The visit — Kim’s first trip outside North Korea since becoming leader in 2011 — came just weeks after Trump agreed to face-to-face talks, for which President Xi Jinping may be able to help Kim prepare.
Lowell Dittmer, a political scientist at University of California Berkeley, told Business Insider that from North Korea’s perspective, China can give Kim crucial insight into the US administration.
China is also potentially being previewed as a potential venue for the historic talks between the leaders, who have not been quiet about their distaste for one another.
Although President Trump has scaled back on his insults against Kim in preparation for the historic talks, Trump has previously referred to Kim as a “little rocket man” and has considered preemptive strikes against the country.
Besides tough talk, Kim is likely concerned about Trump’s style as a negotiator, which has been criticized as “amateur” in the past. Trump has also had some awkward and tense encounters with global leaders in the past, which may explain why Kim could have turned to China for advice on how to handle the US leader.
Governments across the world are galvanizing every surveillance tool at their disposal to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Countries have been quick to use the one tool almost all of us carry with us — our smartphones.
A new live index of ramped up security measures by Top10VPN details the countries which have already brought in measures to track the phones of coronavirus patients, ranging from anonymized aggregated data to monitor the movement of people more generally, to the tracking of individual suspected patients and their contacts, known as “contact tracing.”
Other countries are likely to follow suit. The US Senate’s trillion economic stimulus bill includes 0 million for the CDC to launch a new “surveillance and data collection system” to monitor the spread of the virus, though it’s not yet clear exactly how this system will work.
Samuel Woodhams, Top10VPN’s Digital Rights Lead who compiled the index, warned that the world could slide into permanently increased surveillance.
“Without adequate tracking, there is a danger that these new, often highly invasive, measures will become the norm around the world,” he told Business Insider. “Although some may appear entirely legitimate, many pose a risk to citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of expression.
“Given how quickly things are changing, documenting the new measures is the first step to challenging potential overreach, providing scrutiny and holding corporations and governments to account.”
While some countries will cap their new emergency measures, otherwise may retain the powers for future use. “There is a risk that many of these new capabilities will continue to be used following the outbreak,” said Woodhams. “This is particularly significant as many of the new measures have avoided public and political scrutiny and do not include sunset clauses.”
Here’s a breakdown of which countries have started tracking phone data, with varying degrees of invasiveness:
South Korea gives out detailed information about patients’ whereabouts
South Korea has gone a step further than other countries, tracking individuals’ phones and creating a publicly available map to allow other citizens to check whether they may have crossed paths with any coronavirus patients.
The tracking data that goes into the map isn’t limited to mobile phone data, credit card records and even face-to-face interviews with patients are being used to build a retroactive map of where they’ve been.
Not only is the map there for citizens to check, but the South Korean government is using it to proactively send regional text messages warning people they may have come into contact with someone carrying the virus.
The location given can be extremely specific, the Washington Post reported a text went out that said an infected person had been at the “Magic Coin Karaoke in Jayang-dong at midnight on Feb. 20.”
Some texts give out more personal information however. A text reported by The Guardian read: “A woman in her 60s has just tested positive. Click on the link for the places she visited before she was hospitalised.”
The director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeong Eun-kyeong, acknowledged that the site infringes on civil liberties, saying: “It is true that public interests tend to be emphasized more than human rights of individuals when dealing with diseases that can infect others.”
The map is already interfering with civil liberties, as a South Korean woman told the Washington Post that she had stopped attending a bar popular with lesbians for fear of being outed. “If I unknowingly contract the virus… that record will be released to the whole country,” she said.
The system is also throwing up other unexpected challenges. The Guardian reported that one man claiming to be infected threatened various restaurants saying he would visit and hurt their custom unless they gave him money to stay away.
Iran asked citizens to download an invasive app
Vice reported that Iran’s government endorsed a coronavirus diagnosis app that collected users’ real-time location data.
On March 3, a message went out to millions of Iranian citizens telling them to install the app, called AC19, before going to a hospital or health center.
The app claimed to be able to diagnose the user with coronavirus by asking a series of yes or no questions. The app has since been removed from the Google Play store.
“The goal is to stop people from running around and spreading the infection,” said Jyan Hong-wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security. Jyan added that local authorities and police should be able to respond to anyone who triggers an alert within 15 minutes.
Even having your phone turned off seems to be enough to warrant a police visit. An American student living in Taiwan wrote in a BBC article that he was visited by two police officers at 8:15 a.m. because his phone had run out of battery at 7:30 a.m. and the government had briefly lost track of him. The student was in quarantine at the time because he had arrived in Taiwan from Europe.
Austria is using anonymized data to map people’s movements
On March 17 Austria’s biggest telecoms network operator Telekom Austria AG announced it was sharing anonymized location data with the government.
The technology being used was developed by a spin-off startup out of the University of Graz, and Telekom Austria said it is usually used to measure footfall in popular tourist sites.
Woodhams told Business Insider that while collecting aggregated data sets is less invasive than other measures, how that data could be used in future should still be cause for concern.
“Much of the data may remain at risk from re-identification, and it still provides governments with the ability to track the movement of large groups of its citizens,” said Woodhams.
Poland is making people send selfies to prove they’re quarantining correctly
Google has also indicated it is taking part in discussions.
Like other European democracies, the UK doesn’t seem to be exploring the more invasive method of contact tracing. However, it is considering using aggregated data to track the wider pattern of people’s movements.
During the thick of the 1991 Gulf War, anti-Iraqi coalition forces were mounting some 2,000 air sorties against Iraqi targets in the Middle East. In retaliation, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired scud missiles at Israel.
The U.S. obviously wanted to keep that from happening.
Now, if you’ve been keeping track, the Israelis don’t take kindly to threats. Or attacks. Especially scud missile attacks. Over the course of 17 days, Iraq fired 39 Scud Missiles at the highly populated coastal cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. An estimated 147 Israelis were killed.
To give you an idea of how Israel tends to retaliate to this sort of thing, the 1972 Munich Olympics attack killed 11 Israelis. In response, Israeli intelligence – the Mossad – launched Operation (no joke) WRATH OF GOD. They hunted down every Arab plotter of the Munich massacre and killed them. For 20 years.
Only the Mossad wasn’t about to wait 20 years to ice Saddam.
In 1992, they came up with Operation Bramble Bush, their plan to assassinate the Iraqi dictator. One agent, Nadav Zeevi, was tasked to find a pattern in Saddam’s movements. Then, the Israelis would track the dictator to where he would spend a longer amount of time. Once Saddam settled into a location, the Israelis would have their revenge.
But instead of an air strike, Israel wanted to mount a “glamorous” commando raid, using Sayeret Matkal special operators in a kill, definitely not capture mission. One version of the proposed raid had commandos launching missiles at Saddam during a funeral.
Israel mounted crazy, balls-out commando raids in the past. Their legendary raid on Entebbe featured a caravan of cars designed to resemble Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s entourage. They flew into Uganda, landed at the airport, drove off to the terminal, killed every terrorist, and then took their hostages to waiting planes in a hail of gunfire.
Unfortunately for history, they had to abort the idea. It was difficult to track Saddam because of the sheer number of his body doubles. Agent Zeevi even thought to just watch the dictator’s mistresses, but the body doubles also fooled the mistresses.
To make matters worse, a dry run in Israel’s Negev Desert went horribly awry. Troops training for the raid in 1992 accidentally fired a live missile, killing five IDF soldiers. The accident led to officials canceling the operation.
They thought they might try again in 1999, waiting until Saddam was in a designated location. 40 operators divided into two groups; one within 200 meters of the location, painting the location as a target, the other six miles away, firing three Midras missiles on that target.
That plan was scrapped because the Americans and British were bombing Iraq anyway. And in the end, they didn’t have to assassinate the dictator. But let their effort be a lesson: just leave Israel alone.
The spike in tension concerns US officials because of the massive Al Udeid military base in Qatar, where some 11,000 US personnel are stationed and from which US Central Command has run much of the war against ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
According to President Donald Trump, who has publicly backed the Saudi-led effort and criticized Qatar, relocating from Al Udeid would be no significant obstacle.
“If we ever have to leave” Al Udeid, he said, “we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one, believe me, and they will pay for it.”
Trump did try to downplay potential conflict with Doha, saying, “We are going to have a good relationship with Qatar. We are not going to have problems with the military base.” But, he said, “if we ever needed another military base, you have other countries that would gladly build it.”
When asked this week about the situation around Al Udeid, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said the US has weighed other basing options as part of what he described has standard operational planning.
“I think any time you are doing military operations, you are always thinking ahead to Plan Bs and Plan Cs … we would be remiss if we didn’t do that,” he said, according to Military Times. “In this case, we have confidence that our base in Qatar is still able to be used.”
The break between Qatar and its neighbors was a departure from the relative stability seen in that part of the Middle East. The Saudi-led bloc’s initial condemnation of Doha came days after Trump left a friendly meeting with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, and the US president appears to have thrown his weight behind Riyadh’s efforts — accusing Qatar of backing terrorism on several occasions, including during his remarks to CBN.
Trump has also joined with the Saudi-led coalition in rebuking Iran for what they see as Tehran’s meddling in the region. But the the conflict with Qatar appears to have strengthened Tehran’s position.
And since Al Udeid would be the jumping-off point for any anti-Iran operations in the region, deteriorating relations between Qatar and its neighbors and the US could affect their plans to contain Iran.
Despite the tensions, the US has kept up operations at Al Udeid and with Qatar.
The US and Qatari navies completed exercises in the waters east of Qatar in mid-June, running air-defense and surface-missile drills. The US also signed off on a weapons deal with Qatar less than a week after Trump spoke approvingly of Saudi-led action against Doha.
Pentagon officials have said tensions around Qatar were affecting their long-term planning ability, echoing comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prior to Trump’s first remarks supporting the blockade.
But Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, said operations there are continuing as before.
“Despite the situation going on with Qatar, we continue to have full use and access of the base there,” he told Military Times. “We are able to re-supply it, we’re able to conduct operations.”
The first two student naval aviators graduated from the U.S. Air Force’s Pilot Training Next (PTN) program at Randolph Air Force Base (AFB) just outside of San Antonio, Aug. 29, 2019.
The PTN program is a course of instruction designed to train military pilots at a lower cost, in a shorter amount of time, and with a higher level of proficiency leveraging emerging technologies to create a dynamic training environment.
The PTN program individualizes training, adjusting to each student pilot’s strengths and weaknesses. It integrates virtual reality (VR), advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI), and immersive training devices (ITD) with traditional methods of learning.
“The most appealing part of this program is we step away from the common denominator or one-size-fits-all training that has to be done on a certain timeline,” Det. 24 Commander U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Riley said. “With PTN we have been able to focus more on competencies and the focus of the individual student. We tailor the training to you, and that is a very different mindset shift and that is what I am most excited about.”
A T-6A Texan II aircraft prepares to conduct a tough-and-go landing on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st. Lt. Pawel Puczko)
Navy instructors selected Ensigns Charles Hills and Seth Murphy-Sweet for the PTN program in lieu of the standard Navy Primary Flight Training phase. This joint training effort is a step toward integrating emerging technologies into Navy’s flight training curriculum. Now Hill and Murphy-Sweet are ready to move forward to the advanced stage of flight training with the Navy’s Training Air Wing 2 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas.
“I think a big thing with this program was the ability to utilize the VR, get the experience and pacing down for each flight realtime,” Hill said. “This benefited all the students – being able to chair fly while being able to see the whole flight rather than to have to use your imagination. This helped in getting the motor skills while we were able test it out in VR and see how the exact input corresponds to a correct output.”
The relatively new program is being improved with each iteration and allows a more tailored approach to learning in comparison to traditional flight training from the instructor’s perspective. Instructors use a collaborative learning environment to evaluate and analyze students and subsequently make corrections and improvements.
Ensign Charles Hill (left) and Ensign Seth Murphy-Sweet stand with their graduating Pilot Training Next (PTN) class on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st. Lt. Pawel Puczko)
PTN First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) U.S. Air Force Capt. Jake Pothula shared his views on just how the program differs from the traditional syllabus.
“I went through traditional training,” he said. “The biggest difference with the PTN program is the fact that we aren’t tied to a very rigid, unforgiving syllabus, so students have the ability to choose their own training or have it be molded by instructor pilots who have the students’ individual best interest in mind. In traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) you get more flying hours, but PTN students get a lot more simulator time. The students probably get three times as many hours in the sim than a traditional UPT student would. It’s something they could do at their own pace and choose what they want to do. I would say that these students have a very different set of skills. They excel at understanding their place in a larger mission and understanding what their aircraft is going to do especially in the cases of large field or large force exercises. I feel they definitely have a better grasp on more abstract concept such as mission management.”
Integrating new technologies such as ITDs allows students to gain experience using real-world scenarios. Students can not only fly the strict patterns and procedures they learn from their books, but also integrate air traffic control decondition as well as other aircraft.
“I think the unique and most exciting aspect with where PTN is going is the partnership with the Navy and Air Force,” Riley said. “With this partnership the Navy has loaned us eight T-6B Texan II aircraft. The manufacturer modified the avionics to what we call the T-6B plus, which has software specifically built for the PTN program mission.”
Commander Air Force Recruiting Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt speaking at the Pilot Training Next (PTN) class graduation on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st. Lt. Pawel Puczko)
Adding Navy instructors and students to the PTN program brings a unique perspective since training in the T-6B Texan II is new to the Air Force. VR simulators add a new and exciting element to the PTN program and draws parallels to the gaming industry, which could help attract new accessions.
Today the Navy’s Primary Flight Training phase uses simulators and VR trainer devices to augment the traditional curriculum, which allow students better familiarity with aircraft controls and their areas of operations. Technology within fleet aircraft and the aviation community at large is constantly advancing, and as we move forward simulators and ITDs will play an increasingly significant role in the way we train our military aviators.
CNATRA, headquartered in Corpus Christi, trains the world’s finest combat quality aviation professionals, delivering them at the right time, in the right numbers, and at the right cost to a naval force that is where it matters, when it matters.
Mylee Cardenas had a plan: stay in the Army until they told her to leave. But her dreams of becoming a career soldier were derailed by cancer. Instead, she found her second wind in life as a model and actress.
Without any money in the family to afford college, Mylee had intended to use the military to become a doctor, joining at seventeen as soon as she finished high school. Once she was in, however, her plan quickly changed to be a career soldier. She deployed to Northern Afghanistan, where her unit was responsible for all nine provinces in the region. However, while she was there, things changed.
When she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer, she had every intention of defeating it and throwing herself straight back into the fight. The medical board reviewing her case had other ideas. After a lengthy process, she was declared unfit for duty, and retired due to both the breast cancer and severe combat-related PTSD.
She lost her uniform, which she considered her shield and strength overnight, but she gained so many new opportunities. Through motivational speaking, she was able to inspire people, especially veterans, around the country with her story. She now models, acts, and is a fitness coach on the side while she goes to school in the hopes of becoming a physical therapist.
Although she still comes home with the muscle memory of waiting for a phone call telling her she can return to duty, she now has other plans in place. While her circumstances of leaving the military were sad, she also came out with the feeling of suddenly being free.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton has confirmed that an announcement will be made on June 28, 2018, regarding a planned summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
“There will be an announcement on that tomorrow simultaneously in Moscow and Washington on the date and the time of that meeting,” Bolton said after holding talks on June 27, 2018, with the Russian president in Moscow.
Trump will raise a full range of issues with Putin, Bolton said, including alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, something Putin has denied.
The adviser said he did not rule out concrete results to come out of the summit, adding that the leaders believe it is important to meet, despite their differences.
Earlier, a Kremlin aide said the summit — the first full-fledged meeting between the two presidents since Trump took office in January 2017 — will be held in a third country that is convenient for both sides. He said several more weeks were needed for preparations.
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin said that Bolton’s visit “instills hope” that steps can be taken to improve badly strained relations between Moscow and Washington.
Putin said he regretted that ties between the former Cold War foes are “not in the best shape” and suggested their dire state is due in large part to what he called “the internal political struggle” in the United States — indicating he does not blame Trump.
“Russia has never sought confrontation, and I hope that we can talk today about what can be done by both sides to restore full-format relations on the basis of equality and respect,” Putin said.
Bolton said he was looking forward to discussing “how to improve Russia-U.S. relations and find areas where we can agree and make progress together.”
When Moscow and Washington had differences in the past, Russian and U.S. leaders met and that was “good for both countries, good for stability in the world,” Bolton said. “President Trump feels very strongly on that subject.”
Bolton also said he would like to hear Putin’s account of “how you handled the World Cup so successfully.” The United States will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada.
Bolton met with Putin after holding separate talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a senior member of Putin’s Security Council, Yury Averyanov.
At least part of the meeting between Bolton and Putin was also attended by others including Lavrov, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, and Fiona Hill, senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that in addition to bilateral ties, Lavrov and Bolton discussed current global issues including Syria and Ukraine — where Moscow’s involvement in military conflicts is a source of U.S.-Russian tension.
Bolton traveled to Moscow after meetings with U.S. allies in London and Rome on June 25-26, 2018.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a television interview over the weekend that Trump is likely to meet Putin “in the not-too-distant future.”
Ushakov’s comments suggested that the summit is likely to take place at some point after Trump attends a NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12 and visits Britain on July 13, 2018. Vienna and Helsinki have been cited as possible venues.
An Austrian newspaper earlier this week said teams from the United States and Russia were already in Vienna preparing for a July 15, 2018 meeting between the two leaders.
However, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on June 26, 2018, that Finland’s capital, Helsinki, was the likeliest choice, but the final decision depended on the outcome of Bolton’s talks.
Trump and Putin have met twice on the sidelines of international summits and they have spoken at least eight times by telephone. Trump telephoned Putin to congratulate him in March 2018 after the Russian president’s reelection and said the two would meet soon.
However, Russian officials have since complained about the difficulty of setting up such a meeting, as ties between Washington and Moscow have further deteriorated over issues including the war in Syria and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, which the West blames on Moscow.
Relations were already severely strained by tension over issues including Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its role in wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was an “influence campaign” ordered by Putin in an attempt to affect the U.S. presidential election, in part by bolstering Trump and discrediting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Democrats and some Republicans have accused Trump of being soft on Russia. Trump made clear during his campaign and into his presidency that he wants better relations with Russia and Putin, and has often praised the Russian president.
Bolton’s trip and the movement toward a Trump-Putin summit comes after Trump unnerved allies by calling for Russia to be readmitted to the G7, the group of industrialized nations it was ejected from in 2014 over its interference in Ukraine.
Trump has also sharply criticized a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the alleged Russian meddling and whether his associates colluded with Moscow. Russia denies it interfered, despite substantial evidence, and Trump says there was no collusion.
An American and an Australian who were held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for over three years were freed Nov. 19, 2019, as part of a prisoner swap.
The State Department said in a statement on Nov. 19, 2019, that the American Kevin King, 63, and the Australian Timothy Weeks, 50, were “successfully recovered” in the morning and were in the custody of the US military.
The department added that both men would soon be reunited with their families.
Weeks and King were teachers at the American University of Afghanistan in the capital of Kabul and were kidnapped at gunpoint outside the university in August 2016. The two men were held hostage for over three years.
In 2017, the Taliban released a propaganda video showing the two men in black robes and looking disheveled. In the video, the men discussed their time in captivity and urged their governments to negotiate with the Taliban to secure their release.
In a statement in 2017, the Taliban said King was “gravely ill” and needed urgent care.
The State Department said the Taliban released the professors as a “goodwill measure.” The department added that the Taliban intended to release 10 Afghan prisoners, and the Afghan government intended to release three Taliban prisoners as part of the exchange.
Pictures taken in 2014 by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security that officials said showed Anas Haqqani, left, a senior leader of the Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, and Hafiz Rashid, another commander.
(National Directorate of Security)
The men released as part of the swap were senior members of Haqqani network, which is linked to Al Qaeda.
“We see these developments as hopeful signs that the Afghan war, a terrible and costly conflict that has lasted 40 years, may soon conclude through a political settlement,” the State Department said.
Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said that the Australian government was “profoundly relieved” by the agreement and thanked the Trump administration and the Afghan government for their assistance.
“We regard this release as one of a series of confidence-building measures that are taking place in Afghanistan,” she said.
Payne added that Weeks’ family had “asked for privacy” but conveyed that they felt “relief that their long ordeal is over.”
According to The Washington Post, the Afghan government initially said the pair appeared to have been kidnapped by a criminal gang. The Pentagon and Navy SEALs also unsuccessfully attempted to rescue the two men in a botched mission in eastern Afghanistan.
The US had kickstarted talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in September 2019 but abandoned talks after a Taliban attack in Kabul killed a US soldier.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The fate of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners jailed in Afghanistan is threatening to turn into a major stumbling block in efforts to end the 19-year war in the country.
The Taliban is demanding the release of the detainees before the launch of direct negotiations between Afghans and the Taliban over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing arrangement.
Those intra-Afghan talks, slated for mid-March, will begin after the United States and the Taliban sign a historic peace deal that will trigger the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Experts said the issue of Taliban prisoners could be a key obstacle in launching the country’s peace talks or, conversely, be used as a bargaining chip to exact concessions from the militants.
There are fears that the release of thousands of Taliban fighters could deprive the Kabul government of a key amount of leverage and undercut the peace process by strengthening the Taliban’s position on the battlefield.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on February 26 that Kabul will free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces held by the militants.
Shaheen said the “trust-building measure” was a prerequisite for the launch of the intra-Afghan talks.
He added that the prisoner release was part of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, although Afghanistan is not a signatory to that bilateral agreement.
But the Taliban and the United States have not yet disclosed the contents of the deal.
The Kabul government has ruled out releasing the prisoners before the start of talks.
“When we, as the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, enter into negotiations with the Taliban and they demand the release of their prisoners, it will naturally be discussed, and will take into account the laws and interests of our people and [our decision] will be based on the consensus that will arise at that stage,” said Sediq Sediqqi, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, on February 20.
‘Quid Pro Quo’
Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said the issue could be used as a “political stumbling block or a bargaining chip.”
“Bargaining chip can mean quid pro quo,” he said.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the Afghan government could offer the Taliban a major concession before intra-Afghan talks with the expectation that the militants will reciprocate.
Kugelman said that could mean the insurgents agreeing to reduce violence during the negotiations, which analysts expect to be complicated and protracted.
The United States and the Taliban agreed to a weeklong reduction of violence across Afghanistan before the signing of the peace deal. The partial truce has largely held, with a dramatic decrease in Taliban attacks from around 75 per day down to under 15.
The militants contest or control nearly half of the country.
A similar truce during intra-Afghan talks has been mooted, although the Taliban has not commented on the possibility.
But analysts warned that there was a risk in the government giving away one of its primary bargaining chips at such an early stage of the peace process.
“The Taliban has ample leverage because it’s in no hurry to conclude a peace deal,” said Kugelman. “If it receives a major concession it may hold out and demand more before giving something up in return.”
10,000 Taliban Prisoners
There are an estimated 10,000 Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan. But the militants have said that some of those detained were accused of being sympathizers or members of the group, often to settle old scores, and are not actually combatants.
There have been several high-profile prisoner swaps and releases of insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.
In November 2019, two Western hostages were released from Taliban custody in exchange for three senior Taliban prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction.
The prisoner swap was seen as an attempt to kick-start U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks over rising Taliban attacks.
In 2014, five senior Taliban members were released from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.
All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are based in Qatar, where they have taken part in negotiations with U.S. officials.
In 2013, former President Hamid Karzai controversially released scores of Taliban prisoners from a formerly U.S.-run prison near Kabul as an attempt to convince the militants to open direct talks with Kabul.
The move failed to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Analysts said some of those freed returned to the Taliban, bolstered their ranks, and increased the insurgency’s efficacy on the battlefield.
In 2015-2016, Wagner mercenaries moved from Ukraine to Syria, Sergey Sukhankin, an associate expert at the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv, told Business Insider in an email.
The mercenary group was contracted by Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp to capture and secure gas and oil fields by ISIS, reportedly being given 25% of the proceeds, according to the Associated Press.
Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan in early January 2018, according to Stratfor.
The Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan “in a conflict against the South Sudan” to back up Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government “militarily and hammer out beneficial conditions for the Russian companies,” Sukhankin said.
The mercenaries are also protecting gold, uranium and diamond mines, Sukhankin said, adding that the latter is the “most essential commodity.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has a cozy relationship with al-Bashir. The two leaders met in Moscow in late 2017, where al-Bashir asked Putin for protection from the US.
The Hague has had an arrest warrant out for al-Bashir since 2009 for crimes against humanity.
3. Central African Republic
In early January 2018, Stratfor reported that Wagner mercenaries might soon be sent to CAR, and Sukhankin said that there are now about 370 mercenaries in CAR and Sudan.
Sukhankin said that Wagner mercenaries have the same general mission in CAR — protecting lucrative mines and propping up the government regime.
In December 2017, the UN allowed Russia to begin selling weapons to the CAR, one of the many ways Moscow is trying to influence the continent. The CAR government is trying to combat violence being perpetrated by multiple armed groups along ethnic and religious lines.
“Russian instructors training our armed forces will greatly strengthen their effectiveness in combating plunderers,” President Faustin-Archange Touadera said in early April, according to RT, a Russian state-owned media outlet.
“The Russian private sector is also seeking to invest in the country’s infrastructure and education,” RT reported.
“Moscow seems more interested in filling its coffers through the Wagner deals than in preparing for a massive investment drive [in Africa],” Stratfor reported.
The Wagner Group might also be operating in other countries now or in the future.
“Potentially, the Balkans if any conflict erupts,” Sukhankin said. “The Russians had sent PMC’s in 1992 to Bosnia. In case something occurs, this might happen once again.”
Wagner mercenaries might also soon be sent to Libya, one Wagner commander told RFERL in March 2018.
“There are many fights ahead,” the commander told RFERL. “Soon it will be in Libya. [Wagner] is already fighting in Sudan.”
Russia has been engaging more and more with Libya since 2016, supporting the faction led by military commander Khalifa Haftar. Meanwhile, NATO backs the the Government of National Accord, led by Fayez al-Sarraj.
Wagner commanders said that demand for their mercanaries will continue to grow as “war between the Russian Federation and the United States” continues, RFERL reported.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
One woman remains in training to become a battlefield Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) specialist, one of several special operations jobs in the Air Force, the head of Air Education and Training Command said September 19th.
“We have one female that’s in the course right now,” AETC commander Gen. Darryl Roberson said during a Facebook Live interview Tuesday with Military.com.
Roberson didn’t identify the airman, who joined the program Aug. 14 after Basic Military Training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, according to Air Force Times.
Roberson said four other women have entered Air Force special operations training since then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter reversed long-standing U.S. military traditions in late 2015, when he announced that all military occupational specialties would open to women.
Those other trainees have left the program for various reasons, the general said.
One woman who began SpecOps training in August dropped out that same month. One TACP retrainee ended up removing herself from training due to a leg injury last year; a combat rescue officer candidate passed the physical test but never completed the selection program application; and another non-prior service TACP candidate couldn’t meet entry standards following BMT.
Roberson said he is hopeful more women will seek out some of the toughest jobs the service has to offer.
“Come and join us!” he said during an interview on Sept. 19. “We can help you get through it.”
The general this spring introduced a new initiative, the Continuum of Learning, which aims to streamline training for airmen just beginning their Air Force careers.
“We’re working really hard for battlefield airmen. It’s our hardest specialty area; it’s our biggest attrition rate area,” Roberson said. “We have to figure out better ways to train and get these airmen through the program. Several of the ways we’re doing this is through the Continuum of Learning [initiative].”
“We just instituted a brand-new course — the Battlefield Airmen Prep Course, a preparatory course that once you finish BMT … we’re going to put you in this training program that is six weeks long. And it’s going to prepare you to start the original course of initial entry,” he said.
Following the prep course, airmen head to the indoctrination course, both of which are under the Battlefield Airman Training Group, also at JBSA-Lackland, Marilyn Holliday, a spokeswoman for AETC, said last month. “Both of these groups are part of the 37th Training Wing” at Lackland.
Roberson said airmen must trust the process.
“It’s to get you ready better than we’ve ever done before, so when you start the [special operations training] course, your chances of success are much higher,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Marshall “Brad” Webb, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, said he is confident women will soon count themselves among the service’s commandos.
“It’s going to happen, and we are ready in this command for it to happen,” he said during a briefing with reporters. “It’s going to be a huge non-event when it does happen.”
Webb said he isn’t sure when, exactly, or whether some special operations fields may see more female recruits than others. But he drew a comparison to the 1990s, when female pilots started flying service aircraft and many advanced into leadership positions.
“It’s maturing at a pace that you’d expect,” he said.
So far, six women have expressed interest in applying for special operations positions, including three for TAC-P, two for combat control officer and one for pararescue jumper (PJ), according to Command Master Sgt. Greg Smith.
Of those, two followed through, but one suffered a foot injury during initial training and another wasn’t ultimately selected, Smith said.
“For recruitment, it is open, it is there,” he said. “Assessment, that is always our hardest part. We graduate less than 1 percent of males that go through, so you can expect probably 1 percent of females that go through will do that. We will get there. We are enthusiatsically waiting and wanting this to happen.
“If you watch ‘American Ninja Warrior’ today, I’ll tell you right now we need to go hang out there with recruitment because half of them could kick the crap out of half of us,” he added, referring to the NBC series on obstacle course competitions. “Those are the ones we want in special tactics today.”
Investigators were searching for other possible explosive devices and stopping to search people and vehicles in Colombo on April 25, 2019, AP reported, four days after blasts ripped through hotels and churches across Sri Lanka.
Few people were outside in parts of the city while authorities searched locations near where the bombs went off, according to the AP. Sri Lanka has also imposed a curfew, from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. local time.
Sri Lanka Bombings: What the Scale of the Attacks Tells Us | NYT News
Drones carrying explosives have previously been used by militant groups such as ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lankan attacks.
But ISIS’ links to the attacks have not been proven, and authorities have blamed National Towheed Jamaat, a local extremist group that has not taken public responsibility. A high-level intelligence official told CNN that the group was planning another round of attacks in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan authorities said they believe an international network of extremists could have helped the group carry out the attacks.
Almost 60 people have been detained in relation to the bombings, while two brothers who are believed to have been involved in the bombings, Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, were members of one of the city’s wealthiest families.
Sri Lanka’s deputy defence minister said on April 24, 2019, that the country believes one of the bombers studied in the UK and Australia.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisInsider on Twitter.
“What we’ve found so far is it revolutionizes the way we fight,” Love told Military.com. “It used to be a squad would be dispersed out over maybe 100 yards, so the squad leader couldn’t really communicate with the members at the far end because of all the noise of the weapons. Now they can actually just communicate, and be able to command and control and effectively direct those fires.”
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christian Wade, the division’s gunner, or infantry weapons officer, said the Lima companies in two other battalions — 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, and 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines — now had silencers, or suppressors, on all their rifles, including the M27 infantry automatic rifles. All units are set to deploy in coming months. The combat engineer platoons that are attached to these units and will deploy with them will also carry suppressed weapons, he said.
Suppressors work by slowing the escape of propellant gases when a gun is fired, which drastically reduces the sound signature. Used by scout snipers and special operations troops to preserve their stealth, the devices are also valuable for their ability to minimize the chaos of battle, enabling not only better communication but also improved situational awareness and accuracy.
“It increases their ability to command and control, to coordinate with each other,” Wade told Military.com. “They shoot better, because they can focus more, and they get more discipline with their fire.”
The noise of gunfire can create an artificial stimulus that gives the illusion of effectiveness, he said. When it’s taken away, he explained, Marines pay more attention to their shooting and its effect on target.
“They’ve got to get up and look, see what effect they’re having on the enemy because you can’t hear it,” he said.
He added that suppressors were already in common use by near-peer militaries, including those of Russia and China.
Wade said he is working on putting suppressors on the Marines’ M249 light machine gun and M240G medium machine gun, using equipment from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. The third and final objective will be the suppression of the .50 caliber heavy machine gun, he said.
As the units conduct training and exercises with suppressors, 2nd Marine Division is collaborating with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab to collect and aggregate data. Weapons with suppressors require additional maintenance and cleaning to prevent fouling, and the cost, nearly $700,000 to outfit an infantry battalion, might give planners pause.
But Wade said he will continue to gather data for the next year-and-a-half, following the units as they deploy. And he expects the idea to have gained significant traction among Marine Corps leadership by then, he said.
“When I show how much overmatch we gain … it will have sold itself,” he said.