Taliban militants now control or contest nearly half of all districts in Afghanistan as the U.S. pours thousands more troops into the country, a new analysis from The Long War Journal reveals.
The insurgent group predominately controls rural districts throughout the country where the Afghan government and national security forces do not have an extended presence. “Rural areas in Afghanistan are essential to the Taliban’s resilience and ability to consistently undermine Afghan security,” the LWJ noted, citing the insurgent groups ability to use rural districts to mount attacks on urban centers.
The large Taliban control of the country comes as the U.S. is sending approximately 3,000 more troops to the country to support the Afghan National Security Forces. This deployment is in tandem from a new declared strategy from the Trump administration which will place an emphasis on cracking down on Pakistani sanctuary for Taliban militants, and making a sustained and prolonged commitment to Afghanistan.
The Obama administration made a point of tying its troop deployments to a declared timeline for withdrawal, something President Donald Trump has explicitly rejected instead embracing a “conditions” based approach.
The conditions however are dire. The Taliban now control more territory than at any time since 2001 and the Afghan National Security Forces’s are suffering historic casualties.
Sailors work in the ICU unit aboard USNS Comfort on April 20.
President Donald Trump said the US Navy hospital ship Comfort would leave New York City as soon as possible after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was no longer needed in the city’s fight against the coronavirus.
The Comfort’s initial mission was to aid these hospitals by taking all noncoronavirus patients. But it turned out that there weren’t many noncoronavirus patients to take, prompting criticism when it became known that only 20 patients were received on the 1,000-bed ship in its first day.
According to NBC New York, the Comfort had treated 179 patients as of Tuesday, with 56 still on board at the time.
Cuomo offered to have the ship deployed to another hard-hit area during a Tuesday meeting with the president.
“It was very good to have in case we had overflow, but I said we don’t really need the Comfort anymore,” Cuomo told MSNBC after the meeting. “It did give us comfort, but we don’t need it anymore, so if they need to deploy that somewhere else, they should take it.”
Trump took him up on the offer, saying that Comfort would be sent back to its home port in Virginia to prepare for its next mission, which has not been decided yet.
“I’ve asked Andrew if we could bring the Comfort back to its base in Virginia so that we could have it for other locations, and he said we would be able to do that,” Trump said at the White House coronavirus briefing on Tuesday. “The Javits Center has been a great help to them, but we’ll be bringing the shop back at the earliest time, and we’ll get it ready for its next mission, which I’m sure will be an important one also.”
There’s a common refrain in Germany, “This is the last Nazi trial.” The country keeps striving to hold Nazis from World War II, especially those who worked in concentration camps, accountable for their crimes against the world and against those Europeans that the Third Reich deemed undesirable. But as many camps were dismantled after the war and survivors of the camps are dying of old age, it’s hard to collect evidence against individuals for crimes perpetrated in the 1930s and 40s.
But now, forensic virtual reality is helping jury members and judges see exactly what crime scenes, including concentration camps, looked like, and that’s helping German prosecutors go after former concentration camp guards and staff. This could allow Germany to assign culpability to perpetrators of the Holocaust until the last accomplice has died.
Take the case of Reinhold Hanning. He was, undeniably, a guard at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. During Hanning’s time at the camp, 170,000 people were killed, most of them Jewish, most of them in gas chambers. As an SS sergeant, Hanning would likely have been involved in the “selection” process, where some prisoners were sent to the chambers and some to hard labor.
But prosecutors had to prove that Hanning was involved in that process or that he knew the process resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. It wasn’t enough to prove that he was at the camp. It wasn’t enough to prove that he worked there. They had to prove that he knew his actions contributed to murder.
If that was proven, he could be convicted as an accomplice to 170,000 murders. But, how do you prove that he must have known about the gas chambers and that he must have known what the results of their use were? After all, he claimed that he had never seen a prisoner gassed and that he didn’t know people were being killed.
Prisoners in advanced state of starvation in a concentration camp liberated by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Sergeant Lucien Lapierre of the New Brunswick North Shore Regiment.
(Donald I. Grant, Library and Archives Canada)
And, nearly all the records from the time have been lost or destroyed. And most of the camp was either torn down or has fallen apart in the years since World War II. While some concentration camps survive today, that is because they’ve been maintained as museums and memorials to the atrocities. The camps were not designed or constructed to last 100 years.
But prosecutors had a modern tool in their arsenal for prosecuting murderers and other criminals in the modern day: forensic virtual reality. Experts went to crime scenes and imaged the site with lasers, digitally recreating the area in 3D down to the blood splatters on the walls. Prosecutors asked the experts if they could recreate a concentration camp, instead.
Engineers turned to maps of the camp and compared those to measurements taken over four days at what remains of Auschwitz. Then members of the jury and the court were given VR headsets and a tour of the camp, complete with the views from the areas where Hanning lived and worked.
If Hanning could see how the selection process sent people to the gas chambers to die, then the jury could convict. And when the jury saw Hanning’s views from the tower, it became clear that he must have known that the camp was used to kill people, that his actions contributed to that, and that his actions allowed it to continue.
Hanning was found guilty, thanks to a digital recreation of a long-lost site. It should be noted, though, that he appealed this decision and that he died while his case was on appeal. In the German system, that means his case ended on appeal; it did not end with a standing conviction.
But VR could help prosecutors make other convictions in the coming years for the atrocities of World War II, so the last Nazi prosecution might not come until the last Nazi accomplice has died.
Two brothers, separated by service to their country, reunited aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) after five years apart.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Casey Halter met with his brother, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Lucas Halter in the captain’s in-port cabin May 17. Casey is assigned to CVN 75 and Lucas is currently forward deployed on USS Porter (DDG 78).
“We got word that one of our Sailors has a brother that’s also serving in the Navy,” said Truman’s Command Master Chief Jonas Carter. “Because of their two duty assignments, they haven’t seen each other in five years. This was an opportunity where we could bring them together for a reunion. We coordinated with his brother’s command for him to fly over. Their only request was a picture for their mom.”
The Halter brothers have been on opposites sides of the country and even an ocean apart during their assignments thus far. While both have wives and families, they said the opportunity to see each other has been more or less impossible for the last five years.
Both of the brothers admitted they didn’t think this was possible since both ships would have to be close enough for a helicopter to stop over. Casey said he thought he was in trouble when he was called up to the in-port cabin.
“I think this is one of the highlights of my career so far,” said Lucas. “I leave in [a few] weeks so this was the highlight of finishing out this patrol. I was looking forward to going home, but this kind of tops it now.”
The brothers toured Truman and watched nighttime flight operations from a variety of locations. Lucas stayed the night in the same berthing as his brother, catching up and taking the time to rekindle their relationship, said Casey.
“We can’t do this without the support of our families, and to have another family member serving alongside you across the world is huge,” said Carter. “That says a lot about the family and the support they have back home. They wouldn’t be able to do what they do here without that.”
“Everybody has their ups and their downs with the Navy and in general,” said Casey. “If I’m having a tough time or a problem with the Navy, [Lucas has] been through it so I can talk to him and vice versa.”
And while serving in the Navy has kept these two apart, it’s also brought them together.
“This is just proof that your chain of command will look out for you,” said Casey. “It’s amazing. I really didn’t think this would happen.”
Not many people can say that they’ve been on the same ship as their sibling during a combat deployment, added Casey. “To be such a big organization and to have the opportunity for family members to one, serve with sacrifice; but two, come together, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Carter. “They may never get the chance to do this again.”
As the Carrier Strike Group EIGHT (CSG-8) flag ship, Truman’s support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) demonstrates the capability and flexibility of U.S. Naval Forces, and its resolve to eliminate the terrorist group ISIS and the threat it poses.
Many veterans have a unique perspective on the state of the world — with continued deployment tempos to foreign countries (especially those impacted by conflict), our veterans are exposed to life outside the continental United States. They also work alongside our allies and build relationships with them.
On Veterans Day 2017, Human Rights First’s Veterans for American Ideals project is launching the #WhatIFoughtFor campaign to tell the stories of U.S. veterans with deeply personal and profound connections with refugees.
Veterans have seen firsthand the devastation of war. According to #WhatIFoughtFor, “many of them have worked in communities around the world that have suffered from violence and oppression. They have even fought alongside many of these individuals as allies during wartime. They understand why refugees flee their homes, and that refugees want the same safety and opportunity for their families that we do.”
As a result, many veterans believe that commitment extends beyond their military service. Veterans for American Ideals is one such organization, and their mission is to stand with refugees, to tell their stories, and to help the American people make educated and informed decisions about America’s relationship with refugees.
According to their website, “Veterans for American Ideals is a nonpartisan group of military veterans who share the belief that America is strongest when its policies and actions match its ideals. After taking off the uniform, we seek to continue serving our country by advocating policies that are consistent with the ideals that motivated us to serve in the first place: freedom, diversity, equality, and justice. It is those same ideals that make the United States a beacon to the world’s refugees.”
The campaign chronicles seven stories of family, friendship, brotherhood, and camaraderie between U.S. veterans and refugees. You can find more information about the Nov. 11, 2017 launch on Facebook or Twitter.
According to Russia, Israeli F-16s flew in low under the Il-20 to either shield themselves from air defense fire or make Syrian air defenses, which use outdated technology, shoot down the bigger, easier to spot Il-20 rather than the sleeker F-16s.
Whether or not Israel purposefully used the Il-20 to its advantage remains an open question. But it exposed a glaring flaw in Syrian and Russian military cooperation, which Moscow is due to close with the S-300.
Russians hit the front lines, and Israel won’t back off
According to Nikolai Sokov, a Senior Fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterrey, the Russians will now sit on-site at Syrian air defense sites, which Israel frequently bombs.
Syria’s current air defenses lack the highly-classified signal Russian planes send to their own air defenses to identify them as friendly. Without this secret sign from the flying Il-20, Syria mistook it for an enemy, and shot it down.
An Ilyushin IL-20 in flight.
(Photo by Dmitry Terekhov)
If Russia could simply give Syria the signal and fix the problem, it would have likely done so already. But if Syria somehow leaked the signal, the US or NATO could trick all Russian air defenses into their fighters were friendly Russian jets, leaving Russia open to attack, according to Sokov.
“The S-300 systems Russia plans to supply to Syria will feature a compromise solution,” said Sokov. “They will be fully equipped to distinguish Russian aircraft… but there will be Russian personnel present at controls.”
Israel has admitted to more than 200 air strikes within Syria in the last two years. These strikes have killed more than 100 Iranian fighters in Syria in September 2018 alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports.
Frequently, Syria responds to these strikes with air defense fire against Israeli fighter jets. In February 2018, Syria succeeded in downing an Israeli F-16. Israel responded with a sweeping attack it claimed knocked out half of Syria’s air defenses.
Trends point to a big fight
Iran has pledged to wipe Israel off the map, and has for decades tried to achieve that by transferring weapons across the Middle East to Israel’s neighbors, like Lebanon where Hezbollah holds power.
In short, Israeli strikes that require air defense suppression (such as blowing up Russian-made air defenses in Syria) will not stop any time soon, judging by Israel and Iran’s ongoing positions.
But now, when Israel knocks down a Syrian air defense site, it runs the risk of killing Russian servicemen. When Israel kills Syrians, Syria complains and may fire some missiles back, but its military is too weak and distracted by a seven-year-long civil war to do much about it.
If Israel kills Russians, then Russia’s large navy and aviation presence could mobilize very quickly against Israel, which has fierce defenses of its own.
“Obviously, this seriously constrains not just Israeli, but also US operations in case of possible bombing of Syria,” Sokov said of the new Russian-staffed S-300.
“Not only Syrian air defense will become more capable, but it will be necessary to keep in mind the presence of Russian operators at the Syrian air defense systems.”
So next time Israel or the US decides to strike Syria, it may not only find stiffer-than-usual resistance, it might find itself in a quickly escalating battle with one of the world’s greatest military powers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Russia is already meddling in America’s 2018 midterm elections, and that the U.S. is not necessarily better prepared to deal with the Moscow’s influence than it was in 2016.
The U.S. intelligence community unanimously says that the Kremlin hacked, distributed leaked information, and waged a considerable media campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of President Donald Trump, and Tillerson told Fox News there’s not much the U.S. can do to stop them the next time around.
“I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,” Tillerson told Fox.
The point is, if it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that,” he continued. “We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to preempt it.
Though Russia likely broke the law by having state-backed hackers steal information from the Democratic National Committee, cybercrime remains highly unattributable and below the threshold of crimes that the U.S. would respond to with military action.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speak to members of the press following a U.S. – China diplomatic and security dialogue at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2017. The dialogue will help the United States narrow its differences with China while expanding cooperation in areas where possible. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Also, much of Russia’s most visible attempts to influence the election were perfectly legal. Russian media outlets bought and paid for advertising and exposure on U.S. social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, just like everyone else does.
“There’s a lot of ways that the Russians can meddle in the elections, a lot of different tools they can use,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson told Fox that he suspects Russia’s exercise of its influence has already begun and indicated that the U.S. doesn’t really have a solid plan to block it.
“I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it and you need to stop. If you don’t, you’re going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,'” Tillerson said.
Tillerson’s comment about consequences comes after Trump declined to impose sanctions on those with ties to Russia’s defense and intelligence apparatuses in response to the election meddling in 2016.
The video first appeared in December 2017, and shows Saudi forces single-handedly destroying Iran’s military and nuclear program in an all-out invasion involving an amphibious assault and paratroopers.
While the video certainly exaggerates on a lot of details and the power of the Saudi military, its release says a few things about Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s attempts to make Saudi Arabia into a more important player in the region.
“The video is a basic first effort at creating nationalist military propaganda to counter similar (slicker) Iranian versions we have seen,” Michael Knights, a Lafer fellow at The Washington Institute who specializes in the security affairs of Iran, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf, told Business Insider in an email.
Knights pointed to this weekend’s missile attacks launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the rather embarrassing failures of Saudi missile defenses filmed by witnesses.
“Saudi Arabia needs reassurance that their country can strike back if this gets out of control,” he said. “That was the point of the video: to demonstrate retaliatory capabilities.”
While the video predates the March 2018 attacks by almost three months, the Saudi military’s inferiority when it comes to facing off against the Iran threat is well known.
The video, however, shows Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, surrendering to Saudi soldiers. Iranian civilians are also seen waving Saudi flags and holding pictures of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman while cheering for their Saudi liberators in Tehran.
Saudi Arabian outlets reported that the video was “produced by young people from Saudi Arabia,” and an official from the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington said that the crown prince was not involved in the video.
But the six-minute video shows an advanced knowledge of Iranian and Saudi weaponry and looks strikingly similar to what a state-sanctioned propaganda video would look like. It notably received instant promotion by Saudi media, which is mostly owned by the royal court.
It even opens with a quote from the crown prince: “To reach the Qibla of the Muslims is a main target for the Iranian regime. We will not wait until the fight is in Saudi Arabia, we will bring the fight to Iran,” and labeled the Persian Gulf as the “Arabian Gulf.”
There are actually elements in the video that are understated, according to Knights, like Saudi Arabia’s fixed-wing strike capacity.
“If Saudi Arabia chose to engage in punitive strikes it could, at the risk of Iranian retaliation, destroy any surface infrastructure along Iran’s coast, including all oil and gas export facilities, ports, power stations and industrial ventures, as well as many further inland,” he said.
Knights did point out though that the Saudi medium-range ballistic missiles featured in the video are “not useful for much except carrying weapons of mass destruction,” which although Saudi Arabia currently lacks, may be pursued.
U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command will begin a second round of testing in 2019 on a two-piece organizational clothing variant that offers flame resistance and moves the Navy one step closer to delivering sailors a safe, comfortable, no-cost alternative to the Improved Flame Resistant Variant (IFRV) coveralls, with the same travel flexibility as the Type III working uniform.
USFF conducted the initial wear test on two-piece variants from May through September of 2018 and collected feedback from nearly 200 wear-test participants across surface, aviation, and submarine communities about everything from colors and design, to comfort and options like buttons and hook-and-loop fasteners. The command also received feedback from more than 1,700 sailors in an online survey about colors and design.
An information graphic describing the modernized, two-piece, flame-resistant organizational clothing wear-test design components for sailors.
(U.S. photo illustration by Bobbie A. Camp)
Fleet survey responses indicated that sailors liked the functionality of the Type III but would like to see the design in traditional Navy uniform colors. More than 70 percent of E-6 and junior sailors surveyed liked the navy blue blouse and trouser while a khaki version was the preference for chiefs and officers.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), demonstrates the operational de-blousing capability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
“Leaders are listening to the fleet when it comes to this design,” said USFF Fleet Master Chief Rick O’Rawe, a wear-test participant. “We have an obligation to keep our sailors safe in inherently dangerous environments, but we also want to be mindful of their time. This is going to be something that’s safe, easy to maintain, and doesn’t require half-masting of coveralls when it’s hot or having to change clothes every time you leave the ship. Never again should we have to pass the words ‘all hands shift into the uniform for entering port or getting underway.'”
Lt. Jamie Seibel, assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command, demonstrates the operational wearability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype (khaki variant) aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72).
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
The updated design, which won’t require sailors to sew on components, will be tested by 100 officers and enlisted sailors to see how well it performs from wash-to-wear without ironing, and how it holds up to laundering. The two-piece variant will allow for de-blousing in extreme climates and challenging work environments. An undershirt will continue to be tested with a flame-resistant, moisture-wicking fabric in black.
A sailor assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) demonstrates the operational wearability of the black Gortex parka and the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype navy blue variant.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
I have received so much feedback just from wearing the two-piece around the command every day,” said Yeoman 1st Class Kelly Pyron, a wear-test participant assigned to USFF. “The best part is that we’ll be able to transit from the ship and run errands in the two-piece; having one standard underway and in-port across the board will be much more convenient. I am excited to see the wear test moving into the next phase of evaluation.”
Once approved, the new prototype will serve as an alternative to the IFRV coverall for operational commands. The coverall may continue to be the prescribed clothing item for some sailors in applicable work environments.
Pyron expressed, “If a clothing item, that I will not have to buy, can make my life easier while keeping me safe, I’m all for it.”
The head of Ukraine’s top rocket-making company on August 15 rejected claims that its technologies might have been shipped to North Korea, helping the pariah nation achieve a quantum leap in its missile program.
KB Yuzhnoye chief Alexander Degtyarev voiced confidence that employees haven’t been leaking know-how to Pyongyang, according to remarks published August 15 by the online site Strana.ua.
While denying any illicit technology transfers from the plant in the city of Dnipro, Degtyarev conceded the possibility that the plant’s products could have been copied.
“Our engines have been highly appraised and used around the world,” he said. “Maybe they have managed to build some copies somewhere.”
The New York Times reported August 14 that North Korea’s rapid progress in making ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching the United States was made possible by black-market purchases of powerful rocket engines, probably from KB Yuzhnoye’s plant. Ukrainian officials angrily rejected the claim.
Pyongyang had displayed a keen interest in the plant before.
Degtyarev mentioned a 2011 incident, in which two North Koreans posing as trade representatives tried to steal technologies from the plant, but were arrested. In 2012, they were convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison each.
KB Yuzhnoye and its Yuzhmash plant in Dnipro has been a leading maker of intercontinental ballistic missiles since the 1950s and produced some of the most formidable weapons in the Soviet inventory.
Its designs included the heavy R-36M, code-named Satan in the West, which is still the most powerful ICBM in the Russian nuclear arsenal.
After Ukraine shipped all Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia after the Soviet collapse under agreements brokered by the United States, the plant in Dnipro has relied on cooperation with Russia’s space program to stay afloat.
But the collaboration ended as the two ex-Soviet neighbors plunged into a bitter conflict. Moscow responded to the ouster of Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president in 2014 by annexing the Crimean Peninsula and supporting a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
The termination of ties with Moscow has left the Dnipro plant struggling to secure orders.
Earlier this summer, a report in Popular Mechanics alleged that the Chinese expressed interest in a propulsion module designed by KB Yuzhnoye for the Soviet lunar program.
KB Yuzhnoye angrily dismissed the claim, insisting that it hasn’t transferred any rocket technologies to China.
Despite official denials, Ukraine’s past record with the illicit transfer of sensitive technologies have raised concerns.
Shortly before the 2003 war in Iraq, the United States accused the Ukrainian government of selling sophisticated Kolchuga military radars to Saddam Hussein’s military.
Ukrainian officials acknowledged in 2005 that six Kh-55 Soviet-built cruise missiles were transferred to China in 2000 while another six were shipped to Iran in 2001.