The CIA intercepted a phone call from Lee Harvey Oswald to the KGB’s department in charge of “sabotage and assassination” before Oswald murdered John F. Kennedy.
Oswald had tried to defect to the Soviet Union years earlier but was denied citizenship.
The CIA did not conclude that Oswald killed Kennedy on the KGB’s instructions.
Newly released documents from the CIA show that the spy agency intercepted a phone call from Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy’s assassin, to the KGB department in Moscow that handled “sabotage and assassinations.”
Just over a month before Oswald assassinated Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the CIA intercepted a phone call he made to Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov.
The CIA identifies Kostikov as an officer in the KGB’s 13th department, which is “responsible for sabotage and assassination.”
Oswald asked Kostikov whether there was “anything new concerning the telegram to Washington,” and Kostikov told him there was not.
That telegram, though not explained in the CIA document, most likely had something to do with Oswald’s 1959 attempt to defect to the Soviet Union by traveling to Moscow. The Soviets denied his bid for citizenship but allowed him to stay in the country for a few years.
The CIA document does not conclude that Oswald acted against Kennedy on Russian instructions or with help from the KGB.
Peter Savodnik, the author of “The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union,” told The Atlantic in 2013 that Oswald, who joined the US Marine Corps at 17, had moved with his mother 20 times during his childhood and most likely sought to live in Moscow to gain some feeling of permanence.
Savodnik maintains that instead of grooming Oswald as a potential agent against Moscow’s rivals in Washington, Soviet authorities sent him to live hundreds of miles away in Minsk, Belarus, because it was “sleepy and boring and quiet.”
The U.S. military is getting out of the nation-building business and is now focusing on killing terrorists. That is among the policy changes announced by President Donald Trump in a speech delivered at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 21.
“From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America,” he said, while also explicitly refusing to set a timetable or to reveal how many more troops will be deployed.
Trump has already shown an inclination to not micro-manage and to give local commanders authority to make operational and tactical decisions. In April, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb made its combat debut in Afghanistan when it was used to hit a tunnel complex used by the Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
President Trump, while not mentioning Obama by name, also criticized the abrupt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011, saying that the removal of troops created a vacuum and allowed ISIS to rise and take control of a number of cities in Iraq.
President Trump also had harsh words for Pakistan over the existence of safe havens for groups like the Taliban. Perhaps the most notable terrorist provided safe haven in that country was Osama bin Laden, who was killed at a hideout in Abbottabad — a city a little over 30 miles from the capital in Islamabad.
Commandos from the 7th Special Operation Kandak prepare for the unitís first independent helicopter assault mission, March 10, 2014, in Washir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan The mission was conducted to disrupt insurgent activity. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Richard B. Lower/Released)
Jan. 9, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order titled, “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.” This executive order directs the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security to develop a plan to ensure that all new Veterans receive mental health care for at least one year following their separation from service.
The three departments will work together and develop a joint action plan to ensure that the 60 percent of new Veterans who currently do not qualify for enrollment in health care — primarily due to lack of verified service connection related to the medical issue at hand — will receive treatment and access to services for mental health care for one year following their separation from service.
“As service members transition to Veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care. The focus of this executive order is to coordinate federal assets to close that gap.”
The Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security will work to expand mental health programs and other resources to new Veterans to the year following departure from uniformed service, including eliminating prior time limits and:
Expanding peer community outreach and group sessions in the VA whole health initiative from 18 whole health flagship facilities to all facilities. Whole health includes wellness and establishing individual health goals.
Extending the Department of Defense’s “Be There Peer Support Call and Outreach Center” services to provide peer support for Veterans in the year following separation from the uniformed service.
Expanding the Department of Defense’s Military One Source, which offers resources to active duty members, to include services to separating service members to one year beyond service separation.
“We look forward to continuing our partnership with the VA to ensure Veterans who have served our country continue to receive the important mental health care and services they need and deserve,” said Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis.
“The Department of Homeland Security is where many Veterans find a second opportunity to serve their country — nearly 28 percent of our workforce has served in the armed forces, in addition to the 49,000 active duty members of the United States Coast Guard,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
“This critically important executive order will provide our service members with the support they need as they transition to civilian life. These dedicated men and women have put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our American way of life, and we owe them a debt we can never repay. We look forward to working with the VA and DOD to implement the President’s EO,” said Secretary Nielsen.
“In signing this executive order, President Trump has provided clear guidance to further ensure our Veterans and their families know that we are focusing on ways to improve their ability to move forward and achieve their goals in life after service,” said Secretary Shulkin.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley strongly condemned Iran for its alleged recruitment and use of child soldiers in battlefields across the Middle East.
“The use of child soldiers is a moral outrage that every civilized nation rejects while Iran celebrates it,” Haley said Oct. 18, 2018, during a U.N. Security Council meeting.
Haley’s remarks came two days after the U.S.Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced new sanctions targeting businesses that provide financial support to the Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary force under the command of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“Iran’s economy is increasingly devoted to funding Iranian repression at home and aggression abroad,” she said. “In this case, Iranian big business and finance are funding the war crime of using child soldiers. This is crony terrorism.”
The latest sanctions are part of the U.S. efforts to pressure Iran economically for what the Trump administration has described as Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East and its sponsorship of terrorism in the region.
The U.S. Treasury Department has listed a network of some 20 companies and economic entities that are believed to be funding the recruitment and training of child soldiers for the IRGC.
“Any company or individual that does business with this Iranian network is complicit in sending children to die on the battlefields of Syria and elsewhere,” Haley said.
The network providing financial support to the Basij is known as Bonyad Taavon Basij.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
“This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij’s efforts to recruit, train and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC’s direction,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
“The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real-world humanitarian consequences, and help fuel the Iranian regime’s violent ambitions across the Middle East,” Mnuchin added.
Tehran called the U.S. sanctions a violation of international law.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet on Oct. 17, 2018, that the latest U.S. sanctions violated two orders by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
“Utter disregard for rule of law human rights of an entire people. U.S. outlaw regime’s hostility toward Iranians heightened by addiction to sanctions,” Zarif said in a tweet.
Bahram Qassemi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Oct. 18, 2018, it’s part of a psychological war waged by the U.S. against Iran.
“Such actions show the spitefulness of the U.S. government towards the Iranian people and are a clear insult to legal and international mechanisms,” the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Qassemi as saying.
Some Iranian rights activists have welcomed the U.S. move, however, and described it as a positive step to discipline the Iranian government for its actions in the region.
“Any action focused on children’s rights is important because it highlights the importance of protecting children’s rights and puts the issue of child soldiers under the spotlight,” Hamed Farmand, a Virginia-based children’s rights activist, told VOA. “Any international action with the purpose of condemning child soldiers is widely appreciated but it needs more action than just financial sanctions on some institutes involved in it.”
A 2017 Human Rights Watch report accused Iran of committing war crimes by recruiting and sending Afghan refugee children “as young as 14” to fight in Syria. The New York-based organization also has documented how the IRGC has recruited Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight in Syria along Syrian regime troops.
Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, also an Iranian human rights activist, said there should be an effective mechanism to force Iran to improve its human rights record.
“To change the behavior of the Iranian government, the international community needs a human rights-focused approach and must take multiple actions simultaneously,” she said during a recent Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy.
Effects of sanctions
But Sadegh Hosseini, a Tehran-based analyst, said U.S. sanctions on the Basij force actually are indirect punishment inflicted on the Iranian people.
“Sanctioning the Basij could affect many Iranians who have voluntarily become members of it or have joined it in the past,” he said.
He told VOA “the purpose of this embargo is unclear but many Iranians who have bank accounts with those financial institutes could be affected, since many of them receive their employment salaries only through accounts at those targeted banks.”
Other experts say that following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. Treasury Department has stepped up its efforts on this front because it is the main pillar that can block Iran’s sale of oil and impose banking restrictions on the country.
“The latest move by the [U.S.] Treasury to sanction Iran’s Basij Resistance Force is an important part of that campaign,” said Farhang Jahanpour, a professor of international law at Oxford University.
“So far, other signatories to the [nuclear deal] have refused to go along with American sanctions on Iran, but many major European companies have cut back or have completely ended their dealings with Iran in fear of U.S. retaliation,” Jahanpour added.
Behnam Ben Taleblou, a researcher at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the recent designations were different from previous measures “because they focused on the role of select financial institutions in generating revenue that was ultimately used to benefit the Basij.”
“The [U.S.] Treasury Department’s willingness to go after the entities in the Basij financial support network highlights the challenge of doing due diligence in Iran, as well as signals to the international community that the U.S. is serious about putting the squeeze on all elements of the Iranian economy tied to the IRGC,” Taleblou added.
The United States Army is on the hunt for what they call, “Mobile Protected Firepower” — or, to put it in layman’s terms, the Army wants a light tank. For military buffs, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s been a big gap in capabilities since the M551 Sheridan was retired in 1996.
According to a report by the Army Times, the Army is now looking to rectify that gap in capabilities. The M1A2 Abrams tank brings tons of firepower and armored protection, but it can’t be dropped. You need a C-5 or C-17 to bring it to an airfield, and then it has to drive to the battlefield. Not good when you need the firepower right away.
As part of the Mobile Protected Firepower program, the Army is looking for a vehicle that weighs no more than 32 tons. The size of the main gun, however, is still up for determination — it could be a 57mm gun, a 105mm gun like the one on the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System, or a 120mm gun like that on the Abrams.
Previously, the Army had been looking at the M8 Buford Armored Gun System as a replacement for the M551 in the early 1990s. The Buford has three levels of armor protection, a 105mm main gun, and has the ability to hold 30 rounds for the main gun — two thirds more than the Stryker Mobile Gun System.
The Buford, named for a Union cavalry general in World War II, was cancelled by the Clinton Administration in 1997 to pay for other programs. In the 1980s, a light tank called the Stingray, equipped with a 105mm main gun and 32 rounds, was developed by Cadillac-Gage. The Thai Army ordered 106 in the 1980s.
It could be very interesting to see if the Army’s choice in the Mobile Protected Firepower system will end up replacing the Stingray — and supplying other American allies. However, the first light tanks will not arrive until 2025, and even then, there will only be 54. Just enough, perhaps, to supply the 82nd Airborne Division with the tank battalion they once had.
Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, Marine Lt. Travis Manion, and Navy SEAL Brendan Looney. All three were killed in service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.
Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.
Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.
Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.
My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”
The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.
Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.
I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.
But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.
But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.
Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.
And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.
As Amy said the night before the funeral:
I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?
But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.
Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.
Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.
Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.
“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”
Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.
(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.
Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.
Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:
They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.
Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”
Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.
The number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war has reached a record high, continuing an almost unbroken trend of nearly a decade of rising casualties.
The number of deaths of women and children grew especially fast, primarily due to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, which caused 40% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, according to UN figures released on July 17.
Child casualties increased by 9% to 436, compared with the same period last year, and 1,141 children were wounded. Female deaths rose by 23%, with 174 women killed and 462 injured.
US and Afghan airstrikes also contributed to the surge in civilian victims, with a 43%increase in casualties from the air, the figures showed.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN’s Afghanistan mission, said: “The human cost of this ugly war in Afghanistan – loss of life, destruction, and immense suffering – is far too high.
“The continued use of indiscriminate, disproportionate, and illegal improvised explosive devices [IEDs] is particularly appalling and must immediately stop.”
The UN attributes about two-thirds of casualties to the Taliban and other anti-government groups such as Islamic State.
The worst attack of the war on civilians occurred in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on May 31, when a truck bomb killed at least 150 people, amounting to nearly one-quarter of the 596 civilian deaths from IEDs in 2017.
In the countryside, bombs carpeting fields or left in abandoned houses have contributed to a steady, slow-grinding toll, with 1,483 civilians injured and many suffering amputations.
Kamel Danesh, 19, a student and avid cricketer, was helping a friend clear a house in Helmand a month ago when he stepped on a mine left by the Taliban.
“I didn’t hear the blast. I was just knocked over. My mouth filled with dust. I tried to stand up but couldn’t,” Danesh said. “I looked down and my leg was cut off at the bone. My hand was cut off.”
A rickshaw transported him from the suburbs of the provincial capital to Emergency, an Italian-run trauma centre, where medics saved his life.
“It was so painful. I prayed to God to take me,” Danesh said. The provincial cricket association named the Ramadan tournament after him, but he will never play again.
In June, the US conducted 389 aerial attacks in Afghanistan, putting this year on a par with 2013, when there were nearly 50,000 US soldiers in the country.
Of the 232 civilian casualties from 48 aerial operations, 114 were caused by Afghans and 85 by Americans. In one especially deadly operation, the US killed 26 civilians in airstrikes in Sangin district in Helmand.
With peace talks elusive, the war is expected to intensify and prolong the violence that has engulfed Afghanistan for four decades.
Danesh lost his leg to a conflict that began when he was two. As a child, his father and grandfather used to tell him war stories, but “now it is the young people who are sacrificing”, he said.
In the next 18 months or so, the Army expects to field two new systems to dismounted Soldiers that will allow for more rapid acquisition of targets, even those hidden by darkness, smoke, or fog.
First out of the gate will be the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III, expected to be fielded sometime between April and June of 2018. Shortly after, the Army hopes to field the Family of Weapons Sights – Individual, between January and March of 2019.
The FWS-I and ENVG III are unique in that the FWS-I, which would be mounted on a Soldier’s weapon, wirelessly transmits its sight picture to the ENVG III, which a Soldier wears on his helmet.
Additionally, the ENVG combines thermal imaging with more common night vision image intensification technology, which is recognizable by the green image it creates.
Under starlight, targets may blend in with the background. But with the thermal capability overlaid on night vision, targets can’t hide in smoke or fog. They “really pop out with that contrast,” said Dean Kissinger, an electronics engineer who is currently assigned to Program Product Manger Soldier Maneuver Sensors at Program Executive Office Soldier.
Lt. Col. Anthony Douglas, who serves as product manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors at PEO Soldier, said the two sensors have benefits beyond helping dismounted Soldiers better visualize targets. By paring the two systems wirelessly — allowing what the weapon-mounted sight is seeing to be beamed directly to the Soldier’s eye — these systems also help the Soldier acquire a target faster.
Rapid Target Acquisition
“The capability gap that we were tasked with [closing] by developing this was the rapid target acquisition capability,” Douglas said. “We are allowing the Soldier to actually see what is on their weapons sight, saving them time from having to bring the weapon to his eye.”
Master Sgt. Lashon Wilson, the senior enlisted advisor for product manager Soldier Maneuver Sensors, explained how the system will work and make it easier for a Soldier to acquire a target.
“This weapon-mounted system talks wirelessly to the smart battery pack that is on the Soldier’s head, that then transmits a signal to the ENVG III, which now displays a reticle onto the Soldier’s optic,” Wilson explained. “So now what this does is, while the Soldier is on patrol and he has his ENVG III on and he is looking, he has a greater field of view of what is going on in the battlefield.”
Soldiers wearing the ENVG III, which is mounted on their helmet, can choose to see both night-vision imagery and thermal imaging as well in their goggle. But they can also choose to see the image coming off the FWS-I that is mounted on their rifle.
A variety of modes allows Soldiers to see in their goggles only the image from the ENVG III itself, only the image from the FWS-I, or a combination of the two. Using a “picture-in-picture” mode, for instance, the image from their FWS-I is displayed at the bottom right of the image that is coming from the goggle.
In another mode, however, if the FWS-I on the rifle and the ENVG III on the Soldier’s helmet are both pointed in the same direction and seeing essentially the same thing, then the image from the FWS-I can project a reticle into the goggle. The Soldier can see the full image of what his goggle normally sees, but a circle representing the reticle from the FWS-I is overlaid onto that image, letting the Soldier know where his rifle is pointed. What this means is the Soldier doesn’t need to actually shoulder his weapon to acquire a target. That saves time for the Soldier in acquiring that target.
“We are saving him three to five seconds, and increasing their situational awareness on the battlefield,” Douglas said.
Additionally, because the reticle is projected onto what the Soldier is already seeing in his goggle — a much wider view of his environment than what he would see if he looked through his rifle scope — he is able to acquire a target while maintaining situational awareness of what else is going on around him.
Steep Learning Curve
At Fort Belvoir, members of the press were allowed to shoot an M-4 rifle that was equipped with the FWS-I, while wearing a helmet equipped with the ENVG III.
Several man-shaped targets were spaced out in the firing lane, each equipped with thermal blankets to simulate body heat. A pair of fog machines simulated battlefield smoke to make it difficult to acquire those targets using only day optics. Using night vision goggles alone, some of the targets could not be seen. But when combined with the thermal imaging capabilities built into the ENVG III and FWS-I, those targets were easily visible.
Using the system proved a bit challenging, however. When looking through the goggle, which was at one point displaying the image transmitted from the rifle-mounted FWS-I, it was hard to tell if it was the helmet that was crooked, the ENVG III that was crooked, or the shooter’s own head that wasn’t on quite straight.
“The gun is tilted,” Wilson confirmed. He served as a trainer for members of the press who were allowed to shoot.
Maj. Kevin Smith, who serves as the assistant product manager for FWS-I, said there is a “steep learning curve,” for the system.
“We just got through with the tests with the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colorado, back in June,” he said. “We only spent about 40 hours of in-classroom training. But we also spent about a week on the range or so. That’s where the Soldiers were really starting to get it and understand it and feel it, on the range.”
Smith said one such training event was held at Fort Carson, and two were held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
“Once they get comfortable with it, they really love it,” Smith said. “One Soldier, a noncommissioned officer who didn’t like it at first, later on during the last test we did, asked me when are we getting this fielded. He said he wanted it now. They want to take them to war and they want to use them.”
A Family of Sights
The soon-to-field FWS-I is meant for the M4 and M16 rifles, and can mount on those rifles in front of day sights that have already been bore-sighted, Kissinger said. What this means is that Soldiers can pop the FWS-I onto and off of their rifle without having to remove their day sights first.
The FWS-I will also work with the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, the M141 Bunker Defeat Munition, and the M136 AT4 Light Anti-Tank Weapon.
Kissinger said the FWS-I actually provides capability to both light and medium weapons. In the past, there had been sights fielded for both types of weapons. Now that FWS-I provides capability to both, he said, there will be less variations in weapons sights, and a smaller logistics trail.
More capability is also coming to this “family” of weapons sights, Douglas said. There will be a crew-served variant and a sniper variant as well. Both are still under development, he said.
Both the FWS-I and the ENVG III are currently in low-rate initial production. The Army hopes to buy 36,000 of the FWS-I, and about 64,000 of the ENVG III, Smith said. He also said that the new gear is targeted squarely at dismounted Soldiers with infantry brigade combat teams and special operations forces.
For now, he said, he expects it will be squad leaders and two team leaders within a squad that might first see the FWS-I.
“This is a day or night capability,” Douglas said. “We’re talking about dismounted Soldiers who would use this. For our mounted soldiers, those on the Stryker or Bradleys … they do not operate without their thermal on all the time. So we are giving the dismounted Soldier the same capability the mounted Soldiers have.”
With 2019 upon us, a look back at 2018’s most memorable moments might give us some good perspective when facing the new year’s challenges. A lot happened in 2018 in the military-veteran community and each event serves to remind us that the things that affect us most can affect the world around us just as much.
It’s a testament to how important the work of the U.S. military really is.
Air Force gets OCPs, Army gets Pinks and Greens
The Air Force finally ditched the ill-conceived Airman Battle Uniform and adopted the Army’s Operational Camouflage Pattern to the resounding joy of airmen everywhere. Just like with the old BDU, the only difference will be the color of the lettering on the velcro patches — the Air Force lettering is brown while the Army sports black.
The Army also adopted its World War-II throwback jersey to be the official uniform of everyday wear by 2028 to pay homage to the U.S.’ “Greatest Generation.”
The Army’s new weapons
The Army also moved to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon and the M4A1 carbine with weapons that use a more powerful round than the NATO 5.56mm. The service will adopt a 6.8mm round in line with the results of a 2017 small arms ammunition study.
This came after the Army sought to find out why some M4 and M4A1 variants were firing unexpectedly. The problem turned out to be a glitch in the weapon’s selector switch, which got caught between the semi- and automatic settings. Some 3,000 weapons failed their inspections.
The U.S. military’s “Sky Penis”
“Stop drawing d*cks everywhere” became the order of the year in the U.S. military after two West Coast Marines drew a phallic object in the sky during aerial maneuvers. After the the initial incident, a rash of attempted copycats followed until a B-52 squadron commander based out of North Dakota was relieved of duty for explicit ground-based drawings.
The U.S. Coast Guard has been begging for a new icebreaker for years. Tears of joy were heard from Cape May to the Arctic Circle when 0 million was finally earmarked for that purpose. Unfortunately for the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security moved that money to fund the southern border wall in November.
Defense Secretary Mattis’ lethality initiative began Jan. 1, 2018.
The military gets more lethal
In January, Secretary of Defense James Mattis unveiled his new national defense strategy aimed at making the U.S. military more deadly and agile. This means a change in preparation for small, low-level conflicts to great power competition, ending a period of “strategic atrophy.”
President Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Army medic Ronald Shurer II in October, 2018.
Medals of Honor
President Trump awarded five Medals of Honor this year to combat veterans living and dead to those involved in a history of conflicts, from World War II to Afghanistan. Those recognized for valor in 2018 were Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, Army 1st Lt. Murl Conner, Army Medic Ronald Shurer II, Marine Sgt. Maj. John Canley, and U.S. Navy Special Operator Britt Slabinski.
Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin was one of three killed in action by an improvised explosive device in Andar, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan in November 2018.
Military members lost in 2018
Thirty servicemembers were killed supporting U.S. military operations worldwide in 2018, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 2, 2018.
Sgt. Jason Mitchell McClary • Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin • Sgt. 1st Class Eric Edmond • Capt. Andrew Ross • Sgt. Leandro Jasso • Maj. Brent Taylor • Sgt. James Slape • Staff Sgt. Diobanjo Sanaugustin • Sgt. Maj. Timothy Bolyard • CWO3 Taylor Galvin • Sgt. 1st Class Reymund R. Transfiguracion • Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz • Staff Sgt. James Grotjan • Cpl. Joseph Maciel • Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Holzemer • Staff Sgt. Alexander Conrad • Staff Sgt. Conrad Robbinson • Spc. Gary Conde • Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar • Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs • Staff Sgt. Carl Enis •Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe • Master Sgt. William Posch •Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso • Capt. Mark Weber • Capt. Christopher Zanetis • Sgt. 1st Class Maitland D. Wilson • Sgt. Christina Schoenecker • Spc. Javion Sullivan • Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin
President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Jun. 12, 2018.
All’s quiet on the Korean front
With improved relations between the U.S. and North Korea, President Trump ordered a stop to the joint American-South Korean military exercises on the Korean Peninsula. In Trump’s words, it was “inappropriate” to continue the war games while asking North Korea to disarm itself of its nuclear weapons. Trump’s orders were not met with universal acclaim among retired military leaders.
President Trump signed an order creating the U.S. Space Force in June 2018.
The Space Force
The U.S, military got its sixth branch of service in 2018, even if it was in name only. With funding sources as of yet unknown, the President ordered the creation of the Space Force to ensure American dominance of Space in June 2018.
President Trump announces withdrawal from Afghanistan
It came as a shock to the defense community when the President announced he would order a large withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria. The fallout of the decision included the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.
In the ongoing game of raising and lowering tensions on Russia’s doorstep, the United States Navy has once again raised eyebrows in the Black Sea. This time, it’s defending a number of drills it conducted in the area as “essential.”
The exercises, called Sea Breeze 2021, weren’t a surprise to anyone. It was a scheduled series of exercises, complete with photos and video available on the publicly available Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS). It even has its own Twitter account. The exercise has been held annually since 1997, according to the U.S. Navy.
But this year is a very different year, as tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the United States and its western allies have been mounting in recent months.
From June 28-July 10, 2021, the United States and Ukraine hosted the massive sea drill, attended by 32 countries from six continents providing 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special operations and dive teams.
Earlier in 2021, as many as 30,000-60,000 Russian ground troops were massing on its border with Ukraine, leading many to believe that an invasion similar to the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula was imminent. The United States and the United Kingdom attempted to move naval forces into the area as a show of support, which only angered the Russian government, increasing the tension there.
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and much of the large Russian force was withdrawn but not before the United States was forced to keep its naval forces away from the Crimean Peninsula. Even so, British and Dutch forces came in contact with Russian forces in potentially explosive confrontations.
When the long-planned Sea Breeze 2021 exercises kicked off, Russia condemned them as a military provocation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the western forces there risked provoking the Russians.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov even said the western ships “would be better off leaving their provocations aside next time and staying away from that area because they will get clocked in the nose.”
The Black Sea is just another front in the ongoing conflict over Ukraine, and Russia’s dwindling sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region. While Black Sea waters are an important area for Russia’s foreign trade, the Russian bear also uses its influence there to choke Ukraine’s trading capabilities.
U.S. Navy officials say the Sea Breeze exercises are an essential element in deterring Russian aggression toward its former Soviet client states, especially ones like Ukraine who believe their future lies with the West. Ukraine is still fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern portion of its border areas.
Meanwhile, as Sea Breeze 2021 continued, Russia began its own series of naval and air exercises, which included air-to-air refueling, strategic missile carriers and air defense systems. These were all designed to counter what Russia believes is an attempt to establish new military installations closer to Ukraine, a threat to Russian sovereignty and something Vladimir Putin said he would not allow.
In a statement in July 2021, Putin told a gathering of reporters that in case of war between Russia and the West, Russia would prevail.
“They know they cannot win this conflict,” Putin said. “We would be fighting for our own territory; we didn’t travel thousands of miles to get to their borders, they did.”
Back in the 1980s, when it still existed, the Soviet Union maintained a number of “friendly” relationships with a variety of African and Asian nations, mostly for the purposes of selling military hardware to counter the West.
One such nation was Libya, which opted to arm and equip its military with a variety of Soviet products, including MiG and Sukhoi fighters for its air force.
At the time, the USSR was also in the process of shopping around its Mil Mi-25 Hind-D, the export variant of the Mi-24 Hind helicopter. The Hind was a fairly unique vehicle at the time, as it was built from the ground up as a heavily-armed attack gunship with the ability to accommodate a maximum of eight fully-armed soldiers in an extremely cramped bay directly behind the cockpit. The Hind could therefore deliver special forces teams to the battlefield and remain in the area of operations for air support, or function solely as a very well-armed gunship, akin to the role the two-seater AH-1 Cobra played for American ground forces during the Vietnam conflict.
In contrast, the U.S. primarily used helicopters like the UH-1 Huey to deliver (and extract) troops from the battlefield, and they were moderately armed at best (in comparison to the Hind) with door-mounted machine guns serving as defensive weaponry more so than in the offensive role.
Now, around the time of the Hind’s introduction into service in the late 70s, the Central Intelligence Agency, along with British intelligence services, sought to learn more about this big Soviet helicopter. Interest heightened when word broke that Ethiopia pressed an export Hind into combat successfully. The Hind then quickly made an appearance in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union’s controversial involvement there, operating to great effect against mujaheddin fighters towards the beginning of the conflict.
Western intelligence needed to get a better look at the Hind and its heavily-armored airframe, especially for the purposes of determining whether or not an American equivalent needed to be designed, built, and fielded as a counter to the Hind’s capabilities.
An opportunity for such a look finally presented itself in the form of the discovery of a Libyan Mi-25 left behind in Chadian territory in 1987.
Historically, Libya and Chad weren’t exactly on the best of terms. Their strained relationship was mostly the result of repeated attempts from Libyan-backed rebel groups to usurp the Chadian government. Constant Libyan attempts to occupy sovereign territory belonging to the Republic of Chad didn’t do much to help their situation either.
When Chadian troops were finally able to fully expel Libyan forces from their borders in 1987, the retreating Libyans abandoned a considerable amount military hardware that would have otherwise bogged down and hindered their egress. Among the treasure trove of armored vehicles, guns, and light artillery stranded in the desert was a Hind-D in relatively good condition, parked on an old airfield ramp at Ouadi Doum.
The CIA, after confirming that such a helicopter did indeed exist at that particular location, quickly set its sights on recovering the helicopter, or at least as much of it as possible, before the Libyans knew about their missing gunship.
All this would have to be done through a covert operation. After negotiating with (and eventually gaining permission from) the Chadian government through diplomatic channels, the CIA enlisted the Department of Defense’s help, and both began planning the extraction of the abandoned helicopter to American-controlled facilities, where it would be taken apart and analyzed in details.
There’s a saying in the military that goes along the lines of: “Gear adrift is a gift”. Christmas was about to come very early for a bunch of CIA analysts and military technical experts.
Mount Hope III was the name bestowed upon the operation. The very first order of business was wrangling up a group of pilots skilled (and crazy) enough to perform the mission to perfection.
The preparation phase, creatively code-named Mount Hope II, began in April of 1987 in New Mexico. The dry, desert conditions would add a layer of realism to the training. CH-47 Chinooks from the 160th’s Echo Company were modified to bear the weight of the Hind-D, judged to be somewhere in the ballpark range of 17,000 to 18,000 pounds.
Chinooks are already able to sling-load different pieces of military equipment, including the Humvee utility vehicle. But there’s a huge difference between a four-wheeled Humvee and an oversized Mil-25. Load-bearing hooks needed to be reinforced, the engines and transmissions needed to be checked and tuned, and the relatively ideal placement of the carcass of the Hind underneath the Chinook needed to be determined.
Practice commenced in dark, low-light conditions. Six large blivets of water weighing roughly the same as the Hind were strapped to the underside of a Chinook. The Night Stalkers flying the Chinook were then supposed to fly to a “Forward Support Base” (or FSB for short) after stopping twice to refuel.
The first dry run went off without a hitch, so the next test was to strap an actual airframe similar to that of the Hind in terms of size and weight and perform the test run once again under the same conditions. The Night Stalkers once again proved themselves and their aircraft and in good time, Mount Hope II was completed, meeting or exceeding the expectations of the CIA and Department of Defense’s overseeing officers.
They were now ready for the real thing.
On May 21, the order to execute Mount Hope III was handed down from the Oval Office, and the Night Stalkers immediately geared up, loading two Chinooks aboard a C-5 Galaxy heavy airlift jet, departing for Germany first, and later on to the Ndjamena airfield in southern Chad.
The Army was to temporarily deploy an ADVON (advanced echelon) scouting and reconnaissance team to the location for around two weeks to keep an eye out for enemy forces, who weren’t all that far away from the airfield.
The French government added their support to the mission by sending over a contingent of soldiers to cover the operation on the ground and a set of Mirage F.1 fighter jets to provide top cover for all aircraft involved. A C-130 Hercules tactical airlifter would land at one of the Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) to provide fuel for the Chinooks on their way back to the FSB during the mission.
After arriving at Ndjamena on June 10, Night Stalker pilots and crew unloaded their Chinooks from the gargantuan Galaxy.
On June 11th, they proceeded with the mission as they had previously planned. The mission would see the Night Stalkers fly over 500 nautical miles under the cover of darkness, and would then pick up the abandoned Hind right at daybreak. An advance team (Chalk 1) flew to Ouadi Doum to ensure that the site was relatively secured for the incoming Chalk 2 Chinook and to prep the Hind for removal.
As I mentioned earlier, a large element of Libyan military forces were still highly active in the area, even after most had been expelled from Chad’s borders during the previous year’s conflict.
The slightest hint of military action nearby would have likely sparked a firefight and a subsequent international incident if it was discovered that the United States was actively trying to remove Libyan military hardware from the desert, even though the Hind was abandoned in Chadian sovereign territory.
The ADVON team had reported back with a detailed threat analysis, highlighting the fact that the Libyans were definitely still in the region.
Chalk 1, having been inserted at Ouadi Doum, cleared the location and quickly rigged the Hind for extraction while the Chalk 2 Chinook hovered close above, allowing for the team to sling-load the airframe to the waiting helicopter. Chalk 2 then left the area to return to Ndjamena. After covering Chalk 2’s extraction, Chalk 1 loaded up and got the hell out of Dodge.
The Libyans were totally clueless of what was happening just miles away from their positions.
Chalk 2 stopped twice to refuel, at one point on a French Foreign Legion airfield, rendezvousing with the Air Force C-130s at each location.
However, not long after stopping at FARP 2, the mission hit a slight snag in the form of an unanticipated 3000 ft sand storm. The Chinook bearing the weight of the Hind was now only 45 minutes out of home base.
Hauling ass, Chalk 2 reached Ndjamena just ahead of the storm, flying through near-zero visibility and setting down with little time to spare. Waiting a little over 20 minutes in their helicopters for the storm to move onward, the Night Stalkers finally loaded their aircraft and their newly-acquired prize into the Galaxy they arrived in, and within 36 hours were back on American soil.
After 67 hours in-country, the mission was completed; an unmitigated success. Mount Hope III was also the very first major operation where the Night Stalkers used their CH-47s.
The Department of Defense says the service branches aren’t spending enough taxpayer dollars to fund their morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) programs, according to a memo sent to each of the services last month.
Military Times reported this week that Todd Weiler, assistant defense secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, sent the memo to each branch to remind them that they were responsible for using a specific percentage of taxpayer funds to operate MWR programs.
“These standards are not optional and are not subject to Military Department waiver,” Weiler wrote.
MWR programs are required to receive a percentage of funding from Congress through either appropriated funds or non-appropriated funds, or a combination of the two.
The DoD requires that programs determined to be “Category A” must receive 85 percent of funding from taxpayer dollars. “Category A” are considered “mission sustaining programs” and “promote the physical and mental well-being of the military member,” according to Military One Source.
“Category B” requires 65 percent of operational costs to come from taxpayer dollars. Those programs consist of community support programs like child development centers, which charge families for use and therefore get some funding from customers.
“Category C” are programs that are nearly fully self-funded and include golf courses, base clubs, and recreational lodging. These programs are authorized some limited appropriated funds.
Weiler had previously sent a memo in June to remind the services to return their feedback on MWR funding by August, but both the Army and the Navy missed their deadlines.
Rather, the Army decided to cut $105 million from MWR funds, and the Navy only sent feedback on its Category A funding.
“I thought we needed to up our communication,” Weiler said in response to the Army’s planned slashing of the MWR budget.
The executive director of The National Military Family Association, Joyce Raezer, told Military Times that, due to budget cuts, sequestration, and changes to various other budgetary items, she believed families didn’t expect much from the services. “There are too many other worries,” she said.
Of the services, only the Marine Corps did not meet the 85 percent requirement, coming in at 77 percent of Category A program expenses funded by taxpayer dollars.
Every service fell short of utilizing the required percentage of taxpayer funding for Category B programs.
Weiler called out the Air Force specifically for not having met the requirements for four straight years, with no plan in place to correct the issue.
In the memo sent to the Army, Weiler asked Army Secretary Eric Fanning to halt the planned $105 million cut, a plea that was accepted and approved by Fanning. The Army plans to complete an analysis of its MWR programs and funding later this year.
Military.com reported that Colonel James Love told them that the $105 million cut would go into effect once the Pentagon approved the Army’s requested changes. He blamed a lack of “good business” practices, such as not raising prices for MWR programs, for the decision to cut the Army MWR budget.
“It’s good for families,” Love told Military.com. “But it’s not sustainable.”
British, French, Italian, and German jets have simulated flight interceptions over Western Europe as part of NATO maneuvers to deter Russian planes from entering alliance airspace.
The NATO drills on Sept. 12, 2018, came at the same time that Russia was showing off its most sophisticated air-defense system as it practiced fighting off a mock attack during military maneuvers of its own, the largest it has ever conducted.
The activity comes amid persistently high tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and its alleged interference in elections in the United States and European countries.
In the NATO drills, fighter pilots from alliance members simulated the interception of a Belgian military transport plane en route to Spain. Visual inspections were made by flying off the wings at speeds of 900 kilometers an hour.
NATO has some 60 jets regularly on alert to defend its airspace. A record 870 interceptions were recorded of Russian aircraft in the Baltic region in 2016.
“NATO is relevant. This is not theoretical,” Spanish Air Force Lieutenant General Ruben Garcia Servert said aboard the Belgian plane.
As he spoke, Italian Eurofighters flew close to the cockpit to simulate interceptions, later joined by British Typhoons and French Mirages.
The European members of NATO are looking to display their commitments to their defense in the face of criticism by U.S. President Donald Trump that alliance members are not contributing enough financially to the alliance.
President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The Western alliance is currently negotiating an agreement that would have each member’s air force defend any other’s airspace under a “single sky” concept.
Currently, each country defends its own airspace, although other members help defend the airspace of the Baltic states, which do not have enough fighter jets of their own.
NATO is planning to hold its biggest maneuvers in 16 years when it conducts the Trident Juncture drills in Norway in October and November 2018.
The drills will feature more than 40,000 troops, including some from non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.
Meanwhile, Russia is conducting massive military exercises across its central and eastern regions, weeklong war games the Defense Ministry said would involve some 300,000 personnel — twice as many as the biggest Soviet maneuvers of the Cold War era.
Russian President Vladimir Putin inspected the drills in eastern Siberia on Sept. 13, 2018, and insisted that they were not targeted at any country.
“Russia is a peaceful nation,” Putin said at a firing range in the Chita region. “We do not and cannot have any aggressive plans,” he added.
On Sept. 12, 2018, the war games involved Russia’s newest S-400 surface-to-air defense system, which NATO considers a threat to its aircraft.
In 2017 Moscow signed a contract to sell the S-400 system to Turkey, angering NATO and particularly the United States, which threatened to suspend delivery of its F-35 stealth aircraft to Ankara.
The drills simulated a “massive missile attack” by an “unnamed enemy,” military official Sergei Tikhonov said.
The exercises, which also involve Chinese and Mongolian soldiers, will run through Sept. 17, 2018.