Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus - We Are The Mighty
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Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

Taliban officials have denied a report that its leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, died after contracting the coronavirus.

Foreign Policy magazine, citing unnamed Taliban officials, reported on June 1 that Mullah Akhundzada contracted COVID-19 and possibly died while receiving treatment abroad.

Foreign Policy quoted Mawlawi Mohammad Ali Jan Ahmad, a senior Taliban military official, as saying that Mullah Akhundzada was “sick” after contracting the virus but was “recovering.”


But three other Taliban figures in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Taliban leadership is believed to be based, told Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity that they believed Akhunzada had died of the illness.

Foreign Policy said the coronavirus has stricken a number of senior Taliban leaders in Quetta and in Qatar, where the militant group has a political office.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on June 2 denied that Mullah Akhundzada or any other senior leaders had contracted the disease or died.

In a tweet, Mujahid accused Foreign Policy of spreading “propaganda” and said Mullah Akhundzada was well and “busy with his daily activities.”

Sayed Mohammad Akbar Agha, a former Taliban military commander who lives in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told RFE/RL that the report of Mullah Akhundzada’s death was “untrue.”

But a Taliban official in Quetta told RFE/RL that he could neither confirm nor deny the leader’s death.

Mullah Akhundzada took over leadership of the Taliban after his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.

The reclusive leader is a former Taliban chief justice and heads the militant group’s religious council.

An Islamic scholar, he is said to have strong religious credentials, and has been responsible for issuing fatwas, or Islamic decrees, to justify military and terrorist operations.

Taliban officials told Foreign Policy that Mullah Akhundzada had not been seen for the past three months and had not made any voice recordings.

Some Taliban sources in Quetta told Foreign Policy that Mullah Akhunzada went to Russia for treatment.

Foreign Policy reported that many of the Taliban’s senior leaders in Quetta had caught COVID-19, including Mullah Akhunzada’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network.

The network, a Taliban faction, is believed to have been behind some of the deadliest attacks on Afghan and international forces and civilians in Afghanistan.

With the top two leaders out of action, Foreign Policy reported that the Taliban was now being run by Mullah Mohammad Yuqub, the eldest son of the Taliban’s founder and spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Mullah Omar’s death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.

Mullah Yuqub is a graduate of a seminary in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

Believed to be in his early 30s, he is said to have the backing of a considerable number of field commanders and the Taliban’s rank-and-file.

Experts say that Mullah Yuqub supports the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February that is aimed at negotiating an end to the 18-year Taliban insurgency.

It is unclear how a possible change in the Taliban leadership would affect that deal, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which is committed to negotiating a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement with the Kabul government.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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9 Military Categories The Oscars Forgot

Sure, the Academy Awards have categories like “Best Actor” and “Best Adapted Screenplay,’ and, yes, military movies like “American Sniper” and “The Imitation Game” are in the mix this year. But all of that falls somewhat short of capturing the true military cinematic essence that this year’s crop of films produced. Here are nine categories that the Oscars forgot and the winners in each:


1. Best Misuse Of Government Property By A Leading Man: Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”

Because Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle was a super badass sniper, he had a phone so that generals and even the president could call him to tell him who he should put the crosshairs on next. What did Cooper’s Kyle use the phone for?  To call his wife, usually right before a firefight was about to break out.  And once it did he wouldn’t hang up (in order not to alarm her or anything).

2. Best Use of Kristen Stewart’s Bitch Face By An Actress In A Leading Role: Kristen Stewart, “Camp X-Ray”

Kristen Stewart plays a U.S. Army guard at Gitmo who develops a sympathetic relationship – through a prison door – with one of the detainees.  But her sympathy is buried under the same expression she’s used in every movie she’s ever been in, that signature bitchy pouty girl face, so it’s hard to tell when she’s sympathetic and when she’s bored or pissed off. But, hey, like B.B. King said, “You can play just one note if it’s the right one.” We say bravo, Ms. Stewart.

3. Best Supporting Actor In A Role About The Fact All Vets Are Doomed: Brad Hawkins, “Boyhood”

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

Brilliantly filmed over a 12-year period, director Richard Linklater’s gem focuses on the life of a sometimes single mom and her two kids.  The mom’s third love interest is a returning vet who’s just back from Iraq. He seems like a nice, well-adjusted guy, but after a while he’s holding down a job as a prison guard and sitting on the front porch guzzling beer and yelling at the son about being a good-for-nothing, which is to say they got it exactly right because that’s what always happens to returning vets.

4. Best Portrayal Of The Perils Of Having Sex In Combat: “Fury”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uAKbSLsXxg

Brad Pitt’s Sherman tank crew stumble across the home of a war-weary German family with a hot daughter, and they enjoy a bit of normalcy. One of the crew hooks up with the daughter, and once they’re done the crew leaves and minutes later the family’s house gets blown to smithereens by an air strike.

5. Best WTFO? Moment: “300 – Rise of Empires”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb6w6Qz55jc

In the middle of a kick ass war-at-sea between ancient sailing ships, General Themistocles suddenly produces a horse that he rides all over the deck while slashing and stabbing his foe.  But it really gets good when the horse – without any hesitation – gallops through flaming wreckage, leaps into the water, and then jumps onto an enemy ship where Themistocles continues his savaging of the enemy – truly the year’s best WTFO? military movie moment.

6. Most Dramatic Flame-out Of A Military Movie Franchise: “Jarhead 2”

Three words: Straight. To. DVD.

7. Best Actress In A Role About The Joys Of Being A Military Mom: Michelle Monaghan “Ft. Bliss”

Michelle Monaghan plays a single mom soldier who returns home after 15 months in Iraq only to find that her 6-year-old son has forgotten who she is.  (What, did the rest of family hide all the pictures of her? And no Skype?) About the point her son starts to warm to her she’s sent back to Iraq because that’s how the Army rolls.  If the military wanted you to have a kid they would have issued you one.

8. Most Groundbreaking Guerrilla Warfare Sequence: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

One of the conniving chimps uses cute chimp moves to mollify two humans just long enough to get one of their automatic weapons and blow them away with it.

9. Best Actor In A Role About The Tortured Souls Of Those In The Intelligence Community: Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5CjKEFb-sM

Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the intel genius who knows a thing or two about code breaking.  Cumberbatch’s Turing is at odds with his sexual orientation and anti-social and basically pained by everything in his life – in other words, he’s a lot like most of those in the intel community.

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North Korea’s ballistic missiles aren’t as scary as you might think (yet)

North Korea’s inter-continental ballistic missiles still have a lot of work to do in order to be ready for prime time, the Defense Intelligence Agency claims. North Korea in the past has had problems getting its missiles up – but that technological hitch may not last long.


According to a report by Bloomberg News, North Korea still faces a number of “important shortfalls” in its longer-range missiles like the Taepo-dong 2 and the KN-08 inter-continental ballistic missiles. Last month, North Korea saw a failure when it attempted to launch a missile during a test.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. (KCNA/Handout)

That said, senior American intelligence officials note with concern that North Korea is not letting the failures prevent a push toward developing a reliable ICBM inventory.

“North Korea has also expanded the size and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces—from close-range ballistic missiles (CRBMs) to ICBMs—and continues to conduct test launches. In 2016, North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests. Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States; it has publicly displayed its road-mobile ICBMs on multiple occasions. We assess that North Korea has taken steps toward fielding an ICBM but has not flight-tested it,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a written statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee prior to a May 11, 2017 hearing.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
Hwasong missile (North Korean variant). (Photo: KCNA)

“North Korea is poised to conduct its first ICBM flight test in 2017 based on public comments that preparations to do so are almost complete and would serve as a milestone toward a more reliable threat to the US mainland,” Coats added later in the statement.

The United States has currently deployed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile battery to South Korea, and also operates MIM-104 Patriot missile batteries – systems also owned by South Korea and Japan. All three countries also have Aegis warships, capable of launching SIM-66 Standard SM-2 and RIM-161 Standard SM-3 missiles.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
USS Hopper (DDG 70) fires a RIM-161 SM-3 missile in 2009. (US Navy photo)

The United States has deployed a carrier strike group to the area around North Korea as tensions have increased.

MIGHTY TRENDING

F-15 fighter jets are patrolling the Persian Gulf with cluster bombs

US Air Force fighter jets are patrolling the Persian Gulf with apparent guided cluster munitions, weapons that may capable of tearing apart Iranian small boat swarms.

“F-15E Strike Eagles from the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron are flying air operations in support of maritime surface warfare,” the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing revealed this week, explaining that “their role is to conduct combat air patrol missions over the Arabian Gulf and provide aerial escorts of naval vessels as they traverse the Strait of Hormuz.”

The F-15E, which can reportedly carry almost any air-to-surface weapon in the Air Force arsenal, is a dual-role fighter able to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.


Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

An F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron refuels from a KC-10 Extender June 27, 2019

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Erin Piazza)

Looking at the accompanying photos, Joseph Trevithick, a writer for The War Zone, noticed that the F-15s were carrying cluster munitions. It is unclear what type of munitions the aircraft are flying with, but given their mission is focused on maritime security, it would make sense that the submunitions contained within are one of two suited to a strike on Iran’s swarm boats.

The F-15s in the photos appear to be carrying Wind Corrected Munitions Dispensers, a GPS-guided canister that can be loaded with different submunitions depending on the mission type, The War Zone reports, noting that the aircraft are likely carrying either the CBU-103/B loaded with 202 BLU-97/B Combined Effect Bomblets or the CBU-105/B filled with ten BLU-108/B Sensor Fuzed Munitions.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

An F-15E Strike Eagle sits while waiting for an upcoming mission July 15, 2019, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)

The submunitions contain four separate warheads with their own independent sensors to detect and eliminate targets, and would be well suited to targeting the small Iranian gunboats that have been harassing commercial vessels.

Cluster munitions, while controversial, allow the user to eliminate multiple targets with one bomb. A single CBU-105, for instance, could theoretically achieve 40 individual kills against an incoming small boat force. The US military had initially planned to stop using cluster munitions, but these plans were put on hold until suitable alternatives could be developed.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

An F-15E Strike Eagle weapons load crew team prepares munitions July 15, 2019, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)

The F-15E Strike Eagles with the 336th EFS currently assigned to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates carry a “robust assortment of air-to-ground munitions” and fly “with various configurations to ensure an ability to respond effectively to dynamic situations,” the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing explained.

These fighters are “currently conducting Surface Combat Air Patrol (SuCAP) operations to ensure free and open maritime commerce in the region.”

July 2019, Iranian gunboats attempted to seize the British tanker “British Heritage,” but the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose intervened, turning its guns on the Iranian vessels. One week later, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero, an unguarded vessel which Iran has not yet released.

The US has also accused Iran of attacking commercial vessels in the region with limpet mines, as well as targeting and, in one case, shooting down US unmanned air assets.

Western countries have not yet come to a consensus about how they should deal with the serious threat posed by Iranian forces in the region.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

China is sick of people stealing its supercomputer technology

China’s military has suggested the country increase its intellectual property control of military and technological innovations.


In an article in China National Defence News, reported by South China Morning Post, the military said China needed to create intellectual property barriers to its equipment, including supercomputers, drones, dredgers, and rocket-launch simulation technology.

According to the Post, the article highlighted that China has made several scientific breakthroughs over the last decade and needed to protect them. Otherwise, the article added, technology could be utilized by a foreign power and may even threaten national security.

“We must work on protecting technology as much as we have on researching and developing it,” the article said.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
Chinese People’s Liberation Army during the Moscow Victory Day Parade.

China achieved numerous scientific breakthroughs over the last year alone, including building the world’s fastest wind tunnel to test weapons, as well as launching test spy drones in a near space area called the “death zone.”

The military said that while many new innovations had been created in China’s private sector, they have not focused on helping protect China’s national security.

“There have been dangerous cases involving some privately owned companies, research institutions, and individuals in pursuit of economic interests or academic honor,” the article said.

The military added that the country’s intellectual protection laws lag behind other countries.

“We must work fast to close the gap,” it said.

The U.S. has accused China of stealing its intellectual property

The military’s comments follow an August investigation by the U.S. into whether China stole its intellectual property.

U.S. President Donald Trump instructed the U.S. Trade Representative to look into “Chinese law, policies, and practices which may be harming American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technology development,” and last month said there was a “potential fine” that will “come out soon.”

Also Read: How Russia and China are dodging North Korea’s sanctions

China has been accused in the past of trying to force companies to give away their intellectual property by spying, hacking, or intimidating companies, an allegation which Beijing denies. One report estimated the cost to the U.S. economy at $600 billion a year.

Several U.S. tech giants including Apple and IBM spoke out on the topic in October during the first hearing in the U.S.’ investigation. The companies allege China’s rules on inbound investment violate the intellectual property rights of their companies.

China likely sees the U.S. investigation as an act of aggression, because it provides a loophole for the U.S. President to take actions against its economy without consulting with the WTO.

MIGHTY CULTURE

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Five years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Frederick Nardei returned to service, but not the military. He became a certified peer support specialist, dedicated to helping fellow Veterans whose futures were as uncertain as his had once been.


Nardei served as a peer specialist for a recent study at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, helping Veterans enrolled in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) manage their mental health and substance misuse challenges. The study was also conducted at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., where it was led by Dr. Marsha Ellison.

Actively and significantly engaged in their own recovery from mental health issues, VA peer specialists serve as success stories for their fellow Veterans. Their experience using mental health services, combined with their VA training and certification, have made them valuable additions to VA’s mental health offerings.

“My own experiences with homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness had prepared my heart to serve in ways that the Veterans could easily relate to… When I share my recovery story, they say that they are inspired and empowered because they can see that I am the evidence that recovery is possible and achievable,” said Nardei.

The study, led by Pittsburgh VA’s Dr. Matthew Chinman, found that formerly homeless Veterans who worked extensively with peer specialists had greater improvements in their symptoms than those who did not work with a peer specialist. When asked about their work with a peer specialist, both the Veterans and the other HUD-VASH staff expressed great satisfaction. Veterans reported being less isolated, more integrated into their community, and more involved in recovery activities as a result of their work with a peer specialist.

Who better to help other Veterans on their recovery journey than someone who has been in their shoes?

“The Veterans who struggled with the shame and stigma of being homeless were able to overcome those barriers… because I was able to share with them my own experience with being homeless for seven months after my wife left, because of my heroin addiction,” said Nardei, one of an estimated 1,100 Veterans serving as VA peer specialists.

Recover, heal, grow

The peer support program inspires and empowers participants to recover, heal and grow. Nardei believes that there is nothing more powerful than seeing someone accomplish the things that once seemed impossible.

He’s the proof he inspires in others.

To become a VA-trained peer specialist, visit the VA Careers webpage for details.

To learn more about peer specialists and their how they improve Veterans’ lives, download the Peer Support Toolkit.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 lesser-known facts about the National Guard

Sometimes it can feel pretty darn easy to forget about the National Guard – especially when the branch doesn’t get any traction for high visibility news coverage. But the truth is that the National Guard actually has a long and distinguished history, and has been a cornerstone to the support of other branches of the military.

Here’s a list of 7 lesser known facts about the National Guard.


Earliest beginnings 

Did you know that the National Guard is older than the United States? It’s true. In 1636, the first militia units were organized in the Massachusetts Bay Colony under three permanent regiments, and each of these militia units trace their lineage back to 17th century armed forces. However, colonists were fearful of a militia and vehemently opposed a standing army.

Over 100 years later, the 1792 Militia Act gave the president powers to call forth the militia whenever the United States might be invaded or be in face of imminent danger of invasion.

Evolution of the Guard

Free, able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 were conscripted into local militia during the 19th century in the United States. The militia units were divided much like the current modern military into divisions, brigades, battalions and companies.

What’s in a name?

The use of the term “National Guard” occurred after the end of the Civil War. In 1878, the National Guard Association of the United States was formed to lobby for the formation of the National Guard in states and territories. The term was popularized by Marquis de Lafayette, but didn’t become an official term until 1916.

During the Revolutionary War, National Guard service members were called “Minutemen” for their rapid response abilities, making them the original Rapid Deployment Force.

Official recognition 

During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), reforms to government and private industry saw a shift in the perception of the National Guard. Of the most pressing reforms was the Militia Act of 1903 which established training and organizational standards across all Guard units in the country.

The amendment of the National Defense Act in 1933 officially created the National Guard of the United States and formally established it as a separate reserve component of the Army. This revision allowed for the creation of training standards and clearly defined the role of National Guard units when they’re called into service.

Swearing in ceremonies are unusual

Each member of the National Guard has to swear to uphold both the federal constitution and their state constitution. This oath hearkens back to the origins of the National Guard as a state militia.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

Presidents serve, too

Two presidents have served in the National Guard in its current iteration – Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush.

A National Guard for every state

Guard units are everywhere except in American Samoa, which is the only U.S. territory not to have a unit.

To join the National Guard, a person has to be between the ages of 17 and 35, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have at least a high school diploma or GED. Enlistment is eight years, minimum. However, a person can elect to serve three or six years and spend the remainder of the time in Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). IRR soldiers don’t train with a unit but can be called up in the event of an emergency.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The reason why Saudi Arabia is buying so many Blackhawks

Saudi Arabia has been buying a lot of weapons in recent years. So much so that a recent purchase of 17 Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawks went by almost unnoticed. What’s most interesting about this sale, though, is not just the fact that the Saudis have acquired some very versatile helicopters, but rather who the Blackhawks were bought for.


Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
A Soldier is lowered from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during the Gowen Thunder open house and air show at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, Oct. 14, 2017. Saudi Arabia recently purchased 17 UH-60M Blackhawks for the Saudi Arabian National Guard and the Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur)

According to a Lockheed Martin brochure, the UH-60M has a crew of four and can hold 11 troops. It has a cruising speed of 151 knots and can haul 9,000 pounds of cargo on an external hook. Versions of the UH-60 have handled everything from packing weapons to medevac missions to firefighting.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
A UH-60 Blackhawk flies overhead during an exercise at Tactical Base Gamberi. (Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Randall Pike)

The Saudi military has six armed services: The Royal Saudi Land Forces, the Royal Saudi Navi, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Air Defense, the Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force, and the Saudi Arabia National Guard. Two of these services will split the 17 Blackhawks: The Saudi Arabia National Guard is buying eight, while the other nine will go to the Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Forces.

The Saudi Arabia National Guard is nothing like the U.S. National Guard. In the United States, the National Guard does everything from disaster relief to fighting in combat alongside active forces. It serves both the state and federal governments. The Saudi Arabia National Guard, conversely, is meant to protect the Saudi Royal Family from coups. It is very likely that the eight Blackhawks they’re acquiring will be used as troop transports.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
A pair of U.S. Army MH-60M Blackhawks fly in formation with a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion. There is a chance that the nine Blackhawks being purchased by the Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Forces could be equipped with some of the same technologies in the MH-60s used by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Allison Lotz)

The Royal Saudi Land Forces Airborne Special Security Forces, on the other hand, are elite troops with the Royal Saudi Land Forces, Saudi Arabia’s regular army. The Royal Saudi Land Forces website states that personnel who join the Airborne Special Security Forces are “qualified to carry out the most intricate and sensitive missions and complete them with highest speed, swift movement, and maximum accuracy.” The nine Blackhawks going to this elite unit are likely to be used for troop transport missions, but they could very well have modifications similar to those used by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, better known as the Nightstalkers.

A representative for Sikorsky pointed WATM to the company’s website on the UH-60 when asked for comment. Either way, the Saudis have acquired a number of highly versatile helicopters that have served a number of countries very successfully over the years. Exactly what the Saudis intend to do with these choppers remains to be seen.

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US special operators, artillery, gunships support Raqqa offensive

United States Special Forces have been deployed on several fronts around the Syrian city of al-Raqqa, supporting the offensive of the Kurdish militias and other allied factions laying siege to the city, according to a British war monitor.


US troops are deployed to the north, east, and west of al-Raqqa, considered the capital of the caliphate of the Islamic State, and includes US special ops units, US Marines artillery (155mm/M-777’s), and US Apache helicopter gunships supporting the advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led armed alliance that launched an offensive to retake the city, according to the UK’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The US-led coalition’s aircraft are also providing the Kurdish fighters with intensive air support.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
Syrian Democratic Forces march in Raqqa in 2016

Currently, there are clashes between the SDF and the US Special Forces on one side against IS, on the other, at the former base of Division 17, North of al-Raqqa; also on the outskirts of the Haraqala area and around the neighborhood of al-Jazra in the West.

SOHR said the SDF controls 70 percent of the al-Meshlab area, on the eastern side of al-Raqqa, where progress is being hampered by IS snipers and mines, although the Kurdish militia stated on Wednesday it completely controlled the area.

There are no civilians left in this district since they were evacuated days ago by the radical fighters, who have dug trenches and tunnels to defend the area, the NGO said.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

For their part, the SDF reported in their Telegram account that they have managed to break into the neighborhood of al-Jazra in the western part of al-Raqqa.

On June 5th, this force launched an offensive on the city.

This offensive comes on the third anniversary of the proclamation of its caliphate on June 29, 2014, by IS in Syria and Iraq.

Currently, there are some 500 US troops deployed in Syria.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Panel to review malaria drugs after veterans fall ill

Former troops who say they were sickened by the malaria drug Lariam, or mefloquine, and their advocates urged members of a scientific panel on Jan. 28, 2019, to talk to veterans and examine their medical records when considering the potential chronic health effects of malaria medications.

A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee has started an 18-month review of all available scientific research on malaria drugs used to prevent the debilitating disease. Committee members are looking to see what role, if any, the medications have played in causing neurological and mental health symptoms, such as dizziness, vertigo, seizures, anxiety and psychosis, in some patients.


The panel said it is looking particularly at mefloquine and a related new drug, tafenoquine, but will review all malaria medications to distinguish any relationship between the drugs and long-term health effects in adults.

At the panel’s opening meeting in Washington, D.C., several veterans urged it to “look at this very, very closely.”

Veterans allege devastating side effects from anti malaria drug they were ordered to take??

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Retired Col. Timothy Dunn described himself as a hard-charging, motivated Marine in perfect health before he took mefloquine in September 2006.

But the first time he took it, he experienced nightmares and anxiety, he said, and the symptoms got worse with each subsequent dose. He stopped taking the medication after he returned home, but the symptoms still persist, 12 years later, including tinnitus, dizziness, anxiety and depression.

“Ladies and gentlemen … there probably are many veterans out there who think they are losing their minds or thought they were depressed and have never related it to this awful mefloquine drug,” Dunn said.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bill Manofsky, the first veteran diagnosed by the Department of Veterans Affairs as having symptoms directly related to taking mefloquine, told the panel he has referred 280 veterans for medical care, including about 100 to the VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center for possible mefloquine poisoning. He asked the panel to look at all available information.

“The medical records are not going to show up in the literature,” Manofsky said.

In most National Academies reviews, panelists interview subject-matter experts and review all available documentation on an issue, including federal government documents, academic reviews and previous studies.

In earlier studies of military-related environmental exposures, National Academies panelists often were unable to draw any conclusions because the research or data on a topic simply doesn’t exist.

Dr. Remington Nevin, a former Army preventive medicine specialist who now serves as executive director of The Quinism Foundation, a non-profit organized to support research into the effects of mefloquine and tafenoquine, expressed concern that the VA requested the National Academies review knowing the panel’s findings would prove inconclusive.

“Your work of the next 18 months is premature … certain powerful and entrenched interests would love nothing more than for the National Academies to conclude after 18 months that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of [mefloquine-related illnesses], or insufficient evidence to justify VA acting,” Nevin said.

Taliban officials deny report that top leader died from coronavirus

(Photo by James Gathany, courtesy of Centers for Disease Control)

An unknown number of U.S. troops, Peace Corps volunteers and some State Department employees have said they are permanently disabled from taking mefloquine, a once-a-week medication prescribed for personnel stationed in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and parts of Africa.

The Defense Department began phasing out its use in 2009 out of concern for possible neurological side effects.

In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration placed a “black box” warning on mefloquine, saying the drug can cause ongoing or permanent neurological and psychiatric conditions, including dizziness, loss of balance, ringing in the ears, anxiety, depression, paranoia and hallucinations, even after discontinuing use.

At their inaugural meeting, the National Academies members also heard from federal officials who set policy on medications and monitor their effects, including the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During his presentation, Dr. Loren Erickson, a retired Army infectious disease specialist who now serves as the VA’s chief consultant for post-deployment health, said the VA is “excited to [have] the academy review the issue,” as it’s one that has been a topic of consideration by the VA for years. “We all have an interest in seeking the truth.”

The VA contracted with the National Academies to conduct the review. Panel members noted that the final report will include observational findings but will not make any recommendations to the VA on how to handle disability claims or health benefits related to malaria drug exposure.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A crew of pilots and former astronauts just broke this world record

An international flight crew has broken a world record after flying around the world in 46 hours, 39 minutes, and 38 seconds.

The crew, known collectively as “One More Orbit,” flew over the North and South poles from July 9 to July 11, 2019.

The team, which flew in a Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER ultra long-range business jet, managed to beat the world record by 5 hours, 51 minutes, and 26 seconds, according to its website.

One More Orbit’s flight broke two previous records. The first, for the quickest overall time to fly around the world was set in 1977 by Capt. Walter Mullikin, while the second, for the fastest average speed, was set by Capt. Aziz Ojjeh in 2008.


The total route spanned about 22,328 nautical miles (25,695 miles/41,351 km), said Captain Hamish Harding, a mission director and one of the pilots.

The average speed was about 535 mph, according to The Associated Press’s calculations.

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A photo from the Apollo 11 landing on July 20, 1969.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The pilots attempted the flight to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11’s first moon landing on July 20, 1969, which saw humans go to the moon for the first time.

It started and ended its mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — exactly where the Apollo 11 crew took off almost 50 years ago.

July 9, 2019’s mission also started at 9:32 EDT — the exact same time as Apollo 11, One More Orbit said.

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An aerial view of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(NASA Kennedy)

The group consisted of three mission directors and six members of the Qatar Executive crew. One mission director, Captain Hamish Harding, and three other crew members served as pilots.

The entire flight consisted of nationals from the UK, US, Russia, Germany, Denmark, South Africa, Ukraine, and Poland, according to the team’s site.

Terry Virts, a former International Space Station (ISS) commander, and his former ISS crewmate, Russian Gennady Padalka, served as mission directors, and were also present during the flight.

‘NASCAR pit-stop intense’

Because the journey was so long, the team needed to refuel three times, in Kazakhstan, Mauritius, and Chile, Harding said.

Harding said prior to the flight that the team would attempt refuel stops of around 30 minutes each.

Virts, the American, described the fueling stop as “NASCAR pit-stop intense” after the flight, the AP reported. Padalka, the Russian, left after the second fuel stop.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s been investing in Arctic military bases

The comprehensive construction and upgrade of new airfields in the high Arctic has been practically completed and we are flying there and back, says Major General Igor Kozhin, leader of the Russian Naval Air Force.

Russia has over the last years invested heavily in military bases all over its wide-stretched Arctic, and there are now potent forces deployed all the way from the westernmost archipelago of Franz Josef Land to the Wrangle Island near the Bering Strait.


In addition comes the bases on Novaya Zemlya, Severnaya Zemlya and the New Siberian Island. New bases and air fields are also located on the Arctic mainland, from the Kola Peninsula to Cape Shmidt in the Chukotka Peninsula. The new base in Tiksi, was started in fall 2018 and is planned to be completed already in the course of the first half-year of 2019.

Upgrades are also in the making at the airfields of Vorkuta, Tiksi, Anadyr and Alykel.

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Russian Border Guards Antonov An-72P taking off from Tiksi Airport.

The Navy’s northernmost air force is located in the Franz Josef Land where the Nagurskoye base offers pilots a 2,500 meter long landing and takeoff strip.

In September 2018, two ships loaded with several thousand tons of construction materials left Murmansk for the Nagurskoye base. The cargo first of all included reinforced concrete plates and big bags with granulated materials for the airstrip, port authorities said.

In east Arctic archipelago of New Siberian Island, the Temp airbase is about 1,800 meters long.

According to Igor Kozhin, most of the new air fields will over the next few years be operational all though the year and capable of handling all kinds of aircraft.

“We have prepared the air force command structures and established a force than is capable of resolving its appointed tasks,” Kozhin says to Krasnaya Zvezda, the newspaper owned and run by the country’s Armed Forces.

Furthermore, the Air Force has not only boosted its strength and hardware in the region, but also significantly improved its tactical capabilities, the major general underlines.

That not only includes the regional air space, but also the situation under the Arctic ice.

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“We are not only talking about the air space, we are also working on breaking up the situation under the ice,” Kozhin says. “We are pretty seriously working with this. That means that the pilot, when in the air, must be able to have a full control over the situation.”

Surveillance capabilities have been improved.

“In the course of the last years we have on the request of the General Staff conducted several experiments on the development of a unified and real-time system on information-battle in the naval air force space,” the military representative says.

“This allows us to discover and eliminate threats before damage is made, the reaction time is significantly reduced and we get the possibility to neutralize the danger in its early stage.”

According to Kozhin, the Armed Forces have also managed to develop a new hard cover for airstrips that can be more efficiently applied in Arctic conditions. The new technology, that can be put on the ground in temperatures down to minus 30 degrees centigrade, has reportedly already successfully been tested in one of the Arctic airfields.

“This new material has proved itself excellent and opens a range of new opportunities that allows us to in short time restore restore the capability of the takeoff and land strip and extend its usage and heighten flight security.”

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

Articles

This video game company has pledged to help 50,000 vets find jobs

It’s a video game series beloved by troops deployed to recent battlefields and has become as common in squad bays as dip and energy drinks.


And now thanks to efforts by its designer, Activision, the non-profit that bears its name has broken its own record, placing more than 25,000 unemployed, post-9/11 vets in good jobs two years ahead of schedule.

Established in 2009 by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, the Call of Duty Endowment has pledged more than $18 million to businesses and other service groups to help them place post-9/11 veterans in high-quality careers with a solid understanding of the benefits former servicemembers bring to the table.

The Call of Duty Endowment set a goal of placing 25,000 vets in partner companies by 2018. But after reaching that bar in 2016, the non-profit announced it will double the goal by 2019.

“The Endowment’s efforts have had a direct and positive impact on the lives of so many who have given so much,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard and Co-Founder of the endowment. “With U.S. veteran unemployment rates still well above the national average, we are committed to continuing our efforts and have established a new, ambitious goal to secure employment for 50,000 veterans by 2019.”

According to a statement, the Call of Duty Endowment uses a “performance-driven approach” to vetting potential partners and after earning a grant, the endowment works with grantees and employers to “provide an array of advice and support aimed at maximizing their impact.”

The non-profit says the average cost to put a veteran on the payroll of its company partners is less than $600, compared to $3,000 for government-assisted employment services for vets.

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“Finding quality, meaningful employment is essential for a veteran to successfully transition back to civilian life,” said former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones, Co-Chairman of the endowment. “The Call of Duty Endowment is truly making a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of military veterans and their families.”

The endowment has already donated $18 million to get vets back to work and boasts an average $50,000 starting salary with 94 percent placed in full-time jobs.

“Twenty-five thousand veterans is equivalent to every individual recruited by the U.S. Navy in 2015, and we’ve achieved this goal by applying common sense business practices to philanthropy,” said Dan Goldenberg, Executive Director of the endowment. “We’re grateful for the support from Activision Blizzard, our partners and the gaming community, and are proud of what our grantees have achieved in such a short period of time.”

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