Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

Ivan Slyshkin was killed by a sniper in Syria at age 23, but his name won’t be found among the Russian Defense Ministry’s official casualties in the fight against Islamic State extremists.


That’s because he was one of thousands of Russians deployed to Syria by a shadowy, private military contractor known as Wagner, which the government doesn’t talk about.

Also Read: Ukrainian sniper killed, husband injured, in ambush

The St. Petersburg-based website Fontanka reported that about 3,000 Russians under contract to the Wagner group have fought in Syria since 2015. When Putin went to a Russian air base in Syria on Dec. 11 and told Russian troops that “you are coming back home with victory,” he did not mention the private contractors.

The Russian Defense Ministry has said 41 of its troops have died in Syria, but according to Fontanka, another 73 private contractors have been killed there.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Russia warns the US ‘not to play with fire’ in Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the US not to “play with fire” in Syria after a massive escalation in violence took place on all sides of the multi-faceted conflict early February 2018.


“The US should stop playing very dangerous games which could lead to the dismemberment of the Syrian state,” Lavrov said at a Middle East conference in Moscow on Feb. 19, 2018, according to Bloomberg.

The US has already announced plans to keep Syria divided until UN-sanctioned elections can take place across Syria, and it’s made it clear it will respond with force when Russian, Iranian, or Syrian forces threaten that goal.

Also read: What happened when Russian mercs tried testing the US in Syria

On Feb. 7, 2018, a group of pro-government fighters, who were reportedly majority Russian military contractors, launched what the US called an “unprovoked attack” on one of its positions in eastern Syria. The US responded with airstrikes and shelling killing between 100 and 300, according to a variety of reports.

US not going anywhere as hellish fighting ramps up on all sides

Lavrov also spoke of another front in the Syrian conflict, saying that he and his allies in Iran and Syria “are seeing attempts to exploit the Kurds’ aspirations,” a reference to the US’s support for Kurdish militias in northern Syria, who aspire to a state all their own.

Turkey views the Kurdish militia as part of a terror group and there is strong popular support in the country for an operation to clear the Kurds off its borders. Allegations of human rights abuses and shocking videos depicting violence against captured, unarmed Kurds have come out of the conflict in northern Syria as the US stands by its Kurdish ally, whom they credit for defeating ISIS in the region.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
An Israeli F-16I Sufa. One was lost during a clash with Iranian and Syrian forces. (Israeli Defense Force photo)

Turkey has announced its intentions to start shelling the Kurdish town of Afrin in the coming days.

Also during mid-February 2018, Israel launched a massive air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria and lost an F-16 to Syrian air defenses. Syria and Russia now stand accused by an opposition figure of launching a “new holocaust” in rebel-held pockets of Syria, where some 98 people, including women and children, were reported killed on Feb. 19, 2018.

More: Israelis shoot down an Iranian drone to find a cheap US ripoff

“No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” UNICEF’s regional director Geert Cappalaere began a release on the Syrian government’s recent bombing campaign. UNICEF left part of the statement blank to express its frustration.

It’s unclear what “fire” Lavrov referenced in Syria, as the country has been in conflict for seven years.

What is clear is that the US has a new foreign policy direction in the country, and it isn’t afraid of fighting Iran, Syria, and Russia to keep Assad and Tehran out of power in the besieged country.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Russia’s ‘unstoppable’ nuclear weapon works

During Vladimir Putin’s annual speech on March 1, 2018, the Russian president played videos that unveiled brand-new nuclear weapons with startling capabilities.


Putin announced an “unstoppable” nuclear-powered “global cruise missile” that has “practically unlimited” range, then showed an animation of the device bobbing and weaving around the globe. He also played a computer animation of a high-speed, nuke-armed submarine drone blowing up ships and coastal targets.

“Russia remained and remains the largest nuclear power. Do not forget, no one really wanted to talk to us. Nobody listened to us,” Putin told a crowd in Moscow, according to a translation by Sputnik, a Russian-government-controlled news agency. “Listen now.”

Related: Putin personally just launched 4 ballistic missiles

David Wright, a physicist and missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Business Insider that the idea of an “unstoppable” cruise missile going around the world without being detected is “fiction,” since it’d heat up to an extreme degree. (CNN also reported that all tests of the cruise missile ended in crashes.)

But he said that at least one device Putin showed off likely does exist.

“We know they’re developing some new systems with a longer range and a larger payload,” Wright said.

The known weapon is called the RS-28 Sarmat, though NATO refers to it as the SS-X-30 Satan 2. Russia has been developing it since at least 2009.

Putin showed a video of the Satan 2 during his speech. In it, footage shows an intercontinental ballistic missile launching out of a silo, followed by an animation of it rocketing toward space. The video-game-like graphic follows the ICBM as it sails over a faux Earth in a high arc and opens its nosecone to reveal five nuclear warheads.

 

 

Putin claimed this 119-foot-tall missile is “invincible” to missile defense systems.

What makes ICBMs so threatening

Intercontinental ballistic missiles are similar to rockets that shoot satellites and people into orbit, but ICBMs carry warheads and hit targets on Earth.

The missiles travel in a wide arc over Earth, enabling them to strike halfway around the world within an hour. (North Korea recently launched its new ICBM in a high, compact arc to avoid rocketing it over US allies.)

Satan 2, which Putin claimed is already deployed in some missile silos, is a replacement for a 1970s-era Satan ICBM. The new version is slated to reach full service in 50 silos around 2020, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Also read: In grand finale, Russia tests massive ICBM during European wargames

According to the Center’s Missile Defense Project, the Satan 2 “is reported by Russian media as being able to carry 10 large warheads, 16 smaller ones, a combination of warheads and countermeasures, or up to 24 YU-74 hypersonic boost-glide vehicles.”

That means one Satan 2 ICBM could pack as much as eight megatons of TNT-equivalent explosive power. That’s more than 400 times as strong as either bomb the US dropped on Japan in 1945 — both of which, combined, led to roughly 150,000 casualties.

The technology used to deliver multiple warheads to different targets is called a “multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle,” or MIRV. Such devices deploy their warheads after reaching speeds that can exceed 15,000 miles per hour.

Depending on where the warhead is deployed in space and how it maneuvers, each one can strike targets hundreds of miles apart.

Why Putin says the Satan 2 is ‘invincible’

A recently demonstrated technology made to neutralize a nuclear warhead is a “kinetic kill vehicle:” essentially a large, high-tech bullet launched via missile. The bullets can target a warhead, slam into it mid-flight, and obliterate the weapon.

“But there are a number of different ways to penetrate defenses” like a kill vehicle, Wright said, which may explain Putin’s “invincible” claim.

More: Russia reportedly wants to build this doomsday bomb and hide it on a train

Satan 2 has advanced guidance systems and probably some countermeasures designed to trick anti-missile systems. This might include “a couple dozen very lightweight decoys made to look like the warhead,” Wright said, which could result in a kill vehicle targeting the wrong object.

Wright has also studied other methods to sneak past US defenses, including warhead cooling systems that might confuse heat-seeking anti-missile systems, and “disguising a real warhead to make it look different.”

But simply deploying large numbers of warheads can be enough: Kill vehicles may not work 50% of the time, based on prior testing, and they’re a technology that’s been in development for decades.

Yet Satan 2 is not exactly unique.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
A long exposure of a Peacekeeper missile’s mock nuclear warheads blazing back to Earth during a test. (Department of Defense)

What the US has that compares

The US, in 2005, retired the “Peacekeeper” missile, which was its biggest “MIRV-capable” weapon (meaning it could deploy multiple warheads to different locations).

One Peacekeeper missile could shed up to 10 thermonuclear warheads, each of which had a 50% chance of striking within a roughly football-field-size area.

But the US has other MIRV-capable nuclear weapons in its arsenal today.

More reading: 4 powerful weapons you didn’t know were built by Ford

One is the Trident II ballistic missile, which gets launched from a submarine and can carry up to a dozen nuclear warheads. Another option is the Minuteman III ICBM, which is silo-launched and can carry three warheads.

Arms-control treaties have since reduced the numbers of warheads in these weapons — Trident IIs carry up to five, Minuteman IIIs just one — and retired the Peacekeeper.

Today, there are still about 15,000 nuclear weapons deployed, in storage, or awaiting dismantlement, with more than 90% held by the US and Russia.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
A Trident II ICBM launching.

Cold War 2.0?

Wright said Putin’s recent statements and the similarly heated comments and policy made by President Donald Trump echo rhetoric that fueled nuclear arms build-up during the Cold War era.

“What’s discouraging is that, at the end of the Cold War, everyone was trying to de-MIRV” — or reduce the numbers of warheads per missile — he said.

Removing warheads helped calm US-Russia tensions and reduce the risk of preemptive nuclear strikes, either intentional or accidental, Wright said. Russia’s move to deploy new weapons with multiple warheads, then, is risky and escalatory.

“One of the reasons you might want to MIRV is if you’re facing ballistic missile defenses, and Putin talked about that,” Wright said, noting that the US has helped build up European anti-missile defenses in recent years. “The clear response is to upgrade your offensive capabilities.”

He added that Russia’s move also shouldn’t be surprising in the context of history: After George W. Bush withdrew the US from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, a Russian general told the New York Times the move “will alter the nature of the international strategic balance in freeing the hands of a series of countries to restart an arms buildup.”

The charged statements of President Trump, who has called for a new arms race, have done little to reverse that course.

In fact, the Trump Administration plans to expand an Obama-era nuclear weapons modernization program. Over 30 years, the effort could cost US taxpayers more than $1.7 trillion and introduce smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons that experts fear might make the use of nukes common.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Marine and his service dog have a hilarious comedy routine

Michael Garvey is a Marine veteran and alumnus of the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) Comedy Bootcamp program. ASAP is an organization based in Virginia that builds communities for veterans, servicemembers, and military families through classes, performances, and partnerships in the arts. As part of their mission, ASAP offers their Comedy Bootcamp as a way for veterans to explore and develop their comedic abilities.


Michael was able to use the program as a form of therapy for his issues with PTS, and comedy has helped him address his problems by giving him a new way of looking at life and its frustrations. Accompanied by his faithful service dog, Liberty, Michael has made it to the stage at Gotham Comedy Club with several other veteran comedians who took part in the ASAP Comedy Bootcamp program.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Gunmen assault Afghan spy facility in Kabul

Gunmen have launched an attack on an Afghan intelligence training center in Kabul, officials say.

Police officer Abdul Rahman said on Aug. 16, 2018, that the attackers were holed up in a building near the compound overseen by the National Security Directorate in a western neighborhood of the Afghan capital.

He said the gunmen were shooting at the facility and it wasn’t immediately clear how many gunmen were involved in the assault.


Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai said the attackers were firing rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi later said three or four attackers took part in the assault and two of them were killed.

He said Afghan forces had cleared the building from the basement all to the fourth floor and were battling gunmen on the fifth floor during the early evening.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

A rocket-propelled grenade (on the left) and RPG-7 launcher. For use, the thinner cylinder part of the rocket-propelled grenade is inserted into the muzzle of the launcher.

There was no immediate word on the number of casualties among civilians and security forces nor any immediate claim of responsibility, which comes a day after a suicide bombing in a Shi’ite area of Kabul killed 34 people and wounded 56 others.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group on Aug. 16, 2018, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Afghanistan’s Western-backed government has been struggling to fend off the Taliban, the Islamic State, and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The US military is testing sealift  fleet like never before

The US military is currently conducting a massive sealift stress test during which ships will flex atrophied muscles needed to fight a great power conflict.

US Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), which oversees important military logistics activities, launched the large-scale “Turbo Activiation” sealift readiness exercise on Sept. 16, 2019, the command announced in a statement Sept. 17, 2019.

While these exercises, which began in 1994, typically include only a handful of ships, the latest iteration will involve 28 vessels from the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) and TRANSCOM’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) Ready Reserve Force.


Navy Capt. Kevin Stephens, a TRANSCOM spokesperson, told Defense News that this is the largest training activation on record.

Ships located along the East, West, and Gulf Coasts will have five days to go from reduced operating status to fully crewed and ready for action. The no-notice activations are usually followed by sea trials.

The MSC, according to The War Zone, has 15 roll-on/roll-off (RORO) cargo ships, and MARAD has another 46 ships consisting of 35 RORO ships and 11 special mission ships. The MSC, Defense News reports, also has 26 pre-positioning ships.

These vessels are “maintained in a reserve status in the event that the Department of Defense needs these ships to support the rapid, massive movement of military supplies and troops for a military exercise or large-scale conflict,” TRANSCOM explained in a statement.

There are reportedly another 60 US-flagged commercial ships in the US Maritime Security Program available to serve, but they are not part of the reserve fleets.

These sealift ships would be responsible for moving roughly 90 percent of US Army and Marine Corps equipment abroad for a fight, but this force has been languishing for years.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

(US Army photo by Steven J. Mirrer)

“We are not in a good position today,” Rear Adm. Peter Clarke, the director of Strategy, Policy, Programs and Logistics at Transportation Command, said of US sealift capabilities last year, according to USNI News. “We’re on the ragged edge,” Kevin Tokarski, the associate administrator at MARAD, explained at that time. “Foreign countries [especially China] are eclipsing us.”

There are also concerns that in the event of a major great power conflict, the US Navy may not be able to provide enough escorts, given that the service is smaller than it once was.

The ongoing stress test is a critical evaluation of the sealift force’s ability to surge ships, but also the “underlying support network involved in maintaining, manning and operating the nation’s ready sealift forces,” TRANSCOM explained.

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

Humor

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of Oct. 13

Another week down. Everything in the news is still terrible.


The White House is imploding. Hollywood is imploding. There’s a Friday the 13th in October.

But you know what you can count on?

Memes. And we have the best military memes around.

1. Nobody wants to work on weekends. Or ever. (via Pop Smoke)

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
You can also apply this to any girlfriend I’ve ever had.

2. If you thought the news from Hollywood was bad…

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
He may not be surprised that we’re still in Afghanistan though.

Read: 6 reasons why it would suck to be a Stormtrooper in Star Wars

3. At least the Army keeps it interesting.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Does this mean they have to bring back DCUs for Iraq and Afghanistan?

4. Blueberries are the new bell bottoms. (via Sh*t My LPO Says)

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
I thought they swabbed decks.

5. Veterans day is coming. You can almost taste the free food.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Vets are getting more aggressive with it every year.

Also: 11 things your platoon medic would never say

6. Grandpa is sick of your bullsh*t. (via Decelerate Your Life)

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Be frightened of old sailors. I am.

7. It’s not just good advice. It’s reality.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

8. It’s the Navy birthday, but the Coast Guard can still ruin the party.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

Now: This Desert Storm gun is a favorite for special ops units

9. For some reason Veterans declared war on JROTC last week.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
They’re all gonna get officer ranks for this. If they, you know, survive.

10. If you know how this started, drop us a line.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
That kid doesn’t even have a single merit badge, I bet.

11. It ain’t about the merit badges, it’s about the freshman next to you.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
At least there’s no hot weapons. Because they’re in high school.

12. JROTC is the calm before the storm.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
That’s true bearing and discipline.

13. JROTC: Send us your best responses.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Veterans only respect strength. They better be good.

Bonus: More of the best JROTC Memes. Enjoy your weekend!

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
via Decelerate Your Life

 

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Zapp Brannigan had 30 Merit Badges as a Freshman.

Also Read: 11 regional American foods we’d like to see in MREs

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Operator AF.

 

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
via Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

That time a President lost the nuclear codes for months – and no one knew

The process the President has to go through to launch the U.S.’s nuclear weapons isn’t as simple as pressing a button, but the key component of that process — the codes needed to authorize the launch — are never far from the president.


At least they’re never supposed to be.

According to Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October 1997 to September 2001, the number of redundancies in the nuclear-launch process “is staggering.” All of steps are “dependent on one vital element without which there can be no launch,” he wrote in his 2010 autobiography, “Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.”

That element, the president’s authorization codes, is supposed to remain in close proximity to the president at all times, carried by one of five military aides, representing each branch of the military. The codes are on a card called the “biscuit” carried within the “football,” a briefcase that is officially known as the “president’s emergency satchel.”

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
The nuclear football (also known as the atomic football, the president’s emergency satchel, the button, the black box, or just the football) is a briefcase, the contents of which are to be used by the President of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

However, around 2000, according to Shelton, a member of the department within the Pentagon that is responsible for all pieces of the nuclear process was dispatched to the White House to physically look at the codes and ensure they were correct — a procedure required to happen every 30 days. (The set of codes was to be replaced entirely every four months.)

That official was told by a presidential aide that President Bill Clinton did have the codes, but was in an important meeting and could not be disturbed.

The aide assured the official that Clinton took the codes seriously and had them close by. The official was dismayed, but he accepted the excuse and left.

Also Read: The US nuclear launch code during the Cold War was weaker than your granny’s AOL password

When the next inspection took place the following month, that official was on vacation, according to Shelton, and another official was dispatched to the White House. The new official was met with the same excuse — the president is very busy, but takes the codes very seriously and has them on hand.

“This comedy of errors went on, without President Clinton’s knowledge I’m sure, until it was finally time to collect the current set and replace them with the new edition,” Shelton writes.

“At this point we learned that the aide had no idea where the old ones were, because they had been missing for months,” he added. “The President never did have them, but he assumed, I’m sure, that the aide had them like he was supposed to.”

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

Shelton and then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen were alarmed. The problem of missing codes had been resolved by changing the codes, but they quickly acted to change the process itself, mandating that the Defense Department official visiting the White House physically see the codes — waiting there to do so if necessary.

Shelton and Cohen feared the saga would reach the press and become an embarrassing story. But word of the missing codes never made it out, and Shelton’s recounting of it in his 2010 book was, to his knowledge, the first time it had been shared publicly.

“This is a big deal — a gargantuan deal — and we dodged a silver bullet,” Shelton writes, adding: “You do whatever you can and think you have an infallible system, but somehow someone always seems to find a way to screw it up.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Dunford reflects on World War I sacrifices

Military leaders must appreciate the changing character of war, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Nov. 11, 2018, as he returned home from Paris, where he was attending ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford reflected on the anniversary, which signaled 100 years since the end of World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

“I think one of the things with World War I is the character of war hadn’t changed in some time,” he said. We saw … our own experience in the Civil War — machine guns, concertina wire, railroads, communications, and so forth. And I think even 50 years later, it’s pretty clear that leaders didn’t fully appreciate the changed character of war and the introduction of new technologies and how they’re going to change war.”


The general described that costs of subsequent wars has “an enduring lesson for all of us, [and] that one of our responsibilities as a leader is to appreciate the changing character of war, and ensure that we anticipate the changes and the implications of those changes.”

Alliances and partnerships

Dunford said the fact that the United States fought alongside allied countries for the first time during World War I resonates even today, as one of three lines of effort within the 2018 National Defense Strategy involves the nation furthering its alliances and partnerships with other nations.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Ellyn, visit the chapel at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial near the Belleau Wood battleground, in Belleau, France, Nov. 10, 2018.

(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

“If you look back at the 20th century, [in] every conflict we were involved in, we participated as part of a coalition, participated with allies and partners on our side: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the main skirmishes that we had in between,” he emphasized. “And … the NDS recognizes that we certainly don’t anticipate being on any future battlefield without allies and partners.”

During his two-and-a-half days in Paris, the chairman participated in the 100th Armistice Day commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe with President Donald J. Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and some 80 other heads of state.

He also attended ceremonies at World War I gravesites of U.S. servicemen at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near the site of the Battle of Belleau Wood in Belleau, France; and Suresnes American Cemetery outside Paris.

Doughboys

Dunford noted some key leaders of World War I, but emphasized, “For me, World War I is less about an individual leader and more about the individual doughboy. Many of them, [at] 17, 18, 19, 20 years old left home for the first time [and] in many cases came from rural America and never had seen anything outside of their hometown before they found themselves on the battlefields of France. And so what I’ve been mindful of all weekend … [is] just the young faces for every young doughboy lost in France.”

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

EUCOM Joint Color Guard carry the colors at Suresnes American Cemetery to honor the centennial of Armistice Day, Paris, France, Nov. 11, 2018.

(Photo by Cpl. Kevin Payne)

Dunford found his tour of Belleau Wood on Nov. 10, 2018 – also the Marine Corps 243rd birthday – to be a solemn experience. Before touring the gravesites, he and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly laid a wreath in front of the chapel at Aisne-Marne cemetery, where the names of 1,060 U.S. service members, whose remains never were found, are etched in stone, high on the chapel’s interior walls.

At the hallowed grounds of the American cemetery and the adjoining World War I battlefield – where the Marine Corps played a key role in securing Allied victory and earned distinction for their tenacity during the battle – the chairman said he was moved by the profound loss that takes place in combat: The human toll.

‘Powerful’ commemoration

At the 100th Armistice Day commemoration at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Nov. 11, 2018, Dunford said he was struck by the number of leaders who all came together to replicate what took place when the deadly war came to an end.

“It was very powerful to see them all there … and to have them representing their countries; and frankly, I think in many ways making a commitment never to repeat the mistakes that led us into World War I,” the chairman reflected. “I think it was a reminder probably for all of us, and certainly those senior leaders in uniform, of the responsibility that we have to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

Articles

The US shuts down Syrian army claims

The U.S.-led coalition fighting against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria has rejected a claim by the Syrian army that a coalition air strike hit poison gas supplies and killed hundreds of people.


A Syrian army statement shown on Syrian state TV on April 13 said that a strike late on April 12 in the eastern Deir al- Zor Province hit supplies belonging to IS, releasing a toxic substance that killed “hundreds including many civilians.”

“The Syrian claim is incorrect and likely intentional misinformation,” U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement. He said the coalition had carried out no air strikes in that area at that time.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on April 13 that it had no information on fatalities in a coalition air strike in Deir al-Zor and was sending drones to the area to monitor the situation.

The claim comes after more than 80 people were killed in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province on April 4 in what the United States and other governments say was a poison gas attack carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The United States responded on April 7 by firing dozens of missiles at the air base where it says the attack originated.

The Syrian government and Russia, its ally, have said they believe the gas was released when Syrian government air strikes hit a rebel chemical weapons facility.

Russia says and its ally Russia deny Damascus carried out any such chemical attack. Moscow has said the poison gas in that incident last week in Idlib Province belonged to rebels.

Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa

Articles

US could be working alongside a terrorist group in Lebanon’s assault on ISIS

Lebanon’s US-backed military is gearing up for a long-awaited assault to dislodge hundreds of Islamic State militants from a remote corner near Syrian border, seeking to end a years-long threat posed to neighboring towns and villages by the extremists.


The campaign will involve cooperation with the militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian army on the other side of the border — although Lebanese authorities insist they are not coordinating with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

But the assault could prove costly for the under-equipped military and risk activating IS sleeper cells in the country.

The tiny Mediterranean nation has been spared the wars and chaos that engulfed several countries in the region since the so-called Arab Spring uprisings erupted in 2011. But it has not been able to evade threats to its security, including sectarian infighting and random car bombings, particularly in 2014, when militants linked to al-Qaeda and IS overran the border region, kidnapping Lebanese soldiers.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
An ‘informal tented settlement’ in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. Lebanon is housing an estimated 1.2 million Syrian refugees. Photo from Department for International Development.

The years-long presence of extremists in the border area has brought suffering to neighboring towns and villages, from shelling, to kidnappings of villagers for ransom. Car bombs made in the area and sent to other parts of the country, including the Lebanese capital, Beirut, have killed scores of citizens.

Aided directly by the United States and Britain, the army has accumulated steady successes against the militants in the past year, slowly clawing back territory, including strategic hills retaken in the past week. Authorities say it’s time for an all-out assault.

The planned operation follows a six-day military offensive by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah that forced al-Qaeda-linked fighters to flee the area on the outskirts of the town of Arsal, along with thousands of civilians.

In a clear distribution of roles, the army is now expected to launch the attack on IS. In the past few days, the army’s artillery shells and multiple rocket launchers have been pounding the mountainous areas on the Lebanon-Syria border where IS held positions, in preparation for the offensive. Drones could be heard around the clock and residents of the eastern Bekaa Valley reported seeing army reinforcements arriving daily in the northeastern district of Hermel to join the battle.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Members of the Lebanese Armed Forces operate a Talon explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robot with Sailors assigned to Commander, Task Group (CTG) 56.1 during Resolute Response 16 in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Scott

The offensive from the Lebanese side of the border will be carried out by the Lebanese army, while Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters will be working to clear the Syrian side of IS militants. Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Assad’s forces since 2013.

On August 8, the army’s top brass conferred with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and interior and defense ministers at the Presidential Palace to plan operations in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

The committee took the “necessary counsel and decisions to succeed in the military operations to eliminate the terrorists,” Maj. Gen. Saadallah Hamad said after the meeting.

Experts say more than 3,000 troops, including elite special forces, are in the northeastern corner of Lebanon to take part in the offensive. The army will likely use weapons it received from the United States, including Cessna aircraft that discharge Hellfire missiles.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Two AGM-114 Hellfire Missiles. Photo by 玄史生 via Wikimedia Commons.

Keen to support the army rather than the better equipped Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the US and Britain have supplied the military with helicopters, anti-tank missiles, artillery, and radars, as well as training. The American Embassy says the US has provided Lebanon with over $1.4 billion in security assistance since 2005.

But the fight is not expected to be quick or easy.

According to Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, there are about 400 IS fighters in the Lebanese area, and hundreds more on the Syrian side of the border.

“It is not going to be a picnic,” said Hisham Jaber, a retired army general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut. “The Lebanese army will try to carry out the mission with the least possible losses.”

Jaber said the battle may last several weeks. “It is a rugged area and the organization (IS) is well armed and experienced.”

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Marines with Charlie Company and Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Soldiers of the Lebanese Army conduct a live-fire, combined arms range, May 12, 2012. Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad Kiehl

There are also concerns the offensive may subject Lebanon to retaliatory attacks by militants, just as the country has started to enjoy a rebound in tourism.

A Lebanese security official said authorities are taking strict security measures to prevent any attack deep inside Lebanon by sleeper cells. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said authorities have detained several IS militants over the past weeks.

Lebanese politicians say IS controls an area of about 296 square kilometers (114 square miles) between the two countries, of which 141 square kilometers (54.5 square miles) are in Lebanon.

The area stretches from the badlands of the Lebanese town of Arsal and Christian villages of Ras Baalbek and Qaa, to the outskirts of Syria’s Qalamoun region and parts of the western Syrian town of Qusair that Hezbollah captured in 2013.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

In a televised speech last August 4, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said that once the Lebanese army launches its offensive from the Lebanese side, Hezbollah and the Syrian army will begin their attack from the Syrian side. He added that there has to be coordination between the Syrian and Lebanese armies in the battle.

“Opening two fronts at the same time will speed up victory and reduce losses,” Nasrallah said, adding that his fighters on the Lebanese side of the border are at the disposal of Lebanese troops if needed.

“I tell Daesh that the Lebanese and Syrians will attack you from all sides and you will not be able to resist and will be defeated,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group.

“If you decide to fight, you will end up either a prisoner or dead,” Nasrallah added.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Syrian brothers who are now refugees living in an informal tented settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Photo from DFID Flickr.

Some Lebanese politicians have been opposed to security coordination with the Syrian army. The Lebanese are sharply divided over Syria’s civil war that has spilled to the tiny country of 4.5 million people. Lebanon is hosting some 1.2 million Syrian refugees.

Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, is opposed to Assad while his national unity Cabinet includes Hezbollah as well as other groups allied with the Syrian president.

Last week, Hariri told reporters that Lebanese authorities are ready to negotiate to discover the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers who were captured during the raid on Arsal by IS and al-Qaeda fighters in August 2014. Unlike their rivals in al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group is not known to negotiate prisoner exchanges.

“The presence of Daesh will end in Lebanon,” Hariri said, using the same Arabic acronym to refer to IS.

Articles

North Korean nuke fears prompt interest in abandoned ICBM sites

As the owner selling an excavated underground Minuteman II missile site in Missouri on eBay, California investor Russ Nielsen reads the pulse of America’s darkest fears.


The number of people visiting the historic property’s eBay information page spikes like an EKG in a heart attack.

Ordinarily, the curious property located near Holden, MO, may get some 70 online views a day, Nielsen said by phone this week from California.

When Donald Trump won the presidency last November? Boom. The site was getting 140 to 150 hits a day.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

And now, as North Korea’s volatile leader Kim Jong Un defiantly sends ballistic missiles over Japan, survivalists and the frightened are back at some 150 views a day.

“It’s definitely a ‘prepper’ kind of thing,” Nielsen said, referring to the slang term for people who want to be prepared in the event of widespread calamity and disorder.

Bomb shelter companies across the nation are reporting a boost in sales.

The selling price for Nielsen’s unique property, though, is steep for most people, he said. It’s going for $325,000. He’s had five potential buyers who were serious since he put it up for sale in the fall of 2015, he said. A couple of them are still trying to raise the financing.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria

What Nielsen recovered — at great cost and effort over a span of two years — is the “Mike-1” Minuteman II missile launch facility that housed the missileers who controlled the triggers to 10 of the 150 intercontinental missile sites scattered across central Missouri under the command of Whiteman Air Force Base.

Most of the Minuteman II sites — including all of the Missouri sites — were decommissioned some 20 years ago. Their shafts were buried under a mix of concrete, mud, and rock that was meant to deter any thoughts of reactivating them.

The project, including the maddening bureaucracy in getting his quixotic venture approved, turned into such a laborious boondoggle that Nielsen admits he wouldn’t have done it knowing what he knows now.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Russ Nielsen stands at the entrance of his Minuteman-II silo, before renovation. Photo by Joe Ledford of The Kansas City Star.

But, having endured it, he has relished the many inquiries he has received from veterans who served underground those many decades ago — “Ratmen,” they called themselves. The history of America’s Cold War has been fascinating.

The Minuteman II missiles represented the height of America’s Cold War arsenal, with about 1,000 of them forever ready to launch.

Some 450 sites with Minuteman III missiles remain ready in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Thousands of Russian private contractors are fighting in Syria
Image from the Kansas City Star

Not surprisingly, some of Nielsen’s most interested potential buyers have had an eye on the site’s unique history as well as its accommodations in the event of a national disaster.

One potential buyer has been trying to gather financing for an historical movie project, he said. Another has interest in turning it into a residential training facility for martial and military arts.

Not surprising for a property whose curb appeal requires a bit of imagination.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How you can get all of your old award and service documents

Most veterans look forward to that beautiful DD-214, the discharge form from active duty. Whether you’re a long-timer looking forward to retirement, a one-termer just waiting to get out and go to college or back to the civilian workforce, or a reservist or National Guardsman looking to end an active duty stint, the 214 is your ticket out.


But it’s not just a ticket, it’s also the primary record of everything you did while on active duty. It’s the document you use to prove where you served, what awards you earned, and more. But there are a couple potential problems.

First, what if your DD-214 isn’t perfect? What if things are missing? After all, the DD-214 is usually the last piece of paper an active duty service members needs to get their ticket home or back to their reserve component. If a couple missing pieces of text on the DD-214 are all that’s standing between the dude getting out and his trip to Florida for college and drinks, he may ignore the discrepancy and get on the road.

But if a DD-214 is incomplete or gets lost (oh, yeah, you’ve never lost a piece of paper. Congratulations), there’s a way to replace them, and it’s probably not the office you would expect.

The U.S. National Archives, the place that maintains a bunch of photos of the D-Day landings and the Declaration of Independence, also receives copies of most service records. If your admin shop processed it and it should go in your OMPF—the official military personnel file, there’s a decent chance the National Archives has a copy of it.

That NATO Medal you got in Afghanistan but lost the 638 while re-deploying home? The orders sending you to and from Korea? And, most importantly, the DD-214 from when you got out? Yup, there’s a solid chance the National Archives has a copy of it even though you lost it in literally your first barracks move after you got your copy.

And they’re happy to send you those records whether it’s for nostalgia or for proving a medical claim at the VA or just to back up your bar claims.

But you most likely don’t live near the National Archives, so how do you get your hands on it? Well, you can write them a letter including your complete name from your service records (so, whatever your legal name was while in the military), branch of service, social security number, service numbers, date of bi—

Uh, a lot. They want you to put a lot in the letter. But there’s also an online service where you just fill out a web form with all the info that would be in the letter. Since you’re reading this article on the internet, we’re going to assume that would be easier for you. (If the letter is easier for you, the required information is available here.)

Everyone who prefers to submit their request online can access eVetRecs, an online tool that looks like it was coded in 1994 but seems to work fine. Just fill out the online form and wait for the sweet military records to show up at your house.

But you will, likely, be waiting a little while. The National Personnel Records Center says it receives about 4,000-5,000 requests per day. When everything you’re looking for is in one spot and easy to get to, they can typically respond within 10 days. This is especially true if you just need a DD-214 that already exists.

But if your records were hit by the 1973 Fire, are older records, or just got spread to the winds by some crazy, rare error, then it could take six months or more to get your documents to you.

There is a carve-out for emergencies. Their examples are surgeries, funerals, and following natural disasters when the veteran or their next of kin needs end of service documents to get certain benefits. Those requests have to be made by phone or fax.