Every April veterans and volunteers gather at the Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia for an annual 2-fly fishing tournament known as “Project Healing Waters.” This year was the 10th anniversary and the event raised over $200,000 for veterans services.
WATM sat down with keynote speaker Tom Brokaw and several veterans who have found physical and mental improvement through the program.
Listen to the interview with Tom Brokaw:
More than 7,500 vets from every war since WWII have taken part in Project Healing Waters in 2015 alone. There are hundreds of local programs in addition to the national events.
Along with the psychological benefits of the camaraderie and being out in nature, the technical aspects of fly-fishing help those with all sorts of injuries recover, from a physical therapy perspective. They have taken blind people and quadriplegics out to catch fish.
84 cents of every dollar raised goes to the veterans services making it one of the leanest veterans services programs.
To learn more about Project Healing Waters, visit their website.
Iran is negotiating a controversial 25-year agreement with China that has led to accusations that parts of Iran are being sold to Beijing.
Some critics — including the U.S. State Department — are comparing the proposed deal to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay between Persia and tsarist Russia, under which the Persians ceded control of territory in the South Caucasus.
Iranian officials have dismissed the criticism as baseless while promising to make the text of the agreement public once it is finalized.
What Do We Know About The Agreement?
The pact was proposed in a January 2016 trip to Iran by Chinese President Xi Jinping during which the two sides agreed to establish their ties based on a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, while announcing discussions would begin aimed at concluding a 25-year bilateral pact.
The announcement received the support of Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was quoted by Iranian media as saying that the agreement reached between the two sides was “wise.”
The text of the agreement, which will need to be approved by parliament, has not been released. But in recent days an 18-page document has been making the rounds on social media that outlines future cooperation between the countries, including Chinese investment in Iran’s energy sector as well as in the country’s free-trade zones.
RFE/RL cannot verify the authenticity of the document, which has been cited by some Iranian and Western media as a leaked version of the planned pact between Iran and China.
Analysts note the agreement being circulated is very light on details and appears to be the framework of a potential deal.
According to the text, which is labeled “final edit” on its front page and dated the Iranian month of Khordad — which starts May 21 and ends June 19 — the two sides will also increase military and security cooperation while working on joint-projects in third countries.
Iran has in recent months increasingly reached out to China in the face of growing U.S. pressure to isolate Tehran. China remains Iran’s main trading partner but trade between the two sides has dropped due to U.S. pressure in recent years.
Analysts say China is not ready to give Tehran the support it seeks while also suggesting that some of the cooperation envisaged in the pact may never materialize.
Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said, given its importance, the U.S. will always trump Iran for China.
“Iran is a small, risky market, sanctions have severely impeded business [there], and the regime is isolated,” she told RFE/RL. “Meanwhile, China has major economic interests in the U.S. and the trade war is still an important concern for China, which will inevitably shape its relationship with Iran.”
“If we look into what we know about the document and make some educated guesses, we see that the agreement is little more than a comprehensive road map based on the 2016 framework, which does not resolve the main issue of the China-Iran partnership — its implementation,” Jacopo Scita, an Al-Sabah doctoral fellow at Durham University, told RFE/RL.
Why Is The Treaty Controversial?
The pact is being discussed at a time when Iran is under intense pressure due to harsh U.S. sanctions that have crippled the economy and a deadly coronavirus pandemic that has worsened the economic situation.
The timing as well as the scope and duration of the agreement has led to increased concerns that Tehran is negotiating with China from a position of weakness while giving Beijing access to Iran’s natural resources for many years to come.
A distrust in the Iranian authorities that intensified after a deadly November crackdown on antiestablishment protests and the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet — which was initially seen as a coverup — has also contributed to the criticism of the proposed deal.
A lack of trust in China, as well as rising anti-China sentiments due to the coronavirus pandemic, has also contributed to the controversy surrounding the pact.
Tabatabai, the co-author of a book on Iranian ties with Russia and China, says the relationship between Tehran and Beijing has long been perceived as benefiting China far more than Iran.
“The perception isn’t fully inaccurate,” she said. “From the elite’s perspective, China makes big promises and delivers little. And from the population’s perspective, China has been benefiting from the sanctions on Iran, it’s flooded the Iranian market, pushed out Iranian businesses, and has delivered products that are subpar.”
She added: “Many Iranians feel like this deal will cement this unbalanced relationship.”
What Are The Critics Saying?
Criticism of the planned pact appears to have increased following comments by former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who warned in a speech in late June that a 25-year agreement with “a foreign country” was being discussed “away from the eyes of the Iranian nation.”
Others have since joined the criticism, including former conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, who appeared to suggest on Twitter that before signing the pact Iran should raise the fate of Muslims who are reportedly being persecuted in China.
Scita, who closely follows Iranian-Chinese relations, says some of the hype and anger surrounding the agreement were boosted by public figures with political agendas, including Ahmadinejad, who is said to be eying the 2021 presidential election.
The exiled son of the shah of Iran, the country’s last monarch who was ousted following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has also criticized the pact.
Reza Pahlavi, who’s taken an increasingly active role against the Islamic republic, blasted the “shameful, 25-year treaty with China that plunders our natural resources and places foreign soldiers on our soil.” He also called on his supporters to oppose the treaty.
The Persian account of the U.S. State Department referred to the planned agreement as a “second Turkmenchay” and said that Tehran is afraid to share the details of the pact because “no part of it is beneficial to the Iranian people.”
What Are Iranian Officials Saying?
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that Tehran was negotiating an agreement with China “with confidence and conviction,” while insisting there was nothing secret about it.
Since then, officials have defended the deal while dismissing claims that Iran will sell discounted oil to China or give Kish Island to Beijing.
President Hassan Rohani’s chief of staff, Mahmud Vaezi, said over the weekend that the framework of the agreement has been defined, adding that the negotiations are likely to be finalized by March 21.
Vaezi also said the agreement does not include foreign control over any Iranian islands or the deployment of Chinese military forces in the country.
U.S., NATO ally, and partner paratroopers participated in the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company’s Operation Toy Drop Dec. 11-14, 2018.
Operation Toy Drop is an annual multi-national training event. It entails sharing airborne operations, tactics, techniques and procedures, strengthening relationships with local communities and with NATO allies and partners as well as developing interoperability.
“It’s so much fun seeing other nations get in on our training and us to get on their training to see how they operate with these airborne operations, to see how we operate,” said Sgt. Kyle D. Shields, a parachute rigger with the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade.
“All of us use different parachute systems across the different militaries, so it’s just trying to get everybody synced up in one parachute system and make sure everybody understands that every system has a risk factor and different ways you have to steer it, fly it and turn it,” Shields said.
Holiday cheer played a major role during Operation Toy Drop.
Capt. Rizzoli Elias, company commander, the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, gives a German child a stuffed animal as part of Operation Toy Drop at Alzey, Germany Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
Part of this cheer was Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and elves jumping out of an airplane and then giving toys to children from the Kaiserslautern area. Both U.S. and German children smiled and laughed with excitement as they received presents from members of the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company, who dressed up as Christmas characters during Operation Toy Drop. The toys given to the children were donated by paratroopers participating in this event.
U.S., NATO ally, and partner service members receive Irish jump wings during a wing ceremony exchange hosted by the 5th Quartermaster Theater Aerial Delivery Company, at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Kaiserslautern, Germany Dec. 14, 2018.
(Photo by taff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
“It’s a huge role for us to give back, especially to the local community within Germany, to all these kids and the American community that may not get as many presents as we do on Christmas,” said Sgt. Joshua A. Parkinson, an aerial delivery supervisor with the 5th Quartermaster, Theater Aerial Delivery Company. “For us to be able to do something for them while enjoying it together, then to get to watch their faces at the drop zone as Santa comes around and hands them toys from a bundle that dropped down from the sky … it’s really an indescribable feeling, but it’s something that every single jumper out here, whether they’re American or not, absolutely loves.”
Paratroopers from U.S., NATO ally and partner militaries “high five” children at Alzey Drop Zone during Operation Toy Drop at Alzey, Germany Dec. 13, 2018.
(Photo by taff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario)
Operation Toy Drop concluded with a wing exchange ceremony, in which paratroopers that jumped with a foreign nation, would get a certificate with that country’s wings.
“For us being able to give them American jump wings and from us receiving any number of the number of countries that are here, even the British are giving out jump wings for the first time in years, for me that is absolutely huge,” Parkinson said. “It builds a real sense of these are the people to my left and right that I can count on. We go downrange, we go to a firefight these are the people we’ll be working with and for me that is absolutely everything.”
According to Shields, one of the biggest takeaways is looking forward to future operations with the NATO allies.
“We established a lot of good connections and contacts here while we were doing Operation Toy Drop,” Shields said. “That allows us to communicate with the other armies that are around us so that we can plan additional training exercises and other tactics teaching.”
He had been suspiciously summoned to Moscow. They had got him drunk on cognac while a KGB general grilled him for four hours. He’d be executed if they could catch him. They seemed to be closing the net. But the MI6 double agent couldn’t risk openly fleeing.
After he sobered up at home, Oleg Gordiyevsky turned to his last resort — an emergency escape plan devised by the British intelligence services that was hidden in invisible ink in a collection of Shakespeare sonnets.
Pulling bed sheets over his head to elude surveillance cameras in the ceiling and walls of his Moscow apartment, Gordiyevsky soaked the book cover in water, revealing a set of instructions. He set about memorizing them.
The plan sketched out a risky rendezvous with two British diplomatic cars at the bend of a road near Finland. From there, Gordiyevsky would be smuggled across the border in the trunk of a car right under the nose of Soviet guards.
If the plan failed, the British security services would lose a prized asset, sometimes considered the West’s most valuable Cold War intelligence source. The plan was backed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: if uncovered it would spark a major diplomatic incident; for Gordiyevsky it would mean certain death.
Recruited in 1974 in Copenhagen by MI6, Gordiyevsky, a KGB colonel, was an unparalleled source within the secretive Soviet state, passing reams of information to the British, who shared it with the CIA. It led to him being compromised. Gordiyevsky blames Aldrich Ames, a KGB mole in the CIA, who he says told Moscow there was a leak in the KGB London station where Gordiyevsky was posted.
‘Toward Death’s Embrace’
Gordiyevsky was summoned to the KGB’s Lubyanka headquarters in Moscow, ostensibly so that he could be confirmed as station chief. But Gordiyevsky suspected something was up.
“I realized I was going toward death’s embrace. But I still decided to go to show that I’m not scared,” he said. He took with him a backup escape plan written by British spy John Scarlett, the man who went on to become “M,” the head of MI6.
All he had to do was inform the British of the proposed date of his extraction. But even that proved hard.
A first “control” meeting arranged at Kutuzovsky Prospekt was botched. A second rendezvous was planned at St. Basil’s Cathedral, where he was meant to pass a note to a British spy on the narrow staircase leading up to the iconic tourist site’s second floor.
But after walking for three hours to shake off his KGB tail, Gordiyevsky arrived to find the plan had been foiled — the whole of Red Square was closed for renovations.
Finally, a third control meeting was successful. The plan was on.
At five o’clock on a Friday afternoon on July 19, 1985, a short, thick-set man in a worn jacket and corduroy trousers stepped out of a west Moscow apartment. Staying close to the bushes to avoid detection by a surveillance vehicle, he quietly slipped across to an adjacent street.
Within an hour Gordiyevsky was at Moscow’s Leningrad train station, where he bought tickets to Leningrad before travelling by suburban electric train to Zelenogorsk. From there, he jumped on a bus to Vyborg.
Hours Of Waiting
The meeting place was somewhere along the way, but he had only a description of the meeting place and no precise location.
Unsure exactly where to get off but having passed a big bend in the road that resembled the meeting place, he feigned sickness and nausea to convince the driver to let him off, and walked back along the road until he found the designated meeting place.
“I was surrounded by woodland where I laid down waiting for the diplomatic car of the [British] embassy. I lay there three hours waiting for the moment when the car was meant to come. At 2:20 a.m. two cars with two drivers arrived. They managed to hide around the bend for a few minutes away from the KGB car following them from Leningrad.”
“I dived into the trunk of one of the cars. The whole operation took no longer than a minute, we managed to get going again before the KGB tail appeared round the corner.”
Luckily, a slow goods train chugging through a railway crossing had separated the British diplomats from the KGB tail and put considerable distance between them. The KGB sped forward to catch up, but the British cars had waited by a small hill out of sight and the KGB overshot them.
“Our pursuers, having reached a traffic police post, asked the police: ‘Where are the English cars?'”
“‘What cars? No one has passed,’ [they answered]. And then our cars appeared. They surrounded the English: ‘Right, that’s it, now they’re going to arrest us,’ they thought. But the KGB were also tired. It was half past five, Saturday, end of the working day. They’d been on duty since about 7 that morning and let us go through to the border point without checking us.”
From the trunk of the car, all Gordiyevsky could hear was the driver turn on a piece of music by Sibelius called Finlandia.
“That’s how I realized we were on Finnish territory.”
In Finland, Gordiyevsky was let out of the stuffy trunk of the car and met by a young British diplomat named Michael Shipster. He called MI6, Gordiyevsky recalls, and announced: “The luggage has arrived. It’s all in order.”
China could respond to a law that encourages relations between the US and Taiwan with “military pressure,” the country’s state-run media said on March 18, 2018.
On March 16, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act, which went into effect the following day, encouraging visits between the United States and Taiwan at all levels. The US ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 but continues to have a “robust unofficial relationship” with the self-ruled, democratic island that Beijing considers a province of China.
“China will and should take timely countermeasures against the US and all “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces through diplomatic and military means if US legislation that encourages high-level contact between the US and the island of Taiwan is implemented,” China’s English language Global Times reported.
The paper, an offshoot of the People’s Daily, cited a former major general in the Chinese army and Liu Weidong, an expert in US relations at a government-run research institute. And given the publication’s close links to Beijing, the views likely align with those in power.
The Chinese embassy in Washington initially responded on March 16, 2018, saying the law “severely violates” the “political foundation of the China-U.S. relationship” and its “one-China” approach to Taiwan.
In 2005, China created an anti-secession law that allows the country to use “non-peaceful means” to prevent Taiwan establishing independence.
“If any ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces perceive the US bill as a ‘pro-independence’ signal, the Chinese army will resume its military probes circling the island and send more military vessels and airplanes to patrol the Straits,” Global Times quoted Liu as saying.
China regularly carries out military drills near Taiwan, which has been a cause for concern internationally. In 2017, China conducted 16 drills near Taiwan and a report from the island’s defense department said China’s “military threat towards us grows daily.”
China may also take diplomatic action against the US, Global Times said, including stopping high-ranking official visits to Washington for a set time.
High-level diplomatic relations between the two countries appear to be getting more strained by the day.
The heightened tensions between China and the US come after Trump signed a law in December 2017 allowing US navy ships to visit Taiwan. China previously said any such visits could provoke war.
Trump also appeared to target China with new tariffs on steel and aluminum. In response, China warned the US that trade wars “harm the initiator” and is thought to be considering responding with its own tariffs.
Skating is an art form which most people will never fully learn — until now. In 1986, Paramount pictures released “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” which taught countless teens how to play sick and get out of school.
Written and directed by the legendary John Hughes, the film focuses on a teenager who embarks on an incredible journey throughout Chicago while being unknowingly stalked by his high school principal.
While taking the day off, Bueller and his two friends learn more about themselves in a day than they would ever expect.
So check out our list of how Bueller taught us the art of the skate.
1. Be convincing
First, come up with an epic excuse why you’re unable to partake in a military activity (like going to work), and make sure you sell that sh*t like Bueller sold being sick to his parents.
Getting a “Sick in Quarters” slip is the goal if you’re in the military.
I hope I look sick enough. (Source: Paramount/Screenshot)
2. Use your assets properly
Unfortunately, Bueller doesn’t have a car to drive himself around. So once he officially earns his day off via his parents, it’s time to get on the phone and find someone to pick you up.
Skating should be a team effort, but make sure you repay the favor and help someone else skate on another day.
3. Know the loopholes
Here, Bueller hacks the school’s computer absence program and changes how many days he has been absent. You probably won’t have this ability unless you have a special security clearance, but the moral of this story is to understand your limits.
For instance, if your boss isn’t going to be around — you’re not going to be around. Get it? Good.
4. Have an epic backstory
During roll call, Bueller’s name is called out several times before this hot girl (Kristy Swanson) gives the teacher a bullsh*t reason why he isn’t in school. It works well during military roll call when the service member calling out names just wants to get on with the day and not hear any excuses — another loophole.
5. Play the role
In the event you get an unknown phone call or run into someone outside your skating circle, divert into the sick mode ASAP.
Ferris uses his best buddy Cameron to impersonate his girlfriend’s dad to get her out of school. Now, you probably won’t have to do all that, but it’s awesome to have military friends who are willing to skate alongside you that you trust.
Seventy-year-old Robert L. Brady has until Jan. 11 to give up Bane, the mixed-breed sidekick that his psychologist deemed as an emotional support dog.
His Conway-area condominium association won an arbitration order Dec. 12 requiring the Vietnam veteran to surrender the 4-year-old dog because it exceeds the community’s 35-pound weight limit for pets. Bane weighs about 41 pounds. The canine now faces an uncertain future even as assistance dogs have gained greater access to communities, restaurants and shops.
“The reason I don’t want to lose him is that he keeps my mind off the war and everything. He’s just a wonderful companion,” said the widower, who retired last year from working as a theme-park bus driver. “My life would be lost without a good companion and that’s why I’m doing all I can to keep from having to get rid of him.”
Brady’s attorney, Jonathan Paul, said the association discriminated by looking only at the dog’s weight without considering the disabled military veteran’s documented need for an emotional support animal. He said they are also seeking guidance under federal fair housing laws aimed at protecting housing rights of disabled residents.
Homeowner and condo associations are among those grappling with the boundary lines for emotional support dogs. Unlike service dogs trained to assist disabled people with daily tasks, emotional support animals don’t require training. They can be any species and require no certification to assist owners who have psychological disabilities, according to a June article published by the National Institutes of Health. In Florida, one association lawyer is seeking legislation to further clarify issues related to emotional support animals.
Florida law allows service dogs that calm “an individual with post traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack.” Dogs that simply provide comfort, companionship and security don’t qualify as service dogs, according to statutes.
Orlando Veteran Administration psychologist Matthew Waesche wrote in an October 2015 letter that Brady was under his care and that the dog appears to help keep his owner’s mental health issues in remission.
Orlando attorney Peter McGrath, who represents Orange Tree Village Condominiums, said Brady is a sympathetic figure but the association’s animal restrictions become meaningless if left unenforced.
Brady and his dog have never caused problems, although Bane once lunged at a dachshund owned by an association officer and sometimes barks for extended periods, McGrath said. The situation is complicated because Brady’s adult children resided in a nearby Orange Tree Village condo and kept the dog there until they were cited more than a year ago by the association, the attorney added. And even though no one has done genetic testing, McGrath said Bane could be a breed mix that is prohibited on the condo grounds.
The bottom line is that Brady can continue to pursue further legal channels but must give up the dog in three weeks unless he gets an injunction, McGrath added.
Donna Berger, an attorney who specializes in Florida condominium association law, said property-owner associations can sometimes be “mean spirited” but pet owners can also push the limits in efforts to keep dogs that violate rules.
“Every pet that needs to go suddenly morphs into an ESA [emotional support animal],” she said. “It’s the same old routine.”
She said she is pushing for legislation calling for pet owners to establish the need for emotional support animals with current medical records.
Bane lays his chestnut-and-white head in Brady’s lap as his owner describes why he needs the dog: “Since my wife passed, he helps take my mind off stuff, like the war.”
Orange Tree Village Condominiums has focused on Bane’s weight for more than a year. Brady said he has been trying to feed the pet lean food to bring him closer to the limit but he doesn’t want to starve Bane just to comply with the association’s prescribed weight for pets.
Berger, whose firms represents associations across the state, said evicting animals based on their weight is “senseless” because size doesn’t predict whether a dog will attack someone. Larger dogs can be more gentle and puppies are acceptable weights — until they grow up. By then, they are cemented into the family.
“A lot of these weight restrictions are antiquated,” she said.
“The whole incident lasted about eight minutes,” Tremel told the site. “I did not directly communicate with the Syrian Jet but he was given several warnings by our supporting AWACS aircraft.”
Central Command said that after pro-Syrian fighter jets bombed the SDF-held town of Ja’Din around 4:30 p.m., they called Russia on the ‘de-confliction line’ to get them to stop the air raids. At 6:43 p.m., a Syrian Su-22 dropped more ordnance, and in response, Tremel, flying an F/A-18E Super Hornet, shot the fighter jet down.
Here’s the rest of Tremel’s story:
“So yes, we released ordnance and yes it hit a target that was in the air, but it really just came back to defending those guys that were doing the hard job on the ground and taking that ground back from ISIS … I didn’t see the pilot eject but my wingman observed his parachute … When you think about the shoot-down, in the grand scheme of things … we [our squadron] flew over 400 missions in support of friendly forces on the ground … [Russia] behaved with great professionalism at all times.”
Tremel also said that he first shot at the Su-22 with an infrared guided AIM-9X Sidewinder short range air-to-air missile, but the Syrian jet released decoy flares, and the missile missed.
He then fired a second radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, which destroyed the Su-22.
Tremel made the call himself to shoot down the Su-22 in accordance with the rules of engagement, according to Military.com.
A major Islamic State group counterattack July 7 along the northern edge of Mosul’s Old City neighborhood has pushed Iraqi Army forces back some 75 meters (82 yards) and is threatening recent gains in other Old City fronts, an Iraqi military officer said.
The officer said the attack was launched just after noon July 7 and estimated it was carried out by 50 to 100 IS fighters. A doctor at a medic station said he received more than a dozen wounded Iraqi soldiers.
Both men spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Iraqi security forces have retaken almost all of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — from IS militants who overran it in 2014.
In late June, IS counterattacks on the western edge of Mosul — neighborhoods retaken months earlier — stalled the push by Iraqi forces to go deeper into the Old City as they forced a reallocation of Iraqi ground forces, coalition surveillance, and air support.
Unlike the July 7 attack, the late June counterattack was launched from outside Mosul, most likely from Tal Afar, an IS-held town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Mosul.
The counterattacks underscore the extremist group’s resilience in Iraq, despite significant territorial losses and months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by US air power.
The pockets of IS-held Mosul now measure less than a square kilometer.
Also on July 7, The UN’s migration agency suspended operations in two camps — the Qayara air strip emergency site and the Haj Ali camp — near Mosul hosting nearly 80,000 displaced Iraqis due to sporadic violence and exchange of gunfire.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the security situation prevented six water-tanker trucks from entering the Haj Ali camp, where temperatures reached the low 50s Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in recent days.
Humanitarian groups have repeatedly suspended operations in and around Mosul due to security concerns since the fight to retake the city from IS began last October.
In April, the United Nations suspended operations in the same area due to security threats along the road south of Mosul’s western half.
In February, the UN suspended operations in eastern Mosul weeks after the area was declared fully liberated as IS attacks continued to inflict heavy civilian casualties.
In both instances, the UN resumed operations within a matter of days.
Armenian soldiers take positions along the border with Azerbaijan (Armenian Defense Ministry Press Service)
For decades, Azerbaijan and Armenia have feuded over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the region is mostly governed by the Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent state with an ethnic Armenian majority population. Despite the formal cessation of hostilities in 1994 after a two-year war over the region, clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces continue to erupt along the border.
Following a week-long series of military exercises in the disputed region at the end of May, skirmishes broke out on July 12 which left four Azerbaijani soldiers dead and several wounded on both sides. The South Caucasus neighbors blamed each other for the outbreak of violence. While Azerbaijani and Armenian government representatives threatened deadly consequences should the conflict escalate, the international community weighed in.
Turkey, a historic enemy of Armenia, expressed strong support for Azerbaijan in the conflict. Moscow, an ally to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, expressed concern over the fighting and warned that further escalation could undermine the security of the region. The United States condemned the violence and urged for the de-escalation of hostilities via direct communication links.
Hopes of a return to the ceasefire were dashed as both sides continued to exchange rocket and artillery fire along the border on July 13. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense posted a video showing Azerbaijani artillery destroying an Armenian military base. Later in the day, both sides reported damage to civilian houses.
Hostilities escalated further on July 14 as both sides employed UAVs for aerial strikes. Armenian-made UAVs were used in combat for the first time. “[They] showed brilliant results,” said former Spokesperson for the Armenian Ministry of Defense Artsrun Hovhannisyan. “It seems high-ranking officers became victims of their strike.” Later in the day, Azerbaijan confirmed the deaths of Major General Popad Hashimov and Colonel Ilgar Mirzoev as well as five other servicemen.
On July 15, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense shared four videos of Armenian bases and vehicles being destroyed by Azerbaijani artillery fire. In response, Hovhannisyan shared a video of shelled Armenian houses and blamed Azerbaijan for attacking civilian villages. As of the writing of this article, exchanges of fire along the border between the two countries continues.
To date, Armenia has confirmed five of their soldiers killed, one as recently as July 23, and a further 36 wounded. Azerbaijan has confirmed 11 of their soldiers killed, including the aforementioned Major General and Colonel.
The outbreak of violence between the two countries has prompted protests by ethnic Azeris and Armenians around the world. On July 17, a protest outside the Armenian embassy in London turned violent. Carrying their national flags and chanting slogans, Azeris and Armenians exchanged insults before the demonstrations devolved into physical altercations, forcing the intervention of law enforcement.
On July 19, about 500 Armenians from around France congregated in Paris to protest in front of the Azerbaijani embassy. To prevent a repeat of the violence in London, the organizers did not publicize the event in advance and communicated via telephone. Without approval for the demonstration, the protesters were dispersed by police before long.
Protests have been taking place around the world and the United States is no exception. In Los Angeles, which has the highest population of Armenians outside of Armenia, a protest on July 21 near the Azerbaijan Consulate General in Brentwood turned violent. Fistfights broke out leaving demonstrators on both sides and one LAPD officer injured.
July 23 saw an escalation of violence in Europe. In Germany, an official government vehicle was set on fire outside of the Armenian Embassy in Berlin. In Ukraine, an Armenian owned coffee shop was burned down. A video of the fire surfaced online along with a narration that translates to, “This is an Armenian coffee shop in Kiev. This is a gift to Armenians from the Azerbaijanis. Accept it.” In Russia, violence has come in the form of street attacks. At least two Armenian men have been beaten by Azeris. The Russian Special Purpose Police Unit known as OMON has taken an undisclosed number of Azeris into custody for the attacks.
As the fighting in the Caucasus region spills over across the globe, the United States response remains hopeful of de-escalation and a return to a ceasefire. However, with violence surging, more experienced military veterans may need to dust off their old maps and MDMP slides from the GAAT scenario.
An overview GAAT map (US Army Combined Arms Center)
When Eugene Stoner first introduced his aluminum and plastic Armalite rifle that would later become the basis for the M16 and M4, he scarcely could have imagined his little black rifle would still be in the hands of infantrymen more than 50 years later. Yet, after dozens of conflicts, Stoner’s lightweight automatic rifle persists — though it’s been modernized along the way.
The M16 evolved into the M16A1 all the way through M16A4 before being retired to non-frontline units. But along the way a shorter, handier carbine version was introduced. The earliest version of the M4 that featured most of the telltale aspects of the design was the CAR-15 SMG. Despite being labeled a submachine gun, the CAR-15 SMG still used the 5.56mm cartridge.
The SMG featured an overly-complex (yet functional) collapsible stock, shortened barrel and fixed carry handle. The biggest difference between early versions of the M16 and modern variations is modularity. Older models needed either modification, or special components to attach accessories like tac lights, lasers or optics. Yet underneath the anodized aluminum shell of every M4, lies the original M16.
Why does this matter? Because it shows that the M4 (in one form or another) is here to stay. It may evolve and grow, but the rifle itself will likely only leave U.S. service when something truly revolutionary emerges. Not a different rifle, nor a different caliber, but a different method of launching projectiles than smokeless powder altogether.
Imagine the cost and logistical nightmare of replacing all M4 rifles in service with all branches of the military. The price would be staggering. And that’s largely why the Army balked at replacing the M4 several years ago — too expensive, and not enough of a “leap” in technology to justify the cost.
The only way Congress would green light a true replacement weapon system is if something arrived that instantly made all modern firearms obsolete.
What would that weapon be? It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what that might look like, but it’s reasonably simple to determine what it wouldn’t do – launch solid projectiles.
First on the chopping block – solid or liquid-fueled rockets. Sounds obvious, but inventor Robert Mainhardt successfully built a series guns that fired small rockets known as microjets back in the late 1950s. While the rifles (really launchers) had many issues, the core problem that could never be solved is the lack of velocity close to the muzzle.
Whereas gunpowder-propelled bullets are at their peak velocity at the muzzle of the barrel, rockets accelerate much more slowly. So at close range the rounds would be ineffective. Add to this the complex nature of the round’s construction and the limited magazine capacity due to projectile size, and any weapon utilizing these rounds is objectively inferior to the M4.
What about magnets? The concept of a railgun isn’t new and has been around since the World War I, and the German air force even designed anti-aircraft batteries of railguns in WWII – but these never even reached prototype status. The biggest issue has been power supply, the large magnets required to launch projectiles at hypersonic speeds consume insane amounts of energy.
One of two electromagnetic railgun prototypes on display aboard joint high speed vessel USS Millinocket (JHSV 3) in port at Naval Base San Diego. The railguns are being displayed in San Diego as part of the Electromagnetic Launch Symposium, which brought together representatives from the U.S. and allied navies, industry and academia to discuss directed energy technologies. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Kirsop/Released)
Modern physicists and engineers have successfully developed methods of magnetic propulsion that don’t require as much power, and have made railguns feasible. So feasible that railguns are currently being developed by the US Navy with one slated to deploy on a vessel this year.
For the uninitiated, the advantage of these guns over traditional cannons or guided missiles has to do with the incredible velocities of the projectiles themselves. When the Army worked alongside the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Electromagnetics, they found that railguns could fire a 4-pound tungsten rod at nearly two miles per second, or 6,840 mph. At this velocity, the round not only defeats the armor of a main battle tank like the M1 Abrams, it passes clean through both sides.
Sounds great, but currently the technology isn’t capable of being scaled down for use by individual soldiers. Also, the amount of power required still isn’t man-portable with current battery technology. Though even if it were, railguns are currently single-shot weapons, making them inferior to the M4 in close combat or urban fighting.
So what is the likely replacement for the M4? As crazy as it sounds, a directed energy weapon. Think more Star Trek than Star Wars – weaponized lasers would offer an enormous advantages over solid projectile firearms and cannons.
One of the largest benefits of a laser weapon would be velocity. With your beam traveling at the speed of sound and being relatively unaffected by gravity. So hitting a distant target wouldn’t require adjusting for wind or drop. But that’s impossible, right?
The Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)
Actually, the United States and Israel have been developing and deploying a Tactical High Energy Laser for more than a decade. Israel’s IDF even used the THEL to shoot down 28 incoming Katyusha rockets in 2000. Like the railgun, the THEL is currently far too massive and consumes too much power to be man-portable. But, the same thing was said about computers only a few decades ago. Who knows, maybe the M5A2 laser carbine is only a decade away.
Until then, the US military is stuck with upgrading, tweaking and tuning the M4 carbine. It might not be bleeding edge tech, but the old warhorse still accurately slings lead further than most soldiers can see, and it doesn’t weigh a ton.
Many Chinese citizens responded in a peculiar way to Feb. 25, 2018’s announcement that the Chinese Communist Party may get rid of presidential term limits — by posting images of Winnie the Pooh on social media.
The pictures target Xi Jinping, who could now stay in power for decades and potentially paves the way to one-man rule that China has not seen since the days of Mao Zedong.
The joke is that Winnie the Pooh, the fictional, living teddy bear made by English author A. A. Milne, looks strikingly similar to Xi, supposedly because both of them look somewhat chubby. Critics of the Chinese leader often use the cartoon character in a derogatory way.
The meme has been circulating around Chinese and Western social media since Xi became president in 2013, and has been out in full force since the CCP’s announcement.
One image showed Pooh Bear hugging a large pot of honey, with the words “Wisdom of little bear Winnie the Pooh” in Chinese and “Find the thing you love and stick with it” in English. Another image showed a screenshot from an episode that shows the bear wearing a crown and other royal regalia.
China censors Winnie the Pooh
China banned Winnie the Pooh after Xi was compared to him ?
The memes have provoked Chinese censors to clamp down on the circulation of the cartoon bear on social media apps like WeChat and Sina Weibo.
It appears the censors are going beyond just taking down pictures of Winnie the Pooh. Entire messages relating to the topic of Xi as a dictator or negative talk about him serving for life are being deleted minutes after being sent to friends or posted online.
“I’ve posted this before but it was censored within 13 minutes so I will post it again,” one micro-blogger wrote according to What’s on Weibo, an independent news site that reports on Chinese digital and social media. “I oppose to the amendment of the ‘no more than two consecutive terms of office’ as addressed in the third section of Article 79 of the Constitution.”
China Digital Times and Free Weibo have reported that some of the phrases that Chinese censors are scrutinizing include “I don’t agree,” “election term,” “constitution rules,” “Winnie the Pooh,” and “proclaiming oneself an emperor.”
“Migration” and “emigration” are also subject to heavy censorship.
State censorship is not new in China and censors have gone after Winnie the Pooh images in the past. The country has also notably gone to great lengths to make sure the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, in which hundreds of unarmed Chinese citizens were gunned down by the Peoples Liberation Army, are not discussed — either in person or on the internet.