US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley strongly condemned Iran for its alleged recruitment and use of child soldiers in battlefields across the Middle East.

“The use of child soldiers is a moral outrage that every civilized nation rejects while Iran celebrates it,” Haley said Oct. 18, 2018, during a U.N. Security Council meeting.

Haley’s remarks came two days after the U.S.Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced new sanctions targeting businesses that provide financial support to the Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary force under the command of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).


“Iran’s economy is increasingly devoted to funding Iranian repression at home and aggression abroad,” she said. “In this case, Iranian big business and finance are funding the war crime of using child soldiers. This is crony terrorism.”

The latest sanctions are part of the U.S. efforts to pressure Iran economically for what the Trump administration has described as Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East and its sponsorship of terrorism in the region.

The U.S. Treasury Department has listed a network of some 20 companies and economic entities that are believed to be funding the recruitment and training of child soldiers for the IRGC.

“Any company or individual that does business with this Iranian network is complicit in sending children to die on the battlefields of Syria and elsewhere,” Haley said.

The network providing financial support to the Basij is known as Bonyad Taavon Basij.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

“This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij’s efforts to recruit, train and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC’s direction,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real-world humanitarian consequences, and help fuel the Iranian regime’s violent ambitions across the Middle East,” Mnuchin added.

Iran’s reaction

Tehran called the U.S. sanctions a violation of international law.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet on Oct. 17, 2018, that the latest U.S. sanctions violated two orders by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“Utter disregard for rule of law human rights of an entire people. U.S. outlaw regime’s hostility toward Iranians heightened by addiction to sanctions,” Zarif said in a tweet.

Bahram Qassemi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Oct. 18, 2018, it’s part of a psychological war waged by the U.S. against Iran.

“Such actions show the spitefulness of the U.S. government towards the Iranian people and are a clear insult to legal and international mechanisms,” the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Qassemi as saying.

Measures welcomed

Some Iranian rights activists have welcomed the U.S. move, however, and described it as a positive step to discipline the Iranian government for its actions in the region.

“Any action focused on children’s rights is important because it highlights the importance of protecting children’s rights and puts the issue of child soldiers under the spotlight,” Hamed Farmand, a Virginia-based children’s rights activist, told VOA. “Any international action with the purpose of condemning child soldiers is widely appreciated but it needs more action than just financial sanctions on some institutes involved in it.”

A 2017 Human Rights Watch report accused Iran of committing war crimes by recruiting and sending Afghan refugee children “as young as 14” to fight in Syria. The New York-based organization also has documented how the IRGC has recruited Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight in Syria along Syrian regime troops.

Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, also an Iranian human rights activist, said there should be an effective mechanism to force Iran to improve its human rights record.

“To change the behavior of the Iranian government, the international community needs a human rights-focused approach and must take multiple actions simultaneously,” she said during a recent Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy.

Effects of sanctions

But Sadegh Hosseini, a Tehran-based analyst, said U.S. sanctions on the Basij force actually are indirect punishment inflicted on the Iranian people.

“Sanctioning the Basij could affect many Iranians who have voluntarily become members of it or have joined it in the past,” he said.

He told VOA “the purpose of this embargo is unclear but many Iranians who have bank accounts with those financial institutes could be affected, since many of them receive their employment salaries only through accounts at those targeted banks.”

Other experts say that following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. Treasury Department has stepped up its efforts on this front because it is the main pillar that can block Iran’s sale of oil and impose banking restrictions on the country.

“The latest move by the [U.S.] Treasury to sanction Iran’s Basij Resistance Force is an important part of that campaign,” said Farhang Jahanpour, a professor of international law at Oxford University.

“So far, other signatories to the [nuclear deal] have refused to go along with American sanctions on Iran, but many major European companies have cut back or have completely ended their dealings with Iran in fear of U.S. retaliation,” Jahanpour added.

Behnam Ben Taleblou, a researcher at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the recent designations were different from previous measures “because they focused on the role of select financial institutions in generating revenue that was ultimately used to benefit the Basij.”

“The [U.S.] Treasury Department’s willingness to go after the entities in the Basij financial support network highlights the challenge of doing due diligence in Iran, as well as signals to the international community that the U.S. is serious about putting the squeeze on all elements of the Iranian economy tied to the IRGC,” Taleblou added.

This article originally appeared on The Voice of America. Follow @VOANews on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the Russian military just landed in Venezuela

Two Russian military planes loaded with troops landed in Venezuela amid an escalating national crisis in the country, according to a Mar. 24, 2019, Reuters report. The planes departed from a Russian military airport and landed in Caracas just months after the two countries conducted military exercises in Venezuela.


The exercises also included troops from Cuba and China and were conducted along the Venezuelan border with Colombia. The planes were filled with at least 100 Russian troops that some say are a message to the Trump Administration, but will likely be helping the Venezuelan military settle the crisis there.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

One of the planes carried the troops while another brought tons of military supplies and equipment. Venezuela’s military is the critical component to holding power there. President Nicolas Maduro maintains a tenuous grip on power because of the military, along with armed groups of militiamen whose role is to keep civilians in line. Those militias can be seen primarily along the Venezuelan border and are being used to keep American aid out of the country.

Challenging Maduro’s legitimacy is opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself the legitimate President of Venezuela, with the backing of the United States. At least 50 other countries have recognized Guaido’s claim to power.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

While the Chinese interest in Venezuela is primarily seen as a financial one – it has a lot invested in Venezuela’s neglected oil sector – Russian interest is believed to be an attempted check on American interventionism worldwide. Russian President Vladimir Putin may even establish a permanent Russian military presence in the country as a way to show the United States it means business.

Another indication that Russia is serious about bolstering the Maduro regime is that the planes allegedly carried Russian General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, the Chief of Staff of the Russian ground forces, with the rest of the Russian troops.

The United States criticized the move as Russian interference in the region. The planes were sighted at the airport in Caracas by a local journalist, who checked the planes against a flight tracking website. The site confirmed the Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 cargo plane departed Russia for Venezuela, after a brief stop in Syria.

Both Russia and Venezuela have not yet commented on what the troops will be doing there.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Over 120 sailors participate in Singapore volunteer projects

More than 120 sailors from Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 3 participated in community service projects at the Tanglin Salvation Army and the Chai Chee Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen in Singapore, Nov. 26-27, 2018.

Sailors who volunteered at the Tanglin Salvation Army sorted donated clothing, electronics, toys, and a variety of assorted household goods.


Lt. Ryan Albano, divisional officer in the Command Religious Ministries Department aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), and one of the event coordinators, said community service is a part of the mission and legacy of the Navy.

“This is perhaps one of the most important things I get to do in the Navy,” said Albano. “We set a high standard everywhere we go that the United States Navy does not simply come to consume. We also show up to give back.”

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Angelina Grimsley)

The sailors volunteered on Nov. 26 and 27, 2018, which are the days the Tanglin Salvation Army receives the bulk of its weekly donations.

“We are really happy to have extra help on our busiest days. It was a big help to us,” said Benjamin Sim, the location’s human resources manager.

Sailors also volunteered at Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen by breaking down over 300 pounds of fish for stocks and stews and helping to organize the dry storage of more than 500 pounds of rice.

“It’s important to show our host nation that we’re allies and represent ourselves and our nation in a positive light,” said Aviation Administration man 2nd Class Javon Wilkerson, a volunteer at the soup kitchen.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Angelina Grimsley)

Willing Hearts cooks, serves lunch, packages, and delivers an average of 6,000 meals a day from sunrise until after sunset to those in need. The meals are distributed to over 60 locations to feed Singaporeans who are unable to leave their homes.

The community service projects were conducted during a scheduled port visit to the island nation by John C. Stennis, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile cruiser USS Spruance (DDG 111).

The ships moored at Changi Naval Base following a high-end dual carrier strike force exercise in the Philippine Sea with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, providing Sailors the opportunity to explore the island and the city.

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s what US Army soldiers said in a WWII uncensored survey

In September 1940, World War II was a year old. The US was still a noncombatant, but it was preparing for a fight.

That month, the US introduced the Selective Training and Service Act — the first peacetime draft in US history. Mobilizing the millions of troops was a monumental task and essential to deploying “the arsenal of democracy” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Americans to provide.

Inducting millions of civilians and turning them into effective troops — and keeping them happy, healthy, supplied, and fighting — was also a daunting challenge.


In order to find the best way to do that, the War Department mounted an opinion survey, polling nearly a half-million soldiers stationed all around the world throughout the war. Their uncensored responses, given as the war was being fought, are an unprecedented window into how those troops felt about the war, the military, and their role in both.

“Entirely too much boot-licking going on,” one soldier wrote. “Some sort of a merit system should be instituted.”

“Spam, Spam, Spam. All I dream about is Spam,” wrote another.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

(National Archives photo)

In an email interview, Edward Gitre, a history professor at Virginia Tech whose project, The American Soldier in World War II, has compiled tens of thousands of responses to those surveys, explained why the Army sought the unvarnished opinions of its soldiers and what those opinions revealed.

Christopher Woody: Why did the War Department conduct these surveys? What did it want to find out about US troops and how did it want to use that information?

Gitre: Henry Stimson, the aged Secretary of War, outright barred the polling of US troops when one of the nation’s leading pollsters, Elmo Roper, first pitched the idea in spring 1941. The War Department was not in the habit of soliciting the “opinions” of foot soldiers.

Yet an old friend of the Roosevelt family, Frederick Osborn—who had already helped to institute the country’s first peacetime draft in 1940—quietly but effectively made the case.

Chiefly, he convinced Stimson and other leery officers that surveys would be for their benefit. Surveys would provide them information for planning and policymaking purposes. Allowing and encouraging GIs to openly air their “gripes” was not part of Osborn’s original pitch.

When George C. Marshall became chief of staff in 1939, he compared the US Army to that of a third-rate power.

With the passage of the draft in 1940, the War Department would face the monumental challenge of rapidly inducting hundreds of thousands, then after Pearl Harbor millions of civilians. Most lacked prior military experience. But this new crop was also better educated than previous generations of draftees, and they came with higher expectations of the organization.

The surveys, then, would help address a host of “personnel” issues, such as placement, training, furloughs, ratings, so on and so forth.

The civilian experts the Army brought in to run this novel research program were embedded in what was known as the Morale Branch. This outfit, as the name suggests, was tasked with shoring up morale. These social and behavioral scientists had to figure out, first, how to define morale, and, second, how to measure it.

Some old Army hands insisted that morale was purely a matter of command, that it was the byproduct of discipline and leadership. But reporting indicated pretty clearly that morale correlated to what soldiers were provided during off-duty hours as well, in terms of recreation and entertainment.

To address the latter, the War Department created an educational, recreational, welfare, and entertainment operation that spanned the globe. The numbers of candy bars and packages of cigarettes shipped and sold were accounted for not in the millions but billions.

If you were coordinating the monthly global placement of, say, two million books from best-sellers’ lists, wouldn’t you want to know something about soldier and sailor preferences? A whole class of survey questions were directed at marketing research.

Woody: What topics did the questions cover, and what kind of feedback and complaints did the troops give in response?

Gitre: The surveys administered by the Army’s Research Branch cover myriads of topics, from the individual food items placed in various rations, to the specific material used in seasonal uniforms, to the educational courses offered through the Armed Forces Institute.

A soldier might be asked a hundred or more multiple-choice and short-answer questions in any one survey. They would be asked to record more their behaviors, insights, and experiences related to service directly. They were asked about their civilian lives as well, including their previous occupation, family background, regional identity, religion, and education. This information could be then correlated with other military and government records to provide a more holistic picture of the average American GI.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

One of this research outfit’s most reliable “clients” was the Army’s Office of Surgeon General. The quality and effectiveness of medical and psychiatric care had wide implications, not least in terms of combat readiness. The Surgeon General’s office was interested in more than the care it provided. Soldiers were asked about their most intimate of experiences—their sexual habits and hygiene among them.

Administered in August 1945, Survey #233 asked men stationed in Italy if they were having sex with Italian women, and, if so, how frequently; did they pay for sex, how did they pay, did they “shack” up, use a condom and if not why not, drink beforehand, and did they know how to identify the symptoms of an STI? The battle against venereal diseases knew no lines of propriety.

The Research Branch surveyed or interviewed a half-million service members during the war. The answers they received were as varied as one can imagine, though there were of course common “gripes,” which the old Army hands could have easily ticked off without the aid of a cross-sectional scientific survey.

Yet the scope WWII military operations and the influx of so many educated civilians did create innumerable challenges that were often novel.

But from the soldier’s perspective, it should not come as a shock that so many of them might have taken to heart the premise of the US’s involvement in the war, that the US was committed to defending democracy, and alone if necessary.

Respondent after survey respondent demanded, then, that the US military live up to the principles of democracy for which they were being called to sacrifice. And so, they savaged expressions of the old Regular Army’s hierarchical “caste” culture wherever they saw it, but especially when it frustrated their own hopes and ambitions.

They wanted, in the parlance of the day, “fair play” and a “square deal.” They wanted to be respected as a human being, and not treated like a “dog.”

Woody: The US military drew from a wide swath of the population during WWII. How do you think that affected troops’ perception of the war, of military and civilian leadership, and of what the troops themselves wanted out of their service?

Gitre: The WWII US Army is known as a “citizen soldier” army (as opposed to a professional or “standing” army). It was also at the time described as a “peacetime army.” Compulsory service was passed by Congress in September 1940, roughly 15 months prior to Pearl Harbor. Military conscription was from its inception a civil process.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy photo)

That year-plus gap had a deep and lasting impact on how the War Department approached the rapid expansion of US forces. Just the same, it also shaped the expectations of Americans who were called to serve—as well as of their family members and loved ones, and the wider public.

The success of the Selective Service System would depend on the state in which the Army returned soldiers back to civil life. They would need to feel that they had gained something from the military, in the form of skill training or more education.

“In a larger sense [compulsory military training] provides an opportunity to popularize the Army with our people which is essential for an efficient fighting force,” the secretary of war said. “Maintenance of a high military morale is one of the most important contributing factors to good public morale,” he continued.

This view filtered down into the ranks. Sailors and soldiers expected to receive useful training and additional education. They also believed the military would put the skills, experiences, and practical know-how they already possessed as civilians to good use.

Woody: Was there anything in the troops’ responses that surprised you?

Gitre: What has surprised me most, I think, are the many remarks not about command and leadership but race.

We know that leaders of and activists in the black community pressed the War Department and Roosevelt administration to confront the nation’s “original sin” and strike down legal segregation. How otherwise could the US claim to be a champion of democracy while systematically denying the rights of a population that was liable, as free white citizens were, to compulsory service?

Black leaders embraced the V-shaped hand signal that was flashed so often to signify allied Victory, and they made it their own, calling for “Double V” or double victory: that is, victory abroad, and victory at home.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

Participants in the Double V campaign, 1942.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Surveys from black soldiers demonstrate in rather stark terms how pervasively this message took hold among the rank and file. African Americans were especially well attuned to and critical of the military’s caste culture and to its reinforcement of white supremacy.

It is especially jarring, then, to read commentaries from soldiers defending the continuation of white male supremacy. Not only did some of these respondents opine on the virtues of segregation and the inferiority of blacks. A whole host of them objected likewise to women in uniform.

But undoubtedly the most shocking responses are those that espouse naked anti-Semitism. These cut against the grain of our collective memory of the American GI as liberator of the German death and concentration camps. Statements of these sort are rare. Yet they exist.

Woody: What’s your biggest takeaway from these surveys about troops’ feelings about the war and their attitudes toward the military?

Gitre: When I first encountered these open-ended responses, I was almost immediately captivated by how similarly white and black soldiers wrote about equity in the military. These two populations sometimes used the same exact phrasing.

For so many black soldiers, military service presented itself as an opportunity to break the shackles of structural inequality. They pleaded for merit-based assignments, postings, and promotions. You can flip over to surveys written by white enlisted men and you can see them wrestling with the same involuntary constraints arising from their own submission. They vigorously protested being treated like a “dog,” or a “slave.”

The leveling effect of military service was profound — and not simply for the individual soldier, psychologically. The survey research Osborn’s team conducted on race, merit, and morale demonstrated that not only were black soldiers just as effective in combat, but that the proximity of black and white troops in combat situations improved race relations, instead of destroying morale, as had long been feared. This research fed the 1947 Executive Order 9981 desegregating the US armed forces.

That brings us back to that 1940 peacetime decision to make military service compulsory as a civic duty. You can’t overestimate its significance. This isn’t a plea for compulsory military service. Yet as I continue to read these troop surveys, I am confronted daily by the prospect that we are losing the hard-won insights and lessons of a generation that is passing into its final twilight.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

SEAL, Purple Heart faker gets 4 years in prison

A man who pretended to be a SEAL has now landed in some very hot water stemming from the fish story he peddled for veterans benefits.


According to an August 2016 release from the United States Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Ohio, Kenneth E. Jozwiak of Kenosha, Wisconsin, was charged with unlawfully exhibiting a military discharge certificate, theft of government money, making false statements to federal agents, and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding. He pleaded guilty on Feb. 23 to all of the charges.

“This defendant’s lies about his service are an affront to those who saw combat and those wounded fighting on behalf of our nation,” said Carole S. Rendon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “This defendant did neither, and falsely inflated his service record in an effort to get additional benefits.”

The 67-year-old Jozwiak claimed he had been awarded the Purple Heart on four occasions, and had seen combat as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. The crimes he was indicted on carry a maximum sentence of 36 years in prison combined, but according to a May 18 Justice Department release, Jozwiak will serve four years in federal prison for conning the VA out of $2,289 in 2014.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers
Members of U.S. Navy Seal Team One move down the Bassac River in a Seal team Assault Boat (STAB) during operations along the river south of Saigon. (US Navy photo)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Benedict S. Gullo prosecuted the case, which was handled by the Cleveland office of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General-Criminal Investigative Division.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 made lying about being awarded military medals a crime. The law was overturned in 2012 by the Supreme Court in United States vs. Alvarez in a 6-3 ruling. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 made lying about a veteran status or awards for to gain benefits to be a crime.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghanistan and the Taliban hold talks amid a wave of violence

Afghan officials are carrying out at least two tracks of talks with the Taliban, The Associated Press has learned, even after a month of brutal bombings and attacks by the militants that killed nearly 200 and despite President Donald Trump’s angry rejection of any negotiations for now.


The persistence of the back-channel contacts reflects the desire to keep a door open for reconciliation even as the Afghan government and its top ally, the United States, fumble for a strategy to end the protracted war, now entering its 17th year. Rifts within the Afghan government have grown vast, even as the Taliban gain territory and wage increasingly ruthless tactics.

The United States has unleashed heavier air power against the Taliban and other militants. After the string of Taliban attacks in recent weeks, Trump angrily condemned the group. “We don’t want to talk with the Taliban,” he said. “There may be a time but it’s going to be a long time.”

Continued reading: President Trump rejects negotiations with the Taliban

Still, Afghanistan’s intelligence chief Masoom Stanikzai and its National Security Chief Mohammed Hanif Atmar continue to each talk separately to the Taliban, say those familiar with the backdoor negotiations. The problem, however, is that neither is talking to the other or to the High Peace Council, which was created by the government to talk peace with the Taliban, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the contacts.

Hakim Mujahid, a member of the High Peace Council, confirmed that Stanikzai still has regular contacts with the Taliban’s point man for peace talks, Mullah Abbas Stanikzai. The two are not related.

Mujahid — who was the Taliban’s representative to the United Nations during the group’s five-year rule of Afghanistan that ended in 2001 — said the group would not respond well to Trump’s tough talk. “The language of power, the language of threat will not convince Afghans to surrender,” he said.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers
President Donald Trump.(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Andrew Wilder, vice president of the Asia Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said multiple players in Kabul have contacts with the Taliban. “But this isn’t being done in a coordinated manner to achieve clearly defined objectives,” he said.

Late February 2018, representatives from dozens of countries are to meet for a second time in the Afghan capital for the so-called Kabul process aimed at forging a path to peace. The first round was held in June 2017.

Also read: A new animated film details Afghan life under the Taliban

Still, the latest spate of violence has limited options for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who is also fending off a mini-revolt within his own government, feuding with the vice president as well as a powerful northern governor.

Meanwhile, the former No. 2 of the Taliban, Aga Jan Motasim, who still counts the radical religious movement’s leader Mullah Habaitullah Akhunzada among his friends, warned that Trump’s strategy of using the military to force a more compliant Taliban to the negotiation table could lead to more suicide attacks.

From within his fortress style house in Kabul, protected by steel gates and gunmen, Motasim said he wants to be a bridge between the government and Taliban.

Motasim was a senior member of the Taliban leadership shura, or council, until 2010 when he was shot 12 times after advocating peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Blame for the shooting has been directed at both elements within the Taliban who opposed peace talks and Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, often seen as the force behind the Taliban.

Motasim now travels in a bullet-proof car and even his friends have to be announced by men with weapons before they are allowed to enter. He spends his time between Kabul, where he talks to the government, and in Turkey, from where he can contact his former Taliban colleagues.

The 2010 shooting of Motasim in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi reflects the deadly conundrum that confounds efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s war.

Related: This is how much of Afghanistan the Taliban reportedly control

Pakistan is accused of giving sanctuary to the Taliban to assert influence in Afghanistan and to counter what it sees as growing influence of India in Afghanistan. Pakistan flatly denies the allegation, but Taliban who have advocated peace talks that threaten to sideline Pakistan have often ended up arrested, dead or forced to live elsewhere.

Pakistan has its own complaints about Afghanistan, saying it allows its territory to be used by anti-Pakistan militants who have staged horrific attacks in Pakistan. It also charges that Afghanistan is being used by hostile India to destabilize its troubled border regions.

The United States has suspended military aid to Pakistan to press it into kicking out Taliban. But Washington also says it sees Pakistan as key to bringing a peaceful end to the Afghan war.

Increasingly, the Taliban have gained control of areas inside Afghanistan. Even Washington’s own Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, says more than half of Afghanistan is either under direct Taliban control or under their influence. Other estimates put the figure as high as 70 percent.

More reading: Taliban target covert US base in Afghanistan

Washington’s reaction to the news of Taliban territorial gains has been to prevent SIGAR from releasing estimates of territory gained or lost by the government, the special inspector general’s office reported last month. Washington has also classified information regarding the strength and performance of Afghanistan’s security forces.

In a report SIGAR said $72 billion of the $120 billion spent in Afghanistan since the war began went to the country’s security.

“Clearly, the time is ripe to ask why an undertaking begun in 2002 and costing $70 billion has — so far — not yielded bigger dividends,” the report said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The ‘sonic attacks’ on US diplomats in Cuba baffle doctors

No one knows exactly what caused the strange symptoms US diplomats in Cuba experienced after they reported hearing strange noises that some have linked to “sonic attacks.”


But a new study of the victims of these mysterious phenomena suggests a new, disconcerting possibility: Some unknown force projected in the direction of the patients could have somehow injured their brains.

“The unique circumstances of these patients and the consistency of the clinical manifestations raised concern for a novel mechanism of a possible acquired brain injury from a directional exposure of undetermined etiology,” the study’s authors wrote.

The saga began in late 2016 when American diplomatic staff (and some Canadians) that had been in Cuba began to report odd physical and mental symptoms. Some could no longer remember words, while others had hearing loss, speech problems, balance issues, nervous-system damage, headaches, ringing in the ears, and nausea.

Also read: The US is now claiming some of its spies were attacked in Cuba

Some even showed signs of brain swelling or concussions — mild traumatic brain injuries.

Many of the victims remember strange occurrences before the symptoms appeared, though others didn’t hear or feel anything. One diplomat reported a “blaring, grinding noise” that woke him from his bed in a Havana hotel, according to the Associated Press. The AP also reported that some heard a “loud ringing or a high-pitch chirping similar to crickets or cicadas” in short bursts at night, while others said they could walk “in” and “out” of blaring noises that were audible only in certain spots.

The US State Department eventually determined that the incidents were “specific attacks” and moved to cut its Cuban embassy staff by 60%.

But despite that determination, no one understands those “specific attacks” or is even sure they’re responsible for everything that’s happened. According to ProPublica, the FBI hasn’t even been able to rule out the possibility that some of the patients were never attacked in the first place.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers

Studying the victims

Most of the victims were first examined in Miami, but a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair were selected to help further evaluate and treat at least 21 patients, whose cases are described in the new study.

By studying those 11 women and 10 men, the researchers were able to establish a significant amount of common ground among the patients. More than 80% reported hearing a sound that had a “directional” source — it seemed to come from somewhere. After three months, 81% still had cognitive issues, 71% had balance problems, 86% had vision issues, and about 70% still reported hearing problems and headaches.

Related: The US wants new sensors to combat hypersonic attacks

The fact that a number of these symptoms could be subjective has raised questions about the possibility that this group of people is suffering from some sort of collective delusion, according to the study authors. But they say that mass delusion is unlikely, since affected individuals were all highly motivated and of a broad age distribution, factors that don’t normally correspond with mass psychogenic illness. Plus, objective tests of ears and eye motion all revealed real clinical abnormalities.

All these symptoms seem consistent with some form of mild brain trauma, according to the researchers. But these symptoms persisted far longer than most concussion symptoms do, and were not associated with blunt head trauma.

“These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma,” the study authors wrote.

Mysterious weapons — or something else?

Despite having identified common symptoms and clinical evidence of some sort of injury, researchers are still at a loss about the cause.

If there is some kind of weapon involved, no one knows what kind it was or who would have used it. The Cuban government has denied any connection and investigators haven’t found any link to Russia, which intelligence analysts had speculated might have the means and motivation to carry out an attack.

US officials blame Iran for using child soldiers
The US flag flaps in the stiff breeze off the Florida Straits at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, on March 22, 2016. (Photo from US State Department)

The reported presence of strange audio and of the feeling of changes in air pressure have led to speculation about some kind of sonic or audio-based weapon. But even though sonic weapons exist, they’re very visible and easy to avoid, according to Seth Horowitz, a neuroscientist who wrote the book “The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind. Plus, the specific symptoms make that unlikely.

Read More: The US is now claiming some of its spies were attacked in Cuba

“There isn’t an acoustic phenomenon in the world that would cause those type of symptoms,” said Horowitz.

He speculated that perhaps some sort of mysterious pathogen or other phenomenon could have caused the symptoms, but the authors of the new study report that no signs infection (like fever) were identified. They determined it was unlikely a chemical agent would have caused these effects without damaging other organs.

In an editorial published alongside the new study, two doctors wrote that without more information and more data on the patients before they reported feeling ill, we can’t be certain what went wrong.

“At this point, a unifying explanation for the symptoms experienced by the US government officials described in this case series remains elusive and the effect of possible exposure to audible phenomena is unclear,” the editorial’s authors wrote. “Going forward, it would be helpful for government employees traveling to Cuba to undergo baseline testing prior to deployment to allow for a more informed interpretation of abnormalities that might later be detected after a potential exposure.”
MIGHTY TRENDING

The B-52 leaves the Middle East after crushing ISIS

The US Air Force announced that the last squadrons of the legendary B-52 Stratofortress have concluded their operations against ISIS in the Middle East and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and have returned home to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

“Following two years of B-52 squadrons employing nearly 12,000 weapons on Islamic State and Taliban targets across U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, the venerable BUFF flew its last mission April 7 [2018] before turning over the bomber duty reins to the newly arrived B-1B Lancer,” an Air Force spokesman said in a statement.


The bomber, nicknamed the BUFF for “Big Ugly Fat Fellow,” has been in service with the Air Force for 63 years, the last two of which it served as US Central Command’s go-to bomber.

Almost 12,000 weapons were dropped over the course of 1,850 missions on ISIS and Taliban targets. On average, B-52 aircrews recorded 400-450 hours in a single six to seven-month deployment, which is nearly three times the traditional 300 hours usually flown by B-52 crews.

A number of new records were also made. The 23rd Bomb Squadron celebrated its 100th birthday in June 2017, with 400 consecutive missions without any maintenance delays, breaking the previous record that was set during the Vietnam War’s Operation Linebacker II in 1972.

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A B-52H Stratofortress
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele)

In September of that same year, the B-52 surpassed the B-1 Lancer’s record of 761 consecutive missions without a maintenance cancellation by 73 missions, increasing the record to 834.

A B-52 dropped 24 precision guided munitions during a 96-hour air campaign against Taliban training and narcotics facilities in Feburary 2018, breaking the previous record (which was also set by a B-52) for the most smart bombs dropped on the Taliban.

American commanders have huge respect and admiration for the B-52 and its aircrews. “The BUFF did a fantastic job crushing ISIS on the battlefields in Iraq and Syria,” Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of US Air Forces Central Command, said.

“Some would say it’s a cold war relic,” Lt. Col. Paul Goossen, the commander of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, said. “But it’s such a versatile airframe that it keeps being reinvented and it keeps showing its usefulness and its relevance in every war that America finds itself in.”

US Central Command’s future bombing operations in its area of responsibility will be conducted by B-1 bombers.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Smuzzle: The Army’s newest suppressor/muzzle brake

The Army Combat Capabilities Development Center (CCDC) Research Lab is testing a new suppressor with an integrated muzzle brake that will help soldiers maintain accurate and quiet fire on the enemy in future battlefields. This new device is aptly named “Smuzzle.”

Smuzzle’s design was originally meant for the Army’s 155mm howitzers, yet the inventors turned afterward to one of the army’s most common automatic weapons, the M240B. Greg Oberlin, Daniel Cler, and Eric Binter, the inventors of the new equipment, were trying to reduce recoil and muzzle flash while also reducing the sound from the machinegun.


Standard suppressors for the 7.62 mm caliber were unable to withstand the intense heat of the M240B (which is known as “the pig” by the soldiers who carry it in the field).

The device is currently undergoing testing on the M240B with the NATO 7.62×51 mm round as well as the Next-Generation Squad Weapon Technology 6.8mm round. (The 6.8mm round reduces the volume at the shooter’s ear by half, volume downrange by 25 percent, and recoil by a third said Oberlin, a small arms engineer at the Army’s CCDC Army Research Lab.)

The three inventors began their research back in 2007. They were recently awarded a 20-year utility patent with the Army in late March 2020.

“A few years ago, we were asked whether our next-gen squad weapon should have a muzzle brake or a suppressor,” Oberlin said in an interview with TechLink. “We asked ourselves ‘why not both?'”

Like any small-caliber muzzle brake, this new device vents the pressurized gas of each shot to counteract the recoil of the rifle. By venting the gas through a series of tiny asymmetric holes, the device has — in testing thus far — reduced volume by 50 percent and flash signature by 25 percent with minimal weight increase (0.8-3.0 pounds). “Suppressors are notorious for increasing flash,” Cler said. Furthermore, the Smuzzle adds only three inches to the weapon’s overall length.

When a weapon is fired using a suppressor, gases are trapped inside from the sound rings from the front of the suppressor back to the breech. That spreads the carbon throughout the weapon. It can force the soldier to clean the weapon more frequently.

“That brake baffle actually has a curvature to it borrowed from a 155mm muzzle brake I designed,” Cler said. But the researchers have stated that the device is scalable to any caliber.

“It was designed for automatic and semi-automatic weapons, but it’d be useful for anyone shooting magnum cartridges,” Cler said. “It has what you could call a bottom blocker that also reduces how much dust kicks up.” A smaller Smuzzle weighing 0.8 lbs and other larger versions weighing approximately 3 lbs have been developed to be used depending on a weapon’s caliber.

Binter said in a piece with the Army Times that although they have not yet tested the prototype devices to failure, nevertheless some of them had already fired 10,000 rounds through the weapons which continue to hold up to the sound, recoil, and accuracy standards.

In one test the researchers fired hundreds of rounds through one prototype Smuzzle attached to an M240B machine gun in a full auto failure test. (See video below.)

“It was glowing red, but it never failed,” Cler said.

In testing the weapon is expected to be able to sustain a rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute.

Smuzzle goes beast mode in full auto endurance test

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.


Articles

NATO is hunting for this Russian submarine in the Med

Maritime patrol aircraft from several NATO countries — including United States Navy P-8 Poseidons — are scrambling to carry out a mission that comes from the darkest days of the Cold War: Locating sneaky Russian submarines skulking around good-guy ships.


In this case, NATO’s prey is at least one Oscar-class nuclear cruise missile submarine.

According to a report by The Aviationist, the hunt is on since two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle (R 91), are operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

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A port bow view of a Soviet Oscar Class nuclear-powered cruise missile attack submarine underway. Each Oscar sub is equipped with 24 SS-N-19 550-kilometer-range missiles. (DoD photo)

While most submarines are designed to target an enemy merchant fleet, submarines, or enemy surface combatants, the Oscar was designed to take out two kinds of ships: supercarriers like the Eisenhower and de Gaulle or large-deck amphibious assault ships like the USS Wasp (LHD 1).

These are tough ships, not likely to go down after taking a single hit from a torpedo.

The main weapons of the 19,400-ton Oscar are its 24 SS-N-19 Shipwreck anti-ship missiles. With a warhead of over 1,650 pounds, a top speed of Mach 2.5, and a range of roughly 300 nautical miles, the Shipwreck is one powerful missile.

Oscar-class submarines also can fire torpedoes, with four 533mm torpedo tubes and four 650mm torpedo tubes. The 650mm torpedoes in the Russian inventory are arguably the most powerful in the world – and designed to kill escorts like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer or the Ticonderoga-class cruiser with one hit using a torpedo called the 65-76.

The 65-76 has a range of up to 54 nautical miles, a top speed of 50 knots and delivers a warhead of nearly 2,000 pounds. The Oscar’s 533mm torpedoes, like the TEST-71M, can handle surface ships as well, but also give this carrier-killer a weapon to protect itself from submarines hunting it.

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A look at the SS-N-19 cells on the Soviet battlecruiser Kirov. 24 of these missiles are on an Oscar-class sub (DOD photo)

According to the 16th edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Russia has seven Oscar-class submarines in service out of an original inventory of 13.

One, the Kursk, sank after an accidental explosion in 2000, and five others were retired. The seven survivors are the target of modernization plans.

According to a report from IHS Janes, they are slated to replace the 24 SS-N-19s with as many as 72 SS-N-26 “Sapless” or SS-N-27 “Sizzler” cruise missiles.

This Oscar hunt raises a very big question: Who is hunting whom? Is the Oscar (or Oscars) hunting the carriers, or is NATO hunting the Oscar (or Oscars)?

MIGHTY TRENDING

US calls off search for F-35 that disappeared in the Pacific

The US military announced it is calling off its search for an F-35 stealth fighter that disappeared in the Pacific this time last month.

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35A Joint Strike Fighter piloted by Maj. Akinori Hosomi mysteriously vanished from radar on April 9, 2019, the first time this version of the F-35 has crashed. The US sent the destroyer USS Stethem, P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, and a U-2 spy plane to assist Japan in its search for the fifth-generation fighter and its pilot. Later, a US Navy salvage team joined the hunt.

The destroyer and maritime patrol aircraft scoured 5,000 square nautical miles of ocean over a period of 182 hours at sea before concluding their search. The Navy salvage team managed to recover the flight recorder and parts of the cockpit canopy.


The US Navy is ending its support in the search for the missing fighter, US 7th Fleet announced May 8, 2019. Japan is, however, planning to continue looking for the aircraft.

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F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)

“We will continue our search and recovery of the pilot and the aircraft that are still missing, while doing utmost to determine the cause,” Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced, according to Japanese media. It is unclear if, or at what point, Japan would abandon the search.

It is highly unusual for a country to continue the search for a missing military pilot longer than a week, with near certainty they are dead and that the ships and planes have more pressing missions than finding a body in thousands of miles of ocean. But this is the first time an F-35 stealth fighter has gone missing and some observers have said the missing plane would be an intelligence windfall to rivals like China.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is the most expensive weapon in the world today. It’s secrets are well protected, but currently, one of these fighters is in pieces on the ocean floor. Amid speculation that it might be vulnerable, both US and Japanese defense officials dismissed the possibility of another country, such as Russia or China getting its hands on the crashed fighter.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Study claims VA wait times are now shorter than private clinics

Wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics have gone down significantly from recent years and are now shorter on average than those in private-sector health care, at least in big cities, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Critics of the study pointed out that main contributors to the JAMA report were current and former VA executives, including Dr. David Shulkin, who was fired as VA secretary in 2018 by President Donald Trump.


In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the JAMA report published Jan. 18, 2019, showed that the VA “has made a concerted, transparent effort to improve access to care” since 2014, when wait-times scandals and doctored records led to the resignation of former VA Secretary and retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki.

“This study affirms that VA has made notable progress in improving access in primary care, and other key specialty care areas,” Wilkie said.

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VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

The cross-sectional JAMA study of wait-time data from VA facilities and private-sector hospitals focused on primary care, dermatology, cardiology and orthopedics in 15 major metropolitan areas.

The findings were that “there was no statistically significant difference between private sector and VA mean wait times in 2014” and, in 2017, “mean wait times were statistically significantly shorter for the VA,” the JAMA report said.

“In 2014 the average wait time in VA hospitals was 22.5 days, compared with 18.7 in the private sector,” the study said, but in 2017, “mean wait time at VA hospitals had gone down to 17.7 days, while rising to 29.8 for private practitioners.”

The study, titled “Comparison of Wait Times for New Patients Between the Private Sector and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers,” relied on wait-time data provided by the VA and calculated private-sector data from a survey conducted by a physicians’ search firm, Merritt Hawkins, using the so-called “secret shopper” method in nearly 2,000 medical offices in metropolitan areas.

“For the secret shoppers method, the research associates at MH [Merritt Hawkins] called physicians’ offices asking to be told the first available time for a new-patient appointment,” the JAMA study said.

“This earliest availability was recorded as the wait time. However, the VA data record scheduled wait times, which may not reflect the earliest available appointment,” the study said.

The JAMA report also noted that rural areas and follow-on care were excluded from the analysis and said that “follow-up studies are critical to analyze access to the entirety of VA health care,” since nearly one-quarter of veterans live in rural areas.

The overall conclusion of the report was that “access to care within VA facilities appears to have improved between 2014 and 2017 and appears to have surpassed access in the private sector for 3 of the 4 specialties evaluated,” with the exception of orthopedics.

In 2014, the VA was rocked by wait-time scandals and allegations of manipulated data at the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona. “This incident damaged the VA’s credibility and created a public perception regarding the VA health care system’s inability to see patients in a timely manner,” the JAMA report said.

The VA has since worked to improve access and reduce wait times.

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“There is evidence suggesting that these efforts have improved access to care, including reports that 22% of VA patients are now seen on the same day as the requested appointment,” the report said. However, “Despite, these efforts, the adequacy of access to VA care remains unclear.”

As a result of the 2014 scandals, the VA initiated the Choice program to expand private-care options for veterans. Last year, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the VA Mission Act to consolidate and streamline the Choice program, which has been riddled with inefficiencies.

In June 2018, the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that many veterans who opted for the Choice program to avoid wait times still faced delays that could stretch for months before seeing a doctor.

In response to the JAMA report, a posting on the Disabled American Veterans website came under the heading: “Veterans Affairs Spins ‘JAMA Study’ It Authored On VA Wait Times.”

In addition to Shulkin, the posting noted that another contributor to the JAMA study was Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the former acting head of the Veterans Health Administration. She was replaced in July by Dr. Richard Stone as acting head of the VHA and has now taken the position at the VA of deputy under secretary for discovery, education and affiliate networks.

Stone, the former deputy surgeon general of the Army, has yet to receive Senate confirmation. The VHA has not had a permanent head since Shulkin left the position in January 2017 to become VA secretary.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

The Navy just developed invisible armor that is easy to fix

When most people think armor, they think of thick steel, ceramic or Kevlar. It stops (or mitigates) the harm that incoming rounds can do, but there’s one big problem: You can’t see a friggin’ thing if you’re behind it.


This is no a small problem. Put it this way, in “Clausewitzian Friction and Future War,” Erich Hartmann, who scored 352 kills in World War II, was reported to have believed that 80 percent of his victims never knew he was there. Project Red Baron, also known as the Ault Report, backed that assessment up based on engagements in the Vietnam War.

Bulletproof glass exists, but it can be heavy. When it is hit, though, the impact looks a lot like your windshield after it catches a rock kicked up by an 18-wheeler on the interstate.

That also applies in firefights on the ground – and according to a FoxNews.com report, the Navy has made it a little easier to maintain situational awareness while still being able to stop a bullet. The report notes that the Navy’s new armor, based on thermoplastic elastomers, still maintains its transparency despite being hit by bullets.

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Current bullet-resistant glass after ballistic tests during the IDET 2007 fair in Brno. The good news is the bullets were stopped. The bad news: You can’t see through the window. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In a Department of Defense release, Dr. Mike Roland said, “Because of the dissipative properties of the elastomer, the damage due to a projectile strike is limited to the impact locus. This means that the affect on visibility is almost inconsequential, and multi-hit protection is achieved.”

That is not the only benefit of this new armor. This new material can also be repaired in the field very quickly using nothing more than a hot plate like that used to cook Ramen noodles in a dorm room – or in the barracks.

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Photo: YouTube/CrashZone

“Heating the material above the softening point, around 100 degrees Celsius, melts the small crystallites, enabling the fracture surfaces to meld together and reform via diffusion,” Dr. Roland explained.

Not only will this capability save money by avoid the need to have replacement armor available, this also helps reduce the logistical burden on the supply chain, particularly in remote operating locations that were very common in Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror.

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