Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Top Republicans on Jan. 16, 2019, warned President Trump against embracing “retreat” in Syria after an ISIS-claimed attack killed two US soldiers and two other Americans, pointing to the deadly attack as yet another sign the president should back down on his plan to withdraw troops from the war-torn country.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key Trump ally who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested Trump’s Syria pullout had bolstered ISIS’ resolve.


“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” Graham said in impromptu remarks as he chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Graham made it clear he hopes Trump will take a careful look at his policy toward Syria following Jan. 16, 2019’s attack.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“You make people we’re trying to help wonder about us. As they get bolder, the people we’re trying to help become more uncertain. I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Graham said in an apparent reference to the rise of ISIS in the years that followed the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011.

Graham said he understood people’s frustrations at the ongoing presence of US troops in Syria, and that “every American” wants them to “come home.” But he suggested that keeping troops in Syria is a matter of ensuring America’s safety.

“We’re never going to be safe here unless we’re willing to help people over there who will stand against this radical ideology,” Graham said.

“To those who lost their lives today in Syria, you were defending America, in my view,” the South Carolina senator added. “To those in Syria who are trying to work together, you’re providing the best and only hope to your country. I hope the president will look long and hard about what we’re doing in Syria.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Graham’s sentiments.

“[ISIS] has claimed credit for killing American troops in [Syria] today,” Rubio tweeted on Jan. 16, 2019. “If true, it is a tragic reminder that ISIS not been defeated and is transforming into a dangerous insurgency. This is no time to retreat from the fight against ISIS. Will only embolden strengthen them.”

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a US Air Force veterean who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, also warned of the dangers of “retreating” in Syria.

“Retreating from a fight against ISIS is only gonna send the wrong message and frankly, pour fuel on the recruiting efforts of ISIS,” Kinzinger told CNN on Jan. 16, 2019.

The deaths of the four Americans were a result of an explosion in Manbij, Syria. Three other troops were also injured in the incident.

“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time,” Operation Inherent Resolve tweeted Jan. 16, 2019.

In a statement on the incident that made no mention of ISIS, the White House on Jan. 16, 2019 said, “Our deepest sympathies and love go out to the families of the brave American heroes who were killed today in Syria. We also pray for the soldiers who were wounded in the attack. Our service members and their families have all sacrificed so much for our country.”

Jan. 16, 2019’s lethal attack came exactly four weeks after Trump tweeted, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria.” This came as Trump abruptly announced a plan to withdraw the roughly 2,000 troops stationed in Syria, prompting alarm in Washington due to the ongoing, well-documented presence of ISIS in the region.

In the days that followed, Trump flip-flopped on his claim ISIS is defeated as he scrambled to justify the controversial, hasty plan.

The president has faced criticism from the military and politicians on both sides of the aisle over the pullout and the opacity surrounding it. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned a day after Trump made the announcement. Mattis had disagreed with Trump on an array of issues, but the Syria pullout seemed to be the final straw.

The White House has offered little in the way of specifics about the pullout which has led to confusion in the Pentagon and beyond. No US troops have been pulled out of Syria yet, but the military has started withdrawing equipment.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Mountain fighting was hell for Italy’s elite WWI shock troops

World War I’s western front stretched from the English Channel to the Adriatic Sea and passed through the Italian Alps. The soldiers there were miserable and the conflict was characterized by long, bloody deadlock.

Life for soldiers of the Italian Army was no different. They were poorly equipped and trained, which was even worse horrible when combined with the incompetence of many high-ranking officers. This lack of leadership and equipment is a key reason Austro-Hungarian troops were able to invade the northeast part of Italy.


Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Soldiers on WWI’s Italian front fought enemies, frostbite, and avalanches.

In 1915, a sudden breakthrough came for the Italians in the form of a special operations unit. Some Italian officers and enlisted men volunteered to go behind enemy lines to gather information and create confusion among their enemies. These volunteers took the name of “Esploratori Arditi” – or “hardy explorers.”

These men were noted for their bravery and initiative and, by the end of the year, the first companies of Arditi were ready for action. Many of their fellow soldiers called them “Companies of the Death” because of the high number of casualties they both suffered and inflicted.

The Arditi led several attacks into the enemy trenches, quite often armed only with grenades and knives. One of their actions is described in the official records relative to the Silver Medal of Honor granted to Capt. Cristoforo Baseggio.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Arditi were issued unique equipment, like this diamond visor.

In 1916, Baseggio led an isolated column of 1500 men — about 200 Arditi and the rest mountain troopers. He ordered an attack on two enemy strongholds at Saint Osvaldo, one at an elevation of 1100 meters and the second at 1440. Even though it was April, there was still snow on the mountains. Soldiers climbed their way up, sliding and falling along the way. Their hands were covered in cuts etched in by frozen crags. Donkeys followed behind, pulling the artillery pieces.

Once they arrived, the soldiers spent the night digging trenches and foxholes. Between 5am and 9am, the Beech trees that hid the Austrians became a hell of flames and metal.

Two companies of mountain troops were sent to the right and to the left sides of the Austrian trenches. The Arditi were ready to attack the center just as soon as artillery blew away the barbed wires. They engaged the enemy in furious hand-to-hand combat, forcing the defenders to fall back, inward to the second line of trenches that encircled the mountain like a crown.

From their higher position, the Austrians managed to trap the Italians in the very trenches they conquered. The first two companies sent by Capt. Baseggio should have joined the action, attacking the enemy from the sides, but never showed up. The captain decided to go look for them himself. He ran through the snow, dodging bullets and hopping over corpses.

Soon, he found the two companies of Arditi pinned down by enemy fire. By all practical measures, his pincer maneuver had failed, so he decided to return to the central section with more of his men. While the reinforcements couldn’t get close enough to the Arditi, the sight of their captain gave the the Hardy Explorers strength enough to push forward again and recapture the trench

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Fighting on the Italian Front was particularly brutal.

The two Austrian companies on higher up the hill managed to hold the attackers for a time, but without reinforcements, they were not able to hold it for very long. As was typical of World War I, the Italians gained and lost the trench several times — each advance cost them dearly. On a third attack, the Italians reached the second trench, fighting over piles of corpses made up of troops of both armies. From the nearby high ground, an Italian Lieutenant could see the battle. He wrote,

“The fight on the other side of the valley intensifies more and more, it will soon involve me and my men. I’m separated from my comrades by four hours of rough march. It has been 36 hours that we have not eaten, but we will join our brothers in arms.”

The shocking thunders of artillery were interspersed with moments of silence, during which the men fought each other with knives and bayonets. A mountain trooper named Turin used all of his grenades to clean a trench in the highest position. Then, he jumped in to find an Austrian who had stood his ground in face of the bombardment. Turin’s rifle jammed and the Austrian managed to rip off part of the Italian trooper’s skull.

His comrades arrived and killed the Austrian. Turin wanted to continue the attack, even with his face covered by a horrible mask of blood. He couldn’t stand properly because of the shock. Only the resolute order of his superior convinced him to retreat — but not before cursing the now-dead Austrian one last time.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Arditi became known for their knife-fighting skills.

Forced to step back, the Italians retreated downhill once more, the last of them was a Lt. Rabaioli, who ran back smiling — holding six rifles stolen from the enemy.

After two days of battle and with the reinforcements of Lt. Bongiovanni, Capt. Baseggio took the first of the two strongholds — and went immediately on to recon the second, which was defended by an Austrian battalion. He spent the entire next day attacking this position, using his advantage of artillery in higher position to rain hell on the enemy.

By the end of the day, only a quarter of his company of Arditi — about 50 men — were still able to fight. Exhausted, he gathered and aligned the remaining Arditi in the open and inspected the weapons. Then, they all started marching in a parade in front of the enemy, who, astonished, ceased the fire and abandoned the position.

Articles

How China could potentially stop a US strike on North Korea — without starting World War III

After North Korea tested a salvo of ballistic missiles designed to defeat US and allied missile defenses in the Pacific, speculation has risen about a possible US decapitation strike on North Korea.


With the help of Stratfor‘s Sim Tack, Business Insider detailed how such a strike would likely play out, but in the interest of keeping the article focused, we omitted a major player — China.

Here’s how China would respond if the US were to attack the Hermit Kingdom.

China has interests in preserving the North Korean state, but not enough to start World War III over.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
DoD photo

China may not endorse North Korea’s nuclear threats towards the US, South Korea, and Japan, or its abysmal human rights practices, but Beijing does have a vested interest in preventing reunification on the Korean peninsula.

Related: China’s J-20 stealth fighter enters military service

Still, China’s proximity to North Korea means that the US would likely alert Chinese forces of an attack — whether they gave 30 minutes or 30 days notice, the Chinese response would likely be to preclude — not thwart — such an attack.

China sees a united Korea as a potential threat.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
U.S. Soldiers move a casualty toward a designated casualty collection point (CCP) with their Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Soldier counterparts during a platoon live fire training blank iteration on Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, near the DMZ, Republic of Korea. | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock

“A united Korea is potentially very powerful, country right on China’s border,” with a functioning democracy, booming tech sector, and a Western bent, which represents “a problem they’d rather not deal with,” according to Tack.

The US has more than 25,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, but no US asset has crossed the 38th parallel in decades. China would like to keep it that way.

And without North Korea, China would find itself exposed.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
A Korean Ship sails in formation during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006, the world’s largest biennial maritime exercise. RIMPAC brings together military forces from Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rebecca J. Moat

For China, the North Korean state acts as a “physical buffer against US allies and forces,” said Tack.

If the US could base forces in North Korea, they’d be right on China’s border, and thereby better situated to contain China as it continues to rise as a world power.

Tack said that China would “definitely react to and try to prevent” US action that could lead to a reunified Korea, but the idea that Chinese ground forces would flood into North Korea and fight against the West is “not particularly likely at all.”

Overtly backing North Korea against the West would be political suicide for China.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
Kim Jong-Un on the summit of Mt. Paektu. Photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 19, 2015

For China to come to the aide of the Kim regime — an international pariah with concentration camps and ambitions to nuke the US — just to protect a buffer state “would literally mean that China would engage in a third world war,” said Tack.

So while China would certainly try to mitigate the fall of North Korea, it’s extremely unlikely they’d do so with direct force against the West, like it did in the Korean War.

Any response from China would likely start with diplomacy.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. | KCNA/Handout

Currently, the US has an aircraft carrier, nuclear submarines, F-22s, and F-35s in the Pacific. Many of the US’s biggest guns shipped out to the Pacific for Foal Eagle, the annual military exercise between the US and South Korea.

But according to Tack, the real deliberations on North Korea’s fate aren’t going on between military planners, but between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Chinese diplomats he’ll be meeting with.

Even after decades of failed diplomacy, there’s still hope for a non-military solution.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
A North Korean propaganda poster depicting a missile firing at the United States. | Via Flickr.

“There’s still a lot of diplomatic means to use up before the US has no other options but to go with a military option,” said Tack. “But even if they decide the military option is going to be the way to go — it’s still going to be costly. It’s not something that you would take lightly.”

While no side in a potential conflict would resort to using force without exhausting all diplomatic avenues, each side has a plan to move first.

According to Tack, if China thought the US was going to move against North Korea, they’d try to use force to pressure Pyongyang to negotiate, lest they be forced to deal with the consequences of a Western-imposed order in what would eventually be a reunified Korea.

“China could bring forces into North Korea to act as a tripwire,” said Tack.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
Soldiers with the People’s Liberation Army at Shenyang training base in China, March 24, 2007. | 
DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force.

“The overt presence of Chinese forces would dissuade the US from going into that territory because they would run the risk of inviting that larger conflict themselves.”

For the same reason that the US stations troops in South Korea, or Poland, China may look to put some of its forces on the line to stop the US from striking.

Related: Chinese troops are reportedly patrolling in Afghanistan

With Chinese soldiers in Pyongyang and around North Korea’s main nuclear infrastructure, the US would have to think long and hard about bombing these critical targets.

It’s pretty likely that China would try to force the “infallible” ruler’s hand.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Even China, a country often indifferent to international opinion that has strict prohibitions on free speech internally, wouldn’t want to stand up and back the murderous Kim regime.

Chinese forces in North Korea would “be in a position to force a coup or force Kim’s hand” to disarm, said Tack.

“To make sure North Korea still exists and serves Chinese interests while it stops acting as a massive bullseye to the US,” he added.

That would be an ideal result for China, and would most certainly preclude a direct US strike.

But even if China does potentially save the day, it could still be perceived as the bad guy.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
President Donald J. Trump speaks with Sailors in the hangar bay aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Joshua Sheppard

Chinese leaders wants to avoid a strong, US-aligned Korea on its borders. They want to prevent a massive refugee outflow from a crushed North Korean state. And they want to defuse the Korean peninsula’s nuclear tensions — but in doing so, they’d expose an ugly truth.

US President Donald Trump has accused China of refusing to help with North Korea.

If China unilaterally denuclearized North Korea to head off a US strike, this would only vindicate that claim, and raise questions as to why China allowed North Korea to develop and export dangerous technologies and commit heinous human rights abuses.

So what happens in the end?

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
Chinese and US sailors observe a gun exercise aboard the Chinese Navy frigate Hengshui during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo: Chinese Navy Lt. Cmdr. Zeng Xingjian)

For China, it’s “not even about saving” the approximately 25 million living under a brutal dictatorship in North Korea, but rather maintaining its buffer state, according to Tack.

China would likely seek to install an alternative government to the Kim regime but one that still opposes the West and does not cooperate with the US.

According to Tack, China needs a North Korean state that says “we oppose Western interests and we own this plot of land.”

If China doesn’t exert its influence soon, it may be too late.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 heroes who earned a Medal of Honor in Hue City

At the end of January in 1968, the Viet Cong launched an offensive that turned the tide of the Vietnam War.

The Tet Offensive began on January 30 as the North Vietnamese occupied the city of Hue. US Marines spent nearly a month fighting a brutal urban battle to retake the city — which was 80% destroyed by the battle’s end, according to H.D.S. Greenway, a photographer embedded with the Marines during the war.

An estimated 1,800 Americans lost their lives during the battle.


But in the midst of the chaos, five men who faced harrowing circumstances risked their lives to save those of their comrades — and earned the nation’s highest award for courage in combat, the Medal of Honor.

During one of the ceremonies honoring these heroes, President Richard Nixon remarked on the incredible risks they took.

“They are men who faced death, and instead of losing courage they gave courage to the men around them,” he said.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense inducts U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) John L. Canley into the Hall of Heroes during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 2018, after being awarded the Medal of Honor by the President.

(DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley received his award over 50 years after carrying wounded Marines to safety.

Gunnery Sgt. John Canley, suffering from shrapnel wounds, led his men in the destruction of enemy-occupied buildings in Hue City.

When his men were injured, he leapt over a wall in plain sight — twice — to carry them to safe positions.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor in October 2018, over 50 years after he risked his life for his men.

Read the award citation here.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Medal of Honor recipient Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ferguson shakes hands with President Richard Nixon after receiving his award in May 1969.

(Richard Nixon Library/YouTube)

Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ferguson flew his helicopter through a barrage of anti-aircraft fire to rescue wounded comrades.

Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Ferguson ignored numerous calls to avoid the airspace surrounding Hue City during the early days of the battle.

He flew his helicopter through enemy fire, guiding the damaged aircraft so he could rescue wounded comrades and fly them back to safety.

His bravery saved the lives of five wounded soldiers.

Read the award citation here.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

A photo shows Sgt. Alfredo Gonzalez with Gunnery Sgt. John Canley during the Vietnam War. Both have earned the Medal of Honor for actions taken during the brutal Battle of Hue City.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tessa Watts)

Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez

Sgt. Gonzalez and his unit were among the first to deploy into the Viet Cong-occupied Hue City.

Through five days of fighting, Gonzalez repeatedly exposed himself to direct enemy fire, leading his men despite his personal wounds.

Although he died during the battle, his actions ensured his comrades’ survival.

Read the award citation here.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Medal of Honor recipient Joe Hooper listens as his citation is read during the award ceremony in March 1969.

(National Archives/YouTube)

Sergeant Joe Hooper is described as the most decorated soldier of the Vietnam War.

Sgt. Hooper earned the Medal of Honor on the same day as company mate Staff Sgt. Sims.

Hooper suffered extraordinary wounds as he fought during the Battle of Hue City, during which he destroyed numerous enemy bunkers and raced across open fields under intense fire to save a wounded comrade.

Read his full award citation here.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Mary Sims accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of her husband, Staff Sergeant Clifford Sims, who died during the Battle of Hue City.

(National Archives)

Staff Sergeant Clifford Sims, once an orphan, flung himself on top of an explosive device to save his platoon.

During an intense search-and-rescue mission, Staff Sgt. Sims heard the click of a booby trap as his platoon approached a bunker.

Shouting for his team to stay back, Sims jumped on top of the device to absorb the explosion.

Read the full award citation here.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY GAMING

Why this glitch in a popular video game is still being studied by biologists

Most experiments in which biologists — or, more accurately, epidemiologists — study how a disease spreads are done theoretically, involving only a pen and paper. They do their best to simulate the spread of various contagions and study outbreaks of the past, but nobody would dare spread a disease simply to study it.

In 2005, however, they were given the perfect test conditions and subjects: World of Warcraft players.


World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game made by Blizzard Entertainment set in a fantasy realm called Azeroth. In September of 2005, a new “raid” encounter — an experience that required 20 players — opened up, called Zul’Gurub. This was, basically, an ancient city loosely based on Mayan culture that belonged to a savage tribe of Trolls.

When players finally fought the final boss, the Serpent God Hakkar, they would contract a temporary “debuff” (or weakness) called “Corrupted Blood” that would slowly drain their health before spreading to another player.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
(Blizzard Entertainment)

Once a player was infected, they’d have to wait out the sickness or die in the process. It wasn’t much more than a nuisance to high-level players, as they could simply heal themselves and continue fighting, hoping to pry an epic sword from the Serpent Lord’s cold corpse. But the in-game plague didn’t just affect players.

In the game, you play one of several different fantasy roles, including paladins, druids, rogues, and (most relevant to this scenario) hunters. Hunters specialized in taming beasts that would then fight in their name. If a hunter’s pet contracted Corrupted Blood, the player could “dismiss” their pet, making it effectively disappear. The next time that pet was called to help, however, it would still have the disease — and it would still spread to nearby characters.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
Just like what would happen with the swine flu, avian flu, and many others.
(Blizzard Entertainment)

Hunters of the world would (sometimes) inadvertently bring their infected pets back to large population hubs after completing the raid. There, they’d call forth their beast without realizing it was still infected. Then, the Corrupted Blood was transmitted to other players outside of the raid. This time, the infected players weren’t powerful heroes attempting to kill a god, but rather low-level noobies that would quickly die once affected by the plague, causing it to infect others.

This spread just like a real plague. Players, in search of safety, would evacuate large cities, bringing Corrupted Blood to outlying hamlets, just as with real plagues. Some players would knowingly infect themselves just to harass other players, akin to bio-terrorism.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
But this was less about spreading terror and more about having fun with your virtual enemies.
(Blizzard Entertainment)

It was fixed within a week and the game developers apologized for the bug (even though they intentionally recreated it a few years afterwards). But this was the perfect scenario that every epidemiologist dreams of recreating without risking their medical license.

Years after the virtual incident, many researchers published documents using information gathered from the digital plague. They tracked how animals that humans keep as pets might be the most prone to infecting others. They monitored how the disease spread through major population centers and how it traveled along pathways towards the outer reaches of the game. It even simulated surprisingly lifelike actions of bio-terrorists and how they can be dealt with.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
Contain and control is the key.
(Photo by Jerry Stillwagon)

All in all, it was a mild annoyance to the players but it gave the Center for Disease Control and many researchers a realistic and ethically-sound testing environment.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Air Force is preparing to fight in space ‘in a matter of years’

The Air Force already faces extensive operational obligations on Earth, but the service is shifting focus to prepare for what many see as the growing potential for conflict in space.


In a speech at the Air Force Association’s air-warfare symposium in Florida in late February 2018, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said it was, “time for us as a service, regardless of specialty badge, to embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today.”

It’s not the first time Air Force leadership has underscored the importance of space.

Also read: Classified US spy satellite is missing after SpaceX mission failure

Goldfein outlined the Air Force’s preparations for space operations in a February 2017 op-ed. In October 2017, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson emphasized the interests the US has in space and stressed the Air Force’s obligation to prepare for conflict there.

“We are the ones, since 1954, who are responsible for everything from 100 feet below the earth in missile silos all the way up to the stars,” she said at an event in Washington, DC. “We need to normalize space from a national-security perspective. We have to have all of our officers who are wearing blue uniforms more knowledgeable about space capabilities and how it connects to the other domains.”

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing supported NASA’s launch of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, April 18, 2017. (US Air Force)

US national-security officials have said space will become a venue for a range of state and non-state actors with the continued expansion of the space industry and increased availability of technology, private-sector investment, and proliferation of international partnerships for shared production and operations.

“All actors will increasingly have access to space-derived information services, such as imagery, weather, communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing for intelligence, military, scientific, or business purposes,” Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, said in a Worldwide Threat Assessment delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee early 2018.

Further reading: How the US is vulnerable to space-based attacks

“As if we don’t have enough threats here on Earth, we need to look to the heavens — threats in space,” Coats told the committee.

In his February 2018 speech, Goldfein said the question was not if, but when the US will be fighting outside Earth’s atmosphere.

“I believe we’re going to be fighting from space in a matter of years,” he said, according to Space News. “And we are the service that must lead joint warfighting in this new, contested domain. This is what the nation demands.”

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein prepare to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, June 6, 2017. (US Air Force/Scott M. Ash)

Goldfein has been a proponent of multi-domain operations, which draw on air, cyber, ground, sea, and space to provide a full picture of the battlefield. Fighting outside the earth’s atmosphere will require new training as well as investment in new technologies, he said.

“We must build a joint, smart space force and space-smart joint force,” he told the audience in Florida.

Related: This is what happens to your body if you die in space

Asked March 2018 about congressional concerns over the Air Force’s preparations for operations in space, Wilson outlined specific moves the force is making to ready itself.

“I think it’s harder for people to understand [space] because it’s not where we normally breathe and live, but for the Air Force it is an area of tremendous emphasis — just look at the budgets,” she said at the Heritage Foundation.

The fiscal year 2018 budget had a 20% increase in funding for space programs, Wilson said, and the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal — which requests $8.5 billion for space programs — added more than 7% on top of that.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
The Air Force launched the ninth Boeing-built Wideband Global SATCOM satellite on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, March 18, 2017. (US Air Force/United Launch Alliance)

“We have shifted to next-generation missile warning — so a rapid change there to cancel two planned satellites and shift to a defendable missile-warning architecture. Jam-resistant GPS, so GPS III, is in this budget,” Wilson said, referring to the next set of satellites needed to keep the global positioning system operational.

The “National Space Defense Center is now set up and established so that we have a common operating picture of what’s going on in space, because unless you known what’s going on you can’t defend it,” she added. “Our budget also includes simulators and war-gaming to train space operators to operate in a contested environment. So there is a lot in this budget.”

More: SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

In the next five years, the Air Force plans to put $44.3 billion toward space systems, according to Space News — about an 18% increase over the five-year plan submitted in 2017. The new total includes $31.5 billion for research and development and $12.8 billion for procurement.

“The top-line numbers, I think, tell a story,” Wilson said at the Heritage Foundation. “But I think when you get down into the programs, there’s a real recognition that space will be a contested domain and that we are developing the capability to deter and prevail should anyone seek to deny the United States operations in space.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here are the changes to the M16 since ‘Black Hawk Down’

About the time this issue hits the newsstands, the U.S. Special Operations community will likely be taking a look back at one of the most high-profile operations in their history: Operation Gothic Serpent, which included the infamous Battle of the Black Sea, made famous by the book-slash-movie Black Hawk Down. That mission, which took place in October of 1993, is officially 25 years old this fall.

Several veterans of that operation are currently active in the firearms industry and have given their historical accounts of the mission to various media outlets. Instead of trying to retell someone else’s war story, we wanted to take this anniversary to examine the progress of America’s everyman rifle over the ensuing two-and-a-half decades, and perhaps reflect on just how good we have it now.


Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

Blast from the past

As the rise of the retro rifle continues to gain momentum, several companies are now producing period-themed AR-pattern rifles to commemorate past iterations of Stoner’s most famous design. Troy Industries was one of the first to offer an out-of-the-box solution to collectors and enthusiasts wanting a “period” rifle with their My Service Rifle line, commemorating famous military operations, and the associated rifles used to win the day.

Their recent release of the M16A2 SFOD-D carbine made an all-too-appropriate cornerstone for this project. This no-frills rifle was state of the art at the time it was used by small-team elements of the U.S. Army and Air Force in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s a 14.5-inch barrel, carbine-length gas system affair with traditional CAR handguards, iron sights, and an A2 carry handle upper. The gun ships with a length of rail mounted on both the carry handle and the 6 o’clock position at the forward end of the handguard.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

This carbine was considered state-of-the-art around the time Meatloaf topped radio charts with “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” If that doesn’t make you feel old …

As a preface to all of you firearm historians out there, please note that this was an “in the spirit of” build and does features accessories in the style of this period, as opposed to the actual items. Attempting to procure the actual lights, sights, and mounts from two-plus decades ago was hardly conducive to deadlines or production budgets. So, in several cases, we had to make do with “close enough.” Good enough, as the saying goes, for government work. This particular Gothic Serpent sample is outfitted with a SureFire 6P, complete with a whopping 60-lumen incandescent bulb, mounted on a single scope ring with their push-button tactical tail cap. The optic is an Aimpoint 9000, which uses the longer tube style of the older 5000 with updated electronics.

While the idea of mounting a light to a weapon isn’t exactly new, the technology to do so in a manner that’s both convenient and ergonomic is a relatively recent development. As late as the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, line units were using duct tape and hose clamps to hold D-cell mag lights onto their rifles. The SOF community, having a larger budget and more time dedicated to RD, found that you could use weaver scope rings to mount the then-new smaller lights made by SureFire onto their guns. Certainly better than the methods used by conventional units even a decade later, this small measure of convenience came with two primary pitfalls — actuating the light and lumens.

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Though night vision, and the earlier starlight technology, dates back to Vietnam and somewhat before, dedicated night-fighting gear isn’t a catchall for “intermediate” lighting situations. Think about entering a dark room in the middle of a bright desert afternoon in Africa. You need some kind of artificial light to see your target, but early night vision goggles — prone to washout or permanent damage from ambient light through a window or hole in the ceiling — were the wrong answer. So weapon lights became the best compromise.

Even though any advantage is better than no advantage, less than 100 lumens doesn’t buy you much reaction time. As your eyes are rapidly adjusting from bright light, to no light, to a little bit of light the “increased” ability to identify friend from foe is marginal at best. Tape switches were available at the time, but far from universal and far from reliable. They had to be taped on and, if you’ve ever had a piece of tape peel off something in the heat, you know that taping things together isn’t the most ironclad attachment method.

Once you get the light mounted, you have to be able to actually turn it on. With the light at the bottom of the handguard, thumb activation is out of the question. To make this placement work, we had to shift our support handgrip to just past the magwell and use the index knuckle of that hand to trip the light. It works, but not well. While firing, we had trouble keeping enough pressure on the switch to keep it on. The other option is to twist the tailcap for constant-on, but then you run into the fairly obvious issues of battery life, and of giving away your position between engagements.

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Synergistic advances in handguards, lights, and forward grips provide a support-hand hold that’s more ergonomic and offers better control over the weapon.

Once you can see your target, you gotta hit it. The early electro-optical sights, also of Vietnam vintage, were a huge boon for rapid shots under tight constraints. The optics themselves, to include the Aimpoint 3000s and 5000s of the Black Hawk Down era, didn’t have the kind of battery life or reliability that we now expect from any red dot worth its salt. But mounting them on an A2-style receiver created an additional issue: height over bore.

For the uninitiated, height over bore is exactly what it sounds like. Mounting your scope several inches above your barrel creates the need for both mechanical offset when you zero as well as for manual holdover when trying to make precise shots — like headshots, which are a common point of training for hostage rescue units. Furthermore, these high-mounted optics require a “chin weld” on the stock, which is unnatural, uncomfortable, and offers a floating sight picture at best, particularly while shooting on the move.

Latest and greatest

As a demonstration of the technical progress that’s been made in configuring the AR or M4-style rifle, we contrast Troy’s My Service Rifle SFOD-D gun to their own cutting-edge carbine, the SOC-C. The SOCC (Special Operations Compatible Carbine) also sports a 14.5-inch barrel chambered in 5.56mm — which is squarely where the similarities end. The SOC-C features a mid-length gas system. Recent testing by USSOCOM has proven what the commercial market has known for years —that the longer gas tube makes for a cleaner and softer shooting weapon.

The SOCC covers that gas tube with a 12-inch M-LOK handguard. This single feature offers the warfighter a level of modularity that hasn’t been known since the M16’s introduction six decades ago. Now you can mount your lights and any other accessory wherever you want. In our case, we used SureFire’s new 600DF weaponlight attached to the rifle by way of an Arisaka Defense inline mount. The 600DF produces 1,500 lumens, which not only restores small rooms to broad daylight conditions at the push of a button, but can probably be used to signal low-flying aircraft or heat up your MRE.

When Super 6-4 went down near the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, soldiers had to mount a rail to the handguard, a scope ring to the rail, and the light into the scope ring. This system creates poor ergonomics and multiple points of failure for your light to shoot loose or fall off completely. With the 600DF/Arisaka combo, the mount is screwed directly into the body of the flashlight, and then attached directly to the handguard. Not only is this a simpler system less prone to mechanical failure, but the advent of modular handguards provides adjustability in where the light is placed, both lengthwise along the fore-end and around its circumference. The biggest single benefit to come from this advancement is that, now, you can configure the gun around the operator’s natural stance and hand placement instead of changing how you fight just to accommodate a flashlight.

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Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.

Optics have gotten smaller, smarter, tougher, and more diverse in the last 25 years. Our SOCC sports an Aimpoint Comp M5. It’s their smallest and most efficient rifle-mounted red dot. With battery life measured in years and a slew of brightness settings that include night vision compatibility. The move from carry-handle upper receivers to full-length top rails provide a laundry list of benefits on a fighting rifle. The aforementioned height-over-bore issue all but disappears. This simplifies zero. It also simplifies unconventional shooting positions like shooting over or under a barricade and allows a proper cheek weld. Additionally, the full-length top rail allows end users to utilize different types of optics. The vast increase in mounting space means that force multipliers like variable-power glass and clip-on thermal or night-vision units can be mounted quickly and securely with no tools, as the mission changes.

All the small things

While lights and sights were our two most obvious observations, there are other less prominent improvements that are equally important. One is the advent of ambidextrous controls. While, statistically, the number of left-handed shooters is pretty low throughout the ranks, if you happen to have one on your team you want them to reap all the same benefits everyone else in the stack does. Ambi selector levers, charging handles, and mag and bolt releases all create a perfectly mirrored manual of arms, regardless of which hand is pressing the trigger. But it’s not only southpaws who get something out of it.

The advent of urban warfare has forced U.S. soldiers to enter a battle space full of walls, windows, and hard angles. Being able to transition your carbine from strong side to support side as you adapt to available cover offers a very real increase in soldier survivability. Ambidextrous buttons and switches allow all shooters to switch-hit off of barriers without having to change anything about how they drive their gun.

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Things like lower height-over-bore and shorter overall length give the SOCC carbine a distinct edge over its partner. Internals and fire controls are also highly improved over Mil-spec.

The last, but perhaps most critical upgrades we’ll discuss come in the form of the almighty bang switch. After executing proper stance/grip/sight alignment/sight picture, trigger press is the shooter’s last physical input into the weapon before that round leaves the barrel. Sloppy or harsh trigger press can throw a shot even if you do everything else right. This becomes a literal matter of life and death for units that fight in very close quarters where hostages and innocents are all in play.

The M16A2 SFOD-D sports a standard Mil-spec trigger that was delightfully rocky and inconsistent. By comparison, the SOCC comes out of the box with a Geissele G2S trigger. While not marketed as a match trigger per se, it offers a gliding smooth take-up with a consistent break that snaps like a carrot each and every time. It’s this consistency and predictability that gives a shooter an opportunity to improve their marksmanship more quickly, as well as imparting a confidence that the trigger will do exactly what you want it to every single time — a not insignificant comfort when entering situations measured in tenths of a second.

Newer shooters, and older ones who have embraced progress, get quickly adjusted to the ease with which a modern, properly configured rifle can be run hard under demanding conditions. While the events of Operation Gothic Serpent can be labeled as both tragic and heroic, the lessons learned from those units and their experience cobbling together a “best possible” solution with the parts they had set in motion a ripple effect that helped birth the cutting-edge carbines we now use to defend our country and our homes.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Charlie’s Angels vs Hobbs & Shaw

The new Charlie’s Angels trailer dropped today. Written and directed by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games), who will also star as the timeless ‘Bosley’ character, the film stars Kristen Stewart (Snow White and the Huntsman), Naomi Scott (Aladdin), and Ella Balinska (Run Sweetheart Run) as the three angels.

After recently writing about the Hobbs & Shaw trailer, I couldn’t help but notice how different the advertising is for female-driven and male-driven films.

Watch below and see if you can catch it yourself:


CHARLIE’S ANGELS – Official Trailer (HD)

www.youtube.com

CHARLIE’S ANGELS – Official Trailer (HD)

“We’re gonna need a wig, toys, clothes,” said no one in a male-driven action story ever.

Now, here’s the Hobbs Shaw trailer:

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Official Trailer [HD]

www.youtube.com

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Official Trailer

“We’re gonna need the best trackers in the business. We’re gonna need to operate outside of the system,” said an operative with more substantial priorities.

If you had to boil down these two trailers, this is what they’re communicating about their films:

Charlie’s Angels: Fun, pretty girls fight bad guys.

Hobbs Shaw: Strong, funny men fight bad guys.

The comparison between these two trailers highlights a subversive social construct: in order for men to be heroes, they need to be strong (a feature that can be developed through will and dedication); in order for women to be heroes, they need to be beautiful (something outside of their control without painful surgery, or, I guess, wigs, toys, and clothes?).

Related: The ‘Hobbs Shaw’ trailer is perfect — don’t at me

I will at least acknowledge that the 2019 Charlie’s Angels description has been improved since the 2000 one:

2000: They’re beautiful, they’re brilliant, and they work for Charlie. In a smart, sexy update of the 70’s TV show from celebrated music video director McG. CHARLIE’S ANGELS revolves around three female detectives as intelligent and multi-talented as they are ravishingly gorgeous and utterly disarming.

(WE GET IT. YOU’D BONE THEM. CALM DOWN.)

2019: In Banks’ bold vision, Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska are working for the mysterious Charles Townsend, whose security and investigative agency has expanded internationally. With the world’s smartest, bravest, and most highly trained women all over the globe, there are now teams of Angels guided by multiple Bosleys taking on the toughest jobs everywhere.

Now here’s the description for Hobbs Shaw:

Ever since hulking lawman Hobbs (Johnson), a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service, and lawless outcast Shaw (Statham), a former British military elite operative, first faced off in 2015’s Furious 7, the duo have swapped smack talk and body blows as they’ve tried to take each other down.

But when cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist Brixton (Idris Elba) gains control of an insidious bio-threat that could alter humanity forever — and bests a brilliant and fearless rogue MI6 agent (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby), who just happens to be Shaw’s sister — these two sworn enemies will have to partner up to bring down the only guy who might be badder than themselves.

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Just imagine if The Rock were on a super secret mission that involved coordinated dancing.

These are meant to be fun tentpole films, but stories have always impacted society and culture. These two films clearly have different target demographics, but they each seem to be straying from the path of the hero’s journey against evil. They stray in completely different, but I’d argue equally concerning, directions: for girls, it’s that excessive beauty is the answer to our problems and for men, it’s excessive violence.

What do you think? Are these films saying something about our society or are they just here to show us a good time? Leave a comment and keep the conversation going.

Articles

The United Nations seeks to head off rise of killer robots

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U.S. Army


Pentagon plans envisioning smart, autonomous weapons able to instantly react and respond to combat situations may run up against a proposed United Nations ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The UN is hoping to head off autonomous killing systems before countries begin making them part of their arsenals, though the US, Russia and others appear to be in no hurry to slow the advance of killer robots.

Just last week Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told a national defense forum in Washington, D.C., that a strong deterrence strategy in the future will depend partly on having weapons systems that “learn” in real-time and operate autonomously.

Automated battle networks boosted by advances in computing power and network attacks already has combat operations moving at cyber speed, Work said.

“This trend is only going to continue as advanced militaries experiment with these technologies, as well as others like hypersonics,” he said. “In the not-too-distant future, we’ll see directed energy weapons on the battlefield which operate at the speed of light.”

But the UN is hoping to head off autonomous killing systems before countries begin making them part of their arsenals.

Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told the British newspaper The Guardian in October that research and development is well underway.

“A lot of money is going into development and people will want a return on their investment,” Heyns told the paper. “If there is not a preemptive ban on the high-level autonomous weapons then once the genie is out of the bottle it will be extremely difficult to get it back in.”

When UN delegates met in Geneva in April to discuss a proposed LAWS convention, the head of the American delegation said the US believes that “a robust policy process and methodology can help mitigate risk when developing new weapon systems.”

The Pentagon has established a directive for how the US would consider plans for developing such systems, Michael Meier told the group.

“We would like to make clear that the Directive does not establish a US position on the potential future development of [LAWS] — it neither encourages nor prohibits the development of such future systems.”

During a meeting on LAWS in October, the US called it premature to consider a ban on LAWS and reiterated that it neither encourages nor prohibits the development of such weapons, according to Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a group made up of nine human rights and peace organizations.

Russia sounded much like the US, according to the group, which quoted that delegation as saying banning such systems is premature since, “for the time being we deal with virtual technology that does not have any operating models

Work, in his presentation in Washington last week, quoted Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s General Staff, as saying Russia is preparing to fight on a roboticized battlefield.

“And [Gerasimov] said — and I quote — ‘In the near future, it is possible that a fully roboticized unit will be created, capable of independently conducting military operations’,” Work said.

Articles

Afghan soldier opens fire on US troops, wounds seven

An Afghan soldier has opened fire on American troops, wounding at least seven of them, before being shot dead in a military base in northern Afghanistan, officials said, in the second so-called “insider attack” in the past week.


Abdul Qahar Araam, spokesman for the US military, said on June 17th that the attack took place at Camp Shaheen in Mazar-i-Sharif. Araam added that the soldiers returned fire and killed the attacker.

General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, also confirmed the incident.

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Presentation of the Resolute Support colors. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Resolute Support, the international training mission to Afghanistan, announced on its Twitter feed that seven US service members were wounded, adding that there were no US fatalities.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, said NATO soldiers were training their Afghan counterparts at the base where the attack took place.

“A source told Al Jazeera that the attack happened at the end of a training exercise,” he said.

“We understand that the soldiers were getting back into their vehicle when a soldier from the Afghan national army picked up what is said to be a rocket-propelled grenade and fired it at the group of soldiers, and that is how these injuries have happened.”

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A helicopter flies over Mazar-i-Sharif. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Another insider attack

Three US soldiers were killed and a fourth was wounded on June 11 when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them at a base in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the armed group, said at the time that a Taliban loyalist had infiltrated the Afghan army “just to attack foreign forces.”

On June 17th, Mujahid praised the Camp Shaheen attack in a statement sent to the media, but did not claim Taliban responsibility.

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The Taliban Flag. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In April, scores of Afghan soldiers were killed when fighters breached security at the camp, detonating explosives and shooting hundreds at a mosque and dining hall on the base. The attackers were disguised in Afghan army uniforms.

Coalition countries, led by the US, are considering sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan to help advise and assist Afghan forces struggling against Taliban and the ISIS.

On June 19th, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said he would present options on Afghanistan to President Donald Trump “very soon.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Israelis shoot down an Iranian drone to find a cheap US ripoff

Over the weekend, you may have heard about the vicious aerial battle between Israel and Syrian-Iranian forces. That battle was triggered when Israel shot down an Iranian-made UAV that had breached Israeli airspace and ended with an IDF F-16I being shot down.


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An Israeli F-16I Sufa. One was lost during a clash with Iranian and Syrian forces. (Israeli Defense Force photo)

According to a report from the Times of Israel, the wandering drone that started the firefight was a Saeghe. That drone is a knockoff of the RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealthy drone used by the United States. In 2011, a Sentinel was captured relatively intact by the Iranians after it went down in their territory. The RQ-170 is said to resemble a miniature B-2 Spirit.

An Israeli AH-64 Apache was credited with downing the Iranian drone. The Israeli response involved a number of fighters targeting Syrian air-defense positions and Iranian installations. The Iranians and Syrians fired over two dozen surface-to-air missiles and downed the F-16I. The plane’s crew managed to safely eject over Northern Israel, but one of the pilots was seriously injured and is now being treated in a Haifa hospital. This marks the first loss of an F-16I and Israel’s first loss of an aircraft in combat since 1982.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, the F-16I is a two-seat multi-role fighter custom-designed for the needs of the Israeli Defense Forces. It is designed for long range, with a combat radius of 2,100 kilometers, has a top speed of Mach 2, and can use advanced weapons, like the Python 5 and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions. Israel purchased 102 of these aircraft.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops
An Israeli Air Force F-16 from Ramon Air Base, Israel, moves into refueling position July 17, 2009, over the Nevada Test and Training Range during Red Flag 09-4. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)

Israel also operates roughly 120 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons, which serve as the backbone of the Israeli Air Force. The Israelis also operate a mix of F-15C/D/I fighters. The F-15C/D Eagles are designed for air-superiority missions, while the F-15I is a customized version of the F-15E Strike Eagle.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 facts you should know about Ukraine

Ukraine has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential election season. Here are some facts to help you better understand Ukraine’s role on the global stage:


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Traditional Ukrainian embroidered blouses.

(Source: Shutterstock)

Ukraine 101

Medieval Ukraine, known as “Kievan Rus,” was the birthplace of Slavic culture. Ukraine was formerly part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country in 1991. The country has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its fertile soil. Although its economy has improved steadily since 2000, Ukraine continues to suffer from poverty and corruption. Ukraine is a close ally of the United States, and polls have shown a generally positive attitude toward the U.S. by Ukrainians.

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Ukrainian soldiers take cover during a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine.

(Source: Sergei L. Loiko)

Ukraine has been at war since 2014

Ukraine was rocked with instability in 2014 due to a political protest movement called “Euromaidan.” Russia seized this opportunity to invade Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and claim it as Russian territory while also stirring up pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Crimea was conquered without bloodshed, and a large proportion of Crimea’s residents actually support the annexation. The insurrection in eastern Ukraine, however, quickly became violent.

Today the Ukrainian military continues to fight heavily armed, Russian-backed separatists and Russian military forces (although Russia publicly denies the latter) in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which has claimed at least 13,000 lives and displaced over 1.4 million people, has since become a stalemate.

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Euromaidan protestors battle police in central Kyiv in 2014.

(Source: Reuters)

Euromaidan was a really big deal

In 2014, growing discontent against president Viktor Yanukovych erupted in a massive protest movement. The activists, who hoped for a Ukraine more oriented toward Western Europe, accused Yanukovych of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin trying to pull Ukraine closer into Russia’s orbit. The Euromaidan movement led to street battles between police and protesters and over 100 deaths.

Euromaidan eventually succeeded, however. Yanukovych abandoned the presidency and fled to Russia, where he remains to this day. (In 2019 a Ukrainian court convicted him, in absentia, of treason.) Euromaidan was historic because it reflected the will of many Ukrainians to choose a trajectory free of Russian domination, but it also aggravated simmering tensions within Ukraine’s population and triggered Russia’s armed interventions in Crimea and the eastern regions.

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Mural in Kyiv depicting a Ukrainian Cossack strangling Vladimir Putin, represented as a snake.

The Ukrainian population is deeply divided

Many Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, are staunch Ukrainian patriots. They take great pride in Ukrainian culture, history, and language and generally hold negative attitudes toward Russia.

More eastern regions of the country, however, have larger percentages of Ukrainians who speak Russian as a first language and consider themselves more Russian than Ukrainian. This is the root of the current war in eastern Ukraine, and the reason many Ukrainians in Crimea welcomed Russian annexation in 2014.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

(Source: WorldAtlas.com)

Choose your words carefully when referring to Ukraine

There are some semantics involved when speaking of Ukraine which cannot be divorced from the country’s complicated history and politics. Even the name “Ukraine” means “borderland” in Russian. The Ukrainian capital city has historically been transliterated as “Kiev,” the traditional Russian spelling, although the Ukrainian-language “Kyiv” is increasingly preferred.

Likewise, many English speakers incorrectly refer to the country as “the Ukraine,” a dated reference to the Soviet era when Ukraine was a Soviet republic (similar to saying “the Midwest” in relation to the United States). Both the Ukrainian government and many Ukrainians strongly discourage the term “the Ukraine.”

Even language itself is contentious: the majority of Ukrainians can speak both Ukrainian and Russian, but the use of either language can be seen as a political and social statement by the speaker.

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President Volodymyr Zelensky

(Source: Getty Images)

Ukraine’s current president is literally a comedian

Current president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose phone call with President Donald Trump in July 2019 has triggered controversy within the United States, was a comedian before being elected in a landslide in 2019. He is most famous for playing the lead role in “Servant of the People,” a hugely popular sitcom about a schoolteacher who is unexpectedly elected president of Ukraine.

The 41-year-old Zelensky ran for office as a reformer whose priorities include fighting corruption and negotiating an honorable end to the war. Zelensky also wants to maintain U.S. support, particularly American shipments of “lethal” aid such as anti-tank missiles, which Ukrainian troops need to counter the Russian-equipped rebels.

Although a longtime Ukrainian patriot, Zelensky’s first language is Russian, and he has been criticized for not being entirely fluent in Ukrainian.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghan pilots in U.S. Black Hawks are attacking Taliban fighters

Firing machine guns at Taliban fighters, reinforcing attacking ground troops, and scouting through mountainous terrain to find enemy locations are all things US-trained Afghan Air Force pilots are now doing with US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

The ongoing US effort to provide anti-Taliban Afghan fighters with Black Hawks has recently been accelerated to add more aircraft on a faster timeframe, as part of a broad strategic aim to better enable Afghan forces to attack.


The first refurbished A-model Black Hawks, among the oldest in the US inventory, arrived in Kandahar in September of last year, as an initial step toward the ultimate goal of providing 159 of the helicopters to the Afghans, industry officials say.

While less equipped than the US Army’s most modern M-model Black Hawks, the older, analog A-models are currently being recapitalized and prepared for hand over to the Afghans.

Many of the Afghan pilots, now being trained by a globally-focused, US-based aerospace firm called MAG, have been flying Russian-built Mi-17s. Now, MAG is helping some Afghan pilots transition to Black Hawks as well as training new pilots for the Afghan Air Force.

“We are working on a lot of mission types. We’re helping pilots learn to fly individually, conduct air assaults and fly in conjunction with several other aircraft,” Brian Tachias, Senior Vice President for MAG, Huntsville Business Unit, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

An Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter transports soldiers from Bagram Airfield over Ghazni, Afghanistan, on July 26, 2004.

(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Vernell Hall)

The current MAG deal falls under the US Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization. Tachias said, “a team of roughly 20 MAG trainers has already flown over 500 hours with Afghan trainees.” MAG trainers, on-the-ground in Kandahar, graduated a class of Afghan trainees this month. According to current plans, Black Hawks will have replaced all Mi-17s by 2022.

Tachias added that teaching Afghan pilots to fly with night vision goggles has been a key area of emphasis in the training to prepare them for combat scenarios where visibility is more challenging. By next year, MAG intends to use UH-60 simulators to support the training.

While not armed with heavy weapons or equipped with advanced sensors, the refurbished A-model Black Hawks are outfitted with new engines and crew-served weapons. The idea is to give Afghan forces combat maneuverability, air superiority and a crucial ability to reinforce offensive operations in mountainous terrain, at high altitudes.

Syria withdrawal under fire after ISIS attack kills US troops

An Afghan Air Force pilot receives a certificate during a UH-60 Black Hawk Aircraft Qualification Training graduation ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 20, 2017. The pilot is one of six to be the first AAF Black Hawk pilots. The first AAF Black Hawk pilots are experienced aviators coming from a Mi-17 background.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

The MAG training effort is consistent with a broader Army strategy to arm, train, and equip Afghan forces such that they can continue to take over combat missions. In recent years, the US Army has placed a premium on operating in a supportive role wherein they train, assist and support Afghan fighters who themselves engage in combat, conduct patrols and do the majority of the fighting.

Standing up an Afghan Air Force has been a longstanding, stated Army goal for a variety of key reasons, one of which simply being that the existence of a capable Afghan air threat can not only advance war aims and enable the US to pull back some of its assets from engaging in direct combat.

While acknowledging the complexities and challenges on continued war in Afghanistan, US Centcom Commander Gen. Joseph Votel voiced this sensibility earlier this summer, stating that Afghan forces are increasingly launching offensive attacks against the Taliban.

“They are fighting and they are taking casualties, but they are also very offensive-minded, inflicting losses on the Taliban and [ISIS-Khorasan] daily, while expanding their capabilities and proficiency every day,” Votel said, according to an Army report from earlier this summer.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

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