The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly - We Are The Mighty
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The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

The battle to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State terror group is a fight increasingly without front lines.


The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have breached the old city and control about a quarter of the terror group’s de facto capital, say American officials, but holding what has already been seized is proving a struggle.

Disputes between the SDF and some Free Syrian Army militias who have started to participate in the battle isn’t helping the advance, but the biggest obstacle remains the determined defense of IS fighters, who are using similar urban warfare tactics seen in the past nine months in the terror group’s fight to delay the retaking of Mosul by Iraqi security forces.

A month into the Raqqa assault, improvised explosive devices, sniper fire, and the use of an elaborate network of tunnels to mount ambushes — as well as exploiting civilians as human shields — are all being deployed by the militants. IS militants have also been using drones to drop explosives on SDF militiamen.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
SDF fighters at the mouth of a tunnel used by ISIS at Jabar Castle. (Photo from Voice of America.)

A watchdog rights organization says in the assault’s first month it has documented 650 deaths — 224 of them civilians.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that relies on a network of activists for its reporting, 311 IS fighters, including a handful of commanders, and 106 fighters of the American-backed “Euphrates Wrath” forces have died so far.

“In addition, airstrikes left hundreds of civilians injured, with various degrees of severity, some of whom had their limbs amputated, some were left with permanent disabilities and some are still in a critical condition, which means that the death toll is still likely to rise,” the observatory says.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
SDF fighters among the rubble Raqqa. (Photo from Voice of America.)

Long battle ahead

Despite being only a tenth the size of Mosul, US officials say they expect the house-to-house fighting to last several weeks. Estimates on how many militants remain in the city range from between 2,000 to 3,000. Most of them are thought to be from eastern Syria or foreign fighters drawn mainly from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

According to local activists, some Raqqa-born IS fighters have defected and are providing intelligence to the SDF. Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based think tank, and co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” says local fighters have proven less than committed in the battle.

“The Islamic State will likely have to rely on the city’s still likely large population of foreign fighters as well as a new generation of young fighters brainwashed by the group’s ideology who typically fight viciously to the end,” Hassan argues in the current issue of CTC Sentinel, a publication of the West Point military academy.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
YPJ and YPG forces work together. (Photo from Flickr user Kurdishstruggle (CC by 2.0)

Despite the participation of experienced, battle-hardened Kurdish fighters, private security advisers say the SDF doesn’t have the same capabilities and training as the elite Iraqi units who have been confronting IS militants in Mosul since August.

“They are spread much thinner,” one European security adviser told Voice of America. “They are also not as well equipped and lack the armor the Iraqis have been able to use,” he added.

Keeping the advance going, and trying to pin the militants into smaller and smaller pockets, is proving grueling, he said.

On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to declare his security forces had wrested the wrecked city from the Islamic State, despite some continued fighting in at least one west Mosul neighborhood. Some US officials are reckoning IS fighters may be able to hold out in Raqqa for up to three months.

In a bid to disrupt the SDF momentum, IS is now more regularly using suicide bombers driving reinforced vehicles packed with explosives — although not to the same degree as seen in the battle for Mosul. Last week, one suicide bomber managed to destroy a forward HQ used by the SDF.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
A fighter with the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces sits atop a vehicle before a battle. (Photo from SDF via Facebook.)

Civilian casualties

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled, braving mines and savage IS sniper fire. Local activists estimate the number of civilians remaining in the city at about 60,000. They fault the international coalition for failing to have prepared for the handling of large numbers of displaced families.

Civilians have been gathering in nearby camps lacking basic amenities such as healthcare, clean drinking water, and food,” says the activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

The group has accused the attacking forces of using a scorched-earth strategy, utilizing indiscriminate aerial bombardment in order to force militants to withdraw. US officials admit there have been civilian deaths but say they are doing all they can to minimize casualties among non-combatants.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how much of Afghanistan the Taliban reportedly control

Taliban militants now control or contest nearly half of all districts in Afghanistan as the U.S. pours thousands more troops into the country, a new analysis from The Long War Journal reveals.


The insurgent group predominately controls rural districts throughout the country where the Afghan government and national security forces do not have an extended presence. “Rural areas in Afghanistan are essential to the Taliban’s resilience and ability to consistently undermine Afghan security,” the LWJ noted, citing the insurgent groups ability to use rural districts to mount attacks on urban centers.

 

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The large Taliban control of the country comes as the U.S. is sending approximately 3,000 more troops to the country to support the Afghan National Security Forces. This deployment is in tandem from a new declared strategy from the Trump administration which will place an emphasis on cracking down on Pakistani sanctuary for Taliban militants, and making a sustained and prolonged commitment to Afghanistan.

The Obama administration made a point of tying its troop deployments to a declared timeline for withdrawal, something President Donald Trump has explicitly rejected instead embracing a “conditions” based approach.

The conditions however are dire. The Taliban now control more territory than at any time since 2001 and the Afghan National Security Forces’s are suffering historic casualties.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US is putting 3,500 more boots on the ground in Afghanistan

A US official has told ABC news that the Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized 3,500 additional troops to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the troop buildup associated with President Donald Trump’s South Asia Strategy.


Late last month, Trump announced his new strategy on Afghanistan which included an increase in the number of US troops to the country.

Reports in the past indicated that Mattis favored the Pentagon’s recommendation to send about 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Defense Secretary James Mattis (left) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

On Sept. 8, Mattis told reporters that he had signed deployment orders for some of the additional troops that would be sent, though he would not disclose the number.

No details have however been released on when these troops will deploy.

On Sept. 6, Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed members of Congress about the new strategy in Afghanistan.

Last week, the Pentagon disclosed that the number of American troops actually serving in Afghanistan was 11,000 and not the 8,400 official numbers it had been providing for some time.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Army’s new ‘light tank’ prototype

The US Army is now evaluating plans to build prototypes of a new highly-deployable lightweight Mobile Protected Firepower armored vehicle expected to change land war by bringing a new mission options to advancing infantry as it maneuvers toward enemy attack — and outmatching Russian equivalents.

Long-range precision fire, coordinated air-ground assault, mechanized force-on-force armored vehicle attacks and drone threats are all changing so quickly that maneuvering US Army infantry now needs improved firepower to advance on major adversaries in war, Army leaders explain.


“Mobile Protected Firepower helps you because you can get off road. Mobility can help with lethality and protection because you can hit the adversary before they can disrupt your ability to move,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9, TRADOC, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

The Army is now evaluating industry proposals in anticipation of awarding developmental deals by 2019 — with prototypes to follow shortly thereafter. The service’s request to industry described the Mobile Protected Firepower program as seeking to “provide IBCTs with direct-fire, long-range and cyber resilient capability for forcible early-entry operations.”

Smith did not elaborate on any precise weight, but did stress that the effort intends to find the optimal blend of lethality, mobility and, survivability. Senior Army leaders, however, do say that the new MPF will be more survivable and superior than its Russian equivalent.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

The Russian 2S25 Sprut-SD air transportable light tank, according to Russian news reports, weighs roughly 20 tons and fires a 125mm smoothbore gun. It is designed to attack tanks and support amphibious, air or ground operations. The vehicle has been in service since 2005.

Senior Army leaders have been clear that the emerging Army vehicle will be designed as a light vehicle, yet one with much greater levels of protection than the Russian equivalent.

In light of these kinds of near-peer adversaries with longer-range sensors, more accurate precision fires and air support for mechanized ground assault, the Army is acutely aware that its maneuvering infantry stands in need of armored, mobile firepower.

Current Abrams tanks, while armed with 120mm cannons and fortified by heavy armor, are challenged to support infantry in some scenarios due to weight and mobility constraints.

Accordingly, Smith explained that Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs), expected to operate in a more expansive battlespace, will require deployable, fast-moving close-to-contact direct fire support. This fast-changing calculus, based on knowledge of emerging threats and enemy weapons, informs an Army need to close the threat gap by engineering the MPF vehicle.

“The MPF vehicle will not be like an Abrams tank in terms of protections and survivability… but mobility helps you because you can get off roads and lethality helps you with protection also,” Smith said.

While referred to by some as a “light tank,” Army officials specify that plans for the new platform seek to engineer a mobile combat platform able to deploy quickly. The MPF represents an Army push toward more expeditionary warfare and rapid deployability. Therefore, it is no surprise that two MPFs are being built to fit on an Air Force C-17 aircraft.

Rapid deployability is of particular significance in areas such as Europe, where Russian forces, for instance, might be in closer proximity to US or NATO forces.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

Tactically speaking, given that IBCTs are likely to face drones armed with precision weapons, armored vehicle columns advancing with long-range targeting technology and artillery, infantry on-the-move needs to have firepower and sensors sufficient to outmatch an advanced enemy.

All of these factors are indicative of how concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver are evolving to account for how different land war is expected to be moving forward. This reality underscores the reason infantry needs tank-like firepower to cross bridges, travel off-road and keep pace with advancing forces.

Designs, specs and requirements for the emerging vehicle are now being evaluated by Army weapons developers currently analyzing industry submissions in response to a recent Request for Proposal.

The service expects to award two Engineering Manufacturing and Development (EMD) deals by 2019 as part of an initial step to building prototypes from multiple vendors, service officials said. Army statement said initial prototypes are expected within 14 months of a contract award.

While requirements and particular material solutions are expected to adjust as the programs move forward, there are some initial sketches of the capabilities the Army seeks for the vehicle.

According to a report from Globalsecurity.org, “the main gun has to be stabilized for on-the-move firing, while the optics and fire control system should support operations at all weather conditions including night operations.”

BAE Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems and SAIC (partnered with ST Kinetics and CMI) are among the industry competitors seeks to build the new MPF. Several months ago, BAE Systems announced it is proposing a vehicle it calls its M8 Armored Gun System.

For the Army, the effort involves what could be described as a dual-pronged acquisition strategy in that it seeks to leverage currently available or fast emerging technology while engineered the vehicle with an architecture such that it can integrate new weapons and systems as they emerge over time.

An estimation of technologies likely to figure prominently in the MPF developmental process leads towards the use of lightweight armor composites, active protection systems and a new generation of higher-resolution targeting sensors. Smith explained how this initiative is already gaining considerable traction.

This includes the rapid incorporation of greater computer automation and AI, designed to enable one sensor to perform the functions of many sensors in real-time. For instance, it’s by no means beyond the imagination to envision high-resolution forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, electromagnetic weapons and EO-IR cameras operating through a single sensor.

“The science is how do I fuse them together? How do I take multiple optical, infrared, and electromagnetic sensors and use them all at once in real-time ” Smith said.

“If you are out in the desert in an operational setting, infrared alone may be constrained heat so you need all types of sensors together and machines can help us sift through information,” added Smith.

In fact, the Army’s Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) is already building prototype sensors — with this in mind. In particular, this early work is part of a longer-range effort to inform the Army’s emerging Next-Generation Comat Vehicle (NGCV). The NGCV, expected to become an entire fleet of armored vehicles, is now being explored as something to emerge in the late 2020s or early 2030s.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

One of the key technical challenges when it comes to engineering a mobile, yet lethal, weapon is to build a cannon both powerful and lightweight enough to meet speed, lethality and deployability requirements.

U.S. Army’s Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically cites the need to bring large caliber cannon technology to lightweight vehicles. Among other things, the strategy cites a lightweight 120mm gun called the XM360 – built for the now-cancelled Future Combat Systems Mounted Combat System. While the weapon is now being thought of as something for NGCV or a future tank variant, its technology bears great relevance to the MPF effort – which seeks to maximize lightweight, mobile firepower.

Special new technology was needed for the XM360 in order to allow a lighter-weight cannon and muzzle to accommodate the blast from a powerful 120mm tank round.

Elements of the XM360 include a combined thermal and environmental shroud, blast deflector, a composite-built overwrapped gun, tube-modular gun-mount, independent recoil brakes, gas-charged recuperators, and a multi-slug slide block breech with an electric actuator, Army MCS developmental documents describe.

For lighter weight vehicles, recoil limitations are overcome by incorporating the larger caliber rarefaction wave gun technology while providing guided, stabilized LOS, course-corrected LOS, and beyond LOS accuracy.”

An article in nextBIGFuture cites progress with a technology referred to as rarefaction wave gun technology, or RAVEN, explaining it can involve “combining composite and ceramic technologies with castings of any alloy — for dramatic weight reduction.”

The idea is, in part, to develop and demonstrate hybrid component concepts that combine aluminum castings with both polymer matrix composites and ceramics, the report says.

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

Articles

Rarely seen footage from the Battle of the Bulge

In the brutal cold of the winter of 1944, the German army launched a major offensive against allied troops in the Ardennes Mountains of Belgium, France and Luxemburg in an attempt to split up their opposing forces — what later became the “Battle of the Bulge.”


The Germans’ goal was to wedge themselves in between the American and British armies to recapture the port of Antwerp in the Netherlands in order to control the port facilities.

Just as the battle commenced, massive snowstorms hit the region causing incredibly frigid conditions for allied forces and blocking multiple supply lines.

“During the Bulge, the command broke down, supply broke down, morale broke down, communication broke down, everything broke down,” soldier Rocky Blount recalls. “It was every man for himself.”

Related: How these few Marines held the line at the Chosin Reservoir

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Allied troops getting some much-needed food.

The troops manning the front lines lacked proper winter clothing, and the idea of seeing resupply anytime soon seemed far-fetched.

“We didn’t have overcoats, we didn’t have gloves, we didn’t have scarves,” Rocky Blount lists. “My boots were so bad, I would strip newspapers from bombed out houses and wrap my feet in it.”

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
A soldier in WWII takes a brief moment to care for his worn out feet. (Source: History/Screenshot)

The freezing temperatures caused the brave men’s physical and mental condition to deteriorate, resulting in thousands of casualties.

Though struggling, the men stayed in the fight and eventually outlasted the German army’s offensive.

Also Read: How this Marine inched his way to knock out a Japanese machine gunner

Check out the History channel’s video below to this incredible raw footage for yourself.

YouTube, History
MIGHTY TRENDING

This international scavenger hunt holds a million dollar prize

Thousands of cryptocurrency enthusiasts are taking part in an international scavenger hunt to find clues that promise to lead the winners to a prize of $1 million in bitcoin.

It’s called Satoshi’s Treasure, and it’s a game that’s part logic puzzle and part scavenger hunt, with clues found in both the digital and physical worlds. Each clue will reveal a fragment of the digital key used to access the game’s bitcoin wallet, and the winner will be the first person or team to put together at least 400 of these fragments to be able to claim the $1 million worth of bitcoin, according to cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk.

Nearly 60,000 people have signed up on the Satoshi’s Treasure website to receive notifications about new clues and game updates, CoinDesk reported May 12, 2019.


The game is being run and funded by a group of crypto investors. One of the co-creators of Satoshi’s Treasure, crypto investor Eric Meltzer, told CoinDesk that no single person knows all the locations of the clues or all of the key fragments.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

(Satoshi’s Treasure)

“There are so many unknowns in this game that we kind of just want to see what happens,” said Meltzer, founding partner of crypto investment firm Primitive Ventures. “Part of the meta game that I think people are going to like is trying to figure out who is behind this.”

Game organizers say that since the first clues were released on April 16, 2019, many teams have been formed to work together toward finding key fragments and solving the game. A team organizing tool called Ordo has already been created, which will help to properly credit those who solve clues, and fairly divide up the id=”listicle-2637018554″ million prize at the end for the winning team.

According to the Satoshi’s Treasure website, the hunt is intended to “test the mettle of anyone who wishes to add some excitement to their lives.” The game has a simple set of rules that revolve around the tenant of “do no harm” — keys will not be hidden on private properties, no clues will require any destruction, and participants need to “always show respect” for fellow hunters.

CoinDesk reports that teams comprise of not only veteran crypto users, but also those new to bitcoin and those who are in it for the thrill of the hunt. The game’s creators say Satoshi’s Treasure prioritizes accessibility to anyone who wants to participate. For example, the latest clue was found on physical business cards distributed at the Magical Crypto Conference this weekend in New York.

“I’d say Satoshi’s Treasure is so exciting because it’s the pure joy of a treasure hunt,” crypto investor Nic Carter told CoinDesk. “It’s global and anyone can participate.”

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

Articles

Goodbye Ivan! US expels 35 Russians, shutters 2 spy stations over hacking allegations

The United States says it is expelling nearly three dozen Russian diplomats as it announced new economic sanctions and other punitive measures in response to alleged Russian hacking during the presidential election.


The moves, announced on December 29 by the White House, had been widely publicized ahead of time, including by President Barack Obama in an interview earlier this month.

But the moves also come less than a month before Obama leaves office and his successor, Donald Trump, assumes the presidency. Trump has repeatedly brushed aside intelligence assessments and White House statements about the alleged Russian hacking, raising the question about whether the new sanctions will remain in place after his inauguration on January 20.

A White House statement said two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York, believed to be involved in intelligence gathering, were ordered closed, and 35 Russians, identified as intelligence operatives, were being expelled from the country.

Additionally, nine top officials and entities associated with the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, and the main Russian security agency, the FSB, were being hit with new financial and travel sanctions.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in a statement.

The CIA, the FBI, and the broader U.S. intelligence community have concluded that hackers, likely operating with the authority of the highest levels of the Russian government, broke into Internet servers and e-mail accounts belonging to the U.S. Democratic Party, and other officials during the election campaign.

On December 9, The Washington Post reported that the CIA had determined the intent of the Russia hackers was to help Trump win the presidency, not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.

The New York Times also reported that intelligence officials had concluded Russian hackers accessed Republican Party computers but didn’t release potentially damaging e-mails or other materials.

That led analysts to conclude that the intent of the Russian hacking was to in fact help propel Trump to the White House. He ultimately prevailed in the November 8 election, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Those conclusions have been repeatedly dismissed by Trump. In a December 11 television interview, he asserted that the CIA conclusions were being used by Democrats to undermine his electoral victory.

But Trump has also faced growing pressure in Congress, including by top Republican lawmakers, who have called for a full inquiry into the extent of Russian hacking.

At least three separate Senate committees are slated to launch investigations in January.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it was behind any hack of the Democratic Party or U.S. electoral systems, though President Vladimir Putin has also made cryptic comments suggesting possible involvement of Kremlin officials.

Articles

Why Iran is ‘playing with fire’ in the Persian Gulf against US Navy ships

For the fifth time in about a month Iranian fast-attack craft have harassed US Navy ships with “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers at sea in the gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran.


While experts acknowledge that Iran is “playing with fire” against the best navy in the world, don’t expect these incidents to stop any time soon.

“The number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions for first half of the year is nearly twice as much as same period in 2015, trend has continued. There’s already more in 2016 than all of 2015,” Commander Bill Urban of the Navy’s 5th fleet told Business Insider in a phone interview.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. | Wikimedia photo by Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi

Urban stressed that despite the Iranian navy fast-attack craft being several orders of magnitude less potent than US Navy ships, the threat they pose in the gulf is very real.

“Any time another vessel is charging in on one of your ships and they’re not talking on the radio … you don’t know what their intentions are,” said Urban.

Urban confirmed that Iran sends small, fast attack ships to “swarm” and “harass” larger US Naval vessels that could quite easily put them at the bottom of the ocean, but the ships pose a threat beyond firepower.

According to Urban, these ships are “certainly armed vessels with crew-manned weapons, not unarmed ships. I wouldn’t discount the ability to be a danger. A collision at sea even with a much larger ship is always something that could cause damage to a ship or injure personnel.”

In the most recent episode at sea, Urban said that an Iranian craft swerved in front of the USS Firebolt, a US Coastal Patrol craft, and stopped dead in its path, causing the Firebolt to have to adjust course or risk collision.

“This kind of provocative, harassing technique risks escalation and miscalculation.”

The messages Iran wants to send

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Picture of US Sailors captured by Iranian fast-attack craft in the Gulf. | Released by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Jan. 13, 2016.

“In my view, Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) decided it’s time to send a message — I’m here and I’m unhappy,” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group and expert on Iran, told Business Insider in a phone interview.

According to Kupchan, the Iranian navy carries out these stunts under directions straight from the top because of frustrations with the Iran nuclear deal. Despite billions of dollars in sanction relief flowing into Iran following the deal, Kupchan says Iran sees the US as “preventing European and Asian banks from moving into Iran and financing Iranian businesses,” and therefore not holding up their end of the Iran nuclear deal.

But despite their perception that the US has under delivered on the promises of the Iran nuclear deal, Kupchan says Iran will absolutely not walk away from the deal, which has greatly improved their international standing and financial prospects.

The lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil has resulted in “billions in additional revenue … They’re not gonna walk away from that.”

So Iran seems to be simply spinning their wheels to score political points with hardliners, but what if the worst happens and there is a miscalculation in a conflict between Iranian and US naval vessels resulting in the loss of life?

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
The coastal patrol ship USS Squall, one of the ships harassed by the Iranians. | US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist Michelle Turner

“The concern is miscalculation,” said Kupchan. “Some guy misjudges the speed of his boat, people could die. There is a lot on the line.”

According to Kupchan, as well as other experts on the subject, Iran’s navy doesn’t stand a serious chance against modern US Navy ships.

“Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boats and the Iranian Navy are not very capable or modern,” said Kupchan. The fast-attack craft we’ve seen challenge US Navy boats have simply been older speed boats, some Russian-made, outfitted with guns.

The Iranian craft can certainly bother US Navy ships by risking collisions and functioning as “heavily armed gnats, or mosquitoes” that swarm US ships, but a recent test carried out by the Navy confirms that the gunships wouldn’t have much trouble knocking them out of the water. The ensuing international incident, however, would dominate headlines for weeks.

“The wood is dry in US and Iranian relations,” said Kupchan, suggesting that a small miscalculation could spark a major fire, and that harassing these ships is “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam.”

“Hardliners on both sides would go nuts,” said Kupchan, referencing both the conservative Islamist Iranians and the conservative US hawks who would not pass up any opportunity to impinge Obama over his perceived weakness against the Iranians.

Yet Kupchan contends that even a lethal incident would not end the deal. Both sides simply have too much riding on the deal’s success: Obama with his foreign policy legacy, and Iran with their financial redemption and status in the region as the main adversary to Western powers.

However Iran’s Khamenei may be sending a second message to incoming US leadership, specifically Hillary Clinton, who seems likely to be the next commander in chief. “They know Clinton is tough,” said Kupchan, and Khamenei may be addressing Clinton with a second message, saying “Madame Secretary, I’m still here, I know you’re tough, but I’m ready.”

For now, Kupchan expects these incidents at sea to carry on as Iran vents about their larger frustrations, and that a violent exchange would “not be the end of the deal,” or the start of a larger war, “but a serious international incident.”

Articles

Here’s why NBA ‘badboy’ Dennis Rodman is visiting Pyongyang

Former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman said Tuesday that he is “just trying to open a door” by going to North Korea in his first visit since President Donald Trump took office.


Rodman, who has made several trips to the country, sported a black T-shirt advertising a marijuana cybercurrency as he headed toward immigration at Beijing airport, from where he is expected to fly to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Asked if he had spoken to Trump about his trip, he said, “Well, I’m pretty sure he’s pretty much happy with the fact that I’m over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

Rodman has received the red-carpet treatment on four past trips since 2013, but has been roundly criticized for visiting during a time of high tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over its weapons programs.

His entourage included Joseph Terwilliger, a professor who has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to North Korea.

Rodman said the issue of several Americans currently detained by North Korea is “not my purpose right now.”

In Tokyo, a visiting senior U.S. official said Rodman’s trip is as a private citizen.

“We are aware of his visit. We wish him well, but we have issued travel warnings to Americans suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters after discussing the North Korean missile threat and other issues with Japanese counterparts.

In 2014, Rodman arranged a basketball game with other former NBA players and North Koreans and regaled leader Kim Jong Un with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” On the same trip, he suggested that an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.

A foreign ministry official who spoke to The Associated Press in Pyongyang confirmed that Rodman was expected to arrive Tuesday but could not provide details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the ministry had not issued a formal statement.

Any visit to North Korea by a high-profile American is a political minefield, and Rodman has been criticized for failing to use his influence on leaders who are otherwise isolated diplomatically from the rest of the world.

Americans are regarded as enemies in North Korea because the two countries never signed a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. Thousands of U.S. troops are based in South Korea, and the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

A statement issued in New York by a Rodman publicist said the former NBA player is in the rare position of being friends with the leaders of both North Korea and the United States. Rodman was a cast member on two seasons of Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Rodman tweeted that his trip was being sponsored by Potcoin, one of a growing number of cybercurrencies used to buy and sell marijuana in state-regulated markets.

North Korea has been hailed by marijuana news outlets and British tabloids as a pothead paradise and maybe even the next Amsterdam of pot tourism. But the claim that marijuana is legal in North Korea is not true: The penal code lists it as a controlled substance in the same category as cocaine and heroin.

Americans have been sentenced to years in North Korean prisons for such seemingly minor offences as stealing a political banner and likely could not expect leniency if the country’s drug laws were violated.

Articles

4 battles where paratroopers could have made a big difference

In the brief period of time since their inception the American paratrooper has seen combat and spearheaded assaults all over the world.


Despite their usefulness, however, there have still been numerous times when paratroopers were not used in which they could have had a significant impact on the battle. These are four of those battles:

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
U.S. paratroopers awaiting orders to jump. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942)

1. The Battle of Bastogne

In December 1944 the Germans launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes forest that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

As the situation deteriorated, Gen. Eisenhower decided to commit his strategic reserves, primarily the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, in an attempt to blunt the German attack. In the ensuing melee, the 82nd helped hold back the Germans at Elsenborn Ridge while the 101st became encircled holding Bastogne.

The effort to relieve the 101st fell to Patton’s Third Army to drive through the Germans and reach Bastogne.

However, Eisenhower had one remaining airborne division in reserve in England.

On Dec. 23, the same day Pathfinders landed in Bastogne to guide in supply drops, the 17th Airborne Division flew to France in order to join Third Army in its counter-offensive.

A more decisive move would have been to have the paratroopers of the 17th jump into the perimeter of Bastogne in order to shore up the lines and bring much needed relief to the beleaguered paratroopers of the 101st. This tactic had been used to great effect during Operation Avalanche in Sicily in which 82nd paratroopers reinforced the Allied beachhead at Salerno.

This would have then allowed the defenders to affect a breakout towards friendly lines or to go on an offensive of their own to drive the Germans back and break the siege.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Waves of paratroopers fill the skies during a combat exercise. (U.S. Army)

2. The Landing at Inchon

On Sept. 15, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces as part of Operation Chromite assaulted the beaches and harbor of Inchon — then well behind enemy lines.

In a coordinated effort with the forces encircled at Pusan, the United Nations forces delivered a striking blow against the North Koreans driving them back towards the 38th Parallel and recapturing Seoul.

The attack was a textbook amphibious assault comparable to those undertaken in Europe during World War II in which paratroopers spearheaded an assault followed by seaborne infantry. However, MacArthur had been in command in the Pacific and thus had utilized airborne forces much differently. His assault plan did not include the use of paratroopers.

Though only the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team was available, they could have been put to good use.

Their first order of business could have been the seizure of Kimpo Airfield, a task not completed until Sept. 18 by a battalion of Marines. The early capture of the airfield would have allowed American fighters a forward base sooner and would have allowed follow-on forces to be flown in.

Other elements of the 187th could have also been used to cut off the forces retreating from Pusan. Though the UN was able to eliminate nearly half of the 70,000 North Koreans in the South, the other half was able to regroup in North Korea.

Had paratroopers been employed they could have potentially stopped more — if not all — from reaching North Korea, leaving the communists with virtually no military.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
(U.S. Army paratroopers conduct an airborne operation on Oct. 20, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez)

3. The Siege of Khe Sanh

Just before the launch of the Tet Offensive in January 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked and laid siege to the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Though they held their positions in the hills around the base and the base itself, they were soon cut off from ground support and resupply when Route 9 was closed. The Marines in and around the combat base — mostly the 26th Marine Regiment as well as 1st Battalion, 9th Marines — held out against the North Vietnamese for 11 weeks before finally being relieved by elements of the 1st Cavalry Division as part of Operation Pegasus.

However, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade was alerted and deployed to Vietnam in early February 1968 in order to shore up defenses against the Tet Offensive.

The brigade could have instead been dropped into the Khe Sanh Combat Base in order to strengthen the defenses there and improve the offensive capabilities of the defenders. The paratroopers could have been used to seek out the NVA artillery that continually pounded the base and silenced it. This would also have freed up other units that were instead used to break the siege.

Furthermore, the paratroopers would have brought with them valuable assets such as artillery, engineers, and intelligence that would have improved the fighting ability of the defenders.  

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
A Paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade prepares to land. In the background, a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

4. Operation Iraqi Freedom

Although there was one large and several smaller airborne operations during the invasion of Iraq the role of paratroopers in the initial assault should have been much greater. Another operation, a likely jump by the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Ranger Battalion onto Saddam International Airport, was scrapped after an overzealous journalist revealed the plan on public television.

However, there were many other targets of opportunity and uses for the available paratroopers. Much like the Rangers’ seizure of H-1 Airbase in Western Iraq, the paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade could have opened an airhead just north of Baghdad with an airborne assault of Balad Air Base.

Reminiscent of WWII operations in Europe, they could have cleared the way for the 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division as they made their way toward Baghdad. The seizure of key infrastructure was vital to keep Saddam from repeating his scorched earth retreat from 1991.

This could have been more quickly facilitated if paratroopers had been employed. With air superiority from the beginning, the possibilities for airborne assaults were great though unfortunately under-utilized.

When the paratroopers did enter the fight they proved their mettle when they earned a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions at As Samawah.

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13 funniest military memes for the week of Nov. 4

Well, if you’re reading this, you survived Halloween. Good job. Now get ready to get your leave forms kicked back because it’s time for the holidays!


1. You figure the first General of the Air Force since Hap Arnold would like his job a little (via Air Force Nation).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Most believable part of his password? No special characters were used.

2. It’s too late to take those life decisions back (via The Salty Soldier).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
But it’s not too late to dodge the retention NCO.

3. The Coast Guard is happy with even the minimal amount of love (via Coast Guard Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
We see you, Coast Guard. We see you.

4. Take this seriously. Your ability to spot them could determine your survival (via Military Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Notice how their dinosaur pattern blends in with the desolate wasteland of Best Korea.

5. The maintainers I met were more of the swamp-thing-with-a-mustache type (via Air Force Memes Humor).

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But maybe that was just at Pope AFB.

6. The nice thing about Navy surgeons is that you don’t have to pay either way!

(via Military Memes)

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Plus, they can identify most of the bones. Like, way more than half of them.

7. When the weekend warriors win so hard that you can’t even mock them:

(via Military Memes)

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Good job, nasty girls. Good job.

8. “Crossing into the blue” is when you’re done with the bleach and move on to the window cleaner (via Air Force Nation).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
The starter packs for all military E1s to E3s are surprisingly similar.

9. Accurate (via Military Nations).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Say a prayer for the poor NCOs who have to fix this.

10. Go anywhere. Park anywhere (via Coast Guard Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
But watch out for power lines and tree branches.

11. Don’t get between the general and his chow (via Military Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

12. “The night air is so clear! You can see all the stars and tangos!”

(via Military Memes)

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly

13. Hey, as long as he gets the cavities out (via Navy Memes).

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
He’ll probably get every single bad tooth out in one try.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Sailors may dress according to preferred gender off duty, Navy says

With the upcoming April 12, 2019 start of a new Pentagon policy that will bar most transgender people from entering the military and restrict transgender medical transition for those not grandfathered in, the Navy has released additional guidance noting that sailors will be permitted to “live socially” in their preferred gender while not on duty, even if they must conform to the standards associated with their biological gender while in uniform.

“There is no policy that prohibits the ability of a service member to express themselves off-duty in their preferred gender,” officials said in a recently released Navy administrative message. “Appropriate civilian attire, as outlined in the uniform regulations, will not be determined based on gender.”

The guidance does add that deployed sailors may be restricted in off-duty attire choices “to meet local conditions and host-nation agreements with foreign countries” at the discretion of regional commanders and senior officers.


“All service members are expected to continue to treat each other with dignity and respect,” the message adds. “There is zero tolerance for harassment, hazing or bullying of any service member in any form.”

Officials have insisted that the Pentagon’s new policy — which was spurred by a series of tweets from President Donald Trump in 2017 — does not constitute a ban on transgender individuals in uniform. However, it does restrict those who have not obtained a waiver by April 12, 2019, to serve in their biological gender only, and requires prospective troops with a history of “gender dysphoria” to verify that they have had 36 months of stability in their biological gender and are willing to meet the standards associated with it to enter the military.

The Navy and the Marine Corps, which both released additional guidance ahead of the new policy taking effect, did clarify that currently serving transgender troops who are deployed or otherwise hindered from getting a waiver by the deadline may submit an exception-to-policy request.

“This request must be routed to the commanding officer by the service member no later than 12 April 2019 and must contain a presumptive diagnosis from a provider (e.g., independent duty corpsman or civilian provider),” the Navy message states.

That request must then be forwarded with an endorsement from the service member’s commanding officer and submitted up through the first flag or general officer in the chain of command.

Marines may obtain an extension via a request to the deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, according to a Marine administrative message. The request must include a presumptive diagnosis from a civilian medical provider or independent duty corpsman and include a commanding officer’s endorsement.

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(Department of Defense)

The policy set to take effect aligns closely with a February 2018 memo to the president authored by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis following a policy review of the impact of transgender troops on “readiness and lethality.”

“In my professional judgment, these policies will place the Department of Defense in the strongest position to protect the American people, to fight and win America’s wars, and to ensure the survival and success of our service members around the world,” Mattis wrote.

Many in Congress, however, have been fiercely critical of the new policy, pointing out the honorable service of the estimated 9,000 transgender troops now serving and the relatively low cost to the Defense Department — estimated at under million — of providing them with medical care to date.

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

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16 photos that show how the US military responds to natural disasters

When natural disaster strikes at home or abroad, America usually sends its military to aid in rescue and recovery. Engineers, search and rescue, and logistics specialists pour into the area to save as many people as quickly as possible.


Here are 17 photos that show what that’s like.

1. Troops are rushed to the area, usually via cargo aircraft.

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Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Eric Harris

2. In the crucial first hours, disaster survivors can be rescued from collapsed or flooded structures. Engineers carefully shore up crumbling buildings and cut through obstacles.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Tania Reid

3. During hurricanes and tsunamis, there’s a good chance some survivors will have been swept to sea. Trained swimmers work to extract them.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st Class Krystal Ardrey

4. Survivors are transported to safe areas in military aircraft and vehicles.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Blackwell

5. When possible, the Navy sends its hospital ships to the disaster zone. The USNS Mercy and USNS comfort are floating hospitals with capacity for 1,000 patients each.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Blackwell

6. Field hospitals are set up to receive and treat the injured or sick after the disaster.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st Class Justyn M. Freeman

7. As survivors are being evacuated to care facilities, equipment, food, and other necessities surge in.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Air Force Master Sgt. Roy A. Santana

8. If the local transportation network has been damaged, the U.S. military finds workarounds. Here, a group of Air Force combat controllers direct air traffic at Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there knocked out the control tower.

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Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios

9. As supplies come in, they are moved overland to shelters and distribution centers.

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Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago

10. Sometimes, engineers have to prevent additional damage from aftershocks or continuing flooding.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago

11. The engineers can operate 24-hours-a-day to get ahead of rising water.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago

12. Sandbags and materials can be dropped into place by helicopters, vehicles, or carried in by troops.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago

13. When helicopters are used, the crew chief directs the pilots in order to get the materials in the right spot.

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Photo: US Air National Guard Airman Megan Floyd

14. Clearing roads allows for more vehicles to move supplies and evacuees.

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Photo: US Air Force Airman 1st Class Clayton Cupit

15. If invited by local government officials, troops will help patrol disaster areas.

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Photo: US Army National Guard Sgt. Brian Calhoun

16. As the situation begins to stabilize, the military will assist with clean up as well. Eventually, they’ll be released back to their normal missions.

The battle to retake this ISIS stronghold in Syria is getting ugly
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Stefanie Pupkiewicz

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