Florida Congresswoman Rep. Frederica Wilson claimed she was with the wife of a fallen Special Forces soldier when the woman received a phone call from President Donald Trump. Wilson claims the president had some insensitive words for the grieving young woman.
“He said to the wife, ‘Well, I guess he knew what he was getting into,’ ” said Wilson. “How insensitive can you be?”
The call was to Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow Myeshia after her husband was killed in an ambush in Niger with three other soldiers on Oct. 4. The couple had two children and were expecting a third.
President Trump denied the accusation via Twitter, while the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders described the call as “respectful” and “sympathetic” but asserted that no recordings of the calls exist.
Johnson’s mother, who was also listening to the call, then stepped into the media spotlight by affirming Wilson’s story.
The White House has since criticized the Florida Congresswoman for politicizing the practice of calling Gold Star Families on the event that their loved one was killed in action. But President Trump opened himself to criticism on this issue as well, by falsely claiming that his predecessors never did anything like it
Enter former Marine Gen. John Kelly, now the White House Chief of Staff.
On Oct. 19, Kelly himself took the podium during the White House Press Briefing to explain to reporters what happens when American troop are killed in action, how the remains are transported, how the family is notified, and who sends their condolences.
Kelly set the record straight with how Presidents send their condolences and how it should be done. He confirmed that President Obama did not call his family – not as a criticism, just a fact. And Kelly advised Trump against calling too.
“I recommended that he not do it,” Kelly said. “It is just not the phone call they’re looking forward to. … It’s not a negative thing.”
When Trump decided to call he asked Kelly how to make the call and what to say. He told the president there’s no way he would ever understand how to make that call.
“If you’re not in the family, if you’ve never worn the uniform, if you’ve never been in combat, you can’t even imagine how to make that call,” Kelly said.
As he continued, Kelly emotionally recalled what Gen. Joseph Dunford, the casualty officer assigned to the Kelly family, told him when Kelly’s son was killed in action.
“He [Kelly’s son] knew what he was getting into… he knew what the possibilities were, because we’re at war,” Kelly recalled. “When he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. That’s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.”
Kelly then lashed out at Rep. Wilson for tarnishing what he believed was one more formerly sacred institution in America. He said he had to go walk among “the finest men and women on this earth. … You can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.”
D-Day, June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in history. Over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, but over 15,000 airborne soldiers dropped in behind enemy lines on D-Day. Most parachuted in, but over a thousand landed in Normandy inside gliders made of plywood.
Ninety-seven-year-old Millcreek, Utah, resident John “Jack” Whipple piloted one of the hundreds of gliders to set down in the fields of France on that June morning.
Tow planes delivered Jack and hundreds of other fearless flyers to the air over Northern France. Whipple was behind the controls of an Airspeed Horsa the day of the invasion.
“When we came over Utah Beach we received some ground fire,” said Whipple. “Then we flew over the Germans, and received a lot more fire.”
Allied forces used two gliders in the invasion: the Waco CG-4A and the Airspeed Horsa. These were not the modern sail planes of today, but cargo and troop carriers. The CG-4 carried a pilot and co-pilot, 13 soldiers and their equipment, or a jeep and two or three soldiers.
Whipple’s Horsa carried him and co-pilot, a jeep, an anti-tank gun, four soldiers that morning, but the Horsa could also be configured to carry 30 soldiers and their gear. The total weight of a loaded Horsa hovered around 15,000 pounds.
After the tow planes cut the gliders loose, pilots had just moments to find their landing zone.
“The quicker the better,” said Whipple. “They were shooting at us – probably 3 to 4 minutes.”
To make matters worse, reconnaissance photos given to pilots were months old.
“The photos had been taken in January or February and the trees had no leaves,” Whipple recalled. When we got there, the trees were in full leaves and we missed our main check point.”
Losing altitude, Whipple picked a field to land in, but quickly realized it wasn’t big enough. He slammed the glider in to the ground, ripping off the landing gear. He then performed an intentional ground loop, digging one wing into the ground, thus slowing the glider and protecting the fuselage. A maneuver, which all these years later, Whipple points out, was authorized.
“We landed, didn’t hurt anybody or the major equipment,” he said.
At this point, his role shifted.
“Glider pilots did the flying, and right after we landed we became infantry men. Most glider pilots were trained as infantry men, but we couldn’t wear the infantry badge because we weren’t in their unit. We were still in the air corps.” Whipple said.
“We landed behind enemy lines. We had about perhaps five or six Horsa gliders. We got together after landing and helped those who were injured. We got attacked that night, but we were able to keep the group together and able to keep the enemy away.”
The airborne assault on German forces was a key part of the allied invasion.
“It made it easier because the Germans then had to fight both sides of a squeeze,” said Whipple, squeezing his hands together. “The people coming on the beach—and the airborne.”
And while hundreds of gliders may not sound like a lot, the gliders provided the airborne units equipment to combat heavy and mechanized infantry, and needed supplies to operate behind enemy lines. Whipple flew two additional combat glider missions—one in Holland and the final one as part of the Rhine Crossing.
After returning from the war, he earned his private pilot license, and flew all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Hey, want to make an extra $175,000? Well, if you’re a Navy fighter pilot and you’re willing to spend another five years in the service, that pile of cash can be yours! Now that we have the big-ass headline and the promise of a lot of moolah out of the way, let’s get down to the fine print.
According to a Navy release, the active-duty component is offering big cash in the form of Aviation Department Head Retention Bonuses and Aviation Command Retention Bonuses. The aim here is to keep talented, hardworking pilots on active duty. The Navy, essentially, is looking to avoid ending up in the same dire straits as the Air Force in terms of personnel shortages.
Here’s how the bonuses will work, according to NAVADMIN 065/18. The Aviation Department Head Retention Bonus is open to any aviator selected for promotion to lieutenant commander. Pilots have the option of signing a contract of either three years or five years. Those who sign five-year deals prior to ADHSB selection results going public can get a bonus of up to $35,000. Your best bet for getting the big money is to fly F/A-18C Hornets, F-35 Lightnings, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, or E-2C Hawkeyes. MH-53E Sea Dragon pilots, a minesweeping version of the CH-53E Super Stallion, are also eligible to for big bonuses.
Those who sign up for the Aviation Command Retention Bonus can get $100,000 over three years ($34,000 for the first year, $33,000 for the other two). Eligibility is limited to those officers who hold the rank of commander and who have been screened for becoming the commanding officer of an eligible operational, operational training, or special mission command. They agree to stay on for three years, which will include a tour after their squadron command. The obligation ends at the end of that post-command assignment or 22 years of active service, whichever comes later.
Aviation duty incentive pay (better known as flight pay) is also getting a boost, especially for those who are in administrative milestone billets. That only could net you a cool $1,000 in cash per month!
When thinking of countries that have the strongest militaries in the world, giants like the US, Russia, China, and the UK come to mind. In Asia — and Southeast Asia in particular — China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand are usually mentioned.
But the country that boasts the best air force and navy in the region, and a military that is considered one of the most powerful in the world, is a tiny island city-state with a population of only 5 million — Singapore.
Strong since independence
The concept of a strong military has been ingrained in Singapore since it gained independence from Malaysia in 1965.
“Historically, Singapore had rather tumultuous relations with its immediate neighbors, namely Indonesia and Malaysia,” Collin Koh Sw ee Lean, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Maritime Security Programme, told Business Insider. “This was quite the case back in the early decades of Singapore’s independence.”
As a result, Singapore needed to invest in its security forces. “There was a sense in Singapore that they were extremely vulnerable to coercion being so small,” Scott Harold, the associate director of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy, told Business Insider.
But with a small population and hardly any territory to train on let alone fight, it became clear that the only way they could secure their country was by out-competing their potential rivals through high-end technology.
‘A poisonous shrimp’
(Singapore Ministry of Defense photo)
Singapore’s air force boasts 60 US-made F-16C/D and 40 F-15SG that were designed specifically for the the Singapore Air Force. They also operate 20 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters, one of the best gunships currently in service.
Singapore’s navy has six Formidable-class stealth frigates, licensed Singaporean-made versions of France’s La Fayette-class frigate, a number of high-end submarines both in service and in development, and five Endurance-class landing platform docks than can carry 18 tanks and hundreds of troops.
The army is small compared to some of its regional rivals, with only 72,000 active personnel. But it has some of the best equipment in service, and much of it was either entirely produced or improved on by domestic companies.
This includes the Leopard 2SG, Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle. The country also has compulsory military service, and can quickly mobilize its army for war at a moment’s notice.
All of this high-end equipment is, unsurprisingly expensive. But despite its small size, Singapore has managed to become a global economic and military powerhouse.
(Singapore Army / Facebook)
In 2017, Global Finance magazine ranked Singapore as the 4th richest country in the world in terms of GDP, and it has been able to stay high on that list for decades.
The city-state has historically had a high defense budget, usually hovering around three to four percent of its GDP, though it has gone as high as 5% in the past. The 2018 military budget, $14.76 billion, makes up 18% of Singapore’s annual budget.
But what really sets Singapore apart from its neighbors in the realm of technology and equipment, is the fact that it is all integrated into a single cohesive fighting force.
“Not only do they have high-end equipment, they know how to operate it in a very high level of capability. It’s integrated as opposed to all the other country in Southeast Asia,” Brian Harding, the deputy director the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Southeast Asia Program, told Business Insider.
“They focus on making sure their systems work together, they have interoperability between the services. They are highly professional military,” Harding said. “A poisonous shrimp is the analogy that is made.”
(154th Media Entertainment / YouTube)
But Singapore’s military does have a a big problem — geography. There simply isn’t enough room on the island to train its fighting forces.
“If you’re in a fighter jet that is taking off at three or four hundred miles an hour, you very quickly leave Singaporean airspace,” Harold said.
As a result, Singapore has sent some of its soldiers and much of its equipment overseas. Its military has personnel and air squadrons in the US, Australia, Brunei, New Zealand, and Taiwan to name a few.
While the main purpose for these deployments in for training, it does offer another advantage — the ability to stage an effective counter-strike.
“The idea of distributing manpower and assets abroad … also provide a recessed type of backup reinforcements, a form of insurance, in case forces deployed within Singapore got wiped out in an enemy onslaught,” Koh said.
“These assets could therefore be mobilized as a follow-on force, possibly reinforced by friendly partners,” he added.
Singapore’s relations with its immediate neighbors have actually improved remarkably. In Koh’s words, they “have never been as good as now.”
Singapore has also contributed to international operations like Afghanistan and disaster relief missions to affected nations.
But Singapore is still cautious. Chinese actions in the South China Sea have not been encouraging, and its continued support of a US military presence in the region is not popular with some.
“Singaporeans are the ultimate realists and understand that things can change quickly,” Harding said. “They know that they need to be prepared for the future and not just hope for the best.”
Two Defense Department artificial-intelligence experts testified on Capitol Hill Dec.11, 2018, on DOD’s efforts to transform delivery of capabilities enabled by artificial intelligence to the nation’s warfighters.
Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, and Dana Deasy, DOD’s chief information officer, testified at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities.
The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019 directed the defense secretary to conduct a comprehensive national review of advances in AI relevant to the needs of the military services. Section 238 directed the secretary to craft a strategic plan to develop, mature, adopt and transition AI technologies into operational use.
“Today we are experiencing an explosion of interest in a subfield of AI called machine learning, where algorithms have become remarkably good at classification and prediction tasks when they can be trained on very large amounts of data,” Porter told the House panel. Today’s AI capabilities offer potential solutions to many defense-specific problems, such as object identification in drone video or satellite imagery and detection of cyber threats on networks, she said.
Deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Lisa Porter.
However, she added, several issues must be addressed to effectively apply AI to national security mission problems.
“First, objective evaluation of performance requires the use of quantitative metrics that are relevant to the specific use case,” she said. “In other words, AI systems that have been optimized for commercial applications may not yield effective outcomes in military applications.”
DOD is working to address such challenges and vulnerabilities in multiple ways, she said, most of which will leverage the complementary roles of the new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the department’s research and engineering enterprise.
Second, Porter said, existing AI systems need enormous amounts of training data, and the preparation of that data in a format that the algorithms can use, in turn, requires a large amount of human labor.
“AI systems that have been trained on one type of data typically do not perform well on data that are different from the training data,” she noted.
The JAIC’s focus on scaling and integration will drive innovation in data curation techniques, while the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will pursue algorithms that can be “robustly trained with much less data,” Porter said.
“The high-performance computing modernization program is designing new systems that will provide ample processing power for AI applications on the battlefield,” she added.
Department of Defense Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy.
Countering adversarial AI is one of the key focus areas of DARPA’s “AI Next” campaign, she emphasized. “Ultimately, as we look to the future, we anticipate a focus on developing AI systems that have the ability to reason as humans do, at least to some extent,” Porter said. “Such a capability would greatly amplify the utility of AI, enabling AI systems to become true partners with their human counterparts in problem solving. It is important that we continue to pursue cutting-edge research in AI, especially given the significant investments our adversaries are making.”
Three themes of JAIC effort
Deasy detailed the JAIC and highlighted three themes of its effort.
“The first is delivering AI-enabled capabilities at speed,” he said. “JAIC is collaborating now with teams across DOD to systematically identify, prioritize and select mission needs, and then rapidly execute a sequence across functional use cases that demonstrate value and spur momentum.”
The second theme is all about scale, he said.
“JAIC’s early projects serve a dual purpose: to deliver new capabilities to end users, as well as to incrementally develop the common foundation that is essential for scaling AI’s impact across DoD,” he explained. “This means [the use of] shared data, reusable tools, libraries, standards, and AI cloud and edge services that helped jumpstart new projects.”
The third theme is building the initial JAIC team.
“It’s all about talent,” he said. “And this will be representative across all the services and all components. Today, we have assembled a force of nearly 30 individuals. Going forward, it is essential that JAIC attract and cultivate a select group of mission-driven, world-class AI talent, including pulling these experts into service from industry.”
In November 2018, before more than 600 representatives of 380 companies, academic institutions and government organizations at DOD’s AI Industry Day, Deasy said, he announced that the department had achieved a significant milestone: “JAIC is now up and running and open for business.”
U.S., NATO ally, and partner paratroopers participated in the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company’s Operation Toy Drop Dec. 11-14, 2018.
Operation Toy Drop is an annual multi-national training event. It entails sharing airborne operations, tactics, techniques and procedures, strengthening relationships with local communities and with NATO allies and partners as well as developing interoperability.
“It’s so much fun seeing other nations get in on our training and us to get on their training to see how they operate with these airborne operations, to see how we operate,” said Sgt. Kyle D. Shields, a parachute rigger with the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade.
“All of us use different parachute systems across the different militaries, so it’s just trying to get everybody synced up in one parachute system and make sure everybody understands that every system has a risk factor and different ways you have to steer it, fly it and turn it,” Shields said.
Holiday cheer played a major role during Operation Toy Drop.
Capt. Rizzoli Elias, company commander, the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, gives a German child a stuffed animal as part of Operation Toy Drop at Alzey, Germany Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
Part of this cheer was Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and elves jumping out of an airplane and then giving toys to children from the Kaiserslautern area. Both U.S. and German children smiled and laughed with excitement as they received presents from members of the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company, who dressed up as Christmas characters during Operation Toy Drop. The toys given to the children were donated by paratroopers participating in this event.
U.S., NATO ally, and partner service members receive Irish jump wings during a wing ceremony exchange hosted by the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Kaiserslautern, Germany Dec. 14, 2018.
(Photo by taff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
“It’s a huge role for us to give back, especially to the local community within Germany, to all these kids and the American community that may not get as many presents as we do on Christmas,” said Sgt. Joshua A. Parkinson, an aerial delivery supervisor with the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company. “For us to be able to do something for them while enjoying it together, then to get to watch their faces at the drop zone as Santa comes around and hands them toys from a bundle that dropped down from the sky … it’s really an indescribable feeling, but it’s something that every single jumper out here, whether they’re American or not, absolutely loves.”
Paratroopers from U.S., NATO ally and partner militaries “high five” children at Alzey Drop Zone during Operation Toy Drop at Alzey, Germany Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by taff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
Operation Toy Drop concluded with a wing exchange ceremony, in which paratroopers that jumped with a foreign nation, would get a certificate with that country’s wings.
“For us being able to give them American jump wings and from us receiving any number of the number of countries that are here, even the British are giving out jump wings for the first time in years, for me that is absolutely huge,” Parkinson said. “It builds a real sense of these are the people to my left and right that I can count on. We go downrange, we go to a firefight these are the people we’ll be working with and for me that is absolutely everything.”
According to Shields, one of the biggest takeaways is looking forward to future operations with the NATO allies.
“We established a lot of good connections and contacts here while we were doing Operation Toy Drop,” Shields said. “That allows us to communicate with the other armies that are around us so that we can plan additional training exercises and other tactics teaching.”
Honorably discharged veterans who want to shop at the online exchanges could be given access early as part of a group of “beta testers” through a new veteran shopper verification system launched June 5th.
The Defense Department resale board last year approved a plan to open the exchange’s online stores to all veterans. Those who are verified through a new site will have access to all of the online exchange stores, including AAFES, the Coast Guard Exchange, the Marine Corps Exchange and the Navy Exchange.
The verification site, VetVerify.org, asks users to input their first and last names, last four digits of their Social Security number, birth date, email address, and service branch. Veterans will then be notified whether they are ineligible, are already eligible to shop, that they will be eligible on the official Nov. 11 launch date, or that they have been randomly selected to be a beta tester.
The new benefit is available to all honorably discharged veterans. The rule change does not allow the new veteran shoppers to use the exchange in person or shop at the commissary. It also does not include access to gasoline, tobacco, or uniform sales.
Officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service said early shoppers will be given access on a rolling basis in an effort to make sure the system is ready when the benefit fully opens on Veterans Day. Although verification and shopping should be seamless, they said it is possible that beta users could experience some hiccups.
“They don’t want to just open this thing on Veterans Day … when you can work the kinks out ahead of time,” said Chris Ward, an AAFES spokesman. “That is the point of doing this — to make sure there aren’t any hiccups or bugs in the system.”
Products purchased through the exchanges are tax free, and a percentage of revenue benefits Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs.
About 13 million veterans qualify for the new benefit. Officials did not have an estimate for how many veterans are expected to shop the online exchanges after Veterans Day or how many will register early.
“We’re kind of just going in blind,” Ward said. “We’re rolling it out this early — I don’t anticipate everyone comes today.”
The Israeli media dubbed it the “Double Miracle In Gaza” — a Hamas fighter took shots at an IDF soldier, hitting him in his cache of grenades. If life were a movie, we know what would happen next.
Luckily life is most definitely not like the movies. The soldier in question (his name was not released by the media) was operating in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.
After the murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, the IDF launched Operation Brother’s Keeper. The goal was for the IDF to move in and arrest Hamas leadership and the militants responsible for the killings. In response, the terror group fired a number of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
That’s when the IDF moved in on the missile sites.
The soldier’s unit was in Shuja’iyya, in the north of Gaza, where many of Hamas rockets are fired into Israel. Shuja’iyya is a major urban center and is also densely populated. Hamas fired an estimated 140 rockets from the city during the conflict.
His unit was looking for the secret tunnels Hamas uses to sneak into Israel across a blockade. As they moved, an AK-47 round hit a grenade attached to his protective vest. The grenade stopped the bullet and –miraculously – didn’t explode.
The Israelis determined that the bullet was at the end of its effectiveness range, that it was fired from very far away, and didn’t have the energy required to penetrate the vest.
As for the grenade, it’s designed that way. A series of combat incidents involving grenades hitting grenades and exploding in the IDF caused the Israeli military to revamp their grenade design.
After the incident, the IDF cleared Shuja’iyya of Hamas fighters, then bulldozed a number of buildings to collapse the illegal tunnels — tunnels used to smuggle small arms, missiles, and other weapons into Gaza. The IDF then moved on to secure other areas near Gaza’s northern border with Israel.
Japan’s recently appointed cybersecurity and Olympics minister has told parliament he has never used a computer in his life, though it’s his job to oversee cybersecurity for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Yoshitaka Sakurada, is the deputy chief of Japan’s vaunted cybersecurity strategy office and is also the minister in charge of the Olympic Games that Tokyo will host in 2020.
Depite these responsibilities, Sakurada has admitted that he has never used a computer, and is more or less baffled by the very idea of a USB drive and what it might do, according to a report the Guardian published on Nov. 14, 2018.
It all began October 2018.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promoted Sakurada, 68, to the joint posts in October 2018, despite his left-field selection having never held a Cabinet position before during his 18 years in Japan’s Diet or parliament.
It was in the Diet, on Wednesday however, Sakurada came clean and admitted he is not a big computer person.
According to local media, the newly appointed minister made the admission at a parliamentary committee meeting when an opposition politician asked Sakurada a fairly routine are-you-computer-literate question.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
His response catches in a nutshell concerns that some Japanese lawmakers are growing desperately out of touch in a rapidly aging nation.
“I’ve been independent since I was 25 and have always directed my staff and secretaries to do that kind of thing,” Sakurada replied.
“I’ve never used a computer.”
Sakurada was answering questions from Masato Imai, an independent Lower House lawmaker.
When pursued by the concerned lawmaker about how a man lacking computer skills could be in charge of cybersecurity, Sakurada said he was confident there would be no problems.
“It’s shocking to me that someone who hasn’t even touched computers is responsible for dealing with cybersecurity policies,” Imai said.
He also appeared confused by the question when asked about whether USB drives were in use at Japanese nuclear facilities.
Sakurada also said “he doesn’t know the details” when a member of the Democratic Party for the People, asked him about what measures he had in place against cyberattacks on Japan’s nuclear power plants.
The countdown may already be on for Sakurada in his official role.
At a Lower House Budget Committee meeting Sakurada stumbled and obfuscated when answering simple questions about his organizing committee’s three policy pillars for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and also the games’ budget.
The debate was punctuated with lengthy interruptions as the luckless minister turned to and relied almost entirely on his aides to answer the basic questions.
Sakurada apologized for his performance and the indignity to the Diet four days later.
He may not have gotten the email.
Featured image: toolstotal.com
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When Japanese President Shinzo Abe addressed a packed audience at the Eastern Economic Forum in September 2018, held in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok, he had a direct message for his host.
He appealed to Vladimir Putin, like he does every time the two leaders meet, to help expedite the signing of a treaty that would formally, and finally, end World War II.
A little later, Putin turned animatedly to Abe. “You won’t believe it, but honestly, it’s a simple thought, but it came to my mind just now, right here,” he said. “Let’s sign a peace agreement by the end of the year,” he told Abe, “without any preconditions.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese President Shinzo Abe.
The room erupted in applause, and Russian state media hailed the offer as a breakthrough. “This is a sensation,” gushed a Rossia-24 presenter covering the event. “Unbelievable progress has been reached.”
But as Putin and Abe prepare for talks in Moscow on Jan. 22, 2019, a territorial dispute that has remained unresolved since the war continues to stall efforts toward a Russo-Japanese peace deal, and analysts say there is little indication the latest round of negotiations will change that.
‘Inherent part of Japan’
For the past 70 years, Japan has waged a dogged diplomatic campaign to reclaim what it calls its Northern Territories, a handful of islands off the coast of Hokkaido, its northernmost prefecture, that the Soviet Union captured in the final days of World War II.
Today they are referred to by Moscow as the Southern Kuriles, an extension of the archipelago that extends southward from Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
Japan established sovereignty over the islands in dispute — Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and a group of islets known as Habomai — in an agreement with the Russian Empire in 1855. They are still considered by Tokyo to be an “inherent part of the territory of Japan.”
“There’s a historical and ancestral aspect to this discussion from the Japanese standpoint,” says Stephen R. Nagy, an associate professor with the department of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo. “Many feel they have left the lands of their ancestors.”
For Russia, the Kuriles provide its naval fleet with access to the Pacific, and serve as a symbol of the Soviet role in the World War II victory.
Following the war, the two countries failed to sign a peace treaty, although the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration of October 1956 formally ended hostilities and opened diplomatic relations between the two sides. The declaration also annulled previous Soviet claims of war reparations against Japan and provided for two of the disputed territories — Habomai and Shikotan — to be returned to Japan following the conclusion of a formal peace treaty.
When Putin and Abe followed up on their Vladivostok meeting with talks in November 2018 in Singapore, they agreed to use the 1956 agreement as a foundation for further discussion. But that leaves Putin’s offer of “no preconditions” in question.
What comes first?
After talks in Moscow in January 2019 between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, Moscow made clear that Japan must accept Russian sovereignty of the disputed territories before any peace treaty is signed. “Questions of sovereignty over the islands are not being discussed. It is the Russian Federation’s territory,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.
And there have been key developments since 1956: namely, the deepening of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, and more recently the decision to station a U.S. missile-defense system on Japanese territory. The Japanese press has reported that Abe assured Putin no U.S. bases would be built on the islands once under Japanese possession, a fear that Russia has voiced many times. But Japan’s partnership with the United States remains a sticking point.
Artyom Lukin, an international-studies expert at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, says there is little reason to believe a treaty will be hammered out immediately.
“I don’t think that anything substantive, anything which could be pronounced publicly, will come out of this meeting,” Lukin says of the Jan. 22, 2019 talks. “They may make a tentative, preliminary agreement, but because the issue is so complex they’ll need more high-level meetings before the issue is settled. My guess is that we’ll see no public announcement until Putin’s planned visit to Japan in June.”
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia In Global Affairs, says that Putin’s statement in Vladivostok was blown out of proportion. In fact, Lukyanov argues, the Russian president was just reiterating a long-held stance.
“The Japanese position is the territorial issue first, and then, after having settled that, we can discuss the peace treaty,” Lukyanov says. “And the Russian position, strongly supported by Putin in that speech, is just the opposite — first normalize the relationship and then maybe we can discuss this issue.”
Lukin agrees. “I wouldn’t read too much into Putin’s statement in Vladivostok,” he says. “I think we should pay much more attention to Abe’s statement in Singapore, when he said that Japan was ready to negotiate on the basis of the 1956 declaration. For me this basically means that Japan is ready to accept the fact that it can’t get from Russia anything more than Habomai and Shikotan. So the question is, how much and what will Russia demand from Japan in exchange for those two islands.”
Generosity not popular
At a press briefing in Tokyo following Putin’s appearance with Abe in Vladivostok in September 2018, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga insisted that Japan’s position remained that “the Northern Territories issue is resolved before any peace treaty.” But few expect Russia to yield.
An opinion survey carried out in November 2018 by the independent pollster Levada Center found that only 17 percent of Russians support the handover of the disputed territories to Japan in exchange for a peace deal to end World War II. Almost three-quarters were against the idea.
Russian Protesters Decry Possible Territory Handover To Japan
Russian state media has helped keep those numbers up. On Jan. 13, 2019, flagship news program Vesti Nedeli dismissed the Japanese suggestion that the islands be returned before a treaty is ratified.
“We have the hypersonic Avangard rocket, we have the hypersonic Kinzhal,” host Dmitry Kiselyov said, referring to two nuclear-capable weapons ceremoniously unveiled by Putin during his state-of-the-nation address in March 2019. “We don’t need anything from Japan…. And how can we politely explain that one should behave politely?”
In November 2019, the independent Russian daily Vedomosti wrote in an editorial that “much time has been lost” in settling the Kuriles question. “The Kremlin has succeeded in reviving imperialist passions,” it wrote. “Any territorial concession after the annexation of Crimea will damage Putin’s image as a gatherer of Russian lands, and will raise the level of discontent among his traditional support base.”
Lukyanov says that Putin is aware of Russian public opinion and unlikely to advance such a controversial cause at a time when his approval ratings are already slipping.
“Any territorial concession in any country is a very unpopular move, and to make it, a leadership should be in a strong position,” he says. “Theoretically, I can imagine that something like this would be doable immediately after the Crimean takeover five years ago, but now the situation is different, and the whole atmosphere in the country is much less optimistic, because of economic and other problems. And in this situation, to give such a juicy piece to opponents, to accuse Putin of unpopular territorial concessions, that’s certainly not what he needs right now.”
In recent weeks, several rallies have been held across Russia to protest the possible handover of the islands. On Jan. 20, 2019, some 300 nationalists and members of the Russian far right gathered in central Moscow, chanting slogans including “Crimea is ours! The Kuriles are ours!” and “We won’t return the Kuriles!”
In its bid for a diplomatic breakthrough, the Japanese leadership has suggested that Russia’s cession of the islands would open up trade with its Asian neighbor at a time of debilitating Western sanctions. But Lukyanov describes as a “primitive interpretation” the notion that Russia might relinquish the Kuriles because it needs Japan for its economic development.
“Russia’s real calculation is much more geostrategic,” he says. “Because Russia’s drift toward Asia is inevitable and will continue, because the whole of international politics is shifting to the East, and to Asia.”
The Russian leadership is aware of the risk of becoming overly dependent on China, he adds.
“For Russia, strategically it’s much more important to have a stable and constructive relationship with the big powers in Asia — South Korea, Japan, India, and Indonesia — all those that might play a role as counterweights to China. And this, to me, is the only reason why the whole discussion [about the Kuriles] is still going on.”
Editor’s Note: This story was first published on TheConversation.com in May 2018. It does not discuss the most recent development in the region, but is still a great guide to the state of tensions between the two countries.
After Donald Trump announced that the US would unilaterally pull back from the historic 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, Iranian forces in Syria fired rockets into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the first time. The Israelis retaliated by targeting Iranian forces and positions in Syria. That attack, which killed 23 people, was the biggest Israeli assault on Iranian positions in Syria since the civil war there started in 2011.
For a moment, it looked like two of the Middle East’s major political and military players to the verge of a full-scale military conflict. An Israeli-Iranian war could throw the Middle East into one of its most destructive clashes in modern history, one that could polarise the world’s powers, dragging in the US, a reliable ally of Israel, and Russia, Syria’s strongest ally and hence Iran’s strategic ally. And yet, neither has so far chosen to escalate further. Why?
For its part, Iran knows that its capacity to strike back is limited. But more than that, the two countries’ history and military development makes an explosive conflict unlikely.
While Israel has openly clashed with its Arab neighbors before — notably Egypt, Jordan, and Syria — it has never engaged in a direct military showdown with Iran. In fact, it’s easy to forget now that before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran and Israel enjoyed a close relationship. They were the US’s two main Middle Eastern allies, and Iranian oil was delivered to Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Things only changed when the Iranian Shah was ousted in 1979; after that, the revolution’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, proclaimed Israel a “foe of Islam” and cut off all ties with it.
Spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
But then came the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. This grueling conflict had a huge impact on Iran’s military doctrine, and the experience of it underpins the country’s geopolitical and national security concerns to this day. The reality of war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq compelled the Iranian government to prioritiZe a more defensive foreign policy; where it participates in other conflicts, it usually prefers to do so via proxies rather than by direct military action.
As a result, to the extent Israel considers Iran a major existential threat today, it’s particularly worried about Iranian involvement in other Middle Eastern conflicts. It has more than once fought Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, most recently in 2006. And while the protracted conflict in Yemen, for example, is in many ways a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iranian-backed forces could use Yemeni territory to strike Israeli targets.
But even if a conflict erupted on one of these fronts, there’d be another calculation to factor in: the two countries’ very different military assets.
The bulk of Iran’s arms stockpile is domestically developed and manufactured, its own-brand rockets and missiles tested in the field mostly by Hezbollah. But in recent years, Iran has also been procuring weapons and technical expertise from nations antagonistic toward the West: China, Russia, and possibly (in nuclear form) North Korea.
Israel’s main strength is its exceptional military power. Its weapons systems include the Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defence shields, extremely precise defence tools that can pulverise perhaps more than 90% of hostile missiles in mid-air.
Israel also commands air power unrivalled in the Middle East; it recently took possession of the US-manufactured F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which it is augmenting with its own technology. On top of all this, in 2016, the US agreed to increase its military aid to Israel to US.8 billion a year until 2028.
IAF F-35I Adir on its first flight with the Israeli Air Force, 2016.
And yet, Israel too is less than confident about the consequences of an conflict with Iran. However formidable its strategic and technological edge, it’s still unable to fully mend political and diplomatic fences with many of its Arab neighbours. It lives in hostile surroundings, constantly vulnerable to attack on almost all fronts. A major war with another heavily armed power is the last thing it needs.
At arm’s length
One advantage Iran does have is its array of proxies and non-state allies, which allow it to project hard power far closer to Israel than it would want to send regular forces. It has a valuable ally in Hamas, which controls Gaza; in Lebanon, Hezbollah could be prepared to assist if necessary. It could also exploit Sunni/Shia splits across the Middle East to secure the support of Shia volunteer armies. And since Saddam Hussein’s fall, Iran has been hugely influential in Iraq, which is struggling to establish a political order that can accommodate Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis.
Yet even with all this influence at its disposal, Iran would clearly prefer not to end up escalating a military conflict with Israel. Aside from the military implications, to do so would squander what moral and diplomatic support it’s gathered since the US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
So for now, both sides are being cautious. Israel’s recent airstrikes targeted raid on military installations, not individuals — an acknowledgement that a heavy casualties might put Iran under pressure to retaliate. Meanwhile, Iran’s domestic debate on whether and how to respond is still rumbling, with progressives insisting the nuclear deal must be safeguarded while their hawkish countrymen would prefer a more confrontational stance. The government has yet to decide which road to take.
But whatever happens in the immediate future, Israel and Iran remain bitter foes, both heavily armed and tied up in a mess of geopolitical interests. Were a war to break out between them, they would gravely damage each other, but neither is likely to rise as the ultimate victor. That both seem to be fully aware of this reality is perhaps the most important thing standing on the way of what could be a true catastrophe.
Taliban rebels killed seven people and kidnapped another six along a highway in western Afghanistan, official sources told EFE Ingles July 12.
The incident, in which 10 rebels were also killed, took place on July 11 along a national highway near Farah, capital of a province by the same name, when the Taliban stopped several vehicles and captured more than 10 people, according to Nasser Mehri, spokesperson for the provincial governor.
“According to initial information, they killed seven of the kidnapped passengers,” explained Mehri, adding that five of the victims were former members of the Afghan security forces.
Mehri added the insurgents were planning to capture more people when the Afghan troops arrived and there was a shootout.
A police official from the province, who asked not to be named, told EFE that at least seven passengers are still being held hostage by the Taliban, and that security forces have launched a rescue operation in areas around the incident spot.
In 2016, the Taliban abducted hundreds of people from the country’s unsafe highways, including members of the security forces traveling in buses or in specific vehicles.
Afghanistan is witnessing its most violent phase since 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown with the help of the United States.
Since then, insurgents have been gaining ground in various parts of Afghanistan and currently control, influence, or are in dispute with the government over at least 43 percent of the territory, according to the US.
Okay, let’s imagine you’re going through your stuff to see what you want to donate to charity. First, there’re the old clothes that you haven’t worn in a while. Then there’s that kettlebell sitting in the corner from your last effort to get in shape. And finally, there’s the grenade launcher…
Don’t laugh — a grenade launcher was donated to a Florida Goodwill shop, according to ABC7.com. When the employees realized what they had, they called the police. Explosive ordnance disposal experts rendered the situation safe.
A spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office told WATM that what had been donated was “an airsoft grenade launcher used primarily for paintball.” The spokesman, Dave Bristow, admitted that he had no idea what the launcher’s ultimate fate would be. A UPI report indicated the launcher resembled the M203 grenade launcher.
Aviation ElectronicÕs Technician 3rd Class Awail Hassen loads a high explosive point detonated 40MM grenade round into an M203 grenade launcher during a live-fire exercise on the fantail of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gary Prill/Released)
However, this isn’t the only time armaments have surfaced where you might not expect them to. One former Marine recounted how the staff of Tierrasanta Elementary School, which opened in 1974, ended up on a first-name basis with the members of various local explosive ordnance units. The school had been built on an impact area in the former Camp Elliot, where the 2nd Marine Division had been training. Thirty years after the war, kids would find unexploded bazooka rounds and grenades and bring them in for show-and-tell.
Uncovered UXO has been far more common in Europe, with significant finds cropping up in both the United Kingdom and Germany in 2017. BALTOPS naval exercises have repeatedly uncovered UXO during mine countermeasures exercises in 2009, 2011, and 2012.
Should you come across UXO, a slight modification of the four rules of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program makes sense: Stop, don’t touch, get away, and call police.