This is the story behind the rise and fall of the Islamic State group - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the story behind the rise and fall of the Islamic State group

The Islamic State group, responsible for some of the worst atrocities perpetrated against civilians in recent history, appears on the verge of collapse.


After brutalizing residents living under its command for more than three years, the militants have now lost their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa and are battling to hang on to relatively small pockets of territory in Iraq and Syria, besieged by local forces from all sides. Few, however, expect IS to completely go away, or for the bloodshed in the two countries and the region to end quickly.

Here’s a look at the Islamic State group, the rise and fall of its “caliphate” and what to expect next:

Under ISIS reign, the city of Raqqa was been turned into a veritable hell for its residents. Photo from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

A ‘Caliphate’ No More

IS, which emerged from the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq, began its spread across the Mideast in early 2014, overrunning the Iraqi city of Fallujah and parts of the nearby provincial capital of Ramadi. In Syria, it seized sole control of the city of Raqqa after driving out rival Syrian rebel factions.

In June 2014, IS captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from where its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a self-styled “caliphate,” a declaration tantamount to an earthquake that would temporarily redraw borders and shake up the entire region.

IS promised justice, equality, and an Islamic, religious utopia. But over the next few years, it terrorized people living under its control, systematically slaughtering members of Iraq’s tiny Yazidi community, kidnapping women and girls as sex slaves, beheading Western journalists and aid workers, and destroying some of the Mideast’s spectacular archaeological and cultural sites.

Yazidi refugees, many of whom were displaced due to ISIS activity. UK DFID photo by Rachel Unkovic

IS also attracted a motley crew of foreign fighters, mostly marginalized European youths and other foreigners who took up its cause. But it alienated mainstream Sunni Muslims, who found IS’ crude interpretation of Islam also spreading in areas far from Syria and Iraq.

Creating a territorial caliphate created a target, and an international anti-IS coalition soon took shape.

What’s Left

The United States launched its campaign of airstrikes against IS in Iraq in August 2014, and a month later in Syria. In Iraq, it partnered with government forces working with state-sanctioned Shiite-led militias as well as Iraqi Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga. In Syria, it partnered with local Syrian Kurdish-led fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Supported by tens of thousands of US-led airstrikes, these forces drove IS militants from one stronghold after another over the years. The biggest blow came in July when Mosul, long regarded as IS’ administrative capital, was liberated.

In Syria, IS appears to be heading for collapse as the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, and Syrian government forces, backed by their Russian allies, are attacking them in separate, simultaneous offensives.

A senior SDF commander on Oct. 17 said his forces liberated Raqqa from IS militants and would formally announce victory soon after clearing operations to remove land mines and search for sleeper cells. Mayadeen, a town in the heart of Syria’s Euphrates River Valley near Iraq’s border where the militants had been expected to make their last stand, fell to Syrian government troops over the weekend.

In northern Iraq, the jihadis no longer hold any cities or towns after their stronghold of Hawija fell earlier this month. Iraq’s army is now gearing up to fight IS in its last territory — the sprawling desert Anbar province stretching all the way to the Syrian border. In Syria, IS still holds the town of Boukamal near the Iraqi border and scattered pockets of territory in the east.

Popular Mobilization Forces move into Hawija. Photo from Dlshad Anwar of VOA.

Staggering Price

The destruction of IS has come at a devastating cost for both Syria and Iraq, and immense suffering for those who endured the militants’ brutal reign.

The fighting and airstrikes have pulverized once thriving cities, turning them into tragic vistas of crushed apartment blocks, flattened homes and collapsed roads and bridges. In Ramadi, Mosul and Raqqa, the scope of the damage is staggering.

Two weeks ago, the US-led coalition announced it has returned more than 83 percent of IS-held land to local populations since 2014, liberating more than 6 million Syrians and Iraqis in the process. At least 735 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes, although activists and war monitors estimate the toll to be much higher.

Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm.

The nine-month battle to liberate Mosul resulted in the death of up to 1,500 Iraqi forces. At least 1,100 SDF fighters were killed in the battles for Syria’s Raqqa and Deir el-Zour up until late September, according to the coalition.

In the three years since IS began building its “caliphate,” it has killed thousands of people, displaced millions, and worked hard on infusing children with extremist doctrine.

Shifting of Sands

The rise of the Islamic State group and subsequent wars and alliances to bring about its defeat has worsened political and sectarian fault-lines in Syria and Iraq.

Photo courtesy of Kurdish YPG Fighters Flickr.

It gave unprecedented clout to Kurdish populations in both countries, unsettling their central governments, as well as Iran and Turkey, both battling Kurdish separatists within their own borders.

Under cover of the fight against IS, Iraq’s Kurds seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in 2014 — a move Baghdad has now reversed, moving into the city, seizing oil fields and other infrastructure in an attempt to curb Kurdish aspirations for independence.

The shifting and chaotic battlefields in Syria’s civil war, tensions between Kurds and ethnic Arabs, the presence of Shiite militias and government troops in predominantly Sunni towns and cities vacated by IS may lead to more violence.

In many ways, the fight over IS spoils and territories is only just beginning.

1st Lt. Matthew Chau, Border Team 3 OIC with HHS, TF 2-11 FA, stares out onto a mass grave site of the victims in the 1988 gas attack in Halabja on Jan. 12. (Sgt. Sean Kimmons)

Uncertain Future

All forces battling IS will have to remain vigilant even after they recapture the last militant-held territory. In some ways, they now face an even more daunting challenge.

Hisham al-Hashem, an Iraqi writer and analyst, estimates there remain 8,000 jihadis in Iraq’s Anbar who will melt away “like salt in water” to wait for the right moment to launch their next insurgency or suicide attack.

IS affiliates continue to carry out swift attacks in Egypt and Libya, where the group gained a foothold and which could be its preferred theaters of retaliations. Before it broke away from al-Qaeda and rebranded itself as the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq waged a years-long insurgency following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This stunning photo of Marine One’s Osprey escort over NYC

On May 23, 2018, Donald Trump traveled to New York City in one of the Presidential VH-3D helicopters operated by the U.S. Marine Corps HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One).

Here’s a video of the Marine One helicopter flying over NYC the POTUS shared on his favorite social media:


MIGHTY MONEY

Army reports lack of training as biggest setback to readiness

Earlier this month, the Army’s top general in charge of supplying units with troops blamed a lack of readiness on limited time for training, adding that lack of funding isn’t the biggest challenge.


Head of Army Forces Command Gen. Robert Abrams said the lack of training stems from lawmakers making policy that commits the service to engagements around the world without an eye toward keeping the force healthy and trained up.

U.S. Soldiers of Rider Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade record information while conducting a brief during exercise Combined Resolve VII at the U.S. Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels Germany, Sept. 11, 2016. The exercise is designed to train the Army’s regionally allocated forces to the U.S. European Command. Combined Resolve VII includes more than 3,500 participants from 16 NATO and European partner nations. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Caleb Foreman)

Abrams explained that soldiers were expected to deploy more and have less time home because of downsizing.

“Our goal has always been … one month gone, two months back,” Abrams said, adding that the Army is currently experiencing a ratio of “deploy-to-dwell” that trends closer to one month gone, one month back.

“Our commitments worldwide across the globe in support of our combatant commanders remains at a very high level while we continue to simultaneously downsize the total force,” Abrams told an audience at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.

“Our number one constraint for training is time available.”

Recent budget cuts have forced the Army to reduce its total active duty soldiers to 450,000 while still meeting its obligations worldwide. As a result, the operational tempo for soldiers is higher and more demanding — ultimately requiring soldiers to train more, for longer periods of time, in addition to more and longer deployments, Army officials say.

“The impact of non-standard missions continues to have a degrading effect across our force in being able to sustain proficiency in combined arms maneuver,” Abrams said.

Because soldiers are experiencing a minimal deploy-to-dwell time, there isn’t enough time for soldiers to maintain the training the Army requires.

“We struggle today to maintain and meet Department of the Army standards in our critical combat fleets,” Abrams explained before highlighting unmet requirements within the Army’s aviation and ground fleets. He was quick to explain that in aviation in particular, the problems do not lie with the aviators. The problem stems, instead, with plans to restructure the way the Army finances those fleets, impacting training requirements, upkeep on aircraft, and overall readiness of aviators.

While Abrams was very careful not to blame funding shortfalls for the readiness issues facing the Army, he did not hesitate to blame the readiness of the National Guard in particular on lack of money.

“We’ve dug ourselves this hole because of funding,” Abrams said.

Despite the tough times, Abrams said the Army has made tremendous strides in the last year in terms of readiness and overall capabilities.

“Last year at this exact forum, one of underlying themes was that as an army in terms of our joint war-fighting capabilities, we were pretty rusty,” he said. “I’m happy to report today that we have made progress in our ability.”

Articles

7 tips to make your free Veterans Day food more epic

On Veteran’s Day, America’s bastions of consumer consumables give back to the defenders of The Republic by conspicuously offering copious amounts of free food. They know the target audience well – no one loves a discount like service members and veterans.


A pie-eating contest on the USS Maryland, 1922.

So here’s your chance to get out of the house, go dutch with one of the barracks rats, or just take Veteran’s Day for all its worth. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your limited time.

1. Get every last calorie out of it with a “max out meal” on the 10th.

There are a lot of restaurants giving away free stuff. You’ll never be able to make the most of it if you have full meals the day before. At least a day before you start eating is when you have what competitive eaters call the “max out meal.” You are essentially expanding your stomach as much as possible and allowing that food to get through your system in time for Veteran’s Day. This is your last solid food until you arrive at Denny’s at 0030, so keep the water and coffee handy.

This diet won Michael Phelps 22 gold medals. Think how it could work for you.

Another tip: I did an intense workout the morning I attempted a 72-oz steak and ended up having room for dessert. Try that and you’ll be ready to go all Shock n’ Awe at the Shoney’s on the 11th.

2. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Design a battle plan for this. Some places open early, some are open later. Come up with a scheme that maximizes your food intake while limiting the time spent in line. The line might move fast at Wienerschnitzel – pick up your chili dogs on the way to Famous Dave’s and save them for later.

That’s not D-Day. They’re seeing how far Max Erma’s is from the Bonefish Grill.

If someone offers breakfast all day, counterprogram: have breakfast for a mid-rats snack! Also, Bob Evans will give you free pancakes for signing up for their email newsletter, why waste the time in line on Veteran’s Day when you could be getting French Toast at Friendly’s?

3. Avoid Carbs. That’s how they f*ck you.

As satisfying as those IHOP Red, White, and Blue Pancakes might be, they fill you up too much, too fast. This is why you shouldn’t eat the curly fries that come with Hooter’s unlimited wings night – they’re a distraction (the unlimited wings are not an option for Hooters’ Veteran’s Day menu, by the way. Sorry).

Also, fats are good before the workout you’ll have… tomorrow.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Try taking the buns off your All-American Burger, avoid the tortillas with the Chevy’s fajitas, and wait a day to get the Chocolate Wave cake from Red Lobster… they’ll let you have it for free on the 12th.

4. Use your medal citation as proof of service.

Some places – like Applebee’s and On the Border Mexican Grill– allow veterans to self-identify using their medal citations. What could be more awesome than dragging out the padded green plastic cover of your ARCOM medal? Not only are you a veteran, now your actions reflect great credit on yourself and the United States Army.

Some medal citations earn free meals year-round and country-wide, along with drinks, hugs, and sometimes the waitress’ phone number. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. David M. Sharp)

5. Shorten the line by hiring an actor.

If there’s one thing post-9/11 veterans love more than free stuff, it’s recording stolen valor videos. Pay someone to walk by  the restaurant wearing a poorly-designed uniform combination from a local thrift store, and you’re guaranteed to cut that long line in half. Pro tip: this may not work at Cracker Barrel, Golden Corral, or anywhere else dominated by Vietnam-era veterans. Those guys care more about the food. People used to dress all kinds of stupid in the 60s and 70s.

6. Hit up the places you can’t afford.

(FXX)

If you’re hitting up Golden Corral and the Sizzler on the reg because a steak house is just out of your price range, Veteran’s Day is the day to take off your IR flag hat and Ranger Up shirt and slap on a collared shirt to take your battle to McCormick and Schmick’s, Bar Louie, and/or one of CentraArchy’s nicer steakhouses. Running shoes are still perfectly acceptable attire if two of these restaurants are within jogging distance of one another.

7. Deploy to the local Olive Garden.

The VA taught you how to wait all day just to be disappointed. You know how to entertain yourself while waiting around for hours on end. If running around isn’t your thing, the Olive Garden is giving away a Veteran’s Day meal plus unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks. Bring a laptop to binge watch your favorite show while camping at a booth on FOB Garden all day.

Articles

This film festival rolls out the red carpet for military veterans

Founded in 2006 and held every year in Washington, D.C., the G.I. Film Festival celebrates filmmakers and military veterans as they come together to showcase their compelling narratives featuring real heroes and real stories.


This year the G.I.F.F. kicks off its 11th annual festival with a Congressional Reception on Capitol Hill to shine a spotlight on veteran health and transition.  The 5-day event begins May 24th and includes screenings of feature, documentary, and short films at various venues, as well as filmmaker panels and a Pitchfest for the aspiring talent.

Related: This Army veteran started his own festival to help fellow military filmmakers

This year, 20 filmmaking contestants will be allowed to pitch their best ideas to a panel of expert judges made up of managers, agents, and producers all within a friendly and constructive atmosphere. The winner will receive a prize package in front of their peers.

With more than 50 film projects ready to be screened, the G.I. Film Festival provides the perfect mix of entertainment and networking for our nation’s veterans with stories to tell.

Take a look at this year’s GIFF compilation trailer.

(GIFF 2017, Vimeo)
Articles

The Lightning will take concealed carry to a whole new level of lethal

Stealth is becoming more and more common — but just because you designed an invisible (to radar) plane doesn’t mean the job is done. Far from it, to be very blunt. In fact, the job’s only half done.


You see, the plane isn’t the only thing that the radar waves bounce off of. They also will reflect very well off of the missiles your F-35 carries. All the stealth tech does no good if the stuff you intend to drop on the bad guys is seen on radar while you’re still minutes — or even an hour — away.

An F-35 Lightning II Carrier Variant (CV) flies over the stealth guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) as the ship transits the Chesapeake Bay on Oct. 17, 2016. Note that the F-35 is carrying missiles externally, rendering it more visible to radar. (U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe/Released)

At SeaAirSpace 2017, mock-ups of a number of new missiles in development were displayed, so more can be carried internally on the F-35 and other stealthy jets (like the B-21 and B-2, for instance). In essence, this is taking concealed carry to a whole new level.

For instance, one such weapon being displayed was the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range. The AARGM-ER is a development of the AGM-88E AARGM, in essence: a vastly upgraded HARM. AARGM is already in service with the Navy, with more being produced, and it is used on the F/A-18C/D/E/F Hornet and Super Hornet airframes on their pylons, easily the most capable anti-radar missile they have ever carried.

The AGM-88E AARGM on display at a 2007 air show. Note the huge fins, which limit it to external carriage on the F-35. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But with the F-35, there is a problem — those big-ass fins on the AARGM. That means AARGM has to be carried externally, which means the F-35 will be seen. If the F-35 is seen, an enemy will shoot at it. And when the enemy shoots at a F-35, they could hit it — and if the plane is hit, it could be shot down. That’ll ruin everyone’s day.

A mock-up of the AARGM-ER at SeaAirSpace 2017. Note the absence of the huge fins at the middle of the missile, and the clipped fins at the rear. (Photo by Harold Hutchison)

Where AARGM-ER, though, seeing the F-35 becomes much, much harder. Why? The answer is what you don’t see. The big fins in the middle of the AARGM aren’t there. The tail fins have also been pared back. This means the missile can now fit in the internal weapons bay.

In this photo from a handout at ATK’s booth at SeaAirSpace2017, the AARGM-ER mock-up fits into the F-35’s weapons bay. (Scanned from ATK handout)

In other words, the F-35 now can get closer — and the AARGM-ER will not only fit in the weapons bay, it can also be fired from twice as far as the current AARGM. It’s as if this missile has been designed to put down the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system, also known as the SA-21 Gargoyle.

AARGM-ER isn’t the only missile at SeaAirSpace 2017 designed for internal carriage. Kongsberg’s Joint Strike Missile is also being designed for internal carry on the F-35. In short, the F-35 will be practicing a very potent form of concealed carry.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

5 activities for rainy days at home

When spending more time at home, especially with kids in tow, outside time can be essential to getting through the day. But when rain strikes — or the cold makes its way back into our supposed spring — weather throws an entire wrench into the mix. That means finding new and creative ways to stay busy all day long. From playing indoor games, to streaming movies from resources offering up free material during the pandemic, you can use these tips for a household that’s happily entertained.


Cooking

The best part about cooking is that once you’re done, you get to eat! Keep your kids — or just yourself — busy with cooking, baking or all of the above. Get creative with whatever ingredients are in the house (it’s weird times when it comes to groceries these days!), or opt for family faves that everyone will love, like desserts, dinner and more. This is no DFac experience, of course, so pull out all the stops and truly enjoy your time.

Grab an apron and put on a favorite song and spend a few hours in the kitchen to pass this rainy, dreary day!

Make a fort

Set up a tent inside the home, or even in the garage. Suddenly every activity is fun and overt, simply because you’re playing with toys in a tent! Parents looking to make real soldiers out of their kids can even encourage an outdoor tent to teach survivalist skills that can be used later in life. However, there’s a fine line between fun and ridiculous tasks, walk it lightly.

Either way, marshmallows are encouraged.

Science experiments

Make a tornado in a jar. Explore with sensory bins. Drop food coloring into different liquids, mix colors to make new colors, and more. Put your best Pinterest searching skills to work and find fun science experiments that can keep kids of all ages busy throughout the day.

Or, for the adults among us, see what cleaning supplies you can make from items in your house.

Stream free resources

Now more than ever you can find tons of free content online. Get your use out of your Internet subscription and take advantage of unique content you can’t normally watch!

For instance:

  • Frozen’s Josh Gad is reading bedtime stories
  • Trolls is Free for Download
  • The Metropolitan Opera is streaming past performances
  • Classic sporting events and documentaries can be streamed

Pick your poison! There’s so much free stuff to choose from right now, you can truly take in some new scenes, without ever leaving the comfort of your cozy living room.

Look at old photos

Who doesn’t like looking at days of the past? Pictures are a fun reminder of who and where you used to be. Previous duty stations, old friends and younger days abound. With kids, you can tell stories about each picture for a fun way to teach them about their past and yours, too.

How do you stay occupied on a rainy day inside?

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump envoy: U.S., Russia to hold nuclear arms talks in June, China invited

The United States and Russia have agreed on a time and place for nuclear arms negotiations this month and invited China, President Donald Trump’s arms negotiator says.

“Today agreed with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister [Sergei] Ryabkov on time and place for nuclear arms negotiations in June,” U.S. Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea wrote on Twitter on June 8.


“China also invited. Will China show and negotiate in good faith?” he added, without providing further details.

There were no immediate comments from Russian officials.

Earlier, Bloomberg quoted an unidentified U.S. State Department official as saying that Ryabkov and Billingslea would meet in Vienna on June 22.

The official didn’t rule out that the United States may be willing to extend the New Start nuclear-weapons treaty, if Russia “commits to three-way arms control with China and helps to bring a resistant Beijing to the table,” according to Bloomberg.

New START, the last major arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, is scheduled to expire in February 2021.

The accord caps the number of nuclear warheads and so-called delivery systems held by the two countries.

While Moscow has pushed for a five-year extension, Washington has balked, saying it wants the deal to be broadened to include China.

China, whose nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the size of Moscow’s and Washington’s, has said it was not interested in participating in such talks.

The Trump administration has pulled out of major international treaties, prompting warnings of an increased possibility of an arms race or accidental military confrontations.

Last month, Washington gave notice on withdrawing from the 35-nation Open Skies accord, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, due to what U.S. officials said were Russia’s violations.

The United States also cited Russian violations when it exited from of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

Moscow has denied the U.S. accusations and said the United States was seeking to undermine international security.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Commanding Crew-1

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Hopkins is leading an international crew of astronauts on a six-month mission to the International Space Station following a successful launch on the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system in history.

SpaceX Crew-1 – Mike Hopkins. Individual Portrait – Space Suit. SpaceX Crew Flight Test (Demo-2) Backup Crew.. Location: SpaceX Headquarters, Rocket Road, Hawthorne, California Photo Credit: SpaceX/Ashish Sharma

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission lifted off at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard their Crew Dragon spacecraft propelled by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocketNASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), into orbit to begin a six-month science mission aboard the space station.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi onboard, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission is the first crew rotation mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi launched at 7:27 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center to begin a six month mission onboard the orbital outpost. NASA Photo // Joel Kowsky

Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009, Hopkins spent 166 days in space as a long-duration crew member of Expeditions 37 and 38 and completed two spacewalks totaling 12 hours and 58 minutes. Before joining NASA, Hopkins was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force. As commander, Hopkins is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 64 flight engineer aboard the station.

Bookended by planning meetings with ground controllers, a day aboard ISS is packed with work from start to finish, said Hopkins during a 2017 interview with Airman magazine.

“It is usually going to involve three things; some type of maintenance, whether it’s a preplanned or something broke and you have to fix it; science, which is the primary reason for the space station, and exercise. We usually have at least two hours of exercise on our schedule every day. That’s really the next 12 hours.”

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins speaks to members of the media after arriving from Houston at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with fellow NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, second from left, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, second from right, ahead of SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Florida. NASA Photo // Joel Kowsky

The Crew 1 mission is the first of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

“I think that the development of these commercial vehicles isn’t involving just NASA. There’s a there’s a lot of good synergy that happens in programs like this. The Air Force is a part of and benefits from that effort”, Hopkins said.

“It’s not just the development of the new cap capsules per se, but it’s also the rockets that go along with that. Those same rockets can potentially be utilized by the Air Force for putting their payloads or platforms up in space. I think that’s one of the things that makes it very exciting, particularly for myself and some of the other Air Force astronauts. You’re not only supporting NASA but you’re also supporting your parent organization; in our case, the Air Force.”

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi inside Crew Dragon spacecraft. NASA photo

The Crew 1 mission has several firsts, including: the first flight of the NASA-certified commercial system designed for crew transportation, which moves the system from development into regular flights; the first international crew of four to launch on an American commercial spacecraft; the first time the space station’s long duration expedition crew size will increase from six to seven crew members, which will add to the crew time available for research; and the first time the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed a human orbital spaceflight launch.

Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi will join the Expedition 64 crew of Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, both of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA.

In the International Space Station’s Kibo laboratory, NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, Expedition 37 flight engineer, conducts a session with a pair of bowling-ball-sized free-flying satellites known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, November 4, 2013. NASA photo

The crew will conduct science and maintenance during a six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory and will return in spring 2021. It is scheduled to be the longest human space mission launched from the United States. The Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days, as a NASA requirement.

Crew Dragon also is delivering more than 500 pounds of cargo, new science hardware and experiments inside, including Food Physiology, a study of the effects of an optimized diet on crew health and, Genes in Space-7, a student-designed experiment that aims to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function, enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

Among the science and research investigations the crew will support during its six-month mission are a study using chips with tissue that mimics the structure and function of human organs to understand the role of microgravity on human health and diseases and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth, growing radishes in different types of light and soils as part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space, and testing a new system to remove heat from NASA’s next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU).

During their stay on the orbiting laboratory, Crew-1 astronauts expect to see a range of un-crewed spacecraft including the next generation of SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus, and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner on its un-crewed flight test to the station. They also will conduct a variety of spacewalks and welcome crews of the Russian Soyuz vehicle and the next SpaceX Crew Dragon in 2021.

What little free time astronauts have aboard ISS is spent checking email, talking with family, or taking a view that only a relative handful of humans have seen in person.

Astronaut Col. Michael Hopkins during his first mission to the International Space Station in 2013. Photo // Col. Michael Hopkins USAF

“You’re 250 miles above the earth, and you’re getting to see it in a way that very few of us get to see – live and in person”, Hopkins said. “Your see the images and those are very representative, it looks very real, but when you see it with your own eyes, it’s stunning.

“Sometimes with your free time you just go hang out by the window. Even at nighttime. When it’s dark out, you wouldn’t think there’s that much to see, but then you’d be going over Africa, and there’d be this huge storm front over the continent, and you get to see these lightning storms from above. You see this flash of light going here and there and just dancing across the whole continent. Amazing. It never gets old.”

See and read more about U.S. Air Force astronauts HERE.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

Articles

Here is how the United States Navy gets SIGINT

Russia has a “tattletale” (spy ship) operating off the East Coast of the United States, but they’re not the only ones collecting Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). Here’s how the U.S. does spying of its own.


The Karelia, a Vishnya-class intelligence ship, sails near the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS Texas (CGN 39). (Dept. of Defense photo)

The Viktor Leonov’s snooping has drawn headlines this year – although a similar 2015 operation didn’t draw as much hoopla. It is one of a class of seven vessels in service with the Russian Navy, and is armed with a mix of SA-N-8 missiles and AK-630 close-in weapon systems.

USS Pueblo (AGER 2).

The United States has not operated similar vessels ever since the environmental research vessel USS Pueblo (AGER 2) was captured off the coast of North Korea in 1968 and the technical research vessel USS Liberty (AGTR 5) was attacked by Israeli forces that mistook her for an enemy vessel in 1967, during the Six-Day War.

EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance plane. (U.S. Navy photo)

Still, the Navy needs to carry out collection missions and it does have options.

One is the use of aircraft like the EP-3E Aries II electronic intelligence aircraft. Based on the P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, a Navy fact file notes that a dozen were purchased in the 1990s.

The plane was involved in a 2001 mid-air collision with a People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 Finback. The EP-3E made an emergency landing at Hainan Island and the Chinese pilot was killed.

An antenna for the AN/SLQ-32 system on board USS Nicholson (DD 982). (U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy also uses its ships and submarines to gather signals intelligence.

According to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World, many of its top-of-the-line surface combatants, like the Ticonderoga-class cruisers and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are equipped with the AN/SLQ-32 electronic support measures system for SIGINT collection.

According to the Raytheon web site, this system also has the capability to jam enemy systems in addition to detecting and classifying enemy radars.

Sailors aboard the Virginia-class attack submarine USS Texas (SSN 775) moor the boat to the pier. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian G. Reynolds)

U.S. Navy submarines also have a sophisticated SIGINT suite, the AN/BLQ-10.

According to the Federation of American Scientists website, this system is capable of detecting, processing, and analyzing radar signals and other electronic transmissions. It is standard on all Virginia-class submarines and is being backfitted onto Seawolf and Los Angeles-class ships.

In other words, every American sub and surface combatant is able to carry out signals intelligence missions.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Soldier helped police nab suspects – with his baby in tow

A Minnesota-based Army recruiter recently helped police arrest four suspected shoplifters while shopping at a local mall with his 10-month-old daughter.

Staff Sgt. Sean Oliva had been pushing his daughter in a stroller Feb. 24, 2019, inside the Southdale Mall in Edina, a Minneapolis suburb, when he saw a group of suspicious men leave an electronics store with several boxes of headphones worth thousands of dollars.

Store employees, he said, told the four men to stop, but they walked away toward the mall’s exit. Oliva said he pursued the men as the employees remained in the store to presumably call the police.


“I stayed at a safe enough distance, because I didn’t know if they had weapons,” said Oliva, the operations sergeant for the Minneapolis Army Recruiting Company.

Since the men were not running, Oliva was able to keep an eye on them the entire time without putting his daughter in harm’s way, the father of two said.

The suspects’ vehicle is seen here surrounded by police outside Southdale Mall.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Oliva)

But when the men exited the mall, Oliva thought they would get away. A friend of Oliva’s then offered to watch his daughter while he and her husband followed the men out into the parking lot to get a vehicle description for police.

“I ended up getting my phone out and was able to get pictures of the vehicle’s license plate and of the suspects,” said Oliva, who has previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a field artillery surveyor.

As the suspects’ vehicle began to flee the scene, Oliva flagged down a nearby police patrol car and a brief chase ensued. Another patrol car quickly intervened, he said, and cut off the escape route for the suspects’ car after it nearly hit two other moving vehicles in the parking lot.

Officers arrested four men aged 19 to 21 years old and charged them with felony shoplifting of nearly ,300 worth of electronics, according to Edina police records. One of the men was also charged with another felony for fleeing from police in a motor vehicle.

Staff Sgt. Sean Oliva with his wife, Jamie, at a recruiter training conference.

Police later told Oliva the electronics store had recently been targeted by shoplifters several times before.

“It was just like a duty for me,” Oliva said March 4, 2019. “Living the Army values is important to me. To be taught those values and to not intervene would have been going against them.”

Oliva, who became a recruiter in 2012, also tries to assist local youth in finding their future career path whether it be in the Army or elsewhere.

“It’s good to help others who either need direction or not sure what they want to do with their lives yet,” the sergeant said. ‘We kind of get to play a big role in helping them achieve their goals.”

His company commander, Capt. Michael Beck, said he was proud of the sergeant’s actions that day.

“More than anything, I think the fact that he’s representing the Army values in a public setting really shows the type of character of all the soldiers in the Army today,” he said.

Many other people, Beck said, may not have done anything to help apprehend the suspects.

“I think more and more frequently there are people who are just comfortable with being bystanders,” he said. “They don’t necessarily feel comfortable for standing up for what’s right.

“Sergeant Oliva didn’t really hesitant. He saw the opportunity to do the right thing.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Global military spending just saw its biggest spike in a decade, but the US outspends everyone else by far

Global military expenditure was $1.917 trillion in 2019, rising 3.6% from 2018 and 7.2% from 2010 to reach the highest level since 1988, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

World military spending decreased steadily in the years after the 2008-2009 global financial crash but has risen in each of the five years since 2015, the latest in what SIPRI researcher Nan Tian described as four phases in military spending over the past 30 years.


The post-Cold War years saw spending decline in what many saw “as a peace-dividend period,” Tian said Tuesday during a webcast hosted by the Stimson Center and SIPRI.

That decline bottomed out around 2000, when the September 11 attacks prompted years of defense-spending increases that peaked around 2010 and 2011, Tian said. Spending fell again in the early 2010s.

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World military expenditure by region from 1988 to 2019. Rough estimates for the Middle East are included in the world totals for 2015-2019.

SIPRI Military Expenditure Database

“But more recently, in the last three years, we really see that spending has really picked up,” Tian said. “The reason is the US announcing really expensive modernization programs … and also the end of austerity measures in many of the world’s global spenders.”

US military spending grew by 5.3% in 2019 to a total of 2 billion — 38% of global military spending. The US’s increase in 2019 was equivalent to all of Germany’s military expenditure that year, SIPRI said.

Military spending in Asia has risen every year since 1989, with China and India, second and third on the list this year, leading the way. (Tian said SIPRI’s numbers for China are higher than Beijing’s because SIPRI includes spending it defines as “military-related.”)

“In the case of India and China, we’ve seen consistent increases over the last 30 years,” Tian said. “While India and China really [were] spending in the early 1990s far less than Western Europe … Chinese spending really starts to pick up since about 2000.”

China’s spending, now several times that of France or the UK, and India’s growing expenditures point to “a change in the global balance,” Tian said.

“Whereas a few years ago we saw … [for] the first time that there are no Western European countries in the top five spenders in the world, this is the first time where we see two Asian countries, in India and China, being within the top three spenders, followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia.”

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Military spending as a share of GDP by country in 2019. The countries with military spending of 4.0% or more of GDP are listed.

SIPRI Military Expenditure Database

Data is not available for all the countries in the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest spender for which SIPRI could estimate totals. In terms of arms imports, the Middle East “has now the largest share it has ever had since 1950, as a region,” SIPRI senior researcher Siemon Wezeman said on the webcast.

“That’s partly related to ongoing conflicts [and] very strong tensions, Iran vs. the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia. It is a very strong driver of arms imports, especially by the Gulf States,” Wezeman added, noting that Iran, under arms embargo, is not a major weapons importer.

Most of Africa’s military spending, 57%, is done by North African countries. “They have the money,” Wezeman said, “especially Algeria, and Morocco to a lesser extent, are basically the big ones buying there.”

“Many of the other African countries buy a couple of armored vehicles — a helicopter here, a little aircraft there — and do that every few years. That’s basically their armed forces,” Wezeman said, adding that fighting insurgencies, like Boko Haram, or peacekeeping, as in Somalia, also drove increased military spending.

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen “extremely volatile spending” in recent years, related to the many armed conflicts there, Tian said.

“As countries need to fight … they need to allocate resources to the military. But conflicts, of course, are extremely destructive on a country’s economy,” Tian added. “So we see that countries are increasing spending one year, decreasing spending another year.”

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A Croatian army Hedgehog Battery conducts a Vulkan M-92 Mobile Multiple Launch Rocket System live-fire training at Bemowo Piskie, Poland, December 5, 2018.

Sgt. Arturo Guzman/US Army National Guard

Overall military expenditures by Western European nations fell slightly between 2010 and 2019, but Eastern European countries have increased their military spending by 35% over the past decade.

“Some of this is really down to a reaction to the perceived threats of Russia,” as well as the replacement of Soviet-era equipment and purchase of US and NATO equipment, Tian said.

“European countries, aside from seeing a bigger threat from Russia, also are going through a cycle of replacing their fourth-generation combat aircraft with fifth-generation combat aircraft. So there is a big load of new combat aircraft, mostly or almost all of them US-exported weapons, going to Europe,” Wezeman added.

But an economic contraction sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is likely to bring down military expenditures.

“We’ve seen this historically following the ’08-’09 crisis, where many countries in Europe really cut back on military spending,” Tian said, noting that military spending as a share of GDP might increase if “GDP falls and spending doesn’t decrease as much as GDP.”

This time around, spending in Europe may “be stronger in the coming years” despite the coronavirus, Wezeman said, “because the contracts … in many cases have been signed.”

Below, you can see who the top 10 defense spenders were and how much of the world’s military expenditures they accounted for in 2019.

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The first operational F-35A Lightning II is welcomed to the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s 3rd Air Wing, at Misawa Air Base, February 24, 2018.

US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton

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A British paratrooper prepares to load a helicopter in a simulated medical evacuation during the Swift Response 16 exercise in Hohenfels, Germany, June 17, 2016.

Sgt. Seth Plagenza/US Army

5. Saudi Arabia, .9 billion — down 16% from 2018 and 3.2% of the world total.

Saudi Arabia’s 2019 defense spending and its share of the world total are estimates by SIPRI.

2. China, 1 billion — up 5.1% from 2018 and 14% of the world total.

China’s 2019 defense spending and its share of the world total are estimates by SIPRI.

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The future US Navy aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy as its dry dock is flooded three, October 29, 2019.

US Navy/Mass Comm Specialist 3rd Class Adam Ferrero

1. United States, 2 billion — up 5.3% from 2018 and 38% of the world total.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Unanswered questions about the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran

All 176 people on board were killed when a Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed in Iran early on Wednesday morning.

Authorities in Iran and Ukraine, as well as at the airline, have offered statements and press conferences, but a number of key unanswered questions are still swirling.

Investigations have kicked off amid rampant speculation that current political tensions between the US and Iran could have contributed to the plane crash.

Information about who was on the passenger jet — Flight PS 752 — and what happened before the crash remain lacking.

Here are the unanswered questions.


What happened on the flight?

A complete timeline of the flight is yet to emerge.

We know that the plane took off at 6:12 a.m. local time on Wednesday and lost contact about two minutes later.

But we don’t know exactly what time it crashed — just that it was only in the air for a few minutes, based on flight-tracking software, and that the debris was found about six miles from the airport from where it took off.

Authorities also said the plane burst into flames shortly after takeoff, but whether the plane was already on fire before it crashed to the ground is not yet clear.

A video shared by the partially state-run Iranian Students’ News Agency appears to show the plane on fire in the air before hitting the ground and filling the sky with flames, but the video’s content and connection to this crash has not yet been verified.

Who was killed?

Ukraine’s foreign minister said that the victims mostly came from Iran and Canada.

Vadym Prystaiko said the victims were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians, as well as 11 Swedish citizens, four Afghan citizens, three UK citizens, and three German citizens. Nine of those on board were crew members.

But he did not identify the victims.

Sky News identified the three UK citizens on board, while the airline identified the pilots as Volodymyr Gaponenko, Alexei Naumkin, and Sergey Khomenko. All had a minimum of 7,600 hours on Boeing 737 planes. Vice also identified some Canadian victims.

Ukraine International Airlines said it will post the passenger list on its website “after final confirmation of their presence on board of the aircraft.”

Was the plane shot down?

Some aviation experts have argued that the plane was likely shot down; others have said it was too early to speculate about the cause.

But the idea that the plane was deliberately downed, including shot down by a missile, is speculation at the moment, and its account is contradicted by authorities.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, warned against “speculation or unchecked theories regarding the catastrophe” until official investigations were done. He said, “Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe.”

Iranian authorities said in the hours after the crash that it had been caused by technical problems, dismissing the idea that it could have been a terrorist or military attack.

President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Qassem Biniaz, an official at the Iranian Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, told state news agency IRNA that an engine caught fire and the pilot was unable to regain control, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk refused to rule out the idea that the plane could be downed by a missile, but cautioned against speculation before the investigation.

CFM, the French-American maker of the jet engine, said that any speculation on causes was premature, according to Reuters.

“We have no further information at this time. Any speculation regarding the cause is premature,” the company said.

Ukraine’s embassy in Tehran initially dismissed the idea of terrorism or a rocket attack soon after the crash, blaming an engine failure instead. But that statement was later replaced by one that says the cause is unknown and is being investigated.

According to Reuters, the embassy said the earlier statement was based on preliminary information but was not official, and that Iranian authorities had asked the embassy to remove it.

Suspicion over causes of the crash have been heightened amid the increased tension in Iran after the US assassinated its top general and Iran subsequently attacked bases housing US troops in Iraq.

Hours before the plane crash, Iran attacked two Iraqi military bases that housed US and coalition forces with ballistic missiles. There is no evidence that the two incidents are linked.

Were there any faults with the plane?

Ukraine International Airlines has sought to distance itself from the possibility that there was a fault with the plane or its crew.

It said in the hours after the crash that the plane was built in 2016 and that it had last completed maintenance checks just two days ago.

Officials: Boeing 737-800 crash in Iran likely a result of mechanical issues

www.youtube.com

It also said that the plane was one of the best in its fleet and had an experienced crew. The airline had never had a fatal flight before.

The airline’s vice president of operations, Ihor Sosnovsky, said the airline doubted the crew had made mistakes: “Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal.”

The plane model, the Boeing 737-800 NG, has been in the air since the 1990s, and is considered the most popular aircraft in use today. It has been involved in some crashes in the past, though no recent crashes have been attributed the plane’s design.

The crash may ramp up pressure for Boeing as it deals with the fallout of two fatal crashes by two 737 Max planes in 2018 and 2019, both of which were believed to be caused by a flawed flight-control system.

But the 737 model involved in Wednesday’s crash does not use the same software believed to have played in a role in those doomed flights.

Boeing said in a Wednesday statement: “This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed.”

How will the investigations work?

Under international rules, Iran must investigate the crash, though typically a number of different investigations take place into plane crashes.

Ukraine’s President Zelensky also said that he had instructed his prosecutor-general to open criminal proceedings after the crash.

Ukraine International Airlines said it would take “all measures” to determine the cause of the crash, and that Ukraine, Iran, and Boeing representatives would also be involved.

But Boeing, a major American company with close ties to the US government, may face problems in getting involved with the investigation because of US sanctions on Iran and newly heightened tensions between the two countries.

Mehr, a semi-official Iranian news agency, quoted the head of Iran’s civil aviation authority as saying the country would not give the plane’s black boxes to Boeing, Reuters reported. He said he was not sure what country Iran would give them to.

It is not clear what the role the independent US National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates plane crashes, will play. It said it is “monitoring the developments” and is working with US agencies to “determine the best course of action.”

Investigators have not yet released a timeline for when they expect to release any preliminary conclusions. Final reports usually take months to complete.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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