A U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone took out a Soviet-made T-72 tank in eastern Syria on Feb. 10 2018 in a “self-defense” strike after pro-regime forces fired on U.S. advisers and allied Syrian fighters.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, head of Air Forces Central Command, acknowledged that the battlespace in Syria is becoming increasingly contested as more operators move into the area, making response decisions ever more complicated.
“… We rely upon our folks who are on the ground to make that decision, primarily the ground force commander,” Harrigian told reporters from the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, during a video teleconference briefing.
“What happened in that particular scenario is the tank that fired was within an effective range to target our SDF and advisers on the ground, which clearly provides [the ground commander] the ability to defend himself. And he made that decision, appropriately so, and that was the result,” he said.
Harrigian would not speculate on who was operating the tank — Russian forces or those belonging to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He said he was not aware of any other provocations against the coalition that day.
The MQ-9 mission occurred the same day an Iranian drone was downed over Israel. Israel launched a counterattack “on Iranian targets” in Syria in response to the drone’s intrusion, during which an Israeli F-16 was targeted and crash landed back in Israeli territory.
“We fully support Israel’s right to defend themselves, particularly against threats to their territory and their people,” Harrigian said.
The attacks come days after pro-Assad forces attacked the Syrian Defense Forces in Deir el-Zour Province. The U.S. on, Feb. 7, 2018, launched significant air and firepower in response to protect coalition service members working with the SDF in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity.
The U.S. sent up F-22A Raptor advanced stealth fighters, along with MQ-9 drones, to watch as a three-hour battle began Feb. 7, 2018, while “a variety of joint aircraft and ground-based artillery responded in defense of our SDF partners, including F-15E Strike Eagles,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, AfCent spokesman, told Military.com last week.
Harrigian says officials are still assessing how many pro-regime forces were killed as a result but estimates it was approximately 100. Other reports suggest that more than 200 were killed, with a number of news outlets saying the militants were made up of Russian mercenaries.
Harrigian would not comment on the makeup of the forces.
“What we saw coming at us was approximately a battalion-sized unit,” he said. “We continue to look at what those forces were composed of … and it’s going to take some time to fully understand who was down there … and there’s a fair number of groups involved with this, and it’s always difficult to sort that out.”
He added, “This is executed as self- defense, and we are going to defend ourselves. We all need to be crystal clear about that. We’re going to do that first — defend ourselves appropriately — and then … we’ve got to work through exactly who it was to understand [the threat].”
U.S. forces will continue to watch the area, but Harrigian noted the goal “is to get back to fighting” the Islamic State.
“It clearly is a very complicated and complex environment,” he said. “For both our forces on the ground and … for our forces in the air, this environment requires the professionalism and discipline of a force that’s able to manage and understand the environment in such that we can make timely decisions and understand how were going to protect ourselves, and get after the ISIS fight.”
Tensions between the US and Russia and increasing activity in the Arctic have drawn more attention to the countries’ otherwise quiet boundary in the high north.
The Bering Strait, between Alaska and Russia’s Far East, has long been an area of low tension and cooperation on matters like waterway management and fisheries enforcement. But expectations of increased commercial and military activity in the Arctic have raised the strait’s strategic profile.
“The Northwest Passage and the Northern Passage all link through one strategic waterway in the West, and that’s through the Bering Strait,” retired US Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser said at a Wilson Center event in October, referring to sea routes along the northern coasts of Canada and Russia, respectively.
“The issues that we’re facing and talking about in the GIUK Gap, you need to be very cognizant that they could also appear in the Bering Sea,” added Fraser, who led Alaska Command in the mid-2000s.
Fraser is not alone in that assessment. At a Senate hearing in March, the Navy’s top officer, Adm. Michael Gilday, said he expected the Bering Strait to be “strategically as important as the Strait of Malacca or the Strait of Hormuz.”
The US military has been active in those straits for years, but its activity in and around Alaska is increasing.
“I think we ought to pay a lot of attention to the Aleutians,” Fraser said at the October event. “They provide, really, a string across the approaches into the Bering, and as more and more strategic activity happens … through the northern approaches, the Aleutians are going to be a strategic and key terrain.”
The Air Force and Space Force will be “key contributors” to addressing issues that arise in the region, Fraser said.
Other service branches want to increase their training in Alaska, and lawmakers have pushed for more investment there.
The US Army Corps of Engineers recently approved plans to expand the port of Nome, on Alaska’s Bering coast. That “will not only help from a national-security perspective but … help [local communities] to reduce the cost of living,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said at another event in October.
‘Not so much about signaling’
Russia’s Far East and Arctic regions are sparsely populated, and after the Cold War the military infrastructure there deteriorated, but Moscow is refurbishing those facilities.
“The physical proximity to both Canada and Alaska … makes the Far Eastern flank of the Arctic as … important to the Russians as the European flank, or NATO flank, of the Arctic,” Alexey Muraviev, head of the Department of Social Sciences and Security Studies at Australia’s Curtin University, told Insider this summer.
The work includes expanding and upgrading airfields to handle strategic bombers and support all-weather operations, though Russia is “mindful of China” and concerns it may have about such activity near their shared border, Muraviev said.
Russia has renovated Arctic bases to support maritime operations along the Northern Sea Route and added new radars and other installations to detect an airborne attack. The easternmost Arctic radar facility is on Wrangel Island, just 300 miles from Alaska.
Russia’s Pacific Fleet has received a variety of new ships and has increased its exercises. A major naval drill in August led to close encounters between Russian ships and US fishermen near Alaska.
That was Russia’s first significant exercise in the region in some time, but it wasn’t clear if it was a response to US actions, according to Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA, a nonprofit research group.
“A lot of big Russian military exercises, it’s not so much about signaling,” Kofman told Insider. “It’s much more about them actually being able to do it … to mass forces, to exercise farther away from the actual naval bases.”
Kofman was skeptical that the Bering Strait would take on the same strategic significance as the GIUK Gap but said the sea lines of communication that run through it mean it would be important if the US pursues a sea-control strategy in a conflict, particularly one with China, which brands itself a “near-Arctic power” and is increasingly active there.
“China’s quite interested in the Arctic,” Kofman said, “and the United States is always interested not just in Russia but anywhere China gets interested.”
To be clear, Paramount’s new film, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is not a war movie; it’s a memoir about a journalist covering a war zone. Specifically, that journalist is Kim Barker, whose book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the basis for Tina Fey’s new film.
“I was always more curious about what it was like to live through war than what it was like to die in it,” Barker says. “You’ve got aspects of real people in the movie and things that actually happened … but they make Tina Fey braver than I ever was.”
Barker, who is now a Metro reporter at the New York Times, was a war correspondent covering Afghanistan for the Chicago Tribune starting in 2002. Her time in the field was her first real experience with U.S. troops. Sometimes, those deployed soldiers talked to her as if she was their therapist.
“I love to embed with the troops,” Barker recalls. “But I found that they just wanted to talk to me about living, their lives back home, and how grueling this was on relationships to have deployment after deployment after deployment.”
In her time embedded with deployed troops, Barker saw the stress of fighting two wars take its toll on the U.S. military and those who served.
“It made me so grateful to all the people who were willing to share their stories and were super honest with me,” she says. “Those were the stories I really loved to tell, not going out and getting shot at — because I’m a chicken, and I’m not that reporter.”
Barker looked for stories that described the daily life of troops and everyday Afghans, the people who lived the war day in and day out for years.
“You wanted to be true to what they were telling you and not censor yourself, yet you really cared about the people that you were meeting there,” Barker adds. “Watching them adjust to going from Afghanistan to Iraq and back again… the stress that’s been put on our military fighting two fronts at the same time changed my view of my troops because I actually got to know them.”
Many of the Afghans in her circles want Western troops to stay in Afghanistan longer. While Barker admits she’s a reporter and not a Washington policy maker, she says the troops do provide stability for the coming generations of Afghan people.
Kim Barker with warlord Pacha Khan in 2003. Khan’s forces ousted the Taliban from Paktia Province during the 2001 invasion, with American backing. (Photo by Ghulam Farouq Samim)
“They [Afghans] are a bit more modern, they live in the cities,” she says. “I think their feeling is, ‘Hey, just give us enough security and enough civility here to let the next generation take over, and to let some sort of stability to come underneath democratic institutions.'”
For anyone who might be anxious to get out and do some war reporting in this environment, Barker believes it’s a great opportunity, but cautions the uninitiated against going in completely unprepared.
“There are openings to be able to sell stories, great stories,” she says. “When I went overseas the first time I had no clue, but I had these people around me who did, and I had a newspaper that would back me. I didn’t know what I was doing and I worry about folks going into these places without any kind of safety net at all.”
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” opens in theaters on Friday, March 4th.
Dos Equis’ old ads featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World” were supposed to be hilarious and ridiculous at the same time. But it left many thinking of people they knew who really might fit that man’s mold. I would like to submit the argument in favor of 81-year-old Army veteran, actor, and musician Kris Kristofferson.
You might know him from his acting work – most recently portraying the most hardcore President of all time, Andrew Jackson, on the History Channel miniseries Texas Rising. Or maybe you know him as “Whistler” from the Blade movies. Older folks know him as the songwriter behind Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and as a country music performer in his own right. In 2003, he was presented with the “Veteran of the Year” Award at the 8th Annual American Veterans Awards.
While his father wanted him to continue the family’s military tradition, even he would have to admit that Kris has a pretty great resume. But there are a lot of music stars turned movie stars. It’s what he did before achieving stardom that makes him The Most Interesting Man in the World.
He was a Golden Gloves boxer.
The Golden Gloves meant that Kristofferson was a talented amateur boxer. But to add to his tough-as-nails persona, he also was skilled at rugby and track, and was even featured in Sports Illustrated for his natural talent playing American football.
He had two hobbies that just let him punch people in the face.
He was a Rhodes Scholar.
While studying literature at Pomona College in California, he was selected for a Rhodes scholarship to study literature at Merton College. While there, he continued boxing, performing at the highest levels. Remember: there’s no shame in getting knocked out by Kris Kristofferson. It doesn’t matter if he’s 18-years-old or 81-years-old.
Kristofferson goes Airborne.
He earned a Ranger tab.
The younger Kristofferson was the son of an Army Air Forces officer who went into the service himself as an officer. He was a helicopter pilot who also finished Ranger training and Airborne school. He opted to get out of the Army in lieu of taking an assignment to teach at West Point.
He moonlighted as a janitor… while working on oil rigs.
Kristofferson would sit on oil rigs, flying workers around in Louisiana one week. Then the next week he would moonlight as a janitor in Nashville recording studios so he could drop demo tapes on unsuspecting country music artists like June and Johnny Cash.
In one interview, he recommended having patience if you’re pursuing a career as an artist. Sweeping floors at age 30 might not seem glamorous for a former Army Ranger officer, but ask Kris Kristofferson if it was worth it.
Unfortunately his boozing is what led to him no longer working the controls of helicopters.
All that and he fought forest fires.
One of Kristofferson’s most often-offered pieces of advice is writing from your own experience. As if football, rugby, being an Airborne Ranger, and working on oil rigs weren’t manly enough, he also worked in construction and fought wild fires in Alaska.
The US has been steadily ratcheting up the pressure on China’s sea forces in a way that could lower the threshold for conflict in the South China Sea, already a hotbed of tension and dispute.
The US is signaling a tougher stance toward the Chinese maritime militia, a paramilitary sea force disguised as a fishing fleet and known to harass foreign rivals to enforce China’s vast sovereignty claims in the contested waterway.
The Chinese maritime militia “thrives within the shadows of plausible deniability,” according to Andrew Erickson, a leading expert at the US Naval War College, but it can no longer hide like it once could.
The Department of Defense first called attention to the maritime militia in its 2017 report on China’s military power. The report explained that China uses its commercial fishing fleet to engage in gray-zone aggression, “to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes)
It wasn’t until this year, though, that the US really began putting pressure on the militia forces.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson warned his Chinese counterpart during a meeting in Beijing in January 2019 that the US Navy will treat coast guard and maritime militia vessels as combatants and respond to provocations the same way it would a Chinese navy ship, the Financial Times reported.
In March 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly assured the Philippines that the US would come to its defense in the event that it was attacked in the South China Sea. “Any armed attack,” the secretary explained, “on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations.”
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim clarified the earlier assurances on June 14, 2019, telling reporters that US security guarantees apply to potential acts of aggression by the Chinese maritime militia.
“Any armed attack, I would think that would include government-sanctioned militias,” the ambassador explained, according to The Philippine Star. He did not say what type of behavior would constitute an “armed attack.”
The increased pressure is intended to change China’s strategic calculus in the disputed waterway, experts argue.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Photo by Mark Taylor)
“By injecting greater uncertainty about how the US will respond to China’s grey-zone coercion,” Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Financial Times, “the US hopes to deter Chinese destabilizing maritime behaviour, including its reliance on coast guard and maritime militia vessels to intimidate its smaller neighbours.”
At the same time, it potentially makes it easier for a lower-level dispute between China and its neighbors to escalate, especially considering the ambiguity surrounding both the US deterrence posture and the role of the maritime militia.
Incidents involving Chinese fishing vessels, potential members of the maritime militia, are frequent occurrences in the South China Sea. It is unclear exactly what kind of incident might trigger US defense obligations.
For instance, in April 2019, more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels allegedly swarmed Thitu Island, a Philippine-occupied territory in the Spratly Islands.
And, last week, a suspected Chinese vessel allegedly rammed a Philippine ship in the South China Sea, sinking it and then sailing off as nearly two dozen Filipino fishermen fought for their lives in open water.
China has denied allegations of misconduct.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Despite the lifting of a federal hiring freeze, the Department of Veterans Affairs is leaving thousands of positions unfilled, citing the need for a leaner VA as it develops a longer-term plan to allow more veterans to seek medical care in the private sector.
The order by VA Secretary David Shulkin is described in an internal April 14 memorandum obtained by The Associated Press. The VA indicated it would proceed with filling open positions previously exempted under the hiring freeze. Noting that the White House had ordered all departments to be leaner and “more accountable,” the VA indicated that more than 4,000 jobs would still be left vacant unless they were specially approved “position by position” by top VA leadership as addressing an “absolute critical need.”
These positions include roughly 4,000 in the VA’s health arm and 200 in benefits, plus more than 400 information technology positions and over 100 human resource positions, according to VA data provided to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier in April. Government auditors have previously faulted the department for recent shortages in IT and HR, which it said it had hurt its ability to recruit and hire key staff department-wide.
Major veterans organizations also worry this could be a sign of future tightening at the VA, coming after the department had previously warned it would need “hiring surges” to address a rapidly growing disability backlog. The groups have cautioned against any “privatization” efforts at the VA that could expand private care for veterans while reducing investment in the VA itself.
“It seems to be a reversal of what they have been saying, and it’s disappointing,” said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans’ Washington headquarters.
Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his group was concerned the VA would overlook positions that didn’t directly affect health care, such as staffing of its suicide prevention hotline.
In a statement April 26, the VA said the hiring restrictions were needed to “streamline VA’s corporate structure and administrative positions.”
While President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint calls for a 6 percent increase in VA funding, the memo indicated that the government’s second largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees was no different from other departments that needed to improve “efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” and left open the possibility of “near-term” and “long-term workforce reductions.” Shulkin is also putting together a broader proposal by fall to expand the VA’s Choice program of private-sector care.
“This memo lifts the federal hiring freeze. However, this does not mean business as usual for hiring,” stated VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson. She said VA leadership aimed to proceed in the coming months with “deliberative hiring strategies” as it seeks to build “a future VA of Choice.”
The memo comes as the Trump administration seeks to highlight accomplishment and accountability at the VA. During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized the VA as “the most corrupt” and pledged to expand private care.
Trump planned to sign an executive order April 27 to create a VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.
Shulkin has acknowledged that the VA was hurt initially by the hiring freeze because it could not hire claims processors. Shulkin later exempted those positions, including 242 the VA earmarked for this year to specifically address an appeals backlog, a 36 percent increase. But the VA has said it would need an additional hiring “surge” of at least 1,458 full-time staff to stem a growing appeals backlog. The backlog was expected to exceed 1 million within a decade, with average wait times of 8.5 years. The current wait time is as many as five years.
Shulkin also has signaled, without naming specific locations, that underutilized VA facilities will have to close. “There are some parts of the country where facilities are sitting empty, and there is no sense in keeping them empty,” he has said.
The executive order being signed by Trump would create a VA office to “discipline or terminate VA managers or employees who fail to carry out their duties in helping our veterans.”
Recent audits by the VA inspector general and a report by The Associated Press in February found a pattern of poor VA compliance involving equipment and drug inventory checks, putting patients at risk at the Washington, D.C. medical center and leading to a sharp rise in opioid thefts across the VA system since 2009.
In March, the Republican-led House approved legislation to make it easier for the VA to fire, suspend, or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct. But the measure has been slow to move in the Senate after Democrats and unions cast it as an attack on workers’ rights.
AP writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
The Secret Service released a statement on April 2, 2019, responding to the report that a woman was able to get past checkpoints at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, March 30, 2019, before being stopped by reception and detained by the Secret Service.
The Palm Beach, Florida, golf club is owned by President Donald Trump, who was golfing at another one of his clubs nearby at the time. However, the First Lady Melania Trump and others were present at Mar-a-Lago, according to the Miami Herald.
“The Secret Service does not determine who is invited or welcome at Mar-a-Lago; this is the responsibility of the host entity,” the agency said in a statement. “The Mar-a-Lago club management determines which members and guests are granted access to the property. This access does not afford an individual proximity to the President or other Secret Service protectees.”
President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Tump.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia)
According to the criminal complaint filed by Secret Service agent Samuel Ivanovich, the woman Yujing Zhang, a Chinese national, allegedly told a Secret Service agent that she was going to the pool. Mar-a-Lago staff were then charged with confirming whether she was an authorized guest.
Zhang eventually was screened and made her way to the reception desk, where she allegedly said she was going to an event that was not scheduled at Mar-a-Lago. The receptionist flagged this and according to the complaint, Zhang was taken offsite and questioned by the Secret Service.
Federal prosecutors charged Zhang with making false statements to federal agents and entering a restricted area — the complaint details the multiple signs identifying the area as “Restricted Building or Grounds,” and the signs reportedly state that “Persons entering without lawful authority are subject to arrest and prosecution.”
She was carrying a laptop, four phones, an “external hard drive type device,” and a thumb drive. According to court documents a preliminary check showed the thumb drive contained “malicious malware.”
Woman from China arrested in Mar-a-Lago security breach
Though she was screened for — and was not carrying any — items that could have caused physical harm, the event raised questions about security at Mar-a-Lago, as the club is open to members even when the president is in residence.
“It’s a hard position for Secret Service to be in to potentially deny a million-dollar committee member,” Don Mihalek, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association’s executive vice president, told The New York Times. “It puts Secret Service in a very difficult position because we don’t know who are members and who aren’t.”
The Secret Service, which is charged with the protection of the president and first family, said that “additional screening and security measures are employed,” when guests are in close proximity to the president.
But they also stated that “the practice used at Mar-a-Lago is no different than that long-used at any other site temporarily visited by the President or other Secret Service protectees.” It does not have the same permanent security apparatus as the White House.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
NATO’s secretary-general made a short announcement to the press on May 10 in which he confirmed that the organization was requesting that its member states deploy more troops to Afghanistan, but ruled out a return to military combat in that country.
Jens Stoltenberg spoke following a meeting with the United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May at her official 10 Downing Street residence in London, where the two leaders were preparing the groundwork ahead of a Brussels NATO meeting scheduled for May 25.
Stoltenberg said military authorities would use the summit to debate NATO’s petition to deploy several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan.
Exact figures would be thrashed out in the coming weeks, the NATO chief said, adding that extra soldiers would not be deployed in a combative military capacity, but would rather provide training to the Afghan forces on the ground.
Some 13,500 NATO troops stayed on as advisers in the Central Asian nation when the Alliance officially ended its military intervention against the Taliban and Al-Qaida in 2014, some 12 years after the operation was launched.
Stoltenberg said that national defense contributions would be scrutinized during the Brussels summit.
NATO has asked its members to invest 2 percent of their GDP into defense spending.
There were two new heads of state for whom the forthcoming summit was set to be their first NATO outing; United States President Donald Trump and Emmanual Macron, who is due to officially take French presidency on May 14.
Instead, Mattis wants to “ensure that preparation for great power competition drives us, not simply a rotation schedule that allows me to tell you three years from now which aircraft carrier will be where in the world,” said Mattis, referring to war and rivalry with massive military powers like China and Russia as “great power competition.”
Mattis’ solution is quicker, more erratic deployments of aircraft carriers.
(U.S. Navy photo)
“When we send them out, it may be for a shorter deployment,” he said. “There will be three carriers in the South China Sea today, and then, two weeks from now, there’s only one there, and two of them are in the Indian Ocean.”
But rather than eight-month-long deployments typical of aircraft carriers these days, where one single ship could see combat in the Persian Gulf before heading to the Indian Ocean and eventually back home, Mattis wants snappier trips.
“They’ll be home at the end of a 90-day deployment,” Mattis told lawmakers. “They will not have spent eight months at sea, and we are going to have a force more ready to surge and deal with the high-end warfare as a result, without breaking the families, the maintenance cycles — we’ll actually enhance the training time.”
Mattis’ plan for more unpredictable deployments fits broadly with President Donald Trump’s administration’s national defense strategies that prioritize fighting against adversaries like Russia and China, both of which have developed systems to counter US aircraft carriers.
With shorter, more spontaneous deployments of aircraft carriers, Mattis and the Navy could keep Russia and China on their toes.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Hussein Farrah Aidid left the United States Marine Corps and attempted to be a warlord like his father, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who is a central figure in the story of Black Hawk Down.
Mohamed Aidid was the leader of the Habr Gidr clan, who vied for power in the wake of the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s Somali regime. Aidid not only diverted food aid and relief supplies, his fighters ambushed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers. The United Nations offered a $25,000 reward for his capture, and he was targeted by Task Force Ranger. TF Ranger’s hunt for Aidid led to the ill-fated Battle of Mogadishu that resulted in the death of 18 American troops.
Aidid had four wives. His first wife, Asli Dhubad, gave birth to five children. Hussein Farrah Aidid was the first of those five. He was born in a remote area of Somalia in 1962. At the age of 14, he emigrated to the United States at a time when Somalia was ruled by the dictator Barre whose authoritarian government was enjoying a brief thaw in relations with the U.S. Hussein graduated from high school in Covina, California two years later before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Aidid was an artilleryman, assigned to Battery B, 14th Marines at the Marine Corps Reserve base in Pico Rivera, California. He deployed in support of Operation Restore Hope, the U.S.-led task force in Somalia whose aim was to disrupt the personal army of Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The elder Aidid controlled the strongest faction in the ongoing power struggle in the country.
The UN mandate was to “establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia.” Essentially, Restore Hope aimed to protect the delivery of food and other humanitarian aid, keeping it from falling into the hands of Aidid’s personal army. The Marines deployed the younger Aidid because he was the only one in the ranks who could speak Somali.
He returned to the U.S. and became a naturalized citizen. In 1995, Aidid told his command he would miss drill for a while because he was traveling outside the U.S. He returned to Somalia and began preparing for his role in the Habr Gidr militia.
The elder Mohamed Farrah Aidid continued his struggle for power, even declaring himself President of Somalia in 1995, a declaration no country recognized. He was shot in a battle against former allied warlords in July 1996 and died of a heart attack during surgery.
The younger Aidid vacillated between being more conciliatory than his father to being as warlike as his father. Initially he vowed to crush and kill his enemies at home and overseas. He continued his father’s policies, especially the pacification of the countryside, which most saw as an authoritarian power grab. Forces loyal to Aidid were known to rob and kill civilians in their controlled territories. Other allied factions left the young leader’s camp because they did not see dedication to the peace process.
The younger Aidid eventually softened, renouncing his claim to the presidency and agreeing to UN-brokered peace agreements in 1997. An ardent anti-Islamist, he assisted the Bush Administration in tracking down the flow of arms and money through Mogadishu, gave up the sale and use of landmines, and helped Somali government forces capture the capital from the al-Qaeda-allied Islamic Courts Union in 2006. He was hired and fired as deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, and Minister of Public Works. He defected to Eritrea in 2007.
”I always wanted to be a Marine,” he told The Associated Press. ”I’m proud of my background and military discipline. Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
A dusting of snow and unease fell over Ukraine one day after Russian Coast Guard vessels fired on and detained three Ukrainian military ships and their crews off the Crimean coast, igniting rioting outside the Russian Embassy and public demands for retaliation.
The Nov. 25, 2018 incident marked the most significant escalation of tensions in the shared Sea of Azov in 2018 and the first time since Russia’s unrecognized annexation of Crimea four years ago that Moscow has publicly acknowledged opening fire on Ukrainian forces.
Here’s what went down, what has happened since, and what it all could mean:
What happened and where?
The Ukrainian and Russian versions of events differ, with each blaming the other for instigating the incident.
Kyiv said the Russians’ actions violated a 2003 bilateral treaty designating the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait as shared territorial waters and the UN Law of the Sea, which guarantees access through the strait.
Russian officials said the Ukrainian ships were maneuvering dangerously, requiring the strait to be temporarily closed for security reasons. Moscow has since announced the reopening of the strait after using a cargo ship to block passage beneath a controversial new bridge connecting Russia with occupied Crimea.
But what isn’t disputed is that a Russian Coast Guard vessel, the Don, slammed into a Ukrainian Navy tugboat as it escorted two military vessels toward the Kerch Strait in the direction of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which lies on the coast of the inland Sea of Azov. A series of dangerous events followed.
According to the Ukrainian Navy, the transfer of its vessels from the port of Odesa to the port of Mariupol was planned in advance. It said that while en route on Nov. 25, 2018, the ships had radioed the Russian Coast Guard twice to announce their approach to the Kerch Strait but received no response.
Hours later, as the boats approached the strait, they were intercepted by Russian Coast Guard vessels. A video recorded aboard the Don and shared by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov appeared to show the chaos that ensued, including the moment that the Russian vessel collided with the Ukrainian tugboat. The tugboat suffered damage to its engine, hull, and guardrail, according to the Ukrainian Navy.
Ukrainian authorities said the Russian forces subsequently opened fire on its vessels, badly damaging them. Russia said its forces fired on the Ukrainian boats as a matter of security.
As the incident unfolded, Russia blocked the Kerch Strait — the only passage to and from the inland Sea of Azov, which is jointly controlled by Russia and Ukraine — by anchoring a freighter across the central span of its six-month-old Crimean Bridge.
At least six Ukrainian servicemen were said to have been wounded, including two seriously, a National Security and Defense Council official and a Foreign Ministry official told RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment officially to journalists. They said around midday on Nov. 26, 2018, that there had been no contact with 23 sailors aboard those vessels. The ships and crew were detained and brought to the Russia-controlled port in Kerch, in annexed Crimea.
Early on Nov. 26, 2018, Kerch FM, a local radio station and news site, published photographs and a video of what it claimed were the detained Ukrainian Navy vessels moored at the port in Kerch.
Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s permanent representative for Crimea, Borys Babin, told the 112 Channel that at least three of six wounded Ukrainian servicemen had been transferred to Moscow for medical treatment. Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova reportedly told Ukraine’s Hromadske TV that three others were being treated at a hospital in Kerch.
Poroshenko calls for martial law. what would that mean?
From Kyiv’s perspective, the sea skirmish marked a significant escalation in a long-running conflict and perhaps the opening of a new front at sea. Until then, the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russia-backed separatists since April 2014, had been mostly a land war fought in trenches and with indiscriminate heavy artillery systems, albeit with mounting confrontations at sea as Russia bolstered its military presence there.
At an emergency cabinet meeting after midnight on Nov. 26, 2018, Poroshenko called on parliament to support a declaration of martial law to respond to Russia’s attacks and its effective blockade of the Sea of Azov. His call was heeded by parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy, who convened an extraordinary session for the late afternoon.
Some are uneasy about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s desire to introduce martial law.
With a powerful coalition in parliament supporting Poroshenko, passage was virtually assured. Even some members of parliament who frequently oppose the coalition quickly voiced support for the measure, including Self Reliance party leader and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy.
But some lawmakers expressed concern about the move. Mustafa Nayyem, a member of Poroshenko’s party who is often critical of the president, wrote on Facebook that “the president must indicate the JUSTIFICATION of the need to impose martial law, the BORDER of the territory in which it is to be introduced, as well as the TERM for its introduction.”
“In addition,” Nayyem argued, “the document should contain an exhaustive list of constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens that would be temporarily restricted.”
The proposal from the National Security and Defense Council that Poroshenko announced he had signed on Nov. 26, 2018, listed some of these things, according to a text published on the president’s official site.
The initial text called for partial mobilization, the immediate organization of air-defense forces, tightened security at borders with Russia, increased information security, an information campaign to present facts about Russia’s “aggression,” increased security around critical infrastructure, and more. It can reportedly be canceled at any time.
The text reportedly made no mention of the scheduled presidential election in March 2019, which some critics fear could be postponed. But presidential adviser Yuriy Biryukov said before the decree was published that Poroshenko’s administration would not do that, adding that there would be no restrictions on freedom of speech.
As passed by lawmakers later on Nov. 26, 2018, martial law was to be imposed from Nov. 28, 2018. The order sets out extraordinary measures including a partial mobilization, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and several activities with broad wording — such as unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime and information security.”
Martial law will be introduced in areas of the country most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia.”
Poroshenko and the martial law decree say it is necessary for national security. Specifically, the decree states it is “in connection with the next act of armed aggression on the part of the Russian Federation, which took place on Nov. 25, 2018, in the Kerch Strait against the ships of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Beyond that, he hasn’t said much else about the timing or aims.
The introduction of martial law represents an extraordinary and unprecedented move. No martial law was imposed during Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in early 2014 nor at any point since hostilities began a month later in eastern Ukraine — even when Ukrainian soldiers and civilians were dying at the height of fighting that summer and in early 2015.
Back then, Ukrainian officials worried publicly that a declaration of martial law could severely damage the country’s ailing economy and disrupt cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today, the economy has seen some recovery and the IMF recently promised Ukraine another financial bailout.
There could be other reasons, as some on Ukrainian social media pointed out after the president’s proposal was made public.
Poroshenko’s approval ratings have declined dramatically in recent months. He’s now lagging far behind his highest-profile opponent, former Prime Minister and Fatherland party leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Some Ukrainian and foreign observers have suggested that Poroshenko, who has tried to capitalize on the threat from Russia with a three-pointed election slogan — Army! Language! Faith! — might benefit from playing up Russian hostilities.
Also, under martial law, some fear Poroshenko could try to cancel or postpone elections. For its part, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission reportedly statedthat holding elections under martial law would be possible.
Meanwhile, in Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s own approval ratings have sunkin recent months as Russians vented anger over controversial pension reforms. Putin’s purported order to special forces to seize the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine came in March 2014, with his approval ratings sagging.
But tensions in and around the Sea of Azov have been mounting for some time, with the Ukrainian military and Border Guard Service telling RFE/RL in August 2018 that it felt like only a matter of time before the situation would worsen.
How did we get here?
Confrontation has been brewing in and around the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait for months, if not years, as RFE/RL reported from Mariupol in August 2018.
The situation began ramping up in May 2018, when Russia opened a 19-kilometer, rail-and-highway bridge over the Kerch Strait connecting mainland Russia with the annexed Crimean Peninsula. The bridge’s low height restricted the types of merchant ships that could pass, decreasing traffic to service Ukrainian ports in Mariupol and Berdyansk. For those cities, their ports are economic lifelines.
Both sides increased their military presence in the Azov region. And Kyiv accused Moscow of harassing ships bound for Mariupol and Berdyansk. Ships operated by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have since detained more than 150 merchant vessels, holding them for up to several days, at considerable cost to the companies and the ports.
Each side has detained the other’s vessels. In March 2018, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service detained a Russian fishing boat and impounded it in Berdyansk. In November 2018, Russian Border Guards seized a Ukrainian fishing boat and impounded it in the Russian port of Yeysk, about 60 kilometers southeast of Mariupol.
How will the international community respond?
An emergency United Nations Security Council meeting held later on Nov. 26, 2018, failed to offer any solutions.
Much of the international community, which dismissed Russia’s claim to Crimea in a UN vote in 2014, has largely sided with Ukraine.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said free passage of the Kerch Strait was guaranteed by the 2003 treaty signed by Russia and Ukraine. “The Agreement must be respected. It is of utmost importance to avoid any further escalation in the region,” he said in a statement.
Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, tweeted her support for Kyiv. “Canada condemns Russian aggression towards Ukraine in the Kerch Strait,” she wrote. “We call on Russia to immediately de-escalate, release the captured vessels, and allow for freedom of passage. Canada is unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, who has been particularly critical of what he calls “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, tweeted, “Russia rams Ukrainian vessel peacefully traveling toward a Ukrainian port. Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation???”
But U.S. President Donald Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation. “Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.
Statements of condemnation were welcomed in Kyiv, but some Ukrainian officials privately expressed to RFE/RL their frustration with such statements. What they would prefer, they said, is for their international partners to apply fresh, harsh sanctions against Russia over the skirmish.
What’s Russia’s next move?
With Ukraine under martial law, this is perhaps the biggest lingering question. The short answer is that no one knows.
Russia’s flagship news program claimed the Kerch Strait incident was a Ukrainian provocation ordered from Washington in a bid to sabotage an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and Putin at this week’s Group of 20 (G20) summit in Argentina.
If Russia’s state media provide any indication, the Kremlin might well play up the incident as a demonstration of Ukrainian aggression and perhaps a pretext for further actions against Ukraine. But what kind of actions remains to be seen.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement, offered no specifics but warned the Kyiv “regime and its Western patrons” of “serious consequences” of the skirmish at sea.
“Clearly, this is a well-thought-out provocation that took place in a predetermined place and form and is aimed at creating another hotbed of tension in that region and a pretext for stepping up sanctions against Russia,” the ministry said.
“We are hereby issuing a warning to Ukraine that Kyiv’s policy, pursued in coordination with the United States and the EU, that seeks to provoke a conflict with Russia in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea is fraught with serious consequences.”
It added: “The Russian Federation will firmly curb any attempts to encroach on its sovereignty and security.”
Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Cutone attends a community event in Springfield’s North End. (Michael Cutone/The Trinity Project)
When demonstrators in Springfield, Massachusetts marched to protest against heavy-handed law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd’s death it was entirely peaceful. No rocks were thrown at the police, no cars were turned over and no one was arrested in the state’s third largest city.
“The citizens of Springfield have a good working relationship with the cops,” said ArmySpecial Forces veteran and retired Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Cutone.
And he should know — he can take at least some of the credit for reworking the entire relationship.
Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Cutone walks with local children on their way to a school bus stop in Springfield, Mass. (Michael Cutone/The Trinity Project)
Cutone split his time between the Army Guard and the police force, gathering decades of experience along the way. Eventually he started to see where lessons learned in his military career could apply to the toughest streets of Massachusetts.
“I was in the Guard, so when I got active duty orders, I would put on the green hat,” Cutone says. “I’d be gone six months, a year, then I’d be back in my trooper uniform. It was two different worlds but I loved both of them.”
Swapping between jobs kept him in touch with both the fundamentals of counterinsurgency overseas and the hard work of policing an area stateside. And it led him to wonder: what if he paired the best of both methods into a program for home?
In a time where calls to “defund the police” are growing louder, Cutone’s method of police work is now getting more funding from state and federal lawmakers. It’s called C3 Policing and it doesn’t take the police out of the community, it puts the needs of a community first.
“Community members are your greatest resource,” Cutone says. “In the Army, you don’t survive that well if you’re embedded in a hostile community, so you go win over the local population.”
Michael Cutone and Tom O’Hare, one of The Trinity Project’s C3 instructors, while deployed to Iraq with U.S. Army Special Forces in 2013. (Provided by Michael Cutone)
If Cutone’s choice of words sounds familiar to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, that shouldn’t be a surprise. “C3” means Counter Criminal Continuum and it’s basically the application of the Army Special Forces’ counterinsurgency tactics used in the Global War on Terror to violent crime and gang activity in American cities.
In 2009 the crime rate in Springfield was three times the rate in the State of Massachusetts as a whole.
“In the north end of the city, you hand open-air drug selling, gang members carrying SKS rifles out in the open and it culminated in three shooting and two murders in a week,” Cutone says.
Cutone asked his State Police sergeant if he could do a dismounted patrol — to walk around the streets 12th worst city in America in his State Trooper uniform. It was unheard of. Somehow, his sergeant agreed.
He began walking the streets, talking to people, buying a cup of coffee here, a pastry there. It dawned on Cutone that maybe law enforcement is approaching street crime in the wrong way. So he continued to walk the streets, engaging the population the way Army Special Forces taught him.
He went to community meetings to build legitimacy within the populace and eventually approached the city’s deputy police chief with his background and ideas. When the chief agreed to hear him out, Cutone wrote up an entire action plan for a small community in the North end of the city, using the eight building blocks taught by the Army.
Among these were “work by, with and through the local population” and “Detect, degrade, disrupt and dismantle criminal activity” — counterinsurgency maxims proven time and again overseas. Citizens began to meet police officers and interact with them. Eventually the local police force established a C3 Department and hand-picked C3 officers to begin to integrate themselves into the fabric of the community.
After retiring from both the Army and Massachusetts State Police in 2020, Cutone, with fellow State Trooper and Special Forces soldier Thomas Sarrouf, co-founded The Trinity Project, a police engagement consultancy and training company that trains officers in C3 Policing, using counterinsurgency to take back U.S. streets..
While “counterinsurgency” may bring to mind images of soldiers kicking in doors and raiding houses, Cutone said C3 is about building legitimacy through community partnerships using 8 core principles developed through the counterinsurgency techniques taught to American Special Forces:
Legitimacy is crucial to achieving our goals
You must understand the environment (the ground truth)
Unity of effort is essential
Intelligence drives operations
Prepare for a long-term commitment
Local factors are primary
Security under the rule of law
Gangs and drug dealers must be separated from their cause and support
“When you call the cops to come fix a problem, that’s just a transactional relationship,” Cutone says. “It’s not transformative. We are starting with a message to counter the gang’s message, offer services and create pressure points on these gangs to make it impossible to operate.”
The end result is transformational. Since Cutone began his style of policing, the annual crime rate of Springfield has decreased 6% every year. While the city is still not quite the bastion of law and order, things are beginning to turn around.
Some of the proof is seen outside the raw data. For example, more outside investment is beginning to come into the area. Buildings are no longer left vacant, businesses are coming in and drug dealers are no longer active in the open. C3 operations are even expanding to the rest of the city.
Cutone and his staff at the Trinity Project are ready to bring community engagement through C3 Policing to any city ready to think outside the box.
Israel’s military said on July 24, 2018, that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at and “intercepted” a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace.
The plane crashed in Syria near the country’s border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown, The New York Times reported. The Syrian jet is thought to be a Russian-made Su-24 or Su-22.
For weeks, rockets fired from Syria and elsewhere outside Israel have peppered the country and activated its missile defenses on multiple occasions.
Israel and Syria have a border dispute in the Golan Heights and have squared off in aerial combat before, with Israel in early 2018 destroying much of Syria’s anti-air batteries and losing one of its F-16s.
The Israel Defense Forces said a Russian-made Syrian jet “infiltrated about 1 mile into Israeli airspace” before being intercepted.
“Since this morning, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria and the Syrian Air Force’s activity,” the IDF added. “The IDF is in high alert and will continue to operate against the violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement,” the UN resolution that ended the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Syria.
Featured Image: A Sukhoi Su-24M of the Russian Air Force.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.