In an interview with USA Today, the pilots of the F-22s who chased away Syrian jets bombing close to Kurdish forces with embedded US advisers revealed that the Syrian pilots had no idea they were being shadowed.
“I followed him around for all three of his loops,” one of the American pilots, a 38-year-old Air Force major, told USA Today. “He didn’t appear to have any idea I was there.”
Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, told USA Today that once the F-22 made radio contact, “The behaviour stopped. We made our point.”
The situation in Syria is tense, as the US has limited forces on the ground, but has employed air assets to defend them. So the US effectively has told Syria that it can’t fly planes within a section of their own country.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that in the event that Syrian planes get too close to US and US-backed forces that they “would advise them to steer clear in areas where we are operating,” adding that “we always have the right to defend our forces.”
Fortunately, in this case, the warning was sufficient.
“The big concern is really a miscalculation,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of US air operations in the Middle East told USA Today. “It can happen on either side.”
“We made it very clear to our folks from the highest levels: We’re not at war with the Russians or Syrians,” Corcoran told USA Today. “We’re not here to shoot down Russian or Syrian airplanes.”
But sending servicemen and women into combat with unclear, or delicate instructions is not an ideal case. Every second a pilot spends weighing the decision to fire or not could potentially cost that pilot’s life.
Luckily, no life or death decisions had to be made.
“I’m thinking how do I de-escalate this scenario to the best of my ability and also keep us in a safe position while doing so,” the other pilot involved told USA Today.
It seems also that the pilot’s leadership was behind them every step of the way. Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, the air commander in Qatar, made it clear he was ready to pull the trigger.
“I wouldn’t have hesitated,” said Silveria.
“All I needed at that point to shoot them down was a report from the ground that they were being attacked,” Silveria told USA Today. “We were in a perfect position to execute that with some pretty advanced weaponry.”
Russian television anchor Pavel Lobkov was in the studio getting ready for his show when jarring news flashed across his phone: Some of his most intimate messages had just been published to the web.
Days earlier, the veteran journalist had come out live on air as HIV-positive, a taboo-breaking revelation that drew responses from hundreds of Russians fighting their own lonely struggles with the virus. Now he’d been hacked.
“These were very personal messages,” Lobkov said in a recent interview, describing a frantic call to his lawyer in an abortive effort to stop the spread of nearly 300 pages of Facebook correspondence, including sexually explicit messages. Even two years later, he said, “it’s a very traumatic story.”
The Associated Press found that Lobkov was targeted by the hacking group known as Fancy Bear in March 2015, nine months before his messages were leaked. He was one of at least 200 journalists, publishers and bloggers targeted by the group as early as mid-2014 and as recently as a few months ago.
The AP identified journalists as the third-largest group on a hacking hit list obtained from cybersecurity firm Secureworks, after diplomatic personnel and U.S. Democrats. About 50 of the journalists worked at The New York Times. Another 50 were either foreign correspondents based in Moscow or Russian reporters like Lobkov who worked for independent news outlets. Others were prominent media figures in Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics or Washington.
The list of journalists provides new evidence for the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Fancy Bear acted on behalf of the Russian government when it intervened in the U.S. presidential election. Spy agencies say the hackers were working to help Republican Donald Trump. The Russian government has denied interfering in the American election.
Previous AP reporting has shown how Fancy Bear — which Secureworks nicknamed Iron Twilight — used phishing emails to try to compromise Russian opposition leaders, Ukrainian politicians and U.S. intelligence figures, along with Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and more than 130 other Democrats.
Lobkov, 50, said he saw hacks like the one that turned his day upside-down in December 2015 as dress rehearsals for the email leaks that struck the Democrats in the United States the following year.
“I think the hackers in the service of the Fatherland were long getting their training on our lot before venturing outside.”
New Yorker writer Masha Gessen said it was also in 2015 — when Secureworks first detected attempts to break into her Gmail — that she began noticing people who seemed to materialize next to her in public places in New York and speak loudly in Russian into their phones, as if trying to be overheard. She said this only happened when she put appointments into the online calendar linked to her Google account.
Gessen, the author of a book about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, said she saw the incidents as threats.
“It was really obvious,” she said. “It was a classic KGB intimidation tactic.”
Other U.S.-based journalists targeted include Josh Rogin, a Washington Post columnist, and Shane Harris, who was covering the intelligence community for The Daily Beast in 2015. Harris said he dodged the phishing attempt, forwarding the email to a source in the security industry who told him almost immediately that Fancy Bear was involved.
In Russia, the majority of journalists targeted by the hackers worked for independent news outlets like Novaya Gazeta or Vedomosti, though a few — such as Tina Kandelaki and Ksenia Sobchak — are more mainstream. Sobchak has even launched an improbable bid for the Russian presidency.
Investigative reporter Roman Shleynov noted that the Gmail hackers targeted was the one he used while working on the Panama Papers, the expose of international tax avoidance that implicated members of Putin’s inner circle.
Fancy Bear also pursued more than 30 media targets in Ukraine, including many journalists at the Kyiv Post and others who have reported from the front lines of the Russia-backed war in the country’s east.
Nataliya Gumenyuk, co-founder of Ukrainian internet news site Hromadske, said the hackers were hunting for compromising information.
“The idea was to discredit the independent Ukrainian voices,” she said.
The hackers also tried to break into the personal Gmail account of Ellen Barry, The New York Times’ former Moscow bureau chief.
Her newspaper appears to have been a favorite target. Fancy Bear sent phishing emails to roughly 50 of Barry’s colleagues at The Times in late 2014, according to two people familiar with the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential data.
The Times confirmed in a brief statement that its employees received the malicious messages, but the newspaper declined to comment further.
Some journalists saw their presence on the hackers’ hit list as vindication. Among them were CNN security analyst Michael Weiss and Brookings Institution visiting fellow Jamie Kirchick, who took the news as a badge of honor.
“I’m very proud to hear that,” Kirchick said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the wide net cast by Fancy Bear underscores efforts by governments worldwide to use hacking against journalists.
“It’s about gaining access to sources and intimidating those journalists,” said Courtney C. Radsch, the group’s advocacy director.
In Russia, the stakes are particularly high. The committee has counted 38 murders of journalists there since 1992.
Many journalists told the AP they knew they were under threat, explaining that they had added a second layer of password protection to their emails and only chatted over encrypted messaging apps like Telegram, WhatsApp or Signal.
Fancy Bear target Ekaterina Vinokurova, who works for regional media outlet Znak, said she routinely deletes her emails.
“I understand that my accounts may be hacked at any time,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m ready for them.”
“I’VE SEEN WHAT THEY COULD DO”
It’s not just whom the hackers tried to spy on that points to the Russian government.
Maria Titizian, an Armenian journalist, immediately found significance in the date she was targeted: June 26, 2015.
“It was Electric Yerevan,” she said, referring to protests over rising energy bills that she reported on. The protests that rocked Armenia’s capital that summer were initially seen by some in Moscow as a threat to Russian influence.
Titizian said her outspoken criticism of the Kremlin’s “colonial attitude” toward Armenia could have made her a target.
Eliot Higgins, whose open source journalism site Bellingcat repeatedly crops up on the target list, said the phishing attempts seemed to begin “once we started really making strong statements about MH17,” the Malaysian airliner shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people. Bellingcat played a key role in marshaling the evidence that the plane was destroyed by a Russian missile — Moscow’s denials notwithstanding.
The clearest timing for a hacking attempt may have been that of Adrian Chen.
On June 2, 2015, Chen published a prescient expose of the Internet Research Agency, the Russian “troll factory” that won fresh infamy in October over revelations that it had manufactured make-believe Americans to pollute social media with toxic rhetoric.
Eight days after Chen published his big story, Fancy Bear tried to break into his account.
Chen, who has regularly written about the darker recesses of the internet, said having a lifetime of private messages exposed to the internet could be devastating.
“I’ve covered a lot of these leaks,” he said. “I’ve seen what they could do.”
A U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone took out a Soviet-made T-72 tank in eastern Syria on Feb. 10 2018 in a “self-defense” strike after pro-regime forces fired on U.S. advisers and allied Syrian fighters.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of Air Forces Central Command, acknowledged that the battlespace in Syria is becoming increasingly contested as more operators move into the area, making response decisions ever more complicated.
“… We rely upon our folks who are on the ground to make that decision, primarily the ground force commander,” Harrigian told reporters from the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, during a video teleconference briefing.
“What happened in that particular scenario is the tank that fired was within an effective range to target our SDF and advisers on the ground, which clearly provides [the ground commander] the ability to defend himself. And he made that decision, appropriately so, and that was the result,” he said.
Harrigian would not speculate on who was operating the tank — Russian forces or those belonging to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He said he was not aware of any other provocations against the coalition that day.
The MQ-9 mission occurred the same day an Iranian drone was downed over Israel. Israel launched a counterattack “on Iranian targets” in Syria in response to the drone’s intrusion, during which an Israeli F-16 was targeted and crash landed back in Israeli territory.
“We fully support Israel’s right to defend themselves, particularly against threats to their territory and their people,” Harrigian said.
The attacks come days after pro-Assad forces attacked the Syrian Defense Forces in Deir el-Zour Province. The U.S. on, Feb. 7, 2018, launched significant air and firepower in response to protect coalition service members working with the SDF in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity.
The U.S. sent up F-22A Raptor advanced stealth fighters, along with MQ-9 drones, to watch as a three-hour battle began Feb. 7, 2018, while “a variety of joint aircraft and ground-based artillery responded in defense of our SDF partners, including F-15E Strike Eagles,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, AfCent spokesman, told Military.com last week.
Harrigian says officials are still assessing how many pro-regime forces were killed as a result but estimates it was approximately 100. Other reports suggest that more than 200 were killed, with a number of news outlets saying the militants were made up of Russian mercenaries.
Harrigian would not comment on the makeup of the forces.
“What we saw coming at us was approximately a battalion-sized unit,” he said. “We continue to look at what those forces were composed of … and it’s going to take some time to fully understand who was down there … and there’s a fair number of groups involved with this, and it’s always difficult to sort that out.”
He added, “This is executed as self- defense, and we are going to defend ourselves. We all need to be crystal clear about that. We’re going to do that first — defend ourselves appropriately — and then … we’ve got to work through exactly who it was to understand [the threat].”
U.S. forces will continue to watch the area, but Harrigian noted the goal “is to get back to fighting” the Islamic State.
“It clearly is a very complicated and complex environment,” he said. “For both our forces on the ground and … for our forces in the air, this environment requires the professionalism and discipline of a force that’s able to manage and understand the environment in such that we can make timely decisions and understand how were going to protect ourselves, and get after the ISIS fight.”
Leonard Matlovich joined the Air Force in 1963. He served three tours in Vietnam, volunteering for all of them. The son of an Air Force Chief, his service record was nothing short of exemplary. The only problem was that Matlovich was gay in the military at a time when discrimination was accepted practice.
Leonard Matlovich enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, CMSgt Matlovich by his side. (leonardmatlovich.com)
Matlovich might seem like an anomaly by today’s standards. He was a conservative Republican and a staunch Catholic who hated the reforms of Vatican II. He even converted to Mormonism later in his service.
In 1966, he received an Air Force Commendation Medal for bravery during a mortar attack. He personally ran to the base perimeter to bolster the defenses there and help tend to the wounded.
He was innovative and dedicated. An electrician, he came up with a nighttime lighting system for base perimeters that inhibited the ability of North Vietnamese snipers to target the base population. Matlovich personally repaired all the base systems during nighttime attacks, never waiting until the dust settled. This is how he received a second Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star.
Matlovich received a Purple Heart while clearing mines near Da Nang. He was blown up by a mine and as he lay there in pain he realized the physical pain was not nearly as bad as the pain he felt for hiding who he truly was.
That’s when he decided to challenge the Air Force policy on homosexuals in the service. By 1975 Matlovich was up for a discharge based on his sexuality. He lawyered up and was determined to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court. It caught the media’s attention and Matlovich became the first openly-gay person to appear on the cover of a U.S. magazine.
The Air Force decided to let him stay if he signed a document saying he’d never engage in homosexual acts again. Matlovich refused.
He was going to be drummed out of the Air Force under a General Discharge. It was upgraded to Honorable by the Secretary of the Air Force, based on Matlovich’s service record, but that didn’t stop the Tech Sergeant.
In 1976, Matlovich and his lawyers took their case to the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C. to argue the Air Force policy violated the same constitutional principles that recently won Civil Rights cases for African-Americans and women in the United States.
All it led to was a re-wording of the DoD anti-gay policy.
He fought to stay in the Air Force as an openly-gay man but in the end accepted that the court cases would never stop. He took a cash settlement for his back pay, which he immediately donated to nonprofits who fought for gay rights.
Matlovich spent the rest of his life fighting for equal rights for the LGBT community in the United States. In 1986, he was diagnosed with HIV and began to fight for more attention to HIV/AIDS research. Matlovich was a vocal critic to the Reagan Administration’s response to the outbreak of the disease.
When Leonard Matlovich died of AIDS in 1988, he was buried in Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery. His gravestone doesn’t have his name on it. He wanted it to be a memorial for all homosexual military veterans. It reads:
“A Gay Vietnam Veteran | When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
Leonard Matlovich’s gravesite has become a pilgrimage site for the LGBT community, especially those serving in the military of United States and other countries.
U.S. intelligence before World War II was fragmented and ad hoc, comprised of numerous government and military entities all loath to share their information with each other. With the events transpiring across the globe in the 1930’s, President Roosevelt became concerned about the United States’ deficiencies in the intelligence field. Enter William Donovan.
Col. William “Wild Bill” Donovan was a well-respected lawyer and veteran of the First World War, in which he earned the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, and three Purple Hearts. Between the wars, he traveled extensively and met with many foreign dignitaries, however, his chief concern was on establishing the American equivalent of Britain’s intelligence services, MI6, and the Special Operations Executive. His extensive travel and ideas earned him the respect and friendship of President Roosevelt, and when the President established the Office of the Coordination of Information he named Donovan the director.
Donovan immediately set to work untangling the bureaucratic mess that was the American intelligence services. It was much more complicated than he anticipated. He met hostility over jurisdiction with numerous people, most notably J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. During this time, the majority of intelligence for the Office of the Coordination of Information came from the British, as did the training for the new operatives. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, it became clear that the United States needed a greater intelligence capacity. To accomplish this, President Roosevelt issued a presidential military order on June 13, 1942 creating the Office of Strategic Services with the mission of collecting and analyzing strategic information for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to conduct special operations not assigned to other agencies. William Donovan was reactivated in the U.S. Army at his World War I rank of Colonel and put in charge of the organization.
Now that Donovan had his intelligence agency, he needed to fill the ranks. With no prior experience to draw on, he and those he recruited would be starting essentially from scratch. However, Donovan was given just the right man for the job in one Lt. Col. Garland Williams, a successful law enforcement officer and officer in the Army Reserve. Williams took Donovan’s intent to create an American intelligence service based on the British models and made it uniquely American – though he would require British help to get started. It was decided the OSS would be responsible for intelligence and counter-intelligence, psychological warfare, and guerrilla and irregular warfare, to include sabotage and most importantly coordinating resistance movements with each area of responsibility handled by a specialized branch. Once the training areas, National Parks outside Washington, D.C., were established and trainers were in place Williams set about creating a curriculum to train the new operatives.
Williams broke down the training into three phases; preliminary, basic, and advanced. Preliminary training was what Williams called a “toughening up” phase and included PT, obstacle courses, road marches, hand-to-hand combat and weapons skills that were designed to weed out the unqualified and to help identify the particular skills of those who passed for their branch assignment within the OSS. The basic phase introduced many special topics for students such as intelligence gathering, target identification, and sabotage. But most importantly, according to Lt. Col. Williams, in these phases the students “will also be physically and mentally conditioned during these two courses for the aggressive and ruthless action which they will be called upon to perform at later dates.” A park superintendent who monitored the OSS training area referred to the training as “a stomach-turning roughhouse” and was thoroughly appalled by what he witnessed.
Once the students had passed preliminary and basic operator training they moved on to the advanced training. This training involved what Lt. Col. Williams referred to as “schemes” – mock attacks on real targets in the U.S. Teams of students would be assigned missions against bridges, railroads, and plants in areas such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh in which they were instructed to infiltrate secure locations and plant fake explosives or to recover some kind of sensitive data. Most of these missions were completed successfully however a few teams were arrested by local police or the FBI.
Throughout the operators’ training, the emphasis was always on independent thinking, initiative, resourcefulness, personal courage, and building confidence. Military discipline took a back seat to the need for candidates to become individual fighters and guerrilla warriors as opposed to soldiers who needed orders to operate. Col. Donovan even stated, “I’d rather have a young lieutenant with guts enough to disobey an order than a colonel too regimented to think and act for himself.”
Once the operatives completed training they were shipped to war zones all over the world where they conducted irregular warfare, sabotage, and direct action missions behind enemy lines in Operational Groups, a predecessor to modern Special Forces ODA’s, or in the more famous Jedburgh Teams. However, despite the support of Gen. Eisenhower, President Truman disbanded the Office of Strategic Services in October 1945 but its legacy and missions would live on.
Two years after the dissolution of the OSS, the Central Intelligence Agency was formed to take up many of its former missions and to establish their training curriculum the CIA used everything the OSS has created. A short time later the U.S. Army formed the Special Forces which took up the missions of irregular warfare and foreign internal defense. There are still visual cues that persist in the military today too such as the U.S. Special Operations Command shoulder sleeve insignia, nearly identical to the OSS patch, as well as the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife emblem on Delta Force’s shoulder sleeve insignia. Though the OSS was a fledgling intelligence service at the outset of World War II, it set the stage for the strongest clandestine services in the modern world.
Numerous scams often target military members due to their consistent paychecks and many troops being young and financially inexperienced. From predatory lending to online scams, it’s important for service members to learn how to protect themselves from being taken advantage of. Here are 9 scams every military service member needs to be aware of.
1. Social Media Scams (Card Popping)
Fake accounts are being created on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, where scammers often impersonate military personnel. They will then friend military troops and begin building a relationship through direct messaging. Eventually they will claim they can make you quick money by depositing money in to your account and in exchange you just send them a fee. They will ask for personal banking information such as your username, password, bank card number, and pin. Once the information is exchanged they deposit fraudulent checks and withdraw the cash, leaving you without money and possibly liable for the losses.
2. Rental Housing Scams
Scammers will post fake rental properties on classified websites in areas around military bases and communities targeting troops. Service members moving in to the area will be offered fake military discounts and be asked for a security deposit by wiring money to the landlord.
3. Military Loans
Military car and personal loans that require no credit check, have instant approval, upfront fees, or promise guarantees are highly likely to have hidden fees and terms that take advantage of service members, leaving them with crippling debt.
4. Veterans’ Benefits Buyout Scam
Military veterans hard pressed for cash may be lured into this buyout plan offering a cash payment in exchange for their future disability pension payments and benefits. However, these payouts are only about 30 to 40 percent of what their value is and structured in ways harmful to veterans’ finances.
5. Car Purchase Scams
Using websites that offer classified ads, scammers will create car ads targeting military members. They will pretend they are a service member who is being deployed or moving because they are being stationed somewhere else and need to get rid of their car quickly. They will ask for wire transfers or up front fees and will offer fake claims such as free shipping or discounts.
6. Employment Scams
Veterans and active duty members searching for jobs may come across employers who offer special consideration for their military service. Be wary of employers asking for personal information such as bank account numbers or that want to conduct a credit or background check. Some are scams that use your personal information to steal your identity and/or expose you to fraud.
7. Jury Duty Scam
Military members will be targeted by callers who claim they work with the court system and tell the service member has a warrant out for their arrest due to not showing up for jury duty. Fearing they can get in trouble by their command, the caller says it can be taken care of by providing personal information such as a social security or credit card number.
8. Veterans Affairs Scam
Military veterans are being targeted by phone scammers who call claiming they work for Veterans Affairs and say they need to update their information with the VA. The VA never calls and asks for your private information by phone.
9. Military Life Insurance Scams
Hard sales tactics are used by agents who target military members. They will make false and inflated claims about life insurance policy benefits which are expensive and most likely unnecessary.
Learn how to protect yourself!
To help military members and their families the Better Business Bureau has created a BBB Military Line to educate service members on how to protect themselves. Be sure to follow their Facebook page to keep up to date on all current scams and ways to protect yourselves.
(Note: The BBB has put out a warning about scammers trying to take advantage of the military and veteran community during Memorial Day weekend. Read how you can protect yourself.)
US soldiers are patrolling Afghanistan with a new tool that lets them see the battlefield like never before — personal, pocket-sized drones.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division has deployed to Afghanistan with Black Hornet personal reconnaissance drones — a small, lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle produced by FLIR Systems that can be quickly and easily deployed to provide improved situational awareness on the battlefield.
A 3rd BCT paratrooper prepares to launch a Black Hornet in Kandahar, Aug. 9, 2019.
(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)
Soldiers are taking these nano drones on patrol in combat zones.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Kandahar province in Afghanistan in July from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to replace the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Stars and Stripes reports.
Army paratroopers have been “routinely” using the Black Hornets, recon drones that look like tiny helicopters, for foot patrols, the Army said in a statement.
“The Black Hornet provided overhead surveillance for the patrol as it gauged security in the region and spoke to local Afghans about their concern,” a caption accompanying a handful of photos from a recent patrol in Kandahar explained.
A 3rd BCT paratrooper with a Black Hornet drone.
(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)
These UAVs offer “immediate situational awareness of the battlefield,” the Army said previously.
The Army awarded FLIR a multimillion-dollar contract earlier this year to provide Black Hornet drones to US troops.
A little over 6 inches in length and weighing only 1.16 ounces, these drones are “small enough for a dismounted soldier to carry on a utility belt,” according to FLIR Systems.
These UAVs offer beyond-visual-line-of-sight capability during day or night out to distances of up to 1.24 miles and have a maximum speed of about 20 feet a second.
These drones, which are able to transmit high-quality images and video, can also be launched in a matter of seconds and can quietly provide covert coverage of the battlefield for around half an hour, Business Insider saw firsthand at an exclusive FLIR technology demonstration.
The Black Hornets “will give our soldiers operating at the squad level immediate situational awareness of the battlefield through its ability to gather intelligence, provide surveillance, and conduct reconnaissance,” Lt. Col. Isaac Taylor, an Army public affairs officer, previously told Business Insider.
Paratroopers on patrol in Kandahar province in Afghanistan.
(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)
These drones have the potential to be a real “life-saver” for US troops.
Soldiers in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division were the first troops to get their hands on the new Black Hornet drones, part of the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) program.
Back in the spring, soldiers trained for a week at Fort Bragg with the new drones, getting a feel for the possibilities provided by this technology.
“This kind of technology will be a life-saver for us because it takes us out of harm’s way while enhancing our ability to execute whatever combat mission we’re on,” Sgt. Ryan Subers, one of the operators, said in a statement.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When most of Afghanistan was under Taliban rule in the late 1990s, the fundamentalist regime drafted a new constitution.
The document was never officially ratified, and it was unclear how much of it was ever implemented before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the extremist Islamic group from power.
But the constitution offers a glimpse into what kind of government the militant organization envisages as it prepares to negotiate a future power-sharing arrangement with the current Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani.
A political settlement made by the disparate Afghan sides is a key component of the peace deal signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29 that is aimed at ending the 18-year war.
Under the deal, foreign forces will leave Afghanistan in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which has agreed to launch direct negotiations with Afghan officials for a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing formula to rule the country.
Since 2001, the Taliban insurgency has vowed to drive out foreign forces and overthrow the Western-backed government in Kabul. But even as it seemingly pursues peace, it been vague about what kind of postwar government it envisions in Afghanistan.
Radical Islamic Seminaries
The Taliban emerged in 1994 following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first surfaced in ultraconservative Islamic seminaries in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees.
The seminaries radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought against the occupying Soviet forces.
The Taliban appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul alone.
The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce their ultraconservative brand of Islam. They captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.
In 1998, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar assembled some 500 Islamic scholars from across the country to draft a new constitution for the country.
After three days of deliberations, the scholars drafted a 14-page document — the first and only attempt by the Taliban to codify its views on power and governance.
‘Intensely Religious Roots’
In the document, power was centralized in the hands of an “Amir ul-Momineen,” or leader of the faithful. This supreme leader was the head of state and had ultimate authority. This was Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader and founder.
The constitution did not describe how such a leader would be selected or for how long he could serve. But it said the supreme leader must be male and a Sunni Muslim.
An Islamic council, handpicked by the supreme leader, would serve as the legislature and implement laws and policy. The government, headed by the head of the council of ministers — a quasi-prime ministerial position — would report to the Islamic council.
Under the constitution, Sunni Islam was to be the official state religion, even though some 15 percent of the population are Shi’ite Muslims.
The document stated that no law could be contrary to Islamic Shari’a law.
The constitution granted freedom of expression, women’s education, and the right of a fair trial, but all within the limits of the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Shari’a law.
It is unclear how the document shaped the Taliban’s draconian laws and brutal policies during its Islamic Emirate, the official name of the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
The Taliban banned TV and music, forced men to pray and grow beards, forced women to cover themselves from head to toe, and prevented women and girls from working or going to school. The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engaged in adultery. Executions were common.
Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said the draft constitution reflects the “Taliban’s intensely religious roots” and reveals the importance placed on a “centralized authority” for a group that was “founded on a mission of restoring order to the country.”
The document was littered with contradictions and was never ratified. It was republished in 2005, a year after Afghanistan adopted a new constitution. But the document has disappeared from Taliban discourse in recent years.
“That may have been due to internal debate over certain articles, or just reflective of the group’s inclination to remain flexible in its policies, in part perhaps to prevent internal divisions over policy differences,” said Watkins.
‘Monopoly On Power’
As an insurgent group, the Taliban has preserved some of its key principles since it was overthrown in 2001.
Power is still centralized in the hands of an all-powerful leader, who oversees a shadow Taliban government in Afghanistan. The Taliban still enforces its strict interpretation of Islam in areas under its control. And it still regards Shari’a as the supreme law.
But analysts say the past two decades have changed how the Taliban views power.
The Taliban overcame a succession crisis after the death of Mullah Omar, has fended off competition from the global appeal of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite its 18-year war against foreign and Afghan government forces.
“The group now operates in a strange combination of increasingly centralizing its control over its own membership, while also allowing it to decentralize in other ways,” said Watkins.
The Taliban has claimed recently that it is not the same group that ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
In a public statement, the Taliban said it does not want to reestablish its Islamic Emirate and has attempted to project a more reconciliatory image.
But the Taliban’s ambiguity on women’s rights, free speech, and elections — key democratic tenets introduced in Afghanistan since 2001 — has raised fears among many Afghans that the extremist group will attempt to restore its severe regime.
The Taliban said in February 2019 that it is committed to granting women their rights and allowing them to work and go to school, but only as long as they do not violate Islam or Afghan values.
But in the same statement, the Taliban also suggested it wants to curtail the fragile freedoms gained by women, prompting a wave of concern from rights campaigners.
Analysts said the Taliban’s great ambiguity on key issues reflects the divisions within the group.
The Taliban’s political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to an accommodation in assuming power under a peace deal.
Meanwhile, hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan are reluctant to budge on their demands for a full restoration of the Islamic Emirate.
“There is a cocktail of views among the Taliban on power and governance,” said Javid Ahmad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
“More than anything, Taliban leaders need an intra-Taliban dialogue to settle their conflicting views about a future Afghan state,” Ahmad added.
There are also intense differences among the Afghan political elite.
Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, generally support a centralized state that guarantees their control of the government. But non-Pashtuns, which constitute a majority of the population, believe too much power of the state is left in the hands of one individual, and support decentralization because it would enshrine a more inclusive and equitable distribution of power.
Direct talks between the Taliban and an Afghan negotiation team over a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement were expected to start on March 10.
But the launch of the negotiations has been delayed due to disputes over the release of Taliban prisoners and the formation of Kabul’s negotiating team.
Even when intra-Afghan negotiations begin, many expect them to be complex and protracted, possibly taking years, considering the gulf between the sides on policy and distributing power.
“It will be incredibly difficult to get the two parties to come up with compromises on every issue of governance,” Ahmad said, although he added that there were also reasons for hope.
Both the Taliban’s political vision and the Afghan political system are modeled on the centralization of power and the supreme role of Islam.
Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution prescribes that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” and sometimes appears at odds with more liberal and democratic elements within it.
Power is in the hands of a heavily centralized government. The president has the right to appoint and fire governors, mayors, police chiefs, district governors, and senators and has a tight grip on the country’s finances and how funds are spent and distributed.
“There is much more common ground in the legal and governance systems of these two than many of their supporters, on either side, care to admit,” said Watkins.
The day after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, newspapers captured the shock and horror. New York Post / Source: Newseum
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks happened exactly 19 years ago Friday.
For many people, the attacks were the biggest news story of their lifetime. Almost all who experienced it can remember where they were when they heard of the attacks.
Many people who remember that day also recall the following morning, when newspapers around the world captured the horror, shock, and sadness people felt.
The Newseum, a museum in Washington, DC, that chronicled the history of media, archived more than 100 newspapers from September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks. The front pages of these newspapers, bearing headlines like “ACT OF WAR” and “AMERICA’S DARKEST DAY,” underscore the impact the attacks had on the American psyche.
Here is what newspapers looked like the day after September 11, 2001.
Grunts may not pass literacy tests with flying colors, but it definitely isn’t any indication they’re not intelligent creatures. The infantry is full of different types of people with different ideologies and perspectives. Collectively, we can even develop philosophies based on our experience with the job. But what some of us don’t think about is recording the thoughts and ideas that bounce around inside our heads.
Keeping a journal is more than just a method of remembering events that go on in your life. Writing down your thoughts and ideas could actually help you develop your mental strength as a warrior. Additionally, there are other benefits that come with doing this, beyond just keeping track of the one thing your First Sergeant did today that really pissed you off.
Here’s why grunts should keep a journal:
It might help to write about a day like this.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Devon Burton)
A tool to fight stress
You may just want to chain smoke some cigarettes and trash talk your command with your friends, and that may work. But conversations can be cut short, and you may not even say 100% of what you’re thinking. Writing down your thoughts as they are, without a filter, can help relieve you of the stress you’re feeling on day 12 of a 10-day field op.
You felt a certain way about this. Why not write it down?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan
Recording your thoughts
You may not feel like sharing everything that goes on in your head with your friends. That’s okay. Write it down. This may be useful if you have a good idea regarding tactics or standard operating procedure that you feel you may not remember later. This is like taking notes but in a way that ties into the rest of your thoughts and feelings.
If you miss some shots on the range, you should record it to look at later so you can figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reba James)
Tracking your growth
At the end of the day, it helps to go over the events in your head and think about the positives and negatives. Additionally, writing these things down and writing your thoughts on how to improve yourself can help you track your personal growth. Even something like recording your physical fitness test results can help you see what you can improve on.
Even the worst memories are worth recording.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Amaia Unanue)
Writing things down is always a good idea when you have to remember them later on. But doing something as simple as writing down the day’s events and your thoughts on them can help you keep your memory sharp which is a valuable skill no matter where you go.
Maybe the next time you’ll remember how you solved that problem.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Sarah Anderson)
Improve problem-solving skills
While writing your thoughts and feelings about the day’s events, you may find that there was a problem you couldn’t solve earlier, but while writing it down, you discovered the solution. It’s like thinking back on an argument and thinking of the perfect response that didn’t occur to you in the moment.
The rigors of combat leave a lasting impact on many veterans who have proudly served. As painful as it is to admit, as a society, we’ve mostly left these troops to fend for themselves and find their own path in coping and healing.
No two roads to recovery are alike, but there’s one method that’s proven, time and time again, to be an effective way for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress to see through the haze — and that’s adopting a support animal.
Whether it’s an officially certified and properly trained service animal or just a pet that offers its unconditional love, it’s been proven that animals can get veterans through their struggles.
As many veterans who are accompanied by a support animal can tell you, a little nudge of love can make the biggest difference in the world. Such is the story of Andrew Einstein and his dog, Gunner.
And the two have been inseparable ever since.
When he was deployed in August, 2011, a grenade went off near Andrew. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost the hearing on his right side. The road to recovery was long, lonely, and painful. Without adequate support, Andrew went through dark times. He reached his lowest point less than ten months after the injury, and intended to end his own life.
Thankfully, he made it through the night. The very next day, he met Gunner. He wasn’t the biggest or the most energetic dog, but this little puppy didn’t want to leave Andrew’s side. Gunner chose to stick by Andrew, despite of all the hardships he’s endured.
The bond between the two grew with each passing day. Today, Andrew and Gunner participate together in various runs and obstacle courses across the country. Competition after competition, the pride Andrew has for Gunner, as he successfully navigates the various challenges, can only be described as the pride a parent has for a child.
“Service dogs allow people to live a life they otherwise wouldn’t be able to live because of whatever issue or disability they’re suffering from,” says Andrew. “It’s near impossible to do anything on your own and having a support system — whether it be one dog, a team of people, it doesn’t matter the number — if you don’t get help, you’re gonna get worse. But if you ask for help, you’ll get better. You’re still the same person, nothing changes, except your life getting better.”
Andrew found that support system in Gunner.
To learn more about Andrew and Gunner’s incredible journey — and to explore the amazing ways a service animal can impact lives — visit Nulo’s website.
China and Japan are redefining the nature and purpose of the Coast Guard. Americans still think in terms of air-sea rescue or chasing drug smugglers when they think about their Coast Guard. China and Japan think about their Coast Guards in terms of realpolitik.
The two nominally civilian services are on the front lines of territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Both countries are adding to their coast guard fleets at a breakneck pace. One could almost call it a Coast Guard arms race, except that the vessels are lightly armed if armed at all.
Japan is reinforcing its Coast Guard contingent in the waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea with 10 new 1,500-ton patrol craft and two new helicopter- equipped vessels. This is in addition to six other cutters already in the region. Tokyo will no longer have to borrow vessels from other Coast Guard districts allowing them to concentrate on routine Coast Guard duties such as rescuing ships in distress.
Tokyo is also overhauling its main operational base on the island of Ishikagi, the closest Japanese island to the Senkakus, with enlarged port facilities to handle the new vessels. It is close to another small island where Japan recently opened an army garrison to protect a new radar base (a well as asserting sovereignty in case China expands its designs on other islands in the Ryukyu chain.)
Both Japan and China assert their claims to the uninhabited Senkaku islands with coast guard cutters rather than ships of their regular navies. On an average of once every two weeks, two or three Chinese Coast Guard vessels enter Japanese territorial waters. They stay for a couple hours then leave. Meanwhile, Japanese Coast Guard vessels regularly patrol the disputed waters ordering anyone inside the territorial zone to leave.
China is also expanding its fleet and building ports of call to maintain them. The growing fleet allows Beijing to assert its claim and support its interests over the entire South China Sea. At present, Coast Guard ships are stationed near the Scarborough Shoal claimed by the Philippines; another routinely patrols the Laconia Reefs off the coast of Malaysia.
While it once depended on former naval frigates, China is now commissioning purpose-built cutters. It is currently commissioning two of the world’s largest Coast Guard cutters, ships that could alter the balance of power in the South and East China Seas (one ship is to be stationed in each sea).
Known only by their hull numbers, in this case Haijing 2901 and Haijing 3901 (the first digit denotes which sea it is to patrol). They displace 10,000 tons, possibly more when fully outfitted. That makes them larger than the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga- class cruisers and Japan’s 6,500-ton Shikishima- class Coast Guard cutters previously the largest in the world.
The U.S.S. Forth Worth, a Littoral Combat ship based in Singapore, which has undertaken Freedom of Navigation patrols in the Spratly islands, displaces a mere 1,200 tons. A warship like the Fort Worth could, of course, defend itself from a Chinese maritime enforcement vessel on a collision course, but it would mean firing the first shot.
This may be a coast guard “arms race” except that the competing vessels are not heavily armed. The new Japanese cutters are armed with 20 mm cannons and water cannons. The new Chinese super cutters are not necessarily heavily armed either. Pictures that have been published so far show that they lack gun turrets. It is not armaments that make these two Coast Guard Dreadnaughts so formidable; it is their sheer size.
The military version of the People’s Daily, the press organ of the Chinese Communist Party, boasted that these powerful new ships could ram and possibly sink a 9,000-ton vessel without damaging itself. That makes them a potential threat to regular naval vessels of the U.S. and Japanese navies.
Ramming has been a tactic in territorial disputes in both the East and South China Seas, harkening back to the days of the Romans and Carthaginians. A large Chinese fishing vessel rammed a Japanese Coast Guard cutter near the Senkakus in 2011. Earlier this year another Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed one of its own fishing trawlers that had been taken into custody by Indonesian authorities for allegedly illegally fishing in Jakarta’s 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone.
Retired USN Captain James Fanell, formerly chief of intelligence for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, calls the Chinese Coast Guard, “A fulltime marine harassment organization. Unlike the U.S, Coast Guard, the Chinese service has no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China’s extravagant claims,” he says.
Fanell notes that China is building new Coast Guard vessels, like the two super cutters, at “an astonishing rate.”
The regular navies of Japan and China generally stay in the background, but Tokyo is also suspicious about the recent activities of the regular Chinese Navy in waters near the disputed islands. A contingent of Chinese frigates now hovers about 70 km away from the Senkaku, close enough to come to the aid of any of its coast guard vessels that gets in trouble.
For its part, the Japanese government recently made public what the cabinet had decided earlier in the year, that Japanese naval vessels might intervene should the Coast Guard be unable to do its normal “policing” duties. “If it becomes difficult for the police and the Japan Coast Guard, then the Maritime Self Defense Force (navy) could respond,” said defense minister Gen Nakatani. That could happen if Chinese navy ships actually entered Senkaku waters.
The use of “white hulls,” mostly unarmed or lightly armed Coast Guard cutters, rather than “gray hulls,” has been a stabilizing element in the numerous territorial encounters of the past few years. But the recent remarks suggest that Tokyo expects to see more gray hulls than white hulls in the coming year.
On Tuesday, the Navy announced that the USS Coronado had completed initial operational tests and evaluations with Raytheon’s SeaRAM anti-ship missile defense system, and in doing so, they answered a big question.
Anti-ship cruise missiles have long been an area of concern for US military planners as China and Russia develop increasingly mature and threatening missiles of that type.
Effectively, both Russia‘s and China‘s anti-ship missiles and air power have the capability to deny US or NATO forces access to strategically important areas, like the South China Sea, the Black Sea, and the Baltics.
And that’s where the SeaRAM anti-ship cruise missile could potentially be a game changer. Building upon the already capable Phalanx close-in weapons system, a computer-controlled 20 mm gun system that automatically tracks and fires on incoming threats, the SeaRAM system simply replaces the gun with a rolling-airframe-missile launcher.
The autonomous firing controls of the SeaRAM system, as well as it’s use of the existing Phalanx infrastructure, means that the system will have relatively low manning costs, and that its procurement was affordable.
The tests showed that the SeaRAM system performed in hostile, complicated conditions. Raytheon claims the system shot down two simultaneously inbound supersonic missiles as they flew in “complex, evasive maneuvers.”
Here is the SeaRAM tracking and firing on a target:
“The successful testing on the Independence variant (USS Coronado) demonstrates the self-defense capabilities of the ship and systems and installs confidence in Coronado as the ship prepares for its maiden deployment this summer,” said LCS program manager Capt. Tom Anderson in the statement.
Currently, the Navy plans for the Coronado to take an extended deployment to Singapore.
“USS Coronado is designed to fight and win in contested waters, where high-end anti-ship cruise missiles pose a significant threat to naval forces,” Cmdr. Scott Larson, Coronado’s commanding officer, said in a NAVSEA statement.
“Today’s test validates the Independence variant’s ability to effectively neutralize those threats and demonstrates the impressive capability SeaRAM brings to our arsenal.”