US establishes positions to block ISIS escape - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

U.S. forces are establishing observation posts in Northeast Syria to further deny escape routes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.

The spokesman said the observation posts will be set up to deter ISIS fighters that try to flee the middle Euphrates River valley into Turkey to the north.

Army Col. Sean Ryan, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, updated reporters on ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.


US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks.

(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

“These observation posts will provide additional transparency and will better enable Turkey’s protection from ISIS elements,” Ryan said.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced the observation posts last week in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters.

The move follows close consultation and collaboration with Turkey, both at the military and State Department levels, according to a DOD News report.

U.S. to keep military presence in Syria

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ISIS Operative Arrested

Also in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces arrested a senior ISIS official accused of involvement in the assassination of Sheikh Bashir Faysal al-Huwaidi, an Arab chieftain in Raqqa, Ryan said.

“This targeted operation undermines the enemy’s ability to operate in the shadows, and allows the SDF to ultimately eliminate sleeper cells that continue to threaten civilians and prolong their demise,” the spokesman added.

The U.S.-led coalition and its partners will continue to fight the terrorists and degrade their capabilities, he said.

“It’s important to take the fight to the enemy [and] we must continue to consolidate our considerable gains,” Ryan said.

Near Manbij, the alliance between Turkish and U.S. forces in the Combined Joint Patrols allows forces to continue to deny terrorists access to the area, he added, and noted that over time, it has become a community that is thriving.

“This stability is the direct result of the focus of our NATO ally Turkey and through cooperation with local officials from Manbij,” the spokesman said.

ISIS remnants are fortifying their positions and digging in for a protracted campaign, Ryan said.

“We should remain patient [because] fighting will continue to be intense as we continue to pressure the enemy into smaller and smaller spaces,” he said. “This is the last real physical terrain held by enemy forces, and they will continue to wage a resistance as they steadily lose relevance.”

This Militia is Threatening American Troops in Syria | NYT – Visual Investigations

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Iraq Border Security

Along the Syria-Iraq border, the 8th Iraqi Army Division continues to reinforce border security by engaging and repelling ISIS militants as they try to flee the offensive in the middle Euphrates River valley, Ryan said.

“Iraqi units continue to conduct coordinated strikes even as ISIS elements probe border positions with vehicle-borne [improvised explosive devices], motorcycles, small-arms fire and mortars,” he added.

The Iraqi air force on Nov. 20 launched two airstrikes targeting an ISIS weapons facility and a building that housed 30 ISIS fighters, Ryan said, adding, “This operation also signifies the ability of the Iraqi security forces to protect its border and uproot cells.”

In Mosul, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air support carried out a security operation in Menkar village that resulted in five enemy fighters killed.

“[This] operation demonstrated ISF are strengthening their intelligence gathering to disrupt enemy operations and protect the Iraqi citizens from bombings and kidnappings,” the spokesman said.

Another successful ISF operation resulted in the death of an ISIS senior leader, code-named Katkut, Ryan said, adding that the operative was known to have planned and conducted attacks in Hadr, southwest of Mosul. He was killed in Saladin province after fleeing from the scene of an attack earlier in the week.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDOD)

Articles

Iran threatened the US Navy again

The crew of a U.S. Navy helicopter reported that the crew of an Iranian vessel pointed a machine gun at them earlier this week.


The incident is the latest in a series of threatening actions by the theocratic regime.

According to a report by FoxNews.com, the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter was vectored in on the small boats after they were attempting to shadow the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). While the helicopter was near the boats, crew members pointed an unidentified machine gun at the helo.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape
MH-60R fires a Hellfire missile. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Iran has routinely threatened American ships and aircraft this year. In one incident, the Cyclone-class patrol craft USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots at Iranian Boghammer-type small boats.

American and Iranian forces have clashed before, most notably during Operation Praying Mantis in April, 1988. This past January, Iran seized 10 sailors after an engine failure occurred on a riverine boat. A female sailor was recognized for her courageous actions during the incident, which included the detention of the Navy personnel for roughly 15 hours.

The MH-60R is a multi-mission helicopter that operates off surface combatants and carriers. It has a top speed of 180 nautical miles per hour, a crew of three, and can carry Mk 46, Mk 50 or Mk 54 anti-submarine torpedoes or AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. The helicopter can remain aloft for three hours.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape
Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. | Wikimedia photo by Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi

Iran has a large force of around 180 small patrol boats. Often armed with heavy machine guns and small arms, these vessels were used during the Iran-Iraq War to attack supertankers. The most notorious of these patrol boats was the Boghammer, a Swedish design that can carry .50-caliber machine guns, a ZU-23 twin 23mm AA gun, or a 12-round rocket launcher.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Marine is conquering adversity and extreme sports

In August 2008, 17-year old Kirstie Ennis enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in Pensacola, Florida. After training, she served as a door gunner and airframes mechanic on the CH-53 helicopter.

As a Marine Corps “brat,” choosing to enlist was not a question for her; she had been committed to serving and protecting her country since childhood. However, her plan to serve for 20 years was cut down to six after suffering traumatic injuries during her second deployment to Afghanistan.

On June 23, 2012, while performing combat resupplies to Forward Operating Base Now Zad, the helicopter Kirstie served on as an aerial gunner made a crash landing in the Helmand Province. She sustained a traumatic brain injury, full thickness facial trauma, bilateral shoulder damage, cervical and lumbar spine injuries, and severe left leg wounds. After approximately 40 surgeries over the course of three years, Kirstie’s left leg was amputated below the knee. One month later, she underwent an amputation above the knee. Even though she was forced into medical retirement from the Marine Corps in 2014, she still found a way to serve to prove to herself and the world that circumstances do not control us.


Although Kirstie does not have a background in sports, her competitive spirit led her to consider extreme sports as a way to raise money for others going through difficult situations like hers, and to inspire the world.

Even while lying in a hospital bed post-operation, snowboarding was one of the first sports Kirstie considered. She competed for three years, winning a USA Snowboard and Freeski Association national title.

In the future, Kirstie hopes to compete in the X Games, and — via her partnership with Burton Snowboards — create a program to take adaptive athletes on skiing and snowboarding trips.

When she’s not snowboarding, Kirstie also enjoys mountaineering, and is determined to climb the highest peak on each continent, a feat known as the “Seven Summits.”

In 2017, she climbed the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, and also Mount Kilimanjaro. There, she left behind the dog tags of her friend Lance Cpl. Matthew Rodriguez, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013. This endeavor also made her the first female above-the-knee amputee to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Since then she has taken on several other challenging preparation hikes to train for the Seven Summits.

Kirstie Ennis Goes From Survivor To Competitive Athlete In The 2017 Body Issue | ESPN

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As if that wasn’t enough, Kirstie started a non-profit organization to raise money for organizations that strive to improve lives through education. She also sits on multiple charity boards. She even learned how to create her own prosthetics for climbing, and then used these skills to create a climbing foot for another retired Army veteran who will use it to climb Mount Rainier.

From physical battles in combat to personal battles after her accident, Kirstie serves as a constant reminder to never hold back, to always live life to the fullest.

Thank you for your service, Sgt. Kirstie Ennis.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Hundreds of trapped ISIS fighters are trying to escape Syria

Hundreds of defectors from Islamic State have massed in Syria’s Idlib province, with many planning to cross the nearby Turkish border and find ways back to the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.


Several dozen former fighters have already made it across the heavily patrolled frontier to towns and cities in Turkey’s south in recent weeks, the Guardian has confirmed. Four Saudi Arabian extremists arrived in a southern Turkish community in early September after paying smugglers $2,000 each for the perilous journey past border guards who have shot dead scores of infiltrators this year alone.

The exodus of fighters from areas controlled by ISIS to other parts of Syria and Iraq has continued throughout the past year, as the terror group has lost much of its former heartland to a concerted assault by Iraqi troops, forces allied to the Syrian regime and a US-led air coalition in both countries.

However, large numbers of militants and their families are now trying to leave the war-battered states altogether – posing significant challenges to a global intelligence community that, for the most part, views them as a hostile and unmanageable threat, and sees limited scope for their reintegration.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape
Image from VOA.

A Saudi national who fled Syria in late August told the Guardian that as many as 300 former ISIS members, many of them Saudis, had established a community north of Idlib city, which is now dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

“Most want to leave, like me,” said the 26-year-old, who called himself Abu Saad. “A lot of them realise that the group they were with tricked them. Others don’t trust Nusra. There are not many who believe that the people that they were with were on the right path.”

Abu Saad said the Saudi nationals, as well some Europeans, Moroccans, and Egyptians, had gathered together as a buffer against al-Nusra, which has exerted its influence across Idlib and the surrounding countryside by toppling its rivals. ISIS has not had an organised presence in the area since early 2014 when it was ousted by a rebel assault that saw its members flee east to the town of al-Bab in the Aleppo hinterland and further into Minbij, Tabqa, Raqqa, and Deir Azzour.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape
ISIS patrol the streets of Raqqa, Syria. Image from Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Former members of the group, however, have steadily been returning to Idlib and seeking refuge since late 2015. “That was when I left,” said Abu Saad, speaking days after he arrived in southern Turkey. “Others joined me later, and more are coming now.”

The full scale of the extremist exodus from ISIS-held parts of Iraq and Syria remains unclear, with most of the land it conquered having been recaptured, leaving a divided and demoralized rump with next to nowhere to hide. One of ISIS’s two main centers of power – Mosul in Iraq – fell in February, and the other – Raqqa in Syria – is slipping further into the hands of US-backed Kurdish forces who had already hounded the group from most of Syria’s northeast.

Tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are believed to have been killed in the battle to retain territory it seized from mid-2014, and thousands more homegrown extremists are believed to have returned to their communities.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape
An ISOF APC among the rubble in Mosul, Iraq. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

But the numbers of foreign fighters who have survived and are looking to return to their homes have been more difficult to gauge. So too have the true intentions of men who had allied themselves to the world’s most feared terror group during its ascendancy, but claim no further part of it as its reach and influence dwindles.

French officials have said privately that they would rather that nationals who traveled to join ISIS died on battlefields and have no plans to support those who now want to return. Other European states have expressed similar sentiments.

ISIS defectors had at one point been of high interest to intelligence agencies who had made little ground in penetrating the group as it consolidated a hold on swaths of Syria and Iraq and plotted attacks in Europe and beyond.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

As the group has capitulated, MI6, the CIA, and France’s DGSE have had increasing access to informants whom they have met within Kurdish controlled areas of Syria’s northeast and in northern Iraq. The increased access to informants with real-time information has left those who fled earlier with less leverage over governments who might otherwise have agreed to talk with them.

“It’s a lot better than it used to be,” said one intelligence official. “We have a more complete picture than we did.”

Abu Saad said he would not return to Saudi Arabia if doing so meant a prison sentence. “A rehabilitation program? Maybe,” he said. “I went to Syria some time in 2012. I went to support the Syrian people and in the first few months I was with the Muhajirin.”

“It wasn’t until early the next year that my unit swore allegiance to ISIS. It was a poisoned flower. It wasn’t what I expected.”

As the group’s fate worsened, tensions increased within its ranks, Abu Saad claimed. Summary executions were carried out on increasingly flimsy pretexts, such as insubordination, or making contact with Syrian opposition groups, he said. Over time, arguments about the ideology and theology also intensified.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“They don’t understand the Tawheed (the oneness of God). They are always arguing about it. I saw no justice with them. I saw cruelty. But how could I disagree? It had such a hierarchy. Everyone has a boss who they are afraid of. And above them all was [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.] He was the ultimate authority and no one could argue with him about religious law. If you tried to defy them about anything, you put yourself in danger.”

“My job was to inspect prisons. If there were abuses then I would report on them. One time in Minbij, there was a lady in a cell for 13 days with no toilet and no water for cleaning. She was there because she threatened to kill a man who had killed her husband. There was worse than that though. There were people in prison who had done nothing wrong at all.

“In Idlib, there are around 300 people trying to escape. Many of them are Saudis. Some want to see their families one last time and they say they will accept what’s coming to them. I don’t know any of them who believe in the [Islamic] State. They all ran away for a reason.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why did the US military switch from 7.62 to 5.56 rounds?

In the modern era, the M-16 style rifle chambered in 5.56x45mm has become ubiquitous in imagery of the U.S. military, but that wasn’t always the case. America’s adoption of the 5.56mm round and the service rifle that fires it both came about as recently as the 1960s, as the U.S. and its allies set about looking for a more reliable, accurate, and lighter general issue weapon and cartridge.


Back in the early 1950s, the fledgling North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) set about looking for a single rifle cartridge that could be adopted throughout the alliance, making it easier and cheaper to procure and distribute ammunition force-wide and adding a much needed bit of interoperability to the widely diverse military forces within the group. Despite some concerns about recoil, the 7.62x51mm NATO round was adopted in 1954, thanks largely to America’s belief that it was the best choice available.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

Sometimes it pays to have uniformity.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)

The 7.62x51mm cartridge (which is more similar to the .308 than the 7.62x39mm rounds used in Soviet AKs) actually remains in use today thanks to its stopping power and effective range, but it wasn’t long before even the 7.62’s biggest champions in the U.S. began to recognize its shortcomings. These rounds were powerful and accurate, but they were also heavy, expensive, and created a great deal of recoil as compared to the service rifles and cartridges of the modern era.

As early as 1957, early development began on a new, small caliber, high velocity round and rifle platform. These new cartridges would be based on the much smaller and lighter .22 caliber round, but despite the smaller projectile, U.S. specifications also required that it maintained supersonic speed beyond 500 yards and could penetrate a standard-issue ballistic helmet at that same distance. What the U.S. military asked for wasn’t possible with existing cartridges, so plans for new ammo and a new rifle were quickly drawn up.

In order to make a smaller round offer up the punch the U.S. military needed, Remington converted their .222 round into the .222 Special. This new round was designed specifically to withstand the amount of pressure required to make the new projectile meet the performance standards established by the Pentagon. The longer case of the .222 Special also made it better suited for magazine feeding for semi-automatic weapons. Eventually, the .222 Special was redubbed .223 Remington — a name AR-15 owners may recognize as among the two calibers of rounds your rifle can fire.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

The 7.62×51mm NATO and 5.56×45mm NATO cartridges compared to a AA battery.

WikiMedia Commons

That led to yet another new round, which FN based off of Remington’s .223 caliber design, that was dubbed the 5.56x45mm NATO. This new round exceeded the Defense Department’s requirements for muzzle velocity and range, and fired exceedingly well from Armalite designed rifles. Early tests showed increases in rifleman accuracy as well as decreases in weapon malfunctions when compared to the M1 Garand, with many experts contending at the time that the new rifle was superior to the M14, despite still having a few issues that needed to be worked out.

Armalite (which is where the “A” in AR-15 is derived) had scaled down their 7.62 chambered AR-10 to produce the new AR-15, which was capable of firing the new .223 rounds and later, the 5.56mm rounds. It also met all the other standard requirements for a new service rifle, like the ability to select between semi-automatic and fully-automatic modes of fire and 20 round magazine capacity. The combination of Armalite rifle and 5.56 ammunition was a match made in heaven, and branches started procuring the rifles in the 1960s. The 5.56 NATO round, however, wouldn’t go on to be adopted as the standard for the alliance until 1980.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

Polish Special Forces carrying the Israeli-made IWI Tavor chambered in 5.56 NATO

(WikiMedia Commons)

Ultimately, the decision to shift from 7.62x51mm ammunition to 5.56x45mm came down to simple arithmetic. The smaller rounds weighed less, allowing troops to carry more ammunition into the fight. They also created less recoil, making it easier to level the weapon back onto the target between rounds and making automatic fire easier to manage. Tests showed that troops equipped with smaller 5.56mm rounds could engage targets more efficiently and effectively than those firing larger, heavier bullets.

As they say in Marine Corps rifle teams, the goal is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy — and the 5.56mm NATO round made troops better at doing precisely that.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Green Beret behind the Afghan SOF Strategy, Scott Mann, talks leadership

*My editor sent me this after listening to the episode:
“I wanted to let you know that this was by far one of my favorite episodes to edit. It provided great insight into leadership skills.”*

The Professionals Playbook” t-shirts are now available here.

My guest today is Scott Mann who spent 23 years as an Officer in the United States Army, 18 of those as a Green Beret in Army Special Forces, where he specialized in unconventional missions in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan.


He is the author of two international best-selling books: Game Changers and Straight Talk About Military Transition.

He’s also given 3 TED talks.

In our conversation we talk about how Green Berets build rapport with local tribes, how he almost took his life after leaving the military, and how leaders can connect with their people.

Order of Topics:

  • Using SOF training for COVID-19
  • How Green Berets compare to other SOF units
  • How to go into a village and establish trust
  • Interpersonal techniques
  • Architect of the Afghan SOF program
  • Almost committing suicide
  • How to transition from the military
  • Green Beret principals
  • How to build relationships
  • Leadership training

Sign up for my newsletter for a few useful and insightful things that have helped me over the last month. You can sign up here.

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Instagram– @justinfighterpilot
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This episode was edited by Trevor Cabler

You can review the show by tapping here and scrolling to the bottom where it says: “Write a Review.” Thanks for the support ?

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iranian links: New Taliban splinter group emerges that opposes U.S. Peace Deal

A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close ties to neighboring Iran and opposes efforts aimed at ending the 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan has emerged.

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, or Party of Islamic Guardianship, is believed to have split from the mainstream Taliban soon after the United States and the militant group signed a landmark peace agreement in February.


The formation of the splinter group underlines the possible divisions within the Taliban, which has seen bitter leadership transitions and growing internal dissent in recent years.

It is unclear whether the new splinter group will rally broad support but its emergence could pose a new hurdle for the U.S.-Taliban deal, which has been undermined by violence, disputes, and delays.

Under that agreement, international forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Afghan government.

‘Early Stages Of Forming’

Antonio Giustozzi, a Taliban expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London, said it appears the new splinter group is based in Iran, which shares a 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan and has a sizeable Afghan population.

“It’s still in the early stages of forming,” said Giustozzi, adding that the military strength and the leadership of the faction is unknown.

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that the new splinter group has not been “officially announced.” The official said members of the group included radical Taliban commanders and members of small Taliban offshoots.

A new report by a United Nations monitoring team made public on June 1 said that “at least one group of senior Taliban” had “formed a new group in opposition to any possible peace agreement.”

The breakaway faction was “composed mainly of dissident senior Taliban members residing outside Afghanistan,” said the report, which was based on information provided by Afghan and foreign intelligence and security services, think tanks, experts, and interlocutors.

Iran Building Taliban ‘Combat Capabilities’

The Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami joins a growing list of Taliban factions that support continued fighting against Afghan and international troops.

“There are several Taliban leaders, fronts, and commanders who oppose peace and are linked to Iran,” said Giustozzi.

Among them, he added, is Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban and the head of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction that is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

That is despite Haqqani’s op-ed in February in The New York Times, in which he voiced support for the peace deal with the United States.

Haqqani, who is the Taliban’s operational chief, has a million U.S. bounty on his head. He is the son of the late radical Islamist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Al-Qaeda-linked network blamed for some of Afghanistan’s deadliest suicide attacks.

The Haqqani network has strong ties to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But Giustozzi said the network is “getting closer” to Iran as Islamabad and Riyadh cut funding to it.

Other Iran-linked Taliban leaders who oppose peace efforts include Mullah Qayum Zakir, a powerful battlefield commander and the former military chief of the Taliban until 2014. A former inmate in the infamous U.S. prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Mullah Zakir has the backing of hard-line field commanders.

Mullah Zakir leads a conservative Taliban faction along with Ibrahim Sadr, the Taliban’s former military commission chief. In October 2018, Sadr was among eight Taliban members designated global terrorists by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with monetary support and individualized training in order to prevent a possible tracing back to Iran,” the Treasury Department said, adding that “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities.”

An Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new splinter group included the followers of Sadr.

The officials said the new group also includes members of the Feday-e Mahaz (Suicide Brigade) a small, hard-core offshoot of the mainstream Taliban.

The group is believed to be led by Haji Najibullah, a loyalist to radical Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a U.S.-led attack in Helmand Province in 2007.

The group, vehemently against reconciliation with Kabul, has claimed several high-profile assassinations over the years.

‘Material Support’

Iran backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan. Tehran also provided help to U.S. forces as they toppled the Taliban regime. But in recent years the Islamic republic and the Taliban have forged closer ties, with militant leaders even visiting Tehran.

Tehran has confirmed it has contacts with the Taliban but insists that it is aimed at ensuring the safety of Iranian citizens in Afghanistan and encouraging the Taliban to join peace talks.

But U.S. officials have accused Tehran of providing material support to the Taliban, an allegation it denies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January accused Tehran of “actively working” to undermine the peace process in Afghanistan, adding that Iran was supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

In a report released in November, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said Iran provides financial, political, training, and material support to the Taliban.

“Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government,” the report said, adding that Iran’s support enabled it to advance its interests in Afghanistan and attain “strategic depth” in the country.

Taliban Divided Over Peace

The emergence of the Taliban splinter group has exposed serious divisions within the militant group.

The Taliban is believed to be divided over a peace settlement.

Its political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to a peace deal but hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan demand the restoration of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001.

Internal Taliban divisions have intensified after the death of founder and spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death was revealed in 2015, more than two years after he had died in Pakistan.

Some Taliban commanders accused his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, of covering up Mullah Omar’s death and assuming leadership of the extremist group without proper approval.

Mullah Mansur struggled to quell the internal dissent and reconcile feuding factions, with some commanders splitting from the group and challenging his leadership.

Mullah Mansur was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in May 2016.

The succession of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a low-key Islamic scholar who was Mullah Mansur’s deputy, was also opposed.

But experts said the Taliban has overcome the succession crises, has fended off competition from the global appeal of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and has remained a relatively coherent fighting force despite a deadly war against foreign and Afghan forces.

Borhan Osman, an independent analyst and a leading expert on Islamic extremism and the militant networks operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, said divisions within the Taliban are not yet visible.

“So far the Taliban has been successful in spinning the agreement with the United States as an outright victory,” he said.

Osman said the Taliban’s unity will be tested during intra-Afghan talks, when Afghan and Taliban negotiators will discuss a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing deal.

The negotiations were scheduled to start in March but were delayed by disputes over the release of Taliban prisoners by the government and escalating militant attacks.

“The Taliban will be forced to come up with specific positions on issues and present their vision for a future Afghanistan,” said Osman.

The Taliban has been ambiguous on key issues, including women’s rights, the future distribution of power, and changes to the Afghan Constitution, reflecting the divisions within the group.

Many expect intra-Afghan negotiations to be complex and protracted, considering the gulf between the sides on policy and the sharing of power between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Taliban Offshoots

Internal rifts and rivalries have led to the emergence of various Taliban offshoots over the years, although many lack the military strength and support to pose a threat to the mainstream group.

The High Council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — led by Mullah Mohammad Rasul — has been engaged in deadly clashes with fighters from the mainstream Taliban in southern and western Afghanistan since 2015, leaving scores dead on both sides.

The clashes have left the offshoot severely weakened, experts said, with many considering the group to be militarily irrelevant.

Mullah Rasul is believed to receive arms and support from Afghan intelligence in an attempt to divide the militant group.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Navy expects there will probably be ‘hundreds’ of coronavirus cases aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt

The acting secretary of the Navy said Thursday that he suspects the number of coronavirus cases aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt will eventually be “in the hundreds.”

The first coronavirus cases aboard the flattop were reported Tuesday of last week. At that time, there were only three cases. The number had climbed to 114 by Thursday.


US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

“I can tell you with great certainty there’s going to be more. It will probably be in the hundreds,” Thomas Modly, the acting Navy secretary, told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday afternoon.

He said that none of the 114 that have tested positive had been hospitalized. “The ones that are sick are exhibiting mild or moderate flu symptoms. Some are exhibiting no symptoms. And, some have already recovered,” he said.

The ship is currently in Guam, where the Navy is in the process of removing thousands of sailors from the ship and testing the entire crew.

On Wednesday, Modly told reporters 1,273 sailors, roughly one-fourth of the crew, had been tested. At least 93 tests had come back positive.

The Navy is moving at least 2,700 sailors off the ship, and those who test negative will be put up in vacant hotels on Guam, where they will be quarantined for two weeks.

Before the outbreak, the massive flattop had been sailing the Pacific. In early March, the ship made a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Modly’s prediction that the number of coronavirus cases aboard the carrier could eventually be in the hundreds came as he announced that he had relieved the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s commanding officer of duty due to a loss of trust and confidence.

Capt. Brett Crozier, the ship’s CO, wrote a letter warning that “the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.” He called for the removal of the majority of the crew from the ship as soon as possible. “Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote.

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

The letter leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and then quickly made headlines everywhere.

The acting Navy secretary accused the CO of mishandling information by distributing the letter outside the chain of command in a way that made it susceptible to being leaked. He said that Crozier exercised “poor judgment” and that his letter caused unnecessary panic among sailors and military families.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Capt. Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest and well-being of his crew,” Modly said. “Unfortunately, it did the opposite.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the Army Futures Command is a great step forward for science

A new innovation for the United States Military means an innovation for the entire world. Something as simple as the creation of the GPS, which started as a DoD project in the 70s, quickly became one of the most useful quality-of-life tools used in today’s society — and this isn’t the first (or last) time military tech landed in the hands of civilians.

A large portion of the government’s tech eventually trickles down to the people. Recently, the Army established an entire command unit dedicated to research and development, called the Army Futures Command (AFC). Everything about this newly-formed group of soldier-scientists seems like it can only mean great things for moving science — and society at large — forward.


US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

And that’s not hyperbolic to say. It’s actually vastly underselling the mind-boggling capabilities of quantum computing.

(U.S. Army photo by Jhi Scott)

Of course, they’ll be developing new weapon systems (technology that will likely not trickle down) that will give America the fighting edge it needs on the battlefield, but it goes much further than that. The AFC will be working on projects that range from computer technologies to advanced medicine and beyond — anything that will aid future soldiers.

While integrating lasers into anti-missile defenses to detonate incoming projectiles from hundreds of miles away is going to be a game-changer for warfare, they’re also taking a serious crack at the Holy Grail of computer engineering: quantum computing. To put it at simply as possible, quantum computing is having a computer use atomic particles to compute instead of 1s and 0s and, theoretically, this technology will instantly increase the potential for computing power a thousandfold. If the ACR can figure it out, the U.S. government and, subsequently, the American civilian tech industry, will make unbelievable leaps forward.

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“You say you can put a laser on an Apache? Shut up and take my money.”

(Department of Defense)

The primary focus of the AFC is and will always be increasing a soldier’s combat readiness. Based in Austin, Texas, it will employ both civilian and soldier innovators. The AFC and its Army Application Laboratory (AAL) are designed to be a place where inventors can create what hasn’t already been recognized as an official priority.

And even when an invention doesn’t revolutionize technology, the road that led them there is valuable. Adam Jay Harrison, the USAFC Innovation Officer, said at a conference for potential innovators that “at the end of the day, 90 percent of what we do ain’t going to work, but 100 percent of what we do should be informing somebody’s decision.

This kind of open environment and ease of access to funding gives the inventive minds of the U.S. a chance to create anything they can imagine — as long as it helps Uncle Sam. That level of trust in its scientists is unheard of in the academic world and it’ll be the cornerstone of the Army Futures Command.

The AFC is on track to be fully operational by September 2019. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what kind of insane designs will come out of it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

New study shows energy drinks can actually hurt returning troops

Rip-Its are a comforting old friend to American Post-9/11 veterans. Most American probably don’t even know they exist, unless you happen to be a regular at your local Dollar General store. In war zones, Rip-Its are widely available for sale and, in some cases, are free. Move over, coffee, this is the unofficial beverage of the Global War on Terror.

The problem with this is overindulgence may actually be hurting troops as they transition back home.


Rip-It, the military’s favorite brand of energy drink (when deployed), is sold to the military by National Beverage Corp., the same team of drink magicians who brought us Faygo and La Croix. It’s sold in much smaller cans than the ones available in the U.S., but anyone naive enough to believe that keeps U.S. troops from drinking too much is sadly mistaken.

While American troops are big fans of Rip-Its and other energy drinks, a recent study published in the Military Medicine journal found an association between continued, excessive consumption of energy drinks and mental health issues in returning troops.

No one gets enough sleep in a war zone as it is. And when soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are awake, they need to stay vigilant about their work, any external threats, and, in some places, internal threats as well. This is one reason coffee has been a mainstay of the U.S. military for so long.

The rise in popularity of energy drinks like Rip-It happened to coincide with a huge number of young people, the primary consumers of energy drinks, heading off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The love affair’s timing is a perfect storm. It became a little slice of home and comfort while pulling double duty keeping people awake when they needed to be.

Even people who never drank an energy drink before were likely to try at least one while deployed.

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Eventually, these same troops returned home from their combat deployments. The study found 75 percent of soldiers were still drinking them after coming home. Of those,16 percent were drinking two or more per day, an amount the study defined as “excessive.”

Those found to be drinking more were more likely to exhibit signs of mental distress or other mental issues, especially aggressive behaviors, sleeplessness, alcohol misuse, and excessive fatigue after being home for seven months after their combat deployment. Not only that, those drinking to excess “are associated with being less responsive to evidence-based treatments for PTSD,” the authors of the study wrote.

Troops who consumed fewer than two drinks reported a lower rate of these symptoms.

The study didn’t address Rip-It specifically, though it did ask what size study participants were prone to using. The use of drinks by this Army sample was five times higher than in a previous study of airmen and civilians in the general population.

Military leaders aren’t likely to call for an end to the widespread use of energy drinks, but many have already called on their troops to cut down on consumption.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why marijuana’s potential benefits for vets outweigh the risks

“Marijuana is that drug — a violent narcotic — an unspeakable scourge — The Real Public Enemy Number One! Its first effect is sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter, then come dangerous hallucinations — space expands — time slows down, almost stands still. …” — Reefer Madness, 1936


OK, so that propaganda film was 80-plus years ago. It turns out, marijuana is not a “scourge.” In fact, it might be a key to helping our veterans’ service-related ailments.

So why is the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Justice still treating cannabis like it’s dangerous reefer? Even the American Legion is pushing for further study into the benefits of marijuana, touting it as a safer alternative to opioid therapy, often used to treat chronic pain.

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We don’t know if these guys were smoking pot, but maybe they should have been. Maybe they should have been…

A recent study, released by the American Legion, found that more than 90 percent of veterans support expanding research into medical marijuana. In addition, more than 80 percent back allowing federal doctors to prescribe it to veterans.

Those findings are eye-opening for sure, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin should see them as marching orders.

Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee have already petitioned Shulkin to use his department’s Office of Research and Development to explore cannabis medication. Thus far, these requests have gone nowhere. However, the American Legion’s study shows that this is not a partisan issue.

Read More: This is what the new VA chief thinks about using medical marijuana to treat PTSD

American Legion leaders stress this is not a call to legalize recreational use of marijuana. But we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members who risked life and limb for our country. Today, they suffer with deteriorating bodies, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress.

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Look at that smile! (Photo Credit: Zac Mercoli)

We as a country must do everything in our power to find the safest and most effective treatments for them.

If that means studying cannabis, what is the downside? Uncontrollable laughter? That sounds pretty good.

MIGHTY TRENDING

For first time in decades, women allowed to attend World Cup qualifier in Tehran

Thousands of Iranian female fans have attended their national team’s soccer World Cup qualifier against Cambodia at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

The Oct. 10, 2019 match was the first time since shortly after Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 that women were allowed to watch a men’s game without needing special, rare invitations or being forced to sneak in disguised as men.

Some 3,500 tickets have been sold to female fans for the match, which Iran won 14-0. Those lucky ones were segregated from men and watched over by female police officers.


Human rights watchdog Amnesty International called that a “token number” and a “publicity stunt,” given that the stadium has a capacity of nearly 80,000.

Women have taken to social media to demand more tickets, using the hashtag #WakeUpFifa.

The ban on women attending men’s sporting events came to global prominence after Sahar Khodayari, dubbed “Blue Girl” for the colors of her favorite team, lit herself on fire outside court last month as she awaited trial for trying to attend a match disguised as a man. She died on Sept. 9, 2019.

FIFA, which has pressed Iran to allow women to attend qualifiers ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, has said it will “stand firm” in ensuring women have access to all soccer matches in Iran.

“It’s not just about one match. We’re not going to turn our eyes away from this,” FIFA’s head of education and social responsibility, Joyce Cook, told the BBC on Oct. 9, 2019.

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Sahar Khodayari, “Blue Girl.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Oct. 10, 2019, “a historic day in Iran,” but also urged the authorities to overturn “this discriminatory rule so that Iranian women can exercise their basic right to attend a football match just like men.”

In a statement, Philip Luther of Amnesty International said that allowing only 3,500 tickets to be sold to women for the World Cup qualifier was “a cynical publicity stunt by the authorities intended to whitewash their image following the global outcry over Sahar Khodayari’s tragic death.”

“Anything short of a full reversal of the ban on women accessing all football stadiums is an insult to Sahar Khodayari’s memory and an affront to the rights of all the women of Iran who have been courageously campaigning for the ban to be lifted,” Luther added.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Jewish assassins targeted former Nazis to avenge the Holocaust

The reprisals against German members of the Nazi party didn’t end after the Nuremberg Trials. It was a well-known fact that many high-ranking members of the party survived World War II, the trials, and the Red Army’s wrath. The Jewish people that were left did their best to seek justice, but none were as dedicated as the Nokmim – “The Avengers.”


Without a doubt, the most famous of the Nazi hunters after World War II was Simon Wiesenthal, who ferreted out some 1,100 Nazi war criminals. Wiesenthal was a survivor at the Mauthausen death camp when it was liberated by American troops in 1945. As soon as his health was restored, he began to work in the War Crimes Section of the United States Army, gathering evidence to convict German war criminals.

The operative words here being evidence, convict, and war criminals.

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You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The Nokmim, as they were called, were not about to let anyone who committed those crimes against their people just walk free for lack of what a court determined was sufficient evidence. Wiesenthal would get the biggest names who escaped justice – those like Adolf Eichmann. The Nokmim would get the SS men, the prison guards, the Gestapo foot soldiers whose names might not be in history books.

As former anti-Nazi partisans who had fought in an underground movement for years before the war’s end, they were no strangers to killing.

“We had seen concentration camps,” Vitka Kovner told the Yad Vashem Magazine of her time fighting Nazis in occupied Lithuania. “And after what we witnessed there, we decided that even though the war was over, we had to take revenge for the spilling of Jewish blood.”

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Vitka Kovner-Kempner (far right) was a resistance fighter in the Vilna ghetto in modern-day Lithuania.
(Jewish Women’s Archive)

With that goal in mind, they acted. Former Nazi SS officers and enlisted men were found hanged by apparent suicides for years after the war’s end. Brakes on cars would suddenly become inoperative, causing deadly accidents. Former Nazis would be found in ditches, victims of apparent hit-and-runs. One was even found in his hospital bed before minor surgery with kerosene in his bloodstream.

One extreme plan even involved killing six million Germans as retribution for the Holocaust using a specially-designed, odorless, colorless poison, but had to settle for poisoning the bread at a prison camp for former SS men using arsenic. That plan may have killed up to 300 of the convicts.

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Some of the leaders of the Nakmim movement would later lead brigades in Israel’s 1948 Independence War.

But the group was comprised of more than just partisans. It may have even included British Army volunteers of Jewish descent who could move freely through the postwar world. No one knows who exactly was part of the group, but it was clear that their reach extended worldwide.

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