This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

As an Afghan-American linguist, Sgt. Zabi Abraham strives to help the two countries he loves.

Originally from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province near the border of Pakistan, Abraham first served as a contractor to support U.S. Special Forces units.

Before and during operations, Abraham, now 35, would translate for the soldiers and share knowledge about his country’s customs and traditions.


“They respected me a lot,” he recalled, “and also gave me the chance to explain every situation to them.”

The soldiers also taught him about America, and he became interested in the opportunities it offered.

Years later, those opportunities led him on a path to U.S. citizenship. He also had the chance to return to Afghanistan, where he now serves as an advisor for one of the U.S. Army’s newest units, the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

Sgt. Zabi Abraham, center, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 5th Battalion, interprets a conversation between Lt. Col. Zachary Miller, right, the battalion commander, and an Afghan National Army officer during an Afghan-led operation near Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 16, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

In Afghanistan, about a quarter of the labor force is unemployed and more than half of the population lives below the national poverty line, according to the most recent data provided by The World Bank.

Determined to have a better life, Abraham’s hard work as a contractor helped him be recommended for a special immigration visa. In 2013, he was approved and moved his family to the United States to start a new journey.

His first taste of America left him amazed when he and his family first stepped foot onto U.S. soil while switching planes in Chicago.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

Sgt. Zabi Abraham, center, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 5th Battalion, speaks with Afghan soldiers during an Afghan-led operation near Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 16, 2018.

(Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

“We saw everything was very nice and very fresh. We said that this is the life,” he said, smiling.

His family chose to live in Missouri and, at first, it took some time to adapt to the American way of life.

The endless choices at megastores, a variety of pay systems (Afghanistan mainly relies on cash), and the other differences in American culture presented some challenges.

“At the beginning, it was little bit hard,” he said. “Everything was very new for us.”

Abraham and his wife also wanted to be a dual-income family, so both obtained learner’s permits so they could drive themselves around.

Although it is legal for women to drive in Afghanistan, many families restrict them from doing so due to safety concerns.

Abraham and his wife studied for the driver’s test and frequently practiced behind the wheel. Once the test came, they both passed.

“It was such a big experience and a good day for us,” he said.

Joining the Army

While things went well in his new home, his heart still longed for Afghanistan and he searched how he could help rebuild the war-torn country.

In 2015, he walked into an Army recruiter’s office and told them he once served as a linguist with U.S. soldiers. Impressed, a recruiter suggested he become an active-duty interpreter.

“My main reason was to come back and use my skill,” said Abraham, who speaks Dari and Pashto, the two most widely spoken Afghan languages.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

In traditional Afghan attire, Zabi Abraham, now a sergeant with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 5th Battalion, poses for a photo in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2013.

At basic training, Abraham, still an Afghan citizen, was issued sets of the Army combat uniform along with the other trainees. When the time came to wear the uniform, he could not help but share the moment with his family.

“I was very proud and took some pictures and sent them to my family,” he said. “They were proud of me, too.”

Abraham eventually earned his citizenship and was stationed at Fort Irwin, California, where he and other interpreters helped rotational units at the National Training Center prepare for deployments.

Speaking in his native tongue, Abraham and others role-played as peaceful villagers, insurgents and even detainees to gauge how soldiers responded.

News then spread across the training base about a new unit designed to bolster the train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan.

The more he heard about the 1st SFAB and its experienced soldiers, many of whom have been deployed to Afghanistan, the more it appealed to him.

“I wanted to be involved with such professional people,” he said.

SFAB mission

Now based at the New Kabul Compound in the middle of the country’s capital city, Abraham is one of the most impactful advisors within the brigade’s 5th Battalion.

Often, he is at the battalion commander’s side, translating conversations between him and senior Afghan leaders.

His respectful demeanor and extensive knowledge of Afghan traditions make him a popular soldier to almost every Afghan he meets.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

Zabi Abraham, right, now a sergeant with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 5th Battalion, prepares to do the Oath of Enlistment while at a military entrance processing station.

“They see him as serving us, but also as serving them,” said Lt. Col. Zachary Miller, the 5th Battalion commander.

During important discussions, Abraham is sort of Miller’s key advisor to ensure things are not lost in translation or to pick up on cultural cues.

“It’s the word choice they are choosing. It may be the way they did or did not answer a certain question,” Miller said. “So, if you got a really quality cultural advisor and interpreter, like we do with Sgt. Abraham, he will stop you from asking a question that is not the right time to ask.”

When the time is right, Abraham will ask those sensitive questions in private to support the mission.

“Even if you get trained on the Dari language,” Miller said, “you’ll never be able to pick up on those things if you’re not a native speaker.”

Wearing the same combat gear as every American soldier over here, Abraham also surprises Afghans when he speaks in their language.

“They don’t realize because I’m in full kit, but after I speak with them they realize I am Afghan,” he said, laughing. “I tell them about the service I provided when I was a linguist with them and right now how I support both countries.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

Zabi Abraham, now a sergeant with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 5th Battalion, poses for a photo with his wife and two children during a trip to San Diego.

“They are appreciative of my service.”

With his unit’s deployment ending this month, Abraham recently spoke of where his career may go next.

If his family approves — most importantly his wife and two young children — he would like to retire as a soldier.

“Without their support, I could not do anything and achieve my goal here in Afghanistan,” he said. “They are part of my heart.”

Another part of his heart belongs to Afghanistan.

Abraham is in the process of completing his bachelor’s degree and raising his test scores to perhaps re-class to 35P, a cryptologic linguist. That job deals with identifying foreign communications using signals equipment.

Even if he does switch careers, Abraham aspires to be halfway across the world again helping his native country.

“My hope is that one day there is peace in this country,” he said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

For first time, Japan’s leader visits Australia’s Pearl Harbor

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pay his respects at a war memorial in Darwin, the Australian city devastated by Japanese bombing in 1942, in the first formal visit from a Japanese leader to Darwin since during World War II.

Abe is expected to visit the Darwin Cenotaph, a monument to the country’s servicemen, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a historic and symbolic meeting.

It will be the leaders’ first meeting since the Australian PM unexpectedly took office in August 2018.


Abe also plans to take a look at Japan’s biggest ever foreign investment, the gigantic $U40 billion Ichthys gas project, which began shipping LNG in October 2018.

Abe is expected to cement ties with Australia by promoting Tokyo’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” policy, touted to “promote stability and prosperity in areas between Asia and Africa rooted in rule-based order and freedom of navigation,” as well as reconfirm cooperation in maritime security, Japanese government sources told The Japan Times.

During his visit Abe will visit a memorial erected in 2017 to commemorate 80 seamen killed about a month before the infamous bombing of Darwin in February 1942.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

The explosion of a ship, filled with TNT and ammunition, hit during the first Japanese air raid on Australia’s mainland, at Darwin on Feb. 19, 1942.

Allied forces sank one of four Japanese submarines that tried to attack the northern town, according to The Australian newspaper

The I-124 submarine now lies on the seabed off Darwin. It is ­thought to be intact and undisturbed.

Abe goes to Canberra

Abe’s visit to Australia, and his hectic Asian Pacific schedule is widely viewed by analysts as a counter to Beijing’s growing influence across the Indo-Pacific.

The show of postwar reconciliation and the tightening of strategic bonds will strengthen Canberra and Tokyo’s economic and defense ties at a time when China is asserting its role in the region and US engagement in Asia under the Trump administration is less certain, the Times noted.

Japan and Australia normalized ties in 1957, with the signing of the “Agreement on Commerce”, just 12 years after the end of World War II.

The deal was controversial at the time as many Australians said Canberra had moved too quickly to sign a formal agreement with its regional adversary and the only nation to attempt to invade modern Australia, Japan.

Today that agreement is widely seen as a critical turning point in Australia’s engagement with its own backyard and Asia as a whole.

Abe’s visit comes almost two years after the Japanese prime minister made a similar significant visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 2016.

Pearl Harbour was the site of the 1941 attack by Japan that brought the US roaring into the second world war, and prompted then President Franklin Roosevelt to name Dec. 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.”

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers his “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress on December 8, 1941.

On that day, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,300.

Yet the bombing attack on Darwin was even more brutal than Pearl Harbor.

More bombs were dropped on Darwin, more civilians killed, and more ships sunk.

Japan’s sudden and ferocious campaign finally brought a distant war home for Australians and Darwin became the frontline.

It was the largest and most destructive single attack mounted by a foreign power on Australia and led to the worst death toll from any event in the nation’s history.

More than 240 people were killed by the air raid in the former stronghold of Allied forces. Darwin later endured dozens more Japanese air attacks.

The visits reflect Abe’s intention for a postwar Japan to shore up regional ties with allies like the US and Australia.

Japan faces both military and economic challenges as a growing China flexes its regional muscle and poses more of a strategic question for Japan’s key ally, the US.

While Japan expressed biter disappointment that France beat it to lucrative contracts for Australia’s multi-billion dollar revamp of its ailing submarine fleets the two nations have moved closer to signing off on the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) — which would effectively allow Australian and Japanese forces to move freely in and out of either territory.

Japan is also likely to be pleased with prime minister Morrison’s “Pacific pivot” speech on Nov. 9, 2018, committing some billion to support infrastructure projects around the region — largely in line with Japanese intentions to diversify sources of investment in the region away from China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Abe’s visit will be bookended by Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related meetings in Singapore and a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea.

All after meeting with the US vice president Mike Pence who arrived in Japan Monday evening Tokyo time, as the two held brief talks Tuesday before traveling onto Singapore and then to Australia.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Former Somali warlord now drives Uber

A man accused of committing war crimes while serving as a Somali military commander during the African nation’s brutal civil war later moved to the US and got a job driving for the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft.

According to a CNN investigation, Yusuf Abdi Ali, a driver for Uber in Virginia since November 2017, is a former officer in the Somali army who is accused of being involved in killing more than 100 men while serving under the dictator Siad Barre.

Eyewitnesses from the Somali war zone told journalists from Canada’s CBC network in 1992 that Ali committed atrocities during the civil war in the 1980s.


“Two men were caught, tied to a tree,” one said. “Oil was poured on them and they were burnt alive. I saw it with my own eyes. I cut away their remains.”

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

An eyewitness from the Somali war zone telling journalists about the crimes committed by Ali. “Two men were caught, tied to a tree, oil was poured on them and they were burnt alive. I saw it with my own eyes. I cut away their remains.”

Another told CBC: “He caught my brother. He tied him to a military vehicle and dragged him behind. He shredded him into pieces. That’s how he died.”

After the CBC documentary, Ali was deported from Canada and moved to the US. According to CNN, he worked as a security guard until 2016, when CNN found him and confronted him about the allegations. He was fired soon after.

Undercover reporters from CNN ordered an Uber ride with Ali as their driver this month — and recorded him in secret.

Ali drove a white Nissan Altima and was an “Uber Pro Diamond” driver with a 4.89 rating.

In the report published May 14, 2019, CNN said Ali had been driving for Uber for 18 months and had also worked for Lyft.

The undercover footage shows Ali telling CNN reporters Uber “just want your background check, that’s it,” and that if “you apply tonight, maybe after two days it will come, you know, everything.”

He’s accused of war crimes and torture. Uber approved him to drive.

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Business Insider understands that Ali passed TSA and FBI background checks.

“This new continuous checking technology will strengthen our screening process and improve safety,” Uber’s vice president of safety and insurance, Gus Fuldner, said at the time.

CNN previously discovered in 2016 that Uber and Lyft had hired drivers with serious felony records, some of whom went on to be accused of sexually assaulting passengers.

A man saying he was one of Ali’s victims brought legal proceedings against him in a US court in 2004.

On May 13, 2019 — 15 years later — a court in Alexandria, Virginia, heard opening statements from lawyers for Ali and the man, Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa.

Warfaa has accused Ali of shooting him and leaving him for dead during an interrogation at his village in Somalia in 1988.

Ali was named by Warfaa’s lawyer as the leader of the Somali army’s 5th Brigade. Warfaa said Ali was known to soldiers as Colonel Tukeh, or Colonel Crow.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

Ali speaking with CBC in 1992.

(YouTube/CBC)

Ali has denied all allegations of war crimes, calling them “totally baseless.” Business Insider has contacted Ali’s lawyer for comment.

Business Insider understands Ali was not flagged on any of the government watchlists and sanctions lists searched during Uber’s screening process.

An Uber spokeswoman told Business Insider:

“Drivers must undergo a driving and criminal history background check reviewing local, state and national records, and we evaluate eligibility in accordance with criteria set by local laws.”

Lyft told CNN that it was barring Ali from its service but that he had not driven for the company since September.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-14 killed three MiGs with a single missile

A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.

But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.


Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

You can’t slap sanctions on style, apparently.

Now Read: This Iranian was the highest-scoring F-14 Tomcat pilot ever

The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.

Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.

In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.

By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.

Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.

They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.

Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.

Humor

7 worst times to have a negligent discharge

Service members do their jobs in some pretty stressful environments. From patrolling in a deadly combat zone to saying your final good-byes at a military funeral — it can be intense.


At most military functions, there will most likely be someone present who is carrying a loaded weapon, whether it’s blanks or live ammunition.

With stress levels reaching a high peak, the last thing people want to hear is the negligent discharge  — or ND — of a firearm.

Related: 17 images that perfectly show the misery of returning your gear

Check out our list of the worst times to have a negligent discharge:

7. At a funeral detail

Many military funerals have a 21-gun salute waiting fire at a specific time during the ceremony. Interrupting the service by having one of the riflemen accidentally discharge their weapon before they’re supposed to would be less than ideal, to say the least.

Everyone tends to jump a little even when the rifles are fired at the correct time.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan

6. During a foreign military weapons inspection

We advise and work alongside many foreign countries’ militaries throughout the world. When you’re trying to build and/or maintain relationships, there’s nothing more cancerous than having an ND occur to set everyone on edge.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan
BANG. *Laughs in German* (Source: DoD)

5. Right before stepping out on a stressful foot patrol

The primary mission of allied foot patrol is to make contact with the opposition. When a trooper accidentally taps the trigger of a weapon that’s no longer on “safe,” some very crappy things can follow.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan
BANG. *Angry Looks*  (Source: Army.mil)

4. While handling business in a porta-sh*tter

Many troops are required to carry loaded sidearms on their hip. Having a negligent discharge while you’re taking care of business can lead to a messy result.

Oh, and you can shoot yourself.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan
BANG. Just Bang. Any other sounds effects would be disgust– *gag*

3. Inside an up-armored vehicle

Armored vehicles are designed to keep the bad guys’ bullets from entering the cabin. That’s pretty obvious, right?

Having an ND go off inside the vehicle is really bad as the bullet will ricochet until it loses speed. Hopefully, it doesn’t land inside of one your buddies.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan
BANG PING PING PING PING PING PING PING PING

2. In the “CoC”

The “Center of Communication” is the artery for directing the troops on the ground. If an ND were to occur inside, that live round could kill a troop or damage some important computerized gear.

On second thought, just clear all your weapon systems before entering.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan
BANG. *Crickets*

Also Read: 33 images that perfectly portray your first 96-hour liberty

1. In a crowded Afghan Bazaar

Afganistan is considered one of the most dangerous battlegrounds in the world. The already intense energy in the area can quickly become deadly in a blink of an eye. A negligent discharge could launch an entire battle — or worse.

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan
BANG… rattattatbangbangbangbangbanghissssssssBOOOOOOOOOOM

Bonus: During Bowe Bergdahl’s trial

Do we really need to explain why this is a super bad time for an ND?

This US soldier has deployed home to Afghanistan
No bang. Just don’t.

MIGHTY TRENDING

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

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

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


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

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

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

‘Early Stages Of Forming’

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

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

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

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

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

Iran Building Taliban ‘Combat Capabilities’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Material Support’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taliban Divided Over Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taliban Offshoots

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

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s massive new flying boat seems aimed at Pacific rivals

China claims to have successfully tested a new sea plane, purportedly the largest in the world, and while its primary purposes are firefighting and water rescue, this new aircraft could be used to advance the country’s ambitions in the disputed South China Sea.

The AG600 Kunlong, a domestically-built Chinese aircraft roughly the size of a Boeing 737, recently completed several on-water tests on a lake in central China, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, citing China Aviation News, reported Sept. 9, 2018. It can reportedly even land in choppy seas with its hull-like fuselage.


During the testing in Hubei province, the aircraft was put through a series of water maneuvering and low-speed flight tests, according to the Associated Press.

The aircraft made its maiden flight in December 2017 Military experts reportedly believe that the latest tests indicate the plane could soon be ready for service.

The AG600 Kunlong, powered by four turboprop engines, has a significant carrying capacity. In a rescue situation, it could carry up to 50 people, and were it to be deployed for firefighting purposes, it could carry around a dozen metric tons of water.

Experts suggest that it could be used to move troops and equipment into the disputed South China Sea, where China has built militarized outposts armed with various point defense systems, jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. China even landed a heavy bomber at an outpost in early 2018.

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“The AG600 would be suitable for the quick transport of troops and materials, and could also provide other support such as evacuating garrisons in the South China Sea or even out to the Spratlys,” Collin Koh, a research fellow in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s Maritime Security Program, told SCMP.

“Beijing will also use it to justify any further build-up in the region, saying the aircraft can be used for the common good, such as providing support to foreign vessels in the area and for search and rescue,” he added.

A Beijing-based military expert suggested that the the AG600 Kunlong, the work of China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co., can link countless islands in the South China Sea and play a big role in law enforcement, emergency rescue, and even reconnaissance.” Ching Chang, a research fellow at Taiwan’s ROC Society for Strategic Studies, argued three years ago that the aircraft could play a role in “all the government functions that may signify its substantial governance in the South China Sea,” thus bolstering its previously discredited claims to the highly-contested region.

The South China Sea, which briefly took a back seat to the nuclear war crisis on the Korean Peninsula, has once again emerged as a hot-button issue. Not only has the Chinese military been threatening foreign ships and planes that venture too close to Chinese-occupied territories, but the Chinese military recently got into a standoff with a British amphibious assault ship that approached its South China Sea holdings.

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

Articles

This is what an air-to-air war between Russia and the US in Syria would look like

After the US downed a Syrian jet making a bombing run on US-backed forces fighting ISIS, Russia threatened to target US and US-led coalition planes West of the Euphrates river in Syria.


But while Russia has some advanced surface-to-air missile systems and very agile fighter aircraft in Syria, it wouldn’t fare well in what would be a short, brutal air war against the US.

The US keeps an aircraft carrier with dozens of F/A-18E fighters aboard in the Mediterranean about all the time and hundreds of F-15s and F-16s scattered around Turkey, Qatar, and Jordan.

According to Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis firm, Russia has “about 25 planes, only about ten of which are dedicated to air superiority (Su-35s and Su-30s), and against that they’ll have to face fifth-gen stealth fighters, dozens of strike fighters, F-15s, F-16s, as well as B-1 and B-52 bombers. And of course the vast US Navy and pretty much hundreds of Tomahawks.”

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USS George H.W. Bush. Photo courtesy of the US Navy

“Russians have a lot of air defenses, they’re not exactly defenseless by any means,” Lamrani told Business Insider, “But the US has very heavy air superiority.” Even though individual Russian platforms come close to matching, and in some ways exceed the capability of US jets, it comes down to numbers.

So if Russia did follow through with its threat, and target a US aircraft that did not back down West of the Euphrates in Syria, and somehow managed to shoot it down, then what?

“The US coalition is very cautious,” said Lamrani. “The whole US coalition is on edge for any moves from Russia at this point.”

Lamrani also said that while F/A-18Es are more visible and doing most of the work, the US keeps a buffer of F-22 stealth jets between its forces and Russia’s. If Russia did somehow manage to shoot down a US or US-led coalition plane, a US stealth jet would probably return fire before it ever reached the base.

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USAF photo by Greg L. Davis

At that point the Russians would have a moment to think very critically if they wanted to engage with the full might of the US Air Force after the eye-for-an-eye shoot downs.

If US surveillance detected a mass mobilization of Russian jets in response to the back-and-forth, the US wouldn’t just wait politely for Russians to get their planes in the sky so they can fight back.

Instead, a giant salvo of cruise missiles would pour in from the USS George H. W. Bush carrier strike group, much like the April 7 strike on Syria’s Sharyat air base. But this time, the missiles would have to saturate and defeat Russia’s missile defenses first, which they could do by sheer numbers if not using electronic attack craft.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams

Then, after neutering Russia’s defenses, the ships could target the air base, not only destroying planes on the ground but also tearing up the runways, so no planes could take off. At this point US and Coalition aircraft would have free reign to pass overhead and completely devastate Russian forces.

Russia would likely manage to score a couple intercepts and even shoot down some US assets, but overall the Russian contingent in Syria cannot stand up to the US, let alone the entire coalition of nations fighting ISIS.

Russia also has a strong Navy that could target US air bases in the region, but that would require Russia to fire on Turkey, Jordan, and Qatar, which would be politically and technically difficult for them.

This scenario of a hypothetical air war is exceedingly unlikely. Russia knows the numbers are against them and it would “not [be] so easy for the Russians to decide to shoot down a US aircraft,” according to Lamrani.

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Photo courtesy of Russian state media

And Russia wouldn’t risk so much over Syria, which is not an existential defense interest for them, but a foreign adventure to distract from Russia’s stalled economy and social problems, according to Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Russia is not a great power by most measures, like GDP, population, living standard,” Borshchevskaya told Business Insider. “Russia has steadily declined. It’s still a nuclear power, but not world power.”

In Syria, “a lot of what Putin is doing is about domestic policies,” said Borshchevskaya, and to have many Russian servicemen killed in a battle with a US-led coalition fighting ISIS wouldn’t serve his purposes domestically or abroad.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 things soldiers should expect, now that we’re all recruiters

The U.S. Army recently released a video in which Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey implores all of those serving to get out there and share their reasons for enlisting — to, ultimately, recruit their friends. The video is entitled, Everybody is a recruiter.

So, ladies and gents: it’s official. Each and every soldier within the United States Army is now a recruiter. Who knew that we’d all manage to get in without even going through the recruiting course at Fort Knox? Now all we need to do is get our recruitment numbers up and we can all sport a recruiting badge!

If you can’t read between the sarcastic lines, SMA Dan Dailey probably has no intentions of shipping everyone into USAREC and crowd shopping malls across the country. First off, that’d be a logistical nightmare. And secondly, if we were all recruiters, then there’d be nobody left to mop the motor pool when it rains or perform lay-outs for the eight change-of-command ceremony this month.


What SMA Dailey was trying to convey is that everyone had their reason for joining and everyone should share their stories with civilian friends and family members in hopes of inspiring them to follow suit. But that’s not as fun as imagining a ridiculous situation in which we all become actual recruiters.

Here’s the video for the full context. For a look into the daily lives of Army recruiters through the lens of a joke that’s (mildly) at the expense of the most senior enlisted soldier (from one of his biggest fans), read on:

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We can’t let them realize the Army isn’t all rainbows and sunshine until they get to Basic, now can we?

(U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Matthew Devivo)

1. We’ll all learn to smile through unpleasant situations

One of the biggest challenges a recruiter faces is keeping their military bearing at all times of the day. After all, recruiters, to many civilians, are the face of the military. As much as you’ll want to choke-slam that particularly obnoxious teenage applicant through your desk because they referred to you as, “bro,” you can’t. Not even once.

We’ll all have to quietly smile, correct them, and hope we don’t scare them into checking out the Navy’s recruiter instead.

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The paperwork doesn’t even stop when you finally get them to swear in. It only ends when they’re the drill sergeant’s responsibility.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia)

2. We’ll all become experts at doing mountains of paperwork by close of business

So, you’ve managed to get someone interested in enlisting — great work! Your job here is done. Just kidding — you’ve only just begun.

Think back to when you enlisted. Remember all that paperwork that was shoved in your face? That’s nothing compared to the paperwork recruiters have to complete. As a recruiter, you’ll have to scrub through every piece of paper that the applicant has touched to make sure they’re the right fit for the Army. Birth certificates, diplomas, arrest warrants — you name it. You’ll get so good at reading SAT scores that you’ll be able to sense which MOS a recruit is suited for well before they do.

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It’d be great if all the people coming to the Army booth at the fair actually wanted to enlist — instead of just wanting to fail to impress their friends on the pull-up bar.

(Dept. of the Army photo by Ronald A. Reeves)

3. We’ll all learn to motivate lazy applicants who can barely do a single push-up

There’s nothing more disheartening than finding yourself staring down some scrawny kid who’s probably never broken a sweat in their life after spending the last twelve business days filing out their paperwork. You’re going to have to force out a smile and give a rousing, “you can do it!” when they start trembling after just one push-up.

But, hey, they don’t have any neck tattoos or active arrest warrants, so they’re the best chance you’ve got at getting your numbers up. God forbid you ever let your numbers slip near the end of the quarter…

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But hey! At least you get your own snazzy business cards!​

(Photo by Steven Depolo)

4. We’ll all judge our lives based on how “incentive points”

Oh, yeah. The incentive points. We couldn’t forget to include the primary reason why every recruiter drinks heavily when they get off duty. Recruiters need to get a certain amount of potential applicants to walk through their doors or else they face a stern talking-to. On one hand, the recruitment quota (or “goals”) isn’t as bad as most people make it out to be. On the other hand, it’ll likely become the single-most important thing in your life.

Getting those nice, little stars on your badge is basically the infantry equivalent of shooting better at the range. The better you shoot/recruit, the better your chances of winning impromptu pissing contests that have nothing to do with the situation at hand.

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“What’s life like in the Army?” — Well, at first you’ll hate it. Then you won’t. Then you’ll miss it about two weeks after you get your DD-214.

(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki)

5. We’ll all have to deal with the worst questions at all hours of the day

At some point in your recruiting career, you’ll get so tired of answering so many stupid questions that you’ll just stop sugarcoating everything. Now, it’s not out of some moral footing, but mostly because lying takes too much creative effort by the time you’re answering that question for the 87th time.

“So, I won’t be able to become a Delta ranger sniper and do James Bond sh*t?” — Not with that attitude you won’t!
“What options are available for my ASVAB score of 25?” — Night school.
“If I don’t like it, can I just quit at any time?” — Technically, you can quit whenever you feel like, but legally? F*ck no.

Articles

Air Force declares the F-35A ‘ready for war’

The largest buyer of America’s most expensive weapons program just declared it ready for war.


“I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability,” US Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, said on a call with reporters.

“The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield,” Carlisle said.

Of the sister-service branches, the Air Force has been the most bullish on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II’s combat capabilities.

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Fun Fact: The F-35 actually runs on a money-based fuel.

The 15 Air Force F-35A jets, and 21 combat-mission-ready pilots from Hill Air Force Base’s 34th Fighter Squadron, represent a significant breakthrough for the weapons program, which began development 15 years ago and has been offset by design flaws, cost overruns, and technical challenges.

Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program’s executive officer, said that the Air Force’s decision to declare the F-35A’s initial operational capability (IOC) “sends a simple and powerful message to America’s friends and foes alike, the F-35 can do its mission.”

“The roads leading to IOC for both services were not easy and these accomplishments are tangible testaments to the positive change happening in the F-35 program,” Bogdan said.

As the Air Force is buying nearly 70% of the fifth-generation jets being made domestically — 1,763 of 2,443 aircraft — the Air Force sets the economies of scale for the tri-service fighter, with each plane costing a cool $100 million.

Lockheed Martin, considered a bellwether for the US defense sector, is expected to generate nearly a fifth of its $50 billion in 2016 sales solely from the F-35 program.

In the company’s latest quarter, the defense giant posted net sales in its aeronautics business up 6%, or $244 million — compared to the same period in 2015.

The Pentagon’s top weapons supplier is also building the “jack of all trades” aircraft for the UK, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel, Japan, and South Korea.

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Behold, the F-35. | Lockheed Martin

Even though the Air Force is operating the oldest fleet in its history, it’s not the first of the sister-service branches to declare its variant combat-ready.

Last summer, the US Marine Corps was the first of the military branches to declare initial operational capability for 10 F-35B jets.

“There were a lot of people out here in the press that said, ‘Hey, the Marines are just going to declare IOC because it would be politically untenable not to do that,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, said during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on the readiness and future trajectory of Marine aviation.

“IOC in the Marine Corps means we will deploy that airplane in combat. That’s not a decision I was gonna take lightly, nor Gen. Dunford,” Davis said, referring to Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.

The US Navy variant, the F-35C, is scheduled to reach IOC by February 2019.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Amazing behind the scenes facts about Rambo – from Stallone himself

John Rambo was almost any other throwaway movie veteran. But luckily for the character – and fans of the Rambo series – the script for First Blood was in the hands of Sylvester Stallone. For Sly, something felt a little off about the story. So he asked real Vietnam veterans what was missing.

And movie history was made.


Sly gets input from veterans when it comes to writing “Rambo”

Given John Rambo’s place in the action movie pantheon, First Blood isn’t the shoot-em-up action movie someone might expect. In between the fight scenes, it’s a poignant remark on the treatment of Vietnam veterans, a wound that was still fresh when the movie was released in 1982. It started life as a book, but John Rambo’s speech at the end – the words that bring the entire story and its message together – wasn’t in the book. Stallone added it with the input from Vietnam veterans. It was a message that resonated with Vietnam vets in their own words.

Sly didn’t stop there. For the sequel, where Rambo is sent to Vietnam to rescue POW/MIA still in captivity, Stallone reached out to vets at Soldier of Fortune Magazine to talk about Vietnam War prisoners that might be held over. For the third, he tapped troops with experience in Afghanistan. He did the same to learn more about the decades-long civil war in Burma.

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Stallone reprising his iconic role a John Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood.

Stallone’s favorite ‘Rambo’ weapon isn’t the trademark knife

There are a lot of now-iconic action scenes where John Rambo is using weapons to great effect. The large survival knife from First Blood is legendary, but Rambo has a whole cache of other tools. He uses the compound bow in every Rambo movie to come after, an M60E3 with one hand in First Blood Part II, and who could forget the time he uses a Browning M2 to first obliterate a Jeep driver at close range before taking out half of Burma’s army in 2008’s Rambo.

For Stallone, the latest weapon resonated most with him. Rambo is short on time in Last Blood and has to fashion a few weapons for himself. Among those is a “vicious” weapon crafted from a spring on a car for use in close combat. Stallone calls it a “war club” with the emphasis on war.

“That thing talks to me,” the actor tells We Are The Mighty.

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Imagine all the places this pitchfork is gonna go.

John Rambo enlisted in the Air Force first

Sorry, Big Army. Before Rambo joined the U.S. Army’s most elite Special Forces unit, he crossed into the blue. It wasn’t just something he did for a few minutes before realizing he wanted to be in the Army, either. John Rambo did two tours in Vietnam as a combat helicopter pilot and even received the Medal of Honor before he ever thought about being in the Army.

According to the man who plays Rambo himself (in the video above), John Rambo got into a fight in Saigon with a bunch of Special Forces guys who told him that anyone could fight in the sky. So Rambo went to Fort Bragg as soon as he could, reenlisting so he could join the Army’s Special Force. In the film, you’ll see John Rambo in Air Force blue.

Catch Rambo: Last Blood in theaters starting Friday, Sep. 20, 2019.

hauntedbattlefields

You don’t know the real Rudy Reyes

We’ve all heard of Rudy Reyes, the Recon Marine, martial artist, and actor who famously played himself in the HBO miniseries, Generation Kill, but few people really know what Rudy has been up to these days. Hell, we didn’t know either until we asked Rudy to sit down and chat.

The only problem? Rudy doesn’t sit. He’s always on the move. Always.


As a former Marine and Green Beret myself, I should’ve known what I was getting into when I asked Rudy for an interview. I’m sitting in my office waiting for the 47-year old Marine to arrive from Mongolia (yep, you read that right). After knowing Rudy for years, I can tell you there is one thing I should be doing right now: stretching.

I first met Rudy in a NYC restaurant back in 2010, just a few weeks after I had left the Marine Corps myself. I was in that awkward, post-military transition phase where the opportunity for a new life seemed so real, but I still had no idea what to do with myself after three tours to Iraq. That’s when I ran into Rudy. He was waiting tables at a Thai restaurant in Brooklyn, trying to pick up some extra cash between auditions. I can tell you with 100% accuracy, Rudy is a horrible waiter, but that didn’t stop him from giving the task his complete focus and energy. He only knows one speed: fast.

In fact, the Recon Marine and veteran of some of Iraq’s most gruesome battles moved around the restaurant like he was clearing a room. Maybe it was the newly grown “veteran” beard on my face or just the post-military emptiness that all warriors feel, but Rudy stopped when he saw me and asked me, “hey brother, are you a vet?” When I answered,”yes” and mentioned that I was just a few weeks out, Rudy invited me to join him for a workout the next day. See, that’s the kinda guy Rudy has always been. He knew me for less than a minute before welcoming me into his world.

Nearly a decade later, I am excited to see my friend again, especially now, because he’s literally traveled the globe to come up to my office. Besides his warrior spirit, there is one thing that I’ve always loved about Rudy: He knows how to make an entrance. He’s just walked in wearing a sleeveless WWII blouse while carrying a kettlebell and tactical boombox.

So let’s get this interview started…

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Photo Courtesy of Rudy Reyes

Brother and leader of Marines, welcome back to We Are The Mighty. What the hell are you wearing?

RR: Hey brother, good to see you. Aww yeah, you love this jacket. My buddy who worked on ‘The Pacific’ hooked me up. It’s what the hard chargers wore when they stormed Iwo Jima.

And what about the sleeves?

RR: Didn’t need them. [Rudy’s now doing pull-ups in the office]

Dude, it’s been a decade since ‘Generation Kill,’ and you still look like you’re on the teams. How the hell do you find time to get in the gym?

RR: Brother, I am the gym. I have Sorinex center mass bells, Monkii bar straps, and a positive attitude. That’s all I need.

Ok, well, I have no excuse not to work out today. What were you doing in Mongolia?

RR: Aww, oh my gosh bro, it was amazing. I’m part of the Spartan Race Agoge Krypteia. I am one of the leaders of these 60-hour endurance races all across the globe. Just like the Spartans of Greece, we train people to be the strongest and [most] mentally tough citizens on earth.
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(Photo Courtesy of Rudy Reyes)

Why Mongolia?

RR: It’s the land of Genghis Khan. We took a group of Agoge athletes through a training program just like the amazing warriors of the steppe. There was wrestling, archery, and shapeshifting.

Shapeshifting?

RR: Oh yeah, the Shaman [priest], covers his face so you can’t see it, but it’s real. He changes into different animals to help the athletes remove the evil spirits from their lives. It’s amazing how this cleansing will move you towards peak performance.

Wow, this just got interesting. You really think that fighting spirits is part of fitness?

RR: I don’t just think it, brother. I know it. I’ve been cleansing my own demons for years as I move toward being my best self. I’ve learned to dive into my dreams and explore the world as if I was awake. I’m an oneironaut.
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(Photo Courtesy of Rudy Reyes)

An Onierawhat?

RR: Oneironaut. I’m able to travel into my dreams, and once I am awake, I draw what I saw so that I can learn about the future or the past. It’s like being on a reconnaissance mission again. I have to get close to the enemy around me so that I can learn how to defeat them.

What have you learned from these dream missions?

RR: The enemy can come in many forms both internal and external. I have to fight things like self-doubt and depression as well as evil spirits that put barriers in our path to success. I’ve grown to be a better warrior, athlete, and father as an oneironaut. I recently dreamed about my son and I traveling to a beautiful waterfall.
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(Photo Courtesy of Rudy Reyes)

Can you teach me how to do this?

RR: Yes, of course.

Sh*t! He said yes, change the subject before we actually start fighting spirits.

It sounds like you’ve had a helluva year thus far, what does 2019 look like for you?

RR: Brother, I am so blessed. I’ve spent the years since I first met you focused on the things I love and believe in, and now it’s paying off. I get to be the warrior I am on camera with the Spartan Agoge and travel the world. I also have my non-profit, Force Blue, where we pair special operations veterans and underwater conservationists to save the planet’s coral reefs. We were just awarded a grant from the State of Florida to rescue and restore the coral reef off of Miami and the keys.


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(Photo Courtesy of @ianastburyofficial)

Wait, what? The state of Florida is paying you guys to dive coral reefs?

RR: Hahaha [Rudy’s laugh is now visibly causing all my coworkers to look in our direction]. Pretty much, brother. Florida’s reef is the 3rd largest in the world and one of the most threatened. The coral is both a wall and source of life. By getting in the water and restoring the coral, we are protecting the coastline from tidal erosion and protecting the fishing industry. We call it Project PROTECT.

Dude, that’s awesome. You’re rocking it. I see the same passion in you now that you had back when we first met in NY. What’s your secret?

RR: Positive mental attitude, my brother. We are our best when we believe in ourselves. That’s where I start each day and try to land each night. Positivity is contagious just like an insurgency.

You know I like that.

RR: Semper Fi.

Semper Fi, brother. [Rudy is now doing more pull-ups]

Articles

One of America’s top enemies in the Iraq War just won big in Iraqi elections

For five years, Muqtada al-Sadr’s personal insurgent army fought American troops during the Iraq War and commited heinous crimes against Iraq Sunni minorities. Now, a decade later, the Shia cleric’s Sairoon Alliance is leading Iraq’s parliamentary elections. His populist candidacy upset the U.S. favorite, incumbent Haider al-Abadi, and al-Sadr is set to be the kingmaker in Iraq.


In the years following his two uprisings against American forces, the “radical cleric” (as he was often called in Western media) continued his fight against the Baghdad government and against Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq. He eventually withdrew from public life until 2012, when he made a comeback, rebranding himself as a leader intent on bringing Sunnis and Shia together.

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For most of the Iraq War, however, he was intent on blowing Sunnis apart.

With the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, al-Sadr also rebranded his Mahdi Army, forming the “Peace Companies,” intended to protect Shia believers from the strict form of Sunni Islam and personal violence inflicted upon Iraqis by ISIS. He continued his rebranding to become an anti-poverty, anti-corruption populist who rejects the outside influence of both Iran and the United States.

Al-Sadr’s stated purpose for Sairoon was clearing corruption, rejecting the sectarian quotas, and putting skilled thought leaders (aka technocrats) in key ministerial positions.

“The ascendancy of the list sponsored by al-Sadr shows that anti-establishment sentiment and anti-corruption have driven the choice of most voters,” said Rend al-Rahim, a former Iraqi ambassador to the United States. “None of the lists had an electoral program that outlined priorities and a plan of action. All used vague terms to lure voters. Many of the lists also used populist and demagogic tactics that played on the emotions of voters.”

Some American veterans of the 2003-2011 Iraq War are not happy with his 53-seat win.

Understandably, no one who fought the Mahdi Army or lost a friend in Sadr City wants him to wield legitimate political power in Iraq. But Al-Sadr didn’t launch a revolt in Iraq. He didn’t put a gun to Haider al-Abadi’s head to force him to step down. The cleric’s bloc was elected in a legitimate Iraqi election by the people of Iraq, none of whom were punished for not voting for Sairoon. The democracy we fought to establish in Iraq is functioning.

Sometimes the candidate you want to win doesn’t win, no matter who they might be running against.

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Ask Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Al Gore, Bob Dole, Etc.

The peaceful transfer of power is another hallmark of democracy, and we should credit Prime Minister al-Abadi when he implored the people of Iraq to accept this change.

“I call on Iraqis to respect the results of the elections,” he said.

Iraq has bigger things to worry about than the United States’ opinion on their domestic politics. This was the first election held since ISIS was pushed out of Iraq — after decimating Iraqi infrastructure. The country also faces rampant unemployment, one of the main triggers of domestic terrorism in the region.

American veterans of the Iraq War should see this as a major victory. In the first post-Saddam election of 2005, with the start of the Mahdi Army’s rise to power, did we ever believe we would see the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr with purple ink on his finger?

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And yet, here we are.

The biggest issue for the anti-Iran cleric will be integrating Iraq’s militia’s into its official armed forces and security structure — especially since most of those are backed by Iran. Iran has publicly stated it will not allow al-Sadr’s coalition to lead the government. Al-Sadr has made moves to align himself with the king of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional adversary, to push back against the Islamic Republic.

Al-Sadr’s fight for power is far from over. Despite having ties to Iran, the Islamic Republic is no fan of the cleric, who has resisted Iranian influence in Iraq since the days of the Iraq War. And al-Sadr will no longer be able to criticize the government from the sidelines. Instead, it will be on him and his Sairoon bloc to guide Iraq to the future he promised to desperate Iraqi voters.

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