After colliding with a civilian cargo ship earlier this year, the USS Fitzgerald sustained over $500 million worth of damage to its structure and systems.
Though the Arleigh Burke-class warship was brought back to port at Yokosuka, Japan, it will likely be unable to transit the ocean in its current condition, officials say.
However, as the Navy and its contractors don’t maintain large maintenance facilities and dry docks in Japan capable of carrying out the repairs the Fitzgerald needs, it will have to somehow be delivered to the United States for fixing.
To bring the Fitzgerald home, the Navy will make use of massive heavy-lift ships, designed to hoist smaller vessels onto a platform and carry them across the world’s waterways. The alternate name of these unique ships — float on/float offs (FLO/FLO) — hints at how they’re able to load and carry ships weighing thousands of tons.
To load a vessel aboard a heavy-lift ship, it takes on water into ballast tanks, submerging its main deck area enough that its cargo can be floated into position, sometimes onto a cradle which will keep it stabilized during transport. When its cargo is in place, the ship releases its ballast and is now able to move under its own power.
This won’t be the first time the Navy has had to use a civilian heavy-lift ship to bring one of its own back to American shores.
In 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, was struck by an Iranian mine during Operation Earnest Will. The Roberts was marred with a 15-foot gash in its hull, and its engines were rendered inoperable.
To return the Roberts back to the US, the Navy contracted Dutch shipping firm Wijsmuller Transport to the tune of $1.3 million to provide a heavy-lift ship — MV Mighty Servant 2 — that would carry the stricken frigate back to Newport, RI, where further damage assessments would take place.
Years later, in 2000, the USS Cole, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was damaged on its port side at the waterline during a suicide attack which claimed the lives of 17 sailors and injured 39 more. Though the ship was still afloat in the aftermath of the attack, it was quickly determined that it would not be able to proceed back to mainland America under its own power for repairs.
As such, the Navy contracted a Norwegian company, Offshore Heavy Transport, to sail a heavy-lift vessel to Yemen where the Cole remained after the attack, in order to bring the warship home.
In addition to carting damaged warships around the globe, the Navy’s Military Sealift Command also charters heavy-lift ships to carry its smaller craft to various operating locations in foreign seas, including minesweepers and patrol boats.
A number of these heavy-lift ships are still in service today, save for the Mighty Servant 2, which was lost at sea near Indonesia in 1999. It’s possible that the vessel which brought the Cole back to the United States — the Blue Marlin — could be the same one to return Cole’s sister ship, the Fitzgerald, to America to begin the repair process.
It was recently reported that the move could begin as early as September, depending on when the contract for transport is issued and inked.
It’s a question that has lasted as long as the Selective Service debate: Should every American serve for a year or two before entering the work force or pursuing higher education?
Arguments have been made for both sides of the case since the last draft in 1973, though the pro-service cause may have just found their strongest and most vocal ally yet — former Joint Special Operations Command chief Stanley McChrystal. Though McChrystal has largely stayed out of the spotlight since his retirement in 2010, he has still been very vocal about this concept, recently penning an op-ed for Time Magazine on the value of national service.
In his article, McChrystal says that the time is ripe for the country to come together to institute a mandatory year of paid national service for young Americans aged 18-28 years. A yearlong commitment would not only instill the values of accountability and responsibility towards citizenship, but will also develop character and leadership traits, he argues.
The retired general does stress, however, that national service should not be directed entirely towards the military. He feels that an open choice between different service organizations needs to exist, allowing for hundreds of thousands of young Americans to have a positive impact beginning in their communities, and resulting in progress on a national level.
This is a view seemingly very common among military veterans, a number of whom have gone on record to discuss the merits of a year of service. It also isn’t the first time McChyrstal has promoted a year of compulsory national service. In 2016, he urged candidates participating in the 2016 presidential race to consider making this idea a reality, and in 2012, the former special operations chief gave a speech to Harvard University on the same topic.
McChyrstal himself is no stranger to service, having joined the Army in 1976 after graduating from West Point. Born into a military family, he rose through the ranks, serving with regular infantry units, on a Special Forces “A-Team”, and eventually the 75th Ranger Regiment, prior to taking command of JSOC in 2003.
Described by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat [he] had ever met,” McChrystal is easily a soldier’s soldier, known for his willingness to be on the frontlines instead of an air conditioned office stateside. His career in the Army ended in 2010 with a truncated stint as the command of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
A national service commitment isn’t exactly anything new, especially with many European and Asian nations. Israel and Switzerland are two of the most notable examples, with both countries mandating by law that youth of a certain age are required to register with the military or with a civil service body for a predetermined term. In both countries, the commitment ranges from a year to two years, though some decide to stay around and build a career out of their service terms.
Switzerland, in particular, has utilized conscription to staff its military for decades by having conscripts report for a 260-day service period upon reaching the age of majority. Recruits can choose to serve their entire commitment in 300 continuous days, or train in periods throughout the year, somewhat similar to the National Guard and various branch reserves in the United Sates.
However, should a recruit decide that military service isn’t for them, they can elect to join the country’s civil service as a paid employee for a 390-day period.
Currently, the national year of service topic has yet to be brought up by the White House or Congress, though it still remains a talking point for many, including McChrystal and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a retired Navy attack pilot.
Until meaningful discourse on the subject arises, the retired general and the sitting Senator have worked together to sponsor efforts to afford military veterans and civilian volunteers more opportunities to voluntarily serve their countries in various civil organizations.
An attack in Niger that left four American Green Berets and five Nigerien soldiers dead earlier this month has sparked a nationwide debate over how the Trump administration has handled the incident.
During a condolence call with Myeshia Johnson, the widow of one of the men who was killed, President Donald Trump reportedly told her that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, a friend of Johnson’s family who listened to the call on speakerphone, called Trump’s remarks “insensitive.”
In response, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Wilson an “empty barrel,” and said he was appalled that the congresswoman shared what she heard on that call. Trump fired off several tweets calling Wilson “wacky” and disagreeing with the widow’s impression of the call.
As the feuding continued, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford held a press conference at the Pentagon on Monday addressing reports that the Trump administration was withholding information about what really happened in Niger.
Dunford said 12 members of the US Special Operations Task Force joined 30 Nigerien forces on a reconnaissance mission from Niamey, Niger’s capital city, to an area near the remote village of Tongo Tongo.
October 4: The day of the attack
US soldiers and the Nigerien troops met with local leaders to try to gather intelligence information, Dunford said. Some of the soldiers stayed behind to guard their vehicles, a US defense official told CNN.
As the meeting came to a close, the soldiers became suspicious when the village leadership started stalling and delaying their departure.
When US troops started walking back to their vehicles mid-morning, they were attacked by approximately 50 militants. Dunford said the enemy was likely from an ISIS-affiliated group of local tribal fighters.
The militants fired on the US-Nigerien patrol team with small arms, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. This apparently caught the Americans and Nigeriens by surprise.
One hour later: US troops request reinforcements
An hour into the firefight, the American soldiers asked for support to thwart the attack.
Dunford said a drone arrived overhead “within minutes,” although it was only sent to gather intelligence. French Mirage fighter jets capable of striking enemy targets arrived at the scene “within an hour.”
Later that afternoon, French attack helicopters arrived along with a Nigerien quick reaction force as well.
Sgt. La David Johnson was somehow separated from the rest of his unit. US military officials were not able to explain how or when exactly that happened.
“This [attack] was sophisticated,” an intelligence official told ABC News. “Our guys not only got hit hard, but got hit in-depth.”
Responding to questions about why the US troops didn’t request reinforcements sooner, Dunford said he wouldn’t judge why it took them an hour to ask for backup.
“I’ve been in these situations myself where you’re confronted with enemy contact, [and] your initial assessment is you can deal with that contact with the resources that you have,” he said. “At some point in the firefight, they concluded they then needed support, and so they called for additional support.”
That night: US soldiers evacuated
French military Super Puma helicopters evacuated US soldiers who were wounded during the firefight to Niamey.
Three soldiers killed in action were also evacuated: Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright. One soldier, Sgt. Johnson, was still missing.
October 6: Johnson’s body is finally discovered
Dunford said US officials continue to investigate how Johnson separated from the team and why it took 36 hours to recover his body.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis, meanwhile, has insisted that Johnson was not “left behind.”
“The US military does not leave our troops behind, and I would just ask you not question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and question whether or not they did everything they could in order to bring everyone out at once,” he said.
An intelligence official told ABC News that Johnson’s locator beacon was giving unclear reports, and he seemed to be moving.
“Johnson’s equipment might have been taken,” the official said. “From what we now know, it didn’t seem like he was kidnapped and killed. He was somehow physically removed from where the combat took place.”
That same day, the Pentagon identified the three other soldiers who were killed.
October 7: Johnson’s body is returned to Dover Air Force Base in Maryland
Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright (left), Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson (center), and Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black. Photos from US Army.
October 16: Trump first addresses the incident publicly
During a press conference at the White House, CNN asked Trump why it took so long for him to come out with a statement about what happened in Niger.
“If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls,” Trump responded. “A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate.”
That exchange was the first time Trump addressed the Niger ambush publicly.
Tuesday, October 17 to Monday, October 23: The condolence call controversy
Trump, Kelly, and Wilson exchanged barbs last week, disagreeing over what the president said during his condolence call with Myeshia Johnson, Sgt. Johnson’s widow.
The Gold Star widow broke her silence on Monday, saying that Trump had trouble remembering her husband’s name and told her that “he knew what he signed up for.” Johnson said she cried after she got off the phone.
After the interview aired, Trump tweeted, “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”
“If my husband is out here fighting for our country, and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name? That’s what made me upset and cry even more,” she told “Good Morning America.”
October 23: Dunford outlines key details in the attack
In a 45-minute briefing on Monday, Dunford acknowledged that many looming questions about the attack are still unanswered.
Questions he’s hoping the military’s investigation can uncover include:
“Did the mission of US forces change during the operation?”
“Did our forces have adequate intelligence, equipment and training?”
“Was there a pre-mission assessment of the threat in the area accurate?”
“How did US forces become separated during the engagement, specifically Sgt. Johnson?”
“And why did they take time to find and recover Sgt. Johnson?”
“These are all fair questions that the investigation is designed to identify,” he said.
(Featured image: Nigerian army soldiers shoot targets under 60mm illumination mortar rounds as a part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 9, 2017. Department of Defense photo.)
Russia celebrated its Navy Day on July 29, 2018, with a naval parade on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, a day of pomp and military power that Russian President Vladimir Putin attended.
The parade, which involved 40 warships, 38 aircraft, and about 4,000 troops, was unfolding when a Serna-class landing craft collided with a bridge. Oops.
The video below shows the Ivan Pas’ko going about 8 to 10 knots as it collides with the bridge, jolting and even knocking over some of the crew members who had been standing at attention.
It’s unclear how the incident happened, and there were no reports of injuries, but the bridge and ship were partially damaged, according to Defence Blog, which first reported it. Some egos were most likely scraped up as well.
The Russian navy “will get 26 new warships, boats and vessels, four of them equipped with Kalibr missiles,” Putin said during a speech at the parade, according to TASS, a Russian state-owned media outlet.
You know the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”? That’s precisely what you should remember when you meet singer-songwriter, Brandon Mills.
The six-foot-tall dirty blonde haired blue-eyed Mills isn’t just another pretty face; behind those blue eyes, there is a bad ass who was once known as Sergeant Brandon Lanham, Marine Corps reconnaissance scout sniper.
He goes by Mills because, as he puts it, “Mills is my middle name, all my favorite singer songwriter’s names are 3 syllables, not sure why but I think there is a method to their madness.”
Mills joined the Marine Corps with his brother and they attended boot camp together and were later reunited in the Recon community.
Mills served his first tour in Afghanistan with Golf Co. 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines out of Hawaii. After some continued motivation from his brother, he took the leap, passed the requirements and indoctrination process, and got to 1st Recon Battalion, with whom he would deploy to his second tour in Iraq.
All along the way, Mills was writing lyrics and honing his craft as a musician.
“I just wanted to travel and play music for everyone,” Mills said about his desire to perform.
“My youngest memory of recorded music is a Beach Boys greatest hits tape that I spent my lawn mowing money on,” reflects Mills as he explains his earliest passion for music that has stuck with him since playing the saxophone in school.
The love of music and the desire to create it has been a lifelong aspiration for Mills even before he joined, so it would make sense that he leave the Marine Corps and become a musician. Right?
Even after all his success and accolades in the Corps, Mills was not ready to aimlessly jump straight into the music scene when he left the Marines. He admits he was nervous — even scared — to chase the dream without a safety net, so he did what many Veterans do: he became a contractor.
Eventually, the bug bit harder and he found it impossible to not take the risk and pursue his true first love.
Now managing his own gigs, website, and social media, Mills has made his transition from Marine to musician rather successfully.
He has played shows all over the country, supporting non-profits like Intersections International, Force Blue, and Society of Artistic Veterans. He has recorded several tracks and even shot a few music videos of himself performing.
Recently Mills finished a residency at Umami burger in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “That was just me hustling, literally going from business to business asking, do you guys do live music? If not, why? If you do, how do I get involved?”
That’s the work ethic and resolve all warriors take to their tasks.
(Brandon Mills | YouTube)It might go without saying that the persistence, determination, and even stubbornness are strong character traits in most, if not all, of our elite warriors.
You don’t make it into our military’s special units without being resilient, steadfast, and dedicated — Mills without a doubt carries those same values and characteristics into his music career.
I asked Mills if the transition was hard, going from stone cold warrior to writing and performing love songs. I wondered if there was any identity crisis there and how he dealt with it.
He explained that it was difficult dealing with other ideas of masculinity and letting that warrior machismo block his flow, but he has learned to temper those instincts and allow himself to feel the positive vibes and let his creativity through, not worrying about what others think and only focusing on great storytelling through song.
I don’t think Brandon would mind the comparison of his sound being somewhere between John Mayer in his vocal delivery and Jack Johnson in his light-hearted muted acoustic. Mills’ vocals have that bluesy, gravely register that urges the listener to lean in and feel the lyrics, while his guitar style is playful and rhythmic like a campfire sing-a-long.
Mills isn’t commercially successful yet, or famous for that matter; however, he understands that it’s a long road in the music industry, requiring a ton of work — but he feels he has all that in him.
He wants to help veterans tell their stories through music and let them know that it’s okay to express themselves through art, using himself as an example. Brandon’s music is all about spreading positivity, uplifting spirits, and connecting people with passion.
“I hope that I can give some people what they need,” Mills said, when discussing his forthcoming album. “I’m so critical of myself, I know what I want — if it’s not good enough I will do it again.”
It’s relentless drive and focus like this that will push Mills into the spotlight, eventually.
The strength, tenacity, and perseverance saturated in his warrior spirit will undoubtedly meld with his passion and creativity to help Brandon Mills become a renowned singer-songwriter for years to come.
There’s a nasty villain who’s holed himself up in a compound somewhere in BadGuyLand. Both the United States and Russia want to nab this guy – and get him bad. Then, there is a need to rescue some hostages being held at a second compound.
The United States will send elements of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, better known as “Delta Force.” Russia will send elite spetsnaz troops. Who do you send where?
Let’s put the movies starring Chuck Norris aside (even if they were pretty awesome – and where can I get that motorcycle?). The real Delta Force is filled with very deadly operators.
Founded in 1977, and taking over for an interim unit known as Blue Light. Some Delta operators have risen to great heights: Gen. Peter Schoomaker became Army Chief of Staff, while Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin rose to command Army Special Operations Command and the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.
Delta operators are recruited from across the military, but the 75th Ranger Regiment seems to be a primary source, according to a 2006 statement during a Congressional testimony.
Delta was primarily a counter-terrorist group, but has since evolved to carry out a variety of missions, including the capture of high-value targets.
One such operation in 1993 turned into the Battle of Mogadishu. The unit was also involved in the capture of an ISIS chemical weapons expert this year, and reportedly also helped capture the Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo” this past Janaury.
During Operation Just Cause, Delta operatives rescued Kurt Muse from one of Noriega’s prisons. Delta also carried out a major raid on an ISIS prison in Oct. 2015 that freed seven prisoners. Sergeant 1st Class Josh Wheeler was killed in the raid.
Russia’s spetsnaz were created for a different purpose.
Founded by the Soviet Union, they worked for the Main Intelligence Directorate, known as the GRU. Their mission was to track down and destroy American tactical and theater nuclear systems like the MGR-3 Little John and the MGM-31 Pershing missile.
But their mission evolved into hunting other targets.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, spetsznaz took out the Afghan president. Spetsnaz have also seen action in Russia’s intervention in the Ukraine, the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, and the Syrian civil war. Russia trained a lot of them – according to Viktor Suvarov, a defecting Soviet officer, there were 20 brigades and 41 companies of spetsnaz in 1978.
That number went up after the invasion of Afghanistan.
Spetsnaz and Delta each boast the usual small arms (assault rifles and pistols). The spetsznaz have some unique specialized gear, like the NRS-2 survival knife that can fire a pistol round, and the VSS Vintorez sniper rifle that is capable of select-fire. The large size of spetsnaz – 12 formations of brigade or regimental size in 2012 – means that they are not as selective as Delta.
So, who do you send where? Since the spetsnaz are almost mass-produced, it makes more sense to send them after the high-value target. If the guy lives to be turned over to people like Jose Rodriguez and James Mitchell who can… encourage him to talk, fine.
But Delta Force will be needed for the hostage rescue mission, since they have performed it very well in the past.
The single most cherished item that Uncle Sam has given its fighting men and women since the Vietnam War has got to be the poncho liner or, as it’s affectionately known within the military community as, the “woobie.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the one piece of military gear that was designed with a troop’s comfort in mind has a huge fan base.
It’s more often than not called the “woobie” because, in practice, very few people use it for its intended purpose: lining a poncho. Obviously, there’s no hole for your head to go through, so you’re not actually wearing the woobie with the poncho at the same time. The designers want you to use the little holes on the side that correspond with poncho straps to tie it together, but show of hands: How many people have actually taken those steps each and every time instead of just using the woobie as its own individual item? Thought so.
Here’s how the woobie is actually being used by troops:
It’s funny. Just one one piece of fabric can make 48-hour patrols suck a little less.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)
1. Blanket… obviously
The sleeping bag system that the military offers is nice, but it’s not enough. It’s missing a nice, homey touch that you can only get with a warm and cozy woobie.
And this doesn’t end when troops go on their last field exercise. It’s not uncommon for vets to snag a poncho liner (or two) and keep them laying around the house or in an emergency kit — or on their bed, just like it used to be.
When this is your life for 12 months, you might be willing to bite that bullet to get a bit of privacy.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)
2. Tent divider
While deployed, troops aren’t typically given enough room for personal space. Your “personal space,” at best, is usually just a single bunk that everyone can walk past.
If you need some alone time and you’re willing to part with your precious poncho liner, you can string it across the tent to mark off your side.
Now, the real question is, are you willing to destroy your woobie to make it into something else?
(Photo via Reddit user Hellsniperr)
Cutting a hole in the poncho liner to actually line a poncho is ridiculous — but walking around the barracks wrapped in a poncho liner like it’s a cape is some how… not?
Troops and vets have been known to step their woobie game up by having it made into a wide assortment of apparel — like a bathrobe or a smoker’s jacket. Fashion and function!
This is basically the one thing every troop wishes they could have done with their woobie while in the field.
The mesh pattern and all-weather durability of a poncho liner means it’s perfectly suited to surviving outside for long periods of time. This quality is best exemplified by the fact that you’ll find it in the backyard of nearly every veteran who owns a hammock. You’ll probably find their old woobie inside it.
The overly silly name that troops and vets gave a woobie makes a bit more sense when it’s given to their kids. Yeah, it’s kind of small for a full-grown warfighter, but it’s the perfect size for their kid.
When vets pass down a woobie to their kid or grandkid, it typically comes with a long, drawn-out origin story — but it’s so comfortable that the recipient probably doesn’t mind curling up and listening to the same story for the tenth time.
With the beginning of summer, pools all over the US are opening for recreational swimming — but in the Navy, recruits are getting ready for the brutal Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, or BUD/S, that will turn some of them into Navy SEALs.
In the SEALs, where recruits of the elite special operations unit are pushed to their limits, there is no room for inefficiency. So it developed a more efficient swimming stroke: the combat swimmer stroke.
The stroke combines the best elements of breaststroke and freestyle to streamline a motion that not only reduces resistance on a swimmer’s body, but makes the swimmer harder to spot underwater.
Here’s a sample of the stroke:
Unlike freestyle, the combat sidestroke calls for the swimmer to stay submerged for most of it.
To do the combat swimmer stroke, dive in or kick off as you would in freestyle, but at the end of your glide, do a large, horizontal scissor kick instead.
Now comes the unique part — as the horizontal scissor kick tilts your body so that one arm is slightly higher than the other, pull that arm back while leaving the other outstretched.
Turn your face up toward the surface as you pull that arm down, take a breath, and begin to pull down your other arm. Another scissor kick, then reset your arms. You should not switch your orientation or the order in which you pull back your arms.
Every time we make a post about the best of military morale patches, our readers prove us wrong with hilarious or otherwise awesome patches that we missed.
Morale patches are patches troops wear on their uniforms designed to be a funny inside joke, applicable only to their unit or military career field. They are usually worn during deployments, but the wear of morale patches is at the discretion of the unit’s commander.
We Are The Mighty’s readers have done it again and we’re happy to share.
The UARRSI — or universal aerial refueling receptacle slipway installation — is what allows an aircraft to be refueled by a boom while in mid-flight.
This one was actually taken from a screen shot on BBC. The patch was immediately identifiable to any fan of the show “Archer.” The best part is that it was actually on a Naval Aviator’s shoulder. Top Gun forever.
The older guys always get some love here because the older patches can go much, much further than commanders will allow these days. The patch above is from a Marine Corps aviator in Korea.
For those who don’t speak Latin, this awesome PsyOps patch translates (loosely) to: “All Your Base Are Belong to Us.” The phrase comes from a poorly-translated 1989 video game called “Zero Wing,” but entered internet and pop culture vernacular around the year 2000.
Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas is where USAF pilots start earning their wings. Training classes start on the T-6 Texan II aircraft. We’re told every training class gets to design its own patch.
Operation Deep Freeze is the U.S. mission to support research operations in Antarctica. As one might expect, they have a unique mission with specific risks. It’s reflected in their service patches.
The Army isn’t about to be left out of the morale patch fun. Their combat aviation brigades also have a great sense of humor.
Fort Rucker is the primary training center for U.S. Army aviators. It looks like Army aviation training classes get to design their own patches as well.
This patch comes from a Naval Aviator who served in Vietnam. Technically, it comes from the back of his flight jacket, but it’s still worth a mention.
Our brothers and sisters up north also seem to have an axe to grind with outdated vehicles and equipment. Thanks for reading, Canadian warriors!
This is one of my personal favorites. While the motto may not inspire the utmost confidence to the civilian viewer, you have to remember, military members have a dark sense of humor.
Air Development Squadron Six was a Navy squadron based at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. First formed in 1955, they formed the critical link between McMurdo and support elements in New Zealand. Ski-equipped aircraft from AIRDEVRON Six were the first planes to land on the continent.
The Russian government and media are casting doubt on a new report claiming to reveal the true identity of a Russian man Britain accuses of the nerve-agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in southern England.
The Sept. 26, 2018 report by the investigative website Bellingcat and its Russian partner, The Insider, claims to have conclusively demonstrated that the poisoning suspect known publicly as “Ruslan Boshirov” is, in fact, a decorated colonel in the Russian military whose real name is Anatoly Chepiga.
Russia has repeatedly denied and mocked British allegations that it is responsible for the March poisoning of Skripal and his daughter with the Soviet-developed toxin Novichok in the city of Salisbury.
Earlier September 2018, Britain announced charges against the man known as Boshirov and his associate, known as “Aleksandr Petrov.”
Both men publicly acknowledged being in Salisbury at the time of the poisoning but said they had arrived as tourists — a claim that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman called “an insult to the public’s intelligence.”
A CCTV image issued by London’s Metropolitan police showing Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station.
British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson, meanwhile, said on Twitter following the report that the “true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian colonel” but subsequently deleted the tweet without explanation.
Here’s a look at how Moscow has dismissed the alleged revelation of the poisoning suspect’s true identity — and how Russian media outlets have cast doubt on the new report.
Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, suggested in a Facebook post late on Sept. 26, 2018, that the release of the report was deliberately timed to coincide with May’s address at the UN Security Council “during which she again aired accusations against Russia.”
During the address, May said Russia “recklessly deployed a nerve agent on our streets” and accused Moscow of seeking “to obfuscate through desperate fabrication” in connection with the poisoning.
“There is no proof, so an information campaign is continuing with the primary goal of diverting attention to the main question: WHAT HAPPENED IN SALISBURY?” Zakharova wrote.
She did not provide any substantive rebuttal of details reported by Bellingcat and The Insider.
‘Typical conspiracy theory’
A senior Russian lawmaker laughed off the report with a reference to Major Pronin, a fictional Soviet-era secret agent who successfully battled spies and generated scores of popular jokes revolving around the character’s incredible counterespionage abilities.
A handout picture taken in Salisbury of Aleksandr Petrov (right) and Ruslan Boshirov.
“It’s a typical conspiracy theory,” Frants Klintsevich of the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. “You could just as easily say Ruslan Boshirov is named Major Pronin, if one recalls such a character from Soviet-era jokes.”
Klintsevich added: “What we warned about is continuing.”
“More and more details will accumulate so that the plot doesn’t get dull,” he was quoted as saying. “Interestingly, one gets the impression that the British media are working hand in glove with authorities. And that’s completely depressing.”
A Russian news outlet owned by Klintsevich’s fellow lawmaker, Vitaly Bogdanov, published interviews with a retired major-general in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) who claimed documents used in the investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider could not have made their way into the public domain.
Mikhailov said the British media “together with turncoats” will “spin tall tales” and suggested that the key piece of evidence in the report — a 15-year-old passport photo of Chepiga showing a man resembling Boshirov — could have been doctored.
NSN also published an interview with Andrei Vedyayev, a writer focusing on Russia’s security services, who said the poisoning suspects are unlikely to be officers for Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, as British authorities alleged.
The Bellingcat/Insider report said it had confirmed that Chepiga is actually a GRU colonel who was previously awarded Russia’s highest state medal: Hero of the Russian Federation.
“First of all, they don’t admit this,” Vedyayev said, referring to the interview with the two suspects on Russia’s state-funded network RT that May’s spokesman said was full of “lies and blatant fabrications.”
“Secondly, they don’t resemble [GRU officers] at all,” Vedyayev added. “From the perspective of security-service officers, if they carried out this task as has been told and described, then they acted completely unprofessionally: roaming around the city, being filmed by video cameras.”
Other Russian media outlets published reports focusing on the fact that searching for the name “Chepiga” yields no results on the publicly available portion of Interpol’s database of “red notices.”
This is, in fact, no surprise. Interpol itself notes that most red notices — which alert police worldwide of at-large suspected criminals wanted by a particular government — “are restricted to law enforcement use only.”
On June 14, 1775, the United States Army was born when the Continental Congress assumed control of the New England army. Formed in 1775 by an act of the Continental Congress, the Army has grown from a ragtag group of state militias to one of the strongest combat forces in history.
Technically, the U.S. Army is older than the country it serves. Americans celebrate the birth of their nation on July 4, 1776, but the Army is actually the country’s “big brother.” Which makes sense, considering the Continental Army of 1775 — led by future President George Washington — needed to start beating the British in the colonies so Thomas Jefferson could finally get some time to write.
Before the Army was established, colonists were organized into rag-tag militias with no real structure or unified chain-of-command. But in the spring of 1775, most wanted to attack the British near Boston but knew they needed more structure to confront the professional soldiers on the other side. That’s where the official birth of the Army came in, on June 14, 1775, through a resolution from the Continental Congress.
The next day, George Washington was appointed as commander-in-chief of the new Army, and took command of his troops in Boston on July 3, 1775, according to the Army History Division.
After small battles between continental militias and British troops through early 1775, Patriot leaders sought a way to bring the different colonial militias under a combined command. And so, on June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress approved a request to take over the militia then occupying ground near Boston and to form other militias into a national force.
Since that time, U.S. soldiers have defended America and its interests through the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, two world wars, Korea and Vietnam, and most recently through the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was known around the world as the husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. The two had been married since 1947. On April 9, 2021, at the age of 99, Prince Philip passed away.
Philip was born in Greece into the Mountbatten family. He was both a Prince of both Greece and Denmark. However, following the Greco-Turkish War, Philip’s family was forced to abdicate the throne and was exiled from the country when he was a baby.
Philip was educated in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In early 1939, he completed a term as a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth before he repatriated to Greece for the summer. However, at the behest of Greece’s King George II, he returned to Britain in September and resumed Royal Navy training. The next year, Philip graduated from Dartmouth as the top cadet in his class. He was appointed a midshipman and served aboard ships protecting the Australian Expeditionary Force in the Indian Ocean. Following the invasion of Greece in October 1940, Philip transferred to the battleship HMS Valiant in the Mediterranean Fleet to protect his home country.
Following further schooling at Portsmouth, Philip was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in early 1941. He returned to the Mediterranean Fleet where he fought in numerous engagements including the the Battle of Crete and the Battle of Cape Matapan. Following the latter, Philip was mentioned in dispatches for his conspicuous service. During this time, he was also awarded the Greek War Cross.
In July 1942, Philip was promoted to lieutenant and participated in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. During the invasion, Philip saved his ship from enemy bombers during a night attack with his quick thinking. As the planes approached, Philip concocted the idea to launch a raft with smoke floats as a distraction. The plan worked and HMS Wallace was able to slip away unnoticed. In October, Philip became the ship’s first lieutenant. At the age of 21, he was one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy.
In 1944, Philip transferred again to the Pacific Fleet where he served with the 27th Destroyer Flotilla. While serving aboard HMS Whelp, Philip participated in the Okinawa campaign. The British naval forces neutralized Japanese airfields on surrounding islands in support of the invasion. He also helped rescue down Royal Navy aviators Sub-Lieutenant Roy Halliday and Gunner Norman Richardson when their Grumman TBF Avenger went down over the ocean. Halliday went on to become Director-General Intelliegence in Britain’s Defence Intelligence Staff from 1981-1984.
Philip was again part of history when HMS Whelp became the first allied ship to enter Sagami Bay on August 27, 1945, following V-J Day. The ship led the way for the battleships HMS Duke of York, USS Iowa, and USS Missouri. Philip was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal Japanese surrender on September 2. Two weeks later, HMS Whelp arrived in Hong Kong to accept the surrender of Japanese forces there as well. After the war, Philip served as an instructor at HMS Royal Arthur, the Petty Officers’ School in Corsham Wiltshire.
Philip met the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1939. The Royal Family toured Dartmouth and Philip was asked to escort the King’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Elizabeth fell in love with Philip and the two began exchanging letters. In the summer of 1946, Philip asked King George VI for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. The King agreed on the condition that the engagement be announced the following year after Elizabeth’s 21st birthday. The engagement was publicly announced in July 1947 and the two were wed on November 20 that same year. Their marriage is the longest of any British monarch. Philip left active naval service at the rank of commander when Elizabeth became queen in 1952.
With Philip’s passing, Buckingham Palace has announced the start of Operation Forth Bridge, the plan for the prince’s funeral. Although his death has made headlines around the world, Philip was insistent that his passing be met with minimal “fuss.” The plans, which had been previously drawn up, have since been modified to adhere to the country’s COVID mitigation policies. Philip would have turned 100 in June.
And now, Al Qaeda is planning to challenge ISIS in its stronghold — Syria.
American and European officials told The New York Times recently that Al Qaeda has started moving veteran operatives to Syria as the group plans to escalate its fight with ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh), which operated under the Al Qaeda umbrella until the two groups split off and became rivals.
And though ISIS has been grabbing most headlines with its gruesome propaganda machine and bold proclamations about building a “caliphate” that will take over the world, Al Qaeda has been quietly focusing on its strategy to be the last group standing when the dust settles.
Al Qaeda is now “taking an opportunity off of what ISIS did” to make itself a main focus of the West’s fight against terror, Ali Soufan, the CEO of strategic-security firm The Soufan Group, said earlier this month at a national-security conference at Fordham University in New York.
“What ISIS did made so many people in the Muslim world think, ‘Al Qaeda are the good guys. ISIS are the bad guys,'” said Soufan, a former FBI special agent who has investigated high-profile terror cases.
“Even when you hear some people testifying on Capitol Hill that, ‘It’s OK. Let’s support al-Nusra or let’s support Ahrar al-Sham because they probably will fight ISIS’ — well al-Nusra is … an official affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria,” he continued, referencing the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting ISIS for control of territory in Syria.
While ISIS has made a show of its excessive violence — through beheading videos and other propaganda distributed online in several languages — Al Qaeda has been more cautious. The group holds the same brutal ideology to which ISIS subscribes, but it’s been more patient with winning over the Syrian population.
“You can see Al Qaeda taking advantage thinking strategically,” Soufan said. “ISIS is not thinking strategically. ISIS is just doing crazy stuff, a lot of violence, trying to bring a lot of people in.”
And while ISIS has lured thousands to its territory with its violent advertising and declaration of the “caliphate,” or pseudo-state ruled by a strict interpretation of Islamic law, recent reports indicate that fighter defections within the group are increasing and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS territory has slowed. On top of that, the group has been losing territory without gaining much new land.
“ISIS is becoming like a smoke screen. We’re all looking at ISIS all the time. ‘Oh, look, ISIS, they did a video, or they put out another thing of Dabiq,'” Soufan said, referring to the group’s English-language online propaganda magazine.
He added: “They are technically more advanced than Al Qaeda, but I think Al Qaeda is looking into the long term.”
Al Qaeda’s strategy seems to be predicated on waiting for Syrians to slowly come around to the idea of Islamic rule. That lowers the chance of a successful uprising if Jabhat al-Nusra is able to establish Syria as an Islamic “emirate” — land that would be controlled by the group and run under strict Islamic law, similar to ISIS’ so-called caliphate.
Charles Lister, a fellow at the Middle East Institute who has written a book on the insurgency in Syria, said at a recent event in Washington, DC, that Al Qaeda has sought to grow not just acceptance of its rule in Syria, but also support from the general population. He also assessed that Al Qaeda is playing a long game.
“This is an organization that has spent the last five years growing durable, deep roots in Syrian opposition and revolutionary society,” Lister said. “ISIS, on the other hand, has shallow roots. It hasn’t deigned to acquire popular support — it controls populations.”
Al Qaeda’s emirate might now come sooner rather than later — The Times reported that the Al Qaeda operatives being funneled into Syria have been told to start creating a headquarters in Syria and to lay the groundwork for establishing an emirate. The emirate would be in direct competition with ISIS.
Eric Schmitt wrote in The Times that Al Qaeda establishing an emirate in Syria would mark a “significant shift.” Al Qaeda has so far resisted declaring an emirate — it’s part of the group’s long-term strategy to avoid acting too hastily before leaders feel confident that fighters could hold the territory they seize.
Syrians on the ground seem to have been expecting this for a while.
Ahmad al-Soud, the commander and founder of the Syrian rebel group Division 13, told Business Insider earlier this year that “Nusra’s stated goal throughout all of Syria from when they first started until today is to turn Syria into an Islamic emirate.”
“They don’t want any other armed group in Syria except for them, and they want to turn it into kind of what Afghanistan was under the Taliban,” al-Soud said. “Once they … get rid of all the other groups, [Jabhat al-Nusra] can finally duke it out between them and ISIS for who’s the worst.”
Schmitt notes in The Times that “establishing a more enduring presence in Syria would present the group with an invaluable opportunity” because it would “not only be within closer striking distance of Europe but also benefit from the recruiting and logistical support of fighters from Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.”
With the collapse of the ceasefire in Syria, the timing might be good for Al Qaeda to increase its presence there. The ceasefire — between the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and the rebels who oppose his rule — never applied to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, but it allowed the Syrian government and its allies to focus its fire on jihadists rather than moderate rebels.
Additionally, the West seems to have focused mostly on hitting ISIS in Syria — US officials are emphasizing operations to drive ISIS out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq and deprive them of more territory.
The dysfunction in Syria provides the perfect vacuum for Al Qaeda to move in and exploit.
Al Qaeda’s position is, “Let’s create a lot of these vacuums where there is no strong government, and let’s operate under a different name.” Bin Laden actually, before he died, in his letters, he was telling Al Qaeda, “Do not use Al Qaeda’s name. I do not want anyone to use Al Qaeda’s name, because the moment you use Al Qaeda’s name, the West and the locals are going to come and they’re going to beat you up.”
Al Qaeda has done this in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra, which is always referred to as such rather than simply “Al Qaeda.”