LUTSK, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces have captured an armed man who was holding 13 people hostage inside a bus in the northwestern town of Lutsk, ending a 12-hour ordeal.
No one was injured.
An armored personnel carrier with Ukrainian special forces pulled up alongside the bus around 9:30 p.m. seconds after an explosion created a bright flash near the vehicle, a video posted by an onlooker showed:
Maksym Kryvosh, a 44-year-old resident of Lutsk who has a criminal record and was once treated at a psychiatric center, was arrested. Kryvosh also went by the last name Plokhoy, which means “bad” in Russian.
Police said Kryvosh ranted against “the system” in his negotiations, called the nation’s oligarchs and officials “terrorists,” and demanded that people watch the 2005 documentary film Earthlings about the suffering endured by animals at farms, research labs, and other locations.
In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted a short video on Facebook recommending that people watch the documentary. Local media said Kryvosh was following the news about his hostage-taking on his smartphone. Zelenskiy deleted the video after Kryvosh’s capture.
Regional police chief Yuriy Kroshko said earlier in the day that Kryvosh had told police that he was armed and had a large amount of explosives with him.
He also claimed to have placed a bomb at another site in the city and said he could detonate it remotely.
Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned President Trump Dec. 16 to thank him for a CIA tip that helped thwart bombings in St. Petersburg, the Kremlin and the White House said — letting Trump show the benefit of better relations despite the ongoing Russia collusion probe, one expert said.
Putin expressed gratitude for the CIA information. The Kremlin said it led Russia’s top domestic security agency to a group of suspects that planned to bomb St. Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral and other sites.
“The information received from the CIA proved sufficient to find and detain the criminal suspects,” the Kremlin said.
Putin extended his thanks to the CIA. Trump then called CIA Director Mike Pompeo “to congratulate him, his very talented people, and the entire intelligence community on a job well done!”
“President Trump appreciated the call and told President Putin that he and the entire United States intelligence community were pleased to have helped save so many lives,” a White House statement said. “President Trump stressed the importance of intelligence cooperation to defeat terrorists wherever they may be. Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together.”
The Kremlin said Putin assured Trump that “if the Russian intelligence agencies receive information about potential terror threats against the United States and its citizens, they will immediately hand it over to their U.S. counterparts.”
Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute said, “Donald Trump was on the record for the better part of his campaign about wanting to have a better relationship with Russia. The trouble is that credible allegations of interference in the 2016 election have made it very difficult, if not impossible, for Trump to improve relations with Russia without being accused of being too close to the Russians.
“This is an example of him taking advantage of an incident like this to call attention to the potential for better relations, but for many Americans the concern of Russian interference in the 2016 election is greater,” Preble said.
The CIA’s tip to Russia comes even as Russia-U.S. ties have plunged to their lowest level since the Cold War era — first over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine, more recently over allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump.
US Air Force F-35s accidentally left behind phallic contrails in the sky after air-to-air combat training this week.
Two of the fifth-generation stealth fighters went head-to-head with four additional F-35s during a simulated dogfight, Luke Air Force Base told Business Insider.
In the wake of the mock air battle, the contrails looked decidedly like a penis. Media observers out in Arizona said it “vaguely resembles the male anatomy.”
But unlike a rash of prior sky penis sightings, the base has concluded that this was not an intentional act. “We’ve seen the photos that have been circulating online from Tuesday afternoon,” Maj. Rebecca Heyse, chief of public affairs for the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke, told Air Force Times in an emailed statement.
“56th Fighter Wing senior leadership reviewed the training tapes from the flight and confirmed that F-35s conducting standard fighter training maneuvers Tuesday afternoon in the Gladden and Bagdad military operating airspace resulted in the creation of the contrails.”
“There was no nefarious or inappropriate behavior during the training flight,” the base explained.
There have been numerous sky penis incidents in recent years, with the most famous involving a pair of Navy pilots created a phallic drawing in the air with an EA-18G Growler. The 2017 display was the work of two junior officers with Electronic Attack Squadron 130, according to Navy Times’ moment-by-moment account of the sky drawing.
Last year, an Air Force pilot with the 52nd Fighter Wing was suspected of getting creative with his aircraft, as some observers believed the contrails left behind were intentionally phallic. The flight patterns, according to Air Force Times, were standard though.
The latest incident is the first time a fighter as advanced as the F-35 has left behind this type of sky art.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Back in 2014, ISIS assaulted into Iraq and gained ground so fast that to this infantry officer, it made the German blitzkrieg look like amateur hour. Within a matter of months, the terrorist group took control of several key cities and began a series of massacres that even Al Qaeda deemed, “too extreme.”
As the Iraqi Army and Police fell back towards Baghdad, I received a phone call that would change my life forever.
I was on my way to class when I got a call from a man I knew as “Captain.” I could hear gunshots in the background and he was asking me, “Brother, can you help?”
Now, I’m a former Marine officer and served three combat tours in Iraq from 2006-2009. In 2014 I had moved on with life and was well on my way to growing the nasty beard and long hair of a graduate student.
But I couldn’t forget the Marine Corps motto that lived inside me: Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. And now I had a good reason.
The Iraqi soldier we’ll call “Captain” to conceal his identity, saved my life in 2006.
I’ll never forget that as a boot platoon commander on my first deployment when the Captain shielded me from an incoming shot by pushing me down and charging a sniper. So when I got that call from Captain in 2014, I knew he was in some serious trouble, and I had to help.
That’s when I began a frantic effort to call my former commanders and write congressional leaders to do something…anything. But before Captain could get the massive airstrike that he needed to quell the ISIS assault, he received an ultimatum from the ISIS commander on the other side of the battlefield.
“We know who you are, and we’ll kill your kids if you don’t leave,” the ISIS commander told Captain.
With a credible threat against his life, the Captain and his family quickly fled to Turkey where they hoped to eventually resettle in the United States as refugees. With Captain out of Iraq and on a path to the U.S., I thought all was well.
But the Captain’s case got stuck in the backlog of millions fleeing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. He was quickly told that his case wouldn’t be processed for years which, when you are on the run from ISIS, might as well be a death sentence.
Let me put it this way, this was a dude that had fought with us for years and now there were people who never served telling me that they couldn’t process his paperwork. I thought WTF?
So, I did the one thing Marines always do. I took action and went to Turkey myself, filming the trip along the way. My journey to help the Captain eventually was released by National Geographic as a short documentary called “The Captain’s Story.”
Nearly three years later, I continue to advocate for other refugees like the Captain as a member of Veterans For American Ideals, a non-partisan “group of veterans who share the belief that America is strongest when its policies and actions match its ideals.”
Though the work is far from over, we’re starting to make a difference in doing right by our wartime allies and bring them the protection and safety they deserve.
Chase Millsap joined the WATM team earlier this year as Director of Impact Strategy which allows him to keep fighting for veterans and our allies. We’re glad he’s on our team… just don’t piss him off.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
As soon as he wrapped up his studies in film and literature at Boston University, Henry Hughes followed family tradition and signed up for the Army. For the next five years, he took fire, dodged IEDs and grappled internally with the meaning of military service while on two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. After Hughes returned home and earned another degree from the American Film Institute, he began making movies, including his short film,”Day One,” which tells the story of a female Army interpreter facing a moral quandary during her first day on the job: saving the newborn child of a known enemy. The film was nominated for this year’s Academy Award for best live-action short.
NationSwell spoke to Hughes, a Got Your 6 Storyteller, by phone from Los Angeles about the lingering questions from war and their portrayal on film.
What inspired you to serve your country?
For me, it was a long family tradition. We basically had someone in the Army since the [American] Revolution. I wanted to be part of that tradition.
Is there one question that you continually ask yourself about your experience?
It’s probably, “why is it not so simple?” It’s a very complex part of my life, not something that is full of simply good memories or simply bad memories: it’s a mixture of all types of life. So I always wonder why it’s not like anything else. At this point, why can’t it be simpler? Why is it so difficult for everyone to understand it?
I’m guessing that’s why did you decided to make the film “Day One?”
For sure, it’s about those questions. There’s not a reducible answer like the one I just tried to give you. So that’s why I thought I could make a movie about it instead, to kind of show the way it felt. So the movie is not a true-to-life of what exactly happened to me that one day. But the feeling when I’m watching the movie, it’s that sublime space of things that are horrible and beautiful in the same breath.
What’s the most important lesson civilians can take away from art that’s made about war?
I would say that everyone’s wartime experience is subjective. I don’t know if there’s some sort of universal experience.
What’s your favorite movie about war?
For me, it’s “The Thin Red Line.” I think it touches me because there’s no other war movie like it, that accepts the soulfulness of the warrior experience. A lot of movies don’t go that way, they kind of go along the more visceral, more experiential route.
What is the quality you most admire in a comrade?
What I actually admire most is hard to come by in our community: vulnerability. When it’s a vulnerability to look at your military experience, I really love meeting those people.
Who was the most inspirational person you encountered while serving?
I would say my interpreter on my second tour. She’s the one I based the movie on, or it’s inspired by her. She’s an Afghan-American woman, naturalized as an American citizen, but born over there. The deck was stacked against her, and she looked inside herself to find out what she thought was right and wrong. It wasn’t something that someone told her to do. She just had incredible integrity.
If you could change one thing about your service, what would it be?
I wouldn’t want one of my guys to be wounded or for any of my guys to die.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I would probably say chasing down my wife. It was a long shot, and it worked out. In 2010, after my first tour, I flew to New York without knowing she was there. We hadn’t spoken in a long time. We knew each other as children, when we were 13, and I hadn’t seen her in a number of years. I thought I could track her down, and so on Facebook messenger, I basically said, “Hey, I just landed in New York. Let’s hang out. We haven’t seen each other in a decade.” We went on one date and then a few more dates. She started me writing me a lot of letters when I was in Afghanistan again for my second tour, and we decided to be together.
How can the rest of us, as civilians, do more to support veterans?
Just look at them as people first. I feel like there’s a big divide on some level, but a lot of it is imagined. The fact of the matter is that all of those veterans are just people. I would look at them that way first and then look at their experience.
To you, what does it mean these days to be a veteran?
Well, it’s inescapable, I suppose. The definition of being a veteran is you can never not be a veteran one once you are one. And that speaks to, I think, how profound that experience is. There’s no way you can stop being a veteran.
When Ann Mills-Griffiths sent out her regular National League of POW/MIA Families newsletter in September 2018, she included an announcement that Navy Cmdr. James B. Mills, missing in Vietnam since 1966, had been recovered, his remains positively identified by the Pentagon.
She did not mention that he was her own brother.
“DPAA [Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency] announced on 8/24/18 that CDR James B. Mills, USNR, CA, was accounted for on 8/20/18,” Mills-Griffiths’ simple announcement read.
The newsletter said that the accounting for Mills and another MIA from Vietnam, Air Force Col. Richard A. Kibbey, “brings the number still missing from the Vietnam War down to 1,594.”
So why did Mills-Griffiths withhold that the latest identification was that of Jimmy, her older brother by just 11 months?
“It would’ve been wildly inappropriate,” she told Military.com in an interview.
In her role as head of a POW/MIA advocacy group, “I’ve never mentioned my brother’s case in any official capacity,” she said.
Fighting for all families
Given her position, in which she works closely with the government on recoveries and policy, Mills-Griffiths said she didn’t like to draw special attention to her brother’s case.
“The other part is we never expected to get my brother accounted for — ever,” she said.
At age 77, Mills-Griffiths said she had no plans to retire from her position at the League, where she currently serves as chairman, just because her brother has been found.
Ann Mills-Griffiths, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National League of POW/MIA Families.
She acknowledges that she has been combative, and at times controversial, in pressing various administrations and defense secretaries over the years for a full accounting on the missing.
She has also become a lightning rod for other advocacy groups and what she calls the “nut fringe.”
She has been outspoken in accusing some groups of raising false hopes among the families that their loved ones would come back alive, if only the so-described appeasers and bureaucrats in government would get out of the way.
Mills-Griffiths once had a staff of seven. She now has just one staffer, but she dismissed any suggestion of stepping down as head of the League.
“Why would I do that just because of my brother? I have to keep [DPAA] on the right track,” she said. “I’m still trying to make sure DPAA is informed and going in the right direction.”
Her longevity with the issue has proven invaluable to the government in getting more cooperation from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, according to DPAA officials.
Despite Mills-Griffiths’ reticence to give her brother special attention in her official role, he still got a hero’s welcome back home. At California’s Bakersfield High School, where Mills lettered in three sports for the “Drillers” and was active in student government before graduating in 1958, a welcome home event in his honor featured current students.
They paraded on California Avenue in front of the school, sang the national anthem, waved flags and chanted “Once a Driller, Always a Driller,” Bakersfield.com reported.
“This is a very teachable moment, and the kids are embracing it big time,” said history instructor Ken Hooper.
“If he was part of my family, I would want to welcome him home,” senior Kareli Medina said. “He’s a Driller. We are his family.”
“That was amazing,” Mills-Griffiths said of the rally at the school where her late father, E.C. Mills, was once vice principal. “It was really something that they took that up and had that nice patriotic demonstration. Nicely done, guys.”
A “miracle” discovery
For 52 years, the rib bone of an American had been at the bottom of the South China Sea in shallow waters off the North Vietnamese coastal village of Quynh Phuong.
The rib had been there since Sept. 21, 1966, when a Navy F-4B Phantom from Fighter Squadron 21, flying off the carrier Coral Sea on an armed reconnaissance mission to North Vietnam, disappeared from radar without a “Mayday” or contact with other aircraft. The reasons for the disappearance are still unknown.
A U.S. Navy McDonnell F-4B-21-MC Phantom II (BuNo 152218) of Fighter Squadron VF-21 “Free Lancers” flying in Vietnam.
From 1993-2003, Defense Department teams conducted a total of 15 investigations in a fruitless effort to determine what had happened to the aircraft and where it went down.
Everything changed in 2006, when a fisherman from the village snagged something in his net. He pulled up what turned out to be part of a cockpit canopy.
Joint field activities by DPAA’s forensics and scuba teams resumed, including five underwater investigations, the agency said in a release. More parts of the aircraft were pulled up.
In 2011, the Air Force Life Science Equipment Laboratory, now part of DPAA, concluded that the aircraft was the one flown by pilot Capt. James Bauder, then 35, of La Canada, California, and his radar intercept officer, Mills — who would have been 78 on Aug. 31.
In 2017, the recovery teams found bone material. And in June 2018, DPAA determined through DNA analysis that the remains were those of Capt. Bauder.
The teams had found not a trace of Mills’ remains. Mills-Griffiths said the family had long ago accepted that Mills’ remains would never be found, but were grateful that the F-4B had been located and Bauder’s family had been notified.
“None of us ever had any of what folks would call ‘false hopes,'” she said. “What are the chances? It’s not like we knew he was on the ground, it’s not like anybody last saw him alive … Our chances of ever knowing anything specific were not high and we knew that all along.”
Mills-Griffiths said she learned earlier this year that divers were about to go down on the site again.
“If you don’t get it, that’s still the last time I want you to go there,” Mills-Griffiths said she told DPAA.
In June 2018, another DPAA excavation turned up new remains.
“It turned out to be a rib bone, and they were able to get a cut and take a DNA match quickly,” Mills-Griffiths said. “It was a virtual miracle.”
New headstone at Arlington
Cmdr. James Mills, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, joined the Navy through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. His eyesight wasn’t good enough to become a pilot under the standards of the time, and so he became a backseat Radar Intercept Officer on Phantoms, Mills-Griffiths said.
He was a lieutenant junior grade when his plane went missing on his second tour off Vietnam.
Navy Cmdr. James B. Mills.
He flew off the carrier Midway on his first tour. He did not have a spouse or children.
Mills-Griffiths said her brother had volunteered to return “so that other radar officers who had wives and kids wouldn’t have to go back.”
“He was not an optimist” about the war, as were so many others who served at the time, she said. “He believed in what he was doing, even though he didn’t believe in the way the war was being run.”
Mills-Griffiths said she can’t remember how many times she’s been to Vietnam and the region.
“I stopped counting at 32,” she said.
In that time, the Vietnamese officials she first knew as junior officers and diplomats have come into leadership positions, she said.
Her brother already has a place at Arlington National Cemetery. The headstone over an empty grave for James B. Mills simply reads “In Memory.”
DPAA officials said that Mills’ name also is listed on the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for,” DPAA said.
Mills-Griffiths said a ceremony for the burial of her brother’s remains will be held at Arlington on June 24 2019. The headstone will be replaced with a traditional one listing his name, rank, date of birth and date of death on Sept. 21, 1966.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day will be observed on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Before Linda Perry became the frontwoman for the 90s rock group 4 Non Blondes, she was homeless and living on the streets of San Diego. That, of course, all changed when she moved to San Francisco and began her music career. Though 4 Non Blondes was short-lived, Perry’s career in music continued.
“I left my band because I felt like that wasn’t the destination for me,” Perry says. “I wanted to write songs and produce music so, that’s what I’ve done for past 15 or 16 years. Now, I have a label and publishing company, and I manage acts as well.”
So when director and humanitarian Lysa Heslov asked Perry to write a song for her documentary “Served Like A Girl,” the inclination was natural.
“Served Like A Girl” follows five female veterans as they train to compete in the Ms. Veteran America competition. The competition benefits women veterans, many with children, who are in danger of slipping into poverty and homelessness after their service ends.
The women featured in the film go through many trials and tribulations as they transition and it becomes easy to see just how possible it is for a woman to be a Master Sergeant one week and living on the streets the next.
When Linda Perry saw the film, she was blown away.
“I had no idea,” she says. “You’d be surprised. People don’t know about this situation. Women are serving and coming home to double standards, not getting benefits, and are homeless after serving their country. There’s nothing there to support them.”
Perry wrote “Dancing Through The Wreckage” as an anthem for the women and for the film, teaming up with rock legend Pat Benatar, who did the vocals on the track. The two were working together on a song (“Shine”) for the 2017 Women’s March when the idea came to Perry.
“The song just kind of showed up,” Perry recalls. “I’m going, ‘Holy f*ck, I’ve got the holy grail of women empowerment in my f*cking studio right now.’ I showed Pat the trailer and then played her what I started and we just jumped in. Her husband Neil Giraldo jumped in and we wrote the song for the movie.”
Linda Perry’s involvement in the film isn’t limited to its signature song. Perry was also a producer on the film. The song is woven throughout the film’s emotional moments.
“‘Dancing Through the Wreckage’ is such a great visual,” Perry says. “I kind of feel like that really summed up, for me, the feeling of what I was watching. It’s like they’re dancing through all this bullshit, and they’re getting through it, so it’s a Hallelujah moment at the same time.”
The song serves to highlight the joint effort needed to address the underlying issue depicted in the film. Women veterans are the fastest-growing homeless population in America. There are now an estimated 55,000 homeless female veterans on the streets of the United States.
“That’s what’s so powerful about this film,” Perry says. “Through Lisa’s passion and through these beautiful stories these women allowed Lisa to share, the word is getting out there.”
“Served Like a Girl” is in theaters in Los Angeles and New York. It will open in other areas soon.
To learn more about the Ms. Veteran America Competition or donate to fight female veteran homelessness, visit their website.
The United States, for the first time, is blaming the Russian government for an ongoing campaign of cyberattacks that it says is targeting the U.S. power grid, water systems, and other critical infrastructure.
A U.S. security alert published on March 15, 2018, said that Russian government hackers are seeking to penetrate multiple sectors that U.S. consumers depend on for day-to-day necessities.
Those targeted in the attacks, which began in March 2016 or earlier, include energy, nuclear, water, aviation, and manufacturing, the alert said.
The alleged breaches by Russian hackers were cited by the U.S. Treasury Department as one reason for imposing a new round of sanctions on Russia on March 15, 2018.
The Department of Homeland Security and FBI said in the alert that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” has targeted small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.”
The alert said the FBI and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center determined that the ultimate objective of the cyberattacks is to “compromise organizational networks.”
U.S. intelligence officials have said cyberattacks on critical U.S. infrastructure could do significant damage to the economy if they cause extensive blackouts or major disruptions of transportation systems, the Internet, or other essential sectors.
The Russian intrusions reported on March 15, 2018, did not appear to cause such large-scale disruptions.
However, U.S. officials have been concerned about the possibility of damaging disruptions ever since suspected Russian hackers succeeded at causing temporary power outages affecting hundreds of thousands of customers in Ukraine through cyberattacks in 2015 and 2016.
Moreover, U.S. officials said they believe that the Russian military perpetrated the “NotPetya” cyberattacks in June 2017 that caused the most extensive and costly damage to global businesses in history.
The NotPetya virus spread quickly across the world, paralyzing computers and resulting in billions of dollars in damage through disruptions in shipping, trade, health care, and other industries, the U.S. Treasury Department said.
U.S. cybersecurity official Rick Driggers told reporters on March 15, 2018, that the Russian breaches of U.S. critical infrastructure thus far have been limited to business networks and have not affected any plant’s control systems.
“We did not see them cross into the control networks,” he said, but “we know that there is intent there.”
U.S. intelligence officials recently testified that the Kremlin appears to believe it can launch hacking operations against the West with little fear of significant retribution. Russia denies trying to hack into other countries’ systems.
A significant reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan won’t impact upon the security of the war-torn country, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said on Dec. 21, 2018.
It was the first official Afghan reaction to reports in the U.S. media that President Donald Trump is considering a “significant” withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with some quoting unnamed officials as saying the decision has already been made.
“If they withdraw from Afghanistan it will not have a security impact because in the last 4 1/2 years the Afghans have been in full control,” Ghani’s spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, said via social media.
The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official on Dec. 20, 2018, as saying that Trump “wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”
The AFP news agency quoted a U.S. official as saying the decision has already been made for a “significant” U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal,” AFP quoted the official as saying.
CNN also reported that Trump has already ordered the military to make plans for a withdrawal of perhaps half of the current 14,000-strong force.
NATO has so far declined to comment on the reports, saying only that is aware of the reports.
In response to an RFE/RL question, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, “The Afghan Army and police have been fully in charge of the security of Afghanistan for over four years. They are a brave, committed, and increasingly capable force, who have ensured the security of the parliamentary elections earlier this year.”
“Earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers expressed steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan,” Lungescu said.
“Our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists who could threaten us at home.”
However, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, whose NATO-member country is a contributor to Resolute Support, voiced skepticism that even a partial U.S. withdrawal could be supplanted by the remaining members.
“Frankly, I do not believe that we can split forces and rely that something can be done in the absence of an important player. It’s difficult really to say,” Linkevicius told RFE/RL.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.
The reports came a day after Trump surprised and angered many U.S. lawmakers, administration officials, and international allies by saying he was pulling “all” U.S. troops out of Syria, where they are leading a multinational coalition backing local forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.
It also came shortly before Trump announced that his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, would be leaving his post at the end of February 2019.
U.S. media are reporting that Mattis opposed Trump’s move to withdraw from Syria. In his resignation letter, Mattis said his views were not fully “aligned” with those of the president.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
A U.S.-led coalition has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it drove the Taliban from power after Al-Qaeda militants — whose leaders were being sheltered in Afghanistan — carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
However, the Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.
Mohammad Taqi, a Florida-based political analyst, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that a rapid U.S. withdrawal would be “a huge mistake.”
“If we look at it in context of talks with the Taliban, then it seems [the] Taliban have already strengthened their position,” he said. “Now the reports of [a U.S. withdrawal] show a weakening stance by the U.S., which could subsequently undermine [the] Afghan government’s position.”
On Dec. 20, 2018, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, questioned the Taliban’s determination to end the 17-year war after the group’s representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.
Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were “genuinely seeking peace.”
Khalilzad’s remarks came following his latest face-to-face meeting in December 2018 with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The U.A.E. hailed the talks as “positive for all parties concerned,” while the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, claimed the meetings will produce “very positive results by the beginning of next year.”
An artist’s rendering of the X-51A | U.S. Air Force graphic
The Air Force will likely have high-speed, long-range and deadly hypersonic weapons by the 2020s, providing kinetic energy destructive power able to travel thousands of miles toward enemy targets at five-times the speed of sound.
“Air speed makes them much more survivable and hard to shoot down. If you can put enough fuel in them that gets them a good long range. You are going roughly a mile a second so if you put in 1,000 seconds of fuel you can go 1,000 miles – so that gives you lots of standoff capability,” Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While much progress has been made by Air Force and Pentagon scientists thus far, much work needs to be done before hypersonic air vehicles and weapons are technologically ready to be operational in combat circumstances.
“Right now we are focusing on technology maturation so all the bits and pieces, guidance, navigation control, material science, munitions, heat transfer and all that stuff,” Zacharias added.
Zacharias explained that, based upon the current trajectory, the Air Force will likely have some initial hypersonic weapons ready by sometime in the 2020s. A bit further away in the 2030s, the service could have a hypersonic drone or ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) vehicle.
“I don’t yet know if this is envisioned to be survivable or returnable. It may be one way,” Zacharias explained.
A super high-speed drone or ISR platform would better enable air vehicles to rapidly enter and exit enemy territory and send back relevant imagery without being detected by enemy radar or shot down.
By the 2040s, however, the Air Force could very well have a hypersonic “strike” ISR platform able to both conduct surveillance and delivery weapons, he added.
A weapon traveling at hypersonic speeds, naturally, would better enable offensive missile strikes to destroy targets such and enemy ships, buildings, air defenses and even drones and fixed-wing or rotary aircraft depending upon the guidance technology available.
A key component of this is the fact that weapons traveling at hypersonic speeds would present serious complications for targets hoping to defend against them – they would have only seconds with which to respond or defend against an approaching or incoming attack.
Hypersonic weapons will quite likely be engineered as “kinetic energy” strike weapons, meaning they will not use explosives but rather rely upon sheer speed and the force of impact to destroy targets.
“They have great kinetic energy to get through hardened targets. You could trade off smaller munitions loads for higher kinetic energy. It is really basically the speed and the range. Mach 5 is five times the speed of sound,” he explained.
The speed of sound can vary, depending upon the altitude; at the ground level it is roughly 1,100 feet per second. Accordingly, if a weapon is engineered with 2,000 seconds worth of fuel – it can travel up to 2,000 miles to a target.
“If you can get control at a low level and hold onto Mach 5, you can do pretty long ranges,” Zacharias said.
Although potential defensive uses for hypersonic weapons, interceptors or vehicles are by no means beyond the realm of consideration, the principle effort at the moment is to engineer offensive weapons able to quickly destroy enemy targets at great distances.
B-52 carries the X-51 Hypersonic Vehicle out to the range for launch test. | US Air Force photo by Bobbi Zapka
Some hypersonic vehicles could be developed with what Zacharias called “boost glide” technology, meaning they fire up into the sky above the earth’s atmosphere and then utilize the speed of decent to strike targets as a re-entry vehicle.
For instance, Zacharias cited the 1950s-era experimental boost-glide vehicle called the X-15 which aimed to fire 67-miles up into the sky before returning to earth.
China’s Hypersonic Weapons Tests
Zacharias did respond to recent news about China’s claimed test of a hypersonic weapon, a development which caused concern among Pentagon leaders and threat analysts.
While some Pentagon officials have said the Chinese have made progress with effort to develop hypersonic weapons, Zacharias emphasized that much of the details regarding this effort were classified and therefore not publically available.
Nevertheless, should China possess long-range, high-speed hypersonic weapons – it could dramatically impact circumstances known in Pentagon circles and anti-access/area denial.
This phenomenon, referred to at A2/AD, involves instances wherein potential adversaries use long-range sensors and precision weaponry to deny the U.S. any ability to operate in the vicinity of some strategically significant areas such as closer to an enemy coastline. Hypersonic weapons could hold slower-moving Navy aircraft carriers at much greater risk, for example.
An April 27th report in the Washington Free Beach citing Pentagon officials stating that China successfully tested a new high-speed maneuvering warhead just last week.
“The test of the developmental DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle was monitored after launch Friday atop a ballistic missile fired from the Wuzhai missile launch center in central China, said officials familiar with reports of the test,” the report from the Washington Free Beacon said. “The maneuvering glider, traveling at several thousand miles per hour, was tracked by satellites as it flew west along the edge of the atmosphere to an impact area in the western part of the country.”
Scientists with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Pentagon’s research arm are working to build a new hypersonic air vehicle that can travel at speeds up to Mach 5 while carrying guidance systems and other materials.
Air Force senior officials have said the service wants to build upon the successful hypersonic flight test of the X-51 Waverider 60,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean in May of 2013.
The Air Force and DARPA, the Pentagon’s research entity, plan to have a new and improved hypersonic air vehicle by 2023.
The X-51 was really a proof of concept test designed to demonstrate that a scram jet engine could launch off an aircraft and go hypersonic.
The scramjet was able to go more than Mach 5 until it ran out of fuel. It was a very successful test of an airborne hypersonic weapons system, Air Force officials said.
The successful test was particularly welcome news for Air Force developers because the X-51 Waverider had previously had some failed tests.
The 2013 test flight, which wound up being the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever, wrapped up a $300 million technology demonstration program beginning in 2004, Air Force officials said.
A B-52H Stratofortress carried the X-51A on its wing before it was released at 50,000 feet and accelerated up to Mach 4.8 in 26 seconds. As the scramjet climbed to 60,000 feet it accelerated to Mach 5.1.
The X-51 was also able to send back data before crashing into the ocean — the kind of information now being used by scientists to engineer a more complete hypersonic vehicle.
“After exhausting its 240-second fuel supply, the vehicle continued to send back telemetry data until it splashed down into the ocean and was destroyed as designed,” according to an Air Force statement. “At impact, 370 seconds of data were collected from the experiment.”
This Air Force the next-generation effort is not merely aimed at creating another scramjet but rather engineering a much more comprehensive hypersonic air vehicle, service scientists have explained.
Hypersonic flight requires technology designed to enable materials that can operate at the very high temperatures created by hypersonic speeds. They need guidance systems able to function as those speeds as well, Air Force officials have said.
The new air vehicle effort will progress alongside an Air Force hypersonic weapons program. While today’s cruise missiles travel at speeds up to 600 miles per hour, hypersonic weapons will be able to reach speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 10, Air Force officials said.
The new air vehicle could be used to transport sensors, equipment or weaponry in the future, depending upon how the technology develops.
Also, Pentagon officials have said that hypersonic aircraft are expected to be much less expensive than traditional turbine engines because they require fewer parts.
For example, senior Air Force officials have said that hypersonic flight could speed up a five- hour flight from New York to Los Angeles to about 30 minutes. That being said, the speed of acceleration required for hypersonic flight may preclude or at least challenge the scientific possibility of humans being able to travel at that speed – a question that has yet to be fully determined.
The Army has recently expanded its Not in My Squad initiative as part of its ongoing fight against sexual assault, the Army’s top enlisted leader told lawmakers Feb. 27, 2019.
Introduced in 2015, the program empowers junior leaders at the squad level to reduce sexual assault and violence by building cohesive units through shared and mutual trust.
According to written testimony provided to lawmakers by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, the service has now spread the program to 27 ready and resilient campuses on Army installations.
In the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, Dailey testified that the service has also conducted 17 workshops that showed positive feedback.
Certified resiliency trainers have been embedded at the company level to train soldiers on sustaining readiness and optimizing performance.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey introduces the “Not In My Squad” initiative during the launch of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month at the Pentagon.
(Photo by J.D. Leipold)
“The Army strives to provide an environment of dignity and respect for all service members and is fully committed to eliminating sexual assault,” Dailey told lawmakers in Washington, D.C. “We recognize that regardless of the progress that we have made, more work still needs to be done.”
Dailey spoke at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Armed Services’ subcommittee on military personnel policies and military family readiness.
In addition to making the service a welcome place for all soldiers, the Army has also seen progress in retention. Dailey cited a 90 percent retention rate in 2018 and said the service is on track for similar results in 2019.
To help improve retention, the Army has made quality of life a top priority.
Army senior leaders have worked to hasten civilian hiring times to provide quality childcare for soldiers and their families. The service recently developed and implemented hiring tools to help childcare providers transition from one installation to another, such as not requiring them to go through the hiring and background check process again.
Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii watch the “Not In My Squad” initiative introduction by Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ondirae Abdullah-Robinson)
Dailey also wrote the service is exploring ways to maximize limited space at childcare centers.
At a family forum on Feb. 5, 2019, Army Secretary Mark T. Esper said he supported the idea of having more spouses run childcare businesses from home to reduce backlogs.
Army senior leaders also continue to work on improving the quality of military housing.
Earlier this week, leaders traveled to installations to speak with families living in military housing. The service is currently analyzing data from housing surveys completed by families in February 2019.
Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley even ordered an environmental hazard screening to be performed on Army-owned, -leased and -privatized homes.
By 2021, plans call for the Army to eliminate its lowest level of military housing, known as Q4. Only 190 families are currently living in Q4 housing, Dailey testified.
“We will regain the trust of our soldiers and families through immediate and tangible actions that have already began,” he wrote.
Dailey added there will be no reprisals for soldiers and families who share their concerns about housing and quality of life.
The Marine Corps is solving the problem of requiring pull-ups for women by adding a push-ups option for all troops on the physical fitness test, Military.com has learned.
On Friday, the Corps rolled out a series of sweeping changes to the PFT, combat fitness test, and body fat standards — the result of a review of existing policies that began last November. The new fitness standards go into effect Jan. 1, 2017, officials said, and the body composition standards take effect immediately.
New pull-up policy
Perhaps the most significant change is the elimination of the flexed-arm hang as an alternative to pull-ups for women on the PFT. Instead, both men and women will be able to opt for push-ups instead — an exercise that was not previously part of the test. To encourage troops to do the more demanding exercise, the new standards limit the number of points available to those who choose the push-ups option. While women can achieve the maximum 100 points for completing between seven and ten pull-ups, and men can meet their max at between 20 and 23 reps depending on age, the push-ups scoring chart maxes out at just 70 points.
Most female Marines will have to complete between 40 and 50 push-ups to earn those 70 points, while most men will have to do between 70 and 80.
“Push-ups become an option on the PFT, but Marines are incentivized toward pull-ups, as these are a better test of functional, dynamic upper body strength and correlate stronger to physically demanding tasks,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in an administrative message to the Corps released Friday. “Push-ups are also a valid exercise and good test; however maximum points can only be earned by executing pull-ups.”
Taken together, Neller said the changes to the PFT were the most significant updates to the program since 1972.
The hybrid pull-up option is the Marines’ solution to a four-year conundrum of how to promote pull-ups for all Marines without making it impossible for women to succeed. In 2012, the Corps announced it was doing away with the female flexed-arm hang in favor of pull-ups, with a minimum of three. Those plans were delayed multiple times, and in 2014, Marine officials admitted that half of women tested in boot camp couldn’t meet the three-pull-up minimum.
Brian McGuire, the deputy force fitness branch head for the standards division of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, told Military.com that push-ups, like pull-ups, could be completed in the field. But, he said, the pull-up is a more functional test and requires individuals to overcome their entire body weight, while push-ups only require them to overcome 75 to 80 percent of their body weight. But even with its limitations, the push-up is superior to the flexed-arm hang, he said.
“The flexed-arm hang, in many studies, has been shown to be an inadequate test of upper body strength,” McGuire said.
The high number of pull-up repetitions required of women in the new scoring standards reveal an optimism about how training will help them improve. Earlier this year, the Marine Corps promoted a training program piloted by Marine Maj. Misty Posey that promised to use strength and repetition pyramids to get female Marines from “zero to twenty-plus.”
The female pull-ups scoring chart maxes at 10 reps for women between the ages of 26 and 30, though most women will have to do at least seven reps to max their score.
Notably, all of the new standards will keep in place a gender-normed scoring system, which scores men and women differently on the same exercises in acknowledgment of different physical ability thresholds. While the Marine Corps introduced gender-neutral minimum standards for entry into an array of ground combat jobs last fall, McGuire said gender-neutral physical fitness standards for the Marine Corps were never ordered or considered.
Marines may also find themselves doing more repetitions than in previous years to max out their score. The new scoring charts divide Marines into eight age groups, all with different maximum standards based on calculated peak ability. For men and women, the charts assume peak fitness between the ages of 21-25, and 26-30. While the previous PFT scoring chart maxed out pull-up repetitions at 20 for all ages, the new male scoring chart maxes at 23 for men between the ages of 21 and 35.
McGuire said the new age groups were added to meet Neller’s guidance to create relevant and challenging standards. Previously, the Marine Corps had only four fitness age groups, and they only dictated minimum allowable standards.
“We had a 27-39 age group, that’s 12 years,” McGuire said. “There’s some performance differences that happen during that time.”
For events requiring repetitions, such as pull-ups, crunches, and the ammunition can lift, McGuire and TECOM officials went to the fleet to gather real data on Marines’ performance thresholds. Between January and March, they tested around 2,000 Marines at bases around the Corps to chart maximum and median repetition levels. As a result, some repetition maximums are increasing significantly. Max reps for the two-minute ammunition can lift portion of the combat fitness test are going up for 91 to 120 for men and from 60 to 75 for women in some age categories.
For other events, such as running on the PFT and maneuver-to-contact on the CFT, TECOM looked at existing data from Marines who were taking the tests, creating scatter charts and graphs to determine the real distribution of times and scoring. As a result, some maximum times were increased and some minimum times shortened.
“By elevating the standard, which was based again on our data collection, this will allow for greater levels of distinction” among Marines taking the tests, McGuire said.
Male and female run times are getting relaxed for some of the new age categories. While run times for men continue to max at 18 minutes for three miles and for women at 21 minutes, the standards now allow more time for men and women over 40.
Younger Marines will have to work harder, though, to achieve their minimum run score. While the previous standards awarded points for a 33-minute run time for men, now male Marines under 30 will have to beat 28 minutes to pass the test.
Similarly, Marines in younger age groups will have to do more crunches — between 105 and 115, depending on age and gender — to max their score on the exercise. Previously, all charts maxed out at 100 crunches.
Under the new program, the Marines’ combat fitness test will continue to feature maneuver-under-fire, the ammunition can lift, and movement-to-contact. But all scores are now age-normed using the new eight age groups.
No body fat limits for PT studs
Beginning in January, Marines who can get close to maxing out their PFT and CFT scores, earning at least 285 points out of a possible 300, are exempt entirely from the hated tradition of body fat testing, Neller said in his message to the Corps. Those who can score at least 250 on the tests also receive a bonus: an extra allowable one percent body fat above existing standards.
However, he added, all Marines must still comply with the service’s professional appearance standards, ensuring troops look good in uniform.
For some, weight standards will become more relaxed, beginning immediately. The new standards increase weight maximums for women by five pounds across the board. A 5’3 female Marine who previously maxed out her weight at 141 pounds can now weigh 146 pounds and stay within regulations.
Neller told Military.com in February that female troops had told him they struggled to get stronger in order to complete pull-ups and work to enter newly opened ground combat jobs while staying within existing height and weight standards.
“Whether women go into ground combat or not, they’re telling me they’re going to do pullups for the fitness test. They’re going to get stronger. You get stronger, normally you gain weight, you get thicker,” Neller said then. ‘[Female Marines are] wanting to know, ‘Hey, Commandant, make up your mind. What are you going to have us do and if we do this, understand that I’ll do it, but it’s going to cause me probably to have a physical change, so don’t penalize me for doing what you’re telling me to do.'”
The decision to ease the female weight requirements was also supported by data from the Marines Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, an experiment that tested the ability of female Marines to succeed in the infantry alongside men.
“Females who were performing better at the integrated tasks were heavier,” McGuire said.
In his message Friday, Neller said Marines would also use more precise measuring devices to measure body fat. While the “rope-and-choke” circumference method of measuring body fat isn’t going away, McGuire said the Marine Corps would start using self-tensioning tape measures designed to yield more accurate measurements.
“It does eliminate some of the error,” he said.
Also taking effect immediately is a new waiver authority governing troops who max out their weight and body fat limits and are assigned to the body composition program, which can stall career progression and promotion. If Marines cannot get within standards after six months in the program, they risk expulsion from the Corps.
Now, Neller said, the first general officer in a Marine’s chain of command will have the authority to sign off on a waiver exempting him or her from the BCP on account of satisfactory fitness and military appearance.
While the new weight standards are not retroactive, Marine officials said, troops who are currently assigned to the BCP or in the process of administrative discharge because they can’t meet standards will be re-evaluated immediately in light of the new policy. If they fall in line with the new regulations, they will be removed from the BCP right away.
“We will monitor the effects of these adjustments for two years and then adjust if required to ensure our standards continue to contribute to the effectiveness of our force and enhance our ability to respond when our Nation calls,” Neller said.
Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, the commander of TECOM, said the new physical standards “raised the bar” for Marines’ fitness.
“Marines today are stronger, faster and fitter than ever and these changes reflect that. Bigger and stronger often means heavier, so tying performance on the PFT and CFT to changes to the Body Composition Program are improvements that we think the Marines will appreciate,” he said in a statement. “In the end, it’s all about improving the readiness and combat effectiveness of our Corps and the physical fitness of every Marine contributes to that.”
Israel shot down an Iranian drone with an Apache helicopter and had one of its own F-16s downed by Syrian air defenses in an intense air battle that played out over the weekend of Feb. 10, 2018. Experts say its a matter of time until the F-35 steps in for its first taste of combat.
After the loss of the F-16, Israeli jets scrambled within hours and took out half of Syria’s air defense network, according to their own assessment.
But the image of the destroyed Israeli plane will leave a lasting black eye for the Jewish state, and Syria’s assistant foreign minister promised Israel’s air force “will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria.”
Despite the downed F-16 and Syria’s threats, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue to wield his air force against Iranian-backed targets in Syria when he feels they get too close to his borders.
“We made unequivocally clear to everyone that our modus operandi has not changed one bit,” he said.
So, why didn’t Israel send F-35 stealth jets? Isreal has spent hundreds of millions on acquiring and supporting the weapons system purpose-built to fight in contested air spaces undetected. Israel declared its F-35s operational in December 2017.
Looks like a job for the F-35?
Justin Bronk, a combat aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that the F-35 today has a “very immature software set,” and that it “doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to use them and risk them over enemy airspace” when it can afford so few of them.
But retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, a former F-35 squadron commander, thought differently.
“I’d be very comfortable flying the currently fielded software in combat,” Berke, who trained with Israeli pilots at the U.S. Navy’s Top Gun school, told Business Insider.
Berke said the F-35 was “ideal” for the heavily defended airspace over Syria, and also ideally suited for Israel’s air force, which he described as finding “innovative, creative, and aggressive ways to maximize the capability of every weapons system they’ve ever used.”
“The F-35 will see combat for Israel and it’s just a matter of time,” Berke said. Bronk and other experts contacted by Business Insider agreed that the F-35’s first combat will likely take place in Israeli service, as they lash out against mounting Iranian power in the region.
Presently, it’s not clear that Israel didn’t use the F-35. Israel has a long history of pioneering weapons systems and hitting the ground running with new ones. Israel has conducted its air war in Syria very quietly, only publicly acknowledging strikes after its F-16 went down. In March 2017, a French journalist cited French intel reports allegedly saying the F-35 may have already been put to work in Israeli service.
When the F-35 starts fighting, you’ll know
But, with or without the F-35, Israel seemed satisfied with its counterattack on Syrian defenses. Bronk cautioned that Israel’s claim to have taken out half of the defenses probably only refers to half of the defenses in immediate proximity to its borders, but said they have “many, many tricks developed over decades” for the suppression of enemy air defenses.
The surface-to-air missiles in Syria’s hands “certainly cannot be ignored or taken too lightly,” according to Berke, and pose a “legitimate threat” to legacy aircraft like Israel’s F-16.
A source working on stealth aircraft for the U.S. military who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the work would only hint to Business Insider that the F-35 may be gearing up for a fight in Syria, saying “if things unexplained start happening, there’s a good explanation.”