The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul International Airport Wednesday morning targeting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who was making an unscheduled visit to Afghanistan.
Mattis had left the airport by the time the attack started, NBC News reports, and no casualties have been reported.
The airport said two missiles were fired toward the airport at around 11:00 a.m. local time, and the U.S. embassy warns that the attack may still be ongoing.
“At 11.36 am two missiles were fired on Kabul International Airport from Deh Sabz district, damaging the air force hangers and destroying one helicopter and damaging three other helicopters, but there were no casualties,” airport chief Yaqub Rassouli said according to USA Today.
While ISIS also claimed responsibility for the attack, that doesn’t necessarily mean the group had any involvement in carrying out the attack.
“We fired six rockets and planned to hit the plane of U.S. secretary of defense and other U.S. and NATO military officials,” one Taliban commander told NBC News. “We were told by our insiders that some losses were caused to their installations but we are not sure about James Mattis.”
NBC spoke with two unidentified Taliban commanders, who claimed that their inside sources who work security at the Kabul airport tipped them off to Mattis’s visit.
Mattis was holding a press conference away from the airport at the time of the attack, and told reporters that Afghan forces would strongly oppose the action.
“If in fact there was an attack … his is a classic statement to what Taliban are up to,” Mattis said. “If in fact this is what they have done, they will find Afghan security forces against them.”
Five years into the Syrian Civil War, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced its readiness to send ground troops into Syria to fight Islamic State forces.
“The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Islamic State) may agree to carry out in Syria,” Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, told the Saudi government-owned al-Arabiya TV.
Just days after that announcement, the United Arab Emirates announced its readiness to join the fight.
“Our position throughout has been that a real campaign has to include a ground force,” the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi, adding “U.S. leadership on this” would be a prerequisite for the UAE.
Big surprise there.
For those keeping track, the UAE is also part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the religious-political faction of Houthis in Yemen, a Shia insurgent group who captured the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in 2014 and forced the fall of the Saudi-backed government five months later. Saudi Arabia’s nine-member coalition has since failed to dislodge the Iran-backed Houthis or restore the government. Meanwhile, just under one-third of the country has fallen to the resurgent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Maybe Saudi Arabia and the Arab allies aren’t everything American politicians have said they are during the 2016 election debates. Forget for a moment how bad they are at fighting a decisive war (they can’t even capture the capital city with air superiority and and more than a year to get it done), the idea of airlifting a coalition of Sunni Arab troops into Syria is not only overly simplistic, it’s a terrible one. Saudi Arabia and Iran are expending resources to wage an all-out proxy battle in the region, and Iraq and Syria are the primary battlefields.
By now, it should come as no surprise to Westerners that there is an huge, problematic divide between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. The main actors in this ideological conflict today are Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Yemen isn’t the first example of Saudi intervention. At the height of the Arab Spring, Saudi troops crossed the King Fahd Causeway into Bahrain to put down Shia protests there.
The Saudi sphere of influence extends throughout the Arabian Peninsula while the Iranian sphere extends from Iran’s border with Afghanistan to the East and pushes West through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are extensions of this greater conflict. When told the Saudis and Emiratis were ready to deploy to Syria, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem gave a very expected response: “I regret to say that they will return home in wooden coffins.”
Sectarianism is only increasing and is becoming the primary reason for conflict. Until recently, major non-state paramilitary organizations on either side of the divide publicly defined their mandates in terms of either anti-imperialist, anti-Israel, and/or anti-American terms. They did not openly define themselves in terms of Shia vs. Sunni. That is changing.
In 2013, Islamic extremist violence intensified, fueled by sectarianism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan. The rise of anti-Shia resistance, combined with the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, led to the ideology behind the rise of the Islamic State, now the most aggressive and extreme group, with transnational roots in Nigeria, Libya, and Afghanistan. The sectarianism is only spreading.
A Saudi project like a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. That kind of project.
Iran funds, trains, and equips paramilitary forces throughout the Middle East, including the Lebanese political-militant group Hezbollah, and has for decades. Iraq’s government has been dominated by Iran-backed Shia parliamentarians since the ouster of Saddam Hussein by the 2003 U.S. invasion. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s regime is propped up by the Iranian government, who are reinforcing the Asad government against rebels, ISIS, the Kurdish YPG, and the other thousand groups vying for power there. The government’s legitimacy relies on the support of the Alawite minority in Syria, a Shia group whose followers control the top tiers of Syrian society.
Sunni militant groups, financed by Gulf states like Kuwait, are seeing a rise in recruiting numbers and directing their ideology and violence toward other Muslim communities instead of Western targets. In response, Shia groups gain in strength and numbers to confront the perceived threats posed by the Sunni groups. The war in Syria is no longer a fight for control of the country but a battle in a greater ideological proxy war.
The U.S. has so far managed not to take a side. The Obama Administration’s original plan for fighting ISIS, for example, involved both Sunnis and Shia, but accomplished little in the way of real, lasting stability or security in the region. It called for air support and advisors for Iraqi troops (sometimes led by Iranian advisors and in conjunction with Iraq’s Shia militias) while training and equipping “moderate” rebels in Sunni Saudi Arabia. We know how that turned out.
At the onset of the Syrian War, thousands of fighters left their homes in Syria for various Sunni or Shia militias. Foreign fighters soon began to flood in with professional jihadis from Chechnya and Afghanistan coming to reinforce Sunni groups while Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanese Hezbollah shored up the Asad regime. At the end of 2013, there were an estimated 1000+ armed groups in Syria. Since then, the rebel groups have only fractured.
Knowing all of this, imagine how would it look to the average Shia militia if the United States began flooding a traditional Shia state with Sunni troops. The war in Syria will last at least another five to ten full years and the U.S. should be prepared for that. The U.S. only has to look at recent history when deciding how best to serve our national interest while helping bring the conflict to its conclusion.
The Lebanese Civil War ended only after the infighting exhausted itself. By the signing of the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended the war in Lebanon, the streets of Beirut looked remarkably similar to how the streets of the Syrian city of Homs look today.
That war had was much more akin to today’s Syrian conflict than other Arab Spring-related uprisings. Massacres, assassinations, and a large number of belligerents fueled the conflict for 15 years. In the end, the Taif Agreement ceded Lebanon to Syrian influence. Even so, the Taif Agreement only came about because of an anti-Saddam mindset between the Iranians and Saudis. U.S. military power was not a significant factor.
In 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed by Shia militias. The attacks killed 241 U.S. military members. Three months later, then-President Ronald Reagan withdrew all U.S. troops from the country. That turned out to be the right call. In trying to score political points, American politicians could call it a “cut and run.” Yet, in a 1991 biography of Reagan, one of the 20th century’s most brilliant military minds, Gen. Colin Powell, labeled the American intervention in Lebanon a misadventure from the start.
“Beirut wasn’t sensible and it never did serve a purpose,” Powell said. “It was goofy from the beginning.” The reversal of a bad military course, once decided, seems impossible 33 years later, considering the level of political rhetoric on the use of force against ISIS. It might even be political suicide.
Would you to tell this man he was wrong?
Yet, the same U.S. involvement that was a mistake in Lebanon in the early 80’s is a leadership necessity in Syria today. Why? It’s not because of ISIS. In Lebanon, President Bachir Gemayel was assassinated and Palestinian refugees were slaughtered in camps by Christian Maronite militias. Those events didn’t influence Reagan to keep Marines in the country for an indeterminate period of time. Once it became clear that U.S. actions would have repercussions, the President decided the nature of the mission weighed against the potential cost wasn’t in U.S. interests and left the multi-national force … and it was the right call.
American intervention and use of military force should involve a clear strategy to reach a set goal, with rules of engagement to match. A policy of dropping Sunni troops into a Shia country is misguided. It will only fuel the Syrian war and the sectarian divide. The U.S. will win the hearts and minds of neither Shia nor Sunni and will pay the cost in security across the globe.
Preparations for President Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” Fourth of July parade are underway, as evidenced by numerous sightings of military vehicles in the streets of Washington, DC, on July 2, 2019.
Infantry variants of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV), an armored transport vehicle, were sighted crossing a bridge and moving down streets on top of a large truck:
The BFV, which is crewed by three troops and has a range of 300 miles, weighs around 25 tons. City officials raised concerns over the weight of the tracked military vehicles in the weeks leading up to the event.
“Tanks but no tanks,” the Council of the District of Columbia tweeted.
President Trump’s decision to use military assets — including fighter jets and M1A1 Abrams tanks — for his celebration has been scrutinized for being too costly, creating flight restrictions at local airports, and the possibility of road damage caused by heavy vehicles.
“We have some incredible equipment, military equipment on display — brand new,” President Trump said on July 1, 2019. “We’re going to have a great Fourth of July in Washington, DC. It’ll be like no other.”
In recent months, the novel Coronavirus, formally known as Covid-19, has begun spreading rapidly throughout communities around the world, and the U.S. military has already begun taking proactive steps aimed at curbing the spread of the infection among service members and their families.
It’s important to note that service members are often not a high-risk demographic even if and when they may be infected by Covid-19. The virus, however, can be dangerous to people with underlying health issues or otherwise compromised immune systems living in the surrounding community. The Pentagon also hopes to minimize the affect Covid-19 has on the military’s overall readiness–which means it’s better to stem the tide of infection than to keep recovering service members in isolation as they rebound from the virus. As a result, making every effort to mitigate the spread of this virus has been deemed a worthwhile enterprise.
The Pentagon has already issued guidance to service members and their families oriented toward protecting themselves from infection and curbing the spread of infection among those who get sick. These practices are not dissimilar from the guidance being provided to the general public through public institutions like the Center for Disease Control.
You can jump directly to coronavirus basic training changes for your specific branch with these links.
The Pentagon’s guidance for preventing the spread of the coronavirus:
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-percent alcohol
Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
What else is the military doing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus?
According to a DoD statement issued on March 9, the military’s response to the Coronavirus can be summed up in three objectives:
Protecting service members and their families
Ensuring crucial DoD missions continue
Supporting the whole go government approach to the unfolding situation
A number of military commands have already initiated what the Defense Department refers to as “pandemic procedures,” which are a series of pre-planned protocols put into place to rapidly identify service members who may have been exposed to the virus and isolating them from the general and service populations. These patients are treated by military medical personnel with appropriate protective equipment, and are re-evaluated on a day by day basis.
Every military branch is also screening all new recruits and trainees for signs of infection, and isolating any who may have been exposed to the virus or may be exhibiting symptoms of infection. The goal of these tests is not to stop new service members from entering into training, but rather to postpone training until after the recruit or trainee recovers completely and is no longer able to spread the virus to others.
Marine Corps Coronavirus Basic Training Changes
Graduation and Family Day events will continue as scheduled aboard MCRD San Diego and MCRD Parris Island. However, the Marine Corps is asking that no one attend these events if they are currently exhibiting active symptoms of Covid-19 or have been in contact with anyone that may potentially have been infected. Thus far, MCRD Parris Island has not made any official statements regarding potential changes to graduation or family day ceremonies.
Parris Island has released this message pertaining to prevention efforts, however:
Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) has released this statement regarding recruit training and the coronavirus as it pertains to MCRD San Diego spefically:
We understand that graduation is a very special event for new Marines and their families. In line with Center for Disease Control’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, we ask that if you are actively sick with a cough or fever, or have been in contact with a suspected case of COVID-19, you not attend graduation or its associated events aboard the Depot. Thousands of family members visit the Depot for graduation weekly, so your decision would be in the interest of public health and the health of our recruit population. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s information page, the NMCPHC information page, and the DOD information page. Links are provided below: CDC.gov Med.Navy.mil Defense.gov
Army Coronavirus Basic Training Changes
*Updated March 11
Fort Sill has announced that beginning March 16, they will suspend attendance at graduation ceremonies until further notice.
Ceremonies will be live streamed for families and supporters on the Fort Sill Facebook page. This is a developing situation with more details to come.
Fort Leonard Wood has announced that attendance at Basic Training family day and graduations will be suspended until further notice after this week. Families and supporters will be able to watch the graduation ceremonies on Facebook Live on the Fort Leonard Wood Facebook page.
Family Day activities on Fort Jackson have been canceled going forward, and soldiers will be allowed to make supervised visits to AAFES activities and to make purchases to prepare them for travel to their next appointed place of duty. No travel with family members in their personal vehicles will be permitted after 1-34 IN BN graduates this week.
You can read the full post from Fort Jackson below:
Air Force Coronavirus Basic Training Changes
The Air Force has announced that it has suspended family members from attending Basic Military Training graduations, effective immediately and until further notice.
Air Force Basic Military Training graduation ceremonies will be live streamed via 37th Training Wing’s Facebook page every Friday beginning March 13 at 9 a.m.
You can read the Air Force’s complete statement below:
In an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 and to prioritize the health and safety of Department of the Air Force personnel, the following modifications have been made: • At the United States Air Force Academy, official travel outside of the United States has been restricted for cadets, cadet candidates and permanent party. Personal/leisure travel to countries with a CDC Level 2 or higher rating is also prohibited. As of now, restrictions will remain in place through the end of March. • Air Force Basic Military Training has suspended family members from attending graduation until further notice. • Since South by Southwest events in Austin, Texas, was cancelled, the Air Force’s Spark Collider and Pitch Bowl will now take place virtually, March 12. • The Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado Child Development Center has been closed for cleaning since a parent (family member) tested positive by the state for coronavirus. • All Department of the Air Force personnel have been directed to follow Center for Disease Control levels for travel guidance.
The Air Force maintains an actively updated page with frequently asked questions here.
Navy Coronavirus Basic Training Changes
Navy Recruit Training has decided to suspend attendance at their graduation ceremonies until further notice. Liberty associated with recruit training graduation has also been canceled. Graduation ceremonies will be live-streamed for families and supporters to watch.
Friday’s ceremony will be streamed at 0845 Central Standard Time.
Here is the Navy’s officials statement and associated social media links:
Beginning 13 March, Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC), the Navy’s boot camp, will suspend guest attendance at graduation ceremonies to prevent any potential spread of COVID 19 to either Sailors or Navy families. Graduations themselves will continue, and will be live-streamed on Navy online platforms, including our Facebook page. Commander, Naval Service training command, which oversees RTC, will continue to monitor the situation and consult with medical experts to decide when it is appropriate to resume guest attendance at graduation ceremonies. There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among recruits, and RTC has robust screening processes in place for those who arrive each week. This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution, to both ensure the welfare of Sailors and that RTC can continue its essential mission of producing basically trained Sailors. RTC Recruits impacted by this change are being authorized to call home to directly inform their loved ones. Liberty will be cancelled for graduates of RTC. They will report directly to their follow-on assignments. Liberty or guest access at those locations will be at the discretion of those commands. Families are encouraged to contact their recruits following graduation for details. We cannot speak on behalf of the commands they will be reporting to regarding their liberty policy.
Coast Guard Coronavirus Basic Training Changes
The Coast Guard has requested that family members planning to attend this week’s graduation refrain from attending graduation ceremonies if they are sick, and exercise the CDC and Defense Department’s recommended practices for prevention of the spread of coronavirus or any other illness. The Coast Guard outlines those recommendations as such:
-Stay home when you are sick. -Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue. -Wash your hands often with soap and water. -Implement social distancing interventions in schools, workplaces, and at large events such as graduation. -Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects like door knobs. -Be prepared and stay informed on the latest information.
You can see the Coast Guard’s full statement below:
The Navy’s new stealthy high-tech destroyer has begun “Acceptance Trials” to assess, refine and further develop its many technologies including navigation, propulsion, auxiliary systems, fire protection and damage control capabilities, service officials said.
The ship, called the DDG 100 or USS Zumwalt, departed Bath, Maine, with a crew of assessment professionals on board called the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey, or INSURV.
“This underway period is specifically scheduled to demonstrate ship systems to the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey and the ship will return to port upon conclusion of the demonstrations,” Navy spokesman Matthew Leonard told Scout Warrior in a written statement.
The USS Zumwalt, the first in a series of three next-generation destroyers planned for the fleet, is slated to be operational by 2019, he added. The new ship will formally deliver to the Navy later this year.
“DDG 1000 delivery is expected after successful Acceptance Trials and will include fully capable Hull Maintenance and Electrical (HME) systems. Following HME delivery, and a brief crew certification period at Bath Iron Works, the ship will sail to Baltimore for commissioning (which is scheduled for Oct. 15) and then transit to its homeport in San Diego where Mission Systems Activation will occur,” Leonard added.
Before beginning Acceptance Trials, the DDG 1000 went through a process known as “Builder Trials” during which the contract building the ship, Bath Iron Works, tests the ship’s systems and technologies.
New Ship Technologies
Once operational, the Navy’s first high-tech Zumwalt-class DDG 1000 destroyer will pioneer a handful of yet-to-be seen destroyer ship technologies, service officials have explained.
Not only does the ship have a new electric drive system for propulsion as opposed to diesel or steam –but the ship is configured with sonar, sensors, electronics, computing technology and weapons systems which have not previously been engineered into a Navy destroyer or comparable ship, said Raytheon officials said.
The Zumwalt-class destroyers will have unprecedented mine-detecting sonar technologies for destroyer through utilization of what’s called an integrated undersea warfare system, or IUW; IUW is a dual-band sonar technology which uses both medium and high-frequency detection, Raytheon developers explained.
Medium sonar frequency is engineered to detect ships and submarines, whereas high-frequency sonar adds the ability to avoid sea-mines, they added.
It makes sense that the DDG 1000 would be engineered detect mines because the destroyer is, in part, being developed for land-attack missions, an activity likely to bring the vessel closer to shore than previous destroyers might be prepared to sail. The ship is engineered with a more shallow-draft to better enable it to operate in shallower waters than most deep-water ships.
The DDG 1000 is built with what’s called a total ship computing environment, meaning software and blade servers manage not just the weapons systems on the ship but also handle the radar and fire control software and various logistical items such as water, fuel, oil and power for the ship, Raytheon officials said.
The blade servers run seven million lines of code, officials explained.
The ship is engineered to fire Tomahawk missiles as well as torpedoes, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and a range of standard missiles such as the SM2, SM3 and SM6.
The ship also has a 155mm long range, precision-capable gun called the Advanced Gun System made by BAE Systems. The weapon can, among other things, fire a munition called the Long-Range Land Attack Projectile which can strike target at ranges out to 64 nautical miles.
Additionally, as a survivability enhancing measure, the total ship computing environment also ensures additional layers or redundancy to ensure that messages and information can be delivered across the ship in the event of attack, Raytheon officials said.
Many of the blade servers and other technical items are housed in structures called electronic modular enclosures, or EMEs. There are 16 EME’s built on each ship, each with more than 235 electronics cabinets. The structures are designed to safeguard much of the core electronics for the ship.
The ship’s integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate up to 58 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to ship technologies and the application of anticipated future weapons systems such as laser weapons and rail guns.
The ship is also built with a new kind of vertical launch tubes which are engineered into the hull near the perimeter of the ship. Called Peripheral Vertical Launch System, the tubes are integrated with the hull around the ship’s periphery in order to ensure that weapons can keep firing in the event of damage. Instead of having all of the launch tubes in succession or near one another, the DDG 1000 has spread them out in order to mitigate risk in the event attack, developers said.
In total, there are 80 launch tubes built into the hull of the DDG 1000; the Peripheral Vertical Launch System involves a collaborative effort between Raytheon and BAE Systems.
The DDG 1000 also has an AN/SPY-3 X-band multi-function radar which is described as volume-search capable, meaning it can detect threats at higher volumes than other comparable radar systems, Raytheon officials added. The volume search capability, which can be added through software upgrades, enables the radar to detect a wider range of missile flight profiles, he added.
As the first Zumwalt-class destroyer gets ready for delivery to the Navy, construction of the second is already underway. The DDG 1001 is already more than 75-percent complete and fabrication of DDG 1002 is already underway, Navy officials said.
Dozens of US states have reported mysterious seeds showing up in packages from China and are warning citizens not to plant them because they could be an invasive species.
The US Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it was investigating the unsolicited packages of seeds reported by at least 27 states and urged anyone who receives them to contact local agricultural officials.
“Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your State department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions,” the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a press release. “Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.”
The agency also said the packages were likely a “brushing scam,” in which consumers are sent packages and a company then forges positive reviews of the products.
But they could also quickly become an ecological disaster.
“An invasive plant species might not sound threatening, but these small invaders could destroy Texas agriculture,” Sid Miller, Texas’ agriculture commissioner, said in a press release.
And scientists agree — that’s why the USDA has such strict rules on importing plants and other organic materials.
“The reason that people are concerned is — especially if the seed is the seed of a similar crop that is grown for income and food, or food for animals — that there may be plant pathogens or insects that are harbored in the seed,” Carolee Bull, a professor with Penn State’s Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology program, told The New York Times.
It was a cold February in 2014 when I was staying at a tiny U.S. Army installation right near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea with the rest of my company. We hadn’t been there long before we got our first mail drop, right before Valentine’s Day. Some of us got care packages, but everyone in my platoon got a letter.
These letters were sent by elementary school kids back in the States — probably around third grade — and they were just as you’d expect: immaculate spelling, artwork that rivaled the classic greats, and fine calligraphy. Jokes aside, receiving that letter put me in an interesting head-space.
At that point, the war in Iraq had mostly died down. Marines were still being sent to Afghanistan, but just a handful of months prior, we were reflecting upon the 12th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks that kick-started the whole shebang.
1st platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in South Korea. C. 2014.
What I realized then and there is that, just a decade earlier, I was the elementary school kid writing a letter to some service member who was, at that time, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, I was even younger than whoever penned my letter when I saw the events of that fateful September day repeated on the news. The kid who wrote the letter in my hands now wasn’t even around in 2001.
It never occurred to me, especially back at the turn of the century, that I would one day enlist to fight in the same war that started when I was a kid.
When I was growing up, you’d hear this left and right: “Don’t join the military, you’ll go to war and die.” I always dismissed it as ignorant. After all, my father fought in the war before this one and he came back, didn’t he? But, at the time, half of that statement was true. If you enlisted immediately after 9/11, there was a near guarantee you’d go to war.
That sentiment followed me through boot camp.
I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and I was still sure I’d go to war. But, with time comes change — and that’s exactly what happened. From the time I went to MEPS and had an old guy tell me to turn my head and cough to the time I walked across the parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, everyone said I would go to war. My recruiter, my drill instructors, everyone.
But once I got to the School of Infantry, things had mellowed out a bit.
I never went to war. In fact, a lot of people I served with never did. The crazy thing is that it was the reason we enlisted. We were kids when 9/11 happened and we grew up during the war that it spawned. We had time to grow angry about what had happened and we enlisted for a lot of the same reasons as our predecessors.
Marine Corps Ball in 2014. That’s me on the left.
What blows my mind the most, however, is that I completed my service over two years ago and that war is still going on, even if the Marine Corps infantry isn’t actively involved. Meanwhile, that kid who wrote me the letter is probably sitting in a high school classroom learning about 9/11 as a historical event — not as something that happened to them.
Deficiencies in Afghanistan’s security forces, including the military and police, are getting renewed attention as the US administration considers sending more than 3,000 additional troops to the country.
President Donald Trump held talks on Sept. 21 with his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City, where both expressed optimism about the planned increase in US troop numbers.
The US has spent $70 billion training Afghan forces since 2002 and is still spending more than $4 billion a year, according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, published on Sept. 21.
Despite those sums, Afghan security forces are struggling to prevent advances by Taliban fighters, more than 16 years after the US invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government that gave al-Qaeda the sanctuary where it plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
According to US estimates, government forces control less than 60 percent of Afghanistan, with almost half the country either contested or under the control of fighters.
The report said US forces focused on carrying out military operations during the initial years after the 2001 invasion, rather than developing the Afghan army and police.
When the US and NATO did look to develop the security forces, they did so with little input from senior Afghan officials, according to the report.
“The report does not surprise us. We’ve been hearing about these irregularities for many years now, and many here in Afghanistan have witnessed it,” Habib Wardak, an Afghan security specialist, told Al Jazeera from Kabul.
“When the idea of creating the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) came up, it was a rapid building up of the army. The government was recruiting anyone from militias to warlords.
“In 2010 and 2011, the focus was on building the capabilities of assets. We’ve seen a helicopter pilots going in and teaching Afghan security forces how to battle insurgency, which is ridiculous.
“You have a military which is fighting the war, but no one is raising questions that at what cost is the Afghan army fighting the Taliban.”
At one point, the report said, training for Afghan police officials used PowerPoint slides from US and NATO operations in the Balkans.
“The presentations were not only of questionable relevance to the Afghan setting, but also overlooked the high levels of illiteracy among the police,” the report said.
John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, said that one US officer watched TV shows such as Cops and NCIS to understand what to teach Afghan officials.
He said the US approach to Afghanistan lacked a “whole of government approach” in which different agencies, such as the state department and Pentagon, coordinate efforts.
The inability of embassy officials in Kabul to venture far outside their secure compound also affected oversight and coordination, he said.
“The rules of engagement what President Trump is talking about might be able to contain Taliban up to certain extent, but it’s not the Afghan army in true essence that will be able to contain or confine the Taliban and not let them advance,” Wardak told Al Jazeera.
Afghan police and army units in 2015 took over from NATO the task of providing security for the country.
According to SIGAR, 6,785 Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed between January 1 and November 12, 2016, with another 11,777 wounded.
Even those partial numbers showed an increase of about 35 percent from all of 2015 when some 5,000 security forces were killed.
Still, Sopko credited the Afghans for “fighting hard and improving in many ways”, but stressed the US and NATO have to do a better job helping them.
Afghan Taliban representatives say they have called off two days of peace talks with U.S. officials in Qatar, just hours after they had announced the talks would take place without any delegates from Afghanistan’s government.
A Taliban representative in Afghanistan had told Reuters early on Jan. 8, 2019, that the talks would begin in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Jan. 9, 2019.
That Taliban figure also had said the group was refusing to allow what he called “puppet” Afghan officials to take part in the Doha meetings.
But a Taliban representative in Doha told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan later on Jan. 8, 2019, that the militant Islamic group had “postponed” the talks “until further consultations” could resolve an “agenda disagreement.”
Another Taliban source told Reuters the disagreement focused on Washington’s insistence that Afghan government officials must be involved in the talks.
He said there also was disagreement on a possible cease-fire deal and a proposed prisoner exchange.
Afghan Peace Talks Off Called Off By Taliban, Citing ‘Puppet Officials’ Asked To Attend
“The U.S. officials insisted that the Taliban should meet the Afghan authorities in Qatar and both sides were in disagreement over declaring a cease-fire in 2019,” he said. “Both sides have agreed to not meet in Qatar.”
The Taliban has consistently rejected requests from regional powers to allow Afghan government officials to take part in peace talks, insisting that the United States is its main adversary in Afghanistan.
The talks in Doha in early January 2019 would have been the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The Taliban also called off a meeting with U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia early January 2019 because of Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the negotiating table.
Former Afghan Interior Minister Omar Daudzai, a senior adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, was traveling to Pakistan on Jan. 8, 2019, for expected talks with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi about the peace process.
GNC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday night, announcing that it expects to close between 800 and 1,200 stores while on the hunt for a buyer for its business. The vitamins and supplements retailer had about 7,300 stores as of the end of March.
In a letter to shoppers, GNC said the COVID-19 pandemic “created a situation where we were unable to accomplish our refinancing and the abrupt change in the operating environment had a dramatic negative impact on our business.”
GNC identified 248 stores that would close imminently as part of the restructuring process. Stores are closing in 42 states, as well as in Puerto Rico and Canada.
Here are the first of the locations GNC plans to close, arranged alphabetically by state:
Quintard Mall, 700 Quintard Drive, Oxford, AL
Flagstaff Mall, 4650 E 2 N Hwy 89, Flagstaff, AZ
Arrowhead Town Center, 7700 West Arrowhead Towne, Glendale, AZ
Madera Village, 9121 E. Tanque Verde Rd, Suite 115, Tucson, AZ
Benton Commons, 1402 Military Road, Benton, AR
Northwest Arkansas Plaza, 4201 North Shiloh Dr, Fayetteville, AR
The Mall at Turtle Creek, 3000 East Highland Ave, Space # 309, Jonesboro, AR
Park Plaza, 6000 W. Markham, Little Rock, AR
North Park Village Shopping Center, 103 North Park Dr, Monticello, AR
McCain Mall Shopping Center, 3929 McCain Blvd, North Little Rock, AR
Brawley Gateway, Brawley, CA
Rancho Marketplace Shopping Center, Burbank, CA
La Costa Town Square, 7615 Via Campanile Suite, Carlsbad, CA
Centrepointe Plaza, 1100 Mount Vernon Ave, Suite B, Colton, CA
Mountain Gate Plaza, 160 W. Foothill Parkway, #106, Corona, CA
Town Place, 787 1st Street, Gilroy, CA
Victoria Gardens, 12379 S Main St., Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Monterey Marketplace, Rancho Mirage, CA
Red Bluff Shopping Center, 925 South Main Street, Red Bluff, CA
Tierrasanta Town Center, San Diego, CA
Grayhawk Plaza, 20701 N. Scotsdale Rd, Suite 105, Scottsdale, AZ
Buena Park Mall, 8312 On The Mall, Buena Park, CA
East Bay Bridge Center, 3839 East Emery Street, Emeryville, CA
Vintage Faire Mall, 3401 Dale Road, Modesto, CA
Huntington Oaks Shopping Center, 514 W. Huntington Drive, Box 1106, Monrovia, CA
Del Monte Shopping Center, 350 Del Monte S.C., Monterey, CA
Antelope Valley Mall, 1233 Rancho Vista Blvd, Palmdale, CA
Town Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA
Rancho Bernardo Town Center, Rancho Bernardo, CA
Rocklin Commons, 5194 Commons Drive 107, Rocklin, CA
Westfield Shoppingtown Mainplace, 2800 North Main Street, Suite 302, Santa Ana, CA
Gateway Plaza Shopping Center, 580b River St, Suite B, Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Rosa Plaza, 600 Santa Rosa Plaza, Suite 2032, Santa Rosa, CA
The Promenade Mall, 40820 Winchester Road, Temecula, CA
West Valley Mall, 3200 N. Naglee Rd., Suite 240, Tracy, CA
Union Square Marketplace, Union City, CA
Riverpoint Marketplace, West Sacramento, CA
Yucaipa Valley Center, 33676 Yucaipa Blvd, Yucaipa, CA
Chapel Hills Mall, 1710 Briargate Blvd at Jamboree Drive, Colorado Springs, CO
The Citadel, 750 Citadel Drive East, Space 1036, Colorado Springs, CO
River Landing, 3480 Wolverine Dr, Montrose, CO
Monument Marketplace, 15954 Jackson Creek Pkwy, Monument, CO
Central Park Plaza, 1809 Central Park Dr., Steamboat Springs, CO
Larkridge Shopping Center, 16560 N. Washington St, Thornton, CO
Woodland Park Plaza, 1115 E US Hwy 24, Woodland Park, CO
The Plaza At Burr Corners, 1131 Tolland Pike, Manchester, CT
Dover Mall, 1365 N. Dupont Highway, Dover, DE
Gateway West Shopping Center, 1030 Forest Ave, Dover, DE
Rockford Shops, 1404 North Dupont St, Wilmington, DE
Boynton Beach Mall, 801 N Congress St, Suite 763, Boynton Beach, FL
Clearwater Plaza, 1283 S. Missouri Ave, Clearwater, FL
Coral Square, 9295 West Atlantic Blvd, Coral Springs, FL
Dupont Lakes Shopping Center, 2783 Elkcam Blvd, Deltona, FL
The Shops @ Mission Lakes, 5516 South State Rd 7, Space # 128, Lake Worth, FL
Wickham Corners Shopping, 1070 North Wickham Road, Unit 106, Melbourne, FL
According to a listing maintained by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan 19 times from 2006 to his retirement from the Air Force Reserve in 2015. Senator Graham’s deployments were often coordinated with Congressional recesses – enabling him to balance his duties as a United States Senator with his reserve duties.
Graham would often head over as part of a Congressional delegation, spend one or two days as a civilian, then he’d stay behind and serve for about a week (sometimes more) as a Judge Advocate General in the United States Air Force Reserve.
In a release by his Presidential campaign in 2015 after a Washington Post hit piece, some details of Graham’s service in both Iraq and Afghanistan came to light. Army General David Petraeus and Marine General John Allen both noted that much of Graham’s work was done on detainee policy. Both a former Judge Advocate General and Deputy Judge Advocate General praised Graham’s service in the release.
The deployments came about because Senator Graham had to be transferred from an assignment to the Air Force’s Court of Criminal Appeals — an assignment given in 2003, according to a release from Senator Graham’s office — due to a claim made by an airman fighting charges of wrongfully using cocaine.
Senator Graham was also a veteran of Desert Storm prior to winning election to the House of Representatives in 1994. He was first elected to the Senate in 2002, replacing Strom Thurmond. Graham retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2015 as a colonel, shortly before running for President, ending a combined total of 33 years of active-duty, reserve, and National Guard service.
An F-16 pilot flying over ISIS-held territory in 2015 suffered a malfunction of his fuel system and would have been forced to bail out if it weren’t for a KC-135 Stratotanker crew that offered to escort the jet home, the Air Force said in a press release.
“We were in the area of responsibility and were already mated with some A-10 Thunderbolt IIs that were tasked with observing and providing close-air-support for our allies on the ground,” said Capt. Nathanial Beer, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “The lead F-16 came up first and then had a pressure disconnect after about 500 pounds of fuel. We were expecting to offload about 2,500 pounds.”
After the pilot completed his checklist, it became apparent that 80 percent of his fuel supply was trapped in the tanks and couldn’t get to the engine. The pilots would have to bail out over ISIS territory or try to make it back to allied airspace.
500 pounds of fuel is very little in an F-16, so the KC-135 flew home with the fighter and topped off its gas every 15 minutes.
“The first thought I had from reading the note from the deployed location was extreme pride for the crew in how they handled the emergency,” said Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg, 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander.
“Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could’ve been an international tragedy, a feel-good news story. I’m sure they think it was not a big deal, however, that’s because they never want the glory or fame.”
The KC-135 crew returned to their planned operation once the F-16 was safely home and were able to complete all of their scheduled missions despite the detour.
The Philippine Navy has successfully test-fired its first ever ship-borne missile, making it a much more capable force in tense regional waters.
Navy personnel aboard a multipurpose attack craft, or MPAC, operating in waters off Lamao Point in Bataan launched a Spike Extended Range missile at a target six kilometers away, the Inquirer, a local outlet, reported Aug. 9, 2018, citing an announcement by the Philippine Navy.
“The target was hit dead center even if the sea state condition was moderately rough with a wave of at least one meter high but within the normal firing conditions of the missile,” Navy public affairs chief Commander Jonathan Zata told reporters.
The test was part of a Sea Acceptance Test for the missile system first acquired in early 2018.
The Philippines purchased the Spike ER missile system, which launches short-range surface-to-surface missiles, from Israel in late April 2018 for .6 million. The systems are expected to be installed on three fast MPAC gunboats, while its warships will be armed with longer-range missiles.
“It will be a deterrent because, this time, we have a credible armament that can strike a punch whether the target is a small or large ship,” a Philippine commander told Reuters in early May 2018.
The Philippines faces threats ranging from China’s militarization of the South China Sea to pirates in its southern waters. The country is preparing to spend .41 billion over the next five years to obtain warships, drones, fighter jets, radar systems, helicopters, and surveillance planes to bolster its capabilities.
The test-firing of the Spike ER missile system comes just a few weeks after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to “defend our interest” in the South China Sea. China has expanded its military presence there, despite an international arbitration ruling two years ago that discredited China’s vast claims to the highly contested waterway.
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