Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila has refused to relinquish power for more than a year, and the Catholic Church has emerged as the leader in the fight against him.
Since December 2017, when Kabila again refused to step down, the church and a spiritual group called the Lay Coordination Committee have organized a handful of protests, all of which have ended violently.
Most recently, anti-government protests in the capital city of Kinshasa on Feb. 25, 2018, left four people dead and two more injured, according to the Associated Press.
Kabila’s refusal to step down has also aggravated violence between government forces and multiple armed groups in other areas of the country. This includes the Kasai and Kivu regions, where mass atrocities have been carried out by both sides, killing and displacing thousands in the last few years.
Here’s what’s going on:
President Joseph Kabila took power of the DRC in 2001 after his father’s assassination.
Kabila helped unify the country after the two Congo wars of 1996-97 and 1998-2003, bringing back international business and raising GDP.
But at the same time, his government has been accused of gross incompetence, corruption, and human rights abuses.
Kabila was supposed to step down after his two-term mandate expired on December 19, 2016, but he stayed on after invoking a controversial law requiring a successor to be elected. This sparked a wave of protests.
In January 2017, the Catholic Church brokered a deal between Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy and opposition parties that elections would be held in December 2017 and that Kabila would step down.
In December 2017, Kabila again refused to step down, saying that an election would have to be held at the end of 2018 because the government didn’t have enough money.
Election officials have even said that, because of continued financial and logistical problems, the election might be even held later than that.
With opposition parties in disarray, the Catholic Church, which had previously tried to stay neutral, organized anti-government protests together with a spiritual group called the Lay Coordination Committee.
In the first demonstration on Dec. 31, 2017, seven demonstrators were killed by government forces.
On Jan. 21, 2018, another protest was held in which government forces killed 5 more protesters, firing live rounds and tear gas into crowds of demonstrators.
“We were dispersed by tear gas, stun grenades, and live bullets. We have again seen deaths, injuries, priests being arrested, and the theft of citizens’ property,” Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo said after the protests, according to Reuters.
“How can you kill men, women, children, youths, and old people all chanting religious songs, carrying bibles, rosaries, and crucifixes? Are we now living in an open prison?”
They organized another protest on Feb. 25, 2018, after mass, but government forces surrounded the churches that were planning to participate in the demonstrations before the parishioners could even take to the streets.
As police confined them, many churchgoers prayed and chanted slogans.
But violence soon erupted.
Police again fired live rounds and tear gas into crowds, and even beat, kicked, and arrested priests and protesters who were peacefully marching, which the video below shows.
Source: Jason Stearns
The violence reportedly left four dead and 47 more injured.
Source: Associated Press
The political violence unfolding in Kinshasa and other cities has also aggravated conflicts in different regions of the country, namely the regions of Kasai and Kivu.
In Kasai, the Congolose military has been battling a militia group called Kamuina Nsapu since August 2016, and in the Kivu, it has been battling an Islamist group called the Allied Democratic Forces since the 1990s.
Source: US News
The fighting between the two sides in Kasai has left more than 3,300 people dead and 1.4 million displaced since August 2016.
Dozens of mass graves have also been found in the region, which the Congolese military blames on the Kamuina Nsapu militia.
But the UN has also hinted that the Congolese military dug the graves after battling the militia.
Meanwhile, in Kivu, the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces killed 15 UN peacekeepers and five Congolese troops in December 2017.
Late February 2018, the Congolese military attacked an ADF base, and gruesomely massacred a number of its fighters.
Between June and November 2017, “at least 526 civilians were killed … at least 1,087 people were abducted or kidnapped for ransom, and there were at least 7 incidents of mass rape,” according to Human Rights Watch.
While Kabila has blamed militia groups for much of the violence, his own troops have been accused of carrying out a bulk of the human rights violations, according to Jason Stearns of the Congo Research Group.
With tensions continuing to rise, and Kabila seemingly intent on holding as long he can, only time will tell what the future holds for the DRC.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed signing a World War II peace treaty with Japan by the end of 2018 “without preconditions.”
Putin made the surprise offer in public, sitting next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a stage at an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok on Sept. 12, 2018.
After Abe pressed Putin on the subject of a treaty and a solution to the decades-long dispute over a group of islands claimed by both countries, Putin said: “An idea has just come into my head.”
“Shinzo said, ‘Let’s change our approaches.’ Let’s! Let’s conclude a peace agreement — not now but by the end of the year, without any preconditions,” Putin said.
He said issues that are in dispute could be resolved later, and that the pact could specify that the sides are determined to reach mutually acceptable agreements.
There was no immediate response from Abe, whose country has sought the return of the islands that lie northeast of Hokkaido since the war.
A treaty without preconditions would leave Russia in control of the disputed islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories.
Soviet forces occupied the islands at the end of World War II, and the territorial dispute has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from formally ending hostilities in the war.
Russian and Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said that work on a future agreement would continue as usual, and a Japanese official made clear that Tokyo wants an agreement on possession of the islands before it will sign a peace treaty.
Location of the Kuril Islands in the Western Pacific between Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia.
“The government will continue its negotiations on the basic principle that we will sign a peace treaty after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “This stance hasn’t changed.”
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told Russian news agencies that Putin’s announcement would not require any changes to the current format of negotiations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later in the day that Putin and Abe had not had a chance to discuss the proposal.
Russian commentator Georgy Kunadze, a former deputy foreign minister, told Ekho Moskvy radio that he believes Putin was “trolling” Abe and “does not expect anything” to result from the proposal.
The quest for the return of the islands is an emotive issue in Japan, and Kunadze suggested that Abe would never accept a deal that would be political suicide.
In years of talks, Russian officials have repeatedly signaled that Japan could not hope for a swift solution and hinted that the best way to get closer to a deal was to invest in the sparsely populated, windswept islands and engage in other areas of economic cooperation.
Meeting Abe on the sidelines of the forum in Vladivostok two days earlier, Putin had told the Japanese prime minister that “it would be naive to think that it can be resolved quickly.”
In his remarks on Sept. 12, 2018, Putin said concluding a pact would create a better atmosphere and enable Russia and Japan to “continue to resolve all outstanding issues like friends.”
“It seems to me that this would facilitate the solution of all problems, which we have not been able to solve over the past 70 years.”
A former U.S. Army’s Special Forces officer has been arrested in Alexandria, VA, and charged with passing secrets of American military units and personnel to the Russian military intelligence arm (GRU) for over a decade.
Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, was recruited by Russian intelligence operatives as he considered himself a “son of Russia,” according to a 17-page indictment that was released after his arrest.
John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security said that,
“Debbins violated his oath as a U.S. Army officer, betrayed the Special Forces and endangered our country’s national security by revealing classified information to Russian intelligence officers, providing details of his unit, and identifying Special Forces team members for Russian intelligence to try to recruit as a spy [sic]. Our country put its highest trust in this defendant, and he took that trust and weaponized it against the United States.”
Debbins is the second person this week charged by the Justice Department for transmitting U.S. secrets to a foreign country. In the other case, a former CIA officer in Hawaii (Alexander Yuk Ching Ma) was arrested and charged with spying for China.
Debbins first agreed to spy for Russia back in 1996 when he was an ROTC cadet. His mother had been born in the former Soviet Union and Debbins told Russian GRU operatives who were trying to recruit him that he considered himself “a son of Russia.” He had told his Russian handlers that he considered the United States “too dominant” in world matters and that it “needed to be cut down to size.”
The GRU gave Debbins the code name “Ikar Lesnikov.”
In 1997 he married a Russian woman, the daughter of a Russian military officer from the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota and being assigned to a Chemical Co. in Korea, Debbins returned to Russia. He briefed his handlers on his unit, its mission, and personnel during a subsequent visit to Russia.
He offered to take a polygraph test for his handlers when they asked if he was working for an American intelligence agency. He told them that he wished to leave the military, but they encouraged him to stay. They further urged Debbins to apply for and join the Special Forces. He was told that “he was of no use to the Russian intelligence service as an infantry commander.” Debbins passed Special Forces Selection (SFAS) and the qualification course (SFQC) and was assigned as a captain in the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (1-10 SFG).
On another trip to Russia, he briefed his GRU contacts about his SF unit, its personnel, locations, and mission. Debbins had his security clearance suspended and command of his A-Team revoked for an unspecified security violation in 2004 or 2005. He then left the military in 2005 with an honorable discharge, according to the indictment.
In subsequent meetings with his GRU handlers, Debbins disclosed information about his unit’s deployments to Azerbaijan and Georgia that were deemed “SECRET/NOFORN.” Debbins also gave the GRU the names of his former team members knowing that the Russians sought the “information for the purpose of evaluating whether to approach the team members to see if they would cooperate with the Russian intelligence service.” He also passed the names of two American counter-intelligence agents who tried to recruit him for an operation.
Once his active duty service was over he began to work for a Ukrainian steel company in Minnesota through his Russian contacts. He remained a member of the Reserves until 2010. During this time his security clearance was reinstated by an Army adjudicator, although he was warned that his family and business connections to Russia might make him “the target of a foreign intelligence service.”
Debbins was a “true believer” and not motivated by monetary gains. In fact, when the Russians (who are notoriously cheap in the intelligence world when it comes to paying agents) offered him id=”listicle-2647079043″,000 he initially declined it stating that he “loved and was committed to Russia.” He only reluctantly accepted the money as “gratitude for his assistance to the Russian intelligence service.” At a 2003 meeting, he was given a bottle of Cognac and a Russian military uniform.
The Justice Department did not divulge how it came to know that Debbins was spying for Russia. His last contact with his handlers was in 2011 when he told them that moved to the D.C. area (Gainesville, VA).
He will be indicted formally on Monday. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.
“The facts alleged in this case are a shocking betrayal by a former Army officer of his fellow soldiers and his country,” Alan E. Kohler Jr., FBI Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division, said in a statement.
A top Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander in Iran says his forces are ready to confront U.S. forces should President Donald Trump act on his warning that Tehran will “suffer consequences” if it threatens the United States.
“Mr. Trump, how dare you threaten us?” Qassem Soleimani, who leads the IRGC’s elite foreign operations Quds force, was quoted as saying on July 26, 2018.
“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine…. Come. You will start the war, but it is us who will end it, ” Soleimani said in a speech in the central city of Hamedan.
He made the remarks in response to a July 22, 2018 all-capital-letters post on Twitter by Trump in which Trump warned Iran not to “threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”
Trump’s tweet came following comments by Iran’s President Hassan Rohani who said: “America should know peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Soleimani called Trump a “gambler” and said his language belongs in “nightclubs.”
“We’re ready to stand against you,” Soleimani, who has been blacklisted by Washington, added.
Rohani said on July 25, 2018, that Trump’s “empty” threats did not deserve an answer.
Iran’s governmental IRNA news agency reported that, after Rohani mentioned “baseless comments” by “some U.S. leaders,” he told a cabinet meeting “there is no need for us to respond to any nonsensical comment and answer back to them.”
Soleimani said he’s responding to Trump “as a soldier.”
“Don’t threaten to kill us; we’re thirsty for martyrdom,” he was quoted as saying by the hard-line IRGC affiliated Fars news agency.
Following his Twitter warning, Trump suggested on July 24, 2018, that he’s ready to talk to, saying, “We’re ready to make a real deal.”
In May 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and announced that the United States is moving to reimpose tough sanctions.
U.S. officials have been telling countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil by November 2018.
Iran has warned of equal countermeasures, with Rohani suggesting that the country could block Persian Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted.
“The Red Sea, which was secure, is no longer secure today with the presence of American forces,” Soleimani said.
Most people would be grateful to experience any one of the occupations listed above–French Foreign Legionnaire, wartime spy, US Marine, or Hollywood heartthrob, but because Pierre (Peter) Julien Ortiz was not “most people,” he chose to immerse himself in all four.
The man who would become the most-decorated member of the Office of Strategic Services and one of the most decorated US Marines in World War II was born in New York City in 1913, to a French father who had a strong Spanish background, and an American mother.
The young Peter–once described as “tall, handsome, urbane, and sophisticated”–had many influential connections in French society and was a student in Grenoble when he decided to trade the tranquil life of a college student for something more exciting–a five-year enlistment in the French Foreign Legion. He enlisted in 1932 in the name of his Polish girlfriend.
Peter rose from private to sergeant and was offered a permanent commission as a second lieutenant–if he would re-enlist for five years and agree to eventually become a naturalized French citizen.
He refused and instead returned to the United States. Peter had, however, made quite the impression–he had fought with the Legion in several engagements in Africa with the indigenous Rif tribesmen, had been wounded in 1933, and came home with a chest full of medals, including two awards of the Croix de Guerre.
Upon his return, he joined his mother in California, serving as a technical advisor for war films until the outbreak of World War II in Europe, which–since the United States was still neutral in 1939–prompted Peter to return to the Legion in October of that year, as a sergeant.
By May 1940, he had received a battlefield commission but became a POW in June 1940 during the Battle of France when he was wounded while blowing up a fuel dump.
When he learned that some gasoline had not been blown up before the Germans arrived, he commandeered a motorcycle and returned to the area, drove through the German camp, destroyed the gasoline dump, and was returning to his own lines when he was shot in the hip, making him easy to capture.
Only the skill of a German POW camp surgeon kept him from being paralyzed.
Shifted between POW camps in Germany, Poland, and Austria for 15 months, he attempted escape on several occasions, finally successful in October 1941, fleeing to the United States by way of Lisbon, Portugal.
Debriefed by both Army and Navy intelligence officers, he was promised a commission–as he had been by both the Free French and the British in Portugal. He longed to wear a US military uniform.
By June 1942, after a visit with his mother and hearing nothing about the commission, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps and was sent to Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp.
Predictably, his numerous French military decorations caused him to stand out in formation, so much so that the Chief of Staff at the Recruit Depot wrote the USMC Commandant about Peter, enclosing copies of his French military awards, along with his application for a commission.
On August 1, 1942, Private Ortiz became 2nd Lt. Ortiz and became an assistant training officer at Parris Island.
Then dispatched to join the 23d Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC, he was–in a decision that only makes sense to military veterans–sent to jump school, despite already being a highly-decorated combat veteran and long-time paratrooper.
Photo licensed under Wikimedia Commons
Peter’s native French language capability, combined with his French Foreign Legion experience attracted the attention of influential senior Marines, one of whom wrote, “The rather unique experiences and qualifications of Lieutenant Ortiz indicate that he would be of exceptional value to American units operating in North Africa.”
And so it was–on December 3, 1942, now-Captain Ortiz was ordered to Tangier, Morocco for duty as the assistant naval attaché. In reality, his mission was to organize Arab tribesmen to observe German forces on the Tunisian border.
In a personal encounter with a German patrol, which he dispersed with the liberal use of grenades, Peter was wounded again, and spent time recuperating in an Algiers hospital, wearing his newly-awarded Purple Heart medal.
Peter Ortiz returned to the United States to recuperate in April 1943 and the next month was assigned to the Naval Command of OSS; one of only 80 USMC officers who served in the OSS during the war.
By July, he was in London pending assignment to France. His mission was to evaluate the strength and capabilities of the local resistance movement in the Vercors area of the Haute Savoie, a region in southeastern France, and then organize and arm the Maquis in preparation for the long-awaited D-Day assault.
The mechanism used to achieve this goal was an inter-allied team of British, French, and American agents, known as UNION–Colonel Pierre Fourcaud represented the Free French forces, former schoolmaster Col. H.H.A. Thackwaite for the British Special Operations Executive, and Peter Ortiz for the OSS/Special Operations as the US representative.
Team members parachuted into France in civilian clothes, per Special Operations Executive standard practice, later changing into their uniforms: the first Allied officers to appear in uniform in France since 1940.
Peter and his teammates found a challenging situation on the ground–a shortage of money and transportation, poor security, few military supplies, and a general lack of willingness on the part of politically-divided resistance groups to work together.
In May, the group was withdrawn to England pending reassignment.
Promoted to Major and awarded the first of two Navy Crosses he would earn, Peter returned to France on August 1, 1944, as the head of a mission known as Union II, an OSS Operational Group.
Rather than engage in espionage and intelligence collection, the heavily-armed OGs were to engage in “direct action,” meaning sabotage and preventing retreating German units from destroying key installations.
Accompanying Peter–code-named “Chambellan”–were five Marines, a Free French officer carrying false papers identifying him as a Marine, and an Army Air Forces captain.
In a chance encounter in Albertville with several hundred troops of the German 157th Alpine Reserve Division, Peter and his small team were soon overwhelmed.
Aware of several recent incidents of German slaughter of French townspeople and faced with the threat of German reprisals, Peter decided only surrender would spare the local populace from the wrath of the German forces.
Following his surrender on August 16, Peter was dispatched to the naval POW camp Marlag / Milag Nord, located in the small German village of Westertimke, near Bremen, in northern Germany.
He made repeated attempts to escape, until Apr 10, 1945, when the camp was hastily evacuated and he was able to slip away as a column of Spitfires attacked the retreating Germans.
After hiding for 10 days, Peter and two fellow POWs decided they would be better off back in their POW barracks and so returned there on April 27–two days before the camp was liberated by the British 7th Guards Armored Division.
The freed Peter was then transported to Brussels and back to London, where he was awarded his second Navy Cross.
Records of the OSS indicate that Peter was actually nominated for the Medal of Honor instead of a second Navy Cross, one of the few ever so honored: no OSS member has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor.
With the war over, Peter returned to “Tinseltown,” to work as a technical advisor to the movie industry again – and also as an actor.
Peter was good friends with fellow OSS veteran and renowned Hollywood director John Ford, and played minor roles in several of Ford’s John Wayne films, including Rio Grande, in which he played “Captain St. Jacques.”
As one biographer noted, however, “He wasn’t the greatest of actors, and he never really liked seeing the movies he was in.”
He continued in the Marine Corps Reserve, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In April 1954, with Indochina heating up, he wrote a letter to the USMC Commandant, offering his services as a Marine observer there; the USMC response was ‘current military policies will not permit the assignment requested.”
In March 1955, the 41-year-old highly-decorated Marine who had already lived several lives’ worth of excitement, retired and was promoted to colonel on the retired list as a decorated combat veteran.
He was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by the French government, another in a long list of awards, including his two Navy Crosses, the Croix de Guerre with five citations, the Legion of Merit with a combat “Valor” device, and selection as a Member of the Order of British Empire (Military Division).
Peter moved to Prescott, Arizona, where he succumbed to cancer at the Veterans Medical Center on May 16, 1988, at the age of 75. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery , his graveside service attended by military representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the French Foreign Legion. He was survived by his wife and his son, also a US Naval Academy graduate and USMC Major.
The wide swath that Peter cut during his life ensured that he would be remembered, at least by some, afterwards.
In 1994, commemoration ceremonies were conducted in each of two French towns where Peter fought–invited to the ceremonies were his wife, their son, and two of the enlisted Marines under his command in France.
One of the two towns, Centron, unveiled a plaque naming the town center “Place Peter Ortiz.”
As side tribute, during the CBS coverage of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Albertville, Charles Kuralt narrated a 20-minute segment on the fascinating life of Peter Ortiz. He has been featured in several USMC publications and in at least one monograph– Ortiz: To Live a Man’s Life by Laura Homan Lacey and John W. Brunner, and a 1958 magazine article by Walter Wager entitled ” They Called Him the Widow Maker–the Fantastic Saga of Pete Ortiz : WWII’s Most Incredible Spy.”
As late USMC historian Benis Frank has written, “Peter Julien Ortiz was a man among men. It is doubtful that his kind has been seen since his time.”
A Russian court has ordered several of the Ukrainian sailors who were captured by Russian coast-guard forces during a confrontation at sea off Crimea to be held in custody for two months.
The Nov. 27, 2018, rulings by the court in Simferopol, the capital of Russian-controlled Crimea, signaled the Kremlin’s defiance of calls by Kyiv and the West to release two dozen crew members who were seized along with three Ukrainian Navy vessels following hours of hostility at sea two days earlier.
Raising the stakes after tensions spiked when Russian coast-guard craft rammed and fired on the Ukrainian boats on Nov. 25, 2018, the court was holding custody hearings for 12 of the crewmen. A Russian official said nine others would face hearings on Nov. 28, 2018.
So far, four have been ordered held in pretrial detention — which usually means custody behind bars in a jail — until Jan. 25, 2019. Under Russian law, detention terms can be extended by courts at the request of prosecutors, and it was not immediately clear when the sailors might face trial.
Officials identified the Ukrainians as Volodymyr Varemez, the captain of a navy tugboat that was rammed by a Russian vessel, and sailors Serhiy Tsybizov, Andriy Oprysko, and Viktor Bespalchenko.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the Ukrainians were charged with “illegal border crossing by a group of individuals acting in collusion, or by an organized group, or with the use of or the threat to use violence.”
The court hearings came hours after Western leaders, speaking on Nov. 26, 2018, condemned what they called Russia’s “outrageous” violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as international maritime treaties, and called on Moscow to immediately release the detainees.
Conflicting reports have put the number of Ukrainians detained at 23 and 24. The court rulings put them in a situation similar to that of several Ukrainians, including film director Oleh Sentsov, who are being held in Russian prisons and jails for what Kyiv and Western governments say are political reasons.
In the running confrontation off Crimea on Nov. 25, 2018, a Russian coast-guard vessel rammed the Ukrainian tugboat in an initial encounter, and a few hours later the Russian vessels opened fire before special forces stormed the three Ukrainian boats. Six Ukrainians were injured.
The hostilities injected yet more animus into the badly damaged relationship between Kyiv and Moscow, which seized Crimea in March 2014 and backs armed separatists in a simmering war that has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since that April.
Those Russian actions, a response to the downfall of a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president who was pushed from power by the pro-European protest movement known as the Euromaidan, have also severely damaged its ties with the West.
The confrontation came days before Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold talks with U.S. President Donald Trump ion the sidelines of a G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018.
It followed months of growing tension over the waters in and around the Kerch Strait — the narrow body of water, now spanned by a bridge from Russia to Crimea, that is the only route for ships traveling between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports, including Mariupol.
On Nov. 26, 2018, Ukraine declared martial law in 10 of its 27 regions — including all of those that border Russia or have coastlines — following what it called a Russian “act of aggression.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned “this aggressive Russian action,” and called on Moscow to return the vessels and crews, and abide by Ukraine’s “internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters.”
Pompeo said both sides should “exercise restraint and abide by their international obligations and commitments” and said Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, should “engage directly to resolve this situation.”
Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Nov. 26, 2018, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the incident an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and a “reckless Russian escalation” of its conflict with Ukraine.
Britain’s Deputy UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said Russia “wants to consolidate its illegal annexation of Crimea and annex the Sea of Azov.”
The international community will not accept this, he said, insisting that Russia “must not be allowed to rewrite history by establishing new realities on the ground.”
Martial law will come into force on Nov. 28, 2018, in 10 Ukrainian regions that Poroshenko said are the most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia,” and will be in place for 30 days.
The measure includes a partial mobilization of forces, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and other unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime.”
Putin expressed “serious concern” over the Ukrainian decision in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said on Nov. 27, 2018.
The Russian leader also said he hoped “Berlin could influence the Ukrainian authorities to dissuade them from further reckless acts,” a statement said.
“The imposition of martial law in various regions potentially could lead to the threat of an escalation of tension in the conflict region, in the southeast” of Ukraine, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later told reporters.
Hours before the court hearings, Russian state-run TV channel Rossia-24 showed images of several of the detained Ukrainians that were apparently recorded during interrogations by Russia’s security services.
One of them parroted the version of events put forward by Russian authorities, saying, “The actions of the Ukrainian armed vessels in the Kerch Strait had a provocative character.”
One of the detained appeared to be reading his statement. Russian law enforcement agencies frequently provide state media with footage of suspects being questioned under duress.
In Kyiv, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) confirmed that a number of its officers were among those captured.
One of them was seriously wounded after a Russian aircraft fired two missiles at the Ukrainian boats, SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said in a statement.
Calling Russia’s capture of Ukrainian crews “unacceptable,” the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, urged Russia to “immediately release” those detained and provide them with medical aid.
She also called on both sides to use “utmost restraint” to prevent the only live war in Europe from escalating.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia “has to understand that its actions have consequences. We will remain in contact with the Ukrainian government to underline our support.”
Unlike other U.S. officials, who vocally backed Ukraine and criticized Russia, President Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation.
“Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it, too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.
Russia’s acting UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, accused the Ukrainian Navy of “staging an aggressive provocation,” which he claimed was aimed at drumming up public support for Poroshenko ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election in March.
“They have no hope to remain in power otherwise,” he said, while condemning Western leaders for condoning what he called their “puppets” in Kyiv.
“I want to warn you that the policy run by Kyiv in coordination with the EU and the U.S. of provoking conflict with Russia is fraught with most serious consequences,” Polyansky said.
At the outset of the UN Security Council meeting on the incident, Russia suffered a setback after it sought to discuss the clash under an agenda item that described the incident as a violation of Russia’s borders.
This was rejected in a procedural vote, with only China, Bolivia, and Kazakhstan siding with Russia. The Security Council then discussed the clash under terms laid out by Ukraine.
The naval confrontation took place as the Ukrainian vessels were approaching the Kerch Strait, the only access to the Sea of Azov.
A 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters.
But Moscow has been asserting greater control since its takeover of Crimea — particularly since May 2018, when it opened a bridge linking the peninsula to Russian territory on the eastern side of the Kerch Strait.
“I have to emphasize that, according to the international law, Crimea and respective territorial waters are the Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation,” Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko told the Security Council.
“Hence, there are no Russian borders in the area where the incident happened. I repeat — there are no Russian state borders around the Crimean Peninsula,” he said.
Sig Sauer, the maker of the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System, intends to sell a special, commercial version of the full-size MHS 9mm pistol.
“We are planning to do a limited release of about 5,000 of the Army variant of the M17 for the commercial market,” Tom Taylor, Sig Sauer’s chief marketing officer and executive vice president for commercial sales, told Military.com. “The timing is not finalized yet, but it looks to be late spring.”
The Army awarded Sig Sauer the MHS contract worth up to $580 million in January. The service launched its long-awaited MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol.
The selection of Sig Sauer formally ended Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.
The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol. The pistols will become the M17 and M18 after they are type-classified.
Each commercial MHS will be serialized and have serialized matching coin as well as a letter of authenticity from the CEO of Sig Sauer, Taylor said.
Sig Sauer would likely be able to sell more than 5,000 of these pistols, but Taylor said, “we just wanted to make it really special. … And once they are out there, the owners will be privileged to own the actual gun.”
The commercial version will be almost identical to the Army-issue, full-size MHS, except it will not have the anti-tamper mechanism for the striker action, nor will it have the special coatings on some of the internal parts that help it maintain lubricity under harsh conditions, Taylor said.
The Army MHS comes standard with a frame-mounted thumb safety. The commercial version will be available with or without the thumb safety, depending on customer preference, Taylor said.
Sig Sauer has not yet decided on a price tag for the endeavor.
“It’s high in demand, but if we price it too high, they will say ‘I really want it, but it is just too expensive.'”
In addition to Sig Sauer, Glock Inc. told a German publisher in August that it plans on selling its MHS variant on the commercial market as well.
Glock, FN America and Beretta USA, makers of the current M9 9mm pistol, all lost to Sig Sauer, but selling their versions of the MHS may allow them to recoup the money they invested in the high-profile endeavor.
Richard Flur, head of international sales for Glock GmbH, based in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria, told Stephan Dorler, managing director of European Security and Defence, a publication based in Bonn, Germany, about Glock’s plans to sell its version of MHS on the commercial market.
A Glock official in the U.S. said, however, there is no timeline yet for such a plan.
A recent study with a small sample of veterans trying to recover from mental health issues found that video games can help in overcoming such problems as PTSD and substance abuse disorders.
The researchers concluded that although the impact of video games may vary based on the user, clinicians may wish to discuss video game play with their patients to help them “optimize their use of games to support recovery.”
“Gameplay may promote a mindfulness-like psychological [escape] but can also provide users with benefits of confidence, social connection, personal growth, and opportunities for employment or even leadership,” the researchers wrote. “These benefits are accessible to people with disabilities for whom traditional treatments, leisure activities, or social interactions may be challenged by circumstances or limitations. Games could be implemented in large populations very inexpensively, thus acting as potentially very cost-effective recovery supports or mental health treatments.”
Some of the participants, the researchers also note, described using video games to “distract from overwhelming symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and drug or alcohol use.”
The study included 20 veterans — 15 men and five women — who ranged in age from 25 to 62. Sixteen of the 20 vets reported they had PTSD or trauma-related symptoms. Most of the participants said they had more than one current mental or behavioral health diagnosis, with PTSD and depression being the most common combination. Three people had more than one type of trauma, such as combat — or training-related trauma, military sexual trauma, or childhood sexual abuse.
Dr. Michelle Colder Carras, a public health researcher, led the study, which appeared in November 2018 in the journal Social Science Medicine. With extensive research experience in video game play and in mental health recovery, she interviewed the veterans on the value of the games. (She shares that she’s also played video games herself and has recovered from her own mental health problem.)
In the study, the video game genres included sports, puzzles, gambling, role-player action, fantasy settings, and shooter games. But Colder Carras emphasizes that the genre or specific game isn’t what necessarily helped with recovery. The benefits, she says, stemmed more from the connections the veterans made with other video game players; the distractions they created for themselves by playing the games and removing their focus, for example, from alcohol or drugs; and the meaning they derived from the games.
“Meaning derived from game narratives and characters, exciting or calming gameplay, and opportunities to connect, talk, and lead others were credited as benefits of gaming,” the researchers write. “Responses often related closely to military or veteran experiences. At times, excessive use of games led to life problems or feeling addicted, but some veterans with disabilities felt the advantages of extreme play outweighed these problems.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Two US bombers tore through the hotly-contested South China Sea on Oct. 16, 2018, an apparent power play signaling US determination to continue to fly and sail wherever international law allows ahead of a key meeting between US and Chinese defense chiefs Oct. 18, 2018.
A pair of Guam-based US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers “participated in a routine training mission in the vicinity of the South China Sea,” Pacific Air Forces told CNN in a statement, adding that the flights were in support of US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence, a mission focused on deterring regional challengers.
The Pentagon did not specifically identify which islands the aircraft flew by, but open-source flight tracking data suggests they may have been near the Spratly Islands, the location of a recent showdown between a Chinese destroyer and a US warship carrying out a close pass of the islands. During the incident, which occurred late September 2018, a Chinese naval vessel nearly collided with destroyer USS Decatur.
Following that incident, Vice President Mike Pence warned that “we will not stand down.”
“What we don’t want to do is reward aggressive behavior like you saw with the Decatur incident by modifying our behavior,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Joe Felter, according to CNN. “That’s just not going happen. We’re going to continue to exercise our rights under international law and encourage all our partners to do the same.”
The flight was seemingly intended to send a message that the US will not change its behavior in response to Chinese aggression at sea.
The “Chinese have successfully militarized some of these outposts and their behavior’s become more assertive and we’re trying to have an appropriate response,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver told the reporters while traveling abroad with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver.
China does not see the situation the same way, having previously described bomber overflights in the South China Sea as “provocative.”
China “always respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by other countries under international law,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang said at a press briefing Oct. 18, 2018, adding that China “firmly opposes to relevant country’s act to undermine the sovereign and security interests of littoral countries and disrupt regional peace and stability under the pretext of ‘freedom of navigation and overflight.'”
“We will take necessary measures to safeguard our sovereign and security interests,” he warned.
The flight, one of many through the disputed East and South China Seas in recent months, came ahead of a meeting between Mattis and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe, the Chinese defense minister. The meeting had been previously canceled amid rising tensions over trade, territorial disputes, sanctions, and Taiwan.
Their meeting was described as “straightforward and candid” on Oct. 18, 2018, with Pentagon officials saying that relations with the Chinese military may be stabilizing, according to the Associated Press. The discussions covered numerous topics but focused heavily on tensions in the South China Sea.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
At the start of the new millennium, the United States military was a very different organization. But then, so too was the United States as a country. In the past 20 years, the military has experienced an incredible shift in not only demographics, but also in the way it is formed. This trend will only continue.
A Pew Research Center study of the Department of Defense analyzed all of the data released by the U.S. military on its demographic makeup and found some key facts about how the U.S. military and the men and women who served in it has changed.
The Army is still the biggest, and the other branches are shrinking
In 2015, the Army was more than a third of the total active-duty force of the United States military. The Air Force and Navy were about a quarter of the force each, with the Marines and Coast Guard comprising 14 percent and 3 percent, respectively. These days, the Navy and Air Force have seen a sizable shrinkage in terms of how big they are in comparison to Big Army. The Marine Corps has also shrunk, although not to the same extent.
The Coast Guard, however, has grown.
The profile of the American veteran will shift significantly
Right now, 91 percent of veterans are male, but by 2045, the share of female veterans is expected to double while the actual number of female veterans will increase to more than 2.2 million. The number of male veterans is predicted to drop by half, to 9.8 million in 2045. These groups will also become more ethnically diverse as the older generations of veterans die. The share of Hispanic vets is expected to double, and the expected share of African-American veterans will increase to 16 percent.
Fewer Americans are veterans and that number will only drop
As of 2015, seven percent of the American population were veterans, down from 18 percent in 1980. With it came a drop in the number of active-duty military personnel, and the numbers keep on dropping. In 2045, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates the number of veterans will drop by 40 percent of its current population, as Gulf War vets become the dominant era, and Vietnam veterans start to die off.
More women are joining – and more are in command
The number of women in the U.S. military is rapidly changing. According to the Defense Department, women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army, and almost 9 percent of the Marine Corps. More than one in five commissioned officers were women in 2017, a number that is projected to rise, a far cry from women being just five percent of officers in 1975.
The U.S. military is getting smaller – troops are seeing more action
One in five veterans today served after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a result of being a smaller force than the U.S. military of the Cold War Era, which includes the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts of the time, Members of the post-9/11 military generation were more likely to have deployed and served in combat. They are also more likely to have experienced some kind of traumatic incident.
Two U.S. lawmakers on March 4, 2019, introduced legislation to pay veterans bonuses for serving in America’s longest war.
Sens. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, introduced the bipartisan American Forces Going Home After Noble (AFGHAN) Service Act to “honor the volunteers who bravely serve our nation by providing bonuses to those who have deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism, and redirect the savings from ending nation-building in Afghanistan to America’s needs at home,” according to an announcement.
If passed, the AFGHAN Service Act would also permanently end America’s involvement in Afghanistan and overturn the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, said the lawmakers, who serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“It is time to declare the victory we achieved long ago, bring them home, and put America’s needs first,” Paul said.
A machine gun crew with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, sets up an overwatch position during a foot patrol May 8, 2012, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)
“Soon, U.S. service members will begin deploying to Afghanistan to fight in a war that began before they were born,” Udall said. “It is Congress that has failed to conduct the proper oversight of this nearly 18-year war. Now, we must step up, and listen to the American people — who rightly question the wisdom of such endless wars.”
The bill would order the government to pay any and all members of the military who have served in the Global War on Terrorism a ,500 bonus within one year of the legislation passing, according to the AFGHAN Service Act.
“Since 2001, more than 3,002,635 men and women of the United States Armed Forces have deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism, with more than 1,400,000 of them deploying more than once,” the bill states.
“This would be a one-time cost of approximately billion and an immediate savings of over 83 percent when compared to the current yearly costs. The billion a year can be redirected to domestic priorities.”
The lawmakers argue that the numbers alone give reason to step away from the conflict.
Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division patrol a small village during an air assault mission in eastern Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2008.
(Photo by Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez)
“Over 2,300 military members have sacrificed their lives in the war, with another 20,000 wounded in action. In addition, the Afghanistan war has cost the United States trillion, with the war currently costing over billion a year,” they said.
The end to the war would come as peace negotiations with the Taliban are ongoing, and al-Qaida’s footprint in the country is shrinking, they added.
“The masterminds of the [Sept. 11] attack are no longer capable of carrying out such an attack from Afghanistan,” they said. “Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, and [al-Qaida] has been all but eliminated from Afghanistan.”
If enacted, the legislation gives Pentagon and State Department leaders, among others, 45 days to formulate a plan for an orderly withdrawal and turnover of facilities to the Afghan government.
The goal is to remove all U.S. forces from Afghanistan within one year of the bill’s passage.
Soldiers of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment move into position to support the Afghan National Police.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael L. Casteel)
Common Defense, a grassroots group comprised of veterans and military families that stood up after the 2016 election, has secured sponsorship from lawmakers and presidential hopefuls such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts.
Both initiatives mirror President Donald Trump’s vision to reduce the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan and instead focus on counterterrorism and peace negotiations with a smaller footprint in the region.
Following construction and acceptance trials earlier this year at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Giffords sailed to Galveston, Texas, where she was commissioned June 10.
“Our Sailors are honored to represent the ship namesake, its homeport in San Diego, and the U.S. Navy,” said Cmdr. Keith Woodley, Giffords’ commanding officer. “Every Sailor will continue, through USS Gabrielle Gifford’s service to her nation, to fulfill the ship’s motto, ‘I Am Ready.'”
During her sail around transit from Mobile, Giffords Sailors conducted Combat Ship Systems Qualification Trials events, various crew certification training events, and regularly scheduled equipment and systems checks and transited through the Panama Canal.
Giffords is the ninth littoral combat ship to enter the fleet and the fifth Independence-variant LCS. She joins other LCS, including USS Freedom (LCS 1), USS Independence (LCS 2), USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), USS Coronado (LCS 4), USS Jackson (LCS 6), and USS Montgomery (LCS 8), who are also homeported in San Diego.
Giffords Sailors are excited for the future of their ship but also for their own return to San Diego.
“We have put in a lot of hard work over the past nine months,” said Operations Specialist 1st Class Lee Tran. “It is going to be nice to have a little down time with friends and family before continuing to work the ship toward its next milestone.”
Family and friends were similarly eager for some quality time with their returning Sailors. Many said they were also grateful for the support and friendships they forged with other families while their Sailors were away.
“Knowing I was not in this alone and that there were more families out there going through it too made me at peace knowing our Sailors had each other,” said Morgan Witherspoon, friend of a Giffords Sailor.
LCS 10 is named after former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who survived an assassination attempt in 2011. Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus selected the LCS 10 namesake and said it is appropriate that the ship is named for Giffords, whose name is “synonymous with courage when she inspired the nation with remarkable resiliency and showed the possibilities of the human spirit.”
LCS is a high-speed, agile, shallow draft, mission-focused surface combatant designed for operations in the littoral environment, yet fully capable of open ocean operations. As part of the surface fleet, LCS has the ability to counter and outpace evolving threats independently or within a network of surface combatants. Paired with advanced sonar and mine hunting capabilities, LCS provides a major contribution, as well as a more diverse set of options to commanders, across the spectrum of operations.