The Defense Department is pledging to improve the way background investigations are done, according to Garry Reid, DoD’s director for defense intelligence and security.
There is currently an enormous backlog in the investigations, Reid said. Some personnel have been waiting up to nearly two years for a top secret security clearance, he said, explaining the goal for completing a top secret investigation is 80 days.
The delays are impacting readiness, he explained to DoD News.
“Units are deploying without a full complement of cleared intelligence analysts and technical experts,” Reid said.
“Service members competing for positions that require top level clearances are held in check,” he said. “Our research and development programs are not operating at capacity due to shortage of cleared defense industry contractors.”
The long delays in processing clearances result in loss of talented people, particularly those just entering the workforce who have highly desired technical skills but cannot afford to wait a year or more before starting the job, he said.
“We are prepared to take this matter in hand and aggressively develop better approaches that can deliver quality investigations, at sustainable cost, within acceptable timelines,” he said.
Changes in Procedures
The fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Section 951, Enhanced Security Programs for Department of Defense Personnel and Innovation Initiative, directed the defense secretary, to provide the following to the DoD committees:
— An implementation plan, by Aug. 1, 2017, for the Defense Security Service, or DSS, to conduct, after Oct. 1, 2017, background investigations for DoD personnel, whose investigations are adjudicated by the DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility.
— A report, by Aug. 1, 2017, on the number of full-time equivalent employees of the DoD management headquarters that would be required by DSS to carry out the transfer plan.
— A plan, by Oct. 1, 2017, along with the Office of Personnel Management, to transfer government investigative personnel and contracted resources to the DoD from OPM, in proportion to the background and security investigative workload that would be assumed by DoD if the implementation plan were executed.
Backlog Impacts Readiness
DoD does not plan to assume the cases the OPM is already investigating, according to Reid. The pending cases are in various stages of completion and the department has already paid OPM’s National Background Investigation System to conduct those investigations.
“The enormity of the backlog is staggering,” Reid told members of Congress last month.
The backlog hurts readiness, erodes warfighting capacity, debilitates development of new capabilities, and wastes taxpayer dollars, he explained to the House Oversight and Government’s Subcommittee on Government Operations.
He said 93,000 DoD cases were waiting in a queue for a top secret investigation, and the prices for the investigations continue to rise at a “staggering rate.”
“In 2015, after promising to provide credit monitoring to 22 million government employees and federal contractors whose personal data was compromised, OPM retroactively passed on these costs on to its customers — resulting in an additional $132 million bill for DoD,” he said.
Reid said the situation is “unacceptable and must be remedied through immediate mitigation measures and a long-term reformation of the personnel vetting system.”
He said that is why Congress directed DoD in 2017 to develop plans for assuming control of the background investigations.
In August, the defense secretary approved the plan and notified Congress, the director of national intelligence, the director of OPM, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget of his intent to execute the plan over a three-year period, according to Reid.
“The DoD plan goes far beyond a transfer of personnel and resources associated with the legacy process at OPM; this will be a full resetting of process and procedures in desperate need of modernization and system reform,” he said.
Russia has rejected a British suggestion that it might use a former U.S. Marine detained in December 2018 in Russia on espionage charges as a pawn in a diplomatic game, saying that Moscow reserves the right to conduct counterintelligence activities.
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who also holds British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship. was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28, 2018.
His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, in remarks about the case, that individuals should not be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage.
Asked about Hunt’s comment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “In Russia we never use people as pawns in diplomatic games. In Russia we conduct counterintelligence activity against those suspected of espionage. That is done regularly.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov also said that he was not aware of statements on a possible swap of Whelan in exchange for Russian citizen Maria Butina, held in the United States.
Butina has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, leading to speculation of a possible swap.
On Jan. 5, 2019, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that discussing a swap involving Whelan would be premature because Whelan hasn’t been formally charged.
“As to the possibility of exchanges of one sort or another, it’s impossible and incorrect to consider the question now when an official charge hasn’t even been presented,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency.
The Russian outlet earlier reported that Whelan had been indicted on spying charges that carry a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Osama bin Laden’s undated letter to the American people is one of 113 documents declassified by the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday.
The letter, seized in the May 2, 2011, raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout, begins: “To the American people, peace be upon those who follow the righteous track.”
The document is part of a second batch translated and released by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The first set of papers was declassified in May 2015.
In the four-page letter, bin Laden writes:
The way for change and freeing yourselves from the pressure of lobbyists is not through the Republican or the Democratic parties, but through undertaking a great revolution for freedom … It does not only include improvement of your economic situation and ensure your security, but more importantly, helps him in making a rational decision to save humanity from the harmful [greenhouse] gases that threaten its destiny.
A 74-year-old researcher at a Russian rocket and spacecraft design facility has reportedly been charged with treason for allegedly giving classified information to a NATO country.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on July 23, 2018, that Viktor Kudryavtsev of the Central Research Institute for Machine Building is accused of passing classified data on hypersonic technology to a representative of an unspecified alliance member.
Citing unnamed sources, Kommersant reported that Kudryavtsev is being held at the Lefortovo jail in Moscow and has pleaded not guilty.
Central Research Institute of Machine Building checkpoint.
A spokesman for Russian space agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Ustimenko, said on July 22, 2018, that Kudryavtsev had been arrested but did not give any details.
A member of the Public Monitoring Commission NGO, Yevgeny Yenikeyev, said on July 22, 2018, that Kudryavtsev was placed in pretrial detention on high treason charge.
The case is one of several in recent years in which Russian citizens have been accused of treason or disseminating classified or sensitive information.
Featured image: Exterior view of Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.
Be careful how you dial the newly minted Tricare East’s 800 number, or you could unintentionally end up on what appears to be a phone sex hotline.
That’s a lesson one Tricare East user learned the, er, hard way Jan. 24, when she misdialed the Tricare East contractor by one digit. Instead of dialing Humana’s number 1-800-444-5445, she dialed 1-800-444-5455.
“Hey there hot stuff,” a sultry female voice greets callers. “I’ve been waiting for your call. Are you ready for some tantalizing fun?”
It gets, uh, hotter from there. But for a $7.99 access fee plus $4.99 a minute, with a surcharge of $8.99 for “certain selections,” you hear even more than we did.
To be sure, the greeting is more entertaining than the one on Humana’s Tricare East number.
“Welcome to Humana Tricare East,” it states. “Medical emergencies should hang up and dial 911.”
Tricare East and its new 800 number rolled out Jan. 1 as the system shifted from a three contractor, three region system — Tricare North, South, and West — to the two contractor, two region system of Tricare East and West. Tricare East is managed by Humana, while Tricare West is managed by Health Net Federal Services.
We stopped our unofficial investigation into the incorrect number short of entering our corporate credit card information — we didn’t think the bean counters would understand such research. But we’re not worried about the number showing up on the phone bill. After all, the recording promises that the whole thing is “discreetly billed.”
Neither Humana nor Tricare officials responded by deadline for requests for comment. But what is there to really say about this, anyway?
The developers of one of China’s newest and most advanced combat drones have released a new video showcasing its destructive capabilities.
The video was released just one week prior to the start of the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong, China, where this drone made its debut in 2016.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s CH-5 combat drone, nicknamed the “Air Bomb Truck” because it soars into battle with 16 missiles, is the successor to the CH-4, which many call the “AK-47 of drones.”
Resembling General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper drone, the developers claim the weapon is superior to its combat-tested American counterpart, which carries four Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound precision bombs. The Reaper is one of America’s top hunter-killer drones and a key weapon that can stalk and strike militants in the war on terror.
The CH-5 “can perform whatever operations the MQ-9 Reaper can and is even better than the US vehicle when it comes to flight duration and operational efficiency,” Shi Wen, a chief CH series drone designer at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, told the China Daily two years ago.
But, while the CH-5 and the MQ-9 may look a lot alike, it is technological similarity, not parity. The Reaper’s payload, for instance, is roughly double that of China’s CH-5. And, while China’s drone may excel in endurance, its American counterpart has a greater maximum take-off weight and a much higher service ceiling.
The sensors and communications equipment on the Chinese drone are also suspected to be inferior to those on the MQ-9, which in 2017 achieved the ability to not only wipe out ground targets but eliminate air assets as well.
Nonetheless, these systems can get the job done. The CH-4, the predecessor to the latest CH series drone, has been deployed in the fight against the Islamic State.
China has exported numerous drones to countries across the Middle East, presenting them as comparable to US products with less restrictions and for a lower price.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The US’s F-35, from the Joint Strike Fighter program, is the most expensive weapons system of all time and a fighter jet meant to revolutionize aerial combat, but Turkey, a US NATO ally, looks poised to let Russia destroy the program from within.
Turkey, a partner in the F-35 program, has long sought to operate the fighter jet and Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile-defense system at the same time.
But experts have told Business Insider that patching Russia through to NATO air defenses, and giving them a good look at the F-35, represents a shocking breakdown of military security.
On March 5, 2019, US Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of US forces in Europe, told a Senate Armed Services Committee that the idea was as bad as it sounds.
“My best military advice would be that we don’t then follow through with the F-35, flying it or working with an ally that’s working with Russian systems, particularly air-defense systems, with what I would say is probably one of most advanced technological capabilities,” Scaparrotti said.
“Anything that an S-400 can do that affords it the ability to better understand a capability like the F-35 is certainly not to the advantage of the coalition,” NATO Allied Air Commander Gen. Tod Wolters said in July 2018.
NATO worries about “how much, for how long, and how close” the F-35 would operate near the S-400s. “All those would have to be determined. We do know for right now it is a challenge,” he continued.
Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told Business Insider that NATO countries “don’t want to be networking in Russian systems into your air defenses” as it could lead to “technology transfer and possible compromises of F-35 advantages to the S-400.”
Russia wouldn’t just sell Turkey the radars, batteries, and missiles and then walk away, it would actively provide them support and training. Russian eyes could then gain access to NATO’s air defenses and also take a good look at the F-35.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The F-35’s fate in Turkey’s hands?
Because NATO is an alliance formed to counter Russia, allowing Russia to learn information about its air defense would defeat the purpose it and possibly blunt the military edge of the most expensive weapons system ever built.
But the US has little choice now. Turkey has pivoted away from democracy and has frequently feuded with its NATO allies since a 2016 attempted coup prompted the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to consolidate power.
Turkey holds millions of Syrian refugees and has helped stem the number of refugees entering Europe. Turkey has expressed fury at the White House for years over the US support of Kurds in Syria and Iraq during the fight against ISIS. Turkey brands the militant Kurdish units “terrorists.”
The F-35 holds advantages besides stealth, including a never-before-seen ability to network with other fighters, but the S-400 remains a leading threat to the fighters.
Russia, if it spotted an F-35 with its powerful counter-stealth radars, would still face a steep challenge in porting that data to a shooter somewhere that could track and fire on the F-35, but nobody in the US military wants to see Russia looped in to the F-35’s classified tactics and specifics.
Iran’s supreme leader has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in the country to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), the head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said Oct. 31, which limits their reach to only regional Mideast targets.
The comments by Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari to reporters mark the first acknowledgement that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has imposed limits on the country’s ballistic missile program.
It also appears to be an effort by Iranian authorities to contrast its program, which they often describe as for defensive purposes, against those of countries like North Korea, which now uses its arsenal to threaten the United States.
“It is a political decision,” said Michael Elleman, the senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. “I think with the supreme leader saying it, it takes on a little more significance.”
The range of 2,000 kilometers encompasses much of the Middle East, including Israel and American military bases in the region. That’s caused concern for the US and its allies, even as Iran’s ballistic missile program was not included as part of the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers.
Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran, Jafari told journalists that the capability of Iran’s ballistic missiles is “enough for now.” The Guard runs Iran’s missile program, answering only to Khamenei.
“Today, the range of our missiles, as the policies of the Iran’s supreme leader dictate, are limited to 2,000 kilometers, even though we are capable of increasing this range,” he said. “Americans, their forces, and their interests are situated within a 2,000-kilometer radius around us and we are able to respond to any possible desperate attack by them.”
However, Jafari said he didn’t believe there would be any war between Iran and the US.
“They know that if they begin a war between Iran and the United States, they will definitely be the main losers and their victory will by no means be guaranteed,” he said. “Therefore, they won’t start a war.”
While keeping with the anti-American tone common in his speeches, Jafari’s comments seemed to be timed to calm tension over Iran’s missile program.
By limiting their range, Iran can contrast itself against threatening countries like North Korea, as Pyongyang has tested developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the US mainland and conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date. Pyongyang also flew two powerful new midrange missiles over Japan, between threats to fire the same weapons toward Guam, a US Pacific territory and military hub.
The Trump administration already sanctioned Iran for test-firing a ballistic missile in February, with then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn warning Tehran that Iran was “on notice.” President Donald Trump’s recent refusal to re-certify the nuclear accord has sent the matter to the US Congress. On Oct. 26, the US House of Representatives voted to put new sanctions on Iran for its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles, without derailing the deal.
Iran long has insisted its ballistic missiles are for defensive purposes. It suffered a barrage of Scud missiles fired by Iraq after dictator Saddam Hussein launched an eight-year war with his neighbor in the 1980s that killed 1 million people. To build its own program, Tehran purchased North Korean missiles and technology, providing much-needed cash to heavily sanctioned Pyongyang.
Iran today likely has the capability to go beyond 2,000 kilometers with its Khorramshahr ballistic missile, though it chose to limit its range by putting a heavier warhead on it in testing, Elleman said.
“It will be interesting to see how Iran reconciles this Khorramshahr missile with the supreme leader’s dictate,” he said. “Iran may say, ‘Well, we’re fitting it with this big warhead so we’re not exceeding this limitation,’ but the modification is very simple.”
The Gulf Arab nations surrounding Iran, while hosting American military bases, also fly sophisticated US fighter jets that Iranian forces can’t match. The ballistic missiles provide leverage against them, as well as the US-made anti-missile batteries their neighbors have bought, according to Tytti Erasto, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“Iran’s pattern of missile testing — which has sought to address the long-standing problem of poor accuracy — is consistent with the program’s stated purpose as a regional deterrent,” Erasto wrote Oct. 30. “It also reinforces the argument that Iran’s missiles are designed to be conventional, not nuclear.”
Still, Iran could use the missiles as “a tool of coercion and intimidation,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, the senior Iran analyst at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which takes a hard line on Tehran and is skeptical of the nuclear deal.
“A secure Islamic Republic that does not fear kinetic reprisal is more likely to engage in low-level proxy wars and foreign adventurism, much like we see today,” he said.
Meanwhile on Oct. 31, Iran broke ground at its Bushehr nuclear power plant for two more atomic reactors to generate electricity. State television quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying the first new reactor would go online in seven years, while a third would be active in nine years.
Russia will provide assistance in building the new reactors as Moscow helped bring Bushehr online in 2011. It marks the first expansion of Iran’s nuclear power industry since the atomic accord.
U.S. Army Specialist Jay Strobino was with his team in Rushdi Mullah, a small farming village in Iraq’s infamous Triangle of Death, on Feb. 1, 2006. They were there on a mission to grab a suspected enemy insurgent. Everything was going according to plan as they searched the house — no surprises.
That all changed when a truck full of insurgents rolled into the opposite side of town and pinned down a corner of their outer cordon. Strobino was about to be in the firefight of his life.
The “Triangle of Death” became infamous during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
(Image courtesy of the US Army Center for Military History.)
Strobino, along with three others, made their way to the corner. He killed one of the insurgents who was trying to make it across the road; the resulting break in fire allowed him and his team to run across the street, closer to where the other enemy combatants were.
His team snuck behind a row of houses, where Strobino shot another insurgent through a window of an adjacent house. They then moved to the house that the remainder of the insurgents were behind. With his SAW gunner on the rooftop of the last building, Strobino and two others maneuvered to the back of the property.
Behind the house, there was a shed and a fence surrounded by bushes. Strobino was the first to scale it but not without some difficulty.
“When I got over, I saw two insurgents spaced about 10 to 15 feet apart, facing away from me. I held my aim but didn’t want to fire because everyone else I shot that day wouldn’t die, and we were taking up to 15 rounds to stop [them from] advancing or firing,” he said. Insurgents in Iraq were known to take drugs before going into battle that would often allow them to keep fighting even after suffering mortal wounds.
U.S. Army Specialist Jay Stobino in Iraq.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Strobino.)
So he stayed put for the moment, waiting on his teammate to get over the fence, but his teammate kept getting caught. The two insurgents Strobino had zeroed in on turned to face him, and he was forced to fire. Fortunately, his squad leader soon made it over the fence and was able to join in the fight.
There was still another insurgent left, though. He was aiming his AK-47 around the front corner of the house, firing back at Strobino and his squad leader. In response, his squad leader threw a grenade, and their team followed after.
“I ran to the front corner of the building and peered around. His weapon was up and out of the front doorway. I put my weapon on burst and turned the corner, hoping to grab his barrel,” he said.
The enemy fighter heard them coming and had already started moving toward Strobino and his other teammates when he came around the corner. Strobino pulled the trigger, sending the target to the floor; however, the target fired back.
Strobino was hit, and it was bad.
“My leg was broken and my ulnar nerve was hit in my arm,” he said, “and I lost control of my right hand.”
Strabino in the hospital after suffering 13 bullet wounds in a firefight in Iraq.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Strabino.)
The two soldiers with him had taken cover behind a truck, and Strobino planned to throw a grenade. But the moment he pulled it out, the insurgent threw his own over the truck where his team was positioned and came out firing. He sprayed his weapon again, hitting Strobino a second time.
“At this point, I thought everyone was dead and I was immobilized. But my squad leader called out my name — I couldn’t believe it. I threw my grenade over to him so he could arm it and toss it around the corner,” Strobino said.
But the grenade didn’t kill the insurgent, and with his condition quickly deteriorating, getting Strobino out of there became the priority. The other members of his team pulled him behind the building. His platoon sergeant and his radiotelephone operator (RTO) moved up, bandaged him, pulled security, and called for a medevac.
The insurgent was still in the house. A second team threw multiple grenades into the home before going in. Two of those soldiers took rounds; one of them died on the medevac back to Baghdad. After that, they called in Apaches to finish the job, blowing up the house.
Strobino’s condition was so dire that his parents were nearly summoned in fear that he wouldn’t make it home. He immediately went under the knife and had surgeries every 12 to 24 hours. From Iraq, he was flown to Germany for two weeks and eventually back to the U.S., where a long road of recovery awaited him.
Strobino had been shot a total of 13 times, and it cost him more than just blood. “I lost a large portion of my right femur and couldn’t walk on that leg for six months,” Strobino said. “I lost a lot of that quad group as well.”
A portion of the wounds Strobino received during the firefight.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Strobino.)
He had to teach his brain how to perform small physical tasks again. He got winded standing at the side of his bed while two people held him. Fortunately, the great people at places like the VA hospital in Augusta, Georgia, and the Fisher House helped him pull through.
“The Fisher House is like a Ronald McDonald house for wounded vets,” Strobino said. “It’s practically five-star accommodations for the family members of a wounded veteran that are recovering at the adjacent hospital. The family has their own private room. There’s a huge shared kitchen, laundry room, dining rooms, relaxing rooms. Everything is handicap accessible. And the families stay there free of charge.
“It helps the veteran because they can have family there while they are trying to recover,” he continued. “And it also helps the families because they are living in an area with other families going through similar situations. They can all empathize and help each other out.”
At the end of 2006, Strobino was awarded a Silver Star for his valor in combat. The citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Specialist Jay Christopher Strobino, United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious achievement and exemplary service as a Team Leader in 3d Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), attached to the 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, on a mission on 1 February 2006 in Rushdi Mulla, Iraq. Specialist Strobino’s exceptional dedication to mission accomplishment, tactical and technical competence, and unparalleled ability to perform under fire and while injured, contributed immeasurably to the success of his unit in Rushdi Mulla, Iraq, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the United States Army.
“The absolute biggest thing is to stay positive,” he said, in regard to facing an unexpected challenge. “Surround yourself with positive people and feed off each other’s energy. Know that you’re not going to be able to do it alone, and it’s not going to be easy. But be sure to celebrate each small victory.”
Video of a suspected terror attack at an office building complex in Nairobi, Kenya, may have captured a US Navy SEAL on a secretive mission to combat Islamic militants in Africa.
The attack, which left 14 dead, has been claimed by the al-Shabab terror group and may have come as retaliation for Kenyan troops, who along with other forces brought together by the African Union, have been fighting the terrorist insurgency in Somalia.
Meanwhile, the US has kept secretive forces strewn across Africa. In 2017, a US Navy SEAL was killed in a battle fighting alongside Somali forces against al-Shabab in Mogadishu.
In 2018, an ambush by militants in Niger claimed the lives of four service members.
From left, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash.; Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. All four were killed in the Niger ambush in 2018.
But even in Kenya, one of Africa’s more stable countries, the US has a small presence at Camp Simba, where they reportedly train naval special forces. Kenya, like its neighbor, Somalia, has trouble with pirates and has seen some US Navy SEAL presence over the years.
Look for this patch, used by Navy SEAL Team 3, on the unidentified man’s pack.
In the video of the Nairobi terror attack, a white man wearing a US military-style backpack with a patch that’s used by US Navy SEAL Team 3 can be seen at the 30-second mark rescuing civilians and then returning to the scene of the fighting in a state of alertness.
Gun attack underway after explosion at upscale hotel in Nairobi
Still no news about Kim Jong Un – even after TMZ reported (yet didn’t confirm) his death on April 25 and everyone outside the Intelligence community has been coming up with their own theories, whether he died during a botched heart surgery to whatever because he missed two major holiday appearances.
I don’t know. The logical side of my brain says that he’s probably smart enough to know that being a dictator of the country with rampant malnutrition, horrid living conditions and legalized crystal meth is doing far worse when their only trading partner is the epicenter of a deadly pandemic. He’s probably been self-isolating like everyone else in the world (except his countrymen).
But I’m still hoping the methed-out cardiothoracic surgeon did him in. Anyways, here are some memes…
US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria hit record levels in August, dropping 5,075 bombs during close-air-support, escort, or interdiction operations.
That was the highest monthly total recorded during Operation Inherent Resolve, the three-year campaign against ISIS.
The amount of bombs dropped in each of the first eight months of 2017 exceeded the total of any other month during the campaign.
The 32,801 weapons deployed by coalition aircraft through August 2017 is more than the 30,743 dropped all last year, which was the previous annual high for Operation Inherent Resolve.
The sustained uptick in bombing during the first months of President Donald Trump’s administration seems to fulfill his campaign promise to “bomb the s— out of” ISIS. But the increase in bombings is also likely driven by intense operations in Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS’ last major urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria, respectively.
Close-quarters fighting against determined ISIS militants in reinforced positions often necessitates close air support from Iraqi and coalition aircraft. (Not all aircraft active over Iraq and Syria are under US control, so the total number of weapons used is likely higher.)
Calls for airstrikes “would come from forces on the ground that an enemy’s been identified, say, in this house,” US Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge, director of the Combined Joint Operations Center in Baghdad, told Business Insider earlier this month. CJOC, as it’s called, liaises with Iraqi security forces and government officials and is one of two strike cells in Iraq that manage such engagements, Sofge said.
“The enemy’s been in a house, and that enemy’s firing from this structure,” Sofge said, describing a potential strike scenario. “So the first thing we do in a strike like that, we become aware of it, and we know where it is with great precision, 10-digit grids, down to the meter.”
Coalition personnel and their local partners have a database of “category-one structures” that they will avoid targeting because they have infrastructural or historic value, including religious centers or hospitals. ISIS fighters are known to make use of those structures for that reason, Sofge said.
“If it’s not that, it’s still a [category two] structure that we would have to go through a rigorous process to say, ‘Hey, this structure can be removed from its inherent protected status because of what’s going there on now. There’s fighters in there shooting at the Iraqi security forces.’ So first we establish that we can go engage with this thing,” Sofge told Business Insider.
“Then we apply a some fairly strict criteria of positive identification: How do we know who that is and what they’re doing, and we have multiple intelligence requirements — it can’t just be one thing; we have multiple indications that that is in fact what’s going on from that place,” he said, adding:
“And then we have a legal review that says that engaging this target comports with the laws of armed conflict and that engaging in these circumstances is permissible according to those laws, and once we’ve established all of those things we go to the government of Iraq and ask them for permission to strike that building, and they’ll say yes or no, and they do say both, depending on the structure. They do a pretty thorough review themselves.”
Sofge said coalition personnel will then, “within the bounds of proportionality,” do engineering analysis to see what will be damaged in a strike and what effect it would have on nearby structures. That’s followed by the weapon-selection process.
“We have an array of weapons available in support of the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “We’ll choose from among those and then use them in order to make sure that we do enough damage to kill the target and kill what it is that’s attracted the Iraqi Security Forces’ attention.”
Sofge, who stressed coalition forces’ efforts to avoid civilian casualties, said the actual process likely takes less time to complete than it does to describe, in part because of the experience they have doing it and because parts of it happen concurrently.
The US-led coalition’s air campaign against ISIS has attracted intense scrutiny for the number of civilian casualties it is believed to have caused.
According to Airwars, a UK-based independent monitoring group, between Trump’s inauguration and mid-July, more than 2,200 civilians appeared to have been killed in coalition airstrikes — almost as many as the 2,300 likely killed by coalition strikes under Obama.
That works out to 80 civilian casualties a month under Obama and 360 a month during the Trump administration.
Civilian deaths under Trump peaked in March, with nearly 700 confirmed or likely casualties. They have declined since June and July, when fighting in Mosul wrapped up.
Concerns about the air campaign were also piqued by reports the coalition had loosened its rules of engagement, allowing US and other coalition personnel on the ground to move closer to the front line and call in strikes and artillery fire directly, rather than going “through a whole bureaucracy and through Baghdad,” one embedded US adviser told the Associated Press at the time.
A coalition spokesman told the AP the rules of engagement had been “adjusted” in December, “empowering” more coalition forces “to call in airstrikes without going through a strike cell.”
The Pentagon contested that report, saying in March that overarching guidelines about such strikes had not changed, even as US personnel were being embedded at lower levels within Iraqi Security Forces units and appeared to be closer to direct combat.
Asked if the process to carry out strikes had changed during the fighting in Mosul, Sofge said “not appreciably,” adding that the process did see “refinements” regarding Iraqi permission for airstrikes.
“Some of the processes tend to be centralized, and in effort to decentralize them while still retaining the integrity of an Iraqi permission [it] was tweaked by the Iraqi government, not by the strike cells, as to who’s the Iraqi giving you the thumbs-up that the government has given permission,” Sofge told Business Insider.
“I know in some cases [it] was lowered a level in an effort to streamline the process so it was more effective to the fighters on the ground,” he added, “but there was no change from a coalition perspective in the process — only who was the person saying ‘yes’ to the strike on the Iraqi side.”
Such an adjustment may have given Iraqi commanders on the front line more say in when and where strikes took place.
The Iraqi government declared the liberation of Mosul in early July, though cleaning up munitions left there by the fighting could take a decade or more.
ISIS fighters remain in some pockets of Iraq, mostly in the north-central part of the country and in the far western desert.
Iraqi forces, backed by the coalition, have launched assaults on those positions in recent days.
In Syria, the months-long fight in Raqqa has gained ground, according to US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman.
More than 75% of the city is now cleared of ISIS fighters, he said on Thursday, adding that Syrian Democratic Forces, a mainly Kurdish force partnering with the coalition, “have made clear progress and we are seeing ISIS begin to lose its grip on their self-declared capital in Raqqa.”
“I was fortunate. My cancer was in the early stages and surgery offered me a cure. The prep was not that bad. The sedation made me wonder, ‘Is that all there is to it?’ The moral of my story is if I had waited until I had symptoms, it would have been too late.”
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths, behind lung cancer. The yearly death toll from colorectal cancer in America exceeds the total number of American combat deaths during the entire Vietnam War.
The Veterans Health Administration recommends screening for colorectal cancer in adults age 50 through 75.
The decision to screen for colorectal cancer in adults age 76 through 85 should be an individual one, taking into account the patient’s overall health and prior screening history.
Six out of ten deaths could be prevented
In the past decade, colorectal cancer has emerged as one of the most preventable common cancers. If all men and women age 50 and older were screened regularly, six out of ten deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented. Screening is typically recommended for all between the ages of 50 and 75 years. VA diagnoses some 4,000 new cases of the disease each year in veterans.
Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. It’s as common in women as it is in men. Most colorectal cancers start as a growth called a polyp. If polyps are found and removed before they turn into cancer, many colorectal cancers can be prevented.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: A perfect time for veterans to get screened.