War in space will probably be really boring - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

War in space will probably be really boring

Ever since President Trump first announced his intentions to establish a new branch of the American Armed Forces dedicated specifically to space and orbital defense, imaginations have run wild with what this new era of conflict miles above our heads might look like. Decades worth of movies and video games have shaped our idea of war among the stars, and it’s hard not to let our imaginations run a bit wild when the concept of zero-G warfighting is suddenly so real that our lawmakers are actually budgeting for it.


The thing is, our ideas of space warfare and the reality of conflict in space are pretty far off from one another… at least for now. America’s near-peer opponents in China and Russia have both already stood accused by the international community of launching weapons systems into orbit, but these aren’t Decepticons equipped with doomsday lasers and vessels full of jet-pack laden Space Marines. Warfare in space doesn’t take nearly that much effort or panache. In fact, in some cases, an act of war would require little more than a nudge. In practice, there’s very little difference between the sorts of tools being developed to capture and destroy space junk and weapons being designed to capture and destroy satellites.

Space harpoon skewers ‘orbital debris’

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The truth is, America’s massive orbital infrastructure was largely deployed in an era with no serious competitors on the horizon. That means many of the satellites we rely on for communications, navigation, and defense lack any real means of defending themselves from attack or even moving out of the way of many kinds of danger. Departing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson aptly described it by saying the United States had built “a glass house before the invention of stones.” Like a glass house, our satellite infrastructure is incredibly vulnerable, and now America’s opponents have already begun throwing stones.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty outlines what its framers hoped would be the path to peaceful coexistence in orbit and beyond, but the language of the treaty allows for a great deal of latitude when it comes to orbital weapons. China, Russia, and the United States are all among the signatory members of the treaty, alongside a long list of others. Article IV of the treaty bans any signatory nation from deploying nuclear weapons (or other weapons of mass destruction) in orbit, and while other portions of the treaty also attempt to dissuade a real-life remake of Star Wars, the treaty itself bars little else when it comes to weapons.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped nations like Russia from referencing the 1967 Outer Space Treaty when accusing the United States of violating international norms during ongoing debates about the future of American space defense. This bit of tomfoolery notwithstanding, America, Russia, and China do want to appear as though they’re honoring the intent of this treaty, and as a result, orbital weapons often come in the guise of something else entirely. Russia’s Inspector satellites, for instance, are believed to have been designed specifically for use as a weaponized platform that can both eavesdrop on nearby satellite communications and directly interact with other orbital platforms.

War in space will probably be really boring

Ground based lasers may soon be able to blind satellites temporarily, wreaking havoc with communications, navigation, and early warning systems.

(USAF Photo)

All an Inspector satellite would need to do in order to poke a hole in America’s defensive infrastructure is grab an American satellite with a retractable arm and pull it down into a degrading orbit. Eventually, the Russian satellite would just let go and watch its target burn up as it enters the atmosphere. The entire process would be fairly slow and even mundane to look at, but without any form of defense in orbit, there would be nothing U.S. Space Command could do but watch until the satellite went dark.

Similar methods to the same end would include deploying nets to capture enemy satellites or even simply giving them a push. Depending on the age and capability of the satellite, that could really be all it took to take it out of commission. In extreme cases, like the satellites the U.S. relies on to identify nuclear ballistic missile launches, simply incapacitating a satellite for a few minutes (by pushing it off its axis, for instance) could neuter the nation’s ability to spot or intercept inbound nukes. China has already demonstrated the theoretical ability to do exactly that using ground-based lasers that are invisible to the naked eye.

There are a number of strategies already being developed to counter this form of orbital warfare, like developing a fast-launch infrastructure to replace damaged satellites rapidly and deploying more maneuverable and capable platforms that aren’t as susceptible to these simplistic forms of attack… but for the next few decades, that’s the reality of our space wars: simple satellite drones nudging, poking, and maybe shooting at one another while we watch from below with bated breath.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis again accuses Russia of violating a key nuclear treaty

The U.S. defense secretary has again accused Russia of violating a key Cold War arms control treaty, calling the unresolved and increasingly tense dispute with Moscow “untenable.”

Jim Mattis’s remarks on Oct. 4, 2018 after a meeting of NATO military leaders were the latest in a series of increasingly blunt statements by U.S. officials regarding the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

Russia has repeatedly denied U.S. assertions, first made publicly in 2014, that a ground-launched cruise missile Moscow has developed, and reportedly deployed, is in violation of the agreement, known as the INF treaty.


After years of public criticism of Moscow, U.S. officials in 2017 started becoming more aggressive in their approach. And Russia acknowledged the existence of a missile identified by Washington, but denied that it had violated the treaty.

In early October 2018, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said U.S. forces might have to “take out” the Russian missiles if the dispute continues. She later clarified that she wasn’t referring to an actual U.S. military attack.

War in space will probably be really boring

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 14, 2018.

(NATO photo)

“Russia must return to compliance with the INF treaty or the U.S. will need to respond to its cavalier disregard for the treaty’s specific limits,” Mattis said in Brussels.

“The current situation with Russia in blatant violation of this treaty is untenable,” he said.

Congress has backed funding for a new missile program to counter the Russian weapon, and Mattis said in early 2018 that defense planners were working on new low-yield nuclear weapons to force Russia back into compliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Mattis’s comments, saying Russia was imperiling the treaty, which is widely considered a “cornerstone” of European security.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This US Air Force base is providing access to space through innovation

As the space domain continues to grow, so does the need for access to space.

The U.S. Air Force and Space Command are powered by innovation. Because of this, Vandenberg Air Force Base is continually making improvements to base facilities, equipment, and the way airmen and operation partners do their job in order to complete the space mission.

“Our mission is to provide robust, relevant and efficient spaceport and range capabilities for the nation,” said Col. Michael Hough, 30th Space Wing commander. “However, as space domain progresses, so must we.”

The installation has come a long way since 1958, when it was repurposed from a deactivated U.S. Army training camp, to a U.S. Air Force missile launch and training base. Since then, the base has developed better amenities to increase productivity and has expanded its launch facilities, allowing space for more commercial partners.


There are many different components. Whether it be airmen, mission partners, commercial partners or contractors, who contribute to successfully launching a missile or satellite at Vandenberg AFB, each diverse role plays an important part to accomplishing the mission.

“On day of launch, we provide mission assurance. We provide technical oversight of everything happening to assure no incidents occur,” said Lt. Col. Brian Chatman, 1st Air and Space Test Squadron commander. “We’re shifting our methodology for how we provide mission assurance from days-of-old, to days-of-new for a more practical approach.”

Members of the 1st ASTS continuously implement innovations regarding space lift operations by evaluating, operating and emerging current launch and landing operations. By assessing the Space Launch Complex modifications that industry partners create, the 1st ASTS engineers ensure they understand the changes or modifications made, as well as, evaluate any risks that are associated with the changes.

“Airmen from the squadron are taking tactical approaches, tailoring analysis to provide risk assessments to the commander of the Space and Missile Center for a flight worthiness certification,” Chatman said.

War in space will probably be really boring

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test May 1, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aubree Milks)

Through maintaining the range and retaining airmen, Vandenberg AFB is creating a better chance of accessing space through members of 30th SW such as 1st ASTS, as well as tenant units and mission partners. With the help of each squadron and various tenant units on base, the mission continues to be successful.

“This is an exciting time in the space community and I’m looking forward to working even closer with allies and partners to guarantee unconstrained access to and freedom to operate in space,” Hough said.

Through expansion and revamping of routines and facilities, innovative airmen continue to improve Vandenberg AFB range capabilities, supporting not only the current mission, but future generations and their access to space.

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

Articles

Afghanistan is producing record numbers of opium

Afghanistan set new records for opium production in 2016 despite an $8.5 billion USD counternarcotics campaign investment by U.S agencies, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) stated in its latest quarterly report to Congress.


The report said that opium production increased 43 percent in 2016, while poppy eradication hit a 10-year low and was “nearly imperceptible.”

It said that the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conduct an annual survey with financial contributions from the United States and other donors.

UNODC estimated that the potential gross value of opiates was $1.56 billion USD — or the equivalent of about 7.4 percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — in 2015.

War in space will probably be really boring
Afghan contractors unload bags of fertilizer at the Nawa district government building compound in the Helmand province of Afghanistan Oct. 13, 2009. The Afghan government is distributing the fertilizer to residents to support alternatives to poppy. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Harris, U.S. Marine Corps)

“The latest 2016 UNODC country survey estimates opium cultivation increased 10 percent, to 201,000 hectares, from the previous year,” the report said adding that “the southern region, which includes Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Daykundi provinces, accounted for 59 percent of total cultivation. Helmand remained the country’s largest poppy-cultivating province, followed by Badghis and Kandahar.”

“Deteriorating security conditions, a lack of political will, and the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics’ ineffective management all contributed to the paltry eradication results in 2016,” the report said.

Poppy “cultivation remained near historically high levels compared with the past several decades.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s “narcotics industry — coupled with rampant corruption and fraud — is a major source of illicit revenue,” the report said.

The “opium trade provides about 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding.”

“Since the collapse of the Taliban government, the opium trade has grown significantly and enabled the funding of insurgency operations. Taliban commanders collect extortion fees for running heroin refineries, growing poppy, and other smuggling schemes,” according to the report.

“Powerful drug networks, mainly run by close-knit families and tribes, bankroll the insurgency and launder money. There have been media reports and allegations of corrupt government officials participating in the drug trade,” it said.

War in space will probably be really boring

The Taliban is an Islamic extremist group that ruled Afghanistan until the U.S military intervention following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack in New York and Washington, D.C. that killed more than 3,000 people. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as its training base for attacks against the U.S. and other western nations.

“Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and material support to the insurgency in exchange for protection, while insurgent leaders traffic drugs to finance their operations,” the report said.

Afghanistan “remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter — producing an estimated 80 percent of the world’s heroin.”

John Sopko, head of SIGAR, recommended that President Donald Trump establish “a U.S counternarcotics strategy, now years overdue, to reduce the illicit commerce that provides the Taliban with the bulk of their revenue.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The original stealth fighter absolutely destroyed in Desert Storm

When we talk about stealth fighters today, the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II usually spring to mind. There was one plane, though, that started it all, paving the way for all future stealth aircraft — and did so over a quarter-century ago. That plane was the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.


The Nighthawk was actually a hard sell to legendary aeronautical and systems engineer Kelly Johnson, the man behind aviation hallmarks, like the P-38 Lightning (the plane Tom Lanphier flew to kill Isoroku Yamamoto), the SR-71 Blackbird, and the U-2 Dragon Lady. Lockheed’s website reports that Johnson famously told Ben Rich the plane would “never get off the ground.” But the F-117 wasn’t designed to look pretty or to have high performance. It was meant to be invisible.

War in space will probably be really boring
The F-117 Nighthawk, the world’s first attack aircraft to employ stealth technology, retired after 27 years of U.S. Air Force service. The aircraft made its first flight at the Tonopah Test Range, Nev., in June 1981, just 31 months after full-scale development was authorized. The Nighthawk program remained classified until November 1988, when a photo of the jet was first unveiled to the public. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-117 first flew in 1981 and became operational in 1983. The plane was flown only at night to keep prying eyes away — and many of the RD efforts were done in the Nevada desert. In 1989, the plane took some heat after its involvement in Operation Just Cause, where it dropped what were to be, essentially, 2000-pound stun grenades. It didn’t work.

But it was Desert Storm that made the F-117 a legend. On the opening night, F-117s, each with a radar cross-section the size of a marble, slipped into Baghdad and hit vital command and control targets. Saddam’s thugs had no idea that these planes were coming — they had left the city’s lights on.

War in space will probably be really boring
An F-117 Stealth Fighter takes off for a mission from the flightline. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

F-117A.com notes that even though only 36 F-117s were in the theater of operations, they hit 31 percent of the targets. There was no other plane the coalition dared to send over downtown Baghdad.

The F-117 serves for 17 years after Desert Storm, seeing action in Operation Allied Force and the Global War on Terror. It was retired in 2008, arguably too soon for this legend to fade away.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why NORAD began keeping an eye out for Santa Claus

The United States Armed Forces, for all of its serious and mission-oriented mannerisms, has always gone out of its way to keep the magic alive around Christmas time. The Marines have Gunny Claus and Toys for Tots, the Army has celebrated with fun runs and lavish feasts, and the Navy, presumably, just drinks plenty of eggnog.

Meanwhile, the men and women of NORAD, a joint effort between the United States Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force, monitor the movements of Santa Claus so all the good boys and girls can know when he’s coming.

This yearly tradition is beloved by many, but it all started because of a simple typo and a good-spirited colonel.


War in space will probably be really boring

I mean, how else would the kids know to get a hold of Santa?

(NORAD)

In the winter of 1955, Sears ran an advertisement in the Colorado Springs local paper encouraging people to call Santa Claus directly. The hope was that kids would call in and ask for a toy and Santa would tell them they could find it at their local Sears.

Problem was, no one ever got a hold of Santa. The number listed in the advertisement was off by one number, and it directed thousands of kids to call the extremely sensitive red phone of Col. Harry Shoup at the Combat Alert Center of NORAD.

War in space will probably be really boring

This is what the NORAD command center has looked like ever since.

(NORAD Public Affairs, Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braym)

His number was only ever given to four-star generals and to the Pentagon. This was at the height of the Cold War, and this phone was only ever meant to ring if the Russians were expected to attack North America. And yet, it was ringing non-stop with requests for toys. He suspected that something was amiss when he received his first phone call asking, “is this Santa Claus?”

Shoup was a little annoyed and, apparently, made the child cry. Feeling guilty, he played along in hopes of getting to the bottom of what had happened. He asked the kid to put his mother on the phone, who was understandably upset at the thought of Santa making her child cry. She told him that the number was in a Sears ad. As a result, Shoup assigned lower-ranking airmen to answer the phone until he could take it down.

As troops do, they poked fun at Col. Shoup for his mistake. They placed Santa-themed decor all around the command center, just to egg him on. At the center of the room was a giant glass map that tracked all air traffic in North America, and on Christmas Eve, there was a crudely drawn Santa on his sleigh in one of the corners — just to drive the joke home further.

He asked his troops, “what is that?” They replied, “Colonel, we’re sorry. We were just making a joke. Do you want us to take that down?” In a his-heart-grew-three-sizes-that-day kind of moment, Col. Shoup smiled, walked over to the radio and said,

“This is the commander at the Combat Alert Center, and we have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh.”

On the other ends of the radio, other military personnel and air traffic controllers weren’t in on the joke, but understood immediately. Because they, too, were working Christmas Eve night, they wanted in on some of the holiday spirit and continued asking for updates on Santa’s location.

The children still trying to call Santa would also be told of his whereabouts. The junior airmen would reply to the kids with a cheery, “he’s not in at the moment, he’s currently over Nebraska” or wherever Col. Shoup indicated he was.

Year after year, kids continued calling NORAD to get updates on Santa’s location and every year NORAD played along – presumably with a different phone number than the red phone on the commander’s desk. As time went on, NORAD began keeping tabs on Santa through their website and social media.

Lists

10 hilarious times Russia trolled the West on Twitter

During the 2016 election, Russian-linked bots and trolls on social media attempted to inflame relations among Americans by spreading fake news and highlighting vulnerable racial and political divisions. They bought ads on Twitter and shared posts on Facebook, concealing their identities while pretending to be real Americans.


But the Kremlin has another, more conspicuous way of spreading propaganda and trolling the West that doesn’t normally get as much attention.

Also read: This is the guy who deleted President Trump’s Twitter

In the last few years, Russia has used official government Twitter accounts to undermine the West and hit back against criticism, often with tantalizing and meme-filled rhetoric. The Twitter accounts of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and its Embassy in the UK, both of which tweet in English, have been particularly active.

On March 6, 2018 for example, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May slammed Russia for planting fake stories and Photoshopping images on social media “in an attempt to sow discord in the West,” Russia’s MFA tweeted a satirical response.

War in space will probably be really boring
(MFA Russia/Twitter)

This was one of several examples of official Russian government tweets aimed at sparking controversy among Moscow’s adversaries.

In a report published in November 2017, the watchdog group Freedom House noted that in few places is “the hypocritical link between state propaganda and legal restrictions on the media stronger than in Russia.” This gives Russia monopoly over the flow of information within its borders. Increasingly, the report says, Russia has used similar information manipulation tactics abroad.

Here are 10 other times Russia has used its official Twitter accounts to troll Western leaders and the media:

1. The Russian Embassy in the UK reacted to former President Barack Obama expelling diplomats and closing Russian compounds in December 2016 in retaliation for meddling in the US election.

War in space will probably be really boring
(@RussianEmbassy Twitter)

2. Stories of Russian hacking and election interference became more widespread in the US, and the Russian Embassy was at it again.

War in space will probably be really boring
(@RussianEmbassy Twitter)

3. Theresa May said Belgium was meddling in its general election — and Russia was happy they weren’t being accused this time.

War in space will probably be really boring
(@RussianEmbassy Twitter)

Related: Some guy is using Twitter to show where Russia has SAM sites in Syria

4. The CIA tweeted it was looking for Americans who can speak Russian and who are interested in national security issues. Of course, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a response.

War in space will probably be really boring
(@mfa_Russia Twitter)

5. Hillary Clinton visited the UK to promote her new book about the 2016 election in October 2017, and the embassy drew a parallel between what she was condemning.

War in space will probably be really boring
(@RussianEmbassy Twitter)

6. Newspapers reported that pundits are trying to prevent the Trump administration from smoothing US-Russia relations, and the Russian Embassy responded with a Pepe the Frog meme the alt-right uses.

War in space will probably be really boring
(@RussianEmbassy Twitter)

More: Japanese Twitter Users Are Mocking ISIS With Photoshopped Memes

7. Amid fears of spying, England said its football team would travel in Russia with a surveillance team. The Russian Embassy shot back with a zinger about England’s football team.

War in space will probably be really boring
(@RussianEmbassy Twitter)

8. Critics alleged that President Donald Trump is a Russian pawn, and the Russian Embassy shared a meme from The Great Gatsby.

War in space will probably be really boring
@RussianEmbassy Twitter

9. The British member of parliament leading the UK investigation into Russian election meddling talked about fake news, and the Russian Embassy egged him on with some #ThursdayThoughts.

War in space will probably be really boring
@RussianEmbassy Twitter

10. On March 7, 2018, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert sent a series of tweets that condemned Russia’s military involvement in Syria, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a low blow.

War in space will probably be really boring
@mfa_russia Twitter

MIGHTY CULTURE

What it’s like being an Army combat photographer in South Korea right now

When Private First Class Ethan T. Ford first thought about joining the military, he immediately had his hopes set on being a combat photographer.

“Joining the military has given me a lot of options and I’ve done a lot of things I would have never had the option to do before. I wouldn’t have traveled to Korea, cover historical events, or be in a movie,” Ford said.

As a 25V Combat documentation/production specialist, Ford is his unit’s official videographer, tasked with shooting and editing footage and capturing every moment of garrison operations.


Like all soldiers, Army photographers get trained on basic combat skills and learn how to operate weapons, expertly engage in hand-to-hand combat and administer basic first-aid.

War in space will probably be really boring

Army photographer Private First Class Ethan Ford practices photography techniques while on assignment in Seoul, South Korea.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

But being an Army photographer requires dedication and resilience. When the rest of the unit goes home or finishes the mission, the Army photographers get to work to upload their photos and videos and create products for the historical record.

When his friends in Oregon ask him what it’s like to be in the Army, he says he gives them the honest truth.

“Being in the Army is not hard, at times it can be mentally draining, but anyone who is physically capable can do it.”

This is not a typical assignment, according to his supervisor, Staff. Sgt. Pedro Santos, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Yongsan Visual Information Support Center.

His team is made up of creative types who strive on challenges.

Army photographers have to be able to quickly react to any situation in any environment. You have to make sure you’re ready and that your equipment is in good shape and your batteries are charged.

War in space will probably be really boring

Dancers perform traditional acts during a community relations event at US Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, Korea.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

Between assignments, the soldiers are back in the office learning new skills, teaching each other new tips and critiquing each other.

Other parts of the job include handshake photos and designing PowerPoint slides, which isn’t the most inspiring for the truly passionate photographers like Ford, but meeting expectations is important.

One of the advantages to enlisting as a combat photographer, according to Santos, is that the experience and education you gain is unmatched.

“When it comes to someone who is passionate about something and they want to pursue that in the military as well I sometimes you get lucky and you get someone like Ford who is passionate about it,” Santos said.

War in space will probably be really boring

Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford reflects on his various assignments while stationed in Seoul, South Korea.

(US Army photo)

Santos encourages his team to speak to the customer, usually a senior leader like a first sergeant or commander and find out what their goals are, what type of video or photography they would like and then you have to be creative and find out what kind of angles you are going to take the shot from and how you are going to prepare for it.

Some assignments can take up to one month of preparation and rehearsal.

“One thing you can’t really reach combat photographers is post editing, from my experience, you can take an amazing photo and be done with it, but when someone takes the time to perfect their work, it is impressive and it shows,” Santos said.

“You are in a great area, one of the biggest cities in the world. There is inspiration everywhere.”

War in space will probably be really boring

Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford captures a nature scene near his hometown of McMinnville, Oregon.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

On weekends, Ford goes out on his own on the weekend and practices different techniques and works on improving his craft. His favorite style of photography is capturing candid moments and doing street photography.

One of the highlights of his tour in South Korea was a special assignment in October 2018 when Ford witnessed history in the making and was the only photographer allowed in a meeting between North Koreans and South Koreans in the blue building at the Joint Security Area. The event was one of the first steps in a negotiation that is expected to result in officially ending the war between the two countries.

Outside of photography, Ford is a movie buff. He loves war movies and his favorite movies include Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Hacksaw Ridge to name a few.

War in space will probably be really boring

A river photographed near McMinnville, Oregon, the hometown of Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

Early 2019, Ford got to skip his normal routine of morning physical training, chow and VISC photography duties and was granted a two-day pass to play a movie extra in a Korean War film set in 1950 with actors Megan Fox and George Eads.

“Playing a movie extra was a lot like being in the military,” Ford said, “It was a hurry up and wait situation. It took several hours to drive there and several more to get dressed.”

One of the best parts of the experience was getting one-on-one acting advice and mentorship from actor George Eads, who plays MacGyver on TV.

Although the Department of Defense does not keep track of the numbers of service members who appear in television and film projects, there are many opportunities to play extras in movies because It is it is incredibly difficult for civilian actors to realistically portray the discipline of the U.S. warfighter without having served, according to Brian Chung, a military advisor to big Korean production studios in Seoul and in Los Angeles.

War in space will probably be really boring

Private First Class Ethan T. Ford cast as an officer in a movie shot in Seoul, South Korea.

(US Army photo)

In fact, 90 percent of DOD-supported projects, including documentaries and reality television programs are unscripted, according to Master Sgt. Adora Gonzalez, a U.S. Army Film and TV Entertainment Liaison in Los Angeles.

“All service members have been trained since basic training to stand, walk and talk a certain way on duty,” Chung said.

Chung is a former U.S. Army Captain and was previously stationed in Yongsan as a military police company commander.

He understands how challenging it can be for soldiers stationed in Korea to be working long hours while displaced into a new culture, which is why he reached out to leaders at United States Forces Korea to get approval for the soldiers to be part of the movie.

War in space will probably be really boring

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

“It was personally satisfying as a U.S. Army veteran of Korean decent, to honor the warriors of the Korean War with authentic portrayals that could only have been achieved by their successors serving on the same peninsula that they sacrificed so much to protect. Seeing the look of excitement on the young troops’ faces as they hustled around set from wardrobe, to the make up chair, to an authentic 1950’s set was an amazing icing on the cake,” Chung said.

The movie will be released around the same time that his tour ends in June 2019, when he will report to duty at his new assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland.

“I’m going to miss going out and eating in Itaewon, especially the fried chicken and ramen,” Ford said. “It’s some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. You won’t find anything like it in the U.S.”

After his time in the Army, Ford plans on taking more advanced courses and going back to Oregon and becoming a professional photographer.

“The Army is what you make of it. You can make it be miserable or make it be the best time of your life,” Ford said.

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

Articles

How some special operators are turning to illegal drugs to deal with deployment stress

They have achieved cult hero status for their exploits since 9/11, but their success on the battlefield is taking a personal toll on Navy SEALs and members of other US special operations elite forces.


Reports of rampant illicit drug abuse by special operators — while on deployment and at home — have prompted congressional lawmakers to call for an accountability review of the “culture” inside special operations units.

Drug and alcohol use by some members of special operations units is nothing new to the culture within the teams, who see such behavior as a coping mechanism in response to the unforgiving tasks these soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have been asked to carry out.

“They are pretty much out there on a daily basis in very dangerous situations and working with [partners] who you don’t know if they are going to put a bullet in your back,” one former team member with knowledge of personnel issues told The Washington Times. “The level of stress these people are experiencing is off the charts,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

War in space will probably be really boring
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

The unprecedented pace and tempo in which US special operations forces have been used in the post-9/11 global war on terrorism, beginning with al Qaeda and the Taliban and now encompassing Islamic State, Boko Haram, and other groups, has exacerbated those stress levels, leading to even riskier coping behaviors.

“Kill/capture” missions by US special operations units combined with clandestine drone strikes formed the backbone of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism doctrine. Six months into his term, President Trump has shown little sign of abandoning that strategy. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in May that the United States is entering an era of global conflict defined by protracted small wars with extremist militant groups.

“This is going to be a long fight,” Mr. Mattis said.

War in space will probably be really boring
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley.

Aside from deploying hundreds of special operations military advisers to the front lines of the Islamic State fight in Syria and Iraq, the Trump administration has ordered the expansion of US Special Operations Command’s mission in Africa, battling the Somali-based terrorist group al-Shabab.

“You see our forces engaged in that from Africa to Asia. But, at the same time, this is going to be a long fight. And I don’t put timelines on fights,” Mr. Mattis told CBS News.

‘Something has to give’

The operational tempo for Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and other “Tier One” US special operations forces units, which spend a majority of their time overseas on deployment, is a vicious cycle but a prerequisite for the job, the former team member said.

“We’re not talking about 18-, 19-year-old kids. You have to have a level of resilience to get where they are,” he said. But even with the most seasoned and battle-hardened veterans, “something has to give” from the relentless demands to deploy.

War in space will probably be really boring
Photo credit Tanjila Ahmed

A pair of random, command-wide drug screenings conducted from November through February uncovered a total of 59 cases of illicit drug use among sailors serving in Naval Special Warfare Command.

Seven command members tested positive for illicit drug use from among more than 6,300 subjected to a sweep of random tests late last year, according to figures that command officials provided to The Times. The command also uncovered 52 cases of illegal drug use among 71,000 tests carried out since August 2014.

Of the 52 command members who tested positive for illegal drug use during the most recent round of tests across the Navy command, 10 were SEAL team members. Command officials could not confirm how many SEAL members were part of the seven positive drug tests found during a round of testing in November and December.

Drug abuse, domestic abuse, or other behaviors tied to the seemingly constant rotations to conflict zones are “endemic of what these people are going through,” the team member said. “These are your franchise players. They want to be the best of the best. It’s a quality you need but also makes it hard to disengage. A lot of it is just coping just the physical toll [the job] takes on you. You have to find an outlet.”

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USAF photo illustration by Senior Airman Chad Strohmeyer

The problem of drug use within the special operations community gained unwanted attention in April when news leaked of a closed-door speech by Capt. Jamie Sands, head of all East Coast-based Navy SEAL teams. The captain warned all 900 Navy special operators in the command about cracking down on the use of illicit drugs — including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, and ecstasy — among the SEAL teams that went public.

One active-duty SEAL attached to the East Coast teams told CBS News at the time that a number of his team members had tested positive for illegal drugs multiple times but remained on active duty since the Navy was unable to monitor their drug usage on a regular basis. Their frequent, extended deployments overseas allowed team members to avoid regular drug screenings.

Capt. Sands said that would no longer be a loophole in the command.

“We’re going to test on the road,” the officer said. “We’re going to test on deployment. If you do drugs, if you decide to be that selfish individual, then you will be caught.”

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DoD Photo by Maj. Will Cox

Accountability review

Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, in June pushed for legislation requiring US special operations command and the head of the Pentagon’s special operations directorate to conduct an accountability review of the military’s elite units amid reports of heavy drug abuse within the teams.

The review was included in the House draft version of the Pentagon’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which sets aside $696 billion for military programs and operations. The full House overwhelmingly approved the defense spending package this month.

The measure would require Mark Mitchell, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, as well as top brass from Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, “to provide a briefing regarding culture and accountability in [special operations forces].”

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USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Gardner

Critics say the Pentagon’s policies do not properly address the problem of illicit drug use among special operators, a claim US Special Operations Command officials vehemently deny.

“No one has turned a blind eye to the challenges special operations forces face after a decade and a half of continuous combat operations,” command spokesman Kenneth McGraw said in a statement to The Times.

Command officials and their counterparts in the services’ special operations directorates formed a task force to address issues such as drug use and other symptoms related to prolonged deployments of the elite US troops. The task force takes a “takes a holistic, integrated approach” to post-deployment issues unique to Special Forces units “designed to maximize access to treatment and minimize any stigma associated with seeking help,” Mr. McGraw said.

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USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay

Despite the command’s task force and other associated efforts, lawmakers are pressing command officials on the problem of drug use inside the teams.

Ms. Speier’s office declined repeated requests for comment on the legislation and the level of cooperation House members are receiving from command officials and the Pentagon. But her characterization of the need for accountability within the special operations teams to address drug use is the wrong way to view the problem, the former team member said.

“I do not know if this is an accountability issue. It is not just about bad people. I think a lot of it is just what they have been through,” he said. “You have to realize you are not going to eradicate this [problem]. You cannot eradicate those experiences” of war.

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MATTIS: The Iraq war was a ‘strategic mistake’

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary called the invasion of Iraq a “strategic mistake” at a conference last year, in an audio recording obtained by The Intercept.


In a wide-ranging speech at an ASIS International Conference in Anaheim, California that covered everything from Iran, ISIS, and other national security issues, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis told attendees: “We will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake, a strategic mistake.”

Also read: General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis got Trump to rethink his position on torture in under an hour

The assertion is not particularly controversial, given the faulty intelligence that led to the invasion, the many missteps afterward, and the unraveling of a country that eventually gave birth to the terrorist group ISIS.

But it is interesting as it’s the first known instance of Mattis portraying the invasion in a negative light, especially given his leadership of 1st Marine Division in 2003, which he led across the border and, eventually, into Baghdad.

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General Mattis speaks to Marines in 2007. | U.S. Marine Corps photo

“I think people were pretty much aware that the US military didn’t think it was a very wise idea,” he said. “But we give a cheery ‘Aye aye, Sir.’ Because when you elect someone commander in chief — we give our advice. We generally give it in private.”

Mattis, like many other generals before the war, offered his advice to his boss Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the problems of going into Iraq. This frank advice is expected of high-ranking military officers, but ultimately it’s up to the civilian leadership to make the decision.

Still, seven retired generals eventually came out publicly against Rumsfeld in 2007 in what was dubbed “the generals’ revolt.” Mattis, still on active duty at the time, was not among them.

He was asked specifically about whether there was a scenario in which he may have retired in protest during a talk in San Francisco in April 2014. Mattis allowed some unethical orders and other scenarios that would lead him to do so, but he said, “you have to be very careful about doing that. The lance corporals can’t retire. They’re going. That’s all there is to it.”

He added: “You abandon him only under the most dire circumstances, where the message you have to send can be sent no other way. I never confronted that situation.”

Since retiring from the military in 2013, Mattis has given a number of speeches while working as a fellow at Dartmouth and Stanford. In July 2014, for example, he told students at Stanford: “There is no strategy right now for our engagement with the world. We need to know the political end state for what we want to achieve.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Vietnam-era Marine received the Medal of Honor

President Donald Trump placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley on Oct. 17, 2018. But, for the Vietnam War hero, it has always been about his Marines.

On Jan. 31, 1968, Canley and about 140 members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, were charged with taking back Hue City at the start of the Tet Offensive. When their commanding officer was seriously injured, Canley, the company gunnery sergeant at the time, took control and led his men through what would become one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam War.


Their actions would serve as an important turning point in the conflict.

As Canley, now 80, and his men made their way into the city, enemy fighters “attacked them with machine guns, mortars, rockets and everything else they had,” Trump said.

“By the end of the day, John and his company of less than 150 Marines had pushed into the city held by at least 6,000 communist fighters,” he continued. “In the days that followed, John led his company through the fog and rain and in house-to-house, very vicious, very hard combat.

“He assaulted enemy strongholds, killed enemy fighters and, with deadly accuracy, did everything he had to do.”

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President Donald Trump presents the Medal of Honor to retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. John Canley during an East Room ceremony at the White House on Oct. 17, 2018.

That included braving machine-gun fire multiple times in order to reach and move wounded Marines to safety, all while ignoring injuries of his own.

After five long days of fighting, Canley joined Sgt. Alfredo Gonzalez in charging a schoolhouse that had become a strategic stronghold for the communist fighters. The pair faced heavy machine-gun fire, but forged ahead with rocket launchers, driving the enemy from their position.

“The enemy didn’t know what the hell happened,” Trump said.

Gonzalez, who was killed, would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Canley continued leading his Marines into the schoolhouse, where room-by-room they faced close-quarters combat until they were able to take it back from enemy control.

“John raced straight into enemy fire over and over again, saving numerous American lives and defeating a large group of enemy fighters,” Trump said. “But John wasn’t done yet.”

Despite sustaining serious injuries, he continued facing down the enemy in the days to come, the president added, personally saving the lives of 20 Marines in a display of “unmatched bravery.”

For his actions and leadership, he received the Navy Cross, his service’s second-highest award for bravery. But Canley’s Marines didn’t think that was enough.

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense inducts U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) John L. Canley into the Hall of Heroes during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 2018, after being awarded the Medal of Honor by the President.

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

They spent the past 13 years gathering interviews, first-person accounts and other materials needed to see their company gunny’s award upgraded to the only one they thought he deserved: the Medal of Honor. It was denied 10 times, but they persisted.

“For me personally, it was an act of love,” said former Pfc. John Ligato, one of Canley’s Marines and a retired FBI agent who led the fight to see the medal upgraded. Ligato attended Oct. 17, 2018’s Medal of Honor ceremony and said all he could do was sit back and smile.

The event brought dozens more Marines who fought alongside Canley and Gold Star family members who lost loved ones in the fight to Washington, D.C. Ligato said it gave the Marines and their families a chance to reconnect — including several who don’t typically attend reunions due to their injuries or post-traumatic stress.

Throughout the festivities meant to honor one man, Canley continues giving all the credit to his Marines, Ligato said. It’s “all he wants to talk about.”

“You have one of the most heroic people in our nation’s history who’s not only courageous and humble,” Ligato said, “but understands that the Marine Corps is not ‘I.’ It’s ‘we.’ “

Canley is the 300th Marine to receive the nation’s highest valor award for heroism on the battlefield. Seeing the retired sergeant major receive the Medal of Honor in his dress blues is something that should make every Vietnam veteran and every Marine proud, Ligato said.

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

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Here’s how Boeing’s updated F/A-18 may compare to the F-35

President-elect Donald Trump caused a genuine uproar in the combat-aviation community when he tweeted in December, “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”


The idea that an F/A-18 Super Hornet could be “comparable” to the F-35 met swift and intense condemnation, and Lockheed Martin quickly lost billions in value on its stock.

Related: F-35s, F-22s will soon have artificial intelligence to control drone wingmen

“No, Mr. Trump, You Can’t Replace F-35 With A ‘Comparable’ F-18” a headline at Breaking Defense said.

“You can’t replace the F-35 with an F-18 any more than you can replace an aircraft carrier with a cruise ship,” a headline at Popular Science said.

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The Boeing concept for the Advanced Super Hornet, pictured here without enclosed weapons pods. | Boeing

Lt. Col. David Berke, a former commander of the US Marine Corps’ first operational F-35B squadron, told Business Insider the idea of upgrading a legacy fighter to do the F-35’s job was plainly “preposterous.”

Virtually everyone pointed to a single aspect of the F-35 that the F/A-18 lacked: stealth.

But the US and other countries already have in their sights a modern update on the F/A-18 that is meant to complement the F-35. The update may be poised to deliver even more capability than Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter in some areas, even without being as stealthy.

Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18 programs, told Business Insider that even with the coming F-35C naval variant, US carrier air wings would still field versions of the F/A-18 into the 2040s. The company is planning considerable updates that will focus on “addressing the gaps” in naval aviation.

Gillian and the Boeing team call it the Advanced Super Hornet, a modern update on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which itself was an update on the original F/A-18 Hornet. Gillian says Boeing designed the Super Hornet “from the beginning in an evolutionary way with lots of room for growth in power, cooling, and weight so it could adapt to changes over the years.”

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Fighting Swordsmen of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 32 makes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike). | U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew J. Sneeringer

“We have a legacy with the F-18 — on time on cost,” Gillian said, which one could contrast to the F-35 program, which has faced constant production overruns in cost and time. In fact, a recent report says the Navy’s version of the F-35 just hit yet another setback that could take years and billions to fix.

Gillian says Boeing could start fielding Advanced Super Hornets by the early 2020s at the latest, while some limited contracts to bring elements of the Advanced Super Hornet are already underway. So even though the designs of the F-35 and the F/A-18 reflect different missions, they certainly are comparable in terms of price, availability, and capability.

So what does a 2017 update of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet look like?

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Boeing

“When we talk about the Advanced Super Hornet package, it can be delivered to a build of new airplanes and it can be retrofitted to existing airframes,” Gillian said.

“An airplane that I’m building today off the line has some systems that have matured over time that a Super Hornet would not have,” he added, saying there would essentially be no difference between a 2017 Advanced Super Hornet and a Super Hornet plucked off an aircraft carrier and brought up to date.

The physical characteristics of a fully decked out Advanced Super Hornet would be as follows:

  • Shoulder-mounted conformal fuel tanks to carry 3,500 pounds of fuel and reduce drag. These fuel tanks could “extend the reach about 125 nautical miles,” meaning the planes can “either go faster or carry more,” according to Gillian.
  • An infrared search and track radar, which would be the first such capability included on a US fighter jet since the F-14 Tomcat. This will allow the Advanced Super Hornets to counter enemy stealth capability and to get a read on heat-emitting entities without emitting any radar signal of their own. “There was a fixation on stealth attributes,” Gillian said of fifth-gen fighters, “which is an important attribute for the next 25 years, but tactical fighters are designed for stealth in one part of the spectrum, all planes emit heat.”
  • Advanced electronic warfare capabilities. Currently, the F-18 family leads the US military in EW platforms with the Growler, an EW version of the Super Hornet in which Boeing has “taken out the gun and installed more EW equipment … Instead of missiles on the wing tips it has a large sensing pods,” Gillian said. The Navy has scheduled the F-35C to eventually carry the advanced EW pod, but the initial generation of F-35s will have to rely on Growlers for EW attacks. The Advanced Super Hornet will have EW self-protection, but not the full suite present on the Growler.
  • An advanced cockpit system with a new 19-inch display. Basically “a big iPad for the airplane, allowing the pilot to manage all the information and data that’s out there,” Gillian said, comparing its utility to the F-35’s display.
  • Improved avionics and computing power as well as increased ability to network to receive targeting data from platforms like the F-35 or the E-2 Hawkeye. The Advanced Super Hornet would also feature an improved active electronically scanned array radar.

Further enhancements still to be considered by the US Navy for Advanced Super Hornets include the following:

  • An enclosed weapons pod would make the plane more aerodynamic while also cutting down on the plane’s radar cross section. Combined with the form-fitting fuel tanks, the Advanced Super Hornet could cut its radar signature by up to 50%.
  • An improved engine could increase fuel efficiency and performance. Boeing hasn’t yet begun earnestly working toward this, and it could add to the overall cost of the project significantly.

Hypothetically, Advanced Super Hornets could field IRST before F-35Cs come online. Growlers will also serve in the vital role of EW attack craft, without which the F-35 cannot do its job as a stealth penetrator.

So while an Advanced Super Hornet will never be comparable to the F-35 in all aspects, it could certainly develop some strengths that the F-35 lacks.

Additionally, Gillian said the Advanced Super Hornets would not cost much more than the current F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, which run about $70 million apiece. Even if that price rose by $10 million, it would still be lower than that of the cheapest expected F-35s, which come in at $85 million.

Conclusion: Could Boeing create an F/A-18 ‘comparable’ to the F-35?

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It’s unanimous. The F-18 will never do the F-35’s job, and vice versa. | Lockheed Martin

“The Advanced Super Hornet is really a collection of systems and design changes that when implemented achieve a significantly different capability for the air wing,” said Gillian, who stressed that the Super Hornet and Growler platforms were “well positioned” to improve in scope and capability over time.

Gillian made it clear, however, that the Advanced Super Hornet program had been, since its inception, meant to accompany the F-35, with carrier air wings consisting of three squadrons of Super Hornets and one squadron of F-35s into the 2040s.

The US Navy has contracts already underway to update its existing Super Hornet fleet with elements of the Advanced Super Hornet package, and it seems the US will end up with both Advanced Super Hornets and F-35s, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

The F/A-18, not designed with all-aspect stealth in mind, will most likely never serve as a penetrating aircraft for heavily contested airspace, but its future onboard America’s aircraft carriers is well defined for decades to come.

But with Boeing’s field record of delivering F/A-18 projects on time and on budget, and the US Navy left waiting by overrun after overrun in the F-35 program, the two planes are starting to look like apples and oranges — both good choices. Choosing which to buy and when may simply come down to what is available on the market.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Now that ISIS is on the ropes, these guys have turned the guns on each other

Iraqi government forces launched an operation against Kurdistan’s Peshmerga military forces over the weekend to capture Kirkuk, a disputed, oil-rich city in the country’s north.


The Kurds defeated Islamic State fighters to take control of Kirkuk in 2014, but Iraq’s central government had refused to recognize their sovereignty over the city since it falls outside of Kurdistan’s internationally recognized autonomous region.

As the details continue to develop, here’s a breakdown of the basics.

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An Iraqi pilot walks to a Iraqi AC-208 Caravan for a training mission at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq. For the first time since the re-formation of the Iraqi air force, an Iraqi pilot fired a missile from an a AC-208 Nov. 04, 2009, at a target on a bombing range near Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

What’s happening?

Conflicting stories emerged Oct. 16 as clashes broke out in areas outside the city, causing an unknown number of casualties. Iraqi forces claimed they had seized military bases and oil fields around Kirkuk, and had forced the Kurds to withdraw from the city. The Kurdistan Regional Government has rejected those claims.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the US military said it believed any clashes between the Kurds and Baghdad “was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions.”

Army Major General Robert White, the commander of US-led coalition forces in Iraq, called for both parties to reconcile their differences through peace, and “remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy,” ISIS.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Monday afternoon, as well, saying the US would not back one side over the other. “We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing. We’re not taking sides,” Trump said in a press conference.

Three days before clashes erupted, rumors surfaced of an impending Iraqi government assault on the Kurds. In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took to Twitter to debunk the accusation.

“Our armed forces cannot and will not attack our citizens, whether Arab or Kurd,” he said. “The fake news being spread has a deplorable agenda behind.”

Amid reports of a looming attack, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani ordered Peshmerga forces on Sunday to not “initiate any war, but if any advancing militia starts shooting, then Peshmerga have been given a green light to use every power to stand against them.”

By Monday afternoon, Reuters reported that thousands of Kurds had fled the city of Kirkuk, which has a population of over 1 million people. About 6% of the world’s oil comes from Kirkuk province, according to CNN.

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Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider Al-Abadi. Photo from Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Why now?

Kurdish nationalism has long been a source of tension between Iraq’s central government and the Kurds, both of which are strong US allies.

This tension was exacerbated after close to 93% of Kurds, which control a large swath of territory in northern Iraq, voted to declare Kurdistan an independent state on September 25. Baghdad has condemned the referendum and urged Kurdish leaders to reject it. Neighboring countries Iran and Turkey also opposed the vote.

The White House also warned against holding a vote on independence and called on the Kurdistan Regional Government to pursue dialogue with Baghdad.

“Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing,” the White House said in a statement before vote.

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ISIS has a history of targeting Kurds and their allies. (Dept. of Defense photo)

Why does it matter?

The independence referendum and latest round of clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi forces puts the Trump administration in a particularly strangling bind. Over the years, the US has trained and supplied weapons and equipment to both sides of the conflict with the intention of defeating ISIS. Now those very same weapons are being used by US allies against other US allies.

Iran’s interference in the conflict also remains a top concern for American officials. The Iraqi-backed Popular Mobilization Forces — Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary units that have been fighting against the Kurds — presents another challenge for US mediation efforts in the region. Iran not only supports these Popular Mobilization Forces, but provides direct training and weaponry to its fighters.

The New York Times reported in July that Iran’s presence in Iraq was a consequence of former President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw US troops from the country in 2011. This move has divided Republicans and Democrats in the US, and was a key campaign issue in the 2016 elections.

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The Kurdish Peshmerga platoon of the newly-formed Joint Iraqi Security Company marches to class, Mosul, Iraq. The U.S. 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division are jointly training Kurdish and Iraqi forces, to become the first self-sufficient local military force.

What could happen next?

No one is really sure. The situation is still unfolding, with Iraqi and Kurdish leaders shifting blame on their opponents for the escalation in violence.

Even though the US has downplayed the clashes as simply a “misunderstanding,” it’s difficult to ascertain the true level of tension on the ground.

Conflicting claims from Iraqi government and Kurdish officials further complicate the situation. No matter what happens, these developments will surely add to Trump’s challenges in the Middle East.

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