The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for years, becoming the subject of the Dale Brown novel “Sky Masters” and Tom Clancy’s SSN video game and tie-in book.
It’s a seven-way Mexican standoff between the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam.
And you thought Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” had it bad in that final standoff in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
But the United States Navy has been willing to challenge the PRC’s claims in the region. A recent U.S. Navy release discussed how the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) “conducted routine operations” while transiting the South China Sea. That region has recently become hotter with the ruling by an arbitration panel in favor of the Philippines, who were objecting to China’s claims.
The problem, of course, is that the ChiComs took a page from everyone’s favorite sociopath from “Game of Thrones” — one Cersei Lannister. They didn’t bother to show up for the arbitration proces, even though they had to have known the consequences. And they probably didn’t care.
In essence, what the McCain did was a freedom of navigation exercise. This sounds innocuous, but in reality it is only slightly less touchy than an invite from a samurai to take part in a “comparison of techniques.”
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) fires its MK-45 5-inch/54-caliber lightweight gun. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alonzo M. Archer/Released)
You see, a “freedom of navigation” exercise usually involves the American vessel operating in international waters that a certain country may not recognize as international waters. In essence, the United States is asserting: “No, these are international waters.”
What happened to the USS Yorktown was mild, though. Let’s go back more than 30 years to see how rough those exercises can really get.
In March of 1986, the Navy was sent to carry out some “freedom of navigation” exercises to push back against Moammar Qaddafi. In 1981, similar exercises had resulted in the downing of two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter” attack planes that took some ill-advised shots at Navy F-14s.
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), the Republic of Korea navy destroyer ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972), and the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Jeju (FF 958) participate in a joint exercise during Foal Eagle 2015. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
That was why three carriers, the USS Coral Sea (CV 43), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS America (CV 66) were involved in the 1986 round of “Freedom of Navigation” exercises.
On 23 March, the exercises began. The next day, the shooting started.
The Libyans started by firing SA-2 and SA-5 missiles at Navy F-14s. Shortly afterwards, MiG-23 “Floggers” tried to engage some Tomcats, but broke off after an intense dogfight.
By the end of the day, Libya had lost a new Nanuchka II-class corvette, a Combattante II-class missile boat, saw a Nanuchka and a Combattante II disabled, while several surface-to-air missile sites ended up being live-fire tests for the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).
Fast forward to January 1989.
American forces were operating near the Gulf of Sidra when two MiG-23s came looking for a fight, and got shot down by a pair of F-14s. Once again, the “freedom of navigation” exercises had lead to shots being fired.
Something to keep in mind the next time you hear of such exercises. When sailors are sent there, they could find themselves in a fight.
If you somehow are on the internet and haven’t seen the viral BBC interview of an expert on South Korea being interrupted during a BBC interview by his children, then you can see it here.
The dad is impressively collected as his wife rushes in to grab the children and pull them out, but the internet had a field day with the interview.
Now, a U.S. Air Force crew has created a spoof video where a pilot is attempting to read her takeoff clearance back when the crew starts stumbling in. Another airman, probably the chief, has to rush in and grab the other crewmen out of the cabin.
The results are pretty great. You can check the video out below:
The White House warned the Syrian regime and their allies Russia and Iran on Sept. 4, 2018, that the US would retaliate if the Regime used chemical weapons on the last rebel stronghold in Syria’s Idlib province.
“Let us be clear, it remains our firm stance that if President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
“President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” Sanders added.
On Sept. 4, 2018, Russia began conducting airstrikes once again on Idlib, according to the Washington Post, raising fears that a full-on assault would soon begin.
Assad and Russia have had their sights set on Idlib for months, but an all-out attack has yet to be launched.
“The Turks are blocking the offensive,” Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, previously told Business Insider. “The Turks and Russians continue to frame their discussion from the lens of cooperation, but that’s not actually what’s happening.”
Cafarella said that Turkey may allow a partial offensive in Idlib, but that Ankara can’t afford “to have another massive Syrian refugee flow towards the Turkish border.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Nicolas Maduro is the world’s worst dictator in the world’s worst dictatorship. To be clear, he’s not the worst in that he’s particularly repressive to his citizens or running concentration camps. He’s the worst in terms of how he came to power and how he holds on to it. He rose in power thanks to Hugo Chavez’ cult of personality while he and his party managed the rapid decline of what was one of South America’s most vibrant economies.
For a while, it looked like the Kremlin might have been propping up his regime, but now it looks like Moscow might be abandoning him.
Maduro maintains a tenuous grip on power solely because the street thugs – colectivos – and military generals who protect him have more to lose than he does if they lose control of Venezuela. For the Russians, their biggest gain in propping up Maduro is annoying the United States in its own backyard. Unfortunately for Maduro, Russian support may be all he has left, and he may be losing that.
In March 2019, Russia sent military planes, materiel, and advisors to Venezuela, confidently showing the world the Kremlin had Maduro’s back and that any intervention in Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis would be met with Russian interference as well. But the Venezuelan President’s luck might be running out.
Don’t give anyone any ideas.
On June 2, 2019, Russia withdrew its contractors and defense advisors in the country and the private Russian firm paid by Venezuela to train its military just cut its Russian staff by half. This latest development may be showing that the millions the Maduro regime owes the Russians may not be enough for Russia to keep Maduro’s government from collapsing on itself. The biggest reason for the pullout, according to the Wall Street Journal, is that Maduro can’t actually pay the Russians anymore.
American sanctions against Venezuela and the long-term decline of the country’s oil production infrastructure has led to a huge decline in the country’s coffers. The United States and Russia showcase Venezuela’s struggle in their own struggle for worldwide supremacy. But even so, it may not be enough for the Russians to keep Maduro’s barely-functional regime afloat.
Lt. Gen. Christoper Cavoli U.S. Army Europe Commanding General, (c) Brig Gen. Christopher Norrie, and Brig. Gen. Brett G. Sylvia, the 1st Cavalry Division Forward commander, converse during exercise Allied Spirit at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, June 16, 2020 as part of DEFENDER EUROPE 2020. Photo by Spc. Javan Johnson.
U.S. Army Europe and Africa will organize and host the most significant military exercise in Europe this year. Last year’s pandemic restrictions might have caught most militaries off guard, and certainly had an enormous impact on the DEFENDER Europe 20. However, this year’s exercise includes a COVID prevention and mitigation strategy. DEFENDER Europe 21 kicked off in March and will last until June in an activity that consists of 27 nations and over 30,000 troops from Europe and North America.
DEFENDER Europe is a yearly exercise planned and led by U.S. Army’s Europe and Africa Service Component Command. It is a joint and multinational exercise designed to strategic and interoperability readiness between NATO, U.S. and partner militaries. Although last year was a success, this year’s increased participation and widened geographical posture will further test the integration of air, land, sea and cyber capabilities.
The multi-domain nature of modern warfare will be tested by significant participation of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force as air and sea routes will be utilized and tested to connect allies across Europe, Asia and Africa. Existing and new sophisticated assets such as air and missile defense equipment will be tested to ensure partner interoperability. The recent merger of United States Army Europe and the United States Army Africa into one service component command aims to increase the capability to conduct joint, large-scale and multi-domain operations.
The recently reactivated V Corps will also lead the charge in readiness and interoperability both at the operational and tactical level. The Forward Command Post is located in Poland, and it will control the rotational forces in Fortress Europe and operational command and mission control. The exercise will include U.S. Army’s Security Force Assistance teams who provide training and assistance to partner nations at lower echelons.
Logistically, it will be one of the most challenging exercises conducted with five logistic centers located in four countries. The use of naval routes will be done through five ports with over 1200 pieces of equipment transferred from the U.S, while the only Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore operation will be conducted in Albania. The U.S. Army will have three Prepositioned Stock sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, with over 1000 pieces of equipment being drawn.
What makes this year’s exercise complex and challenging is the fact that it consists of five other exercises:
A combination of different exercises in size and nature, with some of the events co-occurring in over 31 training areas around Europe, sends a clear message to any threat. While DEFENDER Europe 21 is defensive in nature, it can quickly shift to any other type of operation in response to any crisis in Europe, the Caucasus, Ukraine and Africa. Although Russia remains the most significant threat in Europe and around Europe, the exercise also aims to provide strategic security partnerships to the Western Balkans and the Black Sea regions.
The commanding general of the V Corps, Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski, is excited for his corps’ opportunity to cooperate with European allies in deterring NATO’s threat. “DEFENDER Europe 21 is a critical exercise that will provide V corps with another great opportunity to build readiness in our march towards full operational capability and promote interoperability as we work alongside allies and partners,” he said.
The Russian annexation of Crimea and other parts of Ukraine back in 2014 was a wake-up call to Western Allies and its NATO-chartered grouping. The increased U.S. posture of forces and U.S.-led exercises are seen as the mechanisms to deter and prevent any additional attempt by Russia to destabilize the Old Continent. This year’s exercise will reaffirm the determination of the U.S. and its European NATO allies after a turbulent year marked by the global health crisis.
As expected, this year’s exercise will include strict COVID prevention and mitigation measures consisting of pre-deployment virus testing and quarantining. Such insistence only reaffirms the U.S.’s resolve to provide strategic support and interoperability to NATO and partner militaries, regardless of the widespread infections. Such an approach will undoubtedly give much-needed reassurances after an absent NATO summit in 2020. One thing is for sure, without long-term stability and peace in Europe, the U.S. cannot even begin to battle the military threats posed by Russia and China.
The Coast Guard has been on patrol since 1790, and it has often had to do a lot with very little in the way of assets. Now, some of the assets it does have may be relatively useless.
According to a veteran Coast Guard officer who published his concerns in Proceedings magazine, a number of the major cutters (those over 210 feet in length) are “ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.” Furthermore, one 210-foot cutter was in dry dock for six months, with two more months at the pier when it should have deployed, due to “unplanned maintenance.”
Drills for the crew are focused more on damage control than maritime law enforcement.
“By continuing its over reliance on the cutter—specifically, large cutters measuring 210 feet and longer—the Coast Guard has fallen behind and become a stagnant force in the maritime domain,” write Lt. David Allan Adams, Jr. “This is, of course, not because of a lack of effort by the hardworking Coasties stationed on cutters, but rather because the white hull fleet is well over 50 years old and ill-equipped—and often ill-suited—to handle the challenges and dangers in their areas of operation.”
Even the newest Coast Guard cutters, the Legend-class National Security Cutters that are replacing the Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters, have had issues, with a 2016 report from McClatchy news service noting that the new ships suffered four cracked cylinder heads a year.
“Junior officers stationed on cutters can testify to the poor material condition of the cutters and the disillusionment cutter life can instill,” Adams wrote. “The life of a JO is not about conducting law enforcement or conning the cutter — as promised at recruitment — but more about routing and correcting memorandums, being held accountable should an inspection go poorly, and striving to perform in the arena in which the JOs’ future is truly held: the underway wardroom.”
The problem has been widespread. A 2014 NJ.com report noted that 34 cutters and 37 patrol boats were unable to deploy for a combined total of 1,654 days. The Coast Guard has also been very short on icebreakers, with one of its most capable vessels in that mission stuck at the pier.
The Coast Guard, of course, has a substantial job, with a mission to secure America’s maritime borders, which run six times the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, and it does so with two-thirds of the personnel of United States Customs and Border Protection.
The Coast Guard is planning to build 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters to replace the aging medium endurance cutters, a deal expected to cost $10.5 billion, roughly $420 million per vessel. By comparison, a Freedom-class littoral combat ship sets taxpayers back $362 million.
Name a war, revolution, or revolt during the Cold War that involved the British Commonwealth, Western European nations or their allies and you’ve also named a conflict that had combatants fighting with the Fabrique Nationale FAL.
No wonder the FAL earned the nickname “the right arm of the free world” and became a symbol of the struggle against Communism.
In many ways, it was the West’s answer to the Kalashnikov, albeit one chambered to fire the heavier 7.62 x 51 mm NATO round instead of the AK-47’s 7.62 x 39 mm intermediate round.
Created in the years immediately after World War II, FN eventually produced 2 million FALs (Fusil Automatique Léger or “Light Automatic Rifle”) that were used by the militaries of more than 90 nations.
At one time, the FAL was even the official battle rifle of most NATO-member countries. It was even considered for the role as the United States’ main battle rifle.
Frankly, the FAL was everywhere. For example, consider the Six-Day War in 1967.
A common misconception is the 9mm Uzi was the weapon of choice for the Israeli Defense Forces. Actually, Israeli soldiers carried more FALs than Uzis when facing Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian troops.
Then, there was the 1982 Falklands War. The Argentine Army carried the full-auto version of the FAL; British troops had the semi-auto L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle model of the FAL.
When captured Argentine troops piled their weapons, British infantry and Royal Marines often walked over to the stack and retrieved the full-auto FAL so they could spray more lead at the enemy.
In Argentina, thousands of FALs underwent armory rebuilds in 2010, a sure sign that nation will continue to put the weapon in the hands of its troops.
How the FAL saw the light of day is a story that combines the tactical realities that emerged out of World War II and the politics of who would lead who during the Cold War.
The success of the innovative Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle convinced ordnance officers and weapons designers that era of the bolt-action battle rifle was dead and gone. Lighter cartridges in select-fire assault rifles captured the imagination of weapons designers.
Only the United States fielded a heavy caliber semi-auto battle rifle, the well-regarded M1 Garand .30-06 weapon that Gen. George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” But the future was one that fired full auto – and the Garand did not.
Caliber was also an issue. As weapons designers on both sides of the Atlantic toyed with prototype battle rifles the British tested a 7 mm (.280-caliber) round in the new FAL and liked it.
In the United States, the Army wanted to stick with the .30-caliber round, flatly stating that no other cartridge could hold its own on the battlefield.
With the formation of the new NATO alliance in 1949, generals and civilian planners both talked of the necessity to standardize equipment, weapons and supplies.
“The laudable aim was one that had been much in the minds of many forward-looking military thinkers for a long time,” writes David Westwood, author of Rifles: An Illustrated History of their Impact. “For experience had shown that the United States and Britain often fought side by side, and commonality would be to the benefit of all including soldiers in the field.”
One thing was certain: the British were impressed with the FAL and were willing to choose it over other weapons.
It was deemed the superior firearm to competitors because it was easy to maintain, field strip, and clean. It reassembled without special tools and it was a select-fire weapon – but it fired the lighter round.
The “gravel belly” U.S. generals would accept nothing but a .30-caliber weapon, insisting on the superiority of a prototype called the T25, a forerunner of the M14 that was nothing more than a glorified Garand.
Soon, there was a “Battle of the Bullets” that went as high as the White House and 10 Downing Street. Pres. Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill even held a mini-summit, where rumor has it they struck a quid pro quo – the U.S. would adopt the FAL as its main battle rifle if Britain backed NATO adopting the 7.62 x 51 mm round.
NATO relented and adopted the round. However, the U.S. reneged, developed the M14, which fired the NATO 7.62 mm cartridge, and adopted it as the American military’s main rifle.
In the end, it didn’t matter to FN because NATO countries (including Britain) began snapping up the FAL chambered for the NATO round.
Many consider that combination of weapon and cartridge the quintessential pairing of battle-rifle and bullet during the 20th Century – the FAL went into production in 1953 and FN continued to produce the rifle until 1988. The M-14 fell by the wayside as the main U.S. battle rifle within a few years, replaced by the M-16.
“Regardless of the political activity that went on before its adoption, the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO turned out to be an excellent, powerful military cartridge,” writes Robert Cashner, author of The FN FAL Battle Rifle. “With millions of FALs manufactured and internationally distributed, the rifle played a large part in making the 7.62 x 51mm NATO the success that it was.”
Vietnam is one often overlooked place where the FAL also proved a success. The weapon arrived there in the hands of Australian troops who fought as allies of the United States under the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO).
More than 60,000 Aussies would serve in the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1972, including the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. More commonly known as 1RAR, soldiers in the regiment fought in many significant battles during the war’s escalation in the mid-1960s.
During those the engagements, they often faced well-equipped Viet Cong who carried new AK-47s supplied by the Communist Chinese and East Bloc nations.
Despite its weight and size (the FAL is one of the longest battle rifles of the 20th Century), 1RAR’s troops considered their weapon suited for jungle warfare.
The powerful NATO round would punch through thick foliage, killing their concealed VC opponents. It was also a far more reliable weapon than the early version of the M-16 issued to U.S. forces – the FAL rarely jammed or misfired, two problems that plagued the M-16 for years.
Fifty years after the Battle of Hue City, retired Marine John L. Canley has moved a step closer to receiving the Medal of Honor for his “above and beyond” actions in the house-to-house fighting.
On Jan. 29, President Donald Trump signed a bill passed by Congress to waive the five-year limit on recommendations for the nation’s highest award for valor and authorized the upgrade of Canley’s Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.
The bill (H.R.4641), sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-California, “authorizes the President to award the Medal of Honor to Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley for acts of valor during the Vietnam War while serving in the Marine Corps.”
In a letter to Brownley last month, Mattis said, “After giving careful consideration to the nomination, I agree that then-Gunnery Sergeant Canley’s actions merit the award of the Medal of Honor.”
The 80-year-old Canley, of Oxnard, California, who retired as a sergeant major after 28 years of service, was Brownley’s guest of honor Jan. 31 at Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Canley “is a true American hero and a shining example of the kind of gallantry and humility that makes our armed forces the best military in the world,” Brownley said in a statement Jan. 30.
“It is my great honor that he will be attending the State of the Union with me tomorrow — 50 years to the day of the start of the Tet Offensive, where his bravery and courage saved many lives,” she said.
In a statement to Brownley after Trump signed the bill, Canley said, “This honor is for all of the Marines with whom I served. They are an inspiration to me to this day.”
He earlier told Military.com that in the grueling 1968 fight to retake Hue from the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet-Cong: “The only thing I was doing was taking care of troops, best I could. Do that, and everything else takes care of itself.”
Canley also thanked Brownley and a member of her staff, Laura Sether, “for their effort and work to make this happen.”
They worked closely with the survivors from Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, who fought with Canley at Hue and mounted a 13-year effort to get past the red tape to upgrade his Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor.
The distinguished Medal of Honor — Navy version. (Image from U.S. Navy)
John Ligato, a private first class in Alpha 1/1 and a retired FBI agent who was part of the effort to upgrade the medal, said of Canley: “This man is the epitome of a Marine warrior.”
At Hue, Canley took command of Alpha 1/1 when Capt. Gordon Batcheller, the company commander, was wounded and evacuated.
He fought alongside Sgt. Alfredo Cantu “Freddy” Gonzalez, who had taken command of Third Platoon, Alpha 1/1, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Canley’s Navy Cross cites his actions from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 1968, when he had command of Alpha 1/1 before being relieved by then-Lt. Ray Smith, a Marine legend who earned the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during his tours in Vietnam and retired as a major general.
“On 31 January, when his company came under a heavy volume of enemy fire near the city of Hue, Gunnery Sergeant Canley rushed across the fire-swept terrain and carried several wounded Marines to safety,” the citation states.
Canley then “assumed command and immediately reorganized his scattered Marines, moving from one group to another to advise and encourage his men. Although sustaining shrapnel wounds during this period, he nonetheless established a base of fire which subsequently allowed the company to break through the enemy strongpoint,” it continues.
On Feb. 4, “despite fierce enemy resistance,” Canley managed to get into the top floor of a building held by the enemy. He then “dropped a large satchel charge into the position, personally accounting for numerous enemy killed, and forcing the others to vacate the building,” the citation says.
The battle raged on. Canley went into action again on Feb. 6 as the company took more casualties in an assault on another enemy-held building.
“Gunnery Sergeant Canley lent words of encouragement to his men and exhorted them to greater efforts as they drove the enemy from its fortified emplacement,” the citation states.
In speaking of Canley, Ligato, retired Maj. Gen. Smith, former Lance Cpl. Eddie Neas and others who served with him, both in battle and stateside, told of his indefinable command presence that made them want to follow and emulate his example.
“The most impressive combat Marine I ever knew,” Smith told Military.com.
Smith recalled that at his own retirement ceremony at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, he said, “All through my career, whenever I had to make a decision that would affect Marines, I’d always think — ‘What would Canley tell me to do?’ ”
Canley’s command presence was such that others who served with him to this day recall him in awe as a 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 tower of strength who would calmly pick up wounded Marines, put them on his shoulder, and run through fire to safety.
“They worshipped the ground the guy walked on,” Smith said of Canley, but “he was actually about six feet” tall.
British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the Manchester attack by defeating the extremists in their de-facto capital.
British volunteer fighters combating the Islamic State group in Syria have vowed to avenge the victims of the deadly suicide attack at a pop concert in Manchester on May 22.
The British combatants, who have been fighting among the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units [YPG] in Syria, promised on May 23 to soundly defeat the extremists in their de-facto capital of Raqqa.
IS has claimed responsibility for the the massacre that killed 22 people including one girl aged just eight at a concert by US pop star Ariana Grande.
“We’re taking it to them. When I go to Raqqa I’m giving them no quarter. I will expect no mercy from them and I will not give them no mercy,” said Michael Enright, a YPG fighter from Manchester.
“I will remember Manchester,” he swore in a video posted on Twitter.
He added that he had become accustomed to death while fighting in Syria but the attack targeting children and teenagers in his hometown was “heartbreaking”.
Macer Gifford, another YGP volunteer, said in an online statement that IS would soon be crushed in Raqqa, adding that the British government must back Kurdish forces their fight.
“We will destroy their military capital which will effectively cut off the snake’s head,” Gifford said.
“We must urge the UK government to do more to defeat [IS] in Syria. Terror has been brought to London and Manchester. Our children have been targeted!”
He added that British authorities should follow the lead of the US and send military aid to the YPG’s ally the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF].
In November last year, the SDF — a Kurdish-Arab alliance — began an offensive aimed at taking the city of Raqqa.
The fighters are still 40 kilometres from Raqqa to the west, and have not controlled any territory directly to the city’s south, which is bordered by the Euphrates river.
The SDF has said the long-awaited attack on Raqqa would start at the beginning of the summer, probably in June.
The Kurdish forces have received a steady stream of recruits from the West to help in the fight against IS extremists.
In December last year, a 20-year-old British YPG fighter was killed during the ongoing Raqqa offensive, making him the third Briton to die fighting IS in Syria.
Critics have however cautioned that the YPG and its allies are committing human rights abuses, and pursuing an agenda for Kurdish independence including by collaborating with the Syrian regime, despite its atrocities that eclipse those of IS.
The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law in December, provides the military justice system new tools to prosecute service members who maliciously distribute sexually explicit images of others.
The 2018 NDAA adds Article 117a to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. “The new article is titled ‘Wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images’,” said Lt. Col. Jay L. Thoman, a judge advocate and the chief of the Army’s Criminal Law Policy Branch.
The “Marines United” scandal of 2017 was a driving force behind the addition of Article 117a to the UCMJ, Thoman said.
As part of that scandal, more than 30,000 active duty and retired armed forces members were initially accused of being involved in the distribution or viewing of private, intimate, or sexually explicit imagery. A portion of the distributed material included images of female service members and military spouses.
“Posting compromising pictures of fellow service members not only works to undercut the trust within the unit but is completely counter to the values the services represent,” Thoman said. “It has the potential to destroy unit cohesion, hurts the victim, and is destructive.
“With the implementation of Article 117a, there is now a clearer way to bring offenders to justice,” Thoman said.
“It seems that Congress wanted to make sure that this type of behavior was unmistakably not acceptable. Criminalizing the conduct sent just that message,” Thoman said.
With the passing of the 2018 NDAA, those who distribute the kinds of images that were part of the “Marines United” scandal are now on notice that they could be found “guilty of wrongful distribution of intimate visual images or visual images of sexually explicit conduct and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
Article 117a, now part of the UCMJ, goes to great lengths to clarify what constitutes wrongdoing, and defines specific terminology, Thoman said.
According to the article, the accused should know that the person depicted in the image retains a reasonable expectation of privacy.
In addition, the accused should know that the broadcast of imagery was likely to cause “harm, harassment, intimidation, emotional distress, or financial loss to the person depicted in the image, or harms substantially the depicted person’s health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationships.”
To provide even further clarity, lawmakers defined in detail the language used in the law.
The term “broadcast,” for instance, means to “electronically transmit a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons.”
The term “sexually explicit conduct” is defined to include “actual or simulated genital-genital contact, oral-genital contact, anal-genital contact, or oral-anal contact, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, bestiality, masturbation, or sadistic or masochistic abuse.”
Other terms defined include “distribute,” “intimate visual image,” “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and “visual image.”
A necessary change
According to Thoman, there was a limit to the actions the U.S. military legal system could take against a service member prior to inclusion of Article 117a in the UCMJ.
“While it has been illegal to create an indecent photo of an unknowing subject, if they willingly participated, the legality of forwarding that picture to a third party was uncertain,” he said.
An example of this most commonly occurs in a relationship turned bad. If two Soldiers are dating, Soldier A can legally take a graphic picture of themselves and then send it to Soldier B, in most situations.
“However, just because it is legal does not necessarily make it a good idea,” he added.
Soldier B cherishes the picture and did not think of showing it to anyone else until the relationship sours and the two Soldiers breakup. Soldier B, still feeling angry about the breakup, forwards the picture to Soldier A’s squad. While Soldier B is temporarily upbeat about thinking of such an easy way to get back at Soldier A, in all likelihood, Soldier B has just committed a federal crime, Thoman said.
According to Thoman, the legal analysis to get to a federal conviction is now more straightforward for that case.
The accused knowingly distributed an image of another person. The image depicted the private area of that person. The person was identifiable. The identified person did not give their consent. The accused knew the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy and was caused emotional distress as a result of the distribution. Finally, under the circumstances, the accused’s conduct had a reasonably direct and evident connection to a military environment.
In addition to the changes to the UCMJ, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program officials want to ensure that support is available to Soldiers impacted by the illegal broadcast of intimate or sexually explicit imagery.
Considered to be a form of sexual harassment, victims of the crime as spelled out in Article 117a who choose to receive services will receive support from a victim advocate who can provide crisis intervention. That intervention includes such things as referrals to behavioral health, chaplains, special victim witness liaisons, and the victim witness assistance program.
Additionally, Soldiers will have access to safety planning, accompaniment to interviews and appointments, and assistance with obtaining a military or civilian protective order, according to LeWonnie Belcher, SHARP program office branch chief for communications, outreach, and leadership engagement.
According to Thoman, the implementation of Article 117a fills a gap in military law. And while technology will continue to evolve, he said, the new law was written broadly enough to accommodate those changes.
“I think ‘revenge porn,’ as it is commonly called, is a growing issue across society,” Thoman said. “Because of that, we see an increase in the frequency in the military as well. Ultimately, Article 117a could help prevent that divisiveness in the future that could disrupt a unit when something like this happens.”
This year, just like every year, America’s port cities will receive a series of special guests, American sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. But instead of just flooding the city streets with 2,600 Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen complete with dress blues and white cracker jacks, this year’s Fleet Week in New York is bringing a theme: “Remembering World War I.”
U.S. troops from New York State march down the streets of New York City.
The official centennial of the Armistice that ended the Great War may have come and gone, but the pageantry and tradition that surrounds the 100-year anniversary celebration of the end of World War I lives on. The U.S. Navy is partnering with the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, in a number of activities to tell the story of the 4 million American men and women who wore the uniform a century ago.
For the Navy’s annual visit to New York City, the story will also include the City’s role in the War to End All Wars. Notable events include
The horrible Black Tom explosion which damaged the Statue of Liberty.
The Ill-fated Lusitania’s departure for her last voyage from Pier 54 on Manhattan’s West Side.
The local men and women who fought the war, including the Harlem Hell Fighters and the Rainbow Division
But the history of New York in the Great War is more than just a series of milestones. New York City is also an important place in U.S. Navy history, especially as it pertains to World War I. Half of the U.S. Navy’s World War I ships were built in Brooklyn. Half of all U.S. troops departed from and returned to the piers of Hoboken. The biggest Victory Parade of the war took place down 5th Avenue.
To help tell these incredible stories, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission is offering subject matter experts, who can help local audiences understand this rich local history, and to possibly connect with their own World War I veteran family members. Five U.S. Navy ships, three U.S. Coast Guard cutters, four U.S. Naval Academy Yard Patrol boats, one Military Sealift Command ship, and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels will participate during 2019 Fleet Week New York, May 22-28.
They’re surrounded, targeted by constant bombardments and slowly strangled of supplies and reinforcements for months so fighters for Daesh (aka ISIS) might reasonably have abandoned Mosul and tried to slink off into the night.
That’s what happened June 2016 in the battle to recapture Fallujah, when Daesh fighters were relatively quickly routed, and hundreds were killed by U.S. aircraft when their fleeing convoy was spotted in the dark with infrared targeting systems.
Everyone in the anti-Daesh coalition hoped for a similar retreat by demoralized terrorists that would separate them from the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians still cowering in Mosul’s byzantine old city, on the west bank of the Tigris River.
But Daesh’s fighters are not abandoning Mosul, which, with the Syrian town of Raqqa, forms the twin-capitals of the self-proclaimed Islamist “caliphate.”
They are falling back on defensive positions prepared for two years in the densely congested side streets and alleyways of the old city, gathering Iraqi civilians close as they can as “human shields” and apparently preparing for a last, desperate stand.
“The toughest and most brutal phase of this war, and probably the toughest and most brutal close quarters combat that I have experienced or even read about in my 34-year career,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve says.
A veteran of six combat tours, Townsend calls the fighting in Mosul “the most significant urban combat since World War II.”
The tragic byproduct has been an alarming spike in civilian casualties, including a U.S. strike against a reported ISIS truck bomb on March 17 that may have collapsed a nearby building and killed as many as 200 civilians gathered there by Daesh.
On a recent trip near the frontlines of the Battle of Mosul, Townsend found a possible explanation for Daesh’s determination to stage an apocalyptic fight to the death in the old city.
“Every movement has a well-spring or some home turf where it finds support, and in recently talking to Iraqi and coalition commanders and listening to their intelligence assessments, I heard about neighborhoods supporting ISIS that I remembered from being a brigade commander in Mosul 10 years ago, when those same neighborhoods were sources of support for Al Qaeda in Iraq,” said Townsend, speaking recently to defense reporters by phone from Baghdad.
If the Shiite-led Iraqi government fails to reach out to those and other neighborhoods and towns of disenfranchised Sunnis after the fighting stops, he noted, then Daesh’s expulsion from Mosul will likely prove a fleeting victory.
“What’s important after ISIS is defeated is that the government of Iraq has to reach out to these groups of people and make sure they feel like they have a future in the Iraqi state,” said Townsend.
A Pivotal Moment
With roughly three-quarters of Mosul recaptured and Daesh finally on the verge of losing its grip on Iraqi territory, the campaign against them is poised at an important inflection point.
Counter-insurgency experts have long understood that the actions of the Iraqi government and the various factions involved in the fighting the day after Mosul is recaptured will largely determine whether the group is defeated, or, once again, rises from the ashes of sectarian conflict.
The complex nature of the battlespace, combined with the anti-Daesh coalition’s sprawling nature, promises to complicate the transition from urban combat to whatever comes after.
The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is weak and has struggled to cope with the demands of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the fighting in Mosul.
The territorial demands of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to the north, and possible acts of retribution against Sunni civilians by thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen to the west of city, cast a dark shadow over the aftermath.
A continued spike in civilian deaths by U.S. and coalition air forces could further alienate the overwhelmingly Sunni population of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh Province.
And hanging over the entire anti-Daesh campaign is the question of a continued U.S. presence in Iraq after the group is expelled, and whether that engagement can be leveraged to help achieve the long-sought national reconciliation among Iraq’s feuding Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni factions.
Perhaps no U.S. military officer of his generation better understands this difficult terrain, and the momentous challenges ahead, than retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former top U.S. commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan and at U.S. Central Command.
He is widely credited with crafting and executing the counterinsurgency doctrine that pulled Iraq back from the abyss of sectarian civil war in 2007-2008 and decimated Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“The military defeat of ISIS is only the first step. The much more challenging task is to use all elements of American and coalition power to help achieve political solutions that will avoid once again creating fertile ground for extremists, and thereby avoid the rise of ISIS 3.0,” Petraeus told [Breaking Defense] in a recent email. “Our success in that mission will determine whether the U.S. military has to do this all over again in five years.”
Sectarian Civil War
After U.S. and Iraqi military forces and the Sunni tribes of Anbar Province routed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) beginning in 2006-7, the remnants of the terrorist insurgency eventually went underground, only to rise Phoenix-like from the fires of Syria’s civil war.
That brutal conflict pitted a minority regime of Alawites, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, against a majority Sunni population.
Meanwhile, after the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, the Sunni tribes in western Iraq, which had turned against AQI in the “Anbar Awakening,” grew restive under the iron-fisted and openly sectarian rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who headed the Shiite-majority government in Baghdad.
A former AQI lieutenant named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had spent time in a U.S. detention facility in Iraq, realized that between weak Shiite-led governments in Damascus and Baghdad lay a swath of territory inhabited by millions of rebellious Sunnis.
From that strategic insight, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was born, and in one of the most improbable military offenses in history, its terrorist army captured territory in Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a “caliphate” in land stretching between its twin capitals.
When the Obama administration reluctantly deployed aircraft and troops back to Iraq to defend a Baghdad government on the verge of collapse, it wisely used that leverage to help nudge out the sectarian Maliki and encourage the more moderate Abadi.
Since then Abadi has promised to lead “national reconciliation” by reaching out to Sunnis liberated from Daesh rule, and draw them back inside the government tent. He has often struggled, however, to control a fractious coalition government with many hardline Shiite politicians with close ties to Shiite Iran.
Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy and former senior Middle Eastern analyst for the CIA, worries about Abadi’s ability to bring the country together.
“I think Abadi is a very good man who wants what’s best for Iraq, to include a pluralist government, corruption reforms, and democracy. The problem is Abadi is not particularly good at building coalitions, and the Iraqi government is fragmented and paralyzed by this ongoing sectarian civil war,” he says. “Frankly, Nelson Mandela would have a hard time stabilizing Iraq at this point. So the United States needs to leverage the influence it has gained by helping fight ISIS to empower Abadi in his reconciliation efforts. And they must include limiting the activities of the Shiite militias.”
Reining in Militias
The key to Iraq’s future may lie with the Shiite-dominated militias called Popular Mobilization forces.
A number of these militias have direct links to Iran and they have been difficult for the Iraqi government to control. According to Human Rights Watch, Shiite militias involved in the battle of Fallujah last summer committed atrocities against Sunni civilians, including torture and summary executions.
In the operation to recapture Tikrit they reportedly burned hundreds of homes of Sunni civilians they accused of colluding with Daesh. If something similar happens after Daesh is expelled from the much bigger and more populous city of Mosul, the swamp of Sunni grievance is likely to rise once again.
Sheikh Jamal Al-Dhari is a Sunni tribal leader who has lost more than 70 family members in Iraq’s sectarian wars.
“The ‘Anbar Awakening’ showed that the way to defeat Al Qaeda is to work with the Sunni tribes, but our efforts to take part in the anti-ISIS fight have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Baghdad government,” he said in an interview.
Now Shiite-dominated Iraqi Security Forces and possibly U.S. airpower have inadvertently killed hundreds if not thousands of Sunni civilians in Mosul, he noted, and thousands of Shiite militiamen have captured Sunni majority villages to the west of the city.
“We fear that the use of excessive force will cost the lives of thousands of more civilians, creating hardships and hard feelings that will only set the stage for the next ISIS, or worse.”
To avoid Kurdish or Shiite forces fighting each other and mistreating liberated Sunni civilians, U.S. battle planners created separate corridors into the city.
“The U.S. military worked very hard to insure that neither the Peshmerga nor the Popular Mobilization forces would be involved in the close-in fight in Mosul, and that has been mostly successful,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
“But the main reason we’ve seen civilian casualties increase is that ISIS is being much more aggressive in using civilians as human shields. Their backs are now against the wall in Mosul’s old city, and they seem to be preparing for a last stand.”
When the dust of battle finally settles over Mosul, the most important decision confronting the Trump administration will be whether or not to keep a residual U.S. force inside Iraq to continue advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces, and helping coordinate counterterrorism operations.
If the U.S. military packs up lock-stock-and-barrel and leaves once again, many experts believe it will only set the stage for “son of ISIS” to fill the vacuum.
“Only if U.S. forces remain in Iraq to secure the peace will we achieve a major military victory over ISIS,” said James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
The U.S. can leverage that presence not only to empower Abadi’s national reconciliation agenda, he said, but also to eventually find a political resolution to the Syrian civil war.
In “On War” [ Carl von] “Clausewitz said that the art of war was using tactical victories to achieve strategic ends,” said Jeffrey.
“We need to use the victories in Mosul and Raqqa to achieve the strategic end of a stable Middle East that is not dominated either by ISIS or Iran.”