Three men — a US citizen and two Russian nationals — were arrested on Thursday and charged with attempting to send sensitive technology used for military devices to Russia, according to a released from the Department of Justice.
On Thursday, Alexey Barysheff of Brooklyn, New York, a naturalized US citizen, was arrested on federal charges of illegally exporting controlled technology from the US to end-users in Russia.
Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Karpenko and Alexey Krutilin, both Russian citizens, were arrested in Denver, Colorado, on charges of conspiring with Barysheff and others in the plot, the DOJ said.
Authorities said Barysheff, Krutilin, and Karpenko, among others, used two Brooklyn-based front companies, BKLN Spectra, Inc. and UIP Techno Corp., to buy and unlawfully export sensitive electronics without a mandatory federal license. US officials also said the three men falsified records to conceal where they were shipping the electronics, routing them through Finland, according to the Associated Press.
The electronics in question were restricted for “anti-terrorism and national security reasons,” the DOJ said.
According to complaints unsealed in Brooklyn federal court on Thursday, Krutilin and Karpenko arrived in Colorado from Russia on October 1 and tried to access Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs but were prevented from doing so.
“The microelectronics shipped to Russia included, among other products, digital-to-analog converters and integrated circuits, which are frequently used in a wide range of military systems, including radar and surveillance systems, missile guidance systems and satellites,” the DOJ said in a release.
Exporting such technology requires a license from the Department of Commerce, which places restrictions on items it believes “could make a significant contribution to the military potential and weapons proliferation of other nations and that could be detrimental to the foreign policy and national security of the United States.”
The three men were held without bail, according to the New York Daily News. If convicted, they face up to 25 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
We’ve all heard the familiar tune being blared over the intercom or performed live bright and early as the American flag is raised for the beginning of the day.
For other troops stationed on a military base, it’s the bugle call that made them dash for cover so they wouldn’t have to stand outside and salute on a cold morning or throw your pillow at the window in your barracks like it’s going to get the signal to stop — you get the point.
But the motivation behind the “Reveille” tune isn’t to just wake us up, but instead is to remind us of those who have served in remembrance.
Airmen salute the flag during reveille at the Eglin Professional Development Center. (Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jasmin Taylor)
Reveille comes from the French word “réveiller” or in English to “to wake up.”
In 1812, U.S. forces designated the iconic melody to call service members to muster up for roll call to start the work day.
It appears there is no official composer of the tune, which is used by about six countries like Denmark, Ireland, and Sweden to mark the start of the day.
The notes for each country do vary and they all have written different lyrics as well.
“Out on a hike all day, dear
Part of the army grind
Weary and long the way, dear
But really I don’t mind
I’m getting tired so I can sleep
I want to sleep so I can dream
I want to dream so I can be with you
I’ve got your picture by my bed
‘Twill soon be placed beneath my head
To keep me company the whole night through
For a little while, whatever befalls
I will see your smile till reveille calls
I hope you’re tired enough to sleep
And please sleep long enough to dream
And look for me for I’ll be dreaming too”
Click play on the video below and try to sing along.
(United States Air Force Band – Topic, YouTube)Fun fact: Reveille is also the official name of the Texas A&M mascot in the ROTC program — a dog. That is all.
North Korea attempted to fire a missile April 16, the day after the anniversary of its founding, but it blew up within seconds.
While North Korea’s missile program may be the shadowiest on earth, it’s possible U.S. cyber warriors were the reason for the failed launch.
A recent New York Times report uncovered a secret operation to derail North Korea’s nuclear-missile program that has been raging for at least three years.
Essentially, the report attributes North Korea’s high rate of failure with Russian-designed missiles to the U.S. meddling in the country’s missile software and networks.
Though North Korea’s missile infrastructure lacks the competence of Russia’s, the Soviet-era missile on which North Korea based its missile had a 13% failure rate, while the North Korean version failed a whopping 88% of the time, according to the report.
While the missile failure on April 16 could have just been due to poor workmanship, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland seemed to leave room for speculation about espionage, telling Fox News: “We can’t talk about secret intelligence and things that might have been done, covert operations, so I really have no comment.”
On April 17, Vice President Mike Pence visited the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, saying that “all options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country,” and that “the era of strategic patience” with North Korea “is over.”
To those in the know, the campaign against North Korea came as no surprise. Ken Geers, a cybersecurity expert for Comodo with experience in the National Security Agency, told Business Insider that cyberoperations like the one against North Korea were the norm.
While the U.S. hacking another country’s missile program may be shocking to some, “within military intelligence spaces, this is what they do,” Geers said. “If you think that war is possible with a given state, you’re going to be trying to prepare the battle space for conflict. In the internet age, that means hacking.”
North Korea’s internal networks are fiercely insulated and not connected to the internet, however, which poses a challenge for hackers in the United States. But Geers said it was “absolutely not the case” that hacking requires computers connected to the internet.
A recent report in The New Yorker on Russian hacking detailed one case in which Russia gained access to a NATO computer network in 1996 by providing bugged thumb drives to shops near a NATO base in Kabul, Afghanistan. NATO operators bought the thumb drives, used them on the network, and just like that, the Russians were in.
“That’s where SIGINT (signals intelligence) or COMINT (communications intelligence) comes into collaboration with HUMINT (human intelligence),” Geers said.
“Imagine you’re the president. North Korea is a human-rights abuser and an exporter of dangerous technology,” Geers said. “Responsible governments really need to think about ways to handle North Korea, and one of the options is regime change.”
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2 in February 2017. (KCNA/Handout via Reuters)
“North Korea can do a Sony attack or attack the White House, but that’s because that’s the nature of cyberspace,” Geers said. “But if war came, you’d see Cyber Command wipe out most other countries pretty quickly.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense has started deploying an old kind of military deception: inflatable weaponry.
The Russian government has a growing supply of inflatable military gear, including tanks, jets, and missile batteries, provided by hot-air balloon company RusBal, as detailed by a report by The New York Times.
A demonstration in a field near Moscow illustrated the ingenuity behind the idea.
The inflatables deploy quickly and break down just as fast. They transport relatively easily, providing targets that may not only draw the enemy’s fire but also affect their decision-making process, burdening a rival’s leadership with the task of verifying targets.
“If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, RusBal’s director of military sales, told The Times. “Nobody ever wins honestly.”
Inflatable weaponry has a history on Europe’s battlefields. Prior to the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944, Gen. George S. Patton was placed in charge of the First US Army Group (FUSAG) — a phantom force housed in cities of empty tents and deployed in vehicles made of wood, fabric, or inflatable rubber.
After Allied forces had a foothold in France, the “Ghost Army,” as it came to be called, continued to serve a purpose, as it was responsible for more than 20 illusions that befuddled German military leadership and disguised actual Allied troop movements in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.
Moscow’s modern-day iteration of the inflatable army fits with a distinctly Russian style of subterfuge: Maskirovka, a Russian doctrine that mixes strategic and tactical deception with the aim of distorting an enemy’s conception of reality, bogging down decision-makers at every level with misinformation and confusion.
Maskirovka is a longstanding practice of Russian planners. During the Cold War, maps created for the Russian public were filled with tiny inaccuracies that would make them useless should they fall into the hands of rival military planners. The cartographer who came up with the ruse was given the State Prize by Josef Stalin.
A more recent version of maskirovka was displayed in Ukraine in 2014, when masked or otherwise disguised soldiers showed up in Crimea, and later by other soldiers purportedly “vacationing” in eastern Ukraine.
According to The Times, Russian military leaders were dubious about the inflatable hardware at first, but they appear to have been won over.
“There are no gentlemen’s agreements in war,” Maria Oparina, the director of RusBal and daughter of the founder, told The Times.
“There’s no chivalry anymore. Nobody wears a red uniform. Nobody stands up to get shot at. It’s either you or me, and whoever has the best trick wins.”
The Army plans to fly its Vietnam-era workhorse CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter for 100 years by continuously upgrading the platform through a series of ongoing technological adjustments designed to improve lift, weight, avionics and cargo handling, among other things.
The Army goal is to allow the helicopter, which was first produced in the early 1960s, to serve all the way into the 2060s – allowing the aircraft service life to span an entire century.
“Our primary goal is maintaining the CH-47F’s relevance to the warfighter,” Army officials said in a special statement to Scout Warrior.
The latest model, called the Chinook F helicopter, represents the latest iteration of technological advancement in what is a long and distinguished history for the workhorse cargo aircraft, often tasked with delivering food, troops and supplies at high altitudes in mountainous Afghan terrain.
Able to travel at speeds up to 170 knots, the Chinook has a range of 400 nautical miles and can reach altitudes greater than 18,000-feet. Its high-altitude performance capability has been a substantial enabling factor in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan.
The aircraft is 52-feet long, 18-feet high and able to take off with 50,000 pounds. The helicopter can fly with a loaded weight of 26,000 pounds. In addition, the aircraft can mount at least three machine guns; one from each window and another from the back cargo opening.
The Chinook F is in the process of receiving a number of enhancements to its digital cockpit called the Common Avionics Architecture System, or CAAS, such improved avionics, digital displays, Line Replacement Units, navigational technology, multi-mode radios, software and emerging systems referred to as pilot-vehicle interface. Pilot-vehicle interface involves improved computing technology where faster processor and new software are able to better organize and display information to the crew, allowing them to make informed decisions faster.
By 2018, the Army plans to have a pure fleet of 440 F-model Chinooks. By 2020, the Army plans to field a new “Block 2” upgraded Chinook F which will increase the aircraft’s ability to function in what’s called “high-hot” conditions of 6,000 feet/95-degrees Fahrenheit where lower air pressure makes it more difficult to operate and maneuver a helicopter.
The Block 2 Chinook will also be engineered to accommodate a larger take-off maximum weight of 54,000 pounds, allowing it to sling-load the Army’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle underneath. This provides the Army with what it calls a “mounted maneuver” capability wherein it can reposition vehicles and other key combat-relevant assets around the battlefield in a tactically-significant manner without need to drive on roads. This will be particularly helpful in places such as Afghanistan where mountainous terrain and lacking infrastructure can make combat necessary movements much more challenged.
An Army CH-47 helicopter attached to the 159th Aviation Regiment lifts a Naval Special Warfare 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) during a maritime external air transportation system training exercise. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robyn Gerstenslager
The Block 2 Chinook will also receive a 20-percent more powerful Honeywell T55-715 engine, according to a report from Aviation Week.
The Chinook F is also in the process of getting new rotorblades engineered with composites and other materials designed to give the helicopter an additional 4,000 pounds of lift capability, Army officials explained.
Another key upgrade to the helicopter is a technology called Cargo-On/Off-Loading-System, or COOLS, which places rollers on the floor of the airframe designed to quickly on and off-load pallets of equipment and supplies. This technology also has the added benefit of increasing ballistic protection on the helicopter by better protecting it from small arms fire.
“The COOLS system has been added to the current production configuration and continues to be retrofitted to the existing F fleet. We have completed approximately 50-percent of the retrofit efforts. Since its fielding we made very minor design changes to improve maintainability.
The helicopter will also get improved gun-mounts and crew chief seating, along with a new vibration control system.
“We are finalizing design efforts on an improved vibration control system that, in testing, has produced significant reduction in vibration levels in the cockpit area,” the Army statement said.
The F-model includes an automated flight system enabling the aircraft to fly and avoid obstacles in the event that a pilot is injured.
Additional adjustments include the use of a more monolithic airframe engineered to replace many of the rivets build into the aircraft, Army officials said.
“The program is looking at some significant airframe improvements like incorporating the nose and aft sections of the MH-47G (Special Operations Variant) on to the CH-47F. In addition, the program office has conducted an in depth structural analysis with the intent of setting the stage for increased growth capacity of the airframe for future upgrades,” the statement said.
The CH-47 F program is also planning to add Conditioned-Based Maintenance to the aircraft – small, portable diagnostic devices, which enable aircraft engineers to better predict maintenance needs and potential mechanical failures, service officials said.
The CIRCM system is an improved, lighter-weight version of Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures, called ATIRCM, — a high-tech laser jammer that is able to thwart guided-missile attacks on helicopters by using an infrared sensor designed to track an approaching missile. The system fires a multi-band heat laser to intercept the missile and throw it off course,
ATIRCM has been fielded now on helicopters over Iraq and Afghanistan. CIRCM, its replacement, lowers the weight of the system and therefore brings with it the opportunity to deploy this kind of laser counter-measure across a wider portion of the fleet.
Chinooks are also equipped with a combat-proven protective technology called Common Missile Warning System, or CMWS; this uses an ultraviolet sensor to locate approaching enemy fire before sending out a flare to divert the incoming fire from its course.
Finally, over the years there have been several efforts to engineer a small-arms detection system designed to locate the source of incoming enemy small-arms fire to better protect the aircraft and crew.
As COVID-19 spreads across the planet, humanity faces a difficult and deadly trial. Here in the U.S., the best science available predicts hundreds of thousands of Americans will contract the disease. Government officials have already reported that thousands of patients with COVID-19 have died and projected that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will eventually die from the virus.
Facing this grim diagnosis will bring out the best in the American people. Character is displayed under pressure. We’re under pressure, and America’s character is strong. We have the discipline and determination to do what is right for our families and communities, even when it is difficult. We have the caring and compassion to help those who are suffering. We have ingenious entrepreneurs and innovative tools – including the ability to gather and process large amounts of data.
And we have the wisdom to know that our character must guide how we use tools, including data-gathering tools, to help us overcome this monumental challenge.
Countries around the world are combatting the spread of coronavirus by collecting and using the location of peoples’ smartphones. This government use of location data – i.e., surveillance – appears to be a powerful tool in the fight against the disease, but also raises a host of privacy concerns. The U.S. shouldn’t blindly copy other countries’ practices. Instead, we can and should find ways to harness the power of big data to protect public health while also protecting the rights of all Americans.
Governments use location data to combat COVID-19 in two ways. They use it for “contact tracing,” to identify all the people a sick person has encountered. Most do this by assembling a massive database of the movements of every person, sick or healthy. South Korea has been especially aggressive on this front, collecting data from infected citizens’ credit cards, GPS systems, and cellphones to determine their location and interactions with other citizens. Singapore has created an app that collects information about nearby phones over Bluetooth, focusing on who the user has been near, rather than where. No comprehensive database of locations is required.
The other purpose for which countries are using location data is to enforce social distancing or quarantine requirements. The South Korean government mandates that quarantined individuals download an app that tracks their location, enabling the government to detect when individuals break their quarantine restrictions. Governments in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Russia also use smartphone apps, geofencing, and facial-recognition technology to enforcequarantine restrictions on individuals.
While we don’t have comprehensive data on the effectiveness of these various approaches, it does appear that digital surveillance can help governments “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19.
But when governments use these tools, they do so at the cost of their citizens’ privacy. This tradeoff is not surprising. Because information about people is useful for many purposes, tradeoffs between privacy and other values are common. Privacy values often clash with openness, competition, and innovation. But rarely are the tradeoffs so dramatic.
Calibrating these tradeoffs in advance is difficult. There is evidence that existing U.S. privacy laws hindered the use of valuable medical information, slowing the initial response to the virus. Specifically, university researchers in Washington state were delayed by weeks in their efforts to repurpose already-gathered patient data to study the growing COVID-19 pandemic. This is one reason laws that restrict private sector use of data should allow beneficial uses, including using data to improve health and save lives.
But even when fighting real, tangible harms like death and disease, unwarranted government surveillance without due process unacceptably threatens liberty. That’s why our Constitution and our values limit what government can do even when pursuing important goals. These privacy-protecting institutions are our country’s antibodies against government overreach and abuse.
Fortunately, we don’t have to give up our liberties to use big data tools in the fight against COVID-19. Rather than assemble giant databases of personal information like South Korea or China has, U.S. government public health experts should use anonymized location data not linked to individuals. Such data can help researchers assess how well populations are practicing social distancing, identify hotspots of activity that raise the risk of spreading the disease, and study how the disease has spread. (Reports indicate that health officials are already using anonymized mobile advertising data for these purposes and some private companies are offering free-to-use tools to help decisionmakers). We should also explore decentralized approaches to contact tracing, like the Singaporean app. Civic-minded individuals who want to volunteer their data for research purposes should be encouraged to do so, perhaps through public education campaigns.
In any case, U.S. health officials must protect our privacy by ensuring that any data collected for use in this current health crisis isn’t repurposed for other government uses. And both businesses and governments involved in this effort must tell the public how data is being collected, shared, and used.
The U.S. has the world’s best innovators in using data to improve Americans’ lives. We can, and should, empower those innovators to fight the spread of COVID-19 consistent with our strong American values and character.
Numerous scams often target military members due to their consistent paychecks and many troops being young and financially inexperienced. From predatory lending to online scams, it’s important for service members to learn how to protect themselves from being taken advantage of. Here are 9 scams every military service member needs to be aware of.
1. Social Media Scams (Card Popping)
Fake accounts are being created on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, where scammers often impersonate military personnel. They will then friend military troops and begin building a relationship through direct messaging. Eventually they will claim they can make you quick money by depositing money in to your account and in exchange you just send them a fee. They will ask for personal banking information such as your username, password, bank card number, and pin. Once the information is exchanged they deposit fraudulent checks and withdraw the cash, leaving you without money and possibly liable for the losses.
2. Rental Housing Scams
Scammers will post fake rental properties on classified websites in areas around military bases and communities targeting troops. Service members moving in to the area will be offered fake military discounts and be asked for a security deposit by wiring money to the landlord.
3. Military Loans
Military car and personal loans that require no credit check, have instant approval, upfront fees, or promise guarantees are highly likely to have hidden fees and terms that take advantage of service members, leaving them with crippling debt.
4. Veterans’ Benefits Buyout Scam
Military veterans hard pressed for cash may be lured into this buyout plan offering a cash payment in exchange for their future disability pension payments and benefits. However, these payouts are only about 30 to 40 percent of what their value is and structured in ways harmful to veterans’ finances.
5. Car Purchase Scams
Using websites that offer classified ads, scammers will create car ads targeting military members. They will pretend they are a service member who is being deployed or moving because they are being stationed somewhere else and need to get rid of their car quickly. They will ask for wire transfers or up front fees and will offer fake claims such as free shipping or discounts.
6. Employment Scams
Veterans and active duty members searching for jobs may come across employers who offer special consideration for their military service. Be wary of employers asking for personal information such as bank account numbers or that want to conduct a credit or background check. Some are scams that use your personal information to steal your identity and/or expose you to fraud.
7. Jury Duty Scam
Military members will be targeted by callers who claim they work with the court system and tell the service member has a warrant out for their arrest due to not showing up for jury duty. Fearing they can get in trouble by their command, the caller says it can be taken care of by providing personal information such as a social security or credit card number.
8. Veterans Affairs Scam
Military veterans are being targeted by phone scammers who call claiming they work for Veterans Affairs and say they need to update their information with the VA. The VA never calls and asks for your private information by phone.
9. Military Life Insurance Scams
Hard sales tactics are used by agents who target military members. They will make false and inflated claims about life insurance policy benefits which are expensive and most likely unnecessary.
Learn how to protect yourself!
To help military members and their families the Better Business Bureau has created a BBB Military Line to educate service members on how to protect themselves. Be sure to follow their Facebook page to keep up to date on all current scams and ways to protect yourselves.
(Note: The BBB has put out a warning about scammers trying to take advantage of the military and veteran community during Memorial Day weekend. Read how you can protect yourself.)
The Air Force spent a lot of time trying to mothball the A-10 Thunderbolt II over the past few years. After realizing there is no reliable close-air support (CAS) alternative to the airframe, however, Congress fought the Air Force at nearly every turn.
The plane, dubbed the Warthog for its snoutlike nose and the distinctive sound of the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon around which the aircraft is built, is slower than other tactical jet aircraft. Its max speed is 439 mph, while the F-16 tops out at 1,350 mph. What the Warthog lacks in speed, it makes up for in durability, featuring 1,200 pounds of titanium armor plating around the cockpit and its necessary systems. The A-10’s ability to take a beating from ground fire while providing such close support makes it the perfect CAS aircraft.
The move to retire the A-10 came while American forces were pulling out of Afghanistan and were already out of Iraq. Under budgetary pressure, the Air Force wanted to replace the A-10 mission with the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose abilities were designed for the entire battlespace. The rise of ISIS and new combat roles for ground forces in the region saved the Warthog from the boneyard. The A-10 was designed to work in tandem with ground forces and theater commanders are seeing more and more demand for the unique support the bird provides.
“When you’re talking to a 19-year-old man with a rifle, who’s scared on the other end of a radio,” another Air Force A-10 pilot says in the video. “You know he doesn’t care about fiscal constraints, ‘big picture’ Air Force policy, the next fancy weapons system coming down the pipeline. He cares about being saved right then and there.”
The Pentagon is due to submit its 2017 budget proposal to Congress next week and officials tell Defense One the life of the plane will be extended because of that demand. Congress criticized the Air Force for attempting to retire the A-10 without a replacement plan.
As part of the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress mandated the Air Force couldn’t retire the plane without an independent study to find a replacement with the “ability to remain within visual range of friendly forces and targets to facilitate responsiveness to ground forces and minimize re-attack times … the ability to operate beneath low cloud ceilings, at low speeds, and within the range of typical air defenses found in enemy maneuver units … the ability to deliver multiple lethal firing passes and sustain long loiter endurance to support friendly forces throughout extended ground engagements.”
American news media barely touches on these stories at times — they certainly don’t always make the top headlines. Maybe a conflict has been going on for so long that it barely seems like news anymore or maybe it doesn’t affect the American public the way other stories do. Perhaps these conflicts don’t get airtime because, simply, they don’t sell newspapers or commercial time like other stories.
So, here’s a rundown of the most intractable crises in the world right now, complete with why they started, how old they are, and what makes them so damn tricky.
6. The Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar
The Rohingya are Muslim people in Buddhist Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer) who are considered one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. On top of religious differences, they speak a different dialect and they’re a different ethnicity. They live in Myanmar (as they have for centuries), but are not considered citizens.
The Burmese government doesn’t see them as Burmese, but rather as squatters from neighboring Bangladesh that they’re now trying to expel (using violence and persecution) after centuries of living in Burmese ghettos. As a result, 700,000 of the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya have fled their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries.
5. Venezuela and the US
Venezuela’s relationship with the United States has been on the decline since the days of Hugo Chavez. Chavez’ long time in power saw Venezuela move from the U.S. camp in favor of traditional American adversaries, like Cuba and Iran. Relations have been pretty much ice cold ever since. After Chavez died, his successor, Nicolas Maduro, took over. Being neither as popular nor as charismatic as Chavez, Venezuelans have been less than thrilled with his economic performance.
The U.S. is increasingly critical of Maduro’s authoritarianism. While Venezuela’s economy remains in steep decline, the Obama and the Trump administrations both tried to force Maduro from power using sanctions, which he strongly resists. Meanwhile, Russia and China both continue to forge business partnerships in the country, making any political progress driven by economics difficult.
4. Iran and everyone
Iran fights so hard to maintain a degree of independence from the outside world. Its foreign policy is designed to keep other countries from fighting in Iranian territory. While much of the past 20 or so years have seen a lot of death and destruction in the region, areas just within Iran’s borders are noticeably untouched. Why? The Quds Force and Revolutionary Guard’s activity in Shia areas in the Middle East force other countries to fight there, instead of in Iran.
But Iran has more to worry about. The Iran-Saudi conflict, the Iran-Israeli conflict, the Iran-U.S. conflict are all wars of words (and in some areas, like Yemen, proxy wars) where neither side is talking to one another. There’s a lot of fighting with no diplomacy that could easily escalate into a greater war. In the meantime, fighting in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen will continue even as Iran struggles with its own internal politics.
There are so many trouble spots in Africa that it’s difficult to understand where U.S. foreign policy should start. American forces already intervene in the Horn of Africa and Niger. Meanwhile, French troops take the point on more recent conflicts and uprisings in West African countries, like Mali. But that’s not all. Fighting in the area known as the Congo has been ongoing for decades.
Africa is not the center of any geopolitical struggle like the Middle East is. African “Big Man” politics have not traditionally welcomed Western outsiders dictating their next courses of action – and when they did, it was usually to make a power play for money or arms against a superpower’s rival. The best course of action is for outsider to form unified support for the African Union and give that organization real teeth.
2. North and South Korea
Since August of 1945, there’s been an ongoing conflict between North and South Korea. In the early 1950s, the Korean War pushed peninsular violence to its zenith, until a stalemate was declared in 1953. Since then, fighting has continued in the form of words and sporadic violence along the ironically-named Demilitarized Zone. In that time, North Korea has become something no one could’ve seen coming — the world’s only Communist Stalinist state with dynastic family rule. Even a widespread famine after the fall of the Soviet Union, taking much of the DPRK’s subsidized food away, couldn’t topple the Kim Regime.
Eventually, South Korea became a worldwide economic powerhouse and a regional military hegemon (with the unquestioned, continued support of the United States). Now, at a point where a conventional war could easily reunite the peninsula under the South Korean flag, North Korea leveled the playing field with tactical nuclear weapons that could keep the war of words going for another 60-plus years.
The slight warming of relations at the 2018 Olympic Games notwithstanding, North Korea is seemingly immune to economic sanctions, so threats of war and violence are often the only way to bring any attention to the conflict.
1. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
This is an ongoing conflict that has seen many potential ends-in-sight but narrowly averted them in order to continue the status quo. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not so much a war for independence as it is a divorce: both sides want the house and the car and the kids, but neither side is willing to concede anything or negotiate in real earnestness.
Not only has this been a conflict brewing since the British promised the land known today as Israel to both Jewish and Muslim Palestinians, any attempt at mediation has either led to widespread opposition, unintended consequences, or, even worse, an excuse for violence in the region against innocent Israelis and Palestinian civilians.
The latest moves by the Trump administration extend the divorce metaphor further: Now that Judge Trump gave Israel the house (Jerusalem), most people in the West Bank believe they are further from a two-state solution than ever before.
ISIS terrorists have taken over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and attracted thousands of new recruits, but the group has also brought some of its former adversaries back into the fight: American military personnel.
Known as the Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL, it is the Islamist militant group responsible for ethnic cleansing, mass rape, and the destruction of antiquities throughout Iraq and Syria. The Arabs fighting the group call them Daesh, which is an acronym of the group’s name in Arabic and also happens to mean “a bigot who imposes his views on others” (and they will cut out your tongue for calling them that).
The group started out as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, then merged with other groups as Zarqawi was killed and the U.S.-led war in Iraq continued. It took many forms and went underreported in the West until after the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. In 2013, the group split from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni group fighting the Asad government in Syria, declaring a new Islamic State, a caliphate — which muslim groups around the world (including al-Qaeda) flatll condemned. In 2014, when a string of military victories against Iraqi government forces saw Daesh approaching Baghdad on one front and trapping thousands of ethnic Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq. The Yazidis were sure to be slaughtered if Daesh forces caught up to them. Who saved the Yazidis from certain death? The Kurds.
The Kurdish militia in Iraq, the Peshmerga, are the most effective fighting force in the region. Their sister service in Syria, the YPG, are battle hardened from fighting the Asad government and other Islamist faction in the Civil War since 2011. NATO air power provided cover for the already-capable Kurdish ground forces makes the Kurdish militia the best hope for pushing Daesh back into Syria and then cutting off their ability to win followers and wage war. Daesh is well-armed, well-equipped, and well-financed, while the Kurdish Peshmerga need all the help they can get.
Reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War before World War II — when foreigners flocked to that fight — people are coming from all over the world to fight ISIS. Called Heval (“friend”) by their Kurdish allies, Americans are joining the Peshmerga’s International Brigade, the Syrian YPG’s Lions of Rojava, or a number of other Kurdish units fighting Daesh, and two-thirds of them are U.S. military veterans. Former Army reservists, Marines, Rangers, and other U.S. military veterans are coming by the dozens,lest the Daesh brand of violence engulf the whole world, like Fascism did after the Spanish Civil War. Each has their own reason for coming, each left their own lives behind.
Jordan Matson, from Wisconsin, was among the first to volunteer. He didn’t spend a long time in the Army, but he’s ready to stay with the Kurds for the long haul.
As of September 2015, the YPG boasted more than a hundred American ex-military members. The Peshmerga had only a handful, as those who are discovered by U.S. forces in Iraq are routinely forced away from the front.
Sean Rowe is from Jacksonville, Florida. He did two tours in Iraq while in the Army.
“This is something I feel compelled to do,” Rowe told his hometown newspaper. “Women and children are being slaughtered over there. They need our help. I know we can make a difference.” Rowe is an Ohio native who founded Veterans Against ISIS so he could “take the fight to them.”
Bruce Windorski is a 40-year-old former Army Ranger from Wisconsin. He is fighting in Syria with Jamie Lane, a decorated Marine veteran from California. Windorski’s brother was killed when his helicopter was shot down in Kirkuk. He originally ventured to Kirkuk to make peace with that. He went to fight in Syria instead. Lane saw footage of ISIS capturing Anbar province, where he served during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007.
“My friends were killed on these very streets,” Lane told the Wall Street Journal. “I felt a big part of my PTSD is trying to find a reason for that mayhem and bloodshed, and I thought maybe if I go back I can fill that hole.”
Lane joined through the Lions of Rojava Facebook Page, which advertises: “Welcome to our Family Brothers and Sisters. Join YPG…and send ISIS terrorists to Hell and save Humanity.” Some even come back to America to help other veterans get into the fight. Lu Lobello of Las Vegas, Nev. is one such veteran.
“America is not fighting Islamic State,” Lobello, a Marine, told the Wall Street Journal. “But Americans are.”
In the video above, the Americans recall being pinned down as ISIS fighters closed in on their position, saved at the last minute by an armored Kurdish bulldozer. They hopped in while the driver covered their movement and drove the dozer with his feet.
“There’s evil in this world that needs to be dealt with,” Kurt Taylor, a former soldier from Texas told Fox News. “They’re no joke. They’re very disciplined, highly effective fighters. If we’re not careful, they’ll win.”
With Taylor is an unnamed Marine from Washington State and Aaron Core, a former Tennessee National Guardsman whose tour in Iraq ended in 2010. When the terrorist organization killed journalist James Foley in August of 2014, he was determined to come back. They do not get paid for their time with the Kurds.
Samantha Johnston left her three children with a care taker and came to Iraq to help the children there.
“These children here who are homeless, orphaned; mothers and sisters have been raped and sold, fathers who have been killed,” Johnston told the Daily Mail. “They are suffering, and I knew that I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. I couldn’t look my children in the eyes and say, ‘I didn’t do anything to help.'”
Patrick Maxwell is a real estate agent in Austin, Texas. When he was in Iraq as part of his Marine Corps duties, he never saw the enemy, never fired a shot. Maxwell, who separated in 2011 and had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life, still considers himself a warrior.
“I figured if I could walk away from here and kill as many of the bad guys as I could,” Maxwell told the New York Times. “That would be a good thing.”
Roberto Pena joined the Marines in 2001 and deployed to Iraq in 2003. He fought as a Rifleman in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 and fully understands the risks of going back to fight ISIS today.
“It’s about humanity itself,” he told NBC San Diego. “We cannot let atrocities continue to happen and history keep repeating itself, where we just turn a blind eye.”
This month, a UK-based investigative journalism organization called Bellingcat released the results of a study it conducted on why Americans go to fight ISIS. Like the few mentioned here, some go out of a sense of moral need, some go for religious beliefs, and some are veterans who struggle to rejoin civilian life.
Americans who go off to Iraq and Syria to join Daesh face numerous criminal charges if they return. That isn’t so for those going off to fight them. Governments of Canada and the Netherlands openly say there are no consequences for citizens going to fight ISIS in Iraq or Syria.
Running off to join the Kurdish fighters is easy, but not without its risks, of course. In June, Keith Broomfield of Massachusetts died during the battle for Kobani, a town on the Syrian-Turkish border. Broomfield believed a divine message told him to fight for the Kurds. Turkey has since entered the conflict and as part of its ongoing war with Kurdish separatists, has taken to bombing Kurdish positions where Western fighters might gather before advancing on ISIS positions. Looming large, too, is the prospect of being captured by Daesh.
The Peshmerga have since stopped accepting foreign volunteers. Other militias still do, but since most of the groups in the field in the region, including the YPG’s sister militia in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers Party (or PKK) are considered terror groups by the United States and allies, the unwary volunteer my end up fighting for the wrong side.
He was a former Delta Force operator who’d taken a career turn into the shadowy world of “non-official cover” intelligence operations for the Army. He lived in the shadows — traveling around the world to build and maintain his cover as a businessman, with members of his former unit wondering where he’d gone.
But on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the East European executed a daring mission on behalf of America’s top commando units, driving into the heart of Saddam Hussein’s power and surveilling his most fearsome tool of the Iraqi dictator’s oppression.
The stunning story of the East European is detailed in Sean Naylor’s book “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.” The operator is said to have been an original member of Delta Force and was on the ill-fated Eagle Claw mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran. Born in Eastern Europe, the elite commando was said to be a “funny, outgoing guy with a heavy accent,” Naylor writes.
The operator left the assaulter side of Delta and worked in the Training, Evaluation and Operational Research office of the unit, which among other things develops high-tech gadgets for Delta commandos to use on covert missions. Later, the East European descended into the shadowy world of a NOC.
These intelligence agents, Naylor writes, were playing a dangerous game. They could infiltrate countries where Americans dared not travel under a realistic cover, but if they were caught, they had no ready support and no diplomatic immunity like CIA officers do. The East European had traveled to Iran in hopes of recruiting military sources there and had even worked inside Iraq in the 1990s as part of the United Nations’ search for WMD. His cover was maintained by a U.S.-allied country in Eastern Europe, and he’d even had access to that country’s embassy in Baghdad, Naylor explained.
But it was after the attacks on 9/11, that the East European was given his most dangerous mission yet.
It was a typical drive from Amman to Baghdad for the American agent, but the vehicle he was driving into Saddam’s capital wasn’t typical at all. The SUV that would carry him into the city was bristling with surveillance equipment implanted by the National Security Agency. The super-secret listening devices were designed to capture cellphone and handheld radio traffic and send the signals back to the U.S. for analysis, Naylor writes.
The East European simply parked the SUV in front of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad and left it there. Military intelligence operatives hoped to get tips on Iraqi military positions just before the invasion and track the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.
“If you were trying to establish every time that Saddam Hussein’s personal security detail drove around Baghdad, this was a way of doing that,” a Joint Special Operations command officer told Naylor. “The Iraqis were notoriously poor at OPSEC.”
After leaving the vehicle at Iraqi intel HQ, the East European walked the streets of Baghdad with a special GPS device, tagging targets in the Iraqi capital for airstrikes.
The East European pinpointed targets deep inside Baghdad for U.S. bombers during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. (Photo from Democracy Now)
“Such missions entailed enormous risk, not only from the Iraqi security services if the agent was compromised, but from the bombing campaign itself,” Naylor wrote. “Protecting him required careful, up-to-the-minute planning of the airstrikes.”
So if it wasn’t the Mukhabarat that could bring death and destruction to the East European, it was American bombs.
The East European quietly exfiled from Iraq after the invasion and served several more years in military-related intelligence services. But that drive into the heart of Baghdad shows that the feats of Hollywood superstars like Jason Bourne aren’t entirely the stuff of fiction.
Marine Corps boot camp is a slice of hell that turns civilians into modern-day Marines.
With constant physical training, screaming drill instructors, and so much close-order drill recruits eventually have dreams about it, spending 12 weeks at boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California can be difficult for most young people.
Having stepped off a bus and onto the yellow footprints at Parris Island on Sep. 3, 2002, one of those young people was me. While in hindsight, boot camp really wasn’t that bad, I thought then that it was the worst thing ever. While writing this post, I thought I would speak in general terms, but since my mother kept all my correspondence home, I figured I would go straight to the source: my original — and now-hilarious-to-read — letters back home.
Drill instructors are the worst.
Having a crazy person with veins popping out of their neck scream in your face and run around a barracks throwing stuff can be quite a shock to someone who was a civilian a week prior. Although I later learned to greatly respect my DI’s, I didn’t really like them at the beginning, as my first letter home showed.
“Our DI’s are complete motherf—king a–holes. There’s no other way to describe them,” I wrote, before including a great example: “Today they sprayed shaving cream and toothpaste ALL OVER the head and we had to clean it up. Yesterday, threw out all of our gear, had to change the racks, and sh– was flying.”
Sounds about right.
My recruiter totally lied to me.
It’s a running joke in the Marine Corps (and the greater military, really) that your recruiter probably lied to you. Maybe they didn’t lie to you per se, but they were selective with what they told you. One of my favorites was that “if I didn’t like my job as infantry, I could change it in two years.” That’s one of those not-totally-a-lie-but-far-fetched-truths.
In my initial letter, I took issue with my recruiters for telling me that drill instructors don’t ever get physical. Most of the time they won’t touch you, but that’s not exactly all the time.
“Oh, by the way, recruiters are lying bastards. They [the drill instructors] scream, swear a lot, and choke/push on a daily basis,” I wrote. (It was day three and I was of course exaggerating).
Mail takes forever to get there.
Getting mail at boot camp is a wonderful respite from the daily grind at boot camp, but letters are notoriously slow to arrive. In my letters home, I complained about mail being slow often, since I’d ask questions in my letters then get a response of answers and more questions from home, well after I was through that specific event in the training cycle.
“Sometimes I write more letters than everyone back home and I have way less time to do it,” I wrote in one letter.
The other recruits were terrible.
I’m sure they said the same thing about me. Put 60-80 people from completely different backgrounds and various regions of the United States and you’re probably going to have tension. Add drill instructors into the mix constantly stressing you out and it’s guaranteed.
Then of course, there’s the issue of the “recruit crud,” the nickname for the sickness that inevitably comes from being in such close proximity with all these different people.
Throughout my letters home, I complain of other recruits not yelling loud enough or running fast enough. “They don’t sound off and we are getting in trouble all the time,” I wrote. No doubt I was just echoing what the drill instructor has given us as a reason for why he was bringing us to the dreaded “pit.”
Getting “pitted” is the worst five minutes of your life.
Marine boot camp has two unique features constantly looming in the back of a recruit’s mind: the “pit” and the quarterdeck. The quarterdeck for recruits is the place at the front of the squad bay where they are taken and given “incentive training,” or I.T. — a nice term for pushups, jumping jacks, running-in-place, etc — for a few minutes if they do something wrong.
But for those times when it’s not just an individual problem — and more of a full platoon one — drill instructors take them to sand pits usually located near the barracks for platoon IT. Think of them as the giant sandboxes you played in as a kid, except this one isn’t fun. For extra fun, DI’s may play a game of “around the world,” where the platoon is run from one pit to another.