Taliban rebels killed seven people and kidnapped another six along a highway in western Afghanistan, official sources told EFE Ingles July 12.
The incident, in which 10 rebels were also killed, took place on July 11 along a national highway near Farah, capital of a province by the same name, when the Taliban stopped several vehicles and captured more than 10 people, according to Nasser Mehri, spokesperson for the provincial governor.
“According to initial information, they killed seven of the kidnapped passengers,” explained Mehri, adding that five of the victims were former members of the Afghan security forces.
Mehri added the insurgents were planning to capture more people when the Afghan troops arrived and there was a shootout.
A police official from the province, who asked not to be named, told EFE that at least seven passengers are still being held hostage by the Taliban, and that security forces have launched a rescue operation in areas around the incident spot.
In 2016, the Taliban abducted hundreds of people from the country’s unsafe highways, including members of the security forces traveling in buses or in specific vehicles.
Afghanistan is witnessing its most violent phase since 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown with the help of the United States.
Since then, insurgents have been gaining ground in various parts of Afghanistan and currently control, influence, or are in dispute with the government over at least 43 percent of the territory, according to the US.
A Green Beret became the first US servicemember to graduate from the modern version of Thai Ranger School.
The Green Beret, who is assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group, finished the course as the honor graduate.
With a duration of 10 weeks, the Thai Ranger School is broken down into five phases: Mountain, Forest, Swamp, Maritime, and Urban. During each phase, students are graded on every patrol role (platoon leader, squad leader, medic, paceman, navigator) and they have to lead both platoons and squads during missions. In addition, they are evaluated on how well they compose operations orders.
“As a Green Beret, we’re supposed to be masters of the basics,” the unnamed Green Beret said in a press release. “This course took me back to the basics. For instance, navigating off one map per platoon…In a [Special Forces] team you have eight maps plus GPS.”
From the 198 candidates who started, 187 graduated. The loss of only 11 students is remarkable considering the course’s brutal reputation. In the past, US Special Operations Command Pacific had prohibited US special operators from attending the course because the likelihood of death was high.
Perhaps the most important aspect of such foreign training is the bonds that are developed between the US troops and their foreign counterparts. For the Army’s Special Forces, in particular, that rings very close to home as they work with, though, and by partner forces to achieve their missions.
“It’s a lifetime bond here,” added the Special Forces operator. “I will always remember these guys and I will always keep in contact with them. It’s like brother-to-brother mentorship.”
The Green Beret had to rely on his Thai language skills to carry him through during the course since neither his fellow students nor his instructors spoke English.
“It’s not so much what he gives to my formation, but what he gives to our entire force at-large in that he is a tactical and cultural diplomat for our country and Army,” said the Special Forces major in command of the Green Beret’s company. “The skills that he comes back with and the relationships he forged while there will better prepare both countries to operate with each other for our mutual defense.”
To say that the Thai Ranger school is hardcore is an understatement. Unlike the US version, when a student gets injured, he doesn’t get immediately medically dropped. Thai Ranger instructors offer injured students the opportunity, and indeed encourage them, to remain in the course and for their weight to be redistributed among the team. That adds a level of realism that for understandable reasons doesn’t exist in US military schools.
To be sure, American troops going through various selections or courses do get injured and continue. It’s not uncommon to have a soldier finish Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) with a broken ankle or swollen knee or a sailor finish Navy SEAL Hell Week with a broken leg. But in such cases, the students opt to shoulder the extra burden and don’t tell the instructors because they know that they would be removed from training and would have to redo large portions of it.
With their motto “First in Asia,” the 1st Special Forces Group has been operating in the region since 1957 (with a 10-year break between 1974 and 1984 when the unit was deactivated following the troop drawdown after Vietnam War).
When it comes to things like air superiority, if you don’t have to think about it, you’re probably winning. The ground pounders in the Armed Forces of the United States have it pretty good in that regard. They can be reasonably sure that if they’re going into a combat situation, death will likely not be coming from above.
The Army and Marine Corps know they can count on airmen to have the best food and the worst PT tests, but as long as those airmen can lift bombs and bullets onto aircraft and get the stuff to the fight, everyone is blessed from on high. Everyone allied with the United States, that is.
But what happens to ground troops who can’t depend on US airpower to ensure “death from above” isn’t the last thing they hear? There are countries whose armed forces have to deal with things like that. Some countries go to war and send in ground forces without really thinking about an air force. If air power isn’t a priority, going to war in the 21st century is a terrible idea.
We’re not here to make fun of countries who don’t have an air force, especially if they aren’t going around rattling sabers all the time. You never hear about Costa Rica wanting to invade Belize for their strategic scuba gear caches. No, Costa Rica is too busy getting rich from Americans on yoga trips to worry about things like war. Meanwhile, Iran is constantly talking smack to Israel while rolling around in F-14 Tomcats that Israel can see from the the runways where their F-35s take off.
But just because something is a little old doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its uses. If it works and the country can maintain its effectiveness, then why get rid of it? If a country has antiquated equipment but is still rocking it after all these years, we won’t take points off. Some things are just timeless.
The reason a country’s air force makes the list is because they’re patched together with bubble gum and wishes and expected to fight a war with awful training, no funding, and little regard from the government for the lives of the people expected to keep their terrible air forces flying.
A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet gives a shrug as it parks on the flight line at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Chase Cannon)
It’s still hard to see such a stalwart U.S. ally make the list, but here we are. In our last rundown of the world’s airborne worst, Canada was the least worst of those listed. Last time, we specifically mentioned how terrible the state of Canada’s Ch-124 Sea King fleet was. Just to get them airborne required something like 100 hours apiece.
Replacing them was just as laborious; it took more than 20 years of political wrangling to get to a point where they could first fly its replacement, the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone. But the helicopter fun doesn’t stop there. The bulk of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s helicopter fleet is flying the Bell CH-146 Griffon, a bird known to cause constant, debilitating neck pain in most of the pilots who fly it.
Canada never learned from its own cautionary tale – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed the F/A-18 Super Hornet for Canada’s next-gen Strike Fighter to replace the aging CF-18s ordered by his father in the 1970s while the rest of its Western Allies are upgrading to the F-35.
Can you see this stealth fighter? So can everyone else’s radar.
Yeah, I know most of you are calling bullsh*t immediately, but hear me out. For all its talk, China isn’t currently capable of global reach, and isn’t expected to be until 2030. It has a relatively small number of early-warning aircraft and aerial tankers. Most of its aerial fleet are licenses or rip-offs of other, better fighting systems. And the vaunted Chinese Chengdu J-20 fighter was rushed into production with a less-than-adequate engine, which negates any stealth capabilities it has and weakens its performance as a fifth-gen fighter.
That’s a pretty embarrassing misstep for an air force that wants to strike fear in the hearts of the world’s second-largest air force: the U.S. Navy.
More than that, when was the last time China did anything with its air force other than attempt to intimidate weaker neighbors in the South China Sea? Historically, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has a tendency to get in way over its head. It wasn’t a real factor in the Chinese wars with India and Vietnam (though you’d think an air force in the 20th century would be), but where it was a factor – the Korean War, the Taiwan Strait Crises, and the U.S.-Vietnam War – a lack of any air combat doctrine and investment in air power led to heavy losses and big lessons for the PLAAF.
It wasn’t until after the Gulf War of 1991 that Chinese leaders decided to really give air power another shot, both in terms of technology and investment. China still has a long way to go.
Greece, full of historical artifacts – like its air force.
There are a lot of training accidents in the Hellenic Air Force. After a Greek Mirage 2000 crashed into the Aegean Sea April 2018, a look back at the incidents reported to Greek officials found 125 people died in 81 crashes between 1990 and 2018. Two of those were Greek fighter pilots trying to intercept Turkish jets.
Since the Greek government debt crisis, the Greek military has to be incredibly cautious with the money it spends. Every time a Greek fighter has to scramble to intercept a Turkish fighter in their airspace, it bleeds Greece of Euros better spent elsewhere. That might be why Turkey does it more than a thousand times every year – and there’s nothing the Greeks can do about it except go up and meet them with antiquated equipment due to the steep budget cuts demanded by Greece’s creditors.
Turkey will soon be flying F-35s like most NATO allies, while Greece (also a NATO ally, but Turkey doesn’t care) will be “intercepting” them with F-16s at best, and maybe an F-4 Phantom at worst.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not sitting in a museum piece, but an actual Iranian Air Force F5F fighter, first build in the 60s and still used in Iran.
(FARS News Agency)
The F-14s flown by Iran these days were first introduced under President Richard Nixon. Don’t get me wrong, Iran’s air force should be given props (see what I did there?) for keeping the aging fleet airborne. Iran’s F-14s were purchased by the Shah or Iran and, when he was overthrown, the U.S. wasn’t exactly keen on providing spare parts to the Islamic Republic. They were able to kick ass against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi air force in the Iran-Iraq War, but that was then and this is now.
Those things are held together with duct tape and wishes by now, with only seven operational Iranian Air Force F-14s. The Islamic Republic now has to use homegrown technology to replace certain avionics systems and weapons on its aging aircraft, even going to far as to claim an old American F-5F was an Iranian-built fourth-gen fighter in 2018 because it had a lot of Iranian-built components.
In fact, Iran is just using F-5s as a blueprint to Frankenstein “new” fighters from its old garbage – most of which is leftover from the Shah or was captured from the Iraqis. Even the IRIAF’s ejection seats can’t save its pilots.
This Ukrainian Su-25 isn’t landing… at least, not on purpose.
Ukraine has a definite Russia problem. Not content to simply let his divorce with Ukraine happen, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is out to give Ukraine headaches wherever possible and Ukraine can do little about it. Russia-backed separatists operate with near-impunity in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and, when the Ukrainian Air Force is able to act, they often either kill civilians or get shot down on the way.
Its aircraft go down without enemy help, as seen in the 2018 Su-27 crash in Western Ukraine that killed Lt. Col. Seth ‘Jethro’ Nehring of the California Air National Guard. The Flanker went down as the pilot was familiarizing the American with its capabilities. In fact, other Su-27s have crashed, including one at an air show that killed 83 people. The National Interest said these crashes are either a result of poor maintenance, poor training, and/or daredevil flying. The truth is probably a combination of the three.
To top it all off, Ukraine’s air force is so old it was mostly handed down from the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism in the east. The old airframes are no match for the advanced surface-to-air missile being fired at them from the separatists. When Russia captured 45 planes from Ukraine’s Su-29 fleet in annexing Crimea, they probably did Ukraine a huge favor.
PAF: Caveat emptor.
On any global list of sh*t-talkers, Pakistan has historically rated very high, especially toward its longtime arch-nemesis, India (although new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan seems more conciliatory). The Pakistanis see India as an existential threat, and are not likely to stop anytime soon.
So, after fighting four pitched wars against India and losing all of them, prioritizing air power would seem to be the way forward if Pakistan was still going to rattle the saber every so often. RAND Corporation studies still declare that the Indian Air Force would have air supremacy in any war against Pakistan. Only very recently has Pakistan decided it would be best to upgrade their fighter aircraft. So, in a joint venture with China, they created a bargain-basement version of the F-16, the JF-17 Thunder, which now makes up the bulk of the PAF.
To give you an idea of how (in)effective the Thunder is, China doesn’t fly it. Neither does anyone else. Immediately dubbed the “Junk Fighter-17 Blunder,” the aircraft is dangerous to fly at lower speeds, it can’t fly as fast as older Pakistani airframes (and certainly not as fast as India’s fighters), and it can’t use similar avionics and munitions as its other fighters, which was one of the missions in creating the fighter in the first place. If all they wanted to do was replace their old fleet, then mission accomplished. If they wanted to beat India in an air war, well, it doesn’t look good, but it remains to be tested.
Aside from the JF-17, the PAF lags behind India in terms of both numbers of combat aircraft and the actual serviceable aircraft fielded at any given moment. It also lags behind its rival in terms of training and ability. Even when facing superior Pakistani firepower, skilled Indian pilots still manage to best the Pakistanis.
It’s a good thing the two countries face a nuclear detente.
Mexico has been fighting a war against the cartels for over a decade now, and all it got them was an increase in violence that made them the “Syria of North America.” In all that time, not only did the Mexican government decide not to invest in its air forces, it actively allowed all of its fighter aircraft to retire. Mexico has zero fighters.
While fighter aircraft aren’t necessary as a deterrent for aggressive neighbors, the cartels the country is actively fighting regularly uses aircraft to violate Mexican airspace and move illegal substances that fund the ongoing fight against the Mexican government and rival cartels. The aircraft the FAM does fly cannot fly high or fast enough to intercept aircraft used by drug smugglers and their leadership.
The Mexican Air Force has gone full Afghanistan with its fleet, focusing on drones, light attack aircraft, and troop transports. This is particularly bothersome to its northern neighbors, especially the United States, who considers the defense of the hemisphere a multilateral issue. Without Mexican air power, the U.S. may have a soft underbelly. Moreover, the Mexican Air Force is not a separate entity from the Army and the Air Force commander is tucked away in some headquarters building somewhere, giving air power guidance to no one.
As far as external threats go, an Army War College study says that the Mexican Armed Forces, including the Air Force, are incapable of defending Mexico from an external threat.
The Royal Saudi Air Force: Missing more targets before 9am than most air forces do all day.
3. Saudi Arabia
Despite being at war in Afghanistan for over 17 years, the one thing the United States can be sure of is the superiority of its Air Force. In a prolonged conflict, a good Air Force positions its resources so that it has positive control over that battlespace. When Saudi Arabia fights a prolonged war, not so much. Welcome to 2019, where the Saudi-lead coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen is about ready to begin another year of abject failure.
Not only has the Saudi coalition turned Yemen into an ongoing humanitarian crisis, no amount of foreign training is making the situation any better. Moreover, it’s just making the United States look bad. The U.S. Congress may soon vote over whether or not American participation in the conflict can continue after the Saudis used an American-made bomb to hit a school bus of civilian children in Yemen, killing 40.
That’s not even the first incident of indiscriminate killing of civilians. In October, 2016, Saudi warplanes hit a civilian funeral in an attack that killed 155 Yemenis. The problem with the Royal Saudi Air Force isn’t that their planes are antiquated, the problem is their choice of “military” targets.
Get your sh*t together, Saudi Arabia.
North Korean MiG, complete with glorious people’s revolutionary crocheted ejection seat cover.
2. North Korea
Of course North Korea is going to be near the top of the list. The only reason the DPRK is not at the very top is because it’s not actively trying to fight a war right now. Usually Kim Jong-Un is talking some kind of smack about invading the South or nuking America, but, in 2018, he mostly just got praise for not doing all that stuff.
But Kim still holds on to power with use of the North Korean military. While the Korean People’s Army isn’t exactly considered a formidable fighting force, the tactic of holding hundreds of artillery guns to South Korea’s head works for him. Of all the things Kim Jong-Un has done to the South, using his Air Force is not one of them.
The reason for this is probably because his air force is still relatively similar to the ones used by his grandfather Kim Il-Sung and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army against UN forces in the last full-scale war fought on the Korean Peninsula – the 1950-1953 Korean War. As a result, the North Korean air force is widely acknowledged as the least threatening arm of the North Korean military.
I imagine that the purpose of the North Korean Air Force is to take the brunt of any initial counterattack from U.S. and allied air forces in the event of a war. Sure, it’s a large air force, but it won’t last long in a war.
Syrian MiGs doing what they do best.
It’s a really good thing the Syrians are being backed up in the air by Russians because, if they didn’t, the Syrian Civil War would last a lot longer than it already has. Almost every other power present in the region violates Syrian sovereignty on a near-daily basis. Israel, Turkey, and even Denmark have entered Syrian airspace, with Israel and Turkey both scoring air-to-air kills against Syrian Sukhoi fighters old enough to have fought against the U.S. in Vietnam.
It’s also not great to be an airman in the Syrian Air Force. Besides getting shot down by everyone (including a U.S. F/A-18 Super Hornet), Syrian fighter pilots face advanced surface-to-air missiles their airframes are not prepared to evade, they accidentally veer into neighboring countries (even getting shot down in Israeli airspace), and were the first target of President Trump’s retaliatory strike for the Syrian military’s use of chemical weapons.
Within 16 months of the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, a Syrian Air Force pilot flew his MiG-21 to Jordan, where he defected. The only surprise is that there aren’t more SAF defectors – as of 2015, Syrian pilots have spent as many as 100 days behind the sticks of their aircraft. At one point, security in Syria’s air force was so bad, they had to move their fighters within Iran’s borders so they wouldn’t be targets for other, better air forces.
While nuclear weapons usually get the big, scary headlines when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, the whole triad is a serious threat. Chemical and biological weapons are easier for rogue states to produce and deploy and any WMD can cause severe damage to American warfighters.
Beyond the immediate threat as the weapons rain down, weapons of mass destruction leave agents that can persist for anywhere from minutes to years, leaving vehicles, buildings, and even the ground lethal for soldiers.
Of course, the U.S. can’t just avoid their equipment or the battlefield for years. Instead, they send specialized troops in to spearhead decontamination efforts.
1. After a chemical attack, the U.S. is left with few good options. Decontaminating takes time and resources, but leaving the chemicals in place could result in dead troops.
2. Typically, specially trained crews will rush with their gear into a staging area and prep for decontamination.
3. Once all gear and personnel are certified ready-to-go, the troops get to work.
4. Teams have to wade into the target area, assessing what areas have been affected by the weapon, whether chemical, biological, or nuclear.
5. Of course, these teams face the chances of follow-on attacks and have to be ready to defend themselves.
6. These teams will report to their headquarters what areas have been affected and specialists will assess how long it will take for the threat to dissipate on its own (if ever).
7. Any equipment in the affected area, whether present at the time of the attack or that entered during combat operations or decontamination efforts, has to be thoroughly decontaminated.
8. Chemical, biological, and nuclear threats are all broken down and removed using different techniques, but soap and water help in nearly all cases.
9. Depending on the type and extent of contamination, the cleaning process may be completed by special teams or by the vehicle’s normal crews.
10. Many biological and chemical agents spread throughout all the nooks and crannies of the vehicles, making them a nightmare to clean.
11. And any mistakes could be lethal. If the wrong biological agent is left behind, it could get into someone’s system and doom them, possibly triggering an epidemic.
12. Some positions, like aircrews, require especially challenging decontamination efforts. Their personal gear includes everything from g-suits to breathing gear.
13. And each crewmember and pilot has to be kept separate until they can be decontaminated, leading to hilarious photos like this one.
14. One of the more common powders used is the specialized resin in M291 Chemical Decontamination Kits. It absorbs many agents and facilitates their destruction.
15. One of the most important things about personnel decontamination is preventing recontamination, so troops are washed in a set process, typically top to bottom.
16. And protective gear has to be switched out at set intervals, so this process has to be repeated multiple times per day.
All in all, WMDs are terrifying at worst and a hassle at best. Let’s hear your MOPP gear stories.
When the 6th Marine Division stormed ashore at Okinawa on April 1, 1945 they knew they were in for a fight. Okinawa is a Japanese prefecture, therefore home turf, and would be ruthlessly defended.
But, their first month on the island was almost uneventful as the Marines swept across the northern part of the island.
All of that changed when they shifted to join the attack in the south.
The Japanese commander’s plan was to concentrate his forces in the hills of southern Okinawa and wage a war of attrition on the Americans that he hoped they could not withstand.
All along the front, American units took a beating from the Japanese. Slowly but surely though, they crept forward. This monumental effort broke the first defensive line, the Machinato line. This led the Americans to the next, and even more formidable defense, the Shuri line.
The Shuri line was the Japanese Main Line of Resistance. It ran from coast to coast across Okinawa roughly in line with Shuri castle.
All along the line, the Japanese defenders were chewing up entire American divisions. However, the worst of it would come for the 6th Marine Division at an unassuming little hill they called “Sugar Loaf.”
Though barely 75 feet high and some 300 yards in length the small hill was teeming with an entire Japanese regiment. The Japanese were dug into intricate tunnels with machine gun and mortar nests covering every approach with interlocking fire.
Artillery from Shuri heights behind Sugar Loaf added more devastation.
On May 12 Company G, 22nd Marines advanced on the hill. Confidence was high as they crossed the first 900 yards to Sugar Loaf’s slopes. Then all hell broke loose. The first two platoons were suddenly ripped apart and pinned down by heavy Japanese machine gun and artillery fire.
Capt. Owen Stebbins, and his XO, Lt. Dale Bair rushed forward leading the remaining platoon. Before they could even make the slopes, Stebbins and 28 other Marines were cut down.
Bair assumed command but was wounded instantly himself. Despite his wounds, he rallied his men and surged to the crest of Sugar Loaf. Blasting at the Japanese with only one good arm Bair inspired his men before Japanese fire repeatedly struck him. Continuing to fight through the pain Bair did everything in his power to suppress the Japanese. He was later awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.
As the Japanese fire intensified, the few remaining Marines evacuated the summit. However, the fight was not over. G Company would assault Sugar Loaf and take the summit three more times that day before being forced to withdraw for the night.
Company G was down to 75 able-bodied men after only the first day. The next day other elements of the 22nd Marines captured the summit of Sugar Loaf only to be driven off.
On May 14, elements of the 29th Marines joined in on the attack and the combined effort managed to get two companies to the top of the hill. Withering fire from the Japanese forced them back down.
An attack in the afternoon by the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines stalled and left Maj. Henry Courtney, the battalion XO, stranded on the slopes along with 44 other Marines. From his precarious position, Courtney surmised that their only hope was to assault.
Leading the way through ferocious Japanese fire Courtney led his men through fierce combat. After gaining a better position, Courtney sent for reinforcements and ammunition. He then pushed forward to the crest of the hill, demolishing Japanese positions with grenades as he went. Observing a large force assembling for a counterattack Courtney pushed on and routed the enemy from the top of Sugar Loaf.
Courtney order his men to dig in and hold for the night. Unfortunately, accurate Japanese mortar fire mortally wounded him and determined Japanese resistance reduced his small force to only 15 men. Unable to hold they once again yielded the summit.
May 15 was no better for the Marines. Company D, 29th Marines battled to the top before fighting a bitter engagement with the Japanese. A single platoon exhausted some 350 grenades and were down to eleven men before they retreated.
On the 16th, the Marines renewed their assault. The 22nd Marines once again went up Sugar Loaf while the 29th Marines attacked Half Moon hill, a small landmass interconnected with Sugar Loaf’s defenses, from which they could provide supporting fire.
Sugar Loaf changed hands four separate times before the Marines withdrew. The final attempt seemed to be holding when they ran out of ammunition and had no choice but to forfeit the hill once more.
The first good news of the battle came on May 17 when a battalion from the 29th Marines finally secured most of Half Moon hill.
The next day, the Marines launched diversionary attacks all along the line and then snuck a unit of tanks and infantry between Sugar Loaf and Half Moon. These Marines then attacked Sugar Loaf from the rear and finally drove out the remaining Japanese defenders. This was the twelfth times the Marines had made the summit and they were loath to relinquish it.
The beleaguered and angry Marines mowed down the retreating Japanese.
The fight for Sugar Loaf Hill had cost the Marines over 2,600 causalities with nearly 1,300 more evacuated for exhaustion or illness. But, the Marines hard-won victory finally cracked the Shuri line and spelled the end for the Japanese defenders on Okinawa.
Taking a break from their pre-season training camp in O’ahu, Hawaii, the LA Clippers basketball team, coaches, and staff paid their respects during a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial on Sept. 27, 2017.
Service members from all branches of the military accompanied them at Merry Point Landing, located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, to guide them through the hallowed grounds of the memorial.
It wasn’t a publicity stunt — the only official photographer was on site was Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Meranda Keller. No news site has reported on this at the time of this article’s writing.
These players are genuinely here to honor resting place of the 1,102, of the 1,117 sailors and Marines who lost their lives Dec. 7, 1941.
While at the memorial, players were each guided by service members who would tell them of the history of the site and what happened on that tragic day.
After the tour, the Clippers spent time with the troops. They joked and took photos with members of the Armed Forces.
Kim Jong Nam was the heir apparent to the world’s only dynastic Communist regime. His fall from grace came when he was apprehended in Japan trying to get into Disneyland Tokyo. Since then, the son of the late Kim Jong-Il and half-brother to current North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was stripped of his inheritance and eventually exiled, paving the way for Kim Jong-un’s rise to power. Even that came to an end.
Kim Jong-Nam was assassinated in a Malaysian airport in 2017, under the guise of a prank, with VX nerve agent. And now we know why – he was informing the CIA.
The avid gambler was sprayed in the face with the toxic agent and would die after a seizure before he could ever reach the hospital. VX is the most potent of all nerve agents. Colorless and odorless, it will trigger symptoms in seconds if inhaled. It can cause paralysis, convulsions, loss of consciousness, respiratory failure, and death. Kim Jong Nam was dead within minutes of his exposure. Two women approached him on his way home to China and rubbed their hands on his face.
Worst of all, Kim was carrying atropine autoinjectors on his person at the time, an indication that he was expecting such an attack from his younger brother. Reports indicate that Kim Jong Nam had been marked for death for at least five years – since his brother first took power.
Kim Jong-un came to power in 2012 after the death of Kim Jong-Il.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports the reason why Kim Jong Nam was doomed to die was his cooperation with the American Central Intelligence Agency. For years, Kim regularly met with agents and contacts in the CIA, though the exact details on the nature of his relationship to the agency are unclear. Since Kim Jong Nam had been exiled from the Hermit Kingdom for more than a decade, what he could tell the CIA about the situation in Pyongyang is not known. The Wall Street Journal added that Kim was likely in contact with intelligence agencies from other countries, especially China’s.
Kim’s purpose for going to Malaysia was to meet with a Korean-American businessman, suspected of being a CIA operative himself, on the resort island of Langkawi. After his killing, members of his family were taken from Macau by North Korean dissident groups and are now in hiding.
Well. The world still isn’t doing too great right now and the ghost of Nero is somewhere out there presumably fiddling. Another week of social distancing, binge-watching shows you never thought you’d care about and there’s still a shortage of sh*t tickets as we haven’t even gotten to the apex of this pandemic.
The news seems bleak at the moment but there are cases of folks coming out the other side of this sickness. In particular, two WWII veterans – Bill Kelly, 95, and Bill Lapschies, 104. Now, I’m not the type of guy to bring up “feel good” fluff pieces for the sake of feel-good-ness. I bring them up because their interviews are both perfect responses of what you’d expect from the Greatest Generation’s vets.
Kelly responded with a, “I survived the foxholes of Guam, I can get through this coronavirus bullsh*t!” and Lapschies, who celebrated his 104th birthday with a full recovery, says he’s “pretty good. I made it. Good for a few more!” After some internet sleuthing, Lapschies does appear to be the oldest survivor of the coronavirus from what I could find.
Just goes to show you that even in the worst moments, veterans of all eras have an instinctual habit of keeping a stiff upper lip and a sense of humor. Speaking of which, here’s some memes…
An American detainee wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands bound resists questions from a sadistic, faceless interrogator. Faced with repeated torture and more questions, it’s only a matter of time before he cracks.
The scene is from a short film called “Prisoner of War,” released on Veterans Day 2015, and it shows the internal struggle that some combat veterans face after they take off the uniform.
“This is an emotionally charged short film that will leave a lot of people speechless,” Executive Producer Marty Skovlund, Jr. told The Havok Journal. “Thanks to the exceptional performance that Josh [Kelly] put on, as well as the creative genius of both director Matt Sanders and the director of photography Chris Koser, we have something here that will send shockwaves through the audience.”
Everyone gets Facebook friend requests from strangers. We used to worry about them being identity thieves. Nowadays, those strangers might be spooks.
Many experts agree cyberspace is the battleground of the future, and for good reason. We see that future playing out in many ways, even now. There are real cybersecurity threats out there, as the recent hacking of the Office of Personnel Management demonstrates. Experts estimate the cost of information lost to hackers could be as high as $4.6 billion.
This isn’t The Pirate Bay sharing films and music via free torrent downloads. This is actual damage from ideological foes like ISIS and North Korea. China alone accounts for 70% of intellectual property theft. One Air Force counter strategy took a play from Russia’s playbook: create an online army of trolls.
Russian trolls pump out 135 comments, 50 news article posts, and maintain 6-10 Facebook and Twitter accounts per 12-hour shift. But Russia uses actual humans to do this work, while the Air Force commissioned software to allow one service member to control the same number of online identities, accounts known as “sock puppets,” toward purposes not specified.
In 2010, Air Force contractors took bids for developing this software on FedBizOps (which is a real government website, despite sounding like a subsidiary of Cash4Gold) as legally required for potential contractor opportunities. According to the contract synopsis the Air Force wanted:
“50 User Licenses, 10 Personas per user. Software will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user’s situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.”
That’s 500 people spreading disinformation and propaganda, much more than the mass emails your parents send to all their friends.
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has the same technology. It might even be better than the Air Force’s request, as CENTCOM’s can fool geolocating services, allowing for misinformation and propaganda (or anything else the software could provide) from anywhere in the world.
“This contract supports classified social media activities outside the U.S., intended to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda,” said Commander Bill Speaks, the chief media officer of CENTCOM’s digital engagement team.
In contrast, the Air Force’s guidelines for actual humans posting on blogs and social media is actually pretty well constructed.
One of the original bidders for the software was the now-defunct HBGary, whose CEO infamously bragged he was able to take down hacker collective Anonymous, the same collective who subsequently dumped HBGary’s secret documents onto the Internet, where it was found HBGary had developed similar software as a part of the U.S. government’s ongoing not-so-secret supervillain plan to destroy the Wikileaks website.
Whatever the persona technology was for, it was launched in March 2011, presumably in support of Operation Earnest Voice. For the record, it would be illegal for the Air Force or CENTCOM to use “sock puppet” accounts against American citizens.
Imagine having to conceal your identity in order to feel safe and protect the ones you love. Changing the route you take to work, wearing disguises so you won’t be recognized, or reducing the amount of vacation you take because you know it’s safer to be at work than not.
For many of us, this way of life would seem farfetched or unrealistic, but for one Airman, this was his reality. Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad, 60th Aerial Port Squadron, transportation Journeyman, used to be an Afghan national working as a head interpreter with U.S. forces at Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan. As the head interpreter, Javad was relied upon for his expertise, which meant he was on all the important missions.
“I would go out on missions and it was like I was actually in the Army,” said Javad. “I would go weeks without a shower, I would carry 100-150 pound bags of ammo, sleep on the ground, walk all day, climb mountains, and jump out of helicopters.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo, Feb. 28, 2018. Javad was a linguist for U.S. forces while living in Afghanistan and fled to the United States in 2014. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
Despite the constant diligence to remain obscured, in 2013, the locals somehow figured out Javad was working with U.S. forces.
“Once they knew who I was, my family and I were no longer safe,” said Javad. “My life was threatened by the insurgents, my wife was accused of helping infidels and was threatened with kidnapping. I knew after that, I couldn’t work here anymore.”
Thus began a courageous and remarkable journey that led Javad to America and enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.
Javad was born in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union. His family fled to Iran because the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan made it too dangerous to stay.
“We left in 1989 when I was two during the Soviet-Afghan War because it was too dangerous for my family to stay,” said Javad “We came to Iran under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so we were discriminated against.”
There were not many educational opportunities for Javad growing up in Iran because of his refugee status. His parents decided to return to Afghanistan in 2004 since it was safer.
“We came back to Afghanistan so I could seek higher education because neither of my parents had that opportunity,” said Javad. “They wanted that option for me. I got my education, my bachelors and a double major in chemistry and biology.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo with his wife Sara, and three children Sana, Yusef, and Benyamin, March 6, 2018. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
After completing his education, Javad still found it difficult to find meaningful work.
“Afghanistan had a new government and it was corrupted,” said Javad. “It was difficult to get jobs unless you knew the right people.”
Javad had taken classes on computers, language, and received a certification in accounting. This helped him find a job where he could now provide for his family.
“After graduating college, I worked for an accounting firm,” said Javad. “After a year and a half, I was promoted to general manager.”
Unfortunately, after a horrific motorcycle accident kept him in the hospital for six months, Javad lost his job as a general manager with the accounting firm.
“I knew that without knowing anyone in the government, I was going to have to start from the bottom again,” said Javad. “The only other option I had was to become a linguist with U.S. forces.”
The day Javad applied for the linguist position, over 200 others were attempting the same.
“There’s a written and verbal skills test, interview, and security background check,” said Javad. “Only 10 of us made it through those stages. Once you get through that, there’s another few months of security screening with the Central Intelligence Agency and medical exams.”
Javad’s first assignment was with the USAF at FOB Shindand.
“I was assigned to the Base Defense Operations Center for the Air Force,” said Javad. “I was translating all the daily, weekly, and monthly security reports.”
While assigned there Javad met Senior Master Sgt. Michael Simon II, who was serving on a 365-day deployment as a Mi-17 crew chief air advisor.
“Javad was assigned to the FOB as an interpreter, translating from Dari or Pashto to English,” said Simon. “We worked together on several occasions in support of the Afghan Air Force training and advising missions.”
What Javad didn’t know at the time was that Simon would play an instrumental role years later as he transitioned from Afghanistan to America. During his time at FOB Shindand, the USAF was replaced by the Army, and his duties and responsibilities changed significantly.
“We were given the option to resign or accept new roles,” said Javad. “Sure enough, within a month, I was riding in convoys outside the wire. Things were a lot different now.”
Javad spent three years at FOB Shindand and witnessed some horrific things.
“I saw Army soldiers get shot and killed. I saw Afghan civilians get shot and killed,” said Javad. “I was the head interpreter and was always going out with Battalion commanders and other high-ranking officials.”
Despite the difficulties of his job and awful experiences he witnessed, Javad felt something for the first time.
“I was a local,” said Javad. “I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, but they never treated me like a stranger. They trusted me, they worked with me. That was a feeling I’d never had in my life before until I worked there.”
After his identity was disclosed and Javad knew he was no longer safe in Afghanistan, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa so he could come to America. This wasn’t an easy decision because Javad was living as an upper middle-class citizen in Afghanistan.
“I was a homeowner with lots of land,” said Javad. “I owned a car and motorcycle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell anything because no one would buy anything built with the money from America. I was choosing between my belongings or my life.”
In the summer of 2014, Javad took his pregnant wife with only the belongings they could fit in a suitcase, the $800 they received for selling their wedding bands and traveled to the United States to begin a new life.
“When we arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we had nothing,” said Javad. “I needed a sponsor for my SIV and Simon agreed. With the help of Simon, we were able to sustain some sort of normalcy until we could get on our feet.”
Simon got donations from his church and the local refugee service in Colorado Springs. Lutheran Refugee Service lined up a starter apartment with basic furnishings.
“My sister had coordinated with a group of close friends and churches to get a lot of items needed outside of the basics already provided,” said Simon. “Then the rest was up to Javad and his determination to succeed.”
Despite having an education, Javad found it hard to find work.
“I had to find a job because I barely could afford a month’s rent,” said Javad. “Nobody would give me a job because I didn’t have a history of work in the U.S.”
After meeting a family who had a local business, Javad found some temporary work, but more importantly, a life-long friend.
“They ended up being like family to us,” said Javad. “They called me son and they were the only ones who came to my graduation at basic training.”
Working in a warehouse didn’t bring in a lot of money for Javad and he struggled to make ends meet.
“For the first four months, I didn’t have a car,” said Javad. “I had to walk four miles one way, work eight hours, and walk another four miles back, in the winter, in Colorado Springs.”
After a year in the U.S., Javad felt that serving in the armed forces may provide a better life for him and his family.
“I worked four years with the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and had a little sense of what life was like in the military,” said Javad. “I know there’s a lot of sacrifices you have to make when serving your country, but in the end, I wanted to give back to the country that helped me a lot.”
Javad decided to enlist in the USAF and entered basic training in February 2016.
“I wanted to be part of a really big picture,” said Javad. “I did it mainly because the U.S. military saved my life and I wanted to do my part.”
The decision to join the USAF did not surprise Simon because his commitment, dedication and hard work align with the USAF core values.
For Javad, to start from scratch with just a suitcase and dedicate his efforts to providing for his family is the true American dream,” said Simon. “Now he’s a member of the 1 percent club who voluntarily choose to serve this great nation. To say I’m proud of Javad would be an understatement.”
A week before graduating basic training, Javad received an unexpected gift.
“I was notified that I was officially a U.S. citizen,” said Javad. “I was overwhelmed with pride. When I saw the flag being raised at graduation and we saluted, I couldn’t stop myself from crying because I finally had a flag I could be proud of.”
After basic training and technical school, Javad arrived at his first duty station here at Travis Air Force Base, California. He’s enjoyed the people, mission, and the area.
“My unit treats me like any other Airman,” said Javad. “They don’t see me as a person from Afghanistan, they see me as an Airman.”
Javad has yet to deploy since joining the USAF but said he would like to return to Afghanistan as an Airman and citizen of the U.S.
“I would be happy to deploy to Afghanistan because I know the mission over there is important,” said Javad. “I would love a special duty assignment as a linguist and use my language skills to help my fellow Airmen.”
Javad’s short-term goal is to help his parents get to the U.S.
“My parents had to escape Afghanistan and flee to another country,” said Javad. “I feel responsible because I come from a culture where your kids are your retirement, so now they are struggling until I can find a way to bring them to America.”
Once Javad secures his family in the U.S., he plans on achieving his long-term goal which is to become an officer in the USAF.
“I couldn’t become an officer when I enlisted even though I had the education because I wasn’t a citizen,” said Javad. “Now that I have my citizenship, I will pursue officer training school and get my commission.”
A new monument at Arlington National Cemetery, near the U.S. capital, will honor American helicopter crews who flew during the Vietnam War.
The Military Times reports Congress has approved the monument, which will be near the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Spearheading the memorial campaign is retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Hesselbein, who flew AH-1 Cobra gunships in Vietnam. Hesselbein says Arlington has the greatest concentration of helicopter-crew casualties from the war.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin says the monument will create a “teachable moment” for people to understand the story of pilots and crew members. The U.S. relied heavily on helicopters to transport troops and provide support to ground forces near enemy soldiers in Vietnam.
The nonprofit Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association is paying for the monument.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal left the hospital in May 2018, after recovering from an assassination attempt. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent at his home in Salisbury in March 2018, by Russian spies, British counter-terror authorities have said.
One creepy prospect for the Skripals is that the would-be assassins may still be in the UK, living undercover as normal people, Russian espionage experts say. It’s easy to smuggle people out of Britain. For those of us not in the espionage business, it seems surprising that the attackers would stay in the country rather than escape immediately.
But Russia probably left its agents in place for an extended period after the attack.
Madeira told Business Insider that if a sleeper agent was used in the attempt on Skripal’s life, he or she probably remained in Britain after the attack rather than trying to immediately escape back to Russia.
“Why leave someone here, at risk of detection, after such a high-profile attack?” he told Business Insider. “I can only think of two scenarios where that might happen:
“An actual ‘illegal’ with an existing, years-long ‘legend’ would attract attention by going missing all of a sudden – i.e. friends, co-workers or neighbours might report a missing person to police, who might then put two and two together and tie that person to the Skripal attack. Better to keep him/her in place, living a mundane life again, their role in this operation now concluded.”
“Someone who isn’t an ‘illegal’ in the strictest sense of the word, but for now having to stay in hiding in the UK until things settle down a bit. Perhaps with a new set of ID papers, s(he) can eventually look to exit the country via a quieter, lower-profile exit point.”
Obviously, we cannot know exactly what the operative did after the attack. The Mirror reported in April 2018, that one suspect has flown back to Russia. Earlier that month, the Mirror’s source speculated that the sleeper agent would still be in the UK, ready for another mission. “Unless it were an absolute emergency and the operative had to chance a ‘crash escape’, this exit point would normally be carefully picked based on e.g. the set of ID papers available, the person’s appearance and overall profile, history in the UK if checked by the Border Force, how tight border controls were assessed to be at that exit point, etc.,” Madeira told Business Insider.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.