US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria - We Are The Mighty
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US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

The Trump administration on July 5 renewed an offer to cooperate with Russia in the Syrian conflict, including on military matters, ahead of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin later this week.


In a statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US is open to establishing no-fly zones in Syria in coordination with Russia as well as jointly setting up a truce monitoring and humanitarian aid delivery mechanism. The statement came as Trump prepared to meet with Putin on July 7 in Germany and as the US seeks to consolidate gains made against the Islamic State in recent weeks and prepare for a post-IS group future.

Tillerson noted that the US and Russia have a variety of unresolved differences but said Syria is an opportunity for the two countries to create stability in Syria. He said that the Islamic State had been “badly wounded” and may be on the “brink of complete defeat” as US-backed forces continue their assault on the self-proclaimed IS capital of Raqqa. But he stressed that Russia has to play a constructive role.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Photo courtesy of Moscow Kremlin.

“While there are no perfect options for guaranteeing stability, we must explore all possibilities for holding the line against the resurgence of ISIS or other terrorist groups,” Tillerson said. ” The United States and Russia certainly have unresolved differences on a number of issues, but we have the potential to appropriately coordinate in Syria in order to produce stability and serve our mutual security interests.”

He said that Russia, as an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and a participant in the conflict, “has a responsibility to ensure that the needs of the Syrian people are met and that no faction in Syria illegitimately re-takes or occupies areas liberated from ISIS’ or other terrorist groups’ control.” Tillerson added that Russia has “an obligation to prevent any further use of chemical weapons of any kind by the Assad regime.”

The appeal echoed similar entreaties made to Putin by the Obama administration that were largely ignored by Moscow, but they came just two days ahead of Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with the Russian leader that is set to take place on July 7 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
Putin and Trump meet in Hamburg, Germany. July 7, 2017. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

And, the offer went beyond the Obama administration’s offers, suggesting that cooperation in establishing no-fly zones was possible. Tillerson noted that despite differences, the US and Russia are having success in avoiding accidents between American and Russian planes flying over an extremely complex conflict zone. Minor incidents, he said, had been dealt with “quickly and peacefully.”

“This cooperation over de-confliction zones process is evidence that our two nations are capable of further progress,” Tillerson said. ” The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on the ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

“If our two countries work together to establish stability on the ground, it will lay a foundation for progress on the settlement of Syria’s political future,” he said.

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This VA official fired for poor leadership just got his job back

A former director of the veterans hospital in the nation’s capital who had been fired for poor leadership has been rehired.


Brian Hawkins was put back on the Department of Veterans Affairs payroll after he appealed the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Hawkins was let go last month after audits found mismanagement at the facility.

The board is requiring the VA to keep Hawkins as an employee until the Office of Special Counsel reviews his claim.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
David J. Shulkin visits the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Photo by Megan Garcia, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Command Communications

In a statement August 9, the VA says Hawkins had been reassigned to administrative duty at VA headquarters in Washington and would not work directly with patients.

It says VA Secretary David Shulkin will explore other ways to fire Hawkins under a newly enacted accountability law signed by President Donald Trump.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Slump at ‘The Stumps:’ Commissary closes because of rat infestation

The commissary at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms is closed until further notice thanks to a “rodent infestation,” officials with the Defense Commissary Agency announced Oct. 12.


“Rodent infestations can escalate quickly under certain circumstances,” commissary officials said in a statement released Thursday. “DeCA regrets any inconveniences the store closure has caused to our commissary patrons and is working to diligently address the issue so the store can be reopened.”

The store was shuttered at 7 p.m. Oct. 11, according to base officials. Details weren’t immediately available on the extent of the rodent issue. The base shut down the store’s produce and bakery operations earlier that day.

Twentynine Palms is located in a remote area of California with few other nearby grocery options for families and troops stationed there. A Stater Bros. market is located about 10 miles off base, while a Walmart is about a 40-minute drive.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
Twentynine Palms sits 10 miles away from the closest grocery store, and about 40 minutes away from Yucca Valley. (Image Facebook)

DeCA has dispatched a team of health experts to the store but does not yet know when the store will reopen, officials said.

“DeCA has sent public health, sanitation, engineer and store operation experts to the store and is working with installation personnel to ensure the facility is thoroughly cleaned and to address where and how the pests are entering the store,” commissary officials said.

“We plan to completely resolve the issues at Twentynine Palms and reopen the commissary once all health and sanitation standards are met,” they added.

Base officials said commissary shoppers who are worried about whether their recent purchases are OK to eat may be able to file a refund claim with the Navy‘s tort claim unit.

“They will need to fill out an SF 95 package. TCU prefers that the claims be emailed to them at TORTCLAIMSUNIT@navy.mil,” base officials said.

Those wishing to file a claim should include “supporting documentation for the loss, such as receipts or bank records,” they said.

The mailing address for TCU is: Office of the Judge Advocate General Tort Claims Unit Norfolk, 9620 Maryland Ave. Suite 205, Norfolk, VA 23511-2949.

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These are the massive ships that can transport other ships for repairs

After colliding with a civilian cargo ship earlier this year, the USS Fitzgerald sustained over $500 million worth of damage to its structure and systems.


Though the Arleigh Burke-class warship was brought back to port at Yokosuka, Japan, it will likely be unable to transit the ocean in its current condition, officials say.

However, as the Navy and its contractors don’t maintain large maintenance facilities and dry docks in Japan capable of carrying out the repairs the Fitzgerald needs, it will have to somehow be delivered to the United States for fixing.

To bring the Fitzgerald home, the Navy will make use of massive heavy-lift ships, designed to hoist smaller vessels onto a platform and carry them across the world’s waterways. The alternate name of these unique ships — float on/float offs (FLO/FLO) — hints at how they’re able to load and carry ships weighing thousands of tons.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
MV Blue Marlin hauling the Navy’s Sea-Based X-Band Radar into Pearl Harbor (Photo US Navy)

To load a vessel aboard a heavy-lift ship, it takes on water into ballast tanks, submerging its main deck area enough that its cargo can be floated into position, sometimes onto a cradle which will keep it stabilized during transport. When its cargo is in place, the ship releases its ballast and is now able to move under its own power.

This won’t be the first time the Navy has had to use a civilian heavy-lift ship to bring one of its own back to American shores.

In 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, was struck by an Iranian mine during Operation Earnest Will. The Roberts was marred with a 15-foot gash in its hull, and its engines were rendered inoperable.

To return the Roberts back to the US, the Navy contracted Dutch shipping firm Wijsmuller Transport to the tune of $1.3 million to provide a heavy-lift ship — MV Mighty Servant 2 —  that would carry the stricken frigate back to Newport, RI, where further damage assessments would take place.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
The USS Samuel B. Roberts aboard MV Mighty Servant 2 in 1988 (Photo US Navy)

Years later, in 2000, the USS Cole, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was damaged on its port side at the waterline during a suicide attack which claimed the lives of 17 sailors and injured 39 more. Though the ship was still afloat in the aftermath of the attack, it was quickly determined that it would not be able to proceed back to mainland America under its own power for repairs.

As such, the Navy contracted a Norwegian company, Offshore Heavy Transport, to sail a heavy-lift vessel to Yemen where the Cole remained after the attack, in order to bring the warship home.

Offshore Heavy Transport provided the Navy with the MV Blue Marlin as part of the $4.5 million contract to bring the Cole stateside.

In addition to carting damaged warships around the globe, the Navy’s Military Sealift Command also charters heavy-lift ships to carry its smaller craft to various operating locations in foreign seas, including minesweepers and patrol boats.

A number of these heavy-lift ships are still in service today, save for the Mighty Servant 2, which was lost at sea near Indonesia in 1999. It’s possible that the vessel which brought the Cole back to the United States — the Blue Marlin — could be the same one to return Cole’s sister ship, the Fitzgerald, to America to begin the repair process.

It was recently reported that the move could begin as early as September, depending on when the contract for transport is issued and inked.

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The US is amping up its cyber war force

A decade ago, he was a young Army soldier training Iraqi troops when he noticed their primitive filing system: handwritten notes threaded with different colors of yarn, stacked in piles. For organization’s sake, he built them a simple computer database.


Now an Army reservist, the major is taking a break from his civilian high-tech job to help America’s technological fight against Islamic State extremists, part of a growing force of cyberexperts the Pentagon has assembled to defeat the group.

“The ability to participate in some way in a real mission, that is actually something that’s rare, that you can’t find in private sector,” said the 38-year-old Nebraska native who is working at U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Maryland.

“You’re part of a larger team putting your skills to use, not just optimizing clicks for a digital ad, but optimizing the ability to counter ISIS or contribute to the security of our nation.”

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter expressed frustration that the United States was losing the cyberwar against Islamic States militants. He pushed the Cyber Command to be more aggressive.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
The files are in the computer. It’s so simple. (Dept. of Defense photo)

In response, the Pentagon launched an effort to incorporate cyber technology into its daily military fight, including new ways to disrupt the enemy’s communications, recruiting, fundraising, and propaganda.

To speak with someone at the front lines of the cyber campaign, The Associated Press agreed to withhold the major’s name. The military says he could be threatened or targeted by the militants if he is identified publicly. The major and other officials wouldn’t provide precise details on the highly classified work he is doing.

But Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command, said the major is bringing new expertise for identifying enemy networks, pinpointing system administrators or developers, and potentially monitoring how the Islamic State’s online traffic moves.

He “has the ability to bring an analytic focus of what the threat is doing, coupled with a really deep understanding of how networks run,” Nakasone said, describing such contributions as “really helpful for us.” He outlined a key question for the military: “How do you impact an adversary that’s using cyberspace against us?”

The military services are looking for new ways to bring in more civilians with high-tech skills who can help against IS, and prepare for the new range of technological threats the nation will face.

Nakasone said that means getting Guard and Reserve members with technical expertise in digital forensics, math crypto-analysis and writing computer code. The challenge is how to find them.

“I would like to say it’s this great database that we have, that we’ve been able to plug in and say, ‘Show me the best tool developers and analysts that you have out there,'” Nakasone said. “We don’t have that yet. We are going to have one, though, by June.”

The Army Reserve is starting a pilot program cataloging soldiers’ talents. Among 190,000 Army reservists, Nakasone said there might be up to 15,000 with some type of cyber-related skills. But there are legal and privacy hurdles, and any database hinges on reservists voluntarily and accurately providing information on their capabilities.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force and sailors with 553 Cyber Protection Team, monitor network activity during I MEF Large Scale Exercise 2016 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Aug 22, 2016. (Photo: Marine Corps)

Normally, Nakasone said a reservist’s record includes background, training, assignments, and schools attended.

“I would like to know every single person that has been trained as a certified ethical hacker,” he said.

The Army has been steadily building cyber mission teams, as part of a broader Defense Department undertaking. Of the 41 Army teams, just over half come from theArmy National Guard and Army Reserve.

Nakasone said officials were still working out costs.

“The money will come,” he said, because building a ready cyber force is necessary.

The Army major said others in the civilian high-tech industry are interested in helping.

Many would like to participate “in something bigger than themselves, something that has intrinsic value for the nation,” he said.

The major said he has signed up for a second one-year tour in his cyber job. He is looking at options for staying longer.

“I find what I’m doing very satisfying, because I have an opportunity to implement things, to get things done and see them work and see tangible results,” he said. “I’m not making as much as I was on the civilian side. But the satisfaction is that strong, and is that valuable, that it’s worth it.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the city-state with the best air force and navy in Southeast Asia

When thinking of countries that have the strongest militaries in the world, giants like the US, Russia, China, and the UK come to mind. In Asia — and Southeast Asia in particular — China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand are usually mentioned.

But the country that boasts the best air force and navy in the region, and a military that is considered one of the most powerful in the world, is a tiny island city-state with a population of only 5 million — Singapore.


Strong since independence

The concept of a strong military has been ingrained in Singapore since it gained independence from Malaysia in 1965.

“Historically, Singapore had rather tumultuous relations with its immediate neighbors, namely Indonesia and Malaysia,” Collin Koh Sw ee Lean, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Maritime Security Programme, told Business Insider. “This was quite the case back in the early decades of Singapore’s independence.”

As a result, Singapore needed to invest in its security forces. “There was a sense in Singapore that they were extremely vulnerable to coercion being so small,” Scott Harold, the associate director of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy, told Business Insider.

But with a small population and hardly any territory to train on let alone fight, it became clear that the only way they could secure their country was by out-competing their potential rivals through high-end technology.

‘A poisonous shrimp’

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
A Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Formidable-class Frigate.
(Singapore Ministry of Defense photo)

Singapore’s air force boasts 60 US-made F-16C/D and 40 F-15SG that were designed specifically for the the Singapore Air Force. They also operate 20 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters, one of the best gunships currently in service.

Singapore’s navy has six Formidable-class stealth frigates, licensed Singaporean-made versions of France’s La Fayette-class frigate, a number of high-end submarines both in service and in development, and five Endurance-class landing platform docks than can carry 18 tanks and hundreds of troops.

The army is small compared to some of its regional rivals, with only 72,000 active personnel. But it has some of the best equipment in service, and much of it was either entirely produced or improved on by domestic companies.

This includes the Leopard 2SG, Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle. The country also has compulsory military service, and can quickly mobilize its army for war at a moment’s notice.

All of this high-end equipment is, unsurprisingly expensive. But despite its small size, Singapore has managed to become a global economic and military powerhouse.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
Singaporean soldiers dismount a Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicle, February 23, 2013.
(Singapore Army / Facebook)

In 2017, Global Finance magazine ranked Singapore as the 4th richest country in the world in terms of GDP, and it has been able to stay high on that list for decades.

The city-state has historically had a high defense budget, usually hovering around three to four percent of its GDP, though it has gone as high as 5% in the past. The 2018 military budget, $14.76 billion, makes up 18% of Singapore’s annual budget.

But what really sets Singapore apart from its neighbors in the realm of technology and equipment, is the fact that it is all integrated into a single cohesive fighting force.

“Not only do they have high-end equipment, they know how to operate it in a very high level of capability. It’s integrated as opposed to all the other country in Southeast Asia,” Brian Harding, the deputy director the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Southeast Asia Program, told Business Insider.

“They focus on making sure their systems work together, they have interoperability between the services. They are highly professional military,” Harding said. “A poisonous shrimp is the analogy that is made.”

Geographic difficulties

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
Leopard 2SGs from the Singapore Armed Forces Mobile Coumn at the Singapore National Day Parade, August 9, 2015.
(154th Media Entertainment / YouTube)

But Singapore’s military does have a a big problem — geography. There simply isn’t enough room on the island to train its fighting forces.

“If you’re in a fighter jet that is taking off at three or four hundred miles an hour, you very quickly leave Singaporean airspace,” Harold said.

As a result, Singapore has sent some of its soldiers and much of its equipment overseas. Its military has personnel and air squadrons in the US, Australia, Brunei, New Zealand, and Taiwan to name a few.

While the main purpose for these deployments in for training, it does offer another advantage — the ability to stage an effective counter-strike.

“The idea of distributing manpower and assets abroad … also provide a recessed type of backup reinforcements, a form of insurance, in case forces deployed within Singapore got wiped out in an enemy onslaught,” Koh said.

“These assets could therefore be mobilized as a follow-on force, possibly reinforced by friendly partners,” he added.

Singapore’s relations with its immediate neighbors have actually improved remarkably. In Koh’s words, they “have never been as good as now.”

Singapore has also contributed to international operations like Afghanistan and disaster relief missions to affected nations.

But Singapore is still cautious. Chinese actions in the South China Sea have not been encouraging, and its continued support of a US military presence in the region is not popular with some.

“Singaporeans are the ultimate realists and understand that things can change quickly,” Harding said. “They know that they need to be prepared for the future and not just hope for the best.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Failed test of Putin’s doomsday missile causes deadly explosion

A deadly explosion at a missile test site last week appears to have been caused by a failed test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile, although Russia has yet to say what its engineers were working on at the time of the blast.

Five Russian nuclear scientists were buried on Aug. 12, 2019, after they were killed in an explosion last week. Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp., Russia’s state nuclear agency, said they were testing a nuclear-powered engine at the time the blast occurred, BBC reported.

“The rocket tests were carried out on the offshore platform,” Rosatom said in a statement over the weekend, according to Foreign Policy magazine. “After the tests were completed, the rocket fuel ignited, followed by detonation. After the explosion, several employees were thrown into the sea.”


Rosatom did not clarify what exactly went wrong during testing, saying only that “there was a confluence of factors, which often happens when testing new technologies,” according to Foreign Policy.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

Burevestnik nuclear unit.

(YouTube)

The Russian defense ministry, by way of Russian state media, said earlier that only two people were killed when a liquid-propellant rocket engine blew up. The story has changed as the death toll has risen.

The scientists and engineers “tragically died while testing a new special device,” Alexey Likhachev, the head of Rosatom, said at the funeral on Aug. 12, 2019.

The men were buried in Sarov, a city known for nuclear research, Bloomberg reported, saying that experts suspect that what blew up might have been a compact nuclear reactor. Three other people were injured by the explosion at Russia’s Nyonoksa test range.

“The best thing for their memory will be our further work on the new weapons,” Likhachev said at Aug. 12, 2019’s funeral. “We are fulfilling the task of the motherland. Its security will be reliably ensured.”

US intelligence officials, The New York Times reported, believe that last week’s explosion involved a prototype of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a kind of doomsday missile that NATO refers to as SSC-X-9 Skyfall. Several experts have arrived at the same conclusion.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

This video grab shows the launch of what Russian President Vladimir Putin said was Russia’s new nuclear-powered intercontinental cruise missile.

(YouTube)

Tweeting Aug. 12, 2019, President Donald Trump referred to what he called the “failed missile explosion in Russia” as the “‘Skyfall’ explosion.”

In March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that the missile was “invincible,” asserting that the weapon has “an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception.” But, so far, Russia has struggled to get the weapon to fly.

No country has ever fielded a nuclear-powered cruise missile, although the US briefly flirted with the idea decades ago.

“Was this stupid missile worth getting these young men killed?” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, rhetorically asked Aug. 12, 2019, in a Foreign Policy article on the incident.

In the article, he concluded that the weapon tested last week was likely the Burevestnik and said that an escalating arms race between the US and Russia could lead to more nuclear accidents.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US just challenged China on something Beijing promised to go to war over

President Donald Trump has engaged China in a trade war that has global markets holding their breath, but his administration recently challenged Beijing on an issue Chinese officials have promised to go to war over.

The US military’s recent Indo-Pacific Strategy paper, published June 1, 2019, goes further than perhaps any US document ever issued in how it might provoke China’s rage over what it sees as the most sensitive issue.

Buried in the paper, which charts China’s efforts to build up a military fortress in the South China Sea and use its growing naval might to coerce its neighbors, is a reference to Taiwan as a “country.”


“As democracies in the Indo-Pacific, Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Mongolia are reliable, capable, and natural partners of the United States,” the strategy said. “All four countries contribute to US missions around the world and are actively taking steps to uphold a free and open international order.”

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping.

China views Taiwan as a breakaway island province that has its own democratic government. Beijing sees this as an existential threat and the factor most likely to upset the Communist Party’s absolute hold on power in the mainland.

In July 2018, China threatened to blacklist airlines that referred to Taiwan as a country. US airlines fell in line, but the White House protested the strong-arm tactic as “Orwellian nonsense.”

But now the US itself has clearly said it: Taiwan is a country, and the US will treat it as such.

‘The Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs’

In another unprecedented step, a high-ranking Taiwanese minister was allowed to meet with Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, in May 2019. This move predictably enraged China.

At the Shangri La Dialogue, the top defense summit in Asia, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe made clear the stakes of China’s Taiwan problem.

“Any interference in the Taiwan question is doomed to failure,” Wei said, according to Channel Asia News. “If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs.”

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe.

Taiwan is “the hot-button issue” in US-China relations, John Hemmings, the director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, told Business Insider.

China has always maintained that it would prefer to reunify with Taiwan peacefully but would do so by force if needed. Additionally, China’s navy has increasingly patrolled the waters around the island and flown nuclear-capable bombers nearby.

But the US has also sailed warships through the narrow strait separating China and Taiwan and has gotten allies to pitch in.

The arms are already moving

The US’s rhetorical escalation follows the Trump administration normalizing arms sales to Taiwan and the news that it will sell billion in tanks, anti-tank weapons, and air defenses to the island.

According to Hemmings, these weapons have a clear purpose: to fight back against a Chinese invasion of the island.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider that the US had now entered “uncharted territory” by acknowledging Taiwan.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

A US Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tank during Arrow 2019 at the Pohjankangas Training Area near Niinisalo, Finland, on May 12, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

The US under Trump has been the most pro-Taiwan administration in decades, Hemmings said. Trump demonstrated this during his presidential transition period when he had a call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen.

For years, China has slowly stepped up pressure on the US in areas like forcing companies to transfer technology, building up military sites on artificial islands in the South China Sea, and naval challenges.

Hemmings mentioned a popular anecdote in China, in which a frog is cooked by putting it in a pot of cold water and then slowly turning up the heat. The frog doesn’t realize it’s getting cooked until it’s too late. China’s gradual pressure campaign against the US has been compared to this practice.

With the US now quietly acknowledging Taiwan in a strategy document, it may have found its own small way to turn up the heat on Beijing.

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

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What we know about the Kurds fighting against ISIS with help from Delta Force

A raid to rescue Iraqi Security Forces held hostage by ISIS forces in the Kurdish areas of Iraq on Thursday liberated 70 hostages and resulted in the death of one Delta Force operator. The U.S. airlifted Peshmerga and American special operations forces to the compound where they freed the hostages, captured five ISIS fighters, and killed many more.  The Peshmerga suffered four wounded. By now, most people in the West have heard of the Peshmerga and their bravery and exploits against the fundamentalist Sunni Islamist terror group, but the Peshmerga have a long history and a history of productive cooperation with the United States.


Who are the Peshmerga?

In Kurdish, Peshmerga means “one who confronts death.” Their fighters are among the region’s most able forces because of their warrior culture and dedication to their ethnic and national identity as Kurds. The Kurds have been fighting for independence and recognition for centuries. They fought for the Ottoman Empire in World War I but rebelled shortly after in an attempt to create an official homeland.

Late in the 20th century, Iraqi Kurds fought the forces of Saddam Hussein on a number of occasions, suffering a genocidal campaign from Hussein’s Iraq, through al-Anfal, where the dictator dropped Mustard Gas, nerve agents, and Hydrogen Cyanide on Kurds in 1998. Kurds would rise up against him again after Desert Storm in 1991.

Peshmerga vs. ISIS

American and international media have had much to say about the Kurds in recent years, especially as they emerged as the only force capable of stemming the ISIS advance into Iraq in 2014. But the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Kurds have a long history of cooperation and good relations with the United States and its armed forces.

The Peshmerga are the paramilitary force of Northern Iraq’s Kurdish areas. Since the Iraqi Army is forbidden from entering Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmerga are responsible for the security and protection of Iraqi Kurds. But the Kurdish military didn’t stop there.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

As ISIS advanced into Iraq, they executed those who disagreed with their brand of strict Sunni Islam. A minority population of Yazidis, whose religion is more closely linked to Shia Islam, were forced to flee to the top of Mount Sinjar, where ISIS forces surrounded them as they faced annihilation. The Peshmerga caught the world’s attention when they intervened on behalf of the Yazidis, saving them from slaughter. Since then American airpower and Peshmerga ground forces have been the main thrust to push ISIS back into Syria, where Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighters are engaged with them.

The Kurdish Homeland

Kurds are a tribal society but unlike many Muslims in the region, recognize their ethnic identity as Kurds instead of first identifying as Sunni or Shia Muslims. A great reason for this is the spread of ethnic Kurds throughout the region. The Kurds recognize their traditional lands extending from parts of Iran in the East, through Northern Iraq, and into Syria in the West. The traditional Kurds also see parts of Turkey as traditional Kurdish lands, which has put some Kurds in direct conflict with Turkey, a NATO ally.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
The Kurdish Peshmerga platoon of the newly-formed Joint Iraqi Security Company marches to class, Mosul, Iraq. The U.S. 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division are jointly training Kurdish and Iraqi forces, to become the first self-sufficient local military force. (wikimedia commons)

The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, a Communist terrorist organization in Turkey, has been fighting the Turks for decades. The Syrian counterpart to the PKK is the Kurdish YPG, who are aligned against ISIS forces in Syria. The PKK is recognized worldwide as a terror group, the YPG is not and the links between them are disputed. The YPG does not enjoy the official status of the Iraqi Peshmerga. All three groups are sworn enemies of ISIS everywhere.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
(Feriq Fereç – Anadolu Ajansı)

Kurds and the United States

In the days after the 2003 invasion, Kurds worked with U.S. forces to capture Saddam Hussein. They lent their Peshmerga as intelligence agents to assist Delta Force operators in dismantling terrorist and insurgent networks in Iraq. They were instrumental in the capture of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Hassan Ghul, who would reveal the name of Osama bin Laden’s messenger, which would lead to the raid which killed bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan.

The cooperation of American forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga is one of the most important and productive relationships in the Global War on Terror. Without this alliance, much of the success against international terrorism would never have been realized.

NOW: Musa the Sniper, Sourge of ISIS in Kobani

OR: Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

MIGHTY TRENDING

12 awesome photos of the Army pounding ISIS then playing baseball

About a mile from the Iraqi-Syrian border is a US military fire base where approximately 150 Marines and soldiers are still hammering ISIS in Syria with artillery.

“To get to the firebase, you fly by helicopter over Mosul,” NPR’s Jane Arraf reported on July 2, 2018.

“And then just a little more than a mile from the Syrian border, there’s a collection of tents and armored vehicles in the desert,” Arraf said, adding that the US troops have been at the remote, temporary base for about a month.

In early June 2018, the US Army released a dozen photos showing the base and the troops firing M777 howitzers and M109 Paladins to support the Syrian Democratic Forces clearing ISIS from the Euphrates River Valley.

Then a few weeks later, the Army released photos of the troops playing an improvised game of baseball as dusk sets in and smoke clouds billow in the background.

Check them out below:


US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

(U.S. Army photo)

Here’s part of the base, which appears to be surrounded by a sand barrier for protection.

It’s about 100 degrees at the camp, and is crawling with scorpions and biting spiders, NPR reported.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

U.S. Army Soldiers with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment fire artillery alongside Iraqi Security Force artillery at known ISIS locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border, June 5, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo)

And US troops are firing M777 howitzers.

Read more about the M777 here.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

Iraqi Security Forces fire at known ISIS locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border using an M109A6 Paladin Self-Propelled Howitzer, June 5, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo)

As well as M109 Paladins.

Read more about the Paladin here, and watch a demo video of it firing from inside here.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

(U.S. Army photo)

Here’s a wide shot of how the M777s are set up.

But US troops are not alone at the base as they’re operating alongside Iraqi forces.

“Iraqi commanders normally select the targets,” NPR’s Arraf said. “The strikes are mostly in remote areas. The U.S. military says it takes care to avoid civilian casualties.”

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

Iraqi Security Forces are ready to fire at known ISIS locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border using an M109A6 Paladin Self-Propelled Howitzer, June 5, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo)

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

U.S. Army Soldiers with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment fire artillery alongside Iraqi Security Force artillery at known ISIS locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border, June 5, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo)

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

(U.S. Army photo)

The 155mm rounds “weigh about a hundred pounds each,” Sgt. Jason Powell told NPR. “And sometimes we get up to 12-round fire missions. So with your gear on and hauling these rounds, these guys are fricking animals.”

Source: NPR

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

U.S. Army Sgt. Juan Vallellanes-Ramos, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, prepares to bat during an improvised game of baseball near the Iraqi-Syrian border, June 23, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo)

Here’s the first shot of the troops playing baseball.

“I think Fourth will be good spent playing ball,” Private Clayton Mogensen told NPR. “We’ve got a few baseballs here, and we take the handle from a pickaxe and set bases up and just have a good time.”

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

(U.S. Army photo)

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

U.S. Army Sgt. Peter Scaion, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, swings an improvised bat during a fun game of baseball near the Iraqi-Syrian border, June 23, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo)

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

(U.S. Army photo)

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Michael England, rounds the bases during a fun game of baseball near the Iraqi-Syrian border, June 23, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo)

But it’s unclear if he scored.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Stumbling block or bargaining chip? The fate of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan

The fate of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners jailed in Afghanistan is threatening to turn into a major stumbling block in efforts to end the 19-year war in the country.

The Taliban is demanding the release of the detainees before the launch of direct negotiations between Afghans and the Taliban over a permanent cease-fire and a future power-sharing arrangement.


Those intra-Afghan talks, slated for mid-March, will begin after the United States and the Taliban sign a historic peace deal that will trigger the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

Experts said the issue of Taliban prisoners could be a key obstacle in launching the country’s peace talks or, conversely, be used as a bargaining chip to exact concessions from the militants.

There are fears that the release of thousands of Taliban fighters could deprive the Kabul government of a key amount of leverage and undercut the peace process by strengthening the Taliban’s position on the battlefield.

‘Trust-Building Measure’

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on February 26 that Kabul will free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces held by the militants.

Shaheen said the “trust-building measure” was a prerequisite for the launch of the intra-Afghan talks.

He added that the prisoner release was part of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, although Afghanistan is not a signatory to that bilateral agreement.

But the Taliban and the United States have not yet disclosed the contents of the deal.

The Kabul government has ruled out releasing the prisoners before the start of talks.

“When we, as the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, enter into negotiations with the Taliban and they demand the release of their prisoners, it will naturally be discussed, and will take into account the laws and interests of our people and [our decision] will be based on the consensus that will arise at that stage,” said Sediq Sediqqi, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, on February 20.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

‘Quid Pro Quo’

Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said the issue could be used as a “political stumbling block or a bargaining chip.”

“Bargaining chip can mean quid pro quo,” he said.

Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the Afghan government could offer the Taliban a major concession before intra-Afghan talks with the expectation that the militants will reciprocate.

Kugelman said that could mean the insurgents agreeing to reduce violence during the negotiations, which analysts expect to be complicated and protracted.

The United States and the Taliban agreed to a weeklong reduction of violence across Afghanistan before the signing of the peace deal. The partial truce has largely held, with a dramatic decrease in Taliban attacks from around 75 per day down to under 15.

The militants contest or control nearly half of the country.

A similar truce during intra-Afghan talks has been mooted, although the Taliban has not commented on the possibility.

But analysts warned that there was a risk in the government giving away one of its primary bargaining chips at such an early stage of the peace process.

“The Taliban has ample leverage because it’s in no hurry to conclude a peace deal,” said Kugelman. “If it receives a major concession it may hold out and demand more before giving something up in return.”

10,000 Taliban Prisoners

There are an estimated 10,000 Taliban prisoners being held in Afghanistan. But the militants have said that some of those detained were accused of being sympathizers or members of the group, often to settle old scores, and are not actually combatants.

There have been several high-profile prisoner swaps and releases of insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.

In November 2019, two Western hostages were released from Taliban custody in exchange for three senior Taliban prisoners, including Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a powerful Taliban faction.

The prisoner swap was seen as an attempt to kick-start U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly ended the talks over rising Taliban attacks.

In 2014, five senior Taliban members were released from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl.

All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are based in Qatar, where they have taken part in negotiations with U.S. officials.

In 2013, former President Hamid Karzai controversially released scores of Taliban prisoners from a formerly U.S.-run prison near Kabul as an attempt to convince the militants to open direct talks with Kabul.

The move failed to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Analysts said some of those freed returned to the Taliban, bolstered their ranks, and increased the insurgency’s efficacy on the battlefield.

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

Articles

US special operators are inviting these companies to the ‘Thunderdrone’

It’s not just about air shows or conferences anymore for defense aerospace companies.


Firms are showcasing their goods for US military leaders outside the usual weapons buying process, facing off with one another to prove who has the best platform — and who could win the big contracts.

“We’re experimenting and innovating, and we’re doing it in new and faster ways,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said August 9 during a media day for the service’s “light attack experiment” at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, the most recent opportunity for plane-makers to strut their stuff.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria

She also gave a sneak peek into the service’s plans for more rapid acquisition experiments in the future, including an upcoming drone battle dubbed, “Thunderdrone.”

Wilson said the service wants to look at drone swarm data and performance, and other ways small unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles can be used on the battlefield and beyond.

The Thunderdrone drone-battle event, to be held September 5 through November 3, will take place in a “state-of-the-art, 7,000 square-foot, indoor drone test range for drone experimentation, prototyping, and testing,” according to its host, Tampa-based SOFWERX.

SOFWERX is a partnership between US Special Operations Command and the Doolittle Institute, a rapid innovation office that works to bring service members collaborative solutions by connecting private companies with the Defense Department.

US renews its offer to cooperate with Russia in fight over Syria
USMC photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins

Thunderdrone will bring together defense, industry, and academia to test “drones (sea, land, air, and space), tactical swarms, payloads (kinetic/non-kinetic), and their associated data science applications for the Special Operations community,” SOFWERX says.

Part of the “rapid prototyping event” aims to apply innovative thinking to “existing or envisioned ​voids” warfighters may face and come up with solutions, the organization’s website says.

How a drone’s performance will be measured has not been disclosed, but the special operations community will give feedback, the site says.

In addition, “using SOF and USSOCOM feedback, Thunderdrone may also pick and fund a select few technologies for further development following the [rapid prototyping event],” SOFWERX says.