Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl received his sentence after pleading guilty to charges stemming from his 2009 capture by the Taliban. While he is receiving no prison time, he has been given a dishonorable discharge.
However, the dishonorable discharge is actually going to follow Bergdahl for the rest of his life. It is such a severe consequence that it can only be imposed by a general court martial, and even then, only after conviction for certain crimes.
According to Lawyers.com, this discharge wipes out any and all military and veteran benefits for Bergdahl. That means no access to the GI Bill for further education, no VA home loans, no VA medical benefits. Bergdahl gets none of these benefits.
In addition, according to 18 USC 922(g), Bergdahl is now prohibited from owning any sort of firearm or ammunition. Even one pistol round could land him 10 years in the federal slammer (see 18 USC 924).
In addition, GettingHired.com notes that a dishonorable discharge is entered into law-enforcement databases. Furthermore, that site pointed out that Bergdahl will probably face “significant problems securing employment in civilian society.”
In short, Bowe Bergdahl may be a free man in that he is serving no prison time, but he has lost out on a lot of benefits, has lost his Second Amendment rights, and will be facing strong public backlash for the rest of his life.
Back in 2008, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury emerged from the shadows to talk to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) about “the Avengers initiative.” Now, 11 years and more than 20 films later, Marvel has released an alternate version of that famous post-credits scene, and it’s pretty surprising. Not only is the scene a bit longer than the 2008 release, but it also somehow teases both Spider-Man and the X-Men, even though neither was anywhere close to the MCU at that point in time.
On Sept. 14, 2019, at the Saturn Awards, Marvel boss Kevin Feige screened an alternate version of the famous Nick Fury post-credits scene. You can watch it right here.
In the scene, Nick Fury complains about “assorted mutants” and “radioactive bug bites” obvious references to both Spider-Man and the X-Men. At the time, in 2008, Iron Man was distributed by Paramount Pictures, and the umbrella term of “Marvel Studios” and the idea of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still fairly new. Obviously, the rights issues to the X-Men were still owned by Fox at that point, and Spider-Man was still with Sony. Still, it seems like this scene cleverly got around those issues by not outright naming Spider-Man or the X-Men, specifically. (Though, it’s conceivable that the term “mutants” was maybe too far, in terms of legality at the time.)
The interesting thing is, that now, of course, Spider-Man has been a part of the MCU, and the X-Men are set to be incorporated into the new Marvel canon at some point in the future. But now, it’s almost like Marvel Studios is retroactively saying that the X-Men were always a part of these movies because, in a sense, Tony Stark and Nick Fury already had a conversation about them. We just didn’t see that conversation the first time around.
At this time, there’s been no official announcement about reboot X-Men films in the MCU. But, that could change any day now.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Tongson with the author at the commissioning ceremony (photo taken by Laceé Pappas/released)
“Hey, Stew,” the LTJG called out. The Filipino sailor did not respond. “Hey! Stew!” The Filipino sailor continued to mop the deck. “Hey! Stew! I’m talking to you!” The Lt. j.g. grabbed the Filipino sailor by his shoulder and turned him around.
“Oh, sir. I didn’t know you were talking to me,” the Filipino sailor responded. “I thought you were looking for someone named Stew. As you can see on my uniform, my name is Tongson. The name my parents gave me, my Christian name, is Benjamin. If you called me by those names, I would have responded to you.” This earned Seaman Tongson a tirade of expletives from the young naval officer who then stormed away. Later, Tongson decided to invoke the open door policy of the ship’s skipper. “Sir, may I have a moment of your time?” Tongson asked as he knocked on the bulkhead of the captain’s quarters.
“Come on in Tongson. What can I do for you?” The captain motioned for Tongson to enter.
“Sir, one of your officers refuses to address me and the other stewards by our names. Instead, he only calls us ‘Stew’. I do not find this behavior to be acceptable for an officer.”
“And so you shouldn’t,” replied the Captain. “Which of my officers is doing this? I’ll take care of it.”
The 1947 Military Bases Agreement provided a 99-year lease on many Philippine military and naval bases to the United States Military. Under Article 27, Filipino citizens could also be recruited into the U.S. military. However, they were restricted to serving as stewards. Despite this restriction, the Navy would recruit anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Filipinos every year according to a New York Times article from 1970.
With many of these men coming from poverty, a job with the US Navy presented a better prospect than what they could find in the post-war Philippines. While Filipino sailors were paid equal wages, they, like Tongson, often experienced racism and differential treatment. However, following a modification to the Military Bases Agreement in 1971, Filipinos could enter into any enlisted rating that they were qualified for. In Tongson’s case, he became an Electrician’s Mate and eventually rose to the coveted rank of Chief Petty Officer.
Tongson (first row, first from the left) as an Electrician’s Mate Petty Officer First Class (USS Montrose Cruise Book/released)
Today, Filipino-Americans can be found in all branches of the U.S. military—although their presence is still strongest in the Navy. Anyone who has spent time aboard a ship is familiar with the “Filipino Mafia”, the network of Filipino-American sailors that seem to be able to get you anything you may need while underway, including Filipino food like adobo, pancit, and lumpia. Filipino-American sailors have made greater strides than just acquiring scarce goods and sharing delicious meals, though.
In 1992, Rear Admiral (then Commander) Eleanor Mariano was selected to serve as the Navy physician to the White House Medical Staff. President Clinton later selected her to serve as the White House Physician and director of the White House Medical Unit for which she was promoted to Captain. In 1999, she was nominated to the rank of Rear Admiral and was formally promoted in 2000, becoming the first Filipino-American to reach the rank. In 2014, Captain Ronald Ravelo took command of the USS Ronald Reagan, becoming the first Filipino-American sailor to do so. A year before, Rear Admirals Rauqel Bono and her brother Anatolio Cruz became the first and (so far) only Filipino-American siblings to simultaneously hold a flag-officer rank. While Cruz retired later that year, Bono was appointed by President Obama to the position of Defense Health Agency director and promoted to Vice Admiral in 2015. Following her retirement from the Navy in 2019, Bono became a Senior Fellow with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. On March 22, 2020 she was appointed as the head Washington State’s COVID-19 health care response team by Governor Jay Inslee. The state’s COVID-19 confirmed case, hospitalization, and death statistics peaked on March 23rd. At the time of the writing of this article, all three statistics have more than halved.
Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, DHA Director, command portrait (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/released)
Filipino-Americans continue to serve as an integral part of the U.S. Military. The naval officers previously mentioned all descend from parents who served in the U.S. military. As for Tongson, his daughter served in the U.S. Army as a nurse during Desert Storm and his grandson, the author, currently serves in the U.S. Army as a 1st Lt. with the 10th Mountain Division. Tongson gave his grandson his first salute at his commissioning ceremony aboard the USS Midway, a ship that Tongson served on, in 2017.
Tongson with the author at the commissioning ceremony (photo taken by Laceé Pappas/released)
The self-styled Islamic State is trying to lure people to fight for the terror group with a scene from “The Lord of the Rings.”
In a propaganda video published on May 22, 2018, bearing the terrorist group’s watermark, the group’s chapter in Kirkuk, Iraq, used four seconds of footage from the trilogy to encourage followers to “conquer the enemies.”
The clip was taken from the third LOTR movie, “The Return of the King.” It shows the riders of Rohan charging an orc army at the Battle of The Pelennor Fields, but seems to be in the video more as a generic medieval battle scene.
Here’s the scene. The part that ISIS repurposed comes around the 2 minute 30 second mark:
The ISIS video, which Business Insider has reviewed, then cuts to footage of soldiers on horseback fighting each other, with the voice of an Arabic-language narrator — which was also taken from a Hollywood movie.
That scene was from “Kingdom of Heaven,” a 2005 film starring Orlando Bloom as a French blacksmith joining the Crusades to fight against Muslims for the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The medieval scenes are spliced inbetween images of ISIS fighters in the field, and news footage showing Donald Trump and various news anchors talking about ISIS.
The terror group is fond of crusader imagery, and often frames its battle with the west as a new-age crusade. Its official communications describe routinely describes people from western nations, especially victims of terror attacks, as “crusaders.”
Humping is a reality for many of us, and I’m not talking about the kind that has a happy ending. In my Marine Corps career, I estimate that I easily hiked 1,000 miles with a full pack — between 50 and 150 lbs. At a minimum speed of 3 miles an hour, that’s over 300 hours of time for the mind to go to dark or funny places.
On a long hump, the mind so often goes dark. I remember envisioning the sweet relief of rolling an ankle so I could ride in the safety vehicle, even picking out the exact rock I was planning to eat shit on.
“That one….seriously, that one. Okay, fine, the next one… Ah, fine, I don’t wanna cause any serious damage. I’ll just take a header into that ditch and cause a concussion instead.”
On my 23rd birthday, I was on an 8-mile movement to a range for a live fire event. It was the second day in a row we were humping, and the entire epidermis of my right foot was already falling off, from the ball of my foot to the start of my heel, from the previous day’s movements. I had spent the previous weekend in Virginia beach drinking homemade Sangria, and the effects were still very much present.
I spent that entire hump in my own head questioning all of my life decisions.
You know he’s thinking about the next ‘Avengers’ movie.
Eventually, I got to the point in my career where I just accepted that I would be walking for the next 8 hours and decided to make it fun. Games I played:
Reliving every fight I’ve ever been in and how I would Jason Bourne my way to victory if it happened again.
During daylight hikes I would make up fake hand and arm signals and try to confuse people who took things too seriously.
I would secretly listen to music on my iPod (I’m old) through a strategically placed earbud. #combathunter
My roommate would use hikes as an opportunity to eat as much as he could; it was one of the few times you had enough “free time” to eat a full meal. The trick would be to figure out a way to use the heater packet while hiking. You need to jam it between your pack and back and focus on walking level, so it doesn’t fall out. Beware of the high potential for second-degree burns.
“Hey! What was the name of the fat guy in The Office?”…
At one point, I wrote a new phonetic alphabet with just profanities. You can imagine what replaced Foxtrot. It was enlightening.
“A cougar is following you.” That’s just a game where you pretend a cougar is going to rip out your jugular as soon as you stop. The trick to this one is to think one step ahead of the mountain cat.
I would replace famous movie characters with my mom and see how the story would play out. It was never as entertaining, but always much more satisfying. If my mom took the place of Frodo in Lord of The Rings the opening scene would have also been the closing scene.
Gandalf shows up at night after dinner. Mom says, “What are you doing here? I’m busy, get out.” He counters “Lisa, you need to take the ring to Mordor to destr–” And, in classic Lisa fashion, she cuts him off mid-sentence with “That’s not my problem, now is it? Take it yourself.”
Humping is a profession nearly as old as prostitution…
Once I matured, I realized the right answer is to become externally motivated. I believe the jobs of the Platoon Commander and Platoon Sergeant are easier than the rifleman, because you are concerned with your Marines, rather than yourself. When your focus is pointed outward, time flies.
This lesson applies to every kind of difficult situation. Caring for others is one of the most selfish and least selfish things you can do. When it comes to hiking, if you focus externally, you get to push your own ailments aside until you are alone in your room, crying like a big dumb baby.
In the gym, you are forced to confront your demons directly; there are no troops for you to look out for.
But in actuality, everything you do to make yourself better is also making the lives of those around you better. So, in a way, finishing a workout for your spouse or kids is no different than completing a movement for your unit.
Where are you in your hump day progression? Are you living in a world of regret and grief? Are you writing the next great American novel in your head? Or have you reached the point of hiking enlightenment and started checking on your guys and planning for their success when you reach your objective?
President Donald Trump gave a timeline for the upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and appeared to be optimistic for a positive outcome.
“We’ll be meeting with them sometime in May or early June 2018, and I think there’ll be great respect paid by both parties and hopefully we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea,” Trump said on April 9, 2018, according to Reuters.
“They’ve said so. We’ve said so,” Trump continued. “Hopefully, it’ll be a relationship that’s much different than it’s been for many, many years.”
On April 8, 2018, a US official confirmed that North Korea was willing to discuss the subject of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
The CIA has reportedly been in communication with representatives from North Korea, setting up backchannels, according to multiple news reports. Officials from the two countries were reportedly communicating with the intent to establish an appropriate venue for the talks and other details ahead of the summit.
Trump’s statement comes amid North Korean state-sponsored media’s acknowledgement of the bilateral talks.
The two Korean leaders are set to hold their own historic summit on April 27, 2018, the first in 11 years, between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim.
You may vaguely remember the days before having kids — when you invested time in making sure you looked good every Saturday night. When buying new shoes and working on your hairstyle was something you considered a necessity, not a luxury. Lucky for you, you are not the first to walk through the hectic world of being a father. And those who came before were kind enough to leave some smart strategies in their wake about how to look awesome with limited time. With the right tools at your disposal, you can fake like you spent an hour putting yourself together, even when it really took five minutes while changing a diaper.
Hack #1: Make your white sneakers new again.
Nothing will make you look more beaten-down than a grungy pair of kicks. True, the distressed look is a thing right now if you’re really in the fashion-know. But that’s done in irony, not desperation. Instead, follow these five easy steps to cleaner shoes by tonight.
Mix one-part water, one-part baking soda, and one-part hydrogen peroxide in a jar.
Take an old toothbrush, dip it into the liquid, then scrub your sneakers as you would your teeth: Firmly and thoroughly.
Leave sneakers to dry.
Knock off excess mixture that has dried on the shoe. Wipe shoes with a dry rag.
Voila. Clean white sneakers.
Hack #2: De-wrinkle your pants in the dryer.
The dry cleaner is great, but costs money and when your pants aren’t dirty, just crumpled, it seems wasteful to send them off to be professionally pressed. Next time playing with your kids leaves your pants with a severe case of rumples, follow these steps to make them crisp again.
Toss your wrinkled pants into the dryer.
Grab some ice cubes from the freezer.
Throw them in the dryer and turn it on for five minutes.
The ice cubes create steam in the dryer.
Remove and wear.
Hack #3: Use a grey-reducing shampoo.
Along with surprise that you’re going prematurely grey comes the uncertainty of how to proceed. Dye jobs like you get at the salon are expensive and time-consuming. Not to mention you have to keep scheduling follow-ups to maintain the look. Or, you could shower. Yes, that’s right, just shower. It goes like this:
See grey hairs in the mirror.
Grab a tube of Just for Men Control GX, which gradually reduces grey hair, and head into the shower.
Shampoo your hair with Control GX (make sure to use the product as directed).
Repeat until you like what you see.
Hack #4: Straighten your collar.
Certain aspects of men’s dress shirts are open for interpretation. Spread collar or point? Starch or just pressed? Buttons or cuff links? But there is one detail on which we can all agree: Collar stays are your shirt’s best friend. The arrow-straight inserts are designed to help your collar stand up properly, giving your shirt a crisp, tailored look. The problem? Due to their relatively small size and lightweight feel, they get lost every time you remove them to have your shirt cleaned. Next time, try this improvisation.
Go to your desk drawer and grab a paper clip.
Gently fold out both sides of the clip to create a flat, narrow S-shape.
Insert paper clip into small holes of the backside of your collar.
Revel in its perfection.
Hack #5: De-fuzz your sweater.
Nothing makes your favorite cashmere sweater look tired and dated like pilled yarn. A natural side effect of time, the fuzzy appearance recalls something your grandfather might wear. Here’s how to make old look new again.
Grab your shaving razor.
Place your sweater flat on a board or bed.
Glide the razor lightly over the excess fluff, skimming it from the garment’s surface.
Now that you look the part, it’s time to call the babysitter and take on Saturday night like you used to — but with a bit more class, confidence, and appreciation now you’re a dad.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russia violated opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s rights over numerous arrests and jailings, calling them “unlawful and arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”
The human rights court in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 15, 2018, delivered its ruling, rejecting an appeal filed by Russia over a previous judgment favoring Navalny.
The court upheld its previous decision that found Navalny’s seven arrests and two instances of pretrial detentions by Russian authorities between 2012-14 violated his rights, “lacked a legitimate aim,” and “had not been necessary in a democratic society.”
He immediately hailed the decision, writing on Twitter, “Won. Fully. The government is crushed…Hooray!”
He also told reporters that the ruling was an example of “genuine justice” and was “very important not just for me but for other people all over Russia who are arrested every day.”
As part of the ruling, the court ordered Russia to pay Navalny about 64,000 euros in compensation, costs, and expenses and said its decision was final and binding.
Moscow did not immediately comment on the court’s ruling.
Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, attended the hearing, along with his brother Oleg, and posted a photograph of the two of them at the ECHR on Instragram.
Russia’s Constitutional Court has previously ruled that officials can ignore judgments by the ECHR if they are found to contravene the Russian Constitution.
Russia has lost a number of high-profile cases in Strasbourg and been ordered to pay out hefty compensation in scores of politically embarrassing cases.
Navalny was originally prevented from boarding a flight out of Moscow on Nov. 13, 2018, to attend the hearing.
The Federal Bailiffs Service (FSSP) said he was barred from leaving due to what it said was debt he owed Kirovles, a state timber company at the center of a politically charged criminal case in which he has now been convicted twice.
The FSSP later said the fine was paid and that restrictions on Navalny’s travel abroad had been lifted.
He said he would sue the FSSP over what he called “illegal activities” and demand compensation for the 29,542 rubles (6) in financial losses he said he and his lawyer sustained due to the FSSP’s decision to bar him from leaving.
The ECHR ruling was on an appeal filed by Russia over a court decision in February 2017 that ruled in favor of Navalny, but Russia filed an appeal to challenge the decision.
Navalny, 42, has organized large street protests on several occasions since 2011 and has published a series of reports alleging corruption in Putin’s circle.
He has repeatedly been jailed for periods ranging from 10 days to a few weeks, usually for alleged infractions of laws governing public demonstrations.
Navalny had spent nearly 200 days in jail since 2011, including 140 days since the start of his attempt to challenge Putin in the March 2018 presidential election, his spokeswoman has said.
Electoral authorities barred Navalny from the ballot, citing convictions in two financial-crimes cases he and his supporters contend were Kremlin-orchestrated efforts to punish him for his opposition activity and for the reports alleging corruption.
Navalny was convicted in 2013 of stealing money from Kirovles and was sentenced to five years in prison. But the sentence was later suspended, sparing him from serving time in prison.
In 2016, the ECHR ruled that the Kirovles trial was unfair and that the two men had been convicted of actions “indistinguishable from regular commercial activity.”
The Russian Supreme Court then threw out the 2013 convictions and ordered a new trial.
In February 2017, the lower court again convicted the two men and handed down the same suspended prison sentence.
Senate lawmakers on Thursday once again signaled to the Veterans Affairs Department they want VA doctors able to talk to patients about use of medical marijuana.
By a 20-10 bipartisan vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the military construction and veterans legislation allowing agency doctors to make recommendations to vets on the use of medical marijuana — something they can’t do now even in states where cannabis prescriptions are legal.
“We should be doing everything we can to make life easier for our veterans,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, said in a statement. “Prohibiting VA doctors from talking to their patients about medical marijuana just doesn’t make sense. The VA shouldn’t be taking legal treatment options off the table for veterans.”
Medical marijuana is being prescribed in some states for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though its effectiveness remains questionable.
The legislative amendment was sponsored by Merkley and Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, who successfully got the same amendment through the committee in November, only to see it stripped from the bill by House lawmakers a month later.
The latest language still has to be considered by the full Senate and then be sent once more to the House for approval.
The VA won’t comment on the lawmakers’ actions on medical marijuana, but its website quotes a report by Marcel Bonn-Miller of the National Center for PTSD at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, and Glenna Rousseau of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, dismissing marijuana as useful in treating veterans.
“Controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD,” the report states. “Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”
The federal government in 2014 approved a study on medical marijuana to be conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a California-based nonprofit research center. But the research hasn’t yet been completed.
The Stryker family of wheeled armored fighting vehicles is an essential tool in the the United States Army’s arsenal — but it isn’t the first wheeled armored vehicle that saw widespread service with GIs. In World War II, there was another — and it was fast, effective, and packed a powerful punch.
That vehicle was the M8 Greyhound. It was a 6×6 vehicle that entered service in 1941, and drew upon lessons learned from German successes in 1939 and 1940. It was intended to serve as a reconnaissance vehicle and saw action with the British, Australians, and Canadians before American troops took it into battle.
A M8 Greyhound in Paris.
The M8 had a top speed of 55 miles per hour. This might not sound so speedy but, by comparison, the iconic M4 Sherman tank had a top speed of just 24 miles per hour. This seemingly small difference in speed made a huge impact when the effective range of tank guns was much shorter — and not just because the guns were smaller. In World War II, fire-control was also less advanced. Unlike today’s M1 Abrams, which can fire on the move and take out a target 3,000 yards away, a tank had to come to a complete stop before firing back then.
The M8 also packed a 37mm gun that could fire armor-piercing or high-explosive rounds and had a coaxial .30-caliber machine gun to defend against infantry. This light armored car could also add an M2 .50-caliber machine gun to defend against aircraft.
After World War II, the Greyhound was widely passed on, including to private sellers. This M8 was captured by Swedish troops in the Congo.
That said, the M8 had its weaknesses. It was lightly armored and particularly vulnerable to land mines and improvised anti-tank weapons. That didn’t stop American from producing almost 12,000 of these vehicles. After World War II, many of these went on to see action in Korea — and after that, they found homes with law enforcement and in private collections.
Learn more about the Greyhound in the video below!
Anyone who’s followed the Army-Navy Game for the last few years knows that spirit videos have become an integral tradition in days leading up to the game. While one or two might get traction in the news media, the truth is that military members everywhere make spirit videos to support their service academy. And now there’s a go-to place to upload and watch them.
Some spirit videos are more famous than others, like Rylan Tuohey’s Pro-Navy “Helm Yeah” and “We Give A Ship” videos. Then-West Point Cadet Austin Lachance responded in time for 2017’s Army-Navy Game with the extremely well-produced spirit video masterpiece, “Lead From the Front.”
But they don’t have to be contenders for the GI Film Festival to be good. Now, thanks to DVIDS, they all have a forum.
Even if it’s just a group of First Lieutenants, Army alums all, deciding on who should get to watch the game with them or an entire Stryker Brigade Combat Team poking fun at “Helm Yeah” and getting sick of all the winning, spirit videos are now very much a part of the greater traditions surrounding the annual contest.
Army and Navy units stationed all over the world may not be able to make the big game, but they can still be a part of the fun, making and uploading videos to DVIDSHub, the military’s multimedia imagery database. It’s a collection of photos, video, and other multimedia gathered by members of the U.S. military, made available to the public on DVIDSHub.net. It’s a searchable collection of official and unofficial multimedia collected every day by military members everywhere.
Some are modeled to be commercials for the game. Others are just showing what they do every day and announcing their support to the guys who will take the field in Philadelphia on Saturday, Dec. 8. The 3rd Cavalry Sapper Troop, currently deployed to Iraq, just showcased a cardboard Navy ship sealed with Duct Tape, rigged to explode.
Of course, you can still find fantastic videos from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard on DVIDS. The site is a public affairs site, meant to make all the imagery captured by U.S. troops in the course of their duties available to the American taxpayer. If a military event is unclassified and was captured by a military journalist, chances are good you can find it on DVIDS.
But Army-Navy Game spirit videos are a good break from the continuous mission. Show your spirit appropriately and never blow up a Navy effigy without trained Army explosives experts or artillery fire mules on site.
The fate of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners jailed in Afghanistan is threatening to turn into a major stumbling block in efforts to end the 19-year war in the country.
The Taliban is demanding the release of the detainees before the launch of direct negotiations between Afghans and the Taliban over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing arrangement.
Those intra-Afghan talks, slated for mid-March, will begin after the United States and the Taliban sign a historic peace deal that will trigger the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Experts said the issue of Taliban prisoners could be a key obstacle in launching the country’s peace talks or, conversely, be used as a bargaining chip to exact concessions from the militants.
There are fears that the release of thousands of Taliban fighters could deprive the Kabul government of a key amount of leverage and undercut the peace process by strengthening the Taliban’s position on the battlefield.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on February 26 that Kabul will free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces held by the militants.
Shaheen said the “trust-building measure” was a prerequisite for the launch of the intra-Afghan talks.
He added that the prisoner release was part of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, although Afghanistan is not a signatory to that bilateral agreement.
But the Taliban and the United States have not yet disclosed the contents of the deal.
The Kabul government has ruled out releasing the prisoners before the start of talks.
“When we, as the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, enter into negotiations with the Taliban and they demand the release of their prisoners, it will naturally be discussed, and will take into account the laws and interests of our people and [our decision] will be based on the consensus that will arise at that stage,” said Sediq Sediqqi, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, on February 20.
‘Quid Pro Quo’
Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said the issue could be used as a “political stumbling block or a bargaining chip.”
“Bargaining chip can mean quid pro quo,” he said.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the Afghan government could offer the Taliban a major concession before intra-Afghan talks with the expectation that the militants will reciprocate.
Kugelman said that could mean the insurgents agreeing to reduce violence during the negotiations, which analysts expect to be complicated and protracted.
The United States and the Taliban agreed to a weeklong reduction of violence across Afghanistan before the signing of the peace deal. The partial truce has largely held, with a dramatic decrease in Taliban attacks from around 75 per day down to under 15.
The militants contest or control nearly half of the country.
A similar truce during intra-Afghan talks has been mooted, although the Taliban has not commented on the possibility.
But analysts warned that there was a risk in the government giving away one of its primary bargaining chips at such an early stage of the peace process.
“The Taliban has ample leverage because it’s in no hurry to conclude a peace deal,” said Kugelman. “If it receives a major concession it may hold out and demand more before giving something up in return.”
10,000 Taliban Prisoners
There are an estimated 10,000 Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan. But the militants have said that some of those detained were accused of being sympathizers or members of the group, often to settle old scores, and are not actually combatants.
There have been several high-profile prisoner swaps and releases of insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.
In November 2019, two Western hostages were released from Taliban custody in exchange for three senior Taliban prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction.
The prisoner swap was seen as an attempt to kick-start U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks over rising Taliban attacks.
In 2014, five senior Taliban members were released from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.
All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are based in Qatar, where they have taken part in negotiations with U.S. officials.
In 2013, former President Hamid Karzai controversially released scores of Taliban prisoners from a formerly U.S.-run prison near Kabul as an attempt to convince the militants to open direct talks with Kabul.
The move failed to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Analysts said some of those freed returned to the Taliban, bolstered their ranks, and increased the insurgency’s efficacy on the battlefield.
The Hind Mi-24D was an odd but deadly amalgamation of troop helicopter transport and attack helicopter. While it was ostensibly built to transport a squad of infantry and then protect it, American chopper pilots were worried about what would happen if they ran into the attack helicopter and its massive gun and were forced to fight it in the air.
The Marine Corps SeaCobras and later SuperCobras were stronger than their Army counterparts thanks to the addition of a second engine and an improved main gun. The Army would later adopt the Marine’s 20mm main gun on later Cobra models instead of the 7.62mm miniguns and 40mm grenade launchers that they had originally mounted.
But while that 20mm main gun was great for wiping out enemy armored vehicles and light bunkers, its rate of fire was limited to 670 rounds per minute in order to keep it from moving the Cobra too much while it was firing. Meanwhile, the new Hinds had a large, multi-barreled gun that Phillips and others were worried had a higher rate of fire and higher muzzle velocity.
The Mi-24 is a great helicopter that, despite a rocky start, rose to be a major threat to U.S. forces in the Cold War.
(Rob Schleiffert via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
It would later turn out that the Soviets were using a Yak-B main gun with 12.7mm rounds that had a muzzle velocity of 810 meters per second, less than the 1,050 m/s of the Cobra’s M195 20mm gun. But the Yak-B on the Mi-24D could fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute while the Cobra was limited to 670.
Worse, the Russian pilots were training for air-to-air combat in the Hind. When Phillips and others started matching Hinds and Cobras in simulators, it became apparent that victory or defeat in a one-on-one fight would be decided by pilot experience and main gun capability. And the Marines thought they were behind in both training and armament.
But Phillips thought it was likely that Cobras and Hinds would meet in future conflict, and that the Marines would need to up-arm their Cobras or else buy more and deploy them in larger teams so they could win through superiority of numbers.
Obviously, the Marines would prefer to win through excellence rather than throwing unsustainable numbers of pilots and helicopters at the problem. So Phillips proposed two fixes for the armament and one fix for training.
First, his simulation experience against the Hind showed that an air-to-air battle between it and a Cobra would be over quickly. Often, the helicopters settled their conflict in a single pass as one or the other shot down the enemy with a burst from the main gun. To make the Cobra more successful, he wanted to give it a higher rate of fire and muzzle velocity with improved ammunition or even a new gun. Also, an improved sighting mechanism would increase Marine chances.
But he also wanted to add an entirely new weapon onto the helicopter: air-to-air missiles. This is one of the adoptions the Marine Corps would later make, deploying Sidewinder missiles on the helicopter in 1983, four years after Phillips’ paper was written and submitted to the U.S. Army War College.
The AH-1Z Viper has an even better version of the 20mm Gatling guns used on the AH-J SuperCobra.
(Lance Cpl. Christopher O’Quin)
But Phillips also wanted to change training and briefings to address the air-to-air threat. The Russians were training specifically on combat against helicopters, and he wanted the Marines to do the same. And one step further, he wanted transportation helicopters to carry some weapons for self-defense against the Hind, and he wanted those helicopters’ crews to discuss air-to-air procedures before any mission where enemy aircraft could be in play.
All of this combined would have made it to where up-armed Cobras would escort lightly armed transportation helicopters into combat and, if an enemy Hind were spotted, the entire flight would work together to bring down the Russians before the Hind could win the day.
Luckily for everyone involved, the fight never went down. But if it had, those Sidewinder missiles and better training would likely have saved Marines and troops from the other three branches forward as Hinds fell to the snakes in the grass.