The U.S. Army has been looking beyond armor to augment the defense of Abrams tanks and other armored vehicles, responding to the emergence of more potent weapons without sacrificing speed and weight.
“Today, we need to adapt differently to threats, not just by adding more armor,” Col. Kevin Vanyo, program manager for Emerging Capabilities at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development, and Engineering Center, told the Army News Service, adding that the Abrams is already so heavy many bridges cannot support it.
Vanyo said his team was working on both “hard kill” APS, which uses physical countermeasures, and “soft kill” APS, which uses countermeasures like electro-magnetic signals to interfere with incoming weapons. Both systems would be part of the Modular Active Protection System, which is “a framework for a modular, open-systems architecture” that will allow an active-protection system to function once installed, he said.
The Army is considering three versions of MAPS, Vanyo told the Army News Service. Israeli-made Trophy APS on Abrams tanks, U.S.-made Iron Curtain APS on Stryker combat vehicles, and Iron Fist APS, also made by an Israeli company, on Bradley fighting vehicles.
Decisions about fielding the latter two systems will be made in early 2018, but the Army hopes to field the Trophy APS system by 2020, Vanyo said.
How an APS Hard-Kill sequence works. (Image from Congressional Research Service)
Personnel at the Army Test and Evaluation Command’s Alabama test center facility in Redstone Arsenal are working on an APS and other systems that can be deployed as part of MAPS, ATEC chief Maj. Gen. John Charlton told Army News Service. A main concern was figuring out if signals produced by an APS would interfere with the Army vehicle or be detectable by enemy sensors.
The U.S. Army has been evaluating APS for some time. It leased several Trophy systems in spring 2016, working with the Marine Corps to test them. It has also purchased some systems for testing.
“The one that is farthest along in terms of installing it is … Trophy on Abrams,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, Army deputy chief of staff, told Scout Warrior this summer. “We’re getting some pretty … good results. It adds to the protection level of the tank.”
Army Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, said in mid-August that the Army was “very close to a decision on [installing] the Trophy system.”
“We’re looking to make those decisions rapidly so that we can spend money in the next Fiscal Year,” Bassett said, adding that he foresaw “a brigade’s worth of capability of Trophy on the Abrams.” The 2018 fiscal year began in October.
An Israeli Merkava IIID Baz tank. (Image from Israel Defense Forces)
Active-protection systems are already part of other countries’ arsenals. Israeli and Russian tanks both use the Trophy APS.
At least one country, Norway, has publicly discussed ways to counter Russian APS use — talk that appeared to break “a taboo among Western military officials and defence industries,” retired Brig. Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote earlier this year.
Even as militaries adopt active-protection systems to catch up with peers and rivals, there is reportedly a counter to APS already out there.
The most recent variant of the Russian-made RPG rocket launcher, the RPG-30, unveiled in 2008, has a 105 mm tandem high explosive antitank round and features a second, smaller-caliber projectile meant to act as an “agent provocateur” for active-protection systems, a Russian arms maker said in late 2015.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force’s top civilian leader didn’t mince words Sept. 20 when she doubted Moscow’s ability to make good on potential military cooperation with the United States in targeting Islamic State forces in Syria, saying Russia likely can’t be counted on to stick to the deal.
“This would be a ‘transactional’ situation, it’s not a situation where there’s a great deal of trust,” Air Force Sec. Deborah Lee James said during a briefing with reporters at the 2016 Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference here.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a deal with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in mid-September, saying that coalition and Russian aircraft would work together to target terrorist forces in Syria after a week-long cease-fire. It is unclear whether the deal will stick after reports that an aid convoy was targeted during the lull in fighting, with both sides pointing fingers at the other for breaking the terms of the short truce.
Wading into diplomatic waters, James also warned that allying with Russia could anger U.S. partners in the ongoing operations against ISIS in Syria, hinting that countries like Turkey and Baltic state partners would balk at cooperating on strikes if Russians are in the room.
“Coalition cohesion will be important,” James said. “We have more than 60 countries participating in this — we wouldn’t want to lose coalition members.”
But James offered her starkest critique of the Russian military on an issue that has increasingly plagued American military efforts overseas in the court of public opinion. Top U.S. military officials are worried that if Russia and the U.S. are jointly running air strikes, America will share the blame for bombs that go astray.
“We are extremely precise with our weaponry, Russia is not,” James said. “So we would want to have some form of accountability for the dropping of these weapons to ensure that if there are civilian casualties, clearly it’s not us.”
Military officials have been increasingly pressed on how the U.S. and its allies would work alongside Russian forces in Syria on everything from coordinating air strikes to sharing intelligence on enemy positions. Most military leaders, particularly in the Air Force, have taken a wait and see attitude, wondering whether the diplomatic rapprochement will ever result in a military alliance.
“Once the decisions are made on how this cooperation will occur … and we see that the cease-fire holds for the time that the secretary of state has laid out, then we’re going to step very carefully to make sure that what is said in terms of the intent actually results in actions,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
A video that reportedly captures the dramatic moment an Iraqi soldier saved his squad by driving his bulldozer into an incoming Islamic State group suicide bomber, has emerged this week.
The footage, which was shot from the dash cam installed inside the driver’s cabin, was taken in West Mosul where IS have been making their last stand against a massive operation to retake the Iraqi city.
It shows the driver deliberately ramming his bulldozer into an incoming IS car bomb in the narrow streets of the extremists’ final Iraqi bastion.
“Sir, I stopped it,” the driver, named in media reports as Mohammed Ali al-Shuwaili, can be heard saying as the smoke from the explosion fills his cabin.
“Thank God you’re alright,” his commander responds.
The New Arab could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.
Baghdad forces first took the eastern side of the city before crossing the Tigris and attacking the more densely packed western section of Mosul.Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul from IS nearly seven months ago, fighting their way into the jihadist-held city.
In the course of the fighting, security forces have faced a seemingly endless waves of IS car bombs, which when detonated erupt into towering fireballs.
Such attacks have featured heavily in the jihadi group’s latest propaganda films.
Iraqi officers said on Tuesday that Iraqi forces have recaptured nearly 90 percent of west Mosul from IS, which is on the “brink of total defeat”.
Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, told a news conference in Baghdad that IS now controls just over ten percent of west Mosul.
The drive to retake Mosul has been supported by a campaign of US-led coalition air raids in and around the city.
IS now controls just a handful of neighborhoods around the Old City, one of the country’s heritage jewels.
Half a million people are currently displaced as a result of the Battle for Mosul, and some 250,000 civilians are estimated to still be trapped inside the city’s west.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the President-elect has been very critical of the high costs of the fifth-generation multi-role fighter intended to replace F-16 and F/A-18 fighters and AV-8B V/STOL aircraft in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. The fighter’s cost has ballooned to about $100 million per airframe. The President-elect reportedly asked Boeing to price out new Super Hornets.
Some progress is being made in bits and pieces. An Air Force release noted that an improved funnel system developed by the team testing the F-35 will save nearly $90,000 – and more importantly, time (about three days).
Foxnews.com also reported that President-elect Trump met again with the Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing, over the Air Force One replacement. Last month, the President-elect tweeted his intention to cancel the program, which was slated to cost over $4 billion – an amount equivalent to buying over three dozen F-35s – for two airframes.
Muilenburg told Reuters, “We made some great progress on simplifying requirements for Air Force One, streamlining the process, streamlining certification by using commercial practices.” Those efforts, he went on to add, could save money on the replacement for Air Force One. The VC-25A, the current version of Air Force One, entered service in 1990, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
One way costs per airframe could be cut is to increase a production run. A 2015 Daily Caller article noted that when the productions for the Zumwalt-class destroyer and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle were slashed, the price per unit went up as each ship or vehicle bore more of the research an development costs. In the case of the Zumwalt, the reduction of the program to three hulls meant each was bearing over $3 billion in RD costs in addition to a $3.8 billion cost to build the vessel.
Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills awoke in a hospital on his 25th birthday to learn that an explosion in Afghanistan had robbed him of all four limbs. He later told his wife to take their daughter and their belongings, and just go. He didn’t want her saddled with his burden.
“She assured me that’s not how this works,” Mills said, “and she stayed by my side.”
Family support aided his recovery, Mills said, and now a foundation he created is bringing others with war injuries and their families to Maine to continue their healing while surrounded by others who understand what they’ve gone through.
The retreat at the lakeside estate of the late cosmetics magnate Elizabeth Arden will be dedicated this weekend after an overhaul that included accessibility upgrades.
Mills uses his personal story to offer encouragement: “I don’t look at myself and pity myself. I tell people to never give up, never quit, and to always keep pushing forward.”
The soldier’s life changed abruptly on April 10, 2012, when a bomb that evaded detection detonated when Mills unwittingly dropped his backpack on it.
The blast disintegrated his right arm and leg, shredded his wrist and blew several fingers off. His left leg dangled.
As life drained from him, Mills used what was left of his remaining hand to make a radio call for help for the others.
“My medic came up to me and I tried to fight him off, saying, ‘Doc, you’re not going to save me. There’s really no reason to keep trying. It’s OK. I accept what happened. Just tell my family I love them, and don’t waste your time,'” he told The Associated Press.
At the field hospital, his remaining leg came off with his pants as he was undressed for surgery. Two days later, his left arm was removed.
When it came to recovery, Mills said, the support of his family was just as important as top-notch medical care. His wife remained with him. Their 6-month-old daughter lifted his spirits. His father-in-law lived with him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and oversaw construction of a home adapted for his disabilities.
“Without my wife and daughter, I can’t tell you that I’d be sitting here today doing as well as I’m doing,” he said. “That’s why we do what we do. Because we believe there is more healing with the family and other people in the same situation.”
His wife, Kelsey, pregnant with their second child, said her husband has been competitive since his days as high school football captain in Vassar, Michigan. He was always the “life of the party,” she said, which helps to explain his charisma, enthusiasm, and constant jokes.
“He’s always had a strong drive, and getting injured was like a challenge to him to overcome it,” she said.
These days, he travels 165 days a year, delivering motivational speeches, and it seems there’s little he can’t do thanks to grit and advanced prosthetics. He’s gone skydiving, participated in adaptive skiing and mountain biking, and paddled on lakes. He’s written a book, “Tough As They Come.”
The retreat is an extension of Mills’ work at Walter Reed, where he lifted others’ spirits while recovering from his wounds over a 19-month period.
This summer, 56 families will be served free of charge.
They’ll kayak, go tubing, and fish, allowing injured soldiers and Marines to see that they don’t have to sit on the sidelines during family activities, Mills said.
Nearly $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions have gone into the camp, building on a pilot program. Mills hopes to raise enough money to create a permanent endowment.
Craig Buck said his son-in-law knows that not all injured military personnel have received the same family support. “This is his way of paying it forward,” Buck said. “That’s the reason we built the retreat.”
State and federal officials believe the Woolsey Fire, which forced the entire city of Malibu to evacuate, has not caused any radioactive materials to be released from the research facility. But some activists say toxic chemicals from Santa Susana likely contaminated the surrounding smoke and ash.
In the 1940s, the US government began using Santa Susana to test nuclear weapons and rockets. The facility spans more than 2,800 acres on the border of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. A partial nuclear meltdown in 1959 caused radioactive material and carcinogens to contaminate the surrounding soil and groundwater, and some reports say the meltdown released more radioactive material than any other nuclear accident in US history.
In a statement, the Department of Toxic Substances Control said its scientists and toxicologists “reviewed information about the fire’s location and do not believe the fire has caused any releases of hazardous materials that would pose a risk to people exposed to the smoke.”
Aerial view of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the Simi Hills. The Energy Technology Engineering Center site is in the lower left, with the Rocket Test Field Laboratory sites in the hills at the center.
A follow-up statement released Nov. 13, 2018, said staff members had tested the site over the weekend and did not find elevated levels of radiation. The department said it would conduct more air and soil testing over the next several days.
A group of physicians says the damage to Santa Susana could affect residents’ health
Some activists are concerned that the area surrounding Santa Susana may not be not safe for residents. Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, a group that advocates for the elimination of nuclear and environmental threats, says the fire likely released toxins into the air.
“We know what substances are on the site and how hazardous they are,” Dr. Robert Dodge, the organization’s president, said in a statement. “These toxic materials are in SSFL’s soil and vegetation, and when it burns and becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is real possibility of heightened exposure for area residents.”
A 1997 study found that workers at the Santa Susana site had elevated rates of cancer in connection with nuclear activity at the complex. If radioactive particles were released into the air, it is possible that similar health effects could be observed among nearby residents.
However, Kai Vetter, a professor of nuclear engineering at University of California Berkeley, told the Los Angeles Times that the health effects of smoke inhalation are greater than any potential danger from radioactive particles in the air.
“Although there is a possibility that radioactive materials — accounted for or not — could be dispersed through the fire and the smoke plume, the risk for health effects due to radiation is expected to be small,” Vitter said.
The physicians’ group also criticized the California Department of Toxic Substances Control for having “no public confidence,” and pointed out that state lawmakers commissioned an independent review panel in 2015 to monitor the department’s public outreach, fiscal management, and enforcement of hazardous-waste laws.
The clean-up process at Santa Susana has faced delays
Most of the Santa Susana site is owned by Boeing, though NASA oversees one area and the US Department of Energy leases a portion as well. A Boeing spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that more than 50% of the company’s property at Santa Susana burned.
Satellite image of the Woolsey Fire. The majority of western Malibu is engulfed by smoke and fire at the time of this image.
A 2007 order instructed the three parties to finish cleaning up the site by 2017, but those clean-up efforts have repeatedly hit delays. In August 2018, the Ventura County Star reported another delay: an action plan that was supposed to come out in the first half of 2019 is now behind schedule.
These delays have drawn backlash from local community members. In 2017, a group of parents called for tougher clean-up standards, claiming their children’s cancer diagnoses were linked to the nuclear research site. The group delivered a petition with more than 17,000 signatures to state officials.
Investigators have not yet determined what caused the Woolsey Fire. However, utility company Southern California Edison told state regulators that an outage was reported at one of its substations a few minutes before the fire began. The outage was in the same area where Woolsey broke out; in fact, the substation is located within the Santa Susana complex
Southern California Edison spokesman Steve Conroy told the Los Angeles Times that the company is required to file a report whenever an incident may be connected to another event.
“The report is preliminary,” Conroy said. “We have no other information other than a line went out of service and we don’t know why.”
The Woolsey Fire has killed two people and burned through more than 150 square miles.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron’s relationship looks set to get even closer, with reports indicating that the French president will be the first world leader to make a full state visit to Washington, DC.
According to the AFP news agency, Macron plans to visit the U.S. capital in late April, and will be the first foreign leader to be given the full pomp of a state occasion, which includes a meal in the White House’s State Dining Room.
The apparently warm relations between Trump and Macron is a contrast to the strained relationship between Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
May was the first world leader to visit Trump after his inauguration, but images of the two holding hands just before Trump embarked on his controversial travel ban were political kryptonite in Britain.
An invitation from Queen Elizabeth for Trump to make a state visit to Britain was accepted, but has been repeatedly delayed, while British activists have prepared large-scale street protests for when the final date is set.
Trump and Macron differ on policy significantly, including their stance on the European Union, the Iran deal, and U.S. participation in the Paris climate change agreement.
Their initial meeting appeared tense and was dominated by an awkward, combative, white-knuckle handshake. But since then the men seem to have got on fine, with the reported state visit seeming to be further evidence.
There is a very robust veteran community within the entertainment industry. Veterans in Media and Entertainment is a nonprofit networking organization that unites current and former members of the military working in the film and television industry. The Writers Guild Foundation has a year-long writing program for veterans. And hey, We Are The Mighty is a company founded on a mission to capture, empower, and celebrate the voice of today’s military community.
The military community makes up a small percentage of Americans, but plays a global — and exceptionally challenging — role. It makes sense that many veterans have stories to tell. Not all of those stories are about their military experiences, but many are. Hollywood loves a good hero story, but there’s more to the military than those few moments of bravery.
The military is a mind f*** unique lifestyle, one that does involve war and sacrifice, but also really weird laws and random adventures — and in a Post-9/11 world, we are now seeing an influx of veterans ready to dissect that world.
Enter Xanthe Pajarillo.
“Veteran narratives are begging for more diversity. When our representation in the media is limited to war heroes or trauma victims, it creates a skewed portrait of who service members are,” said Pajarillo, the creator of Airmen, a web series that explores the dynamics of queerness, romantic/workplace relationships, and being a person of color in the Air Force during peacetime operations. It emphasizes the unshakable bonds and relationships that veterans make during their time in service.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Chloe Mondesir, who will play Airman 1st Class Mercedes Magat.
It’s important to recognize that there is much more to military service than what is traditionally portrayed in film and television (which tends to be the rare stories of heroism in battle and/or the traumatic effects of war).
American society has placed heroes on a pedestal, which is a very high standard to meet for our troops — and one that often involves a life-threatening circumstance. Not every troop will see combat (this is a good thing… but we don’t always feel that way when other members of our team are shouldering the burdens of war), and even those who do engage in battle but live when others die experience survivor’s guilt and symptoms of trauma.
It’s time to tell the reality of military service: the warrior’s tale, yes, but more importantly, the stories of the humans living their lives while wearing the uniform.
“Ultimately, I created Airmen to help bridge the gap between civilians and veterans. The characters are active duty, but their experiences are universal. We are complex individuals with successes, failures, and insecurities just like everyone else. I hope when someone watches the show – civilian or veteran – they’ll feel less alone in the world,” says Pajarillo.
Which is exactly what Airmen is setting out to do — and now the series is ready for the next stage of production, beginning with a campaign at SeedSpark, a platform designed to change the entertainment industry to reflect the world we actually live in.
The US military is developing a new, longer-range air-to-air missile amid growing concerns that China’s advanced missiles outrange those carried by US fighters.
The AIM-260 air-to-air missile, also known as the Joint Air Tactical Missile (JATM), is intended to replace the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) currently carried by US fighters, which has been a go-to weapon for aerial engagements. It “is meant to be the next air-to-air air dominance weapon for our air-to-air fighters,” Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo, Air Force Weapons Program Executive Officer, told Air Force Magazine.
“It has a range greater than AMRAAM,” he further explained, adding that the missile has “different capabilities onboard to go after that specific [next-generation air-dominance] threat set.”
Russia and China are developing their own fifth-generation fighters, the Su-57 and J-20 respectively, to compete against the US F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, and these two powerful rivals are also developing new, long-range air-to-air missiles.
The Sukhoi Su-57.
In particular, the US military is deeply concerned about the Chinese PL-15, an active radar-guided very long range air-to-air missile (VLRAAM) with a suspected range of about 200 km. The Chinese military is also developing another weapon known as the PL-21, which is believed to have a range in excess of 300 km, or about 125 miles.
The PL-15, which has a greater range than the AIM-120D AMRAAM, entered service in 2016, and last year, Chinese J-20 stealth fighters did a air show flyover, during which they showed off their weapons bays loaded with suspected PL-15 missiles.
J-20 stealth fighters of PLA Air Force.
Genatempo told reporters that the PL-15 was the motivation for the development of the JATM.
The AIM-260, a US Air Force project being carried out in coordination with the Army, the Navy, and Lockheed Martin, will initially be fielded on F-22 Raptors and F/A-18 Hornets and will later arm the F-35. Flight tests will begin in 2021, and the weapon is expected to achieve operational capability the following year.
The US military will stop buying AMRAAMs in 2026, phasing out the weapon that first entered service in the early 1990s for firepower with “longer legs,” the general explained.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On this day in 1985, two-hundred and forty-eight Screaming Eagles and eight crew members were on their way home for Christmas after a six-month peacekeeping mission on the Sinai Peninsula. Their plane stalled due to iced wings and crashed less than a mile from the runway at Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. There were no survivors.
This horrific plane crash resulted in single largest loss of life the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) has ever endured and December 12th has since been a solemn day at Fort Campbell. The citizens of Gander donated a sugar maple tree for each life lost, planting a total of 256 trees in Kentucky in their honor. The trees stand in formation, each before a plaque bearing the name of a fallen soldier. For more than thirty years, this memorial has remained in the median separating Airborne Road.
After much consideration and with an extremely heavy heart, it was decided that the memorial needed to be moved to the nearby Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum.
As a Screaming Eagle soldier who had to police call the park because Blue Falcons tossed litter out of their cars, I can attest to how this change will be a positive change.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joe Padula)
The sugar maples serve as a living monument in a location that’s visible to everyone. Any time you drive on or off post, you’ll see the rows of trees and be reminded of the sacrifice of those we lost. But that resting spot may not have been the best place for the memorial.
All 256 trees are nestled into a tightly-packed space that spans just 1.5 acres. Sugar maples are hardy trees, but they need plenty of room to grow. This wasn’t a concern when they were originally planted, but after thirty-three years of growth, the roots are becoming intertwined, which may cause them whiter and die. A typical sugar maple tree can live up to 400 years, but those planted in memoriam are already showing signs of weakening.
As much as it hurts to more then, it’d be more disrespectful to the fallen to let their trees die.
(U.S. Army photo by Sam Shore)
The decision to move the memorial was not made lightly and it will require a major undertaking. All of the monuments will be moved less than a mile away in a much larger, 40-acre plot next to the Brig. Gen. Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum. This will give every tree the room it needs to grow into a mighty maple that can withstand the test of time.
Trees will be excavated gently to ensure that they can be replanted successfully. The trees that don’t make it — and the trees that have already started to whither — will be replaced by new trees, again gifted by the citizens of Gander.
All 248 soldiers who died that day were a part of the 3-502nd Infantry Regiment.
The same, annual ceremony honoring the lost soldiers will still occur, just as it always has, only now it will be in a wider, more open space that doesn’t have traffic buzzing by.
In a statement to the Army Times, Col. Joseph Escandon, the commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 110st Airborne Division (Air Assault) said,
“We will always honor the memory of our Gander fallen. Maintaining this annual tradition at a living memorial is essential to ensuring that the memory of those lost will never be forgotten. The Gander tragedy affected not only the Fort Campbell community but countless others across the United States and Canada.”
“Every year on Dec. 12, we take a moment to remember those who lost their lives in service of their nation. While we are saddened by the need for the relocation of the original memorial, one thing will not change: our commitment to honoring their sacrifice and the sacrifices of their families, friends and fellow Soldiers.”
After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.
Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.
The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.
As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.
WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.
The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.
The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.
Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.
Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.
Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.
The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.
But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.
President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.
“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.
The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.
The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”
Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.
The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.
The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.
“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”
Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.
The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.
The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.
From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.
The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.
“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.
“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”
The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.
Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.
Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”
Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.
According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”
Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”
A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”
Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.
This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.
In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.
According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.
The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.
The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.
The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.
The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.
Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”
“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”
But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.
Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.
“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.
More than 5,000 troops stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border will not receive additional compensation for working in a dangerous environment, known as “danger pay,” a Pentagon official said on Nov. 6, 2018.
Army Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said troops do not qualify for the special pay unless they are on duty “in foreign areas, designated as such because of wartime conditions, civil war, civil insurrection, or terrorism.”
“Members who are deployed in support of the Department of Homeland Security’s border mission are not eligible for imminent-danger pay,” he said in a statement on Nov. 5, 2018.
Nor will troops receive hostile-fire pay, which is given to service members in close proximity to a firefight or exposed to a barrage of fire from an enemy combatant. The border mission is considered non-combative, Manning said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)
“Our military will not receive combat pay or hostile-fire pay as they are not deploying to a combat area, nor are they expected to be subject to hostile fire,” he said, adding that they will be eligible for a separation allowance.
“Members with dependents, including those in support of the border mission, who are deployed away from their dependents (and their permanent duty station) for more than 30 days, are eligible to receive family separation allowance retroactive back to the first day of the separation at the rate of 0 per month,” Manning continued.
President Donald Trump tweeted that the caravan of migrants traveling toward the U.S. border could be taken down by lethal force.
“The Caravans are made up of some very tough fighters and people,” he tweeted Oct. 31, 2018. “Fought back hard and viciously against Mexico at Northern Border before breaking through. Mexican soldiers hurt, were unable or unwilling to stop Caravan.”
“We’re not going to put up with that,” Trump said during a White House press conference. “[If] they want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We’re going to consider it — and I told them, ‘consider that a rifle.’ When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military and police, I say ‘consider it a rifle.’ “
He revisited his remarks, saying he never said U.S. forces would shoot migrants.
(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)
“What I don’t want is these people throwing rocks. … What they did to the Mexican military is a disgrace,” Trump said. “They hit them with rocks. Some were very seriously injured, and they were throwing rocks in their face. They do that with us, they’re going to be arrested, there are going to be problems. I didn’t say shoot.”
Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, reaffirmed that “everything that we are doing is in line with and adherence to Posse Comitatus,” a congressional act dating to 1878 prohibiting the military from participating in domestic law-enforcement activities.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, WATM brings you breaking news to remind you to to feel especially grateful: North Korea is the worst. Sure, America might have super high COVID rates and a little election chaos, but at least you don’t feel the need to defect by vaulting a 12′ barbed wire fence to your freedom. That’s right, a North Korean gymnast mustered all of his talent and courage combined with a healthy amount of desperation and hope, and vaulted a border wall into South Korea to seek asylum.
According to the Chosun Ilibo, the 20-something man climbed an iron pole and used the height to jump over the border fence. He was then spotted about a mile south of the border by South Korean forces using a thermal observation device. The man was promptly detained, identified himself as a former gymnast and reportedly requested political asylum.
Officials were so taken aback by his feat that they asked him to demonstrate twice how he was able to jump over the three-meter fence, according to the BBC’s Seoul correspondent. Authorities vowed to investigate why hi-tech security systems did not work.
According to the London Telegraph, “the audacious defection sparked alarm that the high security demilitarized zone, separating North from South, had been successfully crossed. The four-kilometre-wide, 250-kilometre-long strip is fortified by fences, minefields and armed sentry posts. Few defectors take the dangerous option of trying to break through, with most of the 33,000 who have fled North Korea since the ’90s opting for risky but more achievable routes through China.”
China, the world’s leader in both population (over 1.3 billion) and military size (2.3 million), has a military that employs about 0.18% of the population.
North Korea’s military, on the other hand, employs about 4.7% of the total population.
2. Rollerblading is hugely popular, especially in Pyongyang
According to National Geographic photographer David Guttenfelder, rollerblading is popular “all over the country.” He reported that he couldn’t “count the number of rollerblading locations there are in the capital city [Pyongyang],” in particular.
3. Drugs are common and largely unregulated
Drug use in North Korea is largely unregulated and quite common, with an estimated 30% of North Koreans using drugs, UPI reports. Known locally as yeoksam, marijuana is grown in such quantity that smugglers sneak it across the border into China for foreign sale, according to Radio Free Asia.
Public Radio International reports that methamphetamines, and specifically highly potent crystal meth, are also common in the DPRK, and though these drugs are not as openly permitted as pot, their use is widespread. Meth is often used less for recreational purposes and more as an appetite suppressant and to help workers toiling away for long hours at farms, factories, and in other trades.
4. North Korea is home to the world’s largest stadium
Not only is the DPRK home to the biggest stadium in the world in terms of seating capacity, but it holds that distinction by a massive margin. The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium (also known as May Day Stadium) has a total capacity of 150,000 people.
It dwarfs the next largest stadium, which is Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium, which accommodates 107,600 people. The venue is used for occasional sporting events, but its primary purpose is to host the annual Arirang Festival, a massive affair held each August and September that celebrates North Korean history, culture, and achievements.
5. North Korea holds political elections every five years
Strange as it might seem for a dictatorship to hold elections, North Korean citizens go to the polls every five years. However, the ballots they receive only list one candidate name, for the office of Supreme People’s Assembly deputy in their district, according to The Economist.
The only decision the voters have to make is whether to vote for the sole candidate listed or to vote against them, which involves placing their ballot in a separate box from the positive votes and having their identity noted, which could be considered an act of treason, The Economist reports.
6. North Korea exists in its own time zone
As of August 15th, 2015, North Korea exists in its very own time zone, shifted at least a half-hour apart from any other place on earth, CNN reports. Pyongyang time is GMT+08:30, to be precise, and was adopted in an apparent return to the time the nation used prior to twentieth-century Japanese colonization.
7. For some North Koreans, life is improving
To be clear, for many North Koreans almost every day is a struggle where food shortages, horrid work conditions, and government oppression define life. But for some DPRK citizens, everyday life bears some similarities to the rest of the world, NPR reports.
More and more North Koreans have access to mobile phones, DVD players, and other devices that were virtually unknown less than a generation ago, according to NPR. Recreational opportunities including movie theaters, amusement and water parks, and more are common in Pyongyang and a handful of other population centers, and influence from the wider world increases more with each passing year, NPR reports.