U.S. officials are claiming that looming sanctions are putting economic pressure on Iran and helping to stir up street protests, with President Donald Trump saying he expects the economic “pain” to force Tehran to seek a deal with Washington.
“I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing. But I will tell you this, at a certain point, they’re going to call me and they’re going to say, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal. They’re feeling a lot of pain right now,” Trump said at a news conference in Brussels on July 12, 2018.
Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while attending a NATO summit in the Belgian capital, have been pushing European allies to increase the economic pain in Tehran by supporting the U.S. sanctions, which are due to go into effect on Nov. 4, 2018.
“We ask our allies and partners to join our economic pressure campaign against Iran’s regime,” Pompeo said in a tweet before meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
But Europe’s biggest economic powers — France, Germany, and Britain — have pledged to try to counteract the U.S. sanctions as part of their efforts to keep honoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which provided Tehran with sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018 and announced the reinstatement of U.S. sanctions.
Pompeo has pointed to the recent arrest of an Iranian diplomat in Germany in connection with an alleged plot to bomb a gathering of Iranian expatriates in Paris in trying to convince U.S. allies to join the Washington’s pressure campaign on Tehran.
“There’s no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence, and instability in one of our countries next,” he tweeted. “We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism and proxy wars.”
During a visit to Dubai on July 12, 2018, Sigal P. Mandelker, a U.S. Treasury undersecretary, said the economic pressures on Iran were helping fuel street protests and should prompt Tehran to stop what she called its “malign activities” in the Middle East.
“You’ve seen the Iranian people, of course, stand up loudly, at risk of their own lives, shouting in protest about the corruption that’s happening within Iran,” Mandelker said. “So much money has gone to support malign activities elsewhere, with very little focus on the economy itself.”
Iran’s support for the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hizballah, Shi’ite rebels in Yemen, and embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad all represent a “despicable use of Iranian revenue,” she said.
Since the United States moved to reimpose sanctions on Iran, the Iranian rial has plummeted to 78,500 to the dollar, nearly half the official exchange rate, while unemployment has remained high.
Economic protests swept the Iranian countryside at the end of 2017 and have occurred in recent weeks as well. Wildcat strikes and demonstrations have also erupted over water scarcity.
Promised billion-dollar deals with Western firms that emerged after the nuclear deal was signed have evaporated in recent weeks, with businesses citing worries about being penalized by the U.S. sanctions and cut out of the U.S. consumer market if they continue to operate in Iran.
Reuters reported that Iranian oil exports to India, Iran’s second largest customer for crude, fell by 16 percent in May 2018 as privately owned refineries cut back purchases even as state refineries increased purchases from Iran.
After a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on July 12, 2018, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser said Russian firms are prepared to fill in for some of the loss of business.
“Putin said that Russia is prepared to continue its oil investment in Iran at the level of billion. It means Russia is ready to invest this amount in Iran’s oil sector,” Ali Akbar Velayati told Iranian state television.
“This is an important amount that can compensate for those companies that have left Iran,” he said.
Velayati claimed that one of Russia’s major oil companies has signed a billion deal with Iran, which he said “will be implemented soon,” without elaborating.
“Two other major Russian oil companies, Rosneft and Gazprom, have started talks with Iran’s Oil Ministry to sign contracts worth up to billion,” he said.
Mandelker said the Trump administration was aiming to “very significantly reduce” Iran’s crude oil exports. She said the administration also wants to make sure allies shut off financial avenues Tehran could use to evade the sanctions.
“The world needs to be wise to the ways in which they move deceptively,” she said.
However, limiting Iran’s ways of evading sanctions could prove difficult in the Persian Gulf region. The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), in particular, has a large ethnically Persian population and a long history of trade with Iran.
Iran has already exploited the U.A.E.’s free economic zones to set up companies to acquire otherwise-prohibited materials, and a recent report found that Dubai’s luxury real-estate market offers a money-laundering haven for Iranians.
Moreover, Dubai has traditionally served as a hub for exports to Iran, with data showing such exports totaled .9 billion in 2017.
Despite these extensive ties, Mandelker said Washington has an “excellent partnership” with the U.A.E. and that “there’s no question in my mind that working together, we can take significant action to disrupt [Iran’s] ability to fund themselves.”
Hours after the Islamic State (IS) group released a video threatening to behead two Japanese hostages, Japanese Twitter users were defying the militant’s threats by creating and sharing images mocking the militants.
In a January 20 video, a British militant believed to be the infamous “Jihadi John” demands that Tokyo pay $200 million within 72 hours to spare the lives of the two hostages.
If the Japanese public does not pressure the government to pay the $200 million ransom, the militant warns, then “this knife will become your nightmare,” referring to the serrated weapon he brandishes in the video, and with which he is believed to have beheaded several Western hostages.
It is reasonable to assume that “Jihadi John” was not expecting that the “Japanese public” (or at least Japanese social-media users) would react to his threats in quite the way they have — with a Photoshop contest.
Using a Twitter hashtag that translates roughly as “ISIS crappy photoshop grand prix,” the Japanese Twitter meme has gone viral, with hundreds of images being shared. On January 20, there were around 40,000 mentions of the hashtag on Twitter.
Some of the photoshopped images poke fun at what is now an all-too familiar image — that of the black-clad “Jihadi John” flanked by hostages dressed in bright orange jumpsuits designed to evoke images of Guantanamo Bay inmates.
Some images mock “Jihadi John” directly, such as this photoshopped picture that shows the British militant using his knife to make a kebab:
Some of the images shared under the hashtag can be seen as a subversion of a trend popular among IS supporters on social media — that of using Photoshop to create an imaginary and fantastical world in which IS militants and ideology are dominant.
Islamic State supporters have shared photoshopped images that show militants from the extremist group destroying key Western landmarks such as London’s Big Ben and riding victorious on white steeds.
In one image mocking this genre, IS militants — including “Jihadi John” — are photoshopped invading a city in spacecraft. One militant laughs as he holds aloft an IS flag:
While it is the largest and most popular phenomenon to date of using humor as a counter to the Islamic State group’s propaganda, the Japanese “Photoshop grand prix” is not the first case of its type.
A group of anonymous Russian Internet users have been mocking the Islamic State group — and Russian-speaking militants in Syria and Russia in general — for months via a parody group known as TV Jihad, which claims to be a “joint project of Kavkaz Center (the media wing of the North Caucasus militant group the Caucasus Emirate) and TV Rain (a liberal Russian TV channel).”
“We fight against infidels, apostates, polytheists, Shabiha (pro-Assad militia), harbis (non-Muslims who do not live under the conditions of the dhimma, i.e. those who have not surrendered by treaty to Muslim rule), hypocrites, and rafidis (a term used by Sunni militants to refer to Shi’ite Muslims),” the Twitter account says, parodying terms used frequently by Russian-speaking Islamic State and Caucasus Emirate militants.
This tweet shows an image of IS military commander Umar al-Shishani in the snow and asks, “Motorola?” — a reference to Arseny Pavlov, a pro-Russian separatist in the Donbas:
For years the news has been full of stories about the use of Predator drones to take out bad actors in hot spots around the globe, but how much do you really know about these unmanned aircraft? Take WATM’s quiz and find out if you’re ready to join the Air Force pros in a trailer near you.
Often as the direct memories of events fade, our ability to place them into context and understand their meaning only increases. It only makes sense, then, that some of the best writing about the Civil War, the World Wars, and Vietnam is happening now.
As you prepare your reading lists for holiday travel or look for items to give to family and friends, we present our choices for this year’s best books on Military History.
5. Grant By Ron Chernow
Ron Chernow is an exceptional writer. Among his achievements have been an exceptional biography of Alexander Hamilton that served as the foundation of the Broadway show. His portrait of the Ohio general is equally beautiful. Chernow delves into the relationships and temperament that made Grant a terrific leader as well as his lifelong belief in emancipation.
Grant was a quiet, even shy man, who had concern even for animals, yet was called a “butcher” during the War. It was tacitly assumed that Robert E. Lee was the great General of the Civil War for years and that Grant was merely lucky to have been on the right side of history. The facts do not perfectly align with that viewpoint. Lee may have been a very good strategist, but several skilled men before Grant tried and failed to do what he did. Chernow’s biography gives wonderful insights into what made Grant different.
4. Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden
In the early part of 1968, the 400,000 strong armies of the North Vietnamese and Vietcong launched a general offensive against South Vietnamese and American troops, which, at the time, numbered 1.3 million. The American strategy had been to win a war of attrition in which the enemy reached a point where the number of soldiers being killed exceeded the number of new recruits, making clear the hopelessness of continuing the struggle. With that mindset, the American military elite, politicians, and journalists were shocked by the aggressiveness of the offensive. After the initial shock, the South and the United States regained control of the situation and 60,000 Communist troops died by the end of the year.
Of all the targets of the Tet offensive, the assault on the city of Hue was the most consequential. Hue was the third largest city in Vietnam and at a key logistical point in the country. While the fighting that began with the Tet offensive was generally over within a week, the battle for Hue lasted six weeks and the urban bloodbath changed the war.
Bowden does a wonderful job telling this story from the perspective of the ordinary soldier who fought for his life while being burdened with poor leadership.
3. Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 by Stephen Kotkin
A brilliant recounting of the disastrous period of 1929 and 1941 in the Soviet Union, in which Stalin maintained his absolute grip on power, but whose purging of the military and terrible economic policies almost cost the Soviet Union the war with Germany that started in 1941. What is remarkable is how Kotkin is able to tell the tale from the viewpoint of a monster like Stalin and never loses his readers’ attention.
2. Alone by Michael Korda
Alone follows one of the heroes of history, Winston Churchill, as he rallies a country and averts disaster at Dunkirk before getting help from the previously neutral countries of the Soviet Union and the United States.
1. Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson
An incredible story that few had heard before its recounting by Bruce Henderson, author of And the Sea Will Tell. After escaping Hitler’s clutch, about 2,000 Jews trained at Camp Ritchie in Maryland were deployed in Europe as a key intelligence asset during the War. This is their story.
Every military branch makes it plain where exactly you stand. It is worn on your uniform, printed on your CAC, you are greeted by it every day. “It” is rank and it plays a significant role as it entails your duties and expectations, job notwithstanding. It seems one rank reigns supreme in every service, though.
Below are 6 of the top reasons why being top of the lower enlisted ranks is the best rank.
25 is the age that many of us have the time of our lives. We are far enough removed from teenage angst and the crap that often associates with it but still a lot more than a few wake-ups away from the big three-oh.
Old enough to get good insurance rates, but young enough to fit in most everywhere.
That is the Air Force’s Senior Airman. That is the Marine’s Lance Corporal. That is the Army’s Specialist. This is the Navy’s Seaman (heh). It’s far enough removed from boot but quite a ways from retirement.
5. Watch and learn
This is the perfect rank to watch and learn.
You may have been mentored and exposed to some supervisory duties earlier (if you weren’t assigned to a POS) but it’s at this level where you are allowed to flex some of what you’ve learned.
Sometimes that power comes in an official supervisory capacity, sometimes as a makeshift assistant to your actual supervisor. It’s like being a Non-Commissioned Officer, but with training wheels.
The opinion of the Senior Airman/Specialist/Lance Corporal is respected. Those beneath the look up to them, or they should anyway, and those who outrank them will look to them as the bridge between the NCO and junior enlisted tiers.
It is literally the best of both worlds.
3. Introductory supervisory roles
As stated above, you may have some actual, official supervisor duties depending on how long you’ve been there and what type of performance you’ve turned in to that point.
Even if you haven’t been granted such access, you are still going to be entrusted with certain responsibilities just based on the necessity for you to grow up and fill the role.
2. You know all the tricks
At this point, you know what you’re supposed to be doing and how to do it, most of the time. You also know exactly what you’re not supposed to do…and what rules will really get you in trouble.
You know how to maximize your sleep and how to quickly get your uniform together. You can commit large passages of regulation to memory, verbatim. You know what you’re doing and what you want to do.
Good news is you’ve mastered this rank just in time to promote. Now the game changes.
You’ve been in for a some time now and have likely earned a good amount of respect and responsibility and that feels great. Conversely, you’re still junior enlisted yourself and won’t be thrown into the deep end just yet.
How is this better than being an NCO? From my experience in the Air Force, Staff Sergeants are typically viewed in a more infantile manner than the Senior Airman.
I know, it doesn’t make any sense. Still, it is a fact of life.
The Army is working on a future Bradley Fighting Vehicle variant possibly armed with lasers, counter-drone missiles, active protection systems, vastly improved targeting sights and increased on-board power to accommodate next-generation weapons and technologies.
Also designed to be lighter weight, more mobile and much better protected, the emerging Bradley A5 lethality upgrade is already underway – as the Army works vigorously to ensure it is fully prepared if it is called upon to engage in major mechanized, force-on-force land war against a technically advanced near-peer rival.
As the Army pursues a more advanced A5, engineered to succeed the current upgraded A4, it is integrating 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared sensors for Commanders and Gunners sights, spot trackers for dismounted soldiers to identify targets and an upgraded chassis with increased underbelly protections and a new ammunition storage configuration, Col. James, Schirmer Project Manager Armored Fighting Vehicles, said earlier this Fall at AUSA. (Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium).
BAE Systems, maker of the Bradley, told Warrior the platform’s modernization effort is designed in three specific stages. The first stage in the modernization process was the Bradley Track Suspension to address suspension upgrades, BAE statements said. The subsequent Bradley A4 Engineering Change Proposal, soon to enter production, improves mobility and increases electrical power generation. More on-board power can bring the technical means to greatly support advanced electronics, command and control systems, computing power, sensors, networks and even electronic warfare technologies.
Maj. Gen. David Bassett, former Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems, described the upgrades in terms of A3 and A4 focusing upon the Bradley from the turret ring down – leading the A5 effort to more heavily modernize Bradley systems from the turret up. This includes weapons sights, guns, optics, next-generation signals intelligence and even early iterations of artificial intelligence and increased computer automation.
During several previous interviews with Warrior, Bassett has explained that computer-enabled autonomous drones will likely be operated by nearby armored combat vehicles, using fast emerging iterations of artificial intelligence. These unmanned systems, operated by human crews performing command and control from nearby vehicles, could carry ammunition, conduct reconnaissance missions, test enemy defenses or even fire weapons – all while allowing manned crews to remain at a safer stand-off distance. At one point, Bassett told Warrior that, in the future, virtually all armored vehicles will have an ability to be tele-operated, if necessary.
Also, while Army Bradley developers did not specifically say they planned to arm Bradleys with laser weapons, such innovation is well within the realm of the possible. Working with industry, the Army has already shot down drone targets with Stryker-fired laser weapons, and the service currently has several laser weapons programs at various stages of development. This includes ground-fired Forward Operating Base protection laser weapons as well as vehicle-mounted lasers. A key focus for this effort, which involves a move to engineer a much stronger 100-kilowatt vehicle-fired laser, is heavily reliant upon an ability to integrate substantial amounts of mobile electrical power into armored vehicles.
Space, Weight and Power considerations, as Army developers describe it, are an indispensable element of the calculus information Bradley modernization; this means managing things like weight, mobility, ammunition storage space and electromagnetic signatures as they pertains to vehicle protection and firepower.
“If you emit a signal, you can be hit,” a senior Army weapons developer said.
Finding ways to lower vehicle weight, while simultaneously increasing protection and adding new systems such as Active Protection Systems technology, presents a particular challenge for developers. BAE has developed lighter-weight more mobile “band-tracks” for the Bradley as a way to help address this challenge, company and Army officials said.
Schirmer said equipping the Bradley with new suspension, reactive armor tiles and APS can increase the vehicle by as much as 3,000-pounds.
“We are working closely with the Army to understand the capability requirements they require, and develop solutions that address the current gaps and allow room for future growth,” Deepak Bazaz, vice president, Combat Vehicles programs, BAE Systems, told Warrior in a written statement.
As part of this strategic approach, BAE has already configured Bradleys with Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) weaponry designed to attack enemy drones, low flying aircraft or even incoming missile attacks. The Army is already testing and developing Stryker-fired Hellfire missiles and other SHORAD weapons as a way to meet the near-term threat gap introduced by the rapid proliferation of enemy drones and possible air attacks upon armored vehicle formations. BAE has independently configured a Bradley with SHORAD weapons ability and is in the process of presenting it to the Army for consideration.
APS technology, now being accelerated for multiple Army combat vehicles, uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs. Systems of this kind have been in development for many years, however the rapid technological progress of enemy tank rounds, missiles and RPGs is leading the Army to more rapidly test and develop APS for its fleet of Bradleys.
The Army is now testing the Bradley with an Israeli-manufactured IMISystems’ Iron Fist APS, a technology which uses a multi-sensor early warning system with both infrared and radar sensors.
“Electro-optical jammers, Instantaneous smoke screens and, if necessary, an interceptor-based hard kill Active Protection System,” IMISystems officials state.
IRON FIST capability demonstrators underwent full end-to-end interception tests, against all threat types, operating on the move and in urban scenarios. These tests included both heavy and lightly armored vehicles.
“In these installations, IRON FIST proved highly effective, with its wide-angle protection, minimal weight penalty and modest integration requirements,” company officials said.
Merging APS SHORAD
As part of these ongoing efforts to develop enhanced ground combat lethality, such as the emerging Stryker-fired 30mm cannon along with SHORAD possibilities and APS vehicle weapons technology, Army program managers are beginning to consider the possibility of merging APS sensors and fire control with some of these larger vehicle-integrated weapons.
“There is not a specific program, but we are evaluating the technology to see if the sensors we use for active protection could be married with the lethality from a Stryker-fired 30mm air burst round,” Col. Glenn Dean, Project Manager, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, told Warrior in an interview during AUSA this past October.
In this conceivable scenario, APS could in theory vastly expand its target envelope beyond merely intercepting things like RPGs or ATGMs and function in a fast-moving counter drone or counter aircraft defensive capacity.
“In the future, we could use directed energy, traditional missiles or a direct-fire cannon to shoot out countermeasures,” Dean added.
Overall, despite the promise of increasingly innovative offensive and defensive weaponry for ground combat vehicles, service leaders often reflect upon the unpredictability and wide-ranging nature of enemy threats.
“There are rounds like sabo rounds which will go through reactive armor. There is no silver bullet when it comes to protection,” the senior Army weapons developer said.
Land War vs. Russian Chinese Armored Vehicles
The Army is accelerating these kinds of armored vehicle weapons systems and countermeasures, in part because of an unambiguous recognition that, whoever the US Army fights, it is quite likely to encounter Russian or Chinese-built armored vehicles and advanced weaponry.
As part of this equation, recognizing that Army warfighters are often understandably reluctant to articulate war plans or threat assessments, it is indeed reasonable and relevant to posit that service war planners are looking at the full-range of contingencies – to include ground war with North Korea, Russian forces in Europe, Iranian armies in the Middle East or even Chinese armored vehicles on the Asian continent.
Citing Russian-built T-72 and T-90 tanks, Army senior officials seem acutely aware that the US will likely confront near-peer armored vehicles, weapons systems and technologies.
“If the Army goes into ground combat in the Middle East, we will face equipment from Russia, Iran and in some cases China,” a senior Army official told Warrior. “The threat is not just combat vehicles but UAVs (drones), MANPADs and other weapons.”
Bradley upgrades are also serving as a component to early conceptual work on the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, an entirely new platform or fleet of vehicles slated to emerge in the 2030s.
Bassett said the Army has set up cross-functional teams to explore early concepts for requirements for the new vehicles; although the service has not yet decided upon a particular chassis or vehicle, the Army is looking at Abrams, Bradley and Howitzer-type configurations as experimental platforms.
“We may want to use Bradleys as surrogate vehicles to try out some of the technologies available in the marketplace,” Schirmer said.
“We are leveraging new and emerging technology, with an eye towards commonality across many of the BAE Systems built vehicles in the formation, to provide superior capabilities for our troops,” Bazaz said.
Next Generation vehicles, for the 2030s and beyond, Army developers say, will be necessary because their are limits to how far an existing armored vehicle can be upgraded. This requires a delicate balancing act between the short term operational merits of upgrades vs. a longer-term, multi-year developmental approach. Each has its place, Army acquisition leaders emphasize.
The emergence of these weapons, and the fast-changing threat calculus is also, quite naturally, impacting what Army developers call CONOPS, or Concepts of Operations. Longer range sensors and weaponry, of course, can translate into a more dispersed combat area – thus underscoring the importance of command and control systems and weapons with sufficient reach to outrange attacking forces. The idea of bringing more lethality to the Bradley is not only based upon needing to directly destroy enemy targets but also fundamental to the importance of laying down suppressive fire, enabling forces to maneuver in combat.
As part of these preparations for future ground warfare, Army concept developers and war veterans are quick to point out that armored vehicles, such as a Bradley or even an Abrams tank, have also been impactful in certain counterinsurgency engagements as well. Accordingly, the term “full-spectrum” often receives much attention among Army leaders, given that the service prides itself on “expecting the unexpected” or being properly suited in the event of any combat circumstance. The Army has now evolved to a new Doctrinal “Operations” approach which places an even greater premium upon winning major power land wars.
“We need to be ready to face near-peers or regional actors with nuclear weapons. It is the risk of not being ready that is too great,” a senior Army official said.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter Dec. 8, 2018, to announce his nomination of General Mark Milley, 60, as the new chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military position.
“I am pleased to announce my nomination of four-star General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the United States Army — as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing General Joe Dunford, who will be retiring,” wrote Trump.
Milley has served as chief of staff of the Army since August 2015.
He reportedly graduated from Princeton before serving as a Green Beret. He would go on to hold leadership roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The selection of Milley breaks the unofficial tradition of rotating chairmen by which service they’re a part of. Milley is replacing Dunford, a Marine, who took the reigns from an Army chairman.
General Joe Dunford.
(DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The announcement comes surprisingly earlier, considering Dunford’s official tenure doesn’t end until October 2019. Trump went on to tweet, “Date of transition to be determined.”
Trump was expected to make the announcement at Dec. 8, 2018’s Army-Navy game, reportedly telling White House pool reporters on Dec. 7, 2018, “I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game, I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In the hearts of patriots all across this great country of ours, Old Glory isn’t just a piece of red, white, and blue cloth — it’s a symbol. A symbol of freedom, democracy, and the American way of life. No one knows this better than the military community, who go to war with the flag on their shoulders. Even after service, you’d be hard-pressed to find a veteran who doesn’t have a flag displayed in their home in one way or another.
Today, Old Glory is touching the lives of thousands as it makes its away across the country, carried by veterans, troops, and patriots alike on a trek from Boston, Massachusetts, to sunny San Diego, California. Over ten thousands pairs of hands will have carried the flag as it moves across twenty-four states and over 4,300 miles. Along the way, The Stars and Stripes are bringing attention to many of the issues that the veteran community faces.
This is Team RWB’s Old Glory Relay.
The best way to get everyone’s attention? By making a large event that runs from September 11th to November 11th.
Every participant in the Old Glory Relay is running to support their own cause, but all of these causes are important to the veteran community. Chief among these issues are the disastrously high suicide rate within our community, the struggles of isolation, sedentary lifestyles, finding meaningful post-service employment, and combating the stigma surrounding veterans seeking help for mental issues.
There’s no simple solution to any of these problems. There’s no magic wand to wave and make them disappear. It takes a serious conversation within the community. And this conversation can only happen when we all come together and make our voices heard in a singular, booming voice — and that’s exactly what the 10,000 men and women carrying the flag across the country are doing.
If you miss your time in the airborne, don’t worry: They have skydiving events as well.
Recently, We Are The Mighty chatted with Tom Voss, an Army veteran and member of Team Red, White Blue (or Team RWB) who will be carrying the flag across the finish-line on Veterans Day, November 11, 2018. Voss is no stranger to participating in events to raise awareness for veteran issues. A couple years back, he and another Iraq War veteran walked across the country to put that much-needed spotlight on important issues.
“It’s always important to pay homage and pay our respects to all
the men and women that came before us.” said Tom. “Look at the American Flag — that’s what it represents. It represents the men and women who
have sacrificed everything, the families that have sacrificed everything
so that we are able to live the lives that we do today.”
Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans. They do this by connecting veterans to their community through physical and social activity. Outside of massive events, like the Old Glory Relay, local Team RWB chapters assist local communities in smaller ways, like placing flags at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery, building housing areas with Habitat for Humanity in Los Angeles, putting on Range Days in Grand Rapids, Michigan, all to bring veterans together within their communities.
The veterans who participate in these events get a sense of camaraderie that they’ve been missing since their departure from active-duty life — but the door is always open to civilians, too.
The Old Glory Relay is like a perfect encapsulation of everything great about Team RWB. Veterans, active duty troops, and civilian patriots are banding together for a great cause. In addition to bringing attention to many of the issues that the veteran community faces, they’re also helping bridge the ever-expanding civilian-military divide.
“I think what it comes down to is, veterans are open and willing to share their stories. But you have to ask. Coming from a place of non-judgement and not just saying, ‘thank you for your service,’ but really asking, ‘what happened during your time in Iraq or Afghanistan? Because I weren’t there. I don’t know. All I know is what I saw on the news.’ Coming from a genuine place like that from the civilian standpoint is really important.”
If you’re in the area, be sure to catch Tom Voss and the rest of Team Red, White, Blue as they cross the finish line in San Diego, California on November 11th.
Fake news — or at least global discussion of the phenomenon — continued to flourish in 2017, so much so that Collins Dictionary named the term its Word of the Year.
Defined by Collins as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting,” fake news also reverberated across the Russian media and political landscape in 2017.
From a purported Western plot to “collapse” Russia to a New York restaurant’s alleged campaign honoring President Vladimir Putin with a massive hamburger, some of these reports — including outright hoaxes — were treated with credulity by prominent Russian media outlets, public figures, and audiences alike.
Some of them originated in Russia — which Western governments have accused of deploying fake news and disinformation as part of its foreign policy. (Moscow has repeatedly rejected such criticism, including accusations that it was behind a flood of fake news aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election.) Others began elsewhere and were then perpetuated by both Russian state-controlled television and privately owned media outlets — and, in some cases, by senior officials.
Here’s a look at some of the fake-news and other dubious reports that resonated across Russia in 2017.
7. ‘Collapsing Russia’
In August, a website confusingly similar in appearance to that of the British newspaper The Guardian published a fake story attributing quotes to a former head of British intelligence about a purported Western plot to dismantle Russia.
The fake interview quoted ex-MI6 head John Scarlett as saying — in clunky English — that Britain and the United States planned to use the pro-Western former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and a “fictitious quarrel between Ukraine and Russia” in order to bring about Russia’s “re-disintegration.”
“I must admit that the two Georgian and Crimean wars, the most strategic plan of the U.S. and Britain over the past several years for collapsing Russia, ended with failure,” Scarlett was quoted as saying in the fabricated story.
The ruse was quickly debunked, including in an investigation by BuzzFeed, and The Guardian itself noted that it was a “a fake story…on a fake site purporting to be The Guardian.”
Several Russian media outlets picked up the story, however, including the national television network REN-TV. Days after the false report had been debunked, prominent Russian television personality Vladimir Solovyov appeared to give credence to the hoax on his popular political talk show on state TV, though he added the qualifier, “Some say it’s true, some say it’s not.”
6. Putin Burger
On October 7 — Putin’s 65th birthday — Russian state television and news agencies reported that a New York restaurant was serving a special five-patty burger in honor of the man in the Kremlin. The reports were based on a video produced by Ruptly, a news agency owned by the Russian government-backed TV network RT. Ruptly interviewed an employee at Lucy’s Cantina Royale in New York City who said the restaurant had created a burger weighing 1,952 grams — a reference to the year of Putin’s birth — and featured a small leaflet bearing Putin’s image as evidence of the alleged special menu item.
“It’s not only foreign leaders who are wishing Russia’s president a happy birthday, but ordinary citizens as well. What’s more, they’re doing it in extremely original ways,” an anchor for the state-run Rossia-24 network said in a segment–based on the Ruptly report.
But Russian journalist Aleksei Kovalyov, who regularly debunks canards circulating in the Russian media, quickly dug in to the reports about the special burger, which proceeded to fall apart under scrutiny. The restaurant denied honoring Putin with a burger and said “the employees responsible for this hoax have been suspended pending an investigation.” A bartender at the restaurant later said the “Putin burger” was her idea and that she had lost her job. The employee filmed in the Ruptly video was also reportedly fired.
Ruptly later deleted the video, saying in a statement that the story “did not meet [its] editorial standards.”
Kovalyov has long accused state-controlled Russian media of fabricating or twisting news from abroad in order to produce stories for domestic consumption that are aimed at reinforcing Kremlin messaging. “The Putin burger was a particularly egregious example of virtual reality,” he told RFE/RL.
5. Nobel Winner Alexievich ‘Dead’
In May, a Twitter account purporting to be that of French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen tweeted out that Belarusian author and Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich had died. Nyssen had previously headed the Actes Sud publishing house, which her father founded and had published Alexievich’s writing in French, which appeared to lend credibility to the death claim.
Numerous Russian media outlets — including the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta and state news agency RIA Novosti — quickly ran with the report, as did the website of Current Time TV, a project of RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. European outlets also circulated the report, including the French newspaper Le Figaro and popular Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias.
It was, in fact, a hoax. Alexievich, 69, spoke with RFE/RL’s Belarus Service from Seoul, South Korea, with the reports swirling, saying, “Someone’s impatient.”
Shortly after the original tweet, Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti — who had previously published fake interviews with famous writers — claimed he was behind the hoax.
4. Another Sketchy MH17 Claim
On October 6, the official television network of the Russian Defense Ministry published a claim from a man it said was a defector from the Ukrainian Air Force. The man, identified as Yury Baturin, claimed that the Ukrainian Air Force had moved a Buk missile system to within firing range of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shortly before it was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
The report by the Zvezda network clearly suggested that Ukraine may have shot down the plane amid its war with Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine, though Baturin did not specifically say that Ukrainian forces fired on MH17 with the Buk. The location in question, Baturin said, was the one previously identified by Russian weapons maker Almaz-Antey: a spot near the Ukrainian village of Zaroshchenske.
The Zaroshchenske claim is one of a range of uncorroborated theories that the Russian government and its proxies have proposed about the downing of MH17, including that it was brought down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.
An international investigation has concluded that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile system fired from territory controlled by the separatists near the Ukrainian village of Snizhne. The Dutch Safety Board and the Dutch-led international investigation have both dismissed the Zaroshchenske theory, citing a broad range of evidence that includes forensic tests, eyewitnesses, and an intercepted phone call between separatist fighters.
The Buk system was brought in from Russia and smuggled back shortly after the shoot-down, the international investigation has concluded. Critics have accused Moscow of trying to muddy the waters of the investigation in order to deflect possible culpability from the separatists and itself.
The Zvezda report was picked up by numerous Russian media outlets, including the state-run TASS news agency and state-run television. But the man’s claims have yet to be corroborated by any other media outlets, leaving Zvezda as the only source. And within 24 hours of the original publication, Zvezda deleted — without explanation — its reports based on the interview.
But in early December, Baturin’s story was again published by Zvezda, this time in a slightly different interview format. Zvezda told the Russian news site Meduza that the original report was deleted because it wanted to give a more thorough treatment to his story.
As in the original story, Zvezda and Baturin strongly imply that a Ukrainian Buk shot down MH17 but note that the former Ukrainian soldier was unable to detect the launch of a missile from near Kharkiv, where he claimed to have been stationed at the time. The Ukrainian military confirmed to Meduza that Baturin had served in its air force but quit in 2016 due to “family circumstances.”
3. Syrian War (Video) Games
The Russian Defense Ministry in November accused the United States of cooperating with Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, alleging that Washington was providing cover to the extremist group as Russian and Syrian government forces were targeting IS fighters.
It was an incendiary claim, one that came shortly after an explosive BBC reportalleging that forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition struck a deal that ultimately allowed hundreds of IS militants to leave the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa. (The coalition did not confirm the deal but conceded that IS fighters may have left the city along with a convoy of civilians.)
But the Russian military’s accusation, which it posted on Facebook and Twitter, included curious images that it described as “irrefutable evidence” of alleged U.S. help for IS militants. The images purported to show an IS convoy heading for the Syrian-Iraqi border.
But it didn’t take long for social-media users and investigative groups to discover that one of the images was actually a still from a 2015 promotional video for a video game called AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron. The other images were taken from videos released by the Iraqi Defense Ministry in 2016 about anti-IS operations near Fallujah, online investigators found.
The fake images triggered a wave of ridicule, with some on social media mocking the ministry with footage from other video games, like the famous 1980s game Frogger.
The Russian military subsequently scrubbed the images and published new photos it claimed were “irrefutable evidence” of its accusation. The ministry concededthat the original photographs were fake and said a civilian employee was facing a probe in connection with the matter.
2. Bin Laden In the White House
The video-game hijinks weren’t the only time a Russian ministry perpetuated a hoax in 2017.
Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s often-caustic spokeswoman, claimed during a political talk show on state TV in November that the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had once visited the White House.
Zakharova made the claim during a discussion about lobbying in the United States and the U.S. investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and potential collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump’s campaign staff.
“Recall these fantastic, mind-boggling photographs of Bin Laden being hosted in the White House. This is classic lobbying in the true sense of the word,” Zakharova said.
The Saudi-born Bin Laden, who was killed in a 2011 U.S. raid in Pakistan, never visited the White House. Zakharova did not specify during the program which “photographs” she had in mind, though some Russian media outlets speculated she was referring to a photoshopped image appearing to show former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shaking hands with the Al-Qaeda leader.
That image, which has circulated online for years, is a fake. Bin Laden’s head in the photo, which was taken in May 2004, was superimposed over that of musician Shubhashish Mukherjee. The firebrand conservative site Tsargrad.tv cited Zakharova’s claim without noting that Bin Laden had never been to the White House.
Days later, Zakharova took to Facebook to say she didn’t mean to suggest that Bin Laden “personally” had visited the White House but rather “his colleagues, his advisers, so to speak.” She cited what she called her “favorite photograph” of U.S. President Ronald Reagan “hosting a Taliban delegation in the White House.”
The photograph in question, which Zakharova attached to her post, shows Reagan meeting with Afghan rebel leaders to discuss the fight against invading Soviet forces. The United States funded Afghan mujahedin fighting — alongside Bin Laden and other Arab fighters — against the Soviets; but the photograph in question of Reagan and the Afghans was taken in February 1983 — nine years before the Taliban was founded.
In October, a columnist writing for the state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti published an angry screed decrying what he called “propaganda horror stories” about Russia that are regularly published in the Dutch media. The column, titled Muscovites Eat Rat: Who In Europe Is Writing Fake News About Russia, focused on a short November 2016 article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant about a Moscow restaurateur who serves nutria — a large rodent also known as a river rat.
The columnist, Vladimir Kornilov, delivered a highly skewed and, at times, outright false version of the original article to his readers. He incorrectly suggested that the article claimed Muscovites had started eating rat meat because they were “starving” due to Western sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“Nonsense, you say? You are correct. But the thing is, such nonsense about Russia is periodically published in the leading newspapers in the Netherlands — a country that is regularly presented as a leader in global media-freedoms ratings,” Kornilov wrote.
He also called the De Volkskrant article “enormous,” when in fact it clocked in at fewer than 400 words.
Kornilov’s column was picked up by several prominent Russian media outlets.
The original article — one of several published in the Western media at the time about Moscow restaurateur Takhir Kholikberdiyev and his nutria-based delicacies — said nothing about Russians going hungry due to sanctions, though it noted that the punitive measures have prompted restaurants to seek alternative and domestically produced ingredients.
“It remains a mystery why, almost a year after an entirely friendly article was published, a RIA Novosti columnist needed to distort its content,” the opposition-minded Russian news site The Insider wrote.
Kovalyov, the Russian media critic, debunked the false characterizations in the RIA Novosti column in a post on his website, Noodle Remover, with the headline: If The ‘Western Media’ Didn’t Lie, No Problem, We’ll Lie For Them And Then Expose Them!
“You are attributing words to the author of the article that he didn’t write,” Kovalyov wrote, addressing Kornilov, “and on the basis of these inventions are accusing ‘the Western media’ of creating fake news about Russia!”
Prosecutors have accused a man of sending threatening and harassing messages on Instagram to relatives and friends of people killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Brandon Fleury, a resident of Santa Ana, California, said he sent the threatening messages for nearly three weeks using numerous Instagram accounts, according to a criminal complaint filed in the US District Court of Southern Florida and seen by INSIDER.
“One post threatened to kidnap the message recipients, while others sought to harass the recipients by repeatedly taunting the relatives and friends of the [high school] victims, cheering the deaths of their loved ones and, among other things, asking them to cry,” the affidavit said.
Following the search warrant on his home, Fleury said he created multiple Instagram profiles referencing Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 people in the Parkland shooting.
Nikolas Cruz being arrested by police in Florida, Feb. 14, 2018.
At least five accounts with usernames such as “nikolas.killed.your.sister,” “the.douglas.shooter,” and “nikolasthemurderer,” were traced to an IP address linked to Fleury’s home during the course of a law-enforcement investigation.
Some of the messages contained emojis with applauding hands, a smiling face, and a handgun:
“I killed your loved ones hahaha”
“With the power of my AR-15, I erased their existence”
“I gave them no mercy”
“They had their whole lives ahead of them and I f—–g stole it from them”
“Did you like my Valentines gift? I killed your friends.”
“Little [AS] will never play music again,” one message said on New Year’s Eve, in an apparent reference to the death of 14-year-old student Alex Schachter, who performed in the school’s marching band and orchestra.
Fleury said in a statement that he posted the messages “in an attempt to taunt or ‘troll’ the victims and gain popularity,” according to the FBI. Fleury also said he had a “fascination” with Cruz and other mass shooters, and specifically targeted the victims’ family, who he said were “activists” with large followings on social media.
Multiple news outlets cited authorities who said Fleury did not show remorse for his actions.
Law-enforcement officials investigated similar threats made on Instagram in 2018. Two days after the Parkland shooting, a 15-year-old Florida teen was arrested on charges of threatening to kill people in the same school district. The teen at the time “appeared to be remorseful and claimed his post was a joke,” according to the Broward Country Sheriff’s Office.
This article originally appeared on INSIDER. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
As radical terrorist groups continue to wreak havoc around Afghanistan, a group of women are taking up arms against them.
The Afghan National Police have resorted to arming and training local women to fight the Taliban and Islamic State militants. In many cases, the women had lost their sons, husbands, and other loved ones to the ongoing violence.
“If we fear [ISIS] and the Taliban today, our future will be ruined tomorrow,” one unnamed woman told Al Jazeera.
Female members of the Afghan National Police train the local women in small arms and basic tactics, specifically in the northern reaches of Afghanistan.
Army photo by Sgt. Chloé Barnes.
“Every week, around 40 or 50 people join,” said Najiba, a female police officer.
Some Afghans do not approve of women fighting in the army or police, but the increasingly desperate situation has forced the security forces to take desperate measures. Afghan forces only control or influence approximately 60 percent of the country’s districts, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
ISIS’s Afghan branch, known as Islamic State-Khorasan province, holds significantly less territory, but the group has been able to engage in several deadly terrorist attacks across the country.
Army photo by Sgt. Chloé Barnes.
“It’s been forced on us,” Gen. Rahmat of the Jowzjan province police told Al Jazeera in an interview. “It’s not a woman’s job to fight. But that’s the situation now. Women have joined the police and army, too.”
Fighting the Taliban and ISIS is a risky proposition for the women, but many see it as their duty. Sara Khala, one of the women training to fight the militants, lost her son to the Taliban, forcing her to care for his orphaned children.
“I have to take revenge for him,” she told Al-Jazeera. “I’ll cook dinner and give it to them. Then I’ll go wherever the Taliban and Daesh are. I’ll take my gun and fight them.”
The sun has set over the scrubby Savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles.
Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns.
The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive.
The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers –they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organization funded by private donations. All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits, and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half.
“We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night… we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says.
The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarization” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state.
But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.
Though rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, a kilo is worth up to $65,000. The demand comes from East Asia, where rhino horn is seen as a potent natural medicine and status symbol, and is met by international networks linking dirt-poor villages in southern Africa with traffickers and eventually buyers. Patchy law enforcement, corruption and poverty combine to exacerbate the problem.
In South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s wild rhinos, only 13 were poached in 2007. In 2015, the total was nearly 1,200, though losses have declined slightly since.
“These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing,” a South African government spokesman said in February.
Tate founded Vetpaw after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. His team now works on a dozen private game reserves covering a total of around 200,000 hectares in Limpopo, the country’s northernmost province. One advantage for local landowners is the protection heavily armed combat veterans provide against the violent break-ins feared by so many South Africans, particularly on isolated rural farmsteads. The team has also run training courses for local guides and security staff.
But if one aim of Vetpaw is to counter poaching, another is to help combat veterans in the US, where former servicemen suffer high levels of unemployment and mental illness.
“Everyone gets PTSD when they come back from war … you are never going to get the brotherhood, the intensity again … [There are] all these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places and just put them together,” says Tate.
The Vetpaw base in the bush in Limpopo, though considerably less spartan than most “forward operating bases”, is familiar to anyone who has spent time with US forces. There is a rack of helmets and body armor, a detailed map pinned to the wall, and banners with the insignia of US Special Forces hung above a dining table. There is the banter, and the jargon. The team talks of tactical missions, intel, and “bad guys”.
Despite lines on a whiteboard reading, “In the absence of a plan move towards the sound of gunfire and kill everything,” Tate says he has selected combat veterans because they will resist the temptation to use lethal force. Poachers are told to put down their arms, and then handed over to the police.
“This is textbook counterinsurgency here. It’s unconventional warfare,” says Kevin, a British-born veteran who quit US Elite Special Forces last year after a decade and a half largely on active duty, frequently in close quarter combat. “Shooting and killing is easy. The hardest thing is not shooting but figuring stuff out… if you kill someone do you turn a family, a village against you?” Like other members of Vetpaw, Kevin did not want to be identified by his full name.
The thinking is rooted in the “hearts and minds” approach developed by the US military a decade ago when senior officers realized their massive firepower was winning battles, but not campaigns.
Tate says poachers coerce local communities into providing safe houses or other support – much as US army officers once explained assistance given to insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Francois Meyer, who grew up in northern Limpopo and runs a local conservation NGO that works with Vetpaw, says villages vary. “In some, the poachers are seen as heroes. They give out money. There is a kind of Robin Hood syndrome. Taking from the rich white man to give to the poor. But in others, the poachers get the living shit kicked out of them,” Meyer said.
There is little consensus on what response to the problem of poaching might work best, and fierce debate rages among conservationists, farmers, and officials.
A moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn in South Africa implemented in 2009 was controversially overturned by a court in April. Though there has been an increase in arrest of poachers, there are few convictions and “a lack of political will” means many of the “kingpins” remain untouched.
The complexities of the issue seem distant to the veterans out on patrol in remote northern Limpopo, high on a rocky crag, listening to the grunt of a leopard or the cough of the baboons in the gathering night.
“After what I’ve done, I couldn’t just go and do a nine to five. I’ve never had nightmares or flashbacks or anything … [but] after years of doing what I’ve done, this is good for the soul,” says Kevin, the former Green Beret. “It’s in a good cause and you get to watch the African sunset.”