At the College of San Mateo this year, Kaplan University sponsored the Wounded Warrior Amputee vs. NFL Alumni Flag Football game prior to Super Bowl 50. The flag football game is a chance for these veterans to compete together against NFL greats, to raise awareness, and inspire their audience with their determination. Kaplan University proudly supports the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team, a team made up of service members who were injured in the line of duty, in their drive to inspire their fans and prove their ability to go above and beyond all expectations.
North Korea launched a new satellite Feb. 7 as Americans were watching Super Bowl pregame coverage (or updating social media to let all their friends know they weren’t watching it). Apparently, North Korea wanted to see the game too, so they flew their brand-new satellite almost directly over the stadium.
Unfortunately for sports fans in the Hermit Kingdom, the satellite missed the game by an hour and so if it caught anything it was only players touching the Lombardi Trophy and Peyton Manning talking about Budweiser.
North Korea’s launch was quickly condemned by the international community. The U.N. Security Council said “a clear threat to international peace and security continues to exist, especially in the context of the nuclear test.”
The timing of North Korea’s launch was no accident.
“The date of the launch appears to be in consideration of the weather condition and ahead of the Lunar New Year and the U.S. Super Bowl,” Jo Ho-young, chairman of the South Korean National Assembly Intelligence Committee, told the BBC.
The new satellite, which is North Korea’s second, doesn’t appear to do anything besides orbit the globe. Both of North Korea’s satellites orbit the Earth every 94 minutes, but no signals have been detected emitting from either one. The first was launched in 2012.
It’s not clear if the satellites were ever designed to broadcast data to Earth or if they simply malfunctioned. The new satellite is already facing issues and is currently tumbling in orbit.
Still, with North Korea developing more powerful nuclear weapons and pursuing new missile technologies, the U.S. and its allies in Southeast Asia are looking for ways to head off potential attacks.
South Korea is considering allowing a U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense site, or THAAD, in their country. THAAD can be used to shoot down missiles in flight outside of the range of the Patriot Missiles currently stationed in South Korea.
Even China, North Korea’s main ally, has discussed implementing new U.N. sanctions against the North Korean regime.
Russia says that a new NATO plan to enhance its combat readiness in Europe would weaken security on the continent, and is warning that Moscow would take that into account in its own military planning.
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko criticized the initiative known as Four Thirties in comments on June 13, 2018. He said that Russia would take all necessary military measures to guarantee its own security.
The initiative “creates a threat to European security,” Grushko told journalists.
Four Thirties, the U.S.-proposed initiative that was supported by NATO defense ministers on June 7, 2018, is meant to protect allies against what NATO says are increased threats from Russia and to bolster combat-readiness by easing the transport of troops across Europe in the event of a crisis.
The plan, whose full details were not revealed, provides for the deployment of 30 troop battalions, 30 squadrons of aircraft, and 30 warships within 30 days. The plan is set to become operational in 2020.
Thousands of NATO troops are already stationed on standby in the Baltic states and Poland as a deterrent, and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg stressed on June 7, 2018, that the goals of Four Thirties are increased coordination and better mobility.
“This is not about setting up or deploying new forces. It is about boosting the readiness of existing forces across each and every ally,” Stoltenberg said.
“This is about establishing a culture of readiness and we need that because we have a more unpredictable security environment. We have to be prepared for the unforeseen,” he said.
Grushko said that Russia’s “views on the preparations made by the alliance on the eastern flank are well-known. We are acting based on the assumption that it substantially worsens military security in Europe.”
Asked whether Russia will factor Four Thirties into its own military planning, Grushko told journalists, “Without a doubt, we will take it into account.”
“If the need arises, we will take all military-technical measures that will guarantee our security and defense capability,” said Grushko, who is a former ambassador to NATO.
Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 13 called on NATO to ensure that no state or group would strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others — the so-called “indivisible security” concept.
“We will continue to call on our NATO counterparts to respect all the agreements…which declare drawing new dividing lines to be unacceptable and emphasize the need to ensure indivisible security so that no one has to strengthen their security by damaging the security of others,” Lavrov said in Moscow after talks with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.
The Army knew Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Kang had shown support for Islamic State years ago. It even took away his security clearance for a while.
But he stayed in the service, deploying to Afghanistan in 2013.
Then, last weekend, the FBI arrested the 34-year-old on terrorism charges following a yearlong investigation, shortly after Kang declared his loyalty to the terrorist group and exclaimed that he wanted to “kill a bunch of people,” according to authorities.
The case highlights the challenges investigators face with protecting the public from a potentially dangerous actor on one hand and gathering sufficient evidence to enable prosecution on the other.
Kang is on record making pro-Islamic State comments and threatening to hurt or kill other service members back in 2011, according to an FBI affidavit filed July 10 in federal court.
The Army revoked his security clearance in 2012, but gave it back to him the following year. Last year, the Army called the FBI when it “appeared that Kang was becoming radicalized,” the affidavit said.
Retired Army judge and prosecutor Col. Gregory A. Gross said he was perplexed that the Army allowed Kang to remain a soldier even after his favorable comments toward the Islamic State group.
But Gross said the Army may have decided Kang was just mouthing off and was not a threat.
Gross served as the initial judge in the court martial of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 in a 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. He said July 11 he was concerned by the similarities between Kang and Hasan’s case.
“He was making all these statements, and giving these presentations,” said Gross, who is currently a civilian defense attorney for military service members.
Lt. Col. Curtis J. Kellogg, a spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Kang’s court-appointed lawyer, Birney Bervar, said his client may suffer from service-related mental health issues of which the government was aware but neglected to treat. He declined to elaborate.
Noel Tipon, an attorney in military and civilian courts, said there’s nothing in the Army manual on removing soldiers from the service that would address allegations like speaking favorably about a group like Islamic State.
He suspects the FBI wanted to Kang to stay in the Army while they investigated whether he had collaborators.
“They probably said ‘let’s monitor it and see if we can get a real terrorist cell,’ ” said Tipon, who served in the Marine Corps.
The FBI said its investigation showed Kang was acting on his own.
Spokesman Arnold Laanui said the probe took nearly a year given the evidence that needed to be collected and the constitutional rights that needed to be protected.
“These tend to be very meticulous and time-consuming matters,” Laanui said. Public safety, he said, was at the forefront of the case, he said.
The FBI outlined its evidence against Kang in a 26-page affidavit filed July 10. It includes allegations Kang filmed a combat training video for Islamic State and bought a drone he believed would be sent to the Middle East to help the group’s fighters.
Agents said none of the military documents — classified and unclassified — Kang gave to people he believed were affiliated with Islamic State ever got to the group.
Kang’s father told Honolulu television station KHON and the Star-Advertiser newspaper his son may have had post-traumatic stress disorder. Kang told the newspaper he became concerned after his son’s return from Afghanistan. He said his son was withdrawn.
Kang enlisted in the Army in December 2001, just months after the Sept. 11 attacks. He served in South Korea from 2002 to 2003. He deployed to Iraq from March 2010 to February 2011 and Afghanistan from July 2013 to April 2014.
Kang was scheduled to appear in court July 13 for a detention hearing.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany, the military’s transgender ban, the diversion of military construction funds to build a wall on the Mexico border — all of these controversial policies and others could be history on Day One of Joe Biden’s presidency.
As soon as he’s sworn in, Biden would have the authority with a stroke of a pen to reverse a string of controversial military and national security policies put in place by President Donald Trump’s executive orders or use of his emergency powers. The Associated Press and major news outlets projected Biden the winner Saturday, although the result still must be certified and is expected to face legal challenges from the Trump campaign.
Various advocacy groups are already lining up to hold Biden to his campaign promises to reverse Trump’s controversial military policies.
In a statement Saturday, the Modern Military Association of America, a non-profit LGBTQ advocacy group, said Biden was expected to reverse Trump’s executive order that effectively banned transgender military service.
“Thankfully, President-elect Biden has pledged to quickly take action and reverse Trump’s unconstitutional transgender military ban,” MMAA said. “Every qualified American patriot — regardless of their gender identity — should be able to serve.”
Trump’s surprise decision in July to remove nearly 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany, shifting some eastward and sending others home, could also be reversed rapidly under Biden’s stated objective to shore up NATO and strengthen partnerships with allies.
The early indicator of how far the new president will go in abandoning Trump’s “America First” policy will be “whether Biden will move to reverse Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany,” said Christopher Skaluba, director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
“Doing so will be a down payment on ensuring adequate resources are available to deter Russia,” Skaluba wrote in an analysis Saturday shortly after Biden claimed victory.
To the end of shoring up alliances, Biden could also immediately end the impasse with South Korea over how much Seoul pays to support the presence of 28,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula.
South Korea currently pays about $900 million and has offered a 13% increase, which has been rejected by the Trump administration.
Biden has also pledged to move quickly to halt construction of the border wall and possibly move to withdraw the more than 4,000 active-duty and National Guard troops the Trump administration has deployed to the border to support Customs and Border Protection, and Homeland Security.
At a joint convention in August of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Biden vowed to halt construction of the border wall.
By declaring a national emergency at the border in 2019, Trump began diverting $2.5 billion in funding from military construction and counter-drug programs authorized by Congress to the border wall. Biden could begin to reverse that by declaring an end to the national emergency.
Military working animals are just as much troops in the formation as their bipedal handlers. They go through rigorous training, like the Joes. They get weeded out through selection, like the Joes. And they even hold rank, like the Joes. Military working animals, especially the military dogs, are trained in a wide array of specializations, from drug sniffing and explosives detection to locating survivors in wreckage and providing emotional support to our wounded service members at countless hospitals.
These dogs give just as much as everyone else in the formation — yet, unlike the Joes, they didn’t have official recognition by the United States Armed Forces for their their gallant deeds. That could change with the recently proposed “Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal.”
Fun fact: The first organization to care for military working animals was called “Our Dumb Friends League” — which is still a less agitating way to refer to an animal than when people call their Pomeranian their “fur baby.”
(Imperial War Museum)
Currently, the Dickin Medal is given to military working dogs of all allied nations — but this is not an American award nor is it even officially from the military. It’s from the UK’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Despite that, the current Dickin Medal means a great deal to the handler because it doesn’t just mean a printed certificate and a tiny medallion for a creature that’d much rather play with a tennis ball — the medal also comes with benefits and care for the dog.
Physical proof that a military working dog is, in fact, a very good boy gives handlers the evidence they need to back up their requests for help. Handlers currently have little support from Uncle Sam when it comes to ordering new supplies, like harnesses, training aids, etc. With recognition, which, to this point, has meant the Dickin Medal exclusively, the animal is pampered with all of the dignity and respect it earned.
The Dickin Medal also allows the animal to be buried, with full military honors, at the Ilford Animal Cemetery in London. Non-decorated working animals don’t have that right, but the Department of Defense has been taking steps in the right direction. Now, military working animals are allowed to be buried next to their handler at certain national cemeteries. Additionally, the DoD decided (finally) that it was a terrible idea to just leave working dogs on the battlefield or euthanize them when their service isn’t required anymore.
Military working dogs have proven time and time again that they’re patriots.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron S. Patterson)
The Guardians of America’s Freedom Medal would give nearly all of those same benefits — along with official recognition by the United States Government — to the animals that have bravely served their country.
This medal, which costs nothing more than a few bucks and a commander’s recommendation, will help showcase the heroism of our military working animals and give them more than just a pat on the head and an extra treat.
As of December 31st, 2013, 92 military working animals have lost their lives in support of the Global War on Terrorism. 29 of those dogs suffered gunshot wounds, and another 31 were killed by explosions. The other 32 have fallen due to illness. Another 1,350 dogs have suffered non-combat-related injuries or illnesses.
The award will probably mean little to an animal that doesn’t comprehend why everyone’s applauding, but it’s a step in the right direction — and it will give the handlers that extra push they need to get the care our military working animals deserve.
DARPA is looking for people with innovative ideas to participate in its “swarm sprint” exercises. The project would inform tactics and technologies for large groups of unmanned air and ground robots in certain environments.
The OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program envisions future, small-unit infantry forces using small, unmanned aircraft systems and/or small, unmanned ground systems in swarms of 250 robots or more to accomplish diverse missions in complex urban environments. By leveraging and combining emerging technologies in swarm autonomy and human-swarm teaming, the program seeks to enable rapid development and deployment of breakthrough capabilities to the field.
Roughly every six months, DARPA plans to solicit proposals from potential sprinters, with each swarm sprint focusing on one of five thrust areas:
- Swarm tactics
- Swarm autonomy
- Human-swarm teaming
- Virtual environment
- Physical testbed
Here’s more about the project:DARPA is awarding Phase 1 contracts to teams led by Raytheon BBN Technologies and the Northrop Grumman Corporation. Each team will serve as a swarm systems integrator tasked with designing, developing, and deploying an open architecture for swarm technologies in physical and virtual environments. Each system would include an extensible, game-based architecture to enable design and integration of swarm tactics, a swarm tactics exchange to foster community interaction, immersive interfaces for collaboration among teams of humans and swarm systems, and a physical testbed to validate developed capabilities.
Participants for the first core sprint are needed now. The focus of this effort is the generation of swarm tactics for a mixed swarm of 50 air and ground robots to isolate an urban objective within an area of two square city blocks over a mission duration of 15 to 30 minutes. Visit DARPA to learn about where to submit your proposal.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis has ordered a full review of any military training not directly relevant to warfighting.
Mattis told the services to conduct a review of the “requirements for mandatory force training that does not directly support core tasks,” according to a July 21 memo obtained by Military Times.
In other words, Mattis wants a full examination of all the hours of burdensome, irrelevant training service members have to undergo before deployment.
“I want to verify that our military policies also support and enhance warfighting readiness and force lethality,” Mattis said.
Mattis also asked for a review into what should be done about permanently non-deployable service members.
The memo states that the review will be headed by a working group under the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness, a position currently occupied by Anthony M. Kurta. While President Donald Trump recently tapped Robert Wilkie for the job, Wilkie has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.
Mattis has recently involved himself in various personnel issues, particularly by encouraging Congress to block an amendment by GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler to the annual defense budget bill that would have prevented Department of Defense funds from being used to pay for transgender medical treatments. Hartzler’s amendment failed after 24 Republicans voted against it.
Recommendations from the new review Mattis has set in motion are due by Dec. 1, 2018.
During his presidential campaign, Trump spoke to a veterans’ group in Oct. 2016 and said “we’re gonna get away from political correctness” in response to a question about social engineering in the military.
“But you’re right, we have a politically correct military and it’s getting more and more politically correct every day. And a lot of the great people in this room don’t even understand how it’s possible to do that.” he said.
Seventy-year-old Robert L. Brady has until Jan. 11 to give up Bane, the mixed-breed sidekick that his psychologist deemed as an emotional support dog.
His Conway-area condominium association won an arbitration order Dec. 12 requiring the Vietnam veteran to surrender the 4-year-old dog because it exceeds the community’s 35-pound weight limit for pets. Bane weighs about 41 pounds. The canine now faces an uncertain future even as assistance dogs have gained greater access to communities, restaurants and shops.
“The reason I don’t want to lose him is that he keeps my mind off the war and everything. He’s just a wonderful companion,” said the widower, who retired last year from working as a theme-park bus driver. “My life would be lost without a good companion and that’s why I’m doing all I can to keep from having to get rid of him.”
Brady’s attorney, Jonathan Paul, said the association discriminated by looking only at the dog’s weight without considering the disabled military veteran’s documented need for an emotional support animal. He said they are also seeking guidance under federal fair housing laws aimed at protecting housing rights of disabled residents.
Homeowner and condo associations are among those grappling with the boundary lines for emotional support dogs. Unlike service dogs trained to assist disabled people with daily tasks, emotional support animals don’t require training. They can be any species and require no certification to assist owners who have psychological disabilities, according to a June article published by the National Institutes of Health. In Florida, one association lawyer is seeking legislation to further clarify issues related to emotional support animals.
Florida law allows service dogs that calm “an individual with post traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack.” Dogs that simply provide comfort, companionship and security don’t qualify as service dogs, according to statutes.
Orlando Veteran Administration psychologist Matthew Waesche wrote in an October 2015 letter that Brady was under his care and that the dog appears to help keep his owner’s mental health issues in remission.
Orlando attorney Peter McGrath, who represents Orange Tree Village Condominiums, said Brady is a sympathetic figure but the association’s animal restrictions become meaningless if left unenforced.
Brady and his dog have never caused problems, although Bane once lunged at a dachshund owned by an association officer and sometimes barks for extended periods, McGrath said. The situation is complicated because Brady’s adult children resided in a nearby Orange Tree Village condo and kept the dog there until they were cited more than a year ago by the association, the attorney added. And even though no one has done genetic testing, McGrath said Bane could be a breed mix that is prohibited on the condo grounds.
The bottom line is that Brady can continue to pursue further legal channels but must give up the dog in three weeks unless he gets an injunction, McGrath added.
Donna Berger, an attorney who specializes in Florida condominium association law, said property-owner associations can sometimes be “mean spirited” but pet owners can also push the limits in efforts to keep dogs that violate rules.
“Every pet that needs to go suddenly morphs into an ESA [emotional support animal],” she said. “It’s the same old routine.”
She said she is pushing for legislation calling for pet owners to establish the need for emotional support animals with current medical records.
Bane lays his chestnut-and-white head in Brady’s lap as his owner describes why he needs the dog: “Since my wife passed, he helps take my mind off stuff, like the war.”
Orange Tree Village Condominiums has focused on Bane’s weight for more than a year. Brady said he has been trying to feed the pet lean food to bring him closer to the limit but he doesn’t want to starve Bane just to comply with the association’s prescribed weight for pets.
Berger, whose firms represents associations across the state, said evicting animals based on their weight is “senseless” because size doesn’t predict whether a dog will attack someone. Larger dogs can be more gentle and puppies are acceptable weights — until they grow up. By then, they are cemented into the family.
“A lot of these weight restrictions are antiquated,” she said.
They called him “the East European.”
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.
The Army wants its mortar systems to be even more mobile, accurate, and quick to fire. Moreover, they want mortar crews to be able to park a Humvee with a tube mounted to it and then get out of there.
The Advanced Direct Indirect Fire Mortar system gives them all of that and a direct-fire capability too.
The ADIMs is currently being tested and displayed as an 81mm system on a Humvee, but it could be adapted to other calibers and light tactical vehicles. A “soft-recoil” system allows larger mortars — historically limited to larger, heavy vehicles like the Stryker — to be mounted on the Humvee or its replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
Humvees are able to reach a lot of places Strykers and other larger vehicles can’t, allowing the mortars to quickly reach parts of the battlefield they otherwise couldn’t.
Once the mortar is in position, it can be manually worked by a standard mortar crew or remotely operated by a fire direction center. In theory, this would allow the weapon to be dropped or driven into position and then fired without a human mortar crew. Someone would still have to secure it though, since it’s a powerful, advanced weapons system.
But then mortarmen could just emplace the weapon and play spades while the FDC worries about firing it. Once the weapon is fired, it’s capable of being moved within 50 seconds to avoid enemy counter fire.
The weapon generated excitement during a display at Fort Benning in Jan. where it fired 174 rounds, rapidly changing targets and missions between shots. And, the direct fire capability of the mortar would allow it to fill a gap in the American mortar arsenal.
Of course, the ADIM only really matters if it makes it to the battlefield. The ADIM shares a lot of traits with the Marine Corps Dragon Fire and Dragon Fire II mortar systems.
The Dragon Fire was tested by the Marine Corps, upgraded to the Dragon Fire II, and then shelved. Instead, the Marine Corps adopted the M327, a highly-mobile, rifled mortar without the automation of the ADIM or Dragon Fire systems.
Saudi Arabia has officially lifted a decades-old rule that barred women from driving.
Women across the country celebrated, with many getting behind the wheel and driving around Saudi streets — the first time they could lawfully exercise such freedoms for since the late 1950s.
The Kingdom has been working since 2017 to prepare for a fresh influx of female motorists.
Several women’s driving schools began popping up all over the country, with many flocking to Princess Nourah bin Abdulrahman University which became the Kingdom’s first driving school for women.
State oil firm Aramco even offered driving lessons to its thousands of female employees, teaching them the basics like checking oil levels, changing a tire, and the importance of wearing a seat belt.
Ten women made history early June 2018 when they became the first women to receive Saudi driver’s licenses. These women held licenses from other countries and excitedly swapped them over.
For many women, their newfound freedom signals an evolving paradigm for women in the country.
“We need the car to do our daily activities. We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out — so we need transport,” Amira Abdulgader told Reuters. “It will change my life.”
Women can now pursue jobs that require the use of a car, like any number of the popular ride-hailing services.
“It’s not only equality, it’s about building our country together,” said Enaam Gazi Al-Aswad, who had been poised to become the nation’s first female driver for ride-hailing app Careem, according to CNBC.”It’s about community … Women and men equally now in Saudi Arabia, not like before.”
While the nation is celebrating the historic moment of progress, May 2018 the government doubled down on activists who had been campaigning for the right to drive. At least 12 prominent women’s rights activists were arrested since May 15, 2018, according to Human Rights Watch. The organization said some of the activists were held on charges similar to those for which other activists are serving long prison sentences.
Women have risked fines and imprisonment for decades
Women have been barred from driving since 1957, as part of the country’s strict interpretation of Islam. While there was no formal law against it, women who drove in public faced fines and could be arrested. While there no clear explanation for why women shouldn’t drive, supporters of the rule argued that driving could lead to women socializing with men, which was seen as potentially disrupting the established order inside Saudi’s patriarchal society.
But activists have been campaigning against the policy for years.
In 1990, 47 women were arrested after driving through the streets of Riyadh in defiance of the ban. The movement grew stronger in 2007 when a group calling itself the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia petitioned then-King Abdullah to repeal the rule. On International Women’s Day in 2008, the movement’s cofounder Wajeha Huwaider filmed herself driving and posted the video on YouTube, which received international media attention.
(Photo by Andrew A. Shenouda)
The movement has continued to grow over the years.
In 2011, Manal Al-Sharif, along with other women inspired by the growing Arab Spring demonstrations, started a campaign called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,”There’s also the Facebook group, Women2Drive. The group gained support both locally and internationally, and soon women were risking arrest to get behind the wheel.
Because of her activism, Al-Sharif was detained and released several times, and told not to drive or discuss her situation with the media. Manal has written several books, including Daring to Drive: a Saudi Woman’s Awakening. She is seen as one of the world’s most influential women on the subject. She now resides in Australia and remains an active critic of the Saudi government, using her experience to push for change.
“I got involved with the [Women2Drive] campaign because women were invisible. It almost feels like women don’t exist in Saudi Arabia,” she told Business Insider.
She says many factors have influenced the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia.
“It is institutional oppression, and it’s carried out not only through policy, but also a general attitude that men have towards women,” she said. “We are faced with two evils: The government restricts women with policy, and male guardians restrict women through culture.”
She said a woman’s place in society starts young, with young girls going through “systematic humiliation” from primary school through college. She says girls should be nurtured to become confident leaders, not mired in shame.
Still, Al-Sharif says she has been amazed by the pace of change in Saudi Arabia over the last year. Since Mohammed Bin Salman ascended to power, the country has lifted its ban on cinemas, appointed women to positions of power, and allowed women to attend soccer matches at major stadiums.
“King Abdullah wanted to make changes for women but wasn’t able to do a lot because of internal politics,” she said. “Mohammed Bin Salman has been pushing real change, and has been paving the way for full inclusion of women in the economy and society.”
The 32-year-old Crown Prince has been pushing for modernization and a complete economic and cultural overhaul in the country through his Vision2030 program. Al-Sharif says Prince Mohammed’s desire to revamp the economy has resulted in major policy changes for women.
“The government is realizing how important it is to the economy to educate and include women,” she said. “They have no choice — the economy is our best reformer.”
But Al-Sharif says there is a lot of work to do.
“Lifting the ban on women’s driving didn’t come overnight, it’s been consistent campaigning to change people’s consciousness.”
Al-Sharif says change needs to happen in “all facets of society,” from education to policy to media, and even home life.
She is now campaigning to end Saudi Arabia’s restrictive guardianship laws, which require men to make decisions for women on matters including education, health care, and travel.
“Destructive behavior needs to end and we need to create a culture of respect. Policy can change, but its the attitude that is the real obstacle.”
A bright future for Saudi women, but a long way to go
Dr. Lina Abirafeh, the director at the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, told Business Insider that she has seen surface-level changes enhancing women’s rights, but Saudi society has some work left to do.
“Positive steps are being taken but Saudi Arabia still lags behind in terms of women’s rights. Saudi Arabia ranks very low in measures for gender equality compared to other countries.”
She noted that in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, ranking health, education, economic, and political engagement, Saudi Arabia ranked at 141 out of the 144 countries listed.
Abirafeh said small changes in the last year have impacted women’s quality of life, and signal positive change to come.
“The ban on driving had long served as a symbol of the country’s repressive attitude towards women and their denial of women’s rights and fundamental freedoms,”Abirafeh said, adding that there are many other inequalities that need to be addressed.
“Driving is clearly the most symbolic — and visible. This in a society where men and women hardly interact, and where women need a male guardian to make decisions and give permissions on their behalf.”
“These recent changes are important, but they come with many conditions and caveats. There might be a strategy to appear liberal in the global arena but it is hard to tell if there is genuine intention for real change within the society — or if these are tokenistic,” she said.
She believes Saudi Arabia can do much more for reform at all levels, including repealing laws that discriminate against women, reviewing the country’s extreme interpretations of religious texts that deny women freedom of mobility and bodily autonomy, and reaching out to communities to change the patriarchal ethos that exists.
“There is a need to progress gradually but also to be clear that the goal is full equality — without exceptions,” Abirafeh said.
She remains hopeful for the future, but is not convinced that Saudi society is prepared for full equality and the implications that come with it.
“Inequalities are many, and attitudes will take a long time to change. It doesn’t seem that there is broad-based buy-in to women’s rights among the population — yet. And as long as patriarchy prevails, this is a clear impediment to women achieving full rights and equality.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
British, French, Italian, and German jets have simulated flight interceptions over Western Europe as part of NATO maneuvers to deter Russian planes from entering alliance airspace.
The NATO drills on Sept. 12, 2018, came at the same time that Russia was showing off its most sophisticated air-defense system as it practiced fighting off a mock attack during military maneuvers of its own, the largest it has ever conducted.
The activity comes amid persistently high tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in elections in the United States and European countries.
In the NATO drills, fighter pilots from alliance members simulated the interception of a Belgian military transport plane en route to Spain. Visual inspections were made by flying off the wings at speeds of 900 kilometers an hour.
NATO has some 60 jets regularly on alert to defend its airspace. A record 870 interceptions were recorded of Russian aircraft in the Baltic region in 2016.
“NATO is relevant. This is not theoretical,” Spanish Air Force Lieutenant General Ruben Garcia Servert said aboard the Belgian plane.
As he spoke, Italian Eurofighters flew close to the cockpit to simulate interceptions, later joined by British Typhoons and French Mirages.
The European members of NATO are looking to display their commitments to their defense in the face of criticism by U.S. President Donald Trump that alliance members are not contributing enough financially to the alliance.
President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The Western alliance is currently negotiating an agreement that would have each member’s air force defend any other’s airspace under a “single sky” concept.
Currently, each country defends its own airspace, although other members help defend the airspace of the Baltic states, which do not have enough fighter jets of their own.
NATO is planning to hold its biggest maneuvers in 16 years when it conducts the Trident Juncture drills in Norway in October and November 2018.
The drills will feature more than 40,000 troops, including some from non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.
Meanwhile, Russia is conducting massive military exercises across its central and eastern regions, weeklong war games the Defense Ministry said would involve some 300,000 personnel — twice as many as the biggest Soviet maneuvers of the Cold War era.
Russian President Vladimir Putin inspected the drills in eastern Siberia on Sept. 13, 2018, and insisted that they were not targeted at any country.
“Russia is a peaceful nation,” Putin said at a firing range in the Chita region. “We do not and cannot have any aggressive plans,” he added.
On Sept. 12, 2018, the war games involved Russia’s newest S-400 surface-to-air defense system, which NATO considers a threat to its aircraft.
In 2017 Moscow signed a contract to sell the S-400 system to Turkey, angering NATO and particularly the United States, which threatened to suspend delivery of its F-35 stealth aircraft to Ankara.
The drills simulated a “massive missile attack” by an “unnamed enemy,” military official Sergei Tikhonov said.
The exercises, which also involve Chinese and Mongolian soldiers, will run through Sept. 17, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.