Deep underwater, on submarines equipped with nuclear missiles, British crews are constantly prepared to fire their weapons, and potentially play a part in bringing about the end of the world.
Sailors on the four Vanguard-class submarines which patrol the waters and hold the UK’s nuclear deterrent operate under strict protocol for working out when to act and what to do — part of which is said to include listening to BBC radio.
According to a prominent British historian, the broadcast of BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme is one of the official measures the Royal Navy uses to prove that the United Kingdom still exists. “Today” has been broadcast at around breakfast time since 1958 and is the highest-profile news programme in British media.
Lord Peter Hennessy, a history professor who joined the UK’s House of Lords in 2010, said that if it can’t be heard for three days in a row, then it could signify Britain’s demise, and trigger their doomsday protocol.
According to Politico, Hennessy says: “The failure to pick up the BBC Today program for a few days is regarded as the ultimate test.”
If no sign comes through, the commander and deputy will open letters that contain instructions from the prime minister and execute their final wishes.
These letters, each known as a “Letter of Last Resort’ are secret instructions, written when a prime minister enters the office and sealed until an apocalypse. They tell the UK’s submarine commanders what to do with the country’s nuclear weapons if the country has been destroyed.
HMS Victorious photographed in the Clyde estuary
(LA(phot) Mez Merrill/MOD photo)
Writing these letters is one of the first tasks undertaken by any new prime minister. They are locked inside a safe inside another safe, and placed in the control rooms of the nation’s four nuclear submarines, Politico reports. The safes will only be accessible to the sub’s commander and deputy.
Matthew Seligman, Professor of Naval History at Brunel University,told BBC Newsbeat that there are “only so many options available.”
“Do nothing, launch a retaliatory strike, offer yourself to an ally like the USA, or use your own judgment.
“Essentially, are you going to use the missiles or not?”
The UK has four submarines that are capable of carrying the country’s Trident nuclear missiles. At least one of these has been on patrol at all times since 1969, the government says.
There are 40 nuclear warheads and a maximum of eight missiles on each submarine.
Only the prime minister can authorize the launch of the country’s nuclear weapons.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It’s probably the most exciting moment of any football game — and it doesn’t matter if the game is on a Friday, Saturday, or a Sunday. One team is down six or seven points and they’re making the drive across the field in the fourth quarter with just seconds left on the clock. Stopped just short of a first down or goal, the quarterback drops back and chucks the ball as fast and far as he can, along with a prayer for a receiver — any receiver — to catch the ball in the endzone.
Sometimes, they get a little help from less divine sources.
(National Football League)
Sure, it’s a supreme letdown when the pass fails, but when it succeeds, the crowds go wild. It’s the “Hail Mary” Pass, and it was made famous by that name with a little help from the Naval Academy’s famous alumnus and Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Roger Staubach.
The desperation pass existed well back into the 1930s. Football is a very old sport and desperation in football dates back to the beginning of the game itself. Referring to a pass as a “Hail Mary,” however, was generally restricted to desperate plays made by Catholic schools, like Notre Dame — until 1975, that is.
A 1975 divisional playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Roger Staubach-led Dallas Cowboys saw the Cowboys down 14-10, 85 yards from the endzone, on 4th down and 16 with just 24 seconds left in the game. There was no other call Staubach, the former Naval Academy cadet, could make in that situation. The ball snapped, Staubach dropped back and threw the ball as far as he could.
The original “Hail Mary.”
(National Football League)
The ball found its way into the arms of wide receiver Drew Pearson, who ran it in for a last-second touchdown. The Cowboys won the game 17-14. Staubach would lead the Cowboys all the way to Super Bowl X, where they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-17. The pass earned its name when an elated Staubach talked the press after the game his victory over the Vikings.
“I just closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary,” said Staubach. “I couldn’t see whether or not Drew had caught it. I didn’t know we had the touchdown until I saw the official raise his arms.”
Staubach was a devout Catholic all his life, from his early days in Cincinnati through his Midshipman years at Annapolis. It just so happened that a Hail Mary is the prayer that went through his mind. The play could just as easily be known as the “Our Father” Pass.
Or if you’re a Mormon, “Bless that we will travel home in safety” Pass
“I could have said the ‘Our Father’ or ‘The Glory Be.’ It could be the ‘Glory Be Pass,'” Staubach later said.
So how rare is a successful Hail Mary Pass? One statistician broke down the likelihood of a successful pass on the last play of a game, more than 30 yards from the goal, with the offense tied or down by 8 or fewer points to ensure the team on offense either wins or forces an overtime.
Only 5.5 percent of games since 2005 have a play that fits these criteria. Of the games that do fit, most of the passes thrown were too far away from the goal line, out of range of the quarterback. Of the remaining, eligible passes, only 2.5 percent resulted in a touchdown. The stats also show that the further away the quarterback is from the goal line, the more likely the ball is to be intercepted — and the ball is eight times more likely to be intercepted than to score a touchdown.
The treaty states: “…each Party shall eliminate its intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, not have such systems thereafter, and carry out the other obligations set forth in this Treaty.”
According to a report by the New York Times, Russia has operationally deployed one battalion equipped with the SSC-8 cruise missile. A 2015 Washington Free Beacon report noted that American intelligence officials assessed the missile’s range as falling within the scope of weapons prohibited by the INF Treaty (any ground-launched system with a range between 300 and 3,400 miles).
The blog ArmsControlWonk has estimated the SSC-8’s range to be between 2,000 and 2,500 kilometers (1,242 and 1,553 miles) based on the assumption it is a version of the SS-N-30A “Sizzler” cruise missile.
While it looks like the Russians could be holding onto some banned systems, the U.S. scrapped three systems falling under the INF Treaty.
1. The BGM-109G Gryphon cruise missile
Forget the name, this was really a ground-launched Tomahawk that was deployed by the Air Force. According to the website of the USAF Police Alumni Association, six wings of this missile were deployed to NATO in the 1980s. Designation-Systems.net noted that the BGM-109G had a range of 1,553 miles and carried a 200-kiloton W84 warhead.
2. The MGM-31A Pershing I and MGM-31B Pershing Ia ballistic missiles
The Pershing I packed one of the biggest punches of any American nuclear delivery system and could hit targets 740 miles away. With a W50 warhead and a yield of 400 kilotons (about 20 times that of the bomb used on Nagasaki), the Pershing Ia actually was too much bang for a tactical role, according to Designation-Systems.net.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, this missile had longer range (1,100 miles), and had a W85 warhead that had a yield of up to 50 kilotons. While only one-eighth as powerful as the warhead on the Pershing I and Pershing Ia, the Pershing II was quite accurate – and could ruin anyone’s day.
According to the State Department’s web site, all three of these systems were destroyed (with the exception of museum pieces) by the end of May, 1991.
In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.
It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.
Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.
Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”
Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.
Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.
Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.
But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.
On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.
The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.
Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.
The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.
“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”
The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.
During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.
“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Radicalized In Pakistan
The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.
The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.
The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.
Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.
The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.
War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.
But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.
The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.
Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.
‘We Were All Scared’
Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.
Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.
“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”
Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.
“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”
During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.
The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.
By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.
By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.
The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.
Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.
Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.
Negotiating An End To War
In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.
But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.
For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.
Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.
“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.
“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”
Road Map For Afghanistan
The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.
More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.
But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.
“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.
But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.
Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.
There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.
The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.
The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.
“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”
The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.
Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.
But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.
Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.
Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.
“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”
Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.
“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”
Officers, medical staff, and interpreters are a few of the high-value targets that enemy forces focus on first while in a war zone. But the enemy also has their crosshairs on another professional that’s excellent at sniffing out homemade bombs: military working dogs.
Over 1,600 dogs train and serve alongside our brave troops, adept at hunting down the nasty ingredients used to produce those dangerous IEDs. Despite the serious nature of their mission, military working dogs are the subject of some of the funniest memes ever created.
A U.S. Army artillery unit is pounding Islamic State fighters inside Syria from a remote desert camp just inside Iraq.
Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment artillery unit have been operating alongside Iraqi artillery units at a temporary fire support base in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border for the past several weeks, according to a recent Defense Department news release.
U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors helped Iraqi forces build the camp by as part of Operation Inherent Resolve’s support of Operation Roundup, a major offensive by Syrian Democratic Forces aimed at clearing the middle Euphrates River Valley of entrenched, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters.
Little has been made public in recent months about the U.S. military’s use of temporary fire bases to continue the ISIS fight. But NPR published a brief report July 2, 2018, about a “remote outpost” on the border of Iraq and Syria that seems to be the one described in the recent Defense Department release.
Some 150 Marines and soldiers are stationed there, NPR reported, in addition to Iraqi forces.
In the release, troops stationed at the fire base described the satisfaction of working side-by-side with Iraqi units.
“The most satisfying moment in the mission, so far, was when all three artillery units, two Iraqi and one U.S., executed simultaneous fires on a single target location,” said Maj. Kurt Cheeseman, Task Force Steel operations officer and ground force commander at the fire support base, in the release.
Language barriers forced U.S. and Iraqi artillery units to develop a common technical language to coordinate fire missions that involved both American and Iraqi artillery pieces.
“This mission required the use of multiple communications systems and the translation of fire commands, at the firing point, directing the Iraqi Army guns to prepare for the mission, load and report, and ultimately fire,” 1st Lt. Andrea Ortiz Chevres, Task Force Steel fire direction officer, said in the release.
The Iraqi howitzer unit used different procedures to calculate the firing data needed to determine the correct flight path to put rounds on target.
“In order to execute coalition fire missions, we had to develop a calculation process to translate their firing data into our mission data to validate fires prior to execution,” Cheeseman said in the release.
Sgt. 1st Class Isaac Hawthorne, Task Force Steel master gunner, added that Iraqi forces are “eager to work with the American M777 howitzer and fire direction crews and share artillery knowledge and procedures,” according to the release.
It’s not clear from the release when the base was created or how long it has been active. With little infrastructure and no permanent buildings, troops face temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the desert.
“They are enduring harsh weather conditions and a lack of luxuries but, unlike previous deployments for many, each element is performing their core function in a combat environment,” Cheeseman said in the release. “The fire support base is a perfect example of joint and coalition execution that capitalizes on the strengths of each organization to deliver lethal fires, protect our force and sustain operations across an extended operational reach.”
Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force units provided planners, personnel and equipment to create the austere base, built on a bare patch of desert and raised by hand. Coalition partners from several different nations participated in the planning and coordination of the complex movement of supplies.
“Supplies were delivered from both air and ground by the Army, Air Force and Marines, and include delivery platforms such as medium tactical vehicles, UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks, CV-22 Ospreys, C-130 Hercules and a C-17 Globemaster,” 1st Lt. Ashton Woodard, a troop executive officer in Task Force Longknife, said in the release. “We receive resupply air drops that include food, water, fuel, and general supplies.”
One of the most vital missions involved setting up a security perimeter to provide stand-off and protection for the U.S. and Iraqi artillery units.
“Following 10 days of around-the-clock labor in intense environmental conditions, the most satisfying moment was seeing the completion of the physical security perimeter,” said one Marine working security at the fire base, according to the release.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Late Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, U.S. military officials identified the Army helicopter pilot who died on Aug. 20, 2018, as a result of wounds received in a crash in Iraq on Aug. 19, 2018 during an undisclosed operation. Official news releases report three additional wounded U.S. personnel have been evacuated to treatment facilities.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, from Spokane, Washington, died Aug. 20, in Baghdad as a result of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed in Sinjar, Ninevah Province, according to a Department of Defense news release.
CW3 Galvin was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) as an MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He was flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Galvin was originally from Phoenix, Arizona. He was 34 years old. Galvin was a combat veteran special operations pilot with nine deployments including two during Iraqi Freedom, three in Operation Enduring Freedom and four more during Operation Inherent Resolve. He was the recipient of the U.S. Army Air Medal (C device) and Air Medal (30LC) for heroism or meritorious achievement while flying in addition to numerous other awards.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin.
In an August 20, 2018 article on Newsweek.com about the fatal crash, journalist James LaPorta reported that, “It is unclear why the MH-60 Blackhawk went down, but U.S. military sources with knowledge of the crash said the helicopter was returning to base after conducting a partnered small-scale raid on Islamic State militants in an undisclosed region as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations.” LaPorta went on to write, “Ten U.S. military personnel were onboard the aircraft being flown by U.S. Army pilots from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.”
The region near Sinjar (Shingal), Iraq where the crash occurred had been active in supporting cross-border anti-ISIS operations into neighboring Syria for more than a month until U.S. troops were withdrawn from the area in the middle of July 2018 according to a report by Wladimir van Wilgenburg published in the regional Kurdistan 24 online news source. This is also the region where Iraqi Air Force F-16s have conducted their first airstrikes against insurgents during cross-border strikes into Syria.
The crash was reported to have occurred at approximately 10:00 PM local time (2200 hrs, GMT+3). Sunset in the region on Aug. 19, 2018, the date of the accident, occurred at 6:40 PM local time. Weather in the area was hot, 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds and clear skies. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters that the crash was not caused by enemy fire.
(US Army photo)
Reports about the aircraft and the personnel on board may contradict official assertions that the U.S. role in the region is predominantly in an advisory capacity. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, is a highly-specialized combat aviation unit headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky that supports elite U.S. and coalition combat units like Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and other special operations units.
The 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers”, are most famous for the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune’s Spear, on May 1, 2011. During that raid, the unit flew a classified, low-observable variant of the Blackhawk helicopter that has since been popularly referred to in speculation as the “MH-X Stealth Black Hawk” or “Silent Hawk”. Images of part of the secret helicopter were seen around the world when one of them crashed inside Bin Laden’s compound during the raid, leaving the tail section visible. Books and media accounts suggest only two of the aircraft were ever produced.
An active-duty US Marine captain wrote a stinging op-ed for the Marine Corps Gazette, going through all the problems he sees with the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps in addition to recent failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The biggest problem, according to Capt. Joshua Waddell, is “self-delusion.”
“Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars,” he wrote. “It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The active-duty infantry officer, who served with and lost Marines under his command with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, in Afghanistan, didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. He said it took several years for him to accept that, with the goal of improving the system.
A case in point, he says, is a comparison of the US military with other adversaries.
The Pentagon’s budget dwarfs the combined defense spending of the next 10 countries. The Army and Marine Corps are arguably the best-trained fighting forces in the world. The Air Force has the most high-tech aircraft and weaponry, while the Navy maintains nearly 20 aircraft carriers — far more than adversaries like Russia and China that have only one each.
These stats should mean the US military is unstoppable, but the budget, talk of being the best in the world, and other claims it makes don’t square with measures of effectiveness, Waddell writes.
“How, then, have we been bested by malnourished and undereducated men with antiquated and improvised weaponry whilst spending trillions of dollars in national treasure and costing the lives of thousands of servicemen and hundreds of thousands of civilians?” he wrote.
“For example, a multibillion-dollar aircraft carrier that can be bested by a few million dollars in the form of a swarming missile barrage or a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capable of rendering its flight deck unusable does not retain its dollar value in real terms. Neither does the M1A1 tank, which is defeated by $20 worth of household items and scrap metal rendered into an explosively-formed projectile.
“The Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization has a library full of examples like these, and that is without touching the weaponized return on investment in terms of industrial output and capability development currently being employed by our conventional adversaries.”
His article isn’t just a critique; Waddell offers several solutions to get the military out of the “business-as-usual” mindset that looks good in PowerPoint briefs but doesn’t translate to success on the ground.
While military leaders typically complain to Congress that constrained budgets have a “crippling” effect on the military, Waddell says the military should work more efficiently with the money it has. He gives an example of a nation already doing this: Russia.
Moscow’s military budget is about $52 billion, versus Washington’s proposed defense budget of $583 billion. Yet with far less money, Russia has been a consistent thorn in the US’s side in Syria, Ukraine, and now Afghanistan. That’s not to mention Moscow’s success in cyberwarfare.
“This is the same Russian military whom the RAND Corporation has estimated would be unstoppable in an initial conventional conflict in the Baltic states, even against the combined might of the NATO forces stationed there,” Waddell wrote. “Given the generous funding the American people have bequeathed us to provide for the common defense, is it so unreasonable to seek an efficient frontier of that resource’s utility?”
Waddell’s critique includes a call to fix inefficiencies between the Defense Department getting gear to war fighters, as some have to buy things they need because they don’t get there before they deploy. Waddell also calls for an audit of the Marines to see whether there are redundant efforts among contractors.
“There is no reason we should be paying twice for the same work or, as is often the case, paying government personnel for work that they have instead outsourced to more capable contractors for tasks within the government worker’s job description,” he wrote. “I would be willing to bet that a savvy staff officer with access to these position and billet descriptions as well as contracting line items could save the Marine Corps millions of dollars by simply hitting Control+F (find all) on his keyboard, querying key tasks, and counting redundancies.”
It’s unclear how much of an effect this op-ed would have on any changes. The Marine Corps Gazette is read mostly by senior Marine leadership, but whether that translates to taking this captain’s advice in an institution that is resistant to change is an open question.
“I have watched Marines charge headlong into enemy fire and breach enemy defenses with the enemy’s own captured IEDs in order to engage in close combat,” Waddell wrote. “This same fighting spirit from which we draw so much pride must be replicated by our senior leaders in leading comprehensive reform of our Corps’ capabilities and in creating a supporting establishment truly capable of fostering innovation.”
During a surprise trip to Iraq, his first such visit with US troops in a combat zone, President Donald Trump says he has “no plans at all” to withdraw US forces from the country, where they’ve been present since the 2003 invasion.
Trump had not previously said he would pull US troops from Iraq, but the trip comes after he abruptly announced the withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops from Syria — a decision that reportedly prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation — and reports emerged of plans to remove about half of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
Mattis, who will leave office at the end of 2018, signed an order to withdraw troops from Syria on Dec. 24, 2018.
Trump, accompanied by his wife, Melania, traveled to Iraq late on Christmas night, flying to Al Asad air base in western Iraq and delivering a holiday message to more than 5,000 US troops stationed in the country. He is expected to make two stops on the trip, according to The New York Times.
President Trump and the First Lady visit troops at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.
The trip was kept secret, with Air Force One reportedly making the 11-hour flight with lights off and window shades drawn. Trump said he had never seen anything like it and that he was more concerned with the safety of those with him than he was for himself, according to the Associated Press.
The president said that because of gains made against ISIS in Syria, US forces there were able to return home. US officials have said the militant group holds about 1% of the territory it once occupied, though several thousand fighters remain in pockets in western Syria and others have blended back into local populations.
Trump said the mission in Syria was to remove ISIS from its strongholds and not to be a nation-builder, which he said was a job for other wealthy countries. He praised Saudi Arabia this week for committing money to rebuild the war-torn country. The US presence there was never meant to be “open-ended,” he added.
Trump told reporters traveling with him that he wanted to remove US forces from Syria but that Iraq could still be used as a base to launch attacks on ISIS militants.
If needed, the US can attack ISIS “so fast and so hard” that they “won’t know what the hell happened,” Trump said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
One of the more important national security jobs in Washington, D.C. — Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for South and Southeast Asia — will be filled by a former Army officer with extensive foreign affairs and counterinsurgency experience, reports Breaking Defense.
Retired Col. Joe Felter, who now works at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, “led the International Security and Assistance Force, Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team, in Afghanistan, reporting directly to Generals Stanley McChrystal and and David Petraeus and advising them on counterinsurgency strategy,” his bio says.
According to Breaking Defense, he also performed counterterrorism work in the Philippines, experience that may be crucial in coping with the unpredictable populist, Rodrigo Duterte.
Mattis reportedly knows him well, so he’ll be able to reach out to him should it become necessary and has that extra credibility going in.
Felter’s nomination would mark the addition of another American soldier whose primary experiences are in counterterrorism, which, while sometimes global in reach, is largely confined to certain regions and rarely requires knowledge or experience of great power politics.
This new job does.
Felter’s new job copes with an immense swath of geography and enormous challenges:
South and Southeast Asia (SSEA): India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Diego Garcia, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Island nations.
He’s familiar with quite a few of the region’s hottest spots, having “conducted foreign internal defense and security assistance missions across East and Southeast Asia,” the Hoover bio says.
The Chinese will be watching Felter closely as he will be the lead in the Pentagon on India, Australia, Vietnam, and a host of other countries warily watching the rising Pacific power.
Snipers are a special breed, warriors with a combination of shooting skill, cunning, and patience. Military history has shown that a single sniper in the right place at the right time can change the course of battle, even in the face of overwhelming odds.
Here are the five most legendary among them:
5. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Adelbert Waldron
As a member of the 9th Infantry Division, he was assigned to PBR boats patrolling the Mekong Delta, at one point making a confirmed kill from a moving boat at 900 yards. He set his record of 109 kills in just 8 months, which was the record until Chris Kyle broke it during the Iraq War and is perhaps even more remarkable considering he was fighting in a dense jungle environment that didn’t always provide easy sight lines.
4. Red Army Captain Vasily Zaytsev
Between November 10 and December 17, 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, Zaytsev killed 225 soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht and other Axis armies, including 11 enemy snipers. Before that he killed 32 Axis soldiers with a standard-issue rifle. Between October 1942 and January 1943, he made an estimated 400 kills, some at distances of more than 1,100 yards.
A feature-length film, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law as Zaytsev, includes a sniper’s duel between Zaytsev and a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König.
3. U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle
Navy SEAL Chris Kyle served four tours during the Iraq War, and during that time he became the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with over 160 kills officially confirmed by the Department of Defense. Kyle’s bestselling book, American Sniper, was made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle.
On February 2, 2013, Kyle was shot dead at a shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas along with his friend, Chad Littlefield. The assailant, Eddie Ray Routh, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
2. U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Norman Hathcock
During the Vietnam War Hathcock had 93 “confirmed” kills of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong personnel, which meant they occurred with an officer present (in addition to his spotter). He estimated the number of “unconfirmed” kills to be upwards of 400. His warfighting career ended when he was wounded by an anti-tank mine in 1969 and sent home. He later helped establish the USMC Sniper School.
1. Finnish Army Second Lieutenant Simo Häyhä
Nicknamed “White Death,” Simo Häyhä tallied 505 kills, far and away the highest count from any major war. All of Häyhä’s kills of Red Army combatants were accomplished in fewer than 100 days – an average of just over five kills per day – at a time of year with very few daylight hours. He was wounded late in the war when an explosive bullet shot by a Soviet soldier took off his lower left jaw. He lived a long life, however, dying in a veterans nursing home in 2002 at the age of 96.
When asked if he regretted killing so many people he replied, “I only did my duty, and what I was told to do, as well as I could.”
The Coast Guard has long been given huge tasks without getting a lot of the manpower, hulls, or aviation assets needed to complete them. Considering how much ground they need to cover with what little they have, it’s safe to they they’re the experts at working with what they have.
That said, it’s pretty obvious the Coast Guard could use a few more tools for the job. In the past, the Navy has been happy to pass pieces of gear along — here are a few ships and planes the Coast Guard could use today.
At least 20 Perry-class hulls are awaiting sale or the scrapyard. Perhaps the Coast Guard could claim a few…
Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates
In 2004, the Navy removed Mk 13 launchers from Perry-class frigates, greatly diminishing their firepower in the process. Even still, a 76mm gun and helicopter hangar makes them excellent complements to the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters. At least twenty of these ships are awaiting sale or scrapping, but they could see decades more of service with the Coast Guard.
A Cyclone-class patrol craft has a top speed of 35 knots, something very useful for chasing down drug smugglers.
(Customs and Border Patrol)
Cyclone-class patrol craft
Although they’re back with the Navy now, the Coast Guard once operated five of these vessels. Their high speed and respectable firepower give them excellent drug-interdiction capabilities. These 13 vessels would complement the planned 58 Sentinel-class patrol cutters extremely well.
The Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships may be old, but they could help the Coast Guard around Alaska.
Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships
These 13 vessels may be slow, but they’re built tough. Some of the Coast Guard’s missions, especially around Alaska, place a premium on ships that can take some punishment. Ships intended to hunt mines can do just that. Adding these ships to the fleet frees up other cutters for missions elsewhere.
SPY-1 radars and Aegis make the early Ticonderoga-class cruisers, like USS Yorktown (CG 48), potential assets for the Coast Guard.
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers
The former USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) and USS Yorktown (CG 48) are berthed in Philadelphia, awaiting the scrapyard. However, the SPY-1 radars and Aegis systems aboard these vessels would greatly aid the Coast Guard’s maritime security mission.
The E-2C Hawkeye could give the Coast Guard an eye in the sky.
The Navy is getting newer E-2D Hawkeyes, but the older E-2Cs would still be very useful for the Coast Guard in helping maintain situational awareness. The Coast Guard once operated Hawkeyes — doing so again would take a burden off of the Navy.
P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft could help the Coast Guard track ships for long periods of time.
Often, cartels will use makeshift subs to try and get drugs into the United States. The P-3s that the Navy is planning on retiring could be extremely useful assets for the Coast Guard in finding these undersea mules. Additionally, these planes could supplement the HC-130 Hercules aircraft in service, often by handling surveillance missions. With loads of sensors aboard the P-3, there’s nowhere for the bad guys to hide.
The fact is, the Coast Guard has always been able to give old gear new life. With a couple of hand-me-downs, the Coast Guard just might find itself with new ability — without busting the budget.
Facebook is waging a constant war against online trolls looking to interfere with foreign politics, and the social media giant just gave us an inside look at the latest battle.
On Oct. 21, 2019, Facebook announced it identified and removed four separate networks of interconnected accounts engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” In other words, these were four separate groups posting misleading content on Facebook under fake accounts, groups or pages on Facebook.
Facebook said three of the networks originated in Iran, while the fourth was based in Russia. These networks included about 200 accounts and pages that shared divisive memes and content meant to influence people in the United States, Latin America, and parts of North Africa.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the four networks were discovered as a part of the company’s efforts to police organized campaigns launched by fake accounts. Collectively, the banned accounts had more than 250,000 followers and their posts could’ve reached many more people.
“We detected this activity as part of our ongoing review of suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior ahead of US elections,” Gleicher wrote in a blog post. “We’ve shared information with our industry partners, policy makers and law enforcement and will continue working with others to find and remove this behavior.”
Facebook said most of the fake accounts it finds originate from Russia, Iran, and China, and they post about politics in various parts of the world. According to Facebook, much of the “inauthentic behavior” was designed to spark a response from people on both sides of major political issues, though some repurposed articles from Iran’s state media. Most posts were responses to high-profile political figures or other media sources.
Facebook showed this example posted by a fake group claiming to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The people behind this operation often posted on both sides of political issues including topics like US elections, environmental issues, racial tensions, LGBTQ issues, political candidates, confederate ideas, conservatism and liberalism,” Gleicher said of the Russia-based accounts. “They also maintained accounts presenting themselves as local in some swing states, and posed as either conservatives or progressives.”
With the 2020 US presidential election on the horizon, Facebook has been vocal about its efforts to combat political trolls. The social media platform has been widely criticized for allowing misinformation to spread across the platform, and an investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office found that dozens of Russian agents were involved in a coordinated campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Speaking to the press during a conference call on Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s pre-emptive detection of these fake accounts should serve as encouragement that the company is making strides on security.
Zuckerberg said the company now has 35,000 employees focused on security, and says the company is now spending more on security than its made in revenue during 2012, the same year Facebook went public.
“There’s still a long way to go before election day, and we have a big responsibility to secure our platform and stay ahead of the sophisticated new threats to the integrity of elections here and around the world. Personally this is one of my top priorities for the company.” Zuckerberg said. “Elections have changed significantly, and Facebook has changed too. We are confident that we are more prepared heading into 2020 to fight interference and protect the integrity of our elections.”
In addition to tightened security behind the scenes, Facebook will also roll out new features designed to help people verify questionable sources online. Facebook will introduce a new tag that shows when an ad or post has been fact-checked by a third party, and news sources that are run by a local government will be labeled as such. Additionally, people creating a group or page will have their real name and location listed with Facebook for verification, to prevent foreign entities from posing as local people.
Facebook said the creator of this post was based in Russia.
Facebook continues to face harsh criticism from Democratic presidential candidates for allowing misinformation on the platform and in paid advertisements, specifically. Last week, Zuckerberg defended the company’s stance to allow some types of misinformation, so long as it doesn’t lead to violence or other immediate harm. During a speech at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg said the policy was rooted in his belief in freedom of expression.
With social media becoming one of the primary venues for political discussion in recent years, the incentive to dominate the conversation or weaponize political feelings to create conflict is greater than ever. Facebook and other social media platforms will have to deal with constant attempts to disrupt natural discourage, and separate what’s authentic from what’s not.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.