As the Syrian regime sets its sights on the last remaining rebel stronghold of Idlib, the Russian Defense Ministry in at least the last week of August 2018 has pushed a narrative about possible upcoming staged chemical attacks in the rebel-held province.
“Russian MoD: White Helmets Preparing to Stage Chemical Attack in Idlib” read one headline by Sputnik, a Russian state-owned media outlet, on Aug. 28, 2018.
“US plans to use fake chemical weapons attack to strike Syria – Russian MoD,” one headline by the Russian state-owned media outlet RT read on Aug. 27, 2018.
The list goes on, and it’s a sign chemical attacks may be launched again — but this time in Idlib, the last Syrian rebel stronghold fighting the Assad regime.
“E Ghouta Militants Plan to Stage Chemical Attack to Blame Gov’t – Damascus,” read one Sputnik headline in mid-March 2018, about a month before the Ghouta chemical attack that killed dozens.
“This is textbook,” Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider. “They have done this consistently in the lead up to the use of chemical weapons. So I think it’s a serious possibility that they will use it again.”
A child is treated for suspected chemical gas poisoning in Douma, Syria on April 8, 2018.
“Assad and Russia don’t use chemical weapons simply for the sake of using chemical weapons,” Cafarella said. “They intend to cause an effect with chemical weapons that they then can exploit by advancing on the ground.”
Nevertheless, it’s still an open question as to whether an attack on Idlib will actually happen.
“The Turks are blocking the offensive,” Cafarella said. “The Turks and Russians continue to frame their discussion from the lens of cooperation, but that’s not actually what’s happening.”
Cafarella said that Turkey may allow a partial offensive in Idlib, but that Ankara can’t afford “to have another massive Syrian refugee flow towards the Turkish border.”
On Aug. 30, 2018, the United Nations called on Russia, Turkey, and Iran to hold off on the Idlib assault, fearing a humanitarian disaster for the province’s nearly 3 million civilians, and that chemical weapons could be used by either the Syrian regime or militants themselves.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Defense Department is pledging to improve the way background investigations are done, according to Garry Reid, DoD’s director for defense intelligence and security.
There is currently an enormous backlog in the investigations, Reid said. Some personnel have been waiting up to nearly two years for a top secret security clearance, he said, explaining the goal for completing a top secret investigation is 80 days.
The delays are impacting readiness, he explained to DoD News.
“Units are deploying without a full complement of cleared intelligence analysts and technical experts,” Reid said.
“Service members competing for positions that require top level clearances are held in check,” he said. “Our research and development programs are not operating at capacity due to shortage of cleared defense industry contractors.”
The long delays in processing clearances result in loss of talented people, particularly those just entering the workforce who have highly desired technical skills but cannot afford to wait a year or more before starting the job, he said.
“We are prepared to take this matter in hand and aggressively develop better approaches that can deliver quality investigations, at sustainable cost, within acceptable timelines,” he said.
Changes in Procedures
The fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Section 951, Enhanced Security Programs for Department of Defense Personnel and Innovation Initiative, directed the defense secretary, to provide the following to the DoD committees:
— An implementation plan, by Aug. 1, 2017, for the Defense Security Service, or DSS, to conduct, after Oct. 1, 2017, background investigations for DoD personnel, whose investigations are adjudicated by the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility.
— A report, by Aug. 1, 2017, on the number of full-time equivalent employees of the DoD management headquarters that would be required by DSS to carry out the transfer plan.
— A plan, by Oct. 1, 2017, along with the Office of Personnel Management, to transfer government investigative personnel and contracted resources to the DoD from OPM, in proportion to the background and security investigative workload that would be assumed by DoD if the implementation plan were executed.
Backlog Impacts Readiness
DoD does not plan to assume the cases the OPM is already investigating, according to Reid. The pending cases are in various stages of completion and the department has already paid OPM’s National Background Investigation System to conduct those investigations.
“The enormity of the backlog is staggering,” Reid told members of Congress last month.
The backlog hurts readiness, erodes warfighting capacity, debilitates development of new capabilities, and wastes taxpayer dollars, he explained to the House Oversight and Government’s Subcommittee on Government Operations.
He said 93,000 DoD cases were waiting in a queue for a top secret investigation, and the prices for the investigations continue to rise at a “staggering rate.”
“In 2015, after promising to provide credit monitoring to 22 million government employees and federal contractors whose personal data was compromised, OPM retroactively passed on these costs on to its customers — resulting in an additional $132 million bill for DoD,” he said.
Reid said the situation is “unacceptable and must be remedied through immediate mitigation measures and a long-term reformation of the personnel vetting system.”
He said that is why Congress directed DoD in 2017 to develop plans for assuming control of the background investigations.
In August, the defense secretary approved the plan and notified Congress, the director of national intelligence, the director of OPM, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget of his intent to execute the plan over a three-year period, according to Reid.
“The DoD plan goes far beyond a transfer of personnel and resources associated with the legacy process at OPM; this will be a full resetting of process and procedures in desperate need of modernization and system reform,” he said.
The top US general in Europe told Congress March 5, 2019, that he needs a lot more firepower to counter the threat from Russia.
“I am not comfortable yet with the deterrent posture that we have in Europe,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, Stars and Stripes reported.
“While the US maintains a global military superiority over Russia, evolving Russian capabilities threaten to erode our competitive military advantage,” he explained. He told lawmakers there continue to be shortfalls across all warfighting domains.
He requested more troops and warships, as well as more cyber assets and more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets to confront Russia, which boldly seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and is rapidly modernizing its armed forces to “erode” the US military’s advantage.
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe.
“In light of Russia’s modernizing and increasingly aggressive force posture,” the general explained, “EUCOM recommends augmenting our assigned and rotational forces to enhance our deterrence posture.” He added that he has requested the addition of two more US Navy destroyers to bolster strength of the four ballistic-missile defense capable ships already stationed in Spain.
“I’ve asked for two more destroyers for EUCOM,” he said, according to CNN. “We need greater capacity particularly given the modernization and growth of the … Russian fleets in Europe.” He said that he would like to see carrier and amphibious strike groups rotating through Europe more frequently.
He also encouraged regular naval activities in the Black Sea. “They frankly don’t like us in the Black Sea,” the general said. “It’s international waters and we should sail and fly there.” As is, the US routinely sends destroyers into the waterway, where they are shadowed by Russian vessels.
Russia is in the process of bolstering the strength of its forces on NATO’s doorstep, adding new tank and missile units to its Baltic forces.
Russia argues that its actions are a direct response to NATO’s military build-up. “We are forced to provide an adequate response, carrying out strategic containment events with the plans of stepping up combat capabilities of military formations and units,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently told Russian state media.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argued for greater deterrence capabilities March 5, 2019, according to Stars and Stripes, stating that any “perceived weakness will only provoke further aggression from Putin.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A U.S. Marine was killed in a freak accident on August 4 after a tree fell on him during physical training at his California base.
Lance Cpl. Cody Haley, 20, was working out in a wooded area at Camp Pendleton with members of his unit when the incident took place. While on a run, the Marines tried to move a log they were unaware was holding up a dead tree, which fell on top of Haley and killed him, according to a source familiar with the matter.
A native of Hardin, Iowa, Haley had deployed in 2016 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He was awarded the National Defense Service medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service medal, and the Sea Service Deployment ribbon, the Marine Corps said.
“We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of a member of the Marine Corps family, and we will do all we can to comfort the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased,” the Corps said in a news release to the Marine Times.
A Marine veteran crawled across the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2019, after his legs gave out late in the race.
Micah Herndon, of Tallmadge, Ohio, persisted because he was running in honor of three friends who died in an IED attack in Afghanistan.
“The pain that I was going through is nothing compared to the pain that they went through,” Herndon told CBS Boston.
On Jan. 9, 2010, Herndon was riding in a vehicle with fellow Marines Matthew Ballard, Mark Juarez and British journalist Rupert Hamer when they struck a 400-pound IED, Herndon told the Washington Post.
Marine Veteran Crawls Across Boston Marathon Finish Line
Herndon had hoped to finish the race in under three hours, in order to qualify for the New York City Marathon in November. He was on pace to make that goal for most of the race, but his legs started to give out when he hit Heartbreak Hill, an incline near the 20-mile marker, according to The Post.
He started feeling discomfort in his Achilles’ tendon that eventually caused his legs to give out entirely, leading him to finish the race on hands and knees.
Video shows volunteers clearing space for Herndon to he could crawl across the finish line. He was then put in a wheelchair and taken to get medical attention.
While he is still recovering from the race in Boston, he told The Post that he plans to get back to running as soon as possible, calling it his “therapy.”
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
US Army weapon officials just opened a competition for a new 7.62mm Interim Service Combat Rifle to arm infantry units with a weapon potent enough to penetrate enemy body armor.
“The Army has identified a potential gap in the capability of ground forces and infantry to penetrate body armor using existing ammunition. To address this operational need, the Army is looking for an Interim Combat Service Rifle that is capable of defeating emerging threats,” according to an August 4 solicitation posted on FedBizOpps.gov.
The service plans to initially award up to eight contracts, procuring seven types of weapons from each gun-maker for test and evaluation purposes. Once the review is concluded, the service “may award a single follow-on Federal Acquisition Regulation based contract for the production of up to 50,000 weapons,” the solicitation states.
“The Government has a requirement to acquire a commercial 7.62mm ICSR to field with the M80A1 Enhanced Performance Round to engage and defeat protected and unprotected threats,” the solicitation states. “The ultimate objective of the program is to acquire and field a 7.62mm ICSR that will increase soldier lethality.”
The opening of the competition comes just over two months after Army’s Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley revealed to Congress that the M4 Carbine’s M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round cannot penetrate modern enemy body armor plates similar to the US military-issue rifle plates such as the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI.
This past spring, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn released a directed requirement for a new 7.62mm rifle designed for combat units, prompting Army weapons officials to write a formal requirement.
The presence of a 7.62mm rifle in Army infantry squads is nothing new. Since 2009, the Army’s squad designated marksman rifle has been the Enhanced Battle Rifle, or EBR, 14 — a modernized M14 equipped with a Sage International adjustable aluminum stock with pistol grip, a Leupold 3.5×10 power scope and Harris bipod legs.
The Army adopted the EBR concept, first used in 2004 by Navy SEALs, in response to the growing need of infantry squads operating in Afghanistan to engage enemy fighters at longer ranges.
The EBR is heavy, just under 15 pounds unloaded, compared with the standard M14’s unloaded weight of 9 pounds.
The Army’s Interim Combat Service Rifle should have either 16-inch or 20-inch barrels, a collapsible buttstock, an extended forward rail, and weigh less than 12 pounds unloaded and without an optic, according to a May 31 Army request for information.
Multiple proposals may be submitted by the same organization; however, each proposal must consist of the weapons, proposal, and System Safety Assessment Report. All proposals are due by 3pm EST Wednesday Sept. 6, 2017, the solicitation states.
In addition to the weapons, gun-makers will also be evaluated on production capability and proposed price, according to the solicitation.
All weapons should include items such as a suppressor, cleaning, specialized tools, and enough magazines to support the basic load of 210 rounds.
The competition will consist of live-fire testing and evaluate the following:
Dispersion (300m – function, 600m – simulation)
Compatible with family of weapon sights – individual and laser
Weapon length (folder or collapsed)/ weight (empty/bare) / velocity (300m and 600m calculated)
Semi-automatic and fully automatic function testing (bursts and full auto)
Noise (at shooter’s ear) / flash suppression
Ambidextrous controls (in darkness or adverse conditions) / rail interface
20-30 round magazine to support a 210 round combat load
“Areas to be evaluated could include, but not be limited to: Controllability and Recoil, Trigger, Ease/Speed of Magazine Changes, Sighting System Interface (e.g., ability to acquire and maintain sight picture), and Usability of Controls (e.g., safety),” the solicitation states.
“Additionally, a small, limited user evaluation may be conducted with qualified soldiers,” it states.
Milley told lawmakers in late May that the Army does not believe that every soldier needs a 7.62mm rifle. These weapons would be reserved for the Army’s most rapid-deployable infantry units.
“We would probably want to field them with a better-grade weapon that can penetrate this body armor,” Milley said.
The Dec. 13 crash of a MV-22B Osprey off the coast of Okinawa is the eighth involving this plane – and the fourth since the plane was introduced into service in 2007. Over its lengthy RD process and its operational career, 39 people have been killed in accidents involving the V-22 Osprey.
Sounds bad, right?
Well, the Osprey is not the first revolutionary aircraft to have high-profile crashes. The top American ace of World War II, Richard Bong, was killed while carrying out a test flight of a Lockheed YP-80, America’s first operational jet fighter.
The top American ace of the Korean War, Joseph McConnell, died when the F-86H he was flying crashed.
That said, the V-22 came close to cancellation numerous times during the 1990s, and killing it was a priority of then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. He failed, and the United States got a game-changing aircraft.
It should be noted that most of the 39 fatalities happened during the RD phase of the Osprey program.
The July 2000 crash was the worst, with 19 Marines killed when the V-22 they were on crashed during a simulated night assault mission. According to an article in the September 2004 issue of Proceedings, the Osprey involved crashed due to a phenomenon known as “vortex ring state.”
The December 2000 Osprey crash that killed all four on board had a more mundane cause. The plane suffered a failure in its hydraulic system, causing the tiltrotor to start an uncontrolled descent.
Wired.com reported in 2005 that a software glitch caused the plane to reset on each of the eight occasions that the crew tried to reset the Primary Flight Control System. The Osprey’s 1,600-foot fall ended in a forest.
Since entering service in July 2007, the Osprey’s track record has been much stronger.
Counting the most recent crash, there have been four Osprey accidents in the nine years and four months the V-22 has been operational. Two of those crashes, one in April 2010 that involved a special operations CV-22 in Afghanistan and an MV-22 in Morocco that crashed in April 2012, killed six personnel.
The crashes in December 2012 and the one earlier this week, resulted in no fatalities.
Three other personnel died in accidents: A Marine died in October 2014 when a life preserver failed, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. In May 2015, a fire after an Osprey “went down” killed two Marines per an Associated Press report.
Despite the recent incidents, the V-22 has been remarkably safe, particularly in combat.
None have been lost to enemy fire, a distinction that many helicopters cannot boast. The CH-53 series of helicopters, saw over 200 personnel killed in crashes by the time of a 1990 Los Angeles Times report, which came 15 years before a January 2005 crash that killed 31 personnel.
The BBC reported at the time that the helicopter was on a mission near Rutbah, Iraq.
Everyone remembers their oath of enlistment ceremony, but how many people can say theirs was truly out of this world? Tomorrow, over 800 soldiers participating in a ceremony spanning more than 100 locations around the country will be able to say theirs was. What makes this ceremony so special? It’s being administered by Army astronaut Col. Andrew Morgan from the International Space Station.
“This is an incredible opportunity for us to partner with Space Center Houston to recognize future Soldiers across the nation with a truly unique experience,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, USAREC deputy commanding general in a press release. Michaelis will facilitate the ceremony and question-and-answer session with Morgan. “This is the first event of its kind and will allow us to show the nation the breadth and depth of opportunities the Army offers today’s youth.”
According to USAREC, Morgan is part of the U.S. Army Astronaut Detachment, which supports NASA with flight crew and provides engineering expertise for human interface with space systems. He is an emergency physician in the U.S. Army with sub-specialty certification in primary care sports medicine and was selected to become an astronaut in 2013.
Morgan is also a combat veteran with airborne and ranger tabs and also has served as a combat diver. He’s clearly conquered land and sea, and now space. He’s completed seven spacewalks and one flight to the International Space Station. In addition to the enlistment ceremony, he’ll be sharing his stories and experiences with program attendees on a 20 minute live call from outer space.
Michaelis said, “We need qualified and innovative people to help us continuously adapt to the changing world. The young men and women who will begin their Army story with the incredible experience with Col. Morgan are part of our future. They will perform the traditional jobs most people associate with the Army, like infantry and armor, but they will also take on roles many people don’t realize we do – highly technical and specialized careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
The oath of enlistment ceremony and question-and-answer session with Morgan will stream live on NASA TV, DVIDS, and U.S. Army Facebook and YouTube pages beginning at 12:50 pm eastern time. We’re over the moon about this event.
October 2019, US President Donald Trump made the abrupt decision to pull the remaining US troops out of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria.
The move sent the fragmented country into a spiral, disrupting one of its few areas of stability. By withdrawing support from Kurdish forces in the area — which had helped the US combat ISIS — Trump opened them up to an oncoming offensive by Turkey.
Justifying the decision. Trump argued that US forces in the region had already “defeated” ISIS, and that therefore there was no need for them to stay in Syria.
This was, at best, only partly true.
While US-allied forces this year deprived ISIS of the territory it once controlled, the group still has as many as 18,000 fighters quietly stationed across Iraq and Syria, according to The New York Times.
Additionally, Kurdish-led fighters, known as The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had maintained control of tens of thousands of former ISIS members and their families, including about 70,000 women and children in a compound in the Syrian city of al-Hol, according to the Atlantic. Of those detainees, 11,000 of them are foreign nationals, according to the BBC.
The SDF has said it is holding more than 12,000 men suspected of being ISIS fighters across seven prisons it operates, estimating that more than 4,000 of those prisoners are foreign nationals, the BBC said.
The fate of those prisoners remains uncertain, particularly in the wake of the US pullout.
Turkey has taken over parts of Syria, and with it, ISIS prisoners
On Oct. 22, 2019, Russia and Turkey took advantage of the power vacuum that had been created and signed an agreement to expand their control in Syria and minimize Kurdish territory.
As part of the deal, Russian military police and Syrian border guards entered the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border, pushing Kurdish forces back to 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border.
Turkey says it will use the reclaimed area to create a “buffer zone” along its border and will use the land to resettle more than 1 million Syrian refugees displaced by the war.
But as Turkey gains land in Syria, it has also taken on the task of figuring out what to do with former Islamic State detainees, many of whom are now under its control. Turkey has faced criticism in the past for its porous border, which allowed foreign fighters to enter Syria and join the Islamic State to begin with.
But Turkey doesn’t want to deal with them, and neither does the rest of the world
According to a 2016 report by the World Bank, foreign ISIS fighters have been recruited from “all continents across the globe,” though it named Russia, France, and Germany as the top Western suppliers of ISIS’ foreign workforce.
Data from the Institute for the Study of War also indicated that significant portions of foreign fighters also came from European countries like the UK, Belgium, and France between December 2015 and March 2016.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that about 1,200 foreign ISIS fighters were in Turkish prisons, and warned that Turkey would not become “a hotel” for militants.
On Nov. 11, 2019, Turkey began deporting foreign nationals said to be linked to ISIS back to their home countries.
One of those foreign nationals was from the US, a spokesperson for Turkey’s interior minister said, though according to the BBC the man remained stranded at the Greek border after choosing not to return to the US. On Thursday morning, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said that the man would be brought to the US.
Turkey’s interior minister added the country was planning to deport “several more terrorists back to Germany” this week, and that legal proceedings against two Irish nationals and 11 French citizens captured in Syria were underway. A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that three men, five women and two children were being returned to Germany this week.
But many of those countries have not put a concrete policy in place for what to do with ISIS foreign fighters or their families that remain in displacement camps in Syria, or have refused to allow them to return.
Trump said in his statement in October 2019 that he discussed the issue of repatriating foreign fighters with France, Germany, and other European nations but they “did not want them and refused.”
Foreign nationals abroad are traditionally entitled to consular services abroad, though many European nations have been cautious about offering help to citizens who joined ISIS on national security grounds. Under international law, it is illegal to strip people of their citizenship if it will leave them stateless.
There are concerns that ISIS may take advantage of the uncertainty to regroup
But the UN has stood firm on pushing countries to take responsibility for their citizens.
“It must be clear that all individuals who are suspected of crimes — whatever their country of origin, and whatever the nature of the crime — should face investigation and prosecution, with due process guarantees,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in June 2019.
“Foreign family members should be repatriated, unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes in accordance with international standards,” she added.
The UK is currently debating what to do about those who left the country to join ISIS. In February 2019, it stripped British-born Shamima Begum, who traveled to Syria to become an ISIS bride at the age of 15, of her citizenship, citing national security risks. Begum has appealed the decision, and the UK government is said to be considering options for repatriating British members of ISIS held in prison camps in Syria.
As the West works through the complicated process of absorbing foreign fighters, Islamic State militants in Syria appear to be taking advantage of the chaos.
Last month, the SDF said ISIS fighters committed three suicide bombings on its positions in Raqqa as Kurdish fighters moved from their posts to respond to Turkish assault. And SDF General Mazloum Kobani has warned on Nov. 13, 2019 that the West should “expect” major attacks from Islamic State fighters who may be looking to capitalize on the chaos in order to regroup.
“The danger of the resurgence of ISIS is very big. And it’s a serious danger,” he told Sky News.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Marine Corps and Raytheon are developing a new precision-guided 120mm explosive mortar round so that forward deployed forces can more effectively target and destroy enemies from farther distances than existing mortars.
The weapon is designed to shoot up into the air in a vertical trajectory before identifying, tracking and exploding and enemy target upon decent to the ground. The vertical landing allows the weapon to achieve great precision, Raytheon officials said.
Called the Precision Extended Range Munition, or PERM, the program is test firing a GPS-guided mortar round able to extend the range of today’s mortar weapons from about seven kilometers to about 16 kilometers, Paul Daniels, Raytheon Program Manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“This doubles their range and gives them precision,” Daniels added.
The extended range could provide a key tactical advantage because 16 kilometers stand-off distance from the enemy could enable Marines to destroy enemy positions without themselves being vulnerable to incoming fire.
Raytheon was recently awarded a qualification and production contract by the Marine Corps, which plans to use the new weapon as part of its emerging Expeditionary Fire Support System, or EFSS.
This system is put together to allow forward-deployed Marines to quickly maneuver into enemy territory with precision firepower and mobility. EFSS can deploy on board an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter or travel from ship-to-shore as part of an amphibious operation, among other things. The new weapon will serve as part of the Corps’ fires triad which includes 155mm artillery rounds, 120mm mortars and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS.
PERM can fill what’s called a needed “capability gap,” because there may be some targets that are not suitable for larger 155mm artillery rounds and are better attacked by 120mm mortars.
Precision mortar fire could bring tactical advantages for Marines in combat, particularly in condensed urban areas or mountainous terrain where elevation might separate attacking forces from the enemy.
“Mortars are particularly useful. They have a very high angle and rate of fire. They can fire almost straight up,” Daniels said.
For instance, the precision targeting technology integrated into PERM could allow forces to attack enemy positions in urban areas without risking damage to nearby civilians; this kind of attack would not be possible with today’s unguided 120mm mortar rounds.
“It will be ready within a couple of years,” Daniels said.
After a four-year legal battle, Matthew Bissonnette, a former member of the elite SEAL Team 6 who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has agreed to forfeit to the Justice Department all of the proceeds from “No Easy Day,” his first-person account of the raid written under the pen name “Mark Owen.”
“I acted on the advice of my former attorney, but I now fully recognize that his advice was wrong,” Bissonnette wrote in a formal apology, as reported by NPR. “It was a serious error that I urge others not to repeat.”
“No Easy Day,” co-written by military journalist Kevin Maurer, was the first public account from someone who actually participated in the high-profile raid to kill the al Qaeda leader. That impact was enhanced by the fact that not only did it deal with the killing of the terrorist mastermind, but it was written by a member of SEAL Team 6, the one of the nation’s top special operations units whose methods and techniques are highly classified and seldom written about.
The book was a bestseller, and that as much as anything is what got the author in trouble with the Pentagon. Officials claimed that Bissonnette had violated a non-disclosure agreement he’d signed as a Navy commando and also failed to have the book’s manuscript reviewed by proper authorities before it was published.
“Ironically, Matt didn’t want the book to be about him,” co-author Maurer said in an exclusive interview with WATM. “He always intended for it to be a tribute to his teammates and one that would allow readers to truly understand what SEALs do. It was also supposed to be a nod to the CIA, helicopter pilots, and Rangers — all the elements of these sorts of missions.”
Maurer, who sat down with Bissonnette in Virginia Beach five days a week for a month recording the story before writing it out, said the former SEAL was focused on security.
“He was never cavalier about the details,” Maurer said. “We talked a lot about things we weren’t going to include. It was a conscious decision.”
After experiencing firsthand the hew and cry from veterans — as well as members of the special operations community displeased that one of their own had broken ranks by socializing their tactical world on a grand scale — Maurer said he understood the Justice Department ruling. But he added that “the real travesty is that the money [estimated at more that $6 million according to court documents, as reported by NPR] is now going to the government instead of veteran charities as Matt had always intended.”
Bissonnette’s current lawyer, Robert Luskin, hinted that his client had been made a scapegoat by government officials embarrassed by the information that has come out about the bin Laden raid and other operations in the wake of “No Easy Day” landing on shelves.
“The government has a right to keep its secrets and to enforce procedures that are designed to protect them from inadvertent disclosure,” Luskin said in a statement. “But it is shameful that — of all the people who leaked, talked, whispered and backgrounded about the mission — Matt Bissonnette, who risked his life to make it a success, is the only one to pay a price.”
“When you’re young, you have this sense of invincibility, ” says Stacy Pearsall. “You can hear the gunshots, but they can’t touch you.” Pearsall is a former Air Force Combat Photojournalist who spent much of her storied ten-year Air Force career assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron in Charleston South Carolina. Her awards include the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor. She is one of two women to win Military Photographer of the Year and the only woman to win it twice. She has an honorary doctoral degree from The Citadel and was declared a Champion of Change by the White House.
During her first Iraq deployment in 2003, then-23-year-old Pearsall documented everything from Blackhawk helicopter sorties to foot patrols with Army infantry units on the ground. This would be the cornerstone of an epic that would impact thousands of veterans from across the US and around the globe.
“Throughout my deployment I photographed a civil affairs mission to rebuild a bombed out school where Saddam’s wife once taught,” Pearsall reflects. “We targeted it during “shock and awe” because Ba’athists used it as a headquarters. When we were gearing up for the convoy, there was one open seat in the lead vehicle and one in the rear. My partner and I drew straws to see who would sit where. As we departed the school, an IED buried under piles of debris detonated near my vehicle, sending projectiles and dust everywhere. It was fortunate the bomb wasn’t bigger. Everyone walked away that day.”
She waited to seek medical attention until she returned to the Air Force’s Camp Sather. She’d seen far worse wounds and didn’t want to make a big deal about whiplash and some blood in her ears. She played down her injuries and continued to document missions nearly every day until the end of her deployment.
“Suffice to say I slammed a lot of vitamin M,” Pearsall recalls.
Like many blast traumas, it was the injuries she couldn’t see that followed her home from deployment. Once back home in Charleston, Pearsall was cooking dinner and suddenly fell over. Her world was off-kilter and she couldn’t stand upright. Doctors thought her injuries gave way to viruses so she underwent the treatment for that with little to no relief. Today, a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI) would’ve been more likely. For Pearsall, that diagnosis would not come for another five years.
“So I learned to deal with the vertigo and headaches,” Pearsall says. Despite the chronic headaches and neck pain, she continued her Air Force photojournalism career. Her work earned her Military Photographer of the Year (MPOY) in 2003, an annual award, open to all military personnel. During the judging, the panel referred to Stacy as ‘he‘. They did not do it years later, when she won for the second time.
While supporting Operation Enduring Freedom Horn of Africa, she teamed up with combat videographer Staff Sergeant Katie Robinson, an Air Force Reservist who would eventually become Pearsall’s battle buddy for life. The two worked to deploy together at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warhorse, near Baqubah, Iraq.
Despite a mud-floored CHU with a leaky roof and a critical satellite transmitter sitting in a pool of water, set out to prove they could hang with the soldiers at Warhorse.
“I was never faced with anything regarding my competency because I am a female,” Pearsall says. Initially, everyone was apprehensive because I was a photographer. I caught earfuls of inter-service rivalry for being Air Force but after our first firefight, word got around that I was worth having around. Instead of seeking them out, they started asking for our support.”
FOB Warhorse proved to be the right place for action. The Battle of Baqubah was the last major offensive of the Iraq War and would last seven months. Having freedom to do so, Pearsall and Robinson moved around the AOR documenting one key mission after another.
“I put those soldiers on a pedestal,” Pearsall reveals. “They are still today, my personal heroes to whom owe my life.”
Pearsall and Robinson were supposed to accompany Delta Company into Baqubah on a raid to take down a house harboring enemy fighters. At the last minute, they were transferred to an Iraqi Army operation in nearby Buhriz. As they prepared for their new assignment, they listened to their friends’ progress as the reports trickled in.
“As the breach team moved in, the house blew,” Pearsall remembers. “The Bradleys came back to the FOB and began unloading the injured. The soldiers were a mess. We looked for our friends, but couldn’t see them. Then the last Bradley dropped ramp and unloaded those who were killed in action. Blue Platoon lost three really great guys that day. The rest of their team had to soldier on. Katie and I did too. We still had to go out and meet the Iraqi Army for our next operation.”
The two were split up between two Iraqi Army companies, with the idea they’d link back up in a few days. That was the plan, anyway.
“They shot my fucking thumb off!” Robinson said the minute she was struck by a nearby sniper. The sniper was aiming for an officer sitting next to Robinson. The bullet went through her left forearm, through her video camera and exploded the battery, which partially amputated her right thumb.
“I laughed when I heard that,” Pearsall remembers. “That’s what made us so close. Our collective humor, our unwavering bond, our utmost respect for each other.” When given the opportunity to redeploy home and rehab back in the United States, Robinson refused. Instead, she opted to return to FOB Warhorse.
“For me, the rest of the deployment was intense, just like that,” Pearsall says. “So many good soldiers taken so quickly, so young. Photographing the rare moments between gunfights was my favorite thing to do. It was my sense of home, of humanity.”
Toward the end of her deployment, Pearsall further injured her neck during an operation. Robinson finally convinced her to see a doctor. An x-ray led to a CAT scan and more tests. Doctors concluded she needed surgery. For Pearsall, that was not an option. She wanted to leave Iraq on her own terms.
“Katie was strong. I wanted to remain strong too,” Pearsall says. I already lived with the pain for so long, one flight home wasn’t going to kill me. It was the one thing I could control in a situation that seemed out of my control.”
“My neck wouldn’t heal enough for me to stay in the military,” Pearsall explains. “It was devastating. They offered alternatives, like admin or finance. But after you’ve tasted combat, you can’t go back. If I couldn’t fight, what was I supposed to do? My career in the military was over.”
“One day, while waiting for an appointment at my VA hospital, a World War II veteran leaned over and asked if I was taking my grandfather to his doctor’s appointment. He seemed surprised to learn I was a veteran. He told me how he helped liberate a concentration camp during WWII and I realized that I judged him unfairly – just as everyone was doing to me. So I set about healing myself through the experiences of other veterans.”
Now her mission continues. First on her mind is a portrait project, photographing veterans from every conflict and preserving their stories their image for generations to come.
“I had the honor of photographing the last living pictures of soldiers on the battlefield,” she says. “And I wanted to continue that service to my fellow veterans.”
Her work and personal recovery, isn’t limited to her portrait project. There were some whose stories could no longer be told firsthand. In 2012, she published Shooter: Combat From Behind the Camera, a book of her Iraq War imagery.
“I couldn’t look at my photos without having an emotional response,” she says. “I wanted to put what happened on a page and shelve it, so I wouldn’t have to live that part of my life every day anymore. Shooter was my therapy. It was my way of honoring those who didn’t have a voice anymore, to share their experience with the world.”
Her second book, A Photojournalist’s Field Guide was published in 2013. Along with contributions from her heavy–hitter photojournalist friends, Pearsall created a guide to educate younger photographers. The book isn’t limited to photography tips. It includes insight on how to survive in austere conditions, cope with stress and maneuver through tough situations.
“I’m not the first woman to go into combat for the United States,” Pearsall explains. “There are a whole slew of women who fought for this country. Unfortunately, they’re not spoken much of in the history books.”
Not anymore. Pearsall’s project will ensure history won’t forget any veteran who fought for the U.S., regardless of gender.
Red Flag has become an icon of training exercises for pilots. No, it didn’t get the Hollywood-blockbuster treatment of Top Gun, but the main Operation Red Flag, located at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, has, arguably, become the premiere exercise in recent years.
The original idea behind Red Flag was simple: During the Vietnam War, the Air Force realized that many of the pilots they lost were downed in their first ten missions over enemy territory. So, they realized if they could simulate a war and give a pilot their first ten “missions” in peacetime, the loss rate would go down. As the low loss rates of Desert Storm, Allied Force, and the War on Terror have shown, the idea’s worked pretty well over the years.
Other countries have also taken up the idea. Israel runs a version of Red Flag, called Blue Flag, in which American units have taken part — and have had nothing but rave reviews to share afterward. The Dutch have their own version of this exercise as well.
According to Scramble Magazine, the Royal Netherlands Air Force is going to host Frisian Flag 2018. The magazine also noted that Dutch F-16 Fighting Falcons will fly alongside planes from five NATO allies: France, Germany, Spain, Poland, and the United States of America.
France is sending a mix of Mirage 2000D and Rafale multi-role fighters, Germany will send some Eurofighter Typhoons, Poland is sending MiG-29 Fulcrums and F-16C Fighting Falcons, Spain is sending F/A-18 Hornets, while the United States is sending F-15C/D Eagles from the Oregon Air National Guard. The exercise will take place in the middle of April, with privately owned, German A-4N Skyhawks (formerly of the Israeli Defense Forces) flying as the aggressors.
It sounds like this Flag could be very interesting — but we’re going to recommend the pilots stay away from a certain locally-legal product.