This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’ - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

September 11, 2001 means different things for different Americans. For some, the events of that date will forever be seared in their memories. For others, they were too young to know what was going on, yet they sensed something big had happened. For a younger generation, 9/11 is history. They read about it in textbooks that are absent the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress that plagued so many Americans on that morning and the days following.

But, it’s an important date. It’s a date that represents sacrifice. Many people died, putting the lives of others before theirs. It’s a date that represents unity. Americans came together to offer up support to the families of the fallen. It also represents mistakes. Following the events of 9/11, Muslims and Middle-Eastern Americans had to weather the racial blowback that came from 19 men flying planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.


What’s important is that we remember. And that our kids know what happened that day, so the sacrifices, the story of Americans coming together, as well as the mistakes we made are not forgotten. And a great way to share memories is through stories. In her debut middle-school novel, Caroline Brooks DuBois gives us The Places We Sleep. It’s a story about a young girl navigating a new school (because her dad is in the Army) during the events of September 11, 2001. I recently interviewed Caroline to learn more about her book.

WATM: This novel touches on so many different themes: 9/11, racism, being a military kid, being a middle schooler, and being a young girl in middle school. Could you talk a little bit about the story you tell in The Places We Sleep?

Caroline: With Abbey, I attempted to create a middle school character who is as multifaceted as the pre-teens and teens I know and teach (and adore). Middle schoolers currently are living through very complex times, yet they are still concerned about their complexion, their hair, what to wear, who said what to whom, getting embarrassed in front of their peers, and so much more. In the story, Abbey navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events, so I hope readers will see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.

Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. In the years that followed 9/11, my brothers and my brother-in-law were all called into active duty and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These events were the seed for Abbey’s story. I knew I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and families in unexpected ways. But I also wanted to tell a story about a girl with whom readers could relate. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, and friendship.

WATM: Who should pick this book up? Is this a book a parent could read with their middle schooler to talk about 9/11?

Caroline: Middle grade students I’ve taught have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11 and are curious and want to know more. There are several great books for young readers on 9/11 that I’ve incorporated into my teaching over the years, as I’ve found reading stories offers an opening to difficult subjects. I hope The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy.

Although the story is written for middle-school age kids, adults have told me the story resonates with them as well. It allows readers to visit, or revisit, 9/11 in the safe space of a story. The current national trauma of the Coronavirus pandemic may have a similar traumatic impact on youth and adults. Reading with a child about a dark time in our history is one way to open up conversation on important topics such as resiliency, strength, attitude, and hope. My hope is that the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. If they see Abbey journey through difficult times and come out stronger, they too may be inspired and optimistic in the face of their generation’s own difficult times.

WATM: You chose to tell the story in Verse. Could you talk about that decision and why you think it will appeal to readers?

Caroline: As a teacher and parent, I’ve noticed the appeal of shorter and/or alternative forms of story-telling (e.g., books in verse, flash fiction, graphic novels, epistolaries, etc.), undoubtedly influenced by technology and reading online. Even though I have a love for long form and traditional novels, I’ve noticed how books in verse can create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate or hook adolescent readers.

Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium for Abbey’s story.

Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Where you may not have time to read an entire chapter with someone, there’s always time for a poem or two.

WATM: On top of all the other crazy events in the book, Abbey also deals with the struggle of puberty. A lot of middle school books gloss over this. But, it’s a main part of Abbey’s story. Could you discuss why you chose to address it in your novel?

Caroline: When I was a pre-teen, one of the few sources for making sense of puberty was Judy Blume novels, which we passed covertly between friends (Think: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). Changing bodies were cringe-worthy and carried heavy feelings of shame. Not enough has changed since then. I should know: I taught 7th grade for three years recently, and I saw it when girls cornered me at my desk to signal with their eyes they needed an emergency bathroom break, or when boys shut down in class conversations, avoiding branding themselves as not part of the pack. Novels that talk about puberty openly and other difficult issues are lifesavers for youth. Now more than ever, young readers need to be able to see themselves in books. Sometimes it takes a character in a book to show a reader they are not alone. Forewarning, my second reason is a little cerebral and a slight spoiler regarding Abbey’s character arc. Through her journey, Abbey makes a connection between coming of age (a.k.a, getting her period) and possessing the power to create life. She contemplates how the terrorists on 9/11 chose to destroy life. Coming of age brings with it many choices about how to act, and sometimes acting with integrity and authenticity means not following your peers—and that’s a true test of character.

WATM: Outside of classical literature, this is the first time I’ve ever read a novel in verse. Since you got your MFA in poetry, what are some of the must-reads in this genre?

Caroline: In this space, I’ll mainly mention notable middle-grade novelists who write in verse, but there are also numerous young adult novelists who write in verse as well. Disclaimer: These are a few of my own personal favorites and there are many others not included: Kwame Alexander (sports-themed Crossover and Booked), Sharon Creech (Love that Dog and Hate that Cat), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out Back Again), and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming). Additionally, Ellen Hopkins is a must-read author of books in verse for young adults; she tackles challenging topics such as drug addiction and mental illness in her unapologetic, in-your-face verse. One of my all-time favorite novels in verse is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which tells the story of 14-year-old Billie Jo, who struggles to help her family survive the Dust Bowl.

The Places We Sleep is available on Amazon.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Russia has pledged to go ahead with a massive WWII memorial parade despite its growing coronavirus outbreak

Despite steadily mounting infections from the coronavirus in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has so far refused to cancel a massive parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet triumph Nazi Germany.

The annual Victory Day parade on May 9 typically includes tens of thousands of troops, military equipment, and hundreds of thousands of spectators.


The event came under fire last week after social media footage showed thousands of re-enactors rehearsing for the event, despite a government ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

One video, found by Rob Lee, an open source military researcher who focuses on former Soviet militaries, shows re-enactors at a military base in Alabino, outside of Moscow.

Video purportedly of Russian troops at the Victory Day Parade rehearsals in Alabino who aren’t quite meeting the 1.5 meter social distancing requirement instituted by local officials. https://vk.com/milinfolive?w=wall-123538639_1404052 …pic.twitter.com/JIQLTPFUMQ

twitter.com

Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny circulated the video, and other politicians criticized organizers for letting them go ahead.

The government announced it would halt rehearsals, but still planned to hold the main event on May 9, according to the Guardian.

The 2020 parade had been scheduled to be especially large, given its importance marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazism, which cost tens of millions of Soviet lives.

Putin had planned to include not only the cream of Russia’s modern military but thousands of WWII-style re-enactors armed with historically accurate gear.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

To prepare for the event, Russia spent years accumulating working models of the famous Soviet T-34 tank, sourcing them from as far afield as Laos and Albania.

Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, currently at 6,000 recorded cases but growing fast, may yet end hopes of the parade going ahead.

Russian government officials have attacked news organizations that report on the increasing number of cases in Russia, as well as anyone who suggests the event should be canceled.

static.kremlin.ru

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “May 9th is a sacred date for millions upon millions in Russia and [ex-Soviet] countries. The Victory Day parade is scheduled (sanitary measures taken) and will march on Red Square,” according to the Guardian.

Alternative plans being considered for the parade, according to multiple Russian media outlets, include conducting the parade for TV cameras without a live audience, or postponing it until other historically significant anniversaries in September or November.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran says it is negotiating 25-year bilateral deal with China

Iran has been negotiating a 25-year accord with China “with confidence and conviction,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told parliament on July 5, saying its terms will be announced once the deal is struck.

Zarif insisted there was nothing secret about the prospective deal, which he said was raised publicly in January 2016 when President Xi Jinping visited Tehran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also has publicly supported a strategic bilateral partnership with China.


China is Iran’s top trading partner and a key market for Iranian crude oil exports, which have been severely curtailed by U.S. sanctions.

Zarif made the comments in his first address to parliament since a new session began in late May after elections that were dominated by hard-liners.

During the session, Zarif was heckled by lawmakers largely over his key role in negotiating a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which the U.S. unilaterally abandoned in 2018 before reimposing sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal saying it was not decisive enough in ensuring Iran would never be able to develop a nuclear weapon.

Trump wants Tehran to negotiate a new accord that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear program and restrict Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

Iran has gradually rolled back its commitments under the accord since the United States withdrew.

The 2015 deal provided the Islamic republic relief from international sanctions in return for limits on its nuclear program, but Iranian hard-liners staunchly opposed the multilateral agreement, arguing the United States could never be trusted.

Hard-liners in the Iranian parliament also said on July 5 they were seeking to summon Zarif and President Hassan Rohani to respond to accusations of “betraying the people.” Several deputies called Rohani a liar as they heckled him continuously.

Lawmaker Mohammed-Taghi Nagh-Ali said during the session that Rohani and Zarif have betrayed the people and “must therefore be held responsible,” according to the semiofficial ILNA news agency.

Rohani’s policies have led to the country’s current economic crisis, and his arguments are “no longer acceptable,” Nagh-Ali said.

Some 200 members of parliament have tabled a motion to question Rohani.

Since winning their seats in February, hard-liners in Iran have been putting greater pressure on Rohani, accusing him of making too many concessions to Western nations and getting little in return.

Rohani argues that U.S. sanctions and the global coronavirus pandemic are behind the economic crisis.

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

Articles

Collective impact is the key to social change that counts

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
Bill Rausch, Got Your 6 executive director, on a panel at SXSW. (Photo: GY6)


Recently, Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation and JP Morgan convened in Washington, D.C., to explore impactful ways to empower veterans. This meeting at its core was centered on finding a solution to corporate philanthropy – how can organizations work to produce social change in a chosen area, while still ensuring a return on investment? Across sectors, collective impact has emerged as the answer.

As it relates to the world of nonprofits, collective impact is a framework by which organizations can accomplish more through partnerships with others with shared values, than they can by going alone. Ten years ago this month, I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and in the military, I learned the phrase “one team, one fight,” which perfectly summarizes this concept. Pair this idea of cooperation, not competition, with the generous financial backing of corporate donors, and you have the foundation for real change.

Here is a real world example: To raise awareness for breast cancer research and domestic violence, the Avon Foundation gives grants to nonprofits to strengthen the work they do on the ground. Corporate partnerships are a key component of amplifying the work of nonprofits, but for companies looking to invest in social change, how do you find the right home for your dollars? For those looking to empower veterans and military families, the Got Your 6 campaign has perfected the solution.

Over the last three years, Macy’s has raised $6.7 million dollars for the national veteran campaign Got Your 6 through its annual American Icons campaign. These funds have gone to national programs and events as well as to Got Your 6’s coalition of nonprofit partners in the form of grants, in efforts to advance the veteran empowerment movement.

By vetting each nonprofit partner within its larger coalition, Got Your 6 ensures that corporate funding will go to organizations creating real change in communities across America. From the great work of Macy’s through American Icons, and the generosity of the American people, Got Your 6 was able to give 35 grants over three years to nonprofit partners such as The 6th Branch, a veteran-run nonprofit that utilizes the leadership and operational skills of military veterans to accomplish community service initiatives. Last year, Got Your 6 granted The 6th Branch $93,000, supporting a year’s worth of service to transform abandoned lots in Baltimore into urban farms and safe spaces for youth recreation. Last month, members from team Got Your 6 participated in an urban greening event with The 6th Branch at the Oliver Community Farm in Baltimore; a veteran-created community resource designed to provide fresh produce in response to a lack of healthy food options in the area.

From my time as a cadet at West Point to the 17 months I spent in Baghdad during the height of the surge, I’ve seen first-hand the power of collective impact and how critical it is to success, regardless of the mission. To continue supporting a resurgence of community in America, Macy’s is again working with Got Your 6 on this year’s iteration of American Icons. Veterans will directly benefit the more people know about this: Americans can shop at Macy’s for Got Your 6 Weekend on Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15 to donate $3 at the register or online at Macys.com to receive a special savings pass, with 100% of all donations going directly to Got Your 6 and its coalition of nonprofit partners.

I have been leading teams my entire life, in and out of the Army, and I couldn’t be more proud of Got Your 6 as we lead the veteran empowerment movement, leveraging a “one team, one fight” approach. Companies looking to support social change should seriously consider the collective impact mindset. As exemplified by Macy’s and Got Your 6, measurable impact can occur when all parties work together.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A third of the Thai boys soccer team want to be Navy SEALs now

Four members of the Thai soccer team that survived being trapped in a flooded cave for more than two weeks now want to be Navy SEALS.

Three boys, and the team coach, said they now aspired to the join the SEALs, whose divers swam into the cave and helped get all 12 boys and the 25-year-old coach out alive.


Asked during a press conference on July 18, 2018, about his future plans, the 14-year-old goalkeeper Ekarat Wongsukchan said: “I still want to pursue my dream to be a professional soccer player, but there might be a new dream, which is to become part of the Navy SEALs.”

Wongsukchan and three other members of the team — including the coach, Ekapol Chantawong — then raised their hand when asked how many of them wanted to be Navy SEALs.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Members of the rescued Thai soccer team, including some who want to be Thai Navy SEALs.

(Channel News Asia)

It was met with applause from the SEALs onstage at the conference as well as many members of the audience.

Six other members of the team also said they hoped to one day be professional soccer players.

Rescuers found the team huddled on a dry ledge in the partially flooded cave complex after nine days of searches.

Three Thai Navy SEALs and a doctor stayed with the boys over the ensuing week until they were extracted one by one as part of a three-day mission that ended July 9, 2018.

Sanam Kunam, a former SEAL who volunteered to help, died while placing oxygen tanks in the cave.

The team paid condolences to Kunam toward the end of the conference while holding a portrait of the diver with personal messages written around it.

Chanin Vibulrungruang, 11, the youngest of the team, said in his message:

“I would like to thank both Lt. Saman and everyone involved in this. I hope that Lt. Saman has a good sleep and I hope that he rests in peace.

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Gina Elise knows how to make a first impression

I’m in an Uber driving north, passing by the Hollywood Sign. I am supposed to be headed south. My driver swears he knows a shortcut. Ok, Raffee, we’ll see, bro — but my land nav skills are telling me we’re headed towards a disaster and I’m late.


Really late, and this is not the impression I want to send to the woman waiting for me at the famous Hollywood American Legion. I’ve just arrived, thanks to Raffee’s shortcut. He earned his 5 stars today. As I rush to the entrance of the historic building that rightfully looks like a bunker defending the Hollywood Hills, I realize that I’ve just traveled back in time.

Before me is a marvelous Pin-Up model posing before a row of flags and one large cannon. She’s got it all. Hair perfectly curled, a vintage-inspired 1940s dress, and a smile that is making our cameraman blush. This is an image that could sell war bonds or find its way onto the nose cone of a B-24. Wow, I just learned that Pin-Ups For Vets‘ Founder, Gina Elise, really knows how to make a first impression.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder Gina Elise at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

Here I am, nervous and fumbling with my bag as Gina takes photo after photo almost effortlessly. She’s a pro. It’s been 13 years since Gina founded Pin-Ups For Vets, a non-profit organization that supports active military and veterans by producing an annual fundraiser pin-up calendar. The Pin-Ups For Vets Ambassadors visit ill and injured veterans in VA hospitals across the country (Gina’s volunteered in 31 of the 50 states). The organization also purchases thousands of dollars of rehabilitation equipment for VA therapy departments.

The photoshoot is coming to end when Gina tells me she has a surprise. She’s baked an eight-layer brownie for me and the cameraman. Seriously, is there anything that Gina can’t do? Right now, she’s off to change before our chat. As I bite into the absolutely delicious snack, it hits me that Gina, like the brownie, has many layers that only get sweeter and sweeter.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder, Gina Elise, at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

I’m downstairs at the American Legion. It’s dark and the smell of cigars lingers. This is definitely a place for veterans and is home to some pretty amazing movie history. Just out of the corner of my eye is the long bar where Jack Nicholson had a conversation with a ghost bartender in The Shining. And, just like old Jack, I wonder if my eyes are playing tricks on me as Gina approaches in a fresh new dress.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder, Gina Elise, at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

You ready?

GE: [She smiles]. Yes.

So, what were you doing before you came here?

GE: Today?

Totally. I am curious about what you do when you aren’t owning photoshoots?

GE: I was wrapping up some details for our upcoming visit with hospitalized veterans! I was also trying to see if our CBS News clip was up online yet, so I could share it on our Facebook page. I like to keep our supporters up-to-date about things that we’re doing.

And baking Brownies?

GE: I wanted to bring dessert for you guys. These bars have seven ingredients with a chocolate glaze on top.

Thank you. [I can still taste the glaze]

GE: I was also planning a morale-boosting pin-up makeover for a female Air Force veteran. We have multiple projects going on all the time. I have to be a multi-tasker.

Makeovers?

GE: It’s one of the things that we’ve been doing for a while. We do makeovers for female veterans and military wives as a fun way to give back to them and pamper them. I also just released a casting call for our 2020 calendar. It’s our 14th edition! We’ve received more submissions this year than ever before!

What does it take to be a Pin-Up in the calendar?

GE: Well, we look for female Veterans who have great stories to share. We ask them to submit their picture, tell us a bit about their military service and why they would like to be in our next calendar and what that would mean to them.

Last year’s calendar at the Queen Mary was amazing. It’s still hanging in my office. How do you find these places?

GE: The 2019 Pin-Ups For Vets calendar was photographed on the Queen Mary. Producing the calendar every year is like making a film — from location scouting to casting to styling to pre-production to photography to post-production to editing and printing. It takes months. I want it to be top notch so people want to order it year after year. Many of our supporters collect them, and some have the entire calendar collection — all the way from 2007, our first edition.

And you do this all yourself?

GE: I have a lot of amazing volunteers, many of whom are female veterans.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Pin-Ups pose on the Queen Mary for the 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets Calendar.

(Photo courtesy of @pinupsforvets)

Really? Are you recruiting an army of Pin-Ups?

GE: It’s really a sisterhood of volunteers. They are coming together, after their military service, to give back to their brothers and sisters. One of our volunteers recently told me, “I came for the service. I stayed for the sisterhood.” I think that having images of female veterans in the calendar is a starting point to tell their story. Images are powerful. People want to know, “Who is she?” Then, they find out that she is a veteran. It makes people think twice, as it is a common assumption that veterans are only men. The ladies constantly tell me that they are often mistaken for being a military spouse. They are not assumed to be a veteran because their gender. I think that the calendars have started changing peoples’ minds on what a veteran is.

You’ve definitely changed my mind. What’s the craziest place you’ve seen your pictures?

GE: They’ve gone all over the world. We are constantly shipping care packages to deployed units.

I have to ask: has anybody painted you on the side of their Humvee?

GE: Soldiers put my name on a helicopter!

Ok, that’s pretty cool. I mean, not a lot of people get their name on a helicopter.

GE: It was a great picture.

Yeah, I have to get that picture. OK?

GE: Of course.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Gina Elise painted on the side of an AH-64 Apache Helicopter.

(Photo courtesy of @pinupsforvets)

It’s pretty amazing that you’ve used an iconic 1940s fashion style to embrace femininity within the military culture. How do the ladies even start to learn how to be a Pin-Up?

GE: The ladies who volunteer with us have adopted the 1940s style so well. They watch YouTube tutorials about how to do their hair and makeup. There’s something about presenting yourself in this vintage style that makes you feel really confident. It’s a beautiful celebration of a woman. It’s really about embracing our femininity. I love how I feel when I get dressed up. It gives me confidence.

Really? Confidence doesn’t seem to be hard for you at all. You’re a natural leader.

GE: I was shy growing up. Being involved in leadership classes in junior high and high school were life-changing for me. They gave me a sense of responsibility at a very early age, and showed me what I was capable of doing. Maybe that is why I connected so well with the military community — because there is such a focus on strong leadership.

A little bird told me that you are a Colonel?

GE: Honorary. The American Legion made me an Honorary Colonel. It was incredible. We are so grateful to the American Legion. They’ve been so supportive of what we do.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder, Gina Elise, at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

Roger that, Colonel. So, when do we get to see the book of all the Pin-Up pictures?

GE: A coffee table book? I’ve thought about that! Our supporters have asked me to do a coffee table book before. I would love to see that!

Have the fans asked for anything else?

GE: Yes! I actually have an idea for a television show.

Oh really? Let’s talk about that later after I finish this amazing brownie.

GE: Any time.

Be sure to visit www.pinupsforvets.com for more info.

Articles

Meet the zombie ISIS leader who seems to never die

A US military commander said on Aug. 31 that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is probably still alive and hiding in the Euphrates River valley between Iraq and Syria.


“We’re looking for him every day. I don’t think he’s dead,” Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the counter-IS coalition, said in a conference call with reporters.

Townsend said he didn’t “have a clue” where Baghdadi is precisely, but he believes the reclusive extremist leader may have fled with other IS militants to the river valley region after IS lost control of its former bastions in Mosul, Tal Afar, and parts of Raqqa.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
US Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve commanding general, speaks with Airmen, Marines, and coalition personnel thanking them for the many contributions in support of OIR during an all-call. USAF photo by Tech Sgt. Andy M. Kin.

“The last stand of ISIS will be in the Middle Euphrates River Valley,” Townsend said, using another well-known acronym for the extremist group. “When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”

There have been reports of Baghdadi’s death as recently as June, when the Russian Army said it was trying to verify whether he died in an air strike in Syria.

“I’ve seen no convincing evidence, intelligence, or open-source or other rumor or otherwise that he’s dead,” said Townsend. “There are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he’s still alive.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Colombia is still fighting its decades-long drug war

After hitting a low in 2012, Colombia’s cultivation of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine, jumped 134% between 2013 and 2016, US officials said late 2017.


2016 alone saw a 52% increase in the area under coca cultivation, rising to 360,774 acres from 237,221 acres in 2015, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Potential cocaine production jumped 34%, from 712 tons in 2015 to 954 tons a year later.

The amount of cocaine seized in the country also rose by nearly half, the UNODC said, from 253,591 kilos in 2015 to 378,260 kilos in 2016. That was accompanied by a 26% increase in the number of illegal cocaine labs destroyed, from 3,827 in 2015 to 4,842 the following year. (The real amounts are likely much higher than official estimates.)

Also read: Argentina found 400 kilos of cocaine in the Russian embassy

Colombia has faced pressure from the US to clamp down on that surge, but there were a variety of factors that drove it through 2016, when the government signed a peace accord with left-wing rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Under that deal, the government has pursued crop-substitution and alternative-development programs to pull farmers away from coca.

But a lack of resources has hindered implementation of those programs, and in lieu of an alternative, Colombian growers have forged ahead with the only one they can grow profitably.

“What really happened, I think, is that the government did stop fumigating, which was a factor,” said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America. “It also cut way back on manual eradication, and it didn’t make a presence” in often-marginalized parts of the country where cultivation has been the most intense, Isacson told Business Insider.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
A coca farmer worker speaks with the police during a working day of manual eradication in Taraza, Colombia. (Photo by William Fernando Martinez)

Isacson, who spent a month on the ground in Colombia in February 2018, pointed to Putumayo, a department on Colombia’s southern border.

“That fringe area with Ecuador is no-man’s land, and nobody’s seen an eradicator or a development official, same for most of Catatumbo,” he told Business Insider, referring to a region in the northwest Colombian department of Norte de Santander, where cultivation is also intense.

Related: How the Coast Guard intercepts half a million pounds of cocaine

“So if it’s no-man’s land and you see your neighbor’s now got waist-high coca bushes, and they’re two years old and nobody’s messed with him, it’s probably pretty tempting to grow it yourself,” Isacson said.

Efforts to get farmers to grow other crops have faltered because they aren’t economically viable — in part because getting those crops to market from rural, isolated areas eats away the profit margin.

“You probably often make more with almost any other crop, but it’s always a different crop. Sometimes it’s coca. Sometimes … something else might be getting a better price than coca, but coca never goes down,” Isacson told Business Insider. “It’s just this always above-average price. It’s like an insurance policy for them.”

“The government has tried alternate-crop development and what have you, but it’s never worked, because growing breadfruit, bananas, and other crops does not come close to fetching the prices that coca does,” said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The value of coca increases dramatically as it is refined and moves toward consumer markets.

The ton of fresh coca leaf needed to make a kilo of cocaine costs a few hundred dollars in Colombia. After its processed and turned into power, that kilo can fetch $30,000 or more in the US. On the street, once that kilo is “stepped on” by cutting it to grams and adding fillers, its total value can exceed $100,000. (Though not all that money filters back to the source.)

More: How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

“Coca cultivation has always been the most marketable and the highest-priced commodity that the criminal groups have engaged in, because really there’s no other crop that brings the price that cocaine does,” Vigil, who worked on the ground in Colombia while in the DEA, told Business Insider.

That doesn’t necessarily translate into a boon for farmers, however. Traffickers and criminal groups, as the main buyers, have outsize control at the point of purchase, often dictating the price.

“The farmers really don’t have a say, because they have to be able to sell the cocaine that they produce,” Vigil said. “If they don’t acquiesce to the prices of the major drug-trafficking organizations, they’re going to move on, and there’s always somebody else that they can buy it from.”

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
A member of an anti-narcotics police squad in front of a burning hut during a raid to destroy a coca laboratory near Tumaco, in southern Colombia, June 8, 2008. (Photo by William Fernando Martinez)

Farmers have also been left vulnerable by the Colombian government, which has forged ahead with manual eradication, which has vastly outstripped the building of roads and infrastructure that would support alternative development and cultivation of other crops, in part because of an economic downturn that has lashed the government’s budget.

And while nearly 30,000 families are now receiving benefits from Colombia’s Comprehensive Program for Illicit Crop Substitution, that’s only about one-quarter of the families who have signed collective agreements, which is just the first step in a long process to get aid.

Also read: Cocaine bust highlights growing Air Force role in Southern hemisphere

With a lack of state support, farmers interested in moving out of the coca trade are often exposed to FARC dissidents and other criminal groups, who have rushed to fill the vacuum left by demobilizing FARC units and want farmers to continue tending coca bushes.

“They don’t have the money to support us, and the pressure to continue [growing coca] is fierce,” a community leader in the isolated southwest municipality of Tumaco — a global hub for coca — said in late 2016, after a deadly clash between state security forces and farmers protesting efforts to destroy their coca.

In January 2018, the Colombian government sent 2,000 troops to Tumaco to contain violence there.

“What we have seen — in Norte de Santander it’s happened [and] in Putumayo to some extent — is people signing on to the crop-substitution programs [and] getting threatened or killed for … abandoning it.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s ongoing abuse of Muslim minority is coming under pressure

More and more countries are standing up to China over its oppression of the Uighurs, the country’s majority-Muslim ethnic minority.

Beijing is accused of interning up to 1 million Uighurs in prison-like detention camps, forcing them to renounce their religion and native language, and even pushing them into forced labor with little to no pay.


Activists have found evidence of Chinese authorities tracking Uighurs’ cellphone activity in their home region of Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan.

Others say Beijing has demanded the Uighur diaspora hand over personal information, and threatened their families if they do not.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Footage purportedly of a re-education camp for China’s Uighur Muslims in Yingye’er, Xinjiang, taken in August 2018.

(Bitter Winter / YouTube)

Chinese authorities say the policies are a counterterrorism strategy, and that placing Uighurs in internment camps is “free vocational training.”

Until now, countries from the Muslim world have largely avoided bringing up China’s Uighur crackdown.

Experts say this was because countries feared economic retribution from China, or because many Arab states didn’t want to draw attention to their own poor human rights records.

But the tide is turning.

The crumbling wall of silence

In September 2018, the federal minister for religion in Pakistan — China’s closest economic ally in the Muslim world — openly criticized Beijing’s regulation of Uighur activity, saying that the crackdown actually “increases the chances of an extremist viewpoint growing in reaction.”

A month later, Malaysia — another major economic ally, and home to many ethnic Chinese — ignored Beijing’s requests to deport a group of Uighurs imprisoned in the country.

Most prominently, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a consortium of 57 countries which calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” — noted in December 2018 “disturbing reports” of China’s Muslim crackdown.

It said it hoped China “would address the legitimate concerns of Muslims around the world.”

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Pakistan’s federal minister for religion, Noorul Haq Qadri, in 2017.

(FLBN / YouTube)

In countries where world leaders haven’t stood up to China, there are prominent protests.

Prominent politicians and religious figures in Indonesia — the country with the highest proportion of Muslims in the world — are urging the government to speak up. It has so far refused to do so,saying it that it didn’t “want to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country.”

Muslim groups in India, Bangladesh, and Kazakhstan also staged multiple protests over the Uighur detentions in 2018.

People have been particularly vocal in Kazakhstan, as many ethnic Kazakhs are said to be imprisoned in the China’s camps. The government in June 2018 said “an urgent request was expressed” over the welfare of Kazakhs detained in China, but there have not been any significant updates.

Western powers like the US, UK, and UN have criticised Beijing over its actions in Xinjiang in the past.

But the criticism of Muslim nations shows a turning tide in the world’s attitude to China, said Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director.

China has long batted away Western criticism, with state-run Global Times tabloid describing Western critics as “a condescending judge” in 2018. China’s foreign ministry said a reported investigation by western diplomats into the Uighur issue was “very rude.”

Richardson said: “When governments like Indonesia or Malaysia … or organizations like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation speak up, China can no longer dismiss concerns about Xinjiang being some kind of Western conspiracy.”

“That’s very encouraging.”

The world is paying attention

The rising tide of outrage against China comes as more and more of the country’s human rights record was brought to light in 2018.

In summer 2018 journalists, academics, and activists were taken aback by the disappearance of the Chinese “X-Men” actress Fan Bingbing, who Chinese authorities detained and kept from the public eye for three months over accusations that she evaded taxes.

Meng Hongwei, the Lyon-based president of Interpol, remains missing after being mysteriously detained in China in late September 2018. His wife thinks he could be dead.

The New York Times also featured a story about the Xinjiang detention camps on its front page for the first time in September 2018:

Richardson said: “Increasingly, governments are seeing the way in which China uses thuggish tactics at home and overseas on governments and citizens, and are starting to realize it’s time to push back against it.”

“Three months ago, if you were to tell me there would be critical language coming out of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, I would have suggested it was unlikely,” she said.

Next comes action

Muslim countries’ speaking up against China over the Uighurs is a significant first step, but is not likely to do much by itself.

Countries now need to take concrete action to punish or persuade China to end their crackdown on the Uighurs, Richardson said.

“The question now is what everybody is willing to do,” she said. “Talking and putting in consequential actions are two different things. That’s where the game shifts next.”

Countries will also have to be “mindful that China will fight it tooth and nail,” she added.

Members of the Muslim world could demand independent access into Xinjiang to investigate reports of the detention camps, for example.

The United Nations has already been doing this for months, but Beijing told it to back off.

Another form of punishment could come in the form of sanctions, or cancelling contracts.

Richardson, the Human Rights Watch director, noted that the latest spate of accusations against China came at a time when multiple Muslim countries started reassessing their economic ties with Beijing.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Demonstration in Berlin for Uighur human rights.

Malaysia axed billion of Beijing-backed infrastructure projects August 2018. Egypt’s talks with a Chinese building company for a billion development also broke down this week, Bloomberg reported. Neither of those cancellations were over the Uighur issue.

A group of US bipartisan lawmakers in November 2018 introduced the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (“Uyghur” is an alternative spelling). The act urges the White House to consider imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the Uighur crackdown, as well as banning exports of US technology that could be used to oppress Uighurs.

Chinese cash could be hard to quit

Whether Muslim countries follow suit remains to be seen, however. China is the largest trading partner of 20 of the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, according to Bloomberg.

Pakistan, whose religious minister criticized China’s Uighur crackdown in 2018 is also one of the largest recipients of Chinese aid and infrastructure contracts.

In December 2018 its foreign ministry rowed back the religious minister’s comments, accusing the media of “trying to sensationalize” the Xinjiang issue, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, also appeared to echo Beijing’s line on the detention camps, saying that some Pakistani citizens who were detained in Xinjiang were “undergoing voluntary training” instead.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Extremists and cheap drones are changing asymmetrical warfare

It is the definition of asymmetrical warfare: a fast-moving, lightly armed insurgency fueled by a radical doctrine uses simple weapons to attack a larger, seemingly more capable occupying force.


Taking inspiration from the doctrines of T.E. Lawrence, Sun Tzu, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, extremists in Syria have increased pressure on Russian forces in the region with another simple, innovative attack that heavily damaged at least one Russian aircraft and likely more. Previous similar attacks in the region around Jan. 4 were reported to have killed 2 Russian servicemen.

Recent photos surfacing on social media attributed to Russian military journalist Roman Saponkov show the tail of what appears to be a Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft damaged by an attack earlier this month.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
Captured fixed-wing insurgent drone. (Photo from Russian Air Force)

A report that surfaced on Jan. 6, 2018 from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that was shared in several media outlets, including the BBC, says that Russian forces shot down several “unmanned aircraft” near Hmeimim base near the north-western city of Latakia Jan. 6 in what appears to be the latest attack attempt by insurgents. In this week’s latest attack, the Russians claim there was no damage to aircraft or personnel and their air defense systems were successful in intercepting the small, store-bought quadcopter drones, usually used for cameras.

There has been a recent increase in attacks by improvised air-delivered weapons from remotely piloted aircraft on Russian installations in Syria. Additional insurgent attacks have been attributed to mortars. Some of the remotely piloted aircraft, in some instances commercial-style, quad-copter drones, have been modified to carry mortar rounds or grenades. Some grenade-bombs even used badminton shuttlecocks for improvised tail fin stabilizers. While this is not new, the frequency of the incidents and adaptability of the insurgents does seem to have increased.

Related: 7 new weapons in the war against drones

This increase in insurgent attacks comes just after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of the bulk of Russian assets from Syria during a surprise visit to Hmeimim air base on Dec. 11, 2017. Hmeimim air base is the primary launch facility for Russian tactical air operations in Syria’s Latakia province. The political move by Putin is reminiscent of the May 1, 2003 political gaff by then-U.S. President George W. Bush. President Bush made a media event out of landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and speaking in front of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” acknowledging the progress of the U.S. in the Global War on Terror in Iraq. Although Bush never said the mission was accomplished in his remarks on the USS America, the event is historically regarded as premature to meaningful change in the ongoing Iraq conflict. Putin may face similar criticism if a meaningful victory in Syria does not happen soon.

The Russian success in intercepting improvised camera drones being adapted to carry weapons is at least partially attributable to what may be their most sophisticated air defense system, the Pantsir S-2 integrated missile and gun vehicle.

The Pantsir S-2, an advancement from the earlier Pantsir S-1, uses a combination of a high rate of fire anti-aircraft gun and surface to air missiles combined with advanced targeting radar to both detect aerial threats and target both the guns and the missiles on the Pantsir S-2.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
The heart of Pantsir: 12 SA-22 Greyhound missiles and two 30mm cannon. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Pantsir S-2 is armed with two 2A38M, 30mm automatic anti-aircraft guns derived from the GSh-30 twin-barrel 30mm aircraft-mounted cannon. The cannon system on the Pantsir S-2 has a very high rate of fire from 1,950 to 2,500 rounds per minute depending on the length of the burst. The 2A38M cannon can engage targets up to 2,000 meters, over 6,000 feet, altitude. More importantly in the context of the improvised insurgent threats, the 2A38M can engage targets down to zero altitude effectively, a problem older Soviet-era Russian anti-aircraft systems like the ZSU-34-4 faced since the guns could not depress below a certain elevation making it impossible to hit very low altitude targets in close proximity.

The Pantsir S-2 also carries the new highly capable 57E6-E guided surface to air missile. The missile uses a bi-caliber body in tandem, one stage in front of the next, with a separate booster stage then in-flight stage. The newest versions of the 57E6-E are reported to have range of up to 20-30 kilometers with and reported engagement ceiling of 10,000 meters (approx. 33,000 feet).

While the new Pantsir S-2 provides significant protection from what appears to be the entire threat envelope from enemy fixed-wing aircraft to improvised quad-copter bombs the hallmark of the insurgent adversary is adaptability. While Russia appears to be emerging in the lead of the conflict in Syria as Putin announces their withdrawal, one has to wonder what shift in insurgent tactics will follow their drone attack campaign.

MIGHTY TRENDING

DIA reports on China’s military, says it’ll eat Taiwan

China’s military rise is well-planned, and Chinese leaders are following a strategy they believe will lead to greater power and influence both regionally and globally, according to an unclassified report released today by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The 125-page report, “China Military Power — Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win,” details some of the efforts made by the world’s most populous nation to build a military force that will allow it to back up plans for “great rejuvenation.”


“As we look at China, we see a country whose leaders describe it as moving closer to center stage in the world, while they strive to achieve what they call the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,'” said Dan Taylor, a senior defense intelligence analyst with the DIA. “This ambition permeates China’s national security strategy and guides the development of the People’s Liberation Army.”

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

People’s Liberation Army troops prepare for a parade in September 2017 commemorating the PLA’s 90th anniversary.

(Photo from Defense Intelligence Agency 2019 China Military Power report)

Taylor pointed out that the PLA is not actually a national institution in China, but rather the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party. About 3 million serve on active duty in the PLA, making it the largest military force in the world. Additionally, it’s thought the PLA receives about 0 billion a year in funding — about 1.4 percent of China’s gross domestic product — though lack of transparency means exact numbers can’t be determined.

Comprehensive national power

Communist party leaders in China, Taylor said, are looking to build “comprehensive national power” over the first few decades of the 21st century, and a key component of that is enhanced military power.

“China is rapidly building a robust, lethal force, with capabilities spanning ground, air, maritime, space and information domains, designed to enable China to impose its will in the region, and beyond,” Taylor said.

Economic growth in China has enabled it to spend significantly to modernize the PLA, and continued development is expected, Taylor said.

“In the coming years, the PLA is likely to grow even more technologically advanced and proficient, with equipment comparable to that of other modern militaries,” Taylor said. “The PLA will acquire advanced fighter aircraft, modern naval vessels, missile systems, and space and cyberspace assets as it reorganizes and trains to address 21st century threats farther from China’s shores.”

According to the DIA report, Chinese efforts to advance the PLA have been informed, at least in part, by what it has observed of the U.S. military during past military operations — including both abilities and gaps in capability.

“The Gulf War provided the PLA stark lessons regarding the lethal effectiveness of information-enabled weapons and forces, particularly mobility and precision-strike capabilities, that had become the standard for effectively waging war in the modern era,” the report says.

The Chinese also have adapted their forces and doctrine to exploit perceived gaps in U.S. defenses.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

China’s Chengdu J-20 5th generation stealth fighter.

Following the Gulf War and the fall of the Soviet Union, Chinese leaders perceived a period of strategic opportunity, the report says.” Convinced they would not see a major military conflict before 2020, China embarked on a period of economic and military development.

The Chinese increased the PLA budget by an average of 10 percent per year from 2000 to 2016, for instance. They additionally reformed the way the PLA bought weapons, and instituted several broad scientific and technical programs to improve the defense industrial base and decrease the PLA’s dependence on foreign weapon acquisitions.

Realistic training

The PLA saw the capabilities U.S. and Western forces fielded. Those forces used realistic training scenarios, and the Chinese adapted that to their forces as well. Leaders also implemented personnel changes to professionalize the PLA.

“The PLA developed a noncommissioned officer corps and began programs to recruit more technically competent university graduates to operate its modern weapons,” the report says. “PLA political officers assigned to all levels of the military acquired broader personnel management responsibilities in addition to their focus on keeping the PLA ideologically pure and loyal to the CCP.”

Professionalization of the PLA, with an increased push to focus on an ability to “fight and win” — a goal that mirrors U.S. doctrine — has been a hallmark of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent military strategy, said one defense official speaking to reporters on background.

Key takeaways from the DIA report include the Chinese emphasis on cyber capabilities, the defense official added. “It’s clear to us it’s a very important area to the Chinese,” the official said. “But it’s hard to know exactly how effective a cyberattack capability is until it’s actually used.”

China’s focus on Taiwan also is a focus of the DIA report.

“Xi Jinping has made it clear that resolving or making progress, at least, on resolving … the Taiwan situation is a very top priority for him,” the defense official said.

C. Todd Lopez of Defense.gov contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

Articles

Here’s why the US is sending 100 more Marines to Afghanistan

A small number of additional Marines is headed to Helmand province, Afghanistan, temporarily in a move designed to “reinforce advisory activities,” military officials confirmed August 8.


The move was first reported by NBC News August 7, which cited defense sources saying dozens of Marines — fewer than 100 — would be added to Task Force Southwest, a 300-man advisory unit that works with local Afghan National Army and defense forces.

The unit deployed in April, representing the first time Marines have been in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province since they pulled out and ceded headquarters buildings and infrastructure to the Afghans in 2014.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
Afghan National Army Sgt. Rhaman, a machine gunner with 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, fires his weapon under the watch of US Marine Sgt. Joshua Watson. Photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder.

Prior to the Marines’ arrival this year, a US Army advisory element, Task Force Forge, had been deployed to Helmand.

A spokesman for US Central Command, Army Maj. Josh Jacques, said the move is not related to any Defense Department change in policy or strategy in Afghanistan.

“The reallocation of Marine forces in support of the Resolute Support Mission is a routine, theater-coordinated activity,” he said. “These Marines are already in the US Central Command area of responsibility and will be in Afghanistan temporarily to give Resolute Support the ability to reinforce advisory activities.”

Most Marines in CentCom, which covers all of the Middle East, fall under Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command, which has troops stationed at the Al Asad and Al Taqaddum air bases in Iraq and dispersed to other strategic positions in the region.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’
Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller

But in the recent past, Marines have also been dispatched from shipboard Marine Expeditionary Units deployed to the region to hot spots in the Middle East. Last year, troops from the 26th MEU were sent to Iraq to establish an artillery firebase and support the assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul.

And earlier this year, an artillery element from the 11th MEU was dispatched to Syria to stand up a mobile fires position in support of the coalition fight to flush ISIS out of Raqqa.

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, is currently deployed to the Middle East.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia plays dumb amid U.S. claims of missing missile

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed a report by a U.S. television network that Russia lost a nuclear-powered missile in the Barents Sea during 2017 and is launching an operation to get it back.

CNBC reported on Aug. 21, 2018, that the nuclear-powered missile remains lost at sea after a failed test in late 2017.


The television network also reported that Russian crews were preparing to try to recover the missing missile, which it said was lost during a test launch in November 2017.

The report said three ships would be involved in the recovery operation — including one that is equipped to handle radioactive material from the core of the missile.

This incredible book explores 9/11 through the eyes of an Army ‘Brat’

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov said on Aug. 22, 2018, “In contrast to the U.S. television network, I have no such information,” adding that journalists with questions should contact specialists at the Defense Ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged about the new type of missile in March 2018, announcing that it had “unlimited range.”

Featured image: Vladimir Putin watching a military exercise of the Northern Fleet from the nuclear missile submarine Karelia.

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