of traffic. We travel in armored Humvees, five men to a vehicle. We had to hit cars to get out them out the way. We were waved around to a different entrance from the normal entrance when the second car bomb went off.”
The remnants of a vehicle bomb during the March 8, 2017, ISIS attack on the Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in Kabul. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The eight-story pink Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital is in the Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul and is the largest military hospital in Afghanistan. Named after the last prime minister before the Soviets landed, the staff provides medical care to members of the Afghan military and their families. There are also two floors filled with wounded Taliban fighters along with a VIP wing; in addition, there are soldiers housed here who are wounded so seriously they can’t be sent home.
“It was complicated when we arrived on scene because we had more than 1,000 doctors, patients, and visitors.” The colonel says there were 400 beds in an eight-floor building and an unknown number of terrorists wearing suicide vests with grenades, knives, and rifles inside. “I was just thinking how we can protect civilians before we can kill the terrorists.”
The men ISIS sent to cause mayhem weren’t just suicide bombers, but fourth-generation suicide fighters called inghimasis, or “those who plunge” into battle. The four attackers were let into the hospital by an employee, the colonel tells us. They put on white lab coats and began to shoot indiscriminately, using knives to kill bedridden victims to conserve ammunition.
“Once the Afghan Army commandos arrived, I stopped everyone and explained how we can work together. We have British SAS tactics; the Afghan Special Forces uses American [tactics]. We have different training and tactics, and we could kill each other.”
The units deconflicted by leap-frogging each other as they cleared the buildings seven floors, floor by floor.
“We are clearing each room, but ultimately we run to the shooting,” says the colonel. “The problem was most of the victims were being stabbed with knives and [the attackers] were dressed in lab coats like many of the hostages. On the second floor we killed the third man; we shot him, and he blew up. Again we ran to the shooting. In various rooms, there were people hiding. The gunman had killed one or two people in each room.”
The responders killed another shooter on the fourth floor as he was hiding behind a bed. “We found another terrorist on the fifth floor. We shot him, and he blew up.”
Like many Afghans, and out of respect for the dead, he won’t describe the specifics of the dozens of victims. Most of the people had been killed with knives. Later I find out from one of the men who was there that a pregnant women, the wife of a military officer, screamed, “You can’t kill me!” He looks down and describes the brutality, “They cut out her child and then killed her.”
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
Finally, there were 65 hostages on the top floor being held by the last gunman.
“I had heard shooting from the rooftop, and I requested an air drop,” says the Colonel. “The Mi-17 will carry 15 troops and can land on the roof where people were fleeing. Some were on the window ledges outside. [Our] snipers were using the windows, but there weren’t clear shots in the confusion. There is a green house on the top floor, and we went up and found the hostages.”
“We were using CS grenades and wearing gas masks,” he says. “It’s hard to see through the mask when you’re running and the smoke. So I aimed for his center of his vest and he exploded, killing some of the hostages.” When I ask him why he didn’t take a head a shot he looks up and just gives me a pained look.
“I think we were done by 14:00. We then had to coordinate the removal of the dead and wounded, and order ambulances since all the staff had fled.”
At the end, over 60 people were dead and roughly as many were wounded.
The attackers were trained in Pakistan and were reportedly told to kill as many people as possible before detonating their suicide vests. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
UNDERSTANDING THE ENEMY
Colonel Mir Ebaidullah Mirzada from Kapisa province explains how ISIS recruits and trains for these attacks. “I was in military school in high school, then I joined CID police. I spent 31 years in the intelligence service,” he says. His job now is to make sense of these attacks and understand the enemy. That enemy, he says, is increasingly more foreign.
The history of the CRU also coincides with violent attacks launched from Pakistan.
“There was a series of attacks in Kabul in 2005. At that time there was no special unit. They sent police, members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Army, and there were a lot of civilian casualties. It was then they decided to create the CRU. National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar established a division of special police when he was interior minister.”
The work of CRU 222 is not without sacrifice. In 2016, 97 members of the Afghan national anti-terrorism group were killed. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The first unit was 222. They started with 100 members; now they have around 7,000. Ebedullah was one of the originals. “We started with Hungarian and Bulgarian AKs, Russian PiKas (PKM), and Iranian RPGs. We swapped to Russian AKs [after] seven years with a gift of 20,000 AKs, and now, thanks to the US Embassy, we’re using M4s.
The men of the 222 still have to tape their flashlights to the barrel and make do with Chinese knockoff gear. They favor the bright green laundry bag camo pattern sprayed on their gear. It used to take three hours for the unit to jock up, and now it takes them less than five minutes to get out of their compound. Still, a Colonel gets by on $600 a month, and some of the men aren’t fully kitted. But they don’t complain. He pulls out the dossier on the attack on the hospital attack.
More than 70 percent of Kabul’s population lives in illegal settlements like these hillside homes built without permits or proper sanitation. These migrants include thousands of former jihadis returning from Pakistan. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
“The attackers were from Pakistan, two from Tajikistan, and two were Afghan. The people know that Pakistan is behind this.” He takes pains to read the next sentence carefully.
“They trained for four months by Major Ahmad from ISI Punjab, in Mansehra near the military base at Rawalpindi. This information comes from the ‘other side,'” he noted with a smile. Manserhra is only 13 miles north of where bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad.
Recruiting is done from the madrasas, free religious schools sponsored by Sunni donors from the Gulf area.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
Mirzada lays out the training process. “They pass three steps to come. The first step is for ISI people who operated under the guise of being scholars who train young people. They identify those who respond to extreme ideology.”
Despite the steady stream of violent attacks, the people of Kabul go on with their daily lives. In 16 years the country has experienced dramatic growth and education. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
“In the madrasa they’re separated, and when they say, ‘I want to be a martyr,’ they’re ready. Then the preparation work stops. They blindfold them and take them to a military base. There they’re trained about three months on weapons, explosives, and what destiny awaits them in paradise. Before the plan [takes] place they set up companies to provide fake IDs, transportation, and lodging. They transport them to Kabul without weapons.”
Typically, he says, they’re between 14 and 25 years old, mostly from poor families. Their family gets paid 400,000 Pakistani rupees, just under $4,000 US, after they’ve reached the end of their path to martyrdom.
“The handlers train them again to get used to the area where they speak Pashto,” Mirzada says. “There are also people who know Farsi. Once they learn the area, then they ship in the weapons. There are also people who are responsible to make the film. Even when they rush and fight, they’re always filming. Before they attack they film a speech and they get injections to make them brave.”
The elite reputation of CRU 222 attracts hundreds of young Afghan recruits; 15 percent will drop out during training. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
One witness in the media insists he heard one of the men talking to “Mullah Sahib,” which sounds like Mullah Hasib, the head of the ISIS cell in Nangahar. The man gunned down after the MOAB was dropped by US forces. Mirzada closes the file.
When and if another hostage situation occurs, CRU 222 sits waiting for the call, stopwatch at the ready.
The desert screams by below. The clouds scream by above. Both stretch on into the horizon. It’s deceptively calm in the cockpit. There’s a constant, seemingly discordant stream of chatter coming through his helmet. The digital screens in front of him, along with images projected onto his visor, provide enough information to save lives and take a few as well. In the sky ahead are more than 60 advanced enemy aircraft, flown by some of the best fighter pilots in the world. They are hunting — looking to kill him and his wingmen. He just graduated pilot training. Welcome to Red Flag.
“I haven’t been flying that long. There are things that stand out in my career. My first solo flight, my first F-35 flight and my first Red Flag mission. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those things,” said 1st Lt. Landon Moores, a 388th Fighter Wing, 4th Fighter Squadron, F-35A Lightning II pilot.
Moores is one of a handful of young F-35A pilots who recently graduated their initial training and are currently deployed to Nellis Air Force Base as part of exercise Red-Flag 19-1. Now they are being battle-tested.
An F-35A Lightning II takes off at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 1, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
“Going from F-35 training a little over a month ago to a large force exercise with dozens of aircraft in the sky is pretty crazy,” Moores said. “For the initial part of the first mission, I was just kind of sitting there listening. I was nervous. I was excited. Then the training kicked in.”
Red Flag is the Air Force’s premier combat training exercise where units from across the Department of Defense join with allied nations in a “blue force” to combat a “red force” in a variety of challenging scenarios over three weeks.
“For us, the biggest difference between this Red Flag and our first with the F-35A two years ago is that we have a lot of pilots on their first assignment,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th FS commander. “Putting them alongside more experienced wingmen is what Red Flag was designed for.”
Combat training has changed dramatically over the years, Morris said.
“When I was a young pilot in the F-16, I had a couple of responsibilities in the cockpit. One, don’t lose sight of my flight lead. Two, keep track of a bunch of green blips on a small screen in front of me, and correlate the blips to what someone is telling me on the radio,” Morris said. “Now, we’re flying miles apart and interpreting and sharing information the jets gather, building a threat and target picture. We’re asking way more of young wingmen, but we’re able to do that because of their training and the capabilities of the jet.”
Capt. James Rosenau flew the A-10 in four previous Red Flags, but he’s brand new to flying the F-35. He graduated from the transition course in December 2018.
Pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron prepare for launch at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 31, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
“I loved the A-10 and its mission. It’s like a flying tank. Like Chewbacca with chainsaw arms. A very raw flying experience,” Rosenau said. “Obviously the F-35 is completely different. It’s more like a precision tool. After seeing the F-35 go up against the near-peer threats replicated here at Nellis (AFB), I’m a big believer.”
The two aircraft are similar in one way. They do very specific things other aircraft aren’t asked to do.
“In the A-10, I liked being the guy who was called upon to directly support troops on the ground. To bring that fight to the enemy,” Rosenau said. “Now I like being the guy who can support legacy fighters when they may be struggling to get into a target area because of the threat level. We have more freedom to operate. We have this big radar that can sniff out threats. We can gather all of that and pass it along or potentially take out those threats ourselves.”
The threat level is high at Red Flag. From the skill and size of the aggressor forces in the air to the complexity and diversity of the surface to air threats, there is a real sense of the ‘fog and friction’ of war. The adversary force also uses space and cyber warfare to take out or limit technology that modern warfighters rely on. Cutting through the clutter is a strength of the F-35A.
“One of the jet’s greatest assets is to see things that others can’t, take all the information it’s gathering from the sensors and present them to the pilot,” Moores said. “One of our biggest jobs is learning how to process and prioritize that. For the more experienced pilots it seems like it is second nature. … If we don’t, it’s not like we’re getting killed (in the F-35), but we could be doing more killing.”
The pilots say seeing the F-35A’s capabilities being put to use as part of a larger force has been invaluable.
“When we mission plan with other units, it’s not always about kicking down the door,” Rosenau said. “It may be about looking at what the enemy is presenting and ‘thinking skinny.’ With the F-35, we can think through a mission and choose how we want to attack it to make everyone more survivable.”
Fernando Trujillo grew out his hair, like many sailors do when they retire. About six years later, he finally cut it — about 28 inches of dark, graying hair — and donated it to make wigs for cancer patients.
“I just decided to let it grow — one less expense,” Trujillo, 49, said in an Armynews release. “In the military, I pretty much had to get my hair cut every two weeks to stay within regulations.”
The 24-year Navy veteran decided to part with his waist-length hair Jan. 18 so he could participate in his younger brother’s upcoming New Mexico National Guard promotion ceremony. But Trujillo, who was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer in 2012, didn’t just want to throw his locks away.
“I’ve lost some friends and family over the years and also had some acquaintances that have had battles with cancer who lost their hair going through radiation,” he said in the release. “I figured my hair would be something that someone could benefit from.”
Currently a contractor at Fort Detrick in Maryland, Trujillo’s been in remission since an operation removed a 10-millimeter tumor from the roof of his mouth. While the treatment was fast, he said the initial cancer diagnosis scared him.
“Your heart just kind of drops and you have that bad feeling, like ‘Damn, how bad is it?'” he said in the release. “The first thing the doctor did was try to calm me down and let me know that everything should be fine. It was just a matter of how much they were going to have to cut out.”
Trujillo lost about 20 pounds after the surgery because the only thing he could eat was pumpkin soup and protein drinks.
Other than some tenderness around the surgical spot in his mouth, he said his life has pretty much returned to normal, which is something cancer patients long for and wigs can help.
“Hopefully, that little bit will be able to help them retain a little dignity out of the whole situation they are facing,” Trujillo said in the release about his donation to Hair We Share. “It’s more about not drawing attention from people who constantly ask questions and feel sorry for you.”
Germany dropped a lot of bombs on England (not to mention the rest of the United Kingdom) during World War II. Not all of them exploded – and unexploded ordnance, or UXO, has been an ongoing issue.
According to a report by NavalToday.com, war’s gift that keeps on giving turned up in Portsmouth, England. This is where the Royal Navy is planning to base the 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
The report said that the German SC250 bomb, which weighed 500 pounds and had 290 pounds of high explosive, was discovered while dredging was underway as part of a program to improve the Royal Navy base’s infrastructure. The London Guardian reported on a past UXO find in Portsmouth in November that was rendered safe in a controlled detonation. The Guardian report also mentioned a bomb discovered in September.
UXO has been a long-running problem after wars. In fact, last October saw EOD personnel in the United States tasked to deal with Civil War cannonballs that were unearthed by Hurricane Matthew. UXO from World War I and World War II has been very common in Europe, including poison gas shells.
In 2009, a U.S. Navy release reported that a number of leftover mines and a British torpedo from World War II were discovered during a mine countermeasures exercise during that year’s BALTOPS. Three years later, during that same exercise, an unexploded aerial bomb was discovered according to another U.S. Navy release.
A 2011 Navy release estimates that in the Baltic Sea alone, there are over 200,000 pieces of UXO from not only conflicts, but training exercises dating back to the Russian Revolution.