Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended several military exercises, but now that restrictive measures have been eased some are going forward, albeit in a scaled-down form.

Two kicked off in early June in Poland and the Baltic Sea, drawing particular interest around the world, and not just because of the logistics of holding them amid an ongoing pandemic. The proximity of the training to Russian territory is seen by many as a possible signal that the U.S. military is shifting its interest in Europe eastward.


What Are The Exercises?

The first exercise involves 4,000 U.S. soldiers and 2,000 Polish troops in northwestern Poland. The bilateral training features a Polish airborne exercise and division-size river crossing from June 5 to June 19.

Dubbed Allied Spirit, the exercise was supposed be linked to a much larger U.S.-led multinational exercise in Europe, including NATO members, called Defender Europe 20, which had to be significantly scaled down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second one, Baltops 20, runs from June 7 to June 16 in the Baltic Sea region. The maritime-focused exercise, which has been held annually since 1972, involves 28 maritime units, 28 aircraft, and up to 3,000 personnel from 19 countries, with Finland and Sweden being the only non-NATO participants.

Both exercises are designed to show international resolve against any potential threat and improve the “interoperability” of national armies’ land, sea, and air assets.

How Has COVID-19 Affected The Exercises?

The pandemic has forced military commanders to modify and reduce the scale of Defender Europe 20. The exercise was originally planned to be the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe in more than 25 years, involving 20,000 soldiers and nine NATO allies practicing military maneuvers in several European countries.

Before the pandemic shut down most of the continent, more than 6,000 U.S. soldiers and 3,000 pieces of equipment had already arrived in Europe. Most of the original plans were scrapped but the U.S.-Polish exercise received a green light in mid-May.

Baltops 20 has also been modified. There will be no land element to complement the air and sea operations to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This means normally standard features of naval exercises such as amphibious landings, exchanging personnel between ships, and merchant vessel boarding will not take place.

Are The Exercises Directed At Russia?

The U.S. military and NATO have been quick to point out that all exercises are “defensive in nature.” Lisa Franchetti, the commander of the Naples-based U.S. 6th Fleet, told journalists that Baltops 20 should not be interpreted as a threat to any specific country and exercises are held in international waters and international airspace. Franchetti encouraged the Russian military to behave professionally.

However, many observers expect the Russian Navy to make close approaches to the exercises and that Russian jets may “buzz” allied planes, meaning that they will fly so close as to create “wake turbulence.”

A NATO official recently told RFE/RL that, in 2019 alone, allied aircraft took to the skies 290 times to escort or shadow Russian military aircraft across Europe. Even though the alliance doesn’t reveal numbers for specific regions, it is believed most of the incidents occurred around the Baltic Sea.

The Allied Shield exercise takes place in Drawsko Pomorskie, some 350 kilometers from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. When Defender Europe 20 was announced, Russia planned its own war games in direct response but called off its exercise as the coronavirus pandemic hit. Moscow has called on NATO to scale down military activity and move them away from Eastern Europe to reduce tensions.

Will The Russian Military Officially Observe The Exercises?

No. U.S. military officials told RFE/RL that they “were not aware of any Russian notification to inspect exercise Allied Spirit in Poland.” The threshold for required observation in accordance with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Vienna document on the transparency of military exercises is 13,000 troops — twice as many as will be present in Poland in June. Naval exercises such as Baltops 20 are not subject to notification and observation requirements enshrined in the Vienna Document.

Why Is The Presence Of U.S. Troops In Poland Politically Significant?

Because of what is happening in Poland’s western neighbor, Germany. U.S. President Donald Trump has authorized a plan to reduce the U.S. permanent troop presence in Germany by 9,500 from the 34,500 service members who are currently there. The move will also cap the number of American soldiers in Germany at 25,000. More than 1,000 of the troops leaving Germany may be redeployed to Poland, adding to the 4,500 already there on a rotational basis.

Poland, whose government enjoys close ties with the Trump administration, is pushing for an even bigger American presence on its soil and hopes to capitalize on its special relationship with the United States in the future. The very fact that a joint exercise has been resuscitated despite the pandemic can be seen in this light.

It can also be viewed against the backdrop of tensions between Washington and Berlin over everything from Germany wanting to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea, Germany failing to meet its NATO military-spending target, trade tensions, and a host of other disputes including the Iran nuclear deal and climate change.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This veteran found his lifeline at the end of a leash

After battling night terrors and the pain and anxiety of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades, an Air Force veteran found his lifeline at the end of a dog leash.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager in the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, vividly remembers a few years ago when he would regularly find himself in the depths of fear and despair; reliving troubling images from deployments as a security forces military working dog handler and later as a logistics specialist.

Kaono’s wife, Alessa, said she felt helpless, with no idea how to help him.

“You see a look in their eyes that they’re suffering but you don’t know what you can do to help them. It’s a terrible feeling watching someone suffer through PTSD,” she said.

Those memories seemed so hopeless at times that Kaono attempted to end his life.

After taking numerous prescription drugs in 2010 in a bid to permanently end his pain, Kaono finally reached out for help and started receiving the support and understanding he needed.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager with the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, takes his service dog Romeo for a walk around the building.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)

“I had previously attempted (suicide) but this time I actually sought treatment,” Kaono said.

After being hospitalized for his suicide attempt, the veteran began a treatment program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Los Angeles.

“When I was first diagnosed, group therapy didn’t work for me,” the Hawaii-native said, “so I actually left the group and started volunteering at a (German Shepherd) rescue in California.”

Dogs had always played a part in Kaono’s life from when, as a toddler, his family’s old English sheepdog, Winston, picked him up by the diaper to deliver a wandering Ryan back to his front yard.

“I realized (while volunteering at the rescue) that the interaction with the dogs really made me feel better,” he said.

Not content to just help himself, Kaono worked with the VA hospital to help other veterans interact with the rescue dogs and promoted animal therapy.


“The VA does equestrian therapy where they’ll take veterans to horse ranches and they get to ride horses … same premise, animal therapy works wonders,” he said.

It wasn’t long before Kaono, with a wealth of dog training knowledge from his time as a MWD handler, had veterans asking for help to train dogs so they could have their own service animals.

This support was especially important to Kaono since the average wait time for a VA-trained service dog can exceed two to five years.

“By then, we’ve already lost between 9,000 – 20,000 people due to suicide in a five-year period,” he said.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager with the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, shares a laugh with a videographer during an interview while his service dog Romeo keeps a steady eye on the photographer.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)

That’s based on a 2013 Department of Veterans Affairs study that showed roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide every day from 1999-2010.

“That’s just way too many,” he said.

During this time, while helping to train dogs for other veterans, Kaono decided to add his name to the list for a VA-issued service dog.

After a two-year wait, he was notified they were ready to pair him with a dog. During the interview process, however, he was denied an animal because he already had a couple of dogs as pets and service dogs can’t be added to a home unless it is pet free.

“I was disheartened,” he said, but he continued to help train animals for other veterans.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is no mandated certification for a service dog and it allows people to train their own animals. So three years ago, when Kaono moved to San Antonio, his wife encouraged him to work on training his own service dog.

“I thought I’d just take one of the dogs we had at our house and train it to be a service dog,” Kaono said, until Alessa pointed out a Chihuahua probably wasn’t the best choice for his particular needs.

He then decided to work with San Antonio’s Quillan Animal Rescue to find a potential service dog. The rescue suggested a Doberman at first but Kaono wasn’t interested in such a large animal. One of the workers then recommended a mixed breed animal named Romeo that was in need of rehabilitation after being hit by a car. The only drawback was Romeo had already been promised to another family in California after his recovery.

“I said yes because that would give me the opportunity to work with a dog again,” Kaono said.

That was February 2016 and by May, he and Romeo were inseparable, Kaono said.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager with the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, takes his service dog Romeo for a walk around his work center.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)

By June, Romeo had recovered and he was sent to California. Kaono said he was heartbroken.

“I secluded myself. I didn’t want to go to work. I took sick leave … I just didn’t want to be around anybody and make connections with people like I did with him and have them shattered,” he said.

“Romeo was kind of a fluke,” he added, because the California family decided they couldn’t keep him so Romeo returned to San Antonio.

When Romeo arrived back in Texas, Kaono had a trainer from Service Dog Express assess him. The local organization works with veterans to train service animals. Romeo passed the evaluation and was accepted as a service dog in training.

Kaono and the trainer then used techniques from Assistance Dogs International, considered the industry standard for dog training, to ready Romeo. Two months later, Romeo took the organization’s public access test, the minimum requirement for service dog training, and “blew the test away,” Kaono said.

He’s been going to work with the AFIMSC employee every day since passing his assessment on Aug. 1, 2016.

For Kaono, Romeo is much more than a four-legged companion. He’s a lifesaver who is trained in various disability mitigating tasks to help the veteran cope with PTSD.

These include deep pressure therapy where Romeo climbs into Kaono’s lap when he can sense anxiousness, agitation or frustration. He then applies direct pressure to the veteran’s body, considered a grounding technique, to bring focus to him instead of what’s causing the anxiety or agitation.

“Before him, I would have to sit there through it until it essentially went away,” Kaono said. “Now within two minutes I’m back to normal. I’m back to being productive again.”

Romeo also applies blocking techniques when the duo are in a group or crowded space to create a buffer between Kaono and those around him.

“People are cognizant of him being there so they give me the space to actually feel comfortable,” Kaono said.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

The service dog also fosters personal interaction, Kaono added.

“I don’t make solid relationships with people,” he explained. “I would prefer to be and work alone. Having Romeo actually forces me to interact with people on a regular basis. He causes people to talk about things that aren’t necessarily work related. He’s a calming factor, not just for me.”

Romeo has completely changed Kaono’s life to allow him to better “live” with PTSD, Alessa said.

“I’m sure many people say this about their dog or service dog but Romeo’s truly a godsend,” she said. “He has changed and impacted our lives in so many ways.

“He’s gotten Ryan out more when it comes to crowds,” Alessa said, and Romeo is Kaono’s “sidekick and stress reliever at work.”

When the duo get home, Alessa added, Romeo “is just like any other dog … he loves to play and loves treats, especially ice cream.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

Articles

Air Force fighters & drones will fire laser weapons by the 2020s

The Air Force is increasing computer simulations and virtual testing for its laser-weapons program to accelerate development and prepare plans to arm fighter jets and other platforms by the early 2020s.


To help model the effects of such technologies, the service has awarded Stellar Science a five-year, $7 million contract for advanced laser modeling and simulation.

Also read: How to bring down a Star Wars AT-AT with an A-10

The Albuquerque-based company is expected to continue the work started in 2014, when the Air Force tapped the group to develop computer simulations and virtual testing of directed energy weapons.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Image via General Atomics

Aircraft-launched laser weapons could eventually be engineered for a wide range of potential uses, including air-to-air combat, close air support, counter-UAS(drone), counter-boat, ground attack and even missile defense, officials said.

Lasers use intense heat and light energy to incinerate targets without causing a large explosion,  and they operate at very high speeds, giving them a near instantaneous ability to destroy fast-moving targets and defend against incoming enemy attacks, senior Air Force leaders explained.

Low cost is another key advantage of laser weapons, as they can prevent the need for high-cost missiles in many combat scenarios.

Air Force Research Laboratory officials have said they plan to have a program of record for air-fired laser weapons in place by 2023.

Ground testing of a laser weapon called the High Energy Laser, or HEL, took place last year at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The High Energy Laser test is being conducted by the Air Force Directed Energy Directorate, Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.

The first airborne tests are slated to take place by 2021, service officials said.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Artist’s rendering from Air Force Research Lab

The developmental efforts are focused on increasing the power, precision and guidance of existing laser weapon applications with the hope of moving from 10-kilowatts up to 100 kilowatts, Air Force officials said.

Service scientists, such as Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias, have told Scout Warrior that much of the needed development involves engineering the size weight and power trades on an aircraft needed to accommodate an on-board laser weapon. Developing a mobile power source small enough to integrate into a fast-moving fighter jet remains a challenge for laser technology.

Air Force leaders have said that the service plans to begin firing laser weapons from larger platforms such as C-17s and C-130s until the technological miniaturization efforts can configure the weapon to fire from fighter jets such as an F-15, F-16 or F-35.

Air Combat Command has commissioned the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator Advanced Technology Demonstration which will be focused on developing and integrating a more compact, medium-power laser weapon system onto a fighter-compatible pod for self-defense against ground-to-air and air-to-air weapons, a service statement said.

Air Force Special Operations Command has commissioned both the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren to examine placing a laser on an AC-130U gunship to provide an offensive capability.

Another advantage of lasers is an ability to use a much more extended magazine for weapons. Instead of flying with six or seven missiles on or in an aircraft, a directed energy weapon system could fire thousands of shots using a single gallon of jet fuel, Air Force experts said.

According to Stellar Science, “The goal of this research project was to compute the three-dimensional (3D) shape and orientation of a satellite from two-dimensional (2D) images of it.”

Stellar Science possesses expertise in scientific, computer-aided modeling and 3D-shape reconstruction, as well as radio-frequency manipulation and laser physics.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
The US Navy’s prototype ship-mounted laser weapon. | US Navy photo

Officials throughout the Department of Defense are optimistic about beam weapons and, more generally, directed-energy technologies.

Laser weapons could be used for ballistic missile defense as well. Vice Adm. James Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, said during the 2017 fiscal year budget discussion that “Laser technology maturation is critical for us.”

And the U.S. Navy recently announced that their destroyers and cruisers will possess these systems to help ships fend off drones and missiles.

WATCH: AC-130 gunships could be outfitted with lasers

MIGHTY TRENDING

For first time in 70 years, Saudi Arabia may grant Israel access to airspace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on March 5, 2018, that Saudi Arabia has given permission to an airline flying through to Tel Aviv to use its airspace.


“Air India signed an agreement today to fly to Israel over Saudi Arabia,” he said during a briefing in Washington, DC on March 5, 2018, according to Times of Israel.

Currently, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and has banned any flights to the country from using its airspace for more than 70 years. If Netanyahu’s claims are correct, it would mark the first time Saudi Arabia has allowed commercial flights to Israel to use its airspace and would signal a significant shift in strategic policy in the region.

Also read: The Saudis are about the change the game in the Middle East

But an Air India spokesman denied the Prime Minister’s comments several hours later, stressing they had not received any confirmation and had only submitted a request for a flight along that route.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

“We have yet to receive anything from authorities,” Air India spokesman Praveen Bhatnagar told The Times of Israel.

Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority did not respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.

In Feb. 2018, Air India confirmed it had begun plans for three faster weekly flights between Israel and India, although Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority was quick to deny reports that its airspace would be used.

Related: The insane Israeli special op that gave the US terror intel

At the time, Israel’s Airports Authority told Reuters the service was set to begin in early March 2018.

Currently, Israel’s national airline El Al is the only airline offering direct flights from Israel to India. The route avoids flying into neighboring Saudi Arabia’s airspace by diverting to the Red Sea and around the Arabian peninsula, adding two hours to the overall trip.

If Saudi Arabia were to ease its airspace regulations it could be seen as concrete evidence of warming relations with Israel and a broader re-configuring of regional alliances.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s the Air Force’s response to the viral event to ‘storm’ Area 51

To those who are about to run straight into Area 51 in Nevada September 2019, the US Air Force would like you to think again.

In the “X-Files” event of the century, over 1 million people have responded to a Facebook event titled, “ Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.”

What do they have in mind once they get into the highly confidential area? “Lets see them aliens,” the event description says.

But in a statement provided to the Washington Post, Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews said the Air Force was aware of the event and warned against it.


“[Area 51] is an open training range for the U.S. Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces,” she said. “The U.S. Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”

For what it’s worth, the event remains scheduled for Sep. 20, 2019 — and it appears they know what they’re in for.

“We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry,” the event’s description says.”If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets.”

A “Naruto run” refers to the popular anime, in which a person runs very fast with their torso forward, and arms back. Faster than their bullets, if you will.

September’s event does even seem to be a bit tongue in cheek. Now megaviral, it was organized by the group Shitposting cause im in shambles and a popular game streamer SmyleeKun.

The event even spawned its own meme cycle and, reader, it’s good.

Also read:

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. strikes Taliban after Afghan security personnel killed in attacks

The United States has conducted a “defensive” air strike against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province after a checkpoint manned by Afghan forces was attacked.


“The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack,” U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Sonny Leggett said in a tweet.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

The strike came just hours after Taliban militants killed at least 20 Afghan security officers in a string of attacks and on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “very good” chat with the Taliban’s political chief.

The wave of violence is threatening to unravel a February 29 agreement signed in Doha between the United States and the Taliban that would allow allied forces to leave Afghanistan within 14 months in return for various security commitments from the extremist group and a pledge to hold talks with the Afghan government — which the Taliban has so far refused to do.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has warned he was not committed to a key clause in the deal involving the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban said it would not take part in intra-Afghan talks until that provision was met.

And on March 2, the militant group ordered its fighters to resume operations against Afghan forces, saying that a weeklong partial truce between the Taliban, U.S., and Afghan forces that preceded the Doha agreement was “over.”

“Taliban fighters attacked at least three army outposts in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz last night, killing at least 10 soldiers and four police,” said Safiullah Amiri, a member of the provincial council.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

upload.wikimedia.org

Another attack killed six soldiers in the same northern region, Amiri added.

Washington has said it would defend Afghan forces if they came under Taliban attack.

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

Articles

The Army proved semi-auto sniper rifles could kick ass in Vietnam

With the Army’s decision to adopt the Heckler and Kock G28 as the Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System to be the replacement for the M110, it seems as if semi-automatic sniper rifles are a new thing.


Nope. In fact, during the Vietnam War, the Army was proving a semi-auto could be a very lethal sniper rifle. They took a number of M14 rifles — which were being phased out in favor of the M16 rifle — and added a scope.

I hope you like gun-speak — there are some sweet (technical) nothings coming your way…

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
The M21 Sniper Weapon System. (US Army graphic)

The M14 had a lot going for it. It fired the 7.62x51mm NATO round — the same one as the M60 machine gun and the M40 sniper rifle the Marines used. But there were two huge differences between them that made the M21 a much more lethal rifle.

The M40 is a bolt-action rifle that carries five rounds in an internal magazine. The M14/M21 rifle is a semi-auto that has a 20-round detachable box magazine. The baseline M14 was deadly enough — Chuck Mawhinney is said to have used an M14 rifle to take out 16 of the enemy in one incident during the Vietnam War.

Once a Redfield scope (the three-to-nine power Adjustable Ranging Telescope) was added to the rifle and match-grade ammo was added to the M14, Army snipers had a real weapon.

Adelbert Waldron would use that rifle to become America’s top sniper with 109 confirmed kills. For the record, that’s 16 more kills than Marine Corps legend Carlos Hathcock has – and Hathcock was the third-best Marine sniper, behind Mawhinney (103 confirmed kills) and Eric England (98).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Specialist Fourth Class (SFC) Theodore Amell scans the horizon with an M21 sniper weapon system for threats while on patrol near Mosul, Iraq. (Dept. of Defense photo)

The M14 also saw action in Grenada for the Army. Inexplicably, after proving the M21 was an awesome system, the Army chose to go back to the outdated bolt-action with the M24.

But the War on Terror soon saw the M21 making a comeback. The M24 is still sticking around, now upgraded to the M2010 configuration, but was also slated to be replace by the M110.

In short, the Army is re-proving what they proved almost five decades ago — that a semi-auto rifle can be an awesome sniper rifle.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy EOD Tech awarded Silver Star for saving comrades during ISIS fight

A Navy chief was awarded the military’s third-highest valor award on Thursday for repeatedly braving enemy fire in an area filled with improvised explosive devices to save his teammates.


Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Matthew O’Connor, a member of EOD Mobile Unit 11, received the Silver Star during a ceremony at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego. Vice Adm. Scott Conn, commander of Third Fleet, presented O’Connor with the award.

Adversity under fire doesn’t test one’s character, it reveals it,” Conn said during the ceremony.

O’Connor, who joined the Navy in 2008, was serving as the EOD lead for a special operations task force fighting the Islamic State group in April at an undisclosed location. The team was tasked with checking into a facility where terrorists were known to be producing IEDs.

The chief and his team maneuvered into an enemy-held village, but were ambushed by eight fighters when they got to the facility.

After returning fire, O’Connor noticed a teammate on the ground, according to his award citation.

“With utter disregard for his own safety, Chief O’Connor advanced forward, carried his wounded teammate to cover, and then rendered lifesaving medical treatment while coordinating suppressive fire,” the citation states.

He again braved enemy fire to reach the team’s linguist, who was hurt. O’Connor then carried the first injured teammate to a casualty collection point, “under continuous enemy fire through difficult terrain,” his award citation states.

O’Connor then returned to the facility where the ambush started to conduct post-assault procedures, the citation adds. He then guided the rest of the task force across the area laden with IEDs to reach a vehicle pick-up point.

“By his bold initiative, undaunted courage and total dedication to duty, Chief O’Connor reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” the Silver Star citation says.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

US pressure fails to fracture Armenia, Iran relationship

Acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says he made clear to U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton that Armenia will pursue its national interests and maintain “special relations” with its neighbor Iran.

Addressing the Armenian parliament on Nov. 1, 2018, Pashinian said he told Bolton when he visited Yerevan in October 2018 that Armenia is a landlocked nation that does not have diplomatic relations with either neighboring Turkey or Azerbaijan, so it must retain “special relations” with its other two neighbors — Iran and Georgia — which he said are Armenia’s only “gateways” to the outside world.


“I reaffirm the position that we should have special relations with Iran and Georgia that would be as far outside geopolitical influences as possible. This position was very clearly formulated also during my meeting with Mr. Bolton, and I think that the position of Armenia was clear, comprehensible, and even acceptable to representatives of the U.S. delegation,” the Armenian leader said.

Bolton visited the Caucasus nations of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan in October 2018 in part to push for compliance with the sanctions that the United States is reimposing on Iran’s oil and financial sectors on November 5 after withdrawing from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in April 2018.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Oct. 25, 2018, Bolton said he told Pashinian that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will enforce sanctions against Iran “very vigorously.” For that reason, he said, the Armenian-Iranian border is “going to be a significant issue.”

“Obviously, we don’t want to cause damage to our friends in the process,” Bolton added.

Pashinian told the parliament that his response to Bolton was: “We respect any country’s statement and respect the national interests of any country, but the Republic of Armenia has its own national and state interests, which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries, any other country.

“Let no one doubt that we are fully building our activities on the basis of Armenia’s national interest – be it in our relations with the United States, Iran, Russia, all countries.”

Pashinian made his remarks in response to a lawmaker’s question about what effect the U.S. sanctions on Iran would have on Armenia.

Days after his talks with Pashinian and other foreign leaders, Bolton conceded that the White House is unlikely to achieve its stated goal of reducing Iran’s oil exports to “zero” under the sanctions.

“We understand, obviously, [that] a number of countries — some immediately surrounding Iran, some of which I just visited last week, others that have been purchasing oil [from Iran] — may not be able to go all the way to zero immediately. So, we want to achieve maximum pressure [on Iran], but we don’t want to harm friends and allies either, and we are working our way through that,” Bolton told the Alexander Hamilton Society in Washington on Oct. 31, 2018.

A hard-liner who has pushed for the toughest possible sanctions on Iran, Bolton’s remarks suggested for the first time that the White House may be preparing to grant waivers from the sanctions to some countries like India, Turkey, and South Korea that have requested them.

Still, Bolton insisted that the sanctions already are having a powerful effect on Iran’s economy, in particular helping to cause a collapse in Iran’s currency, the rial, in 2018.

“Already, you see reduction in purchases in countries like China that you would not have expected — countries that are still in the nuclear deal [with Iran]. We have also seen Chinese financial institutions withdrawing from engaging in transactions with Iran. European businesses are fleeing the Iranian market. Most of the big ones are already out,” he said.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This massage therapist is using her ‘healing hands’ to help vets

As soon as licensed massage therapist Terry Smith starts to knead veteran James Davis’s neck and shoulders, Davis begins to relax.

“That feels so good,” says Davis, a patient in the Community Living Center (CLC) of the Columbia VA Health Care System.

Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, volunteers her hours at the Columbia VA Medical center. She is known as the massage therapist with the “healing hands.”

“It’s amazing what that sense of touch can do for a person. Especially when they don’t get to experience it much anymore,” Smith said.


Healing hands

One veteran in the CLC, a diagnosed Alzheimer’s patient, kept his hands tightly clenched. As Smith began to massage his hands and wrists, the patient slowly began to release his fingers. Another veteran seemed to be asleep in his wheelchair. As Smith massaged his shoulders, arms, and hands, the patient started to wake up and said that he thought he was dreaming about Smith’s touch.

Smith, a Desert Storm veteran from Mount Vernon, New York, joined the military to travel and see the world. Eventually, she found a career path as a medic in nutritional care at West Point.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

“This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of a person”

(Photo by Jennifer Scales)

“Even though I am from New York, I had no clue about West Point or any other type of military posts or bases that were in my state,” Smith said. “Plus, not knowing a lot about the military before I enlisted made each assignment that I had a new experience for me.”

After a varied post-military career, Smith decided to use the GI Bill to study massage therapy. By 2012, when she obtained her license, she knew she had found her calling.

Helping others

“I love what I do,” Smith said. “This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of the person. I can oftentimes feel the stiffness in their muscles when I begin my massage, and it is my goal to work it out.”

Carrie Jett, a Columbia VA recreation therapist, notes that Smith is the facility’s only volunteer massage therapist. “The patients really appreciate what she does, and the word is spreading,” said Jett. “Even those veteran patients here who don’t participate in other therapeutic events eagerly await the day and time of Smith’s arrival to get a massage.”

When asked what makes her massages so special for veterans, Smith replied, “I touch them with the spirit of love.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

It’s official: Lloyd Austin is the first Black Defense Secretary

Members of the Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd Austin, a retired Army four-star general, to run the Defense Department — a historic move that gives the military its first Black defense secretary.

Senators confirmed Austin’s nomination in a vote of 93 to 2. Austin is the second member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to be approved, following Avril Haines as director of national intelligence on Wednesday.

Austin arrived at the Pentagon just after noon Friday to be sworn in and begin work.

He tweeted immediately following the vote that he’s proud to be the first African American to hold the position.

Read NextAfter Lawmakers Intervene, Guard Troops Allowed to Return to Capitol for BreaksAdvertisement

“Let’s get to work,” he said.

The House and Senate on Thursday cleared the way for Austin to be confirmed after both chambers approved the waiver he needs to serve as defense secretary. He’s been out of uniform for less than the seven years required by law after retiring from the Army in 2016.

The House approved the waiver in a vote of 326 to 78 Thursday afternoon. The Senate followed suit, 69 to 27.

Austin said in a video message posted earlier this month that becoming the first Black defense secretary would be an honor and privilege. But it’s not the first time he’s broken barriers in his career.

Austin was the first African American to command an infantry division in combat. He was also the first African American to be vice chief of the Army and, later, the first Black general to lead U.S. Central Command.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long for us to get here,” he said. “There should’ve been someone that preceded me.”

Austin steps into the role as defense secretary at a time when the military is facing renewed scrutiny over the issue of racism and extremism in the ranks.

Several troops have beenforced out of the military in recent years forbelonging to white supremacist groups orposting racist comments online. Military leaders across the force are reviewing policies that might inadvertently discriminate against some troops.

Austin told lawmakers Tuesday that he was committed to addressing those problems once he became defense secretary.

The military community is also overrepresented among those arrested following the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol. Nearly one in five, or almost 20%, of the people who have been charged over their alleged involvement in the attack appear to have a military history, NPR reported this week. Only about 7% of all American adults are military veterans, NPR noted.

Defense leaders also warned last week that homegrown extremist groups aretrying to recruit military members and veterans to join their causes.

Lawmakers from both parties have said Austin is the right person to lead the Defense Department at this time, despite not meeting the seven-year “cooling-off period” required to serve in the civilian leadership position.

Several senators said ahead of Friday’s vote that they would confirm Austin. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who’s on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Austin an exceptionally qualified leader with a long and distinguished career.

Still, both Reed and Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Congress should not overlook the importance of the law that bars recently retired leaders, like Austin, from serving as defense secretary.

“I’ll vote today to confirm a clear patriot with an impressive career,” McConnell said. “But I’ll cast that vote with the understanding that our new secretary of defense specifically commits to balancing civil-military relations, empowering civilian leaders at the Pentagon and playing an active role in the inherently political budget process to get our forces what they need.”

The retired Army general is the second retired officer to get a waiver in four years. Congress granted one to Jim Mattis when President Donald Trump nominated him to be SecDef a few years after he retired from the Marine Corps.

The two Republican senators to vote against Austin’s confirmation were Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

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

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of May 20

Don’t drink and drive, don’t touch anything that doesn’t want you to, and don’t end up on sergeant major’s rug.


Alright. Tell your first sergeants that you’ve already gotten your safety brief, read these 13 funny military memes, and everyone is released to the barracks.

Editor’s note: The writer is not in your chain of command and has no authority to release you.

1. Never expect anything and you’ll never be let down (via Standby to Standby).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Well, sh-t.

2. “Please stop, please stop, please stop.”

(via Sh-t my LPO says)

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
It’s like the barbers are collecting bribes from the first sergeants.

SEE ALSO: The US Navy’s new, game-changing defensive weapon

3. Now coming to a patrol near you, Military Wrecking Dogs (via Military Memes).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Even the dog hates Carl.

4. Stock photo model isn’t afraid of sergeant major.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Seriously, how do photographers not know to pick shaved models at this point?

5. It’s going to happen. It’s up to you whether you correct people or not (via Air Force Nation).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important

6. Sounds about right:

(via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Don’t be afraid to break alliances. Only one airman can win.

7. It’s about all that level one combatives is good for (via The Salty Soldier).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
This duffel has way too much slack for that private to be struggling that hard.

8. That face belongs to a sailor that has seen some serious stuff (via Sh-t my LPO says).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
But he better get his hair cleaned up before chief sees it.

9. Meanwhile, Coast Guard toddlers officers are out with their men (via Coast Guard Memes).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Just guarding some coast. From this high chair. In this bar.

10. The courage that propelled him to five Navy Crosses must’ve been in his pockets (via Military Nations).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
But modern Marines aren’t even allowed to look there.

11. The best Marines are the ones with more deployments than rank (via Marine Corps Memes).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Ninja punches are a hell of a drug.

12. Actual Coast Guard training materials, maybe (via Coast Guard Memes).

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
I wonder how long it took for the illustrator to get tired of drawing that many life vests.

13. This might be because you rarely get in trouble with a wrench and a jet, but constantly get in trouble with beer and free time:

(via Air Force Nation)

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Which, coincidentally, is why chief keeps delaying release formation. Hang in there, guys.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the new US course in Syria will collide with Iran’s

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently laid out a new U.S. approach to the conflict in Syria, and two things became immediately clear — the U.S. is staying in Syria and conflict with Iran could be coming.


Up until this point, the U.S. presence in Syria has focused on fighting ISIS, the terror group that gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014. But with ISIS in rapid decline and its once U.K.-sized territory all but completely removed from their grasp, Tillerson described Iran as the new principal threat to U.S. interests in Syria.

“Continued strategic threats to the U.S. from not just ISIS and Al Qaeda, but from others, persist,” Tillerson said earlier in January. “And this threat I’m referring to is principally Iran.”

Tillerson said Iran “is positioning to continue attacking U.S. interests, our allies, and personnel in the region” through its positioning in Syria.

In no uncertain terms, Tillerson said Iran dreams of a land arch that would connect them to their ally, Lebanon, through Syria, where it can provide weapons support to anti- U.S. and anti-Isreal terror groups. He noted that one of the U.S.’s desired end results is that “Iranian influence in Syria is diminished, their dreams of a northern arch are denied, and Syria’s neighbors are secure from all threats emanating from Syria.”

While the new strategy does not guarantee outright fighting between the U.S. and Iran, it puts the U.S.’s 2,000 or so troops in Syria in direct strategic competition with Iran’s estimated 70,000.

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speak to members of the press . (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Numbers can be deceiving

Despite an apparent 35 to 1 numbers advantage for Iranian and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria, Iran’s forces are weak, overexposed, and certain to fare poorly in a direct competition with the U.S., according to Tony Badran, a Syria expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

U.S. and U.S.-backed forces have already come into contact with Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and the short engagements proved decisive victories for the US, which holds considerable advantages in air power and high-end warfighting.

But those skirmishes only focused on getting Iranian forces off the backs of U.S.-aligned forces while the U.S. focused on defeating ISIS. In the US’s new campaign to shut down Iran’s hoped-for land bridge to Lebanon, the U.S. will likely have to work with local allies, according to Badran.

“The U.S. is going to have to develop local Arab fighting forces,” said Badran, “But you can do a lot more damage a lot quicker by expanding or amplifying the existing Israeli campaign by going after installations, mobile targets, or senior cadres.”

Israel, while it has stayed out of the majority of its neighbor Syria’s civil war, has made no apologies for stepping in with airstrikes when it feels Iran getting to close to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia vows to wage war against the Jewish state.

Also Read: Iranian protests have ebbed, but the anger remains

With Israel potentially at its back, the U.S. “has assets far beyond 2,000 guys out in the desert somewhere,” said Badran. The U.S. can call on naval power, aircraft carriers, nearby air bases, allied air power, standoff weapons like cruise missiles, and artillery.

Iran sacrifices asymmetrical advantage

While Iran usually enjoys what military analysts call an “asymmetrical advantage” over U.S. forces in the Middle East, or its ability to fight against U.S. interests using proxy armies and less-than-lethal force, that advantage disappears in a direct confrontation. If Iran mounted a large-scale attack on U.S. forces in Syria, the bases, depots, and planners involved in the attack would be quickly reduced to rubble, according to Badran.

For that reason, Iran may look to avoid direct military engagement with the U.S., and simply continue to support the U.S.’s enemies while playing the long game of aggravating the U.S. and hoping Washington’s will breaks before Tehran’s.

But another prong of the U.S.’s strategy in Syria is to isolate the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

“We’re going to treat Syria like North Korea — an economic, not just a political pariah,” said Badran.

With the U.S. pressuring allies not to do business with the Assad regime and providing no money for reconstruction, the Syrian government, Iran’s ally, may weaken, making way for a less Iran-friendly administration in the future, thereby denying Tehran its land bridge without a shot fired.

The U.S. won’t go it alone

Explainer: Why the U.S.-NATO exercises in Eastern Europe are important
On the walls of the former American embassy. (Image Flickr Babak Fakhamzadeh)

Tehran has its own problems to worry about. Country-wide protests over the country’s steep inequality and billions in spending on foreign adventurism have threatened the very fabric of its leadership. Local Syrians — a diverse, mainly Sunni bunch — also may prove resistant to Iran, the dominant Shiite Muslim power in the region.

Though the   U.S. and Turkey frequently clash over differences in their vision for Syria, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Washington Institute expert James Jeffrey says Washington and Ankara ultimately agree on the broad goals.

“Right now, about 40% of Syria is under control of U.S. or Turkey, and while U.S. and Turkey are not all that well coordinated, both U.S. and Turkey see the goal to a transition to a regime that will not do what [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has done,” said Jeffrey.

Jeffrey added that Turkey also would like to reduce the role of Iran in Syria, as Tehran has a “tendency to bully the Sunni Arab population” which could lead to another civil war.

Badran does not question that the U.S. could easily overwhelm or destroy Iranian forces in Syria, and instead believes the real challenge lies in determining who will establish control of southern Syria in the future.