In a report released earlier this summer, the Department of Defense Inspector General has determined that the Army’s finances are a world-class mess. Reportedly, the service made $2.8 trillion in adjustments to make their books balance just in one quarter of 2015 in spite of the fact that the entire defense budget for that fiscal year was $585 billion.
According to Reuters, the Army’s books are so jumbled that they may be impossible to audit – and the Army is facing a September 30, 2017 deadline to be ready for one. The harsh IG report concluded the Army “materially misstated” its financial statements for 2015.
Making the task of squaring the Army’s books harder is the fact that over 16,000 documents have vanished from the Army’s computer system. The Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), the Pentagon’s primary agency responsible for accounting services, routinely changed numbers without justification at the end of the year, something employees of that agency referred to as the “grand plug.”
“Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” DOD critic and retired analyst Franklin Spinney told Reuters.
The Army has taken issue with the IG report, claiming that the total discrepancies total just under $62.5 billion. An Army spokesman said, “Though there is a high number of adjustments, we believe the financial statement information is more accurate than implied in this report,” that and that the Army “remains committed to asserting audit readiness” and that steps are being taken to root out the problems.
The United States says Moscow has deployed military jets to Libya to provide support for Russian mercenaries helping a local warlord battle the North African country’s internationally recognized government.
The Russian military aircraft flew to Libya via Syria, where they were repainted to disguise their identity, the U.S. Africa Command said in a statement on May 26.
“For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way,” said U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM.
AFRICOM said the Russian jets had arrived in Libya recently. It did not say how many aircraft were transferred.
Vagner Group, a private military contractor believed to be close to the Kremlin, has been helping Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces in their fight against the Government of National Accord (GNA). A UN report earlier this month estimated the number of Russian mercenaries at between 800 and 1,200.
Moscow has denied the Russian state is responsible for any deployments.
There was no immediate comment from Russia’s Defense Ministry following the latest U.S. accusations.
But Andrei Krasov, deputy head of the Defense Committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, rejected the U.S. claim as “disinformation,” according to the Interfax news agency.
Townsend said that neither Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) nor Vagner had the ability to operate and finance the jets without Russian government support.
“Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya,” he said.
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, in 2011.
Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, is now seeking to capture the capital, Tripoli, and his LNA is battling GNA forces.
The conflict has drawn in multiple regional actors, with Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates backing Haftar’s command.
Turkey, which deployed troops, drones, and Syrian rebel mercenaries to Libya in January, supports the government in Tripoli, alongside Qatar and Italy.
In a phone call with Libyan parliament speaker Aguila Saleh on May 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “there needs to be a constructive dialogue involving all the Libyan political forces” and “an immediate cease-fire,” according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
Haftar and the GNA have held several rounds of peace talks in France, Italy, Russia, and Germany, but they have failed to reach an agreement to end the fighting.
U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian said that if Russia seized bases on Libya’s coast, it could potentially deploy permanent capabilities to deny area access.
“If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank,” he said.
It was a typical winter morning in northern Afghanistan. The sky was clear, and the blinding sun slowly climbed into it. The sun was bright, but it didn’t do much to fight the biting cold that pumped down the turret opening in our Humvee and chilled us all.
I was in a light infantry reconnaissance platoon, made up of an almost even split of snipers and recon guys. We were on our way to a large forward operating base just south of Kabul. Our specific skill set had been requested by the commander there so we crammed into our cold Humvees and headed into the unknown.
We pulled into the base later that morning and were shown to the tent that we’d call home for at least a day or two. After unloading all of our gear and equipment, me and the other lower enlisted guys made ourselves at home while our senior leaders went to work out the specifics of the mission we’d be supporting.
We hadn’t been there long before sudden pounding winds seemed to threaten the integrity of our tent. One soldier leapt up from his cot and ripped open the door flap of our tent. The clear sunbathed sky had faded behind a thick sheet of dark clouds and snow was collecting quickly on the ground outside.
The soldier fastened the door flap shut as we all looked at each other in amazement. “This mission has got to be scrapped” quipped one soldier. “There’s no way we’re going out in this” added another. Assuming the mission was a no-go, we settled back into our cots and pulled out our books, iPods, magazines and other essentials needed to ride out the storm.
Just as we were all getting comfortable and cozy in our sleeping bags, a red-faced and snow covered staff sergeant barreled into our tent. “Get your cold-weather gear on and get outside”. The staff sergeant stormed out of the tent just as rapidly as he’d come in.
We tossed our creature comforts to the side and began tearing through our bags for heavy jackets, pants and beanies. Questions and confusion filled the frantic tent. Once suited up, we all funneled out of the tiny tent opening into the storm and lined up in front of the two stone-faced staff sergeants.
We stood there silently as they divided us up between them. Reading our confused expressions, the staff sergeants laughed and explained what was about to happen.
“You guys go with him” he said gesturing at the other staff sergeant and his group. “And you guys come with me. We’ll have 15 minutes to build up our arsenal of snowballs and then it’s on. If you get hit, you’re out. You can be revived by a teammate once, but if you’re hit again, you’re out until the next round”.
Before our shock could fade, we were elbows deep in snow mounds, hastily and inefficiently shaping snowballs with our gloved hands. The 15 minutes were up and my group had established three separate caches of snowballs in case one were to be compromised. Our hodgepodge of recon and sniper guys made it difficult to establish a quick plan of attack. Me and the other recon guys suggested we move between tents to find a good ambush point. The snipers suggested we push to a small hill top and take advantage of the high ground. The infighting put us at a disadvantage.
When the other team started lobbing snowballs, strategy turned into self-preservation and it was every man for himself.
A number of my recon teammates had been taken out of the game so I retreated to the hill top where a few snipers were dug in. The high ground gave us the upper hand, and the continuing snowfall guaranteed we wouldn’t run out of ammo. We had the other team pinned down and just when we thought we had the game won, we were flanked and wiped out.
The snowball fight went a few more rounds and the longer we were out in the storm the more exhausted we got. Our honed military training and tactics gradually devolved into a laughter filled display of “soldiers on ice” as we slipped and fell endlessly.
When the snowball fight was over, we sluggishly made our way back to our tent, shed our cold weather gear and collapsed onto our cots.
The mission we came for had officially been scrapped, so we quietly retrieved the creature comforts we had discarded earlier and tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags. The next morning the bright sun rose and melted most of the snow. We gathered all of our equipment crammed ourselves back into our cold Humvees, and headed to the next outpost.
That day was rarely talked about in the months that followed. It was as if we were all safeguarding a cherished memory and if we spoke about it, the day would somehow seem less special.
I’m sure the snowball fight meant something different for everyone on the battlefield that day. For me, its meaning has evolved over the years. What was once just another story from my time in Afghanistan has grown into a meaningful narrative about the human moments soldiers often experience while deployed but are rarely reported.
For me this day was important because it helps me show that not every war story is a tale of heroism or tragedy.
When the winter months creep by here at home, I look forward to an impromptu moment where I’ll look out on a large snow covered field, and I’ll tell whoever will listen, about my snowball fight with snipers.
Edward Snowden shut down the conspiracy theory that the US government is secretly harboring aliens at its top secret facilities during an episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, which aired on Oct. 23, 2019.
Snowden, an American whistleblower who revealed details of classified US government surveillance programs in 2013, addressed rumors about secret extraterrestrial lifeforms in his recently released memoir “Permanent Record.”
“I know, Joe, I know you want there to be aliens,” he said. “I know Neil deGrasse Tyson badly wants there to be aliens. And there probably are, right?”
“I do,” Rogan responded.
Speaking to Rogan from Russia, where he has been granted asylum, Snowden said as far as he knew the US government has not made contact with aliens and is not housing them at their facilities, like that of Area 51 in Nevada.
“But the idea that we’re hiding them — if we are hiding them — I had ridiculous access to the networks of the NSA, the CIA, the military, all these groups. I couldn’t find anything,” he asserted.
He said, he found no evidence of extraterrestrial life during his time spent snooping through government databases when he worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Three Phase-1 human clinical trials evaluating an Army-developed Zika purified inactivated virus vaccine, known as a ZPIV, have shown it was safe and well-tolerated in healthy adults and induced a robust immune response. Initial findings from the trials were published early in December in the medical journal “The Lancet.”
Each of the three studies included in the paper was designed to address a unique question about background immunity, vaccine dose or vaccination schedule. A fourth trial with ZPIV is still underway in Puerto Rico, where the population has natural exposure to other viruses in the same family as Zika (flaviviruses), such as dengue.
“It is imperative to develop a vaccine that prevents severe birth defects and other neurologic complications in babies caused by Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, WRAIR’s Director for Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Zika program co-lead and the article’s lead author. “These results give us hope that a safe and effective vaccine will be achievable.”
Across the three trials, a total of 67 healthy adult volunteers (55 vaccine, 12 placebo) received two vaccine injections, four weeks apart. Researchers measured the immune response by monitoring levels of Zika virus-neutralizing antibodies in the blood. More than 90% of volunteers who received the vaccine developed an immune response against Zika.
“Not only is the development of a Zika vaccine a global public health priority, but it is also necessary to protect Service Members and their families,” said Col. Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program and Zika program co-lead.
The ZPIV vaccine candidate was developed as part of the U.S. Department of Defense response to the 2015 outbreak of Zika virus in the Americas. WRAIR researchers conceived the ZPIV vaccine in February 2016 and were able to advance the candidate to a Phase 1 human trial by November of the same year.
“WRAIR has previously steered to licensure a similar vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, a flavivirus in the same family as Zika, which helped speed our vaccine development effort,” said Dr. Leyi Lin, who led one of the trials at WRAIR.
In the volunteers who received the vaccine, neutralizing antibody levels peaked two weeks after they completed the 2-dose vaccine series, and exceeded the threshold established in an earlier study needed to protect monkeys against a Zika virus challenge. Researchers also found that antibodies from vaccinated volunteers protected mice from a Zika virus challenge, providing insight into how this vaccine might prevent Zika infection.
Next steps include evaluating how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts, and the impact of dose, schedule and background immunity. Michael added that, “Army researchers are part of integrated, strategic US Government effort to develop a vaccine to protect against Zika.”
The ZPIV program is led by Col. Michael and Dr. Modjarrad. The principal investigators at each of the study sites were Dr. Leyi Lin at WRAIR, Dr. Sarah L. George at SLU and Dr. Kathryn E. Stephenson at BIDMC. The sponsor of the investigational new drug application for two of the studies (WRAIR and SLU) is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The BIDMC study is investigator-sponsored by Dr. Kathryn Stephenson.
US President Donald Trump kicks off his Asia tour on Nov. 3 amid the ongoing North Korea crisis. He is first stopping off in Hawaii before heading to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The White House says Trump will be aiming to “underscore his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” But there are concerns in Asia about the degree to which the Trump administration is genuinely committed to the economic prosperity and security of the region given its sharp policy shifts from the previous administration.
Traditional US allies in the Asia Pacific will likely be looking for signs of continued American support from Trump — especially given that the American president pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which was largely seen as a statement about the US’s long-term commitment to the region.
Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping will be closely watched, although analysts aren’t expecting substantive developments. Below, we outlined the key issues to keep an eye on in each of the countries that Trump will be visiting.
On the US-Japan agenda: Trump will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will host the US president for a meeting with families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. Trump will also meet with American and Japanese service members.
What’s been going on in Japan: Abe’s ruling coalition recently won a more than two-thirds majority in snap elections. Abe is now set to be the longest-serving prime minister in postwar Japan, and is likely to push for changes in the country’s defense sector.
What to watch for: Abe will likely be trying to gauge whether the Trump administration is on the same page as Japan when it comes to North Korea, and whether it will be committed to security in the region. Notably, during a congratulatory call after the snap elections, Trump and Abe reportedly discussed being united on the need to up the pressure on North Korea.
Why this matters: Japan has been a pacifist nation since the end of World War II; its constitution includes an article that renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and outlaws the use of force as means by which to settle international disputes. But Abe has made efforts to “remove pacifist constraints” on the military.
His agenda has, arguably, been helped forward by the ongoing North Korea crisis, even though about half of poll respondents disagree with the revision of the pacifist clause. It’s possible that if it looks like the US will be pulling out of regional disputes in Asia, Abe might be inspired to move his defense agenda forward.
On the US-Korea agenda: Trump will be participating in bilateral meetings with President Moon Jae-in and will visit American and South Korean service members. He will also speak at the National Assembly, where he is expected to “celebrate the enduring alliance and friendship” between the US and South Korea and call on the international community to up the pressure on North Korea.
What’s been going on in South Korea: Moon, who was elected in May, has spoken about the importance of relations between South Korea and China, which is noteworthy given the US’s decision to pull out of TPP. In October, the two countries agreed to end their dispute over the deployment of a US missile-defense system in Korea. Their leaders will be on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries on November 10-11 (after both will have met with Trump).
What to watch for: Not wholly unlike Japan, Korea will also likely be trying to gauge whether the Trump administration is on the same page when it comes to North Korea and overall regional issues. Notably, Trump tweeted a jab at South Korea back in September, prompting analysts to argue that a divide might be opening between the two countries. A split in the US-South Korean alliance would theoretically be a strategic benefit for both China and North Korea.
Additionally, South Korea recently agreed to amend its trade deal with the US, known as KORUS, after Trump threatened to withdraw from it earlier this year.
Why this matters: Any indication that the US wants to pull further out of the Asia-Pacific region could theoretically inspire South Korea to inch closer to China, which is already its larger trading partner.
On the US-China agenda: Trump will be meeting with Xi and will participate in a series of “bilateral, commercial, and cultural events.” The president plans to “stress fair and reciprocal trade and economic relations,” an official told Bloomberg.
What’s been going on in China: An amendment including President Xi’s name was added to China’s constitution during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. This is the first time a living leader’s name was added since Mao Zedong and reflects Xi’s strong standing within the party. Trump tweeted his congratulations to Xi.
What to watch for: Analysts will likely be keeping an eye on any glimmers of insights on trade and North Korea. But “few will be expecting any substantial developments,” Julian Evans-Pritchard, a China economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients this week. “The usual pattern is for China to offer a concession such as on market access, which may never materialize, and to agree a few trade deals, and then for business to continue as usual.”
Why this matters: Trump’s trade agenda and the crisis in North Korea are much more closely intertwined than some might think. Although Trump repeatedly criticized China’s trade agenda, and once called them the “grand champions” of currency manipulation, he ultimately pulled back from officially labeling China a currency manipulator. That’s likely because of the delicate situation in North Korea, which he himself implied in an interview with The Economist.
On the US-Vietnam agenda: Trump will participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting. He’ll deliver a speech at the summit, during which he will “present the United States’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and underscore the important role the region plays in advancing America’s economic prosperity.” He’ll also meet with President Tran Dai Quang.
What’s been going on in Vietnam: US-Vietnam relations improved under the Obama administration. Last year, when Obama visited Hanoi, he announced the US would repeal a ban on the sale of lethal military equipment, which was largely interpreted as a move to support Vietnam in its clashes with China in the South China Sea.
Since Trump came into office railing against China, many thought he might be even tougher than the Obama administration. But he has eased his criticism instead, which has likely raised concerns in Vietnam about future US responses to China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.
What to watch for: Vietnam will likely be looking for signs of commitment from the US on security vis-a-vis China and possibly trade. It’s worth noting that Vietnam would’ve been one of the biggest winners from the TPP agreement, so Trump’s decision to pull out was a major blow.
Why this matters: The US is the biggest recipient of Vietnam’s exports.
On the US-Philippines agenda: Trump will celebrate the 40th anniversary of US-ASEAN relations at the US-ASEAN Summit and participate in meetings with President Rodrigo Duterte.
What’s been going on in Philippines: Duterte announced last year his “separation” from the US and called President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch.” Analysts interpreted this as an attempt to get more economic, trade, and investment benefits from China. He was also likely keen to see some international support for his “war on drugs,” which was denounced in 2016 by both the US and human-rights groups. China expressed support for the crackdown ahead of Duterte’s visit there last year.
What to watch for: Trump and Duterte have a “warm rapport,” according to a senior administration official. Trump once praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” It will be worth watching how their dynamic plays out.
Why this matters: As analysts at BMI Research explained last year, the Philippines has been a key US ally in the Asia Pacific for decades, in part because of its strategic location between the South China Sea and the western Pacific Ocean, both of which are key for international trade. Additionally, the Philippines is an element of the “first island chain” from southern Japan and Taiwan down to the South China Sea, which the US formulated during the Cold War to contain the former USSR and China.
Last year, those analysts argued that if the Philippines were to continue pulling toward China, then the US might have to “increasingly cultivate Vietnam as a regional security partner to partially offset the withdrawal of the Philippines from an informal US-led bloc of Asian nations aimed at counterbalancing China’s rise.”
The Mi-24 Hind had a reputation as a cinematic bad guy in “Rambo III” and the original 1980s Cold War flick “Red Dawn.”
Helping the Mujahidin kill it was the focus of 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.” But how much do you really know about this so-called “flying tank?”
Let’s take a good look at this deadly bird. According to GlobalSecurity.org, this helicopter can carry a lot of firepower, including 57mm and 80mm rockets, anti-tank missiles, and deadly machine guns or cannon. But it also can carry a standard Russian infantry section – eight fully-armed troops.
So, it’s really not a flying tank. It’s a flying infantry fighting vehicle.
There really isn’t a similar American – or Western – helicopter. The UH-1 and UH-60s were standard troop carries, but don’t really have the firepower of the Hind. The AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra have a lot of firepower, but can’t really carry troops (yeah, we know the Brits did that one time – and it was [very] crazy!).
While the Mi-24 got its villainous cinematic reputation thanks to 1984’s “Red Dawn,” and the 1988 movie “Rambo III,” its first action was in the Ogaden War – an obscure conflict that took place from 1977-1978. After the Somali invasion of Ethiopia, the Air Combat Information Group noted that as many as 16 Mi-24s were delivered to the Ethiopians by the Soviets.
It has taken part in over 30 conflicts since then.
The Hind was to Afghanistan what the Huey was to Vietnam: an icon of the conflict. GlobalSecurity.org reported that as many as 300 Mi-24s were in Afghanistan.
In the Russian war movie “The Ninth Company,” the Mi-24 gets a more heroic turn than it did in Red Dawn or Rambo III.
At least 2,300 have already been built, and versions of the Mi-24 are still in production, according to the Russian Helicopters website. This cinematic aviation bad boy will surely be around for many years to come.
As ISIS appears to crumble on its home turf in Iraq and Syria, the group’s chapter in Afghanistan — known as ISIS-K — has shown remarkable resilience.
ISIS-K took credit on Jan. 24th for an attack on an office belonging to the Save the Children charity, showing that, despite serious battlefield defeats and senior leadership loses, it remains a capable terrorist group. At least three people were killed in the attack.
The attack on Save the Children has already had a direct effect on the charity’s operation, as they announced the Afghanistan office would close. Similarly, the Red Cross said in October that it was drastically reducing operations in the country following attacks that killed seven of its staff, according to Reuters.
ISIS-K has been effective at attacking forces in the country even in the heart of Afghan government territory and has been involved in dozens of high profile attacks since 2016. Before this recent attack in Jalalabad, an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 41 people and wounded more than 80 others in Kabul in December.
Fighting back against the group has proven difficult. General John Nicholson, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan summed it up in a press briefing in November; “It’s like a balloon: We squeeze them in this area and they’ll try to move out elsewhere.”
After the attack on Save the Children, Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Program and South Asia senior associate at the Wilson Center, tweeted that it’s “a perfect example of the indiscriminate savagery of ISIS.”
“U.S. airstrikes, including the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used, have been targeting them for months,” Kugelman wrote. “Hasn’t worked.”
In December, Kugelman wrote that he worries about the group’s resilience. He laid out three reasons why ISIS-K is able to survive — the difficult terrain of the country, homegrown radicalization, and a “steady supply of recruits” from the Pakistani Taliban.
Gen. John Nicholson. (Photo from Dept of Defense.)
There is no question that ISIS-K has suffered large losses, as NATO forces, the Afghan Security Forces, and even the Taliban are all fighting ISIS’ Afghan chapter.
Founded in 2015 and made up mostly of Taliban defectors and militants from Iraq and Syria, U.S. officials estimated last April that ISIS-K had 700 members. In November, Afghan officials said the number may be as high as 3,000.
ISIS-K has had all three of its top leaders (called “emirs”) killed since the group was founded; Hafiz Sayed Khan in an airstrike in July of 2016, Abdul Hasib in a special forces raid last April, and Abu Sayed just a few months later in another special forces raid in July.
Additionally, just weeks after it was declared, the terror group lost its deputy commander Abdul Rauf Aliza in a NATO drone strike. In 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that “Afghanistan will be their graveyard,” after announcing that at least 200 ISIS militants had been killed over a 21-day operation in Nangarhar province.
More recently, 94 militants — including four commanders — were killed when the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS stronghold last April.
The US government quietly expelled two Chinese diplomats suspected of spying after they drove onto a sensitive military base in Virginia, The New York Times reported Dec. 15, 2019.
The Times said the incident, which happened in September, appeared to be the first time Chinese diplomats had been suspected of espionage on US soil in more than 30 years.
It came after a pair of officials drove to the checkpoint for entry to a Virginia military base with their wives in September. A guard, who realized they did not have permission to enter, told them to go through the gate, turn around, and exit. But the officials instead continued to the base, those familiar with the incident told The Times.
Eventually, a fire truck was used to block their path. The Chinese officials said they had not understood the guard’s English instructions and had simply become lost, a claim officials were skeptical about.
Sailors man the rails aboard the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham as the ship pulls into Naval Station Norfolk.
(U.S. Navy photo by Jonathan Clay)
At least one of the officials is believed to be an intelligence officer, six people with knowledge of the expulsions told The Times.
The incident, which was not announced by Washington or Beijing, underlines concerns within the Trump administration that Chinese officials have stepped up spying efforts amid an intensifying economic rivalry between the two countries.
Chinese officials carrying diplomatic passports have started showing up at government research facilities with increasing frequency in recent years, The Times reported.
The base Chinese officials tried to access in September was a sensitive unit housing special-operations forces and is near the US Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia.
The US is most recently known to have expelled Chinese diplomats on suspicion of espionage in 1987.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Berlin was a dangerous place during the Cold War. A preserved piece of the Wall containing a mural memorializing 146 Germans killed trying to escape communism stands in stark testament.
As the grand central station of East-West espionage, the city was a playground for all sorts of secret agents. And its place in the history of the 20th century far outweighs its size. Indeed, 37 percent of Americans viewed the fall of the Berlin Wall as the single most important event of the 1980s.
That Wall came down after 28 years because Americans in uniform stood as a barrier to Soviet aggression. The vast majority of those GIs were clearly visible. But a small contingent operated behind the scenes, not even acknowledged until long after the Cold War ended. Only this year were they fully and publicly recognized.
Born in the Mid-’50s
Though the Status-of-Forces Agreement signed by all four powers occupying Berlin prohibited elite forces, each country had its own prowling the city. It was 10 years after WWII ended, however, before the U.S. had such a unit formally in place there.
In August 1956, the elite 10th Special Forces Group, based in Bad Tolz, Germany, stationed the secretive 7781 Army Unit (also known as the 39th Special Forces Operational Detachment) in West Berlin. It consisted of six modified detachments that became part of the Headquarters Company of the 6th Infantry Regiment. Each team had six members.
Two years later, the unit was renamed Detachment A and assigned to the Headquarters Company of the U.S. Army Garrison, Berlin. Then in April 1962, it was attached to the Berlin Brigade. Its area of operations was primarily that city, but it could undertake missions elsewhere in Europe.
“Detachment A was literally in the eye of the Cold War hurricane,” said Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. As an unconventional and classified outfit of 90 men (a normal tour of duty was three years), Detachment A carried out clandestine operations.
Originally operating in small cells, by the late 1960s it expanded to 12-man “A” teams. Unit members were as unique as the U.S. Army ever recruited. Many were German or East European refugees who still had families trapped behind the Iron Curtain. In the early years, a significant number were WWII vets, too. Hence they brought much-needed skills along with knowledge of other nations and languages to the unit.
Training and tools of the trade
Physical training was wide-ranging and progressively intense. For instance, winter warfare training in Bavaria consisted of downhill and cross-country skiing equivalent to extreme skiing. Specialized demolition training was required for various targets in Berlin. Some teammates attended the CIA’s specialized demo course at Harvey Point, N.C. Scuba diving was another required skill.
Every month, members made parachute jumps staging out of Tempelhof Air Base in Berlin. Detachment A participated in NATO escape and evasion exercises. Exercises exclusive to Berlin included dead drops, live drops, primary meetings, surveillance and communications. Team members trained with the elite West German Federal Border Guard and Border Protection Group 9, British Special Air Service and special police units.
But they also taught an urban course to other 10th SFG personnel, as well as SEAL Team 2 based on Crete. As masters of spy craft, team members carried items reminiscent of a James Bond movie.
Coal filled with C-4 explosives was used to potentially sabotage the rail ring surrounding Berlin. Oneshot cigarette-lighter guns, vials filled with metal shavings for destruction of turbines and noise-suppressed weapons for eliminating targets were all part of the arsenal. The German Walther MPK 9mm SMG that fit in a briefcase was the weapon of choice.
All scuba gear was German-made, including the one-man portable decompression chamber. Every member spoke fluent German and dressed mostly in authentic German civilian clothes. They sometimes carried non-American flash documentation and identification. Dual passports, or dual nationalities, were part of the deception.
Adversaries in this potentially deadly game of cat and mouse included the notorious East German Secret Police (Stasi), Soviet KGB (Committee for State Security) and even Spetsnaz (Russian Special Purpose Forces). Being vigilant of Soviet surveillance was a given. The KGB had members under constant watch and possessed dossiers on everyone in Detachment A. Yet the Green Berets always deceived their adversaries into believing they were an exponentially larger force than they really were.
During the mid-1970s, the unit’s mission began to evolve. Though the classic Cold War enemy always remained, a new one reared its ugly head in the form of terrorism. The lethal Red Army Faction —a rabid Marxist group targeting the U.S. military starting in 1972—came into play, killing six GIs in all. That meant being prepared to take on terrorists with snipers and SWAT tactics.
“They were very brave men and took on some tough missions,” recalled Sidney Shachnow, who led Detachment A from 1970 to 1974. Still, the Soviet threat hovered over the divided city. In 1978, the unit was tasked by the CIA with digging up several mission sites positioned throughout Berlin for stay-behind operations. Also, to maintain the equipment in them— weapons and demolitions, for example.
In April of 1980 Detachment ‘A’ participated in “Operation Eagle Claw,” the attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis by rescuing 52 diplomats held captive at the United States Embassy and the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran, Iran. Det-A’s portion of the mission was code-named “Storm Cloud.”
Detachment ‘A’ was responsible for the pre-mission reconnaissance of the targets by successfully infiltrating a team into Tehran on several occasions and contributed an element to rescue three hostages held in the MFA.
When the first mission was aborted because of a crash involving a C-130 and a CH-53 in the middle of the Iranian desert, a second attempt was planned for later that year. That was cancelled when negotiations proved successful.
Four years later the mission of this unique outfit was deemed unnecessary even though the Cold War was far from over. At the end of 1984, Detachment A was disbanded.
“I knew when I closed the door,” said Eugene Piasecki, the detachment’s last commander, “I would no longer serve in a unit like that.”
Bob Charest, a retired Army master sergeant, served with Detachment A from 1969 to 1972 and 1973 to 1978.
On May 12, 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to intercept and visually identify two Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers flying off Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands, in the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).
ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.
According to NORAD, the Russians were “intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west,” and, as usual, remained in international airspace.
Nothing special then, considered that these close encounters occur every now and then, as reported in 2017.
What’s a bit more interesting this time is the fact that the Russian Air Force has released some details and footage about the training activities conducted by its long range bombers. During the last round of “winter period” training, five long range missions were launched involving strategic missile carriers Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, as well as long-range Tu-22M3 bombers: these flights brought the Russian aircraft over the Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, Japan, East China, Black, Barents, Norwegian, Northern, Bering and Okhotsk Seas.
On May 12, 2018 mission off Alaska, the F-22s (that were filmed while shadowing the Bear, as the clip below shows) remained with the Tu-95s for 40 minutes.
“As for the last such flight, only one pair of US Air Force F-22 fighters have escorted our aircraft. Just one, it says that a certain effect of surprise has worked. Usually, during the execution of such flights, we are escorted to five or seven aircraft, while escorts are carried out by fighters of various states. I want to note that during this flight no one intercepted anyone. US Air Force planes accompanied our aircraft in the airspace over neutral waters. The pilots acted in the air correctly. No violations were recorded,” said commander of long-range aviation Lieutenant-General Sergei Kobylash in an article published by Zvezda.
While it’s somehow hard to believe that the large strategic bombers caught someone by surprise, the video is interesting, especially the short part where you can see a pair of F-22s from the window of a Russian Bear.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.