Afghanistan has seen a lot of fighting since the Soviet invasion in December 1979. The Soviets ended up building bases in the war-torn country. So did the United States, which has been in Afghanistan since October 2001. Now, the Chinese Communists are reportedly building a base in northeastern Afghanistan, giving them a foothold in Central Asia.
According to a report by Eurasianet.org, the base is being built for the Afghan Armed Forces. Both Chinese and Afghan sources denied these reports, but Fergana News, which broke the story originally, confirmed that the base is being built in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan, which borders Tajikistan. On the other side of Tajikistan, further to the east, is the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.
But why would the Chinese be helping the Afghans build a base? There’s no altruism at play here. As was the case with Tibet, there has been a long-running separatist movement in Xinjiang, which was taken into China in the 1700s. Uygur separatists have since carried out a number of terrorist attacks to try to win independence for the region.
The Chinese are moving materials for the base construction through Tajikistan and, reportedly, Chinese troops have been delivering humanitarian supplies to local villages along the way. But there is also a distinct chance that this could turn into more than just building a base for the Afghan government.
Afghan commandos from the Sixth Commando Kandak wait for two Mi-17 helicopters to land as they practice infiltration techniques using the Afghan National Army Air Corps Mi-17Õs on April 1, 2010 at Camp Morehead in the outer regions of Kabul. The training was in preparation for future air assault missions needed in order to disrupt insurgent activity and bring stability to the population and the region. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Quillen)
The Russian newspaper Izvestiya noted that China’s approach could be similar to that used by Russia in Syria. First, they’ll create working relationships with local and national Afghan government officials. Once they’ve established themselves in the country, they’ll have a new base from which to deploy troops and conduct air strikes against the Uygur, should the need arise.
The Chinese are reportedly providing arms, uniforms, and equipment for this base. As such, there is a good chance that advisors from the People’s Liberation Army will turn up to help the Afghan military learn how to use the new weapons — while also keeping any potential Uygur rebellion in check.
The base camp on the Nepal side of Mount Everest sits at just below 18,000 feet. At this extreme altitude, oxygen decreases by half, and climbers can become light-headed, get headaches, and feel weak. Climbers also risk acute mountain sickness, hypoxia, and fatigue, as well as pulmonary and cerebral edema.
The Everest Summit is at 29,035 feet, 3,000 feet above what is known as the “Death Zone” of mountain altitudes: the elevation level where the oxygen in the air is insufficient to support human life. It’s at this altitude WATM interviewed Tim Medvetz, not on the actual mountain but at his Equinox training center in Beverly Hills. Here, Medvetz and Marine Corps veteran Charlie Linville have been training in a simulated altitude chamber, working on stationary bikes at atmospheres replicating Everest Base Camp.
This week, Medvetz and Linville departed for Nepal to begin their summit of the world’s highest mountain. Linville, an Afghanistan veteran and father of two, had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of an IED explosion. If he summits the mountain, he will be the first combat-wounded veteran to climb Everest.
“This is what we do,” Medvetz says. “We concentrate on one Marine, one soldier, one vet, at a time. We feel that we can make a larger impact on one guy’s life rather than making a little impact on a lot of guys’ lives.”
Medvetz is a former member of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club and founder of The Heroes Project, a nonprofit with the mission to improve the care and protection of heroes through individual support, community empowerment and systemic change. One of the three ways they do that is the Climb for Heroes Initiative, supporting climbing programs for wounded veterans. The Foundation puts injured war veterans on some of the highest summits of the world.
“One of the greatest things I’ve found with climbing the big mountains is that it brings them back,” Medvetz says. “It gives them that feeling of being on the battlefield again without getting shot at, so it’s a real big positive effect.”
The pair use the Beverly Hills based altitude pod to prepare. They started at 5,000 feet, which is like a visit to Denver. A few days later, they go to 8,000. Then 12,000. Every few days they would simulate higher and higher altitudes to stave off altitude sickness. They also slept in altitude chamber “bubbles” at home. The effort physically shows. During my interview in the chamber at a simulated 18,000 feet, Medvetz’ blood oxygen saturation steadied at 90 while mine dropped to 85. At sea level, the average saturation level hovers around 96. After 45 minutes of talking, I felt lightheaded and loopy.
“That’s your body literally falling apart,” Medvetz said. “You can’t just go to Base Camp. You get headaches, fatigue, and general wooziness before you pass out. There are only three cures: descend, descend, descend.”
“I feel good this year,” says Linville. “There were so many nerves that were here before that are gone now. I’ve been working a long time to prepare for this.”
Tim Medvetz and Charlie Linville have known each other since before Linville had to have his foot amputated in 2012. Before that the Marine had 14 surgeries to try to repair the damage to his limb. That was the year Linville says his whole life changed.
“I called him [Medvetz] two hours later from the hospital that I was ready to train,” Linville remembers. “That drive speaks to Tim. I wanted to push myself as much as I could.”
The duo was set to climb another mountain, but the Marine didn’t feel like it was enough of a challenge. While at a fundraiser, he was speaking to a mutual friend. Linville told the friend that the mountain they were set to climb was okay but it wasn’t the challenge he was looking for.
“That’s when Tim came to the realization that I was the right guy for Everest,” Linville says.
This will be the pair’s third attempt to summit the mountain. During their first attempt, a serac, a huge ice tower, separated from the Khumbu Icefall during an avalanche and killed 16 Sherpas. Out of respect to the Sherpas who are well known in the climbing community, they cancelled the trip after reaching 22,000 feet.
“This is going to be my 5th time on Everest,” Medvetz says. “The first time we climbed it, we had 11 guys that died. The 2nd time, 13 guys died. But this was the first time 16 all died or buried at once.”
For the second attempt for Medvetz and Linville, they attempted from the north face of the mountain in April 2015. They arrived at the base camp and went into tents to get food. While they were there, the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. The team, the Sherpas, and everyone else at the camp were stuck there. There, the damage was minimal, but 8,000 were dead with another 12,000 injured throughout the country. While most decided that they might as well press on to the summit, Medvetz and Linville didn’t feel right about it. As soon as the Chinese re-opened the road to Lhasa, the duo linked up with Team Rubicon’s Operation Tenzig, distributing food and first aid to villages in the Nepalese countryside that the Red Cross couldn’t access.
“Charlie was just like, boom, right at it,” remembers Medvetz. “We hit the road with gloves on, right to work. Patching kids up, patching old people up, and in the end, it was more rewarding to be on the ground helping this country than standing on the summit of Everest.”
Medvetz has put wounded veterans on almost all the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, including Antarctica. Whether talking about Kilimanjaro to K2, the former biker believes the ability to overcome anything from a mountain to a war injury is all in your mind. He should, he survived a motorcycle accident in 2001 which left every bone in his body broken.
“I was a 250-pound Hell’s Angel who studied with the Gracie brothers in Brazil and was a bouncer in New York City,” recalls Medvetz. “And here’s this punk doctor telling me be lucky I’m alive, well you know, f*ck you. I’ll show you. Next thing I know I’m on a plane to Nepal and I’m going to climb Everest.”
It was the question “What are you going to do next?” that inspired the biker to help wounded veterans through the Heroes Project. He went to Balboas Naval Hospital in San Diego to meet someone to go on a climb with. Medvetz sat in the hospital for three hours, drinking coffee and watching wounded veterans, some missing limbs, come and go. He’d never seen anything like it.
“I pulled over off the 5 freeway at the first gas station and I must have smoked half a pack of cigarettes,” he remembers. “I decided I’m gonna do everything I can. I’m gonna make a difference. That’s how I started.”
Medvetz and Linville departed for their third trip to Nepal this week, April 6, 2016. Medvetz’
The Heroes Project has multiple fundraising events throughout each year, the first being “Climb for Heroes” in April, and another on September 11th at Santa Monica Pier. To donate to the Heroes Project, visit their website. But if you can’t make the events, the former biker has advice for both veterans and civilians.
“I guarantee you there’s some veterans in your local community,” he says. “Go shake their hand, man. Tell them welcome home and make them feel a part of your community. For veterans who want to do something like summit Everest or Kilimanjaro, convince yourself you can do something and you’re already halfway to the summit. Everything else will fall into place.”
In December 2018, just before policymakers and pundits escaped their besieged bunkers for Christmas, the UK government published the long-awaited final report on its Modernising Defence Programme. This programme was meant to update the military commitments made in the last full-blown Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2015.
How far it has succeeded in that task is debatable, however. The report’s brevity and lack of detail left many lamenting a missed opportunity.
Revising 2015’s review became necessary thanks to a marked change in circumstances. Partly, those changes are strategic. Relations with Russia have deteriorated even further since 2015, Islamic State (IS) is much diminished, and new military technologies and tactics are advancing.
Mainly, however, those changes are economic. The lower growth trajectory induced by Brexit has reduced the resources available to the Ministry of Defence (MOD). (The UK Defence Budget is set at 2% of GDP, which means that if GDP is smaller than it might have been, so too is the budget available to the military.)
The pound’s depreciation since the Brexit vote in 2016 has also raised the real costs of buying defence equipment from abroad, such as the US-sourced F-35 combat jet. A broader rise in inflation has further added to cost pressures on a 2015 review that was already seen as financially optimistic.
F-35B Lightning II.
Taken together, these pressures have stretched the disconnect between intended military expenditures and available resources beyond the point that could reasonably be ignored. A political consequence of this has been the MOD —currently led by Gavin Williamson MP, a Defence Secretary unusually willing to provoke budgetary confrontations within Whitehall —demanding more government money to ensure that neither current nor planned military capabilities receive further cuts.
The Treasury, for its part, recognizes that Britain’s security environment has deteriorated to a worse condition than at any point since the Cold War. Yet it is still attempting to avoid major new spending commitments until the full fiscal shock of Brexit becomes clear. It has also long been skeptical of the MOD’s budgetary requests, viewing the department as a perennial financial black hole.
Political turmoil, strategic change
With a full cross-government spending review now scheduled for post-Brexit 2019, this Modernising Defence Programme report represents multiple levels of compromise. It has provided the government with a “good news” item, in the form of modest amounts of new funding to important areas such as high-technology research and “net assessment” of threats.
It also recognizes growing pressures in defence, such as the need to increase the usability of existing equipment if Britain is to pose a credible conventional deterrent against Russia (for example, by ensuring adequate numbers and varieties of munitions for ships and aircraft).
But the report has also dodged some of the hardest choices. For if more money is not eventually forthcoming from the Treasury to pay for equipment — and the people and infrastructure who turn such equipment from mere “stuff” into effective fighting capability — how will it be paid for or what will need to be cut?
These “micro” politics are all occurring against a backdrop of “macro” change in Britain’s strategic environment. The post-Cold War era of unrivaled American (and therefore Western) power is arguably coming to an end, with the rise of China and partial resurgence of Russia.
All of Britain’s closest alliances are simultaneously in flux. With the major European powers, this is due to Brexit. With the US, it is thanks to a combination of President Trump’s mercurial temperament and a longer standing requirement to pivot towards containment of China.
United States President Donald Trump.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anna Pol)
Yet even as Washington wants to focus on Beijing, European states face a hostile power in their own region, in the form of a Russia that sees good reasons to weaken and ideally break NATO.
Besides the Russia situation, political demands for UK military commitments in other regions also still remain — in the Middle East, Mediterranean, South Atlantic, and increasingly in East Asia too. This difficulty of juggling pressing regional defence needs with a desire for expansive global involvement reflects two competing sets of long-standing pressures in British strategy: the aspiration to play an influential role in the world versus the need to safeguard national security.
A combination of strained alliances and ever-expanding political demands explains the MOD’s determination to secure funds to rebuild UK military capability. After 20 years of preoccupation with counter-terrorism and humanitarian intervention, the current Defence Equipment Programme is now more focused on the heavier “state-on-state” capabilities required to deter a hostile major power in the North Atlantic region (warships, combat aircraft, mechanized ground forces, and so forth). And all of this must take place while still having enough left over to do a bit of all the other things that are asked of the armed forces.
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), HMS Sutherland (F81), and HMS Iron Duke (F234).
(UK Ministry of Defence photo)
Without the budget to fulfill recent ambitions, the MOD will not be confident that it can meet Britain’s defence needs. So rather than accept cuts today, this latest report plays for time. The hope is that the tougher security environment of tomorrow will ultimately persuade the Treasury to release more resources for defence, especially once Brexit has been and gone.
To that extent, December 2018’s report achieved its aims. A bit more funding for advanced technology research and net assessment is no bad thing. A recognition that Britain needs more robust stockpiles of fuel, spares, munitions, and expertise was long overdue. And the MOD has managed to delay its day of reckoning with the Treasury until after the initial fiscal shock of Brexit.
A delay is not a victory, however. There is no sign yet of the substantial uplift in funding or the cuts to planned capabilities necessary to place the armed forces on a sound budgetary footing. That hard day of financial reckoning could therefore still be to come.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned that his country could seek a “new path” in relations with the United States “if the U.S. does not keep its promise made in front of the whole world…and insists on sanctions and pressures on our republic.”
In a New Year’s statement broadcast on Jan. 1, 2019, Kim praised his June 2018 summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore, where the leaders had “fruitful talks” and “exchanged constructive ideas.”
He also said he was ready to meet again with Trump “at any time in the future.” Kim also called on the United States to extend its halt on military exercises with South Korea.
He added that the United States “continues to break its promises and misjudges our patience by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushing ahead with sanctions and pressure.”
At the June 2018 summit, Kim and Trump agreed to a vague pledge to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, but little progress has been made on the issue in recent months.
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 deployed for the first time in mid-February 2019 to 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet AOR’s with organic 3-D printing capabilities.
The process known as additive manufacturing describes the technologies that build 3-D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, or concrete. The process involves the use of a computer and special CAD software, which can relay messages to the printer so it “prints” in the desired shape.
NMCB-133 was outfitted with several “Tactical Fabrication (TACFAB) Kits” consisting of 3-D scanners, printers, laptops computers and the software to tie them all together. Cmdr. Luke Greene’s vision is to use his TACFAB kits both at the command headquarters in Camp Mitchell, Rota, Spain and also throughout NMCB-133’s various job sites in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Rear Adm. Brian Brakke, Commander, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, left, is briefed on the capabilities of additive manufacturing using a 3-D printer during a Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 field training exercise at Camp Shelby.
The capability to engineer and print both original designs and certain stock numbered items will be a game changer for the Seabees. They are testing the ability to manufacture both Class IX repair parts and Class IV building materials. Access to these critical components can often be the difference between mission success and lengthy delays.
NMCB-133 is excited for this ground breaking opportunity coming off of a highly successful inter-deployment training cycle where they had a chance to use the printers summer 2018 during their Field Training Exercise (FTX). The goal was to test the proof of concept of using 3-D printers in the field to produce needed supplies and repair parts.
According to Lt. Michael Lundy, a reservist attached to the Fleet Readiness and Logistics staff for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations who helped NMCB-133 facilitate the use of several 3-D printers in the field, the possibilities of this technology are endless.
“We printed more than 30 different parts and identified 50 others so far that need to be drawn up by engineering aids on the computer. Once these drawings are complete we link the computer to the printer,” Lundy said. “The upside to this process is with the proper database they can print repair parts as opposed to waiting 30 to 90 days for new parts to come in. The only constraint to this technology for Seabees is their imagination.”
A selection of more than 30 different parts made in the field using a 3-D printer in use during Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133’s field training exercise on board Camp Shelby, Miss. Fifty other parts were identified that can be drawn up by Engineering Aids on the computer. Once these drawings are complete they can be linked to the 3-D printer via a computer and produced.
(Photo by MCCS Jeffrey Pierce)
Ensign Femi Ibitoye, NMCB-133’s Alfa Team Commander, worked in architectural design prior to his service in the Navy, and has experience useful for this technology.
“I have experience drawing plans in 3-D and in prototyping using specific programs. The iterative process used in architecture is very similar to the process used in Additive Manufacturing,” Ibitoye said.
Chief Construction Mechanic Gail Best was witness to the true potential of this technology.
“We were able to print a bushing for the adjustable shock absorber used on our medium tactical vehicle replacement tractors and wreckers. We cannot order this particular part separately, so if it fails, we have to replace the entire shock absorber,” Best said. “The shock absorbers cost K each, however, we were able to print a new bushing here in the field for about id=”listicle-2629427852″ and install it. We had three vehicles go down due to a failure of a minor plastic part. We were able to print them, install them, and get the vehicles back up and running,” Best said.
According to Cmdr. Joe Symmes, 22 Naval Construction Regiment’s supply officer, in the not-too-distant future, 3-D printing could give Seabees the ability to print needed supplies and repair parts on the battlefield.
“Additive manufacturing capabilities are an important component to future Seabee readiness. Imagine being able to carry a warehouse in a box that has the capability to print assets across almost all classes of supply,” Symmes said. “Now imagine that ‘virtual inventory’ has the ability to adapt to changing scenarios on the battlefield with minimal to no communications across the electromagnetic spectrum. For a logistician these concepts were the stuff of sci-fi films just a few years ago. Now they are available in commercial, off-the-shelf products that are accessible to households across America.”
A new national poll shows a huge majority of Americans have confidence in the U.S. military, with that institution topping the list of several government agencies and businesses that have made headlines recently.
The new Fox News poll conducted in mid-February showed 96 percent of those surveyed had “a great deal” or “some” confidence in the U.S. military, with the Supreme Court following close behind at 83 percent and the FBI earning an 80 percent confidence rating.
Surprisingly, a majority of Americans have confidence in the IRS, with 41 percent saying they have some confidence in the taxman and 14 percent having great confidence. Potentially unsurprisingly, the news media came in last, with 44 percent saying that had any confidence in the Fourth Estate.
The Fox poll was conducted Feb. 11-13 among 1,013 registered voters — 42 percent Democrat, 39 percent Republican and 19 percent Independent.
More than 15 years of war and deployments hasn’t contributed to much of a shift in America’s trust of the military, with confidence ratings hovering around 95 percent since about 2002, the Fox poll shows. But according to the poll more Americans feel the military is less strong than it once was, with 41 percent saying the services have gotten weaker during the eight years of the Obama administration.
A similar question in 2014 found 32 percent of Americans believed the military was “less effective” than it had been in 2008.
While the military has largely pulled out of Iraq and has a fraction of the troops it once had in Afghanistan, most Americans feel the services are stretched too thin, with 58 percent saying they’re overcommitted. And 45 percent of those surveyed agree that the military needs a budget boost, buttressing President Donald Trump’s reported call for a $54 billion defense spending increase.
Vladimir Putin has coasted to a fourth term as Russia’s president, scoring a landslide victory in an election Kremlin opponents said was marred by fraud and international observers said gave voters no “real choice.”
A nearly complete ballot count showed Putin winning 76.7 percent of the vote, Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said on March 19, 2018 — more than he received in any of his three previous elections and the highest percentage handed to any post-Soviet Russian leader.
Voter turnout was over 67 percent and the other seven candidates were far behind, she said.
While tainted by allegations of fraud — in some cases backed by webcam footage appearing to show blatant ballot-box stuffing — the resounding win sets Moscow’s longest-ruling leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin up for six more years in office amid severely strained ties with the West.
Putin’s government-stoked popularity and the Kremlin’s sway over politics nationwide after years of steps to sideline challengers made Putin’s victory a foregone conclusion.
“Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice,” Michael Georg Link, special coordinator and leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) short-term observer mission, told reporters in Moscow.
“But where the legal framework restricts many fundamental freedoms and the outcome is not in doubt, elections almost lose their purpose — empowering people to choose their leaders,” he added.
Pamfilova said voting results had been annulled in five districts amid reports of ballot-stuffing, but she denied any incidents of observers being attacked or blocked from polling stations, despite apparent video evidence posted online.
She asserted that were “at least two times fewer” violations than in the 2012 presidential vote, which put Putin back in the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
The OSCE, which had more than 500 observers in Russia for the vote, said that while legal and technical aspects of the election were well administered, “the extensive coverage in most media of the incumbent as president resulted in an uneven playing field.”
Among the first leaders to congratulate Putin was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has just been handed a second term himself and appeared to be positioned for indefinite rule after presidential term limits were lifted last week.
Other authoritarian leaders — incuding Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev, Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro — were also quick to congratulate Putin.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has received crucial Russian backing in a devastating civil conflict that has led to war crimes accusations, congratulated Putin on a result he called the “natural outcome of your outstanding… performance.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Aleksandar Vucic, the president of traditional Russian ally Serbia, also congratulated Putin.
But amid worsening tensions between the West and Russia after the poisoning of a former spy with a potent nerve agent — an attack Britain blames on Moscow — many leaders chose their words cautiously when they spoke to Putin.
In a phone call, French President Emmanuel Macron wished Putin “success for the political, democratic, economic, and social modernization” of Russia, and urged him to shed light on the “unacceptable” poisoning, the Elysee Palace said.
Angela Merkel’s spokesman said at midday on March 19, 2018, that the German chancellor would send Putin a congratulatory telegram “very soon,” but also pointed to tension in relations with Moscow.
“We have differences of opinion with Russia and we very clearly criticize Russia’s policies on some issues — Ukraine, Syria,” Steffen Seibert said, adding that it was nonetheless important to maintain contact with the Russian leadership.
Heiko Maas, Germany’s new foreign minister, questioned the fairness of the election and said Moscow will remain “a difficult partner,” although he added that the European Union must be able to continue to talk to Russia.
“The result of the election in Russia was as unsurprising to us as the circumstances of the election. We can’t talk about a fair political competition in all respects as we would understand it,” he said in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
“Russia will remain a difficult partner. But Russia will also be needed for solutions to the big international conflicts and so we want to remain in dialogue,” Maas said.
Putin: ‘No new arms race’
The United States on March 15, 2018, imposed another round of sanctions on Russian entities and individuals over what Washington says was Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Amid severely strained ties, Putin said on March 19, 2018, that Russia wanted to build “constructive” relations with other countries but that “not everything depends on us.”
Russia will not “instigate some arms race” and “will spare no effort to settle all disputes with our partners by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said, adding that Moscow will always defend its own national interests.
The editor in chief of state-funded network RT, meanwhile, asserted that Western policies and attitudes had prompted Russians to unite around Putin and made him stronger than ever. She seemed to suggest he could remain in power indefinitely.
Railing against the West and praising Putin in a tirade on Twitter, Margarita Simonyan said that “as soon as you declared him the enemy, you united us” around Putin.
“Before, he was just our president and he could have been replaced. But now he is our chief,” she wrote, using a noun — “vozhd” — that is often associated with Stalin. “And we will not let [you] replace him.”
Putin and the seven dwarves
Putin’s comments about foreign ties came during a meeting with the other candidates, whom he called on to cooperate and “be guided by the long-term interests of Russia and the Russian people, always putting group or party preferences on the back burner.”
Putin’s record-high official result put him miles ahead of the seven others on the ballot, who Kremlin critics have said were window-dressing to create the illusion of competition.
The election commission said Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin was second with almost 12 percent, followed by flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with almost 6 percent and TV personality Ksenia Sobchak with about 1.7 percent.
The four other candidates — liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, nationalist Sergei Baburin, Communists of Russia candidate Maksim Suraikin, and centrist Boris Titov — had 1 percent apiece or less.
Speaking to reporters after a late-night rally on voting day, Putin suggested that he would not seek the presidency again in 2030 –when he would next be eligible because of a limit of two consecutive terms.
But he left the door open to a potential move to change the constitution in order to maintain power past 2024 in some capacity, saying only that he is “not planning any constitutional reforms for now.”
Reports of fraud
With help from state media, Putin is riding a wave of popularity on the fourth anniversary of Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and in the wake of a military intervention in Syria that has been played up on Russian television as a patriotic success.
But reports of fraud dogged the election. Independent monitor Golos received reports of nearly 3,000 alleged violations.
Sergei Shpilkin, a physicist and data analyst who has studied fraud in previous Russian elections, suggested that nearly 10 million “extra” votes — apparently all for Putin — may have been added through falsified turnout figures.
Voters were bussed to the polls in many places, according to supporters of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition leader barred from running in the election.
They also reported hundreds of cases of alleged voter fraud, notably in Moscow and St. Petersburg, two areas where Putin has relatively low support.
Some voters in various regions said they had been pressured by their employers or teachers to vote and take a photograph of themselves at the polling station as evidence of their participation.
While official turnout was robust even in Moscow, where it has often been lower than in the provinces, there was palpable apathy at some polling stations.
Some Russians said they felt powerless to influence politics in a country dominated by Putin, who has been president or prime minister since 1999.
“There is no real choice,” said 20-year-old Yevgeny Kiva, who was paid by a local election committee to wear a clown suit and dance with children at a polling station in Moscow.
Navalny, who has organized large street protests and alleged extravagant corruption among the ruling elite, was barred from the ballot because of a conviction on embezzlement charges he contends were fabricated by the Kremlin.
A bit of budgetary gamesmanship by the US Air Force earlier this month seems to have paid off, as the House Armed Services Committee has allotted money to keep the vaunted A-10 Thunderbolt in the air, according to Defense News.
The committee chairman’s draft of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act includes $103 million for an unfunded requirement related to the A-10 that the Air Force included in its budget request.
The $103 million, plus $20 million from this fiscal year, will go toward restarting production of A-10 wings to upgrade 110 of the Air Force’s 283 Thunderbolts.
Defense experts told CNN earlier this month that the Air Force’s inclusion of the A-10 wing money in its unfunded requirements was likely a ploy to get Congress to add money for the venerable Thunderbolt on top of the money apportioned for the service branch’s budget request.
Members of the House Armed Service Committee looked likely to approve money for the A-10, which is popular among both service members and elected officials like committee member Rep. Marth McSally, herself a former A-10 pilot, and Sen. John McCain.
Photo courtesy of USAF
McSally noted during a hearing earlier this month that the Air Force had committed to retaining just six of its nine squadrons of A-10s and pressed Air Force officials to outline their plans for the fleet.
The Air Force currently plans to keep the A-10 in service over the next five years at minimum, after which point the fleet will need some maintenance. US Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Holmes told Defense News this month that without new wings, those 110 A-10s would have to go out of service, though he did say the Air Force had some leeway with its resources.
“When their current wings expire, we have some flexibility in the depot; we have some old wings that can be repaired or rejuvenated to go on,” he told Defense News. “We can work through that, so there’s some flex in there.”
The Air Force has been looking at whether and how to retire the A-10 for some time, amid pushback from elected officials and increased demand for close air support against ISIS, in which the A-10 specializes.
The five-year cushion described by Holmes gives the service more time to evaluate the aircraft and whether to replace it with F-35s or another aircraft.
The National Defense Authorization Act only approves a total amount of funding, Defense News notes, which means others in the House and Senate could choose to direct those funds to projects other than the A-10’s refurbishment.
The Air Force’s priorities may change as well.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Defense News that the service had a defense strategy review in progress, after which the service life of the A-10 — which has been in the air since 1975 — could be extended. Though, Wilson said, the Air Force has a number of platforms that need upgrades.
You never think a medical emergency is going to happen to you, but what if it does? And what if you are on a flight, two hours from your destination and over the Atlantic Ocean?
Hopefully, when the flight attendants ask for medical personnel on the flight to come forward, someone like Rob Wilson, Dental Health Command Europe Patient Safety Manager, is on board.
Wilson, who is also an operating room nurse in the Army Reserves, was recently on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Orlando, Fla., when another passenger began having difficulty breathing. When medical personnel were asked to come to the back of the plane, he didn’t hesitate.
“We were over the ocean,” Wilson said, “when they asked for medical personnel. Without any hesitation I went back. I figured there would be a lot of other people and they probably wouldn’t even need me, but when I got back there it was myself and an American doctor.”
Wilson said the passenger who needed help was an older gentleman, who was pale, had clammy skin and was breathing shallow. After a quick assessment, Wilson determined the man’s Pulse oximetry — or oxygen level in the blood — was 60 percent and his heart rate was in the 80s.
Prior to Wilson and the doctor arriving, the flight attendants had already given the man an oxygen mask, however he wouldn’t keep it on. Wilson said with the oxygen mask his “oxygen readings would come up, but as soon as he took it off they would go back down.”
“He did not speak English, and his wife only spoke a little German,” Wilson said.
It turns out when the man was taking off his oxygen mask, he was asking his wife for his emergency inhaler.
“We finally figured out that he was asking his wife to get his emergency inhaler,” Wilson said. “But he wasn’t using it properly so the medication wasn’t getting to his lungs.”
Because the man’s vitals were not improving, Wilson and the doctor began getting ready to intubate, or place a flexible plastic tube into the trachea to maintain an open airway.
“I started getting everything together to do the intubation,” Wilson said, “and at the same time a German provider came back and spoke with the other doctor and they decided to give the man a steroid medication and valium to help calm him down, [rather than intubating].”
After about 30 minutes, the medications began working and the man was feeling well enough to go back to his seat for the rest of the flight.
Wilson’s work wasn’t done yet, however. He helped the flight attendants complete the paperwork to give the paramedics when the plane landed — that included annotating was what was given and when.
As a nurse in the Army Reserves, Wilson said his military training “definitely helped when it came to being able to work on the fly. Having been in the Reserves my whole Army career, we don’t typically have fixed facilities when we do our training, so I think that helped me stay calm and collected.”
Wilson added, “I think that’s my attitude in life too — get it done.”
That attitude has helped him progress since he joined the Army in 1993 as an operating room technician.
“I didn’t want to be in a medical field,” Wilson said. “I wanted to be an architect. I got into a school in Kansas City, but when they sent the bill, my parents said, ‘don’t look at us,’ so I joined the Army reserves to help pay for college.”
Because Wilson was looking to pay for college through his military service, he chose operating room technician for his military occupational specialty because they were getting some of the largest bonuses at the time. “So that is what I went with,” he said.
“Once I got into the field I loved it, and I never ended up going to school for architecture.”
Instead, he was sent active duty for 14 months to become a licensed practical nurse. He continued his education earning his associates degree and finally his bachelor’s degree. Once he had obtained his degree, he transitioned from the enlisted side and was commissioned as an operating room nurse in the Army Reserves.
Wilson said that one of the reasons he enjoys being a nurse is the “satisfaction of helping people and being part of something bigger than yourself.”
Currently, Wilson serves as the patient safety manager for all of the Army dental clinics in Europe. He said his focus is ensuring safe, quality care. That means “making sure we have the right patient, we are doing the right procedure, and on the right tooth,” he said.
Wilson hopes that in sharing his story he can encourage others to step up and help when needed.
“Do something. There is always something you can do. Even if it’s just holding the oxygen tank or reassuring the person. You don’t have to be an expert and do everything perfect, but do something.”
Ed Timperlake was VA assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs from 1989 to 1992, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a fighter pilot and squadron commander.
One of the little-known facts of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the nature of combat wounds has changed dramatically.
For most of human history, the most common combat wound was a piercing injury. Primitive spears, the Roman gladius, medieval lances and bullets all create piercing wounds, and battlefield medicine was largely focused on treating these types of injuries.
As an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs during the George H. W. Bush administration, I saw up close how VA health care responded to the after-effects of these combat wounds. But in the years since, veteran care reflects an entirely new and complex type of injury.
Most of these troops have returned to duty, but one of the most common and least seen aspects of these injuries is hearing loss. The auditory sense is highly vulnerable to explosive mechanisms and, unlike most of the human body, many tissues associated with hearing do not regenerate themselves. When they are destroyed, they are destroyed forever. Tinnitus, otherwise known as ringing in the ears, while less serious than absolute hearing loss, is still harmful in the long term and is pervasive among troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Hearing loss is personal for my family. One of my nieces was born with significant hearing loss, and another is pursuing her doctorate at Gallaudet University, developing better ways to accurately test and address hearing loss. My own hearing has been degraded due to military noise. I can never forget the roar that reverberated through my head the first time I was catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier. As a young Marine Corps fighter pilot, the “scramble orders” I and my squadron mates received in response to threats from Cuban MiGs resulted in ear-shattering experiences with every sortie, for months at a time.
Today, more than 1.25 million veterans suffer from hearing loss, with nearly two million suffering from tinnitus. Combined, they represent the top two service-connected disabilities addressed by the VA. To its credit, the VA is doing a good job of addressing the problem with hearing conservation programs and high-tech hearing aids.
But the Defense Department is playing catch-up on the issue. After having issued faulty hearing protection to active-duty forces over the past decade, leading to countless cases of unnecessary hearing loss, the Pentagon is now testing several different styles of hearing protection for troops in the field, and confidence is high that the next generation of combat hearing protection will represent a substantial improvement.
Once these troops muster out of uniform and transition to veteran status, a large part of the challenge in helping these vets with hearing loss is technological. Low-cost hearing aids that simply amplify sound do little good, often making background noise too loud to provide any meaningful improvement in hearing conversation, music and other audible intelligence.
The private sector is making good progress on developing and improving this technology with Bluetooth capabilities and even fitness trackers, offering hope to veterans with hearing loss as they re-acclimate to civilian life.
The prospects for better hearing protection and improved service to veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus is encouraging. But we have to keep our eye on the ball to make sure our warfighters get the combat gear they need, and that veterans receive the care they earned through their sacrifice.
The Taliban are seizing new territory, civilian casualties and US military deaths are once more on the rise, and insider attacks on American and Afghan forces have more than doubled this year. That’s the grim reckoning of a US inspector general’s report released Oct. 26 even as the Pentagon and allied forces seek to implement President Trump’s strategy for the 16-year-old conflict.
The central government in Kabul has ceded more territory to the Taliban since the early days of the Afghanistan War, with the terrorist group now in full or partial control of 54 of the country’s districts, according to the latest quarterly survey to Congress from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
The report contains sobering findings for Mr. Trump and his generals, even as the parallel war against Islamic State and other radical terrorist movements in Syria and Iraq has made significant gains this year.
The Taliban, which are mainly concentrated within the eastern and southern segments of the country, claimed control of nine districts previously held by government forces over the past six months. As a result, more than 3.7 million Afghans, or just over 11 percent of the country’s entire population, now live under the radical Islamist movement’s control, the SIGAR inspectors found.
Those gains come despite a marked uptick in US combat operations in Afghanistan, where American and allied forces executed more airstrikes against Taliban and Islamic State strongholds in the country than in any year since 2014. US and NATO forces carried out 2,400 airstrikes during an eight-month period this year against insurgent targets tied to the Taliban and forces loyal to Islamic State’s Afghan cell.
American and allied forces executed over 700 airstrikes against insurgent targets in Afghanistan in September alone, in line with the hard-line wartime strategy for Afghanistan that Mr. Trump outlined in August.
“Afghanistan is at a crossroads,” said SIGAR head John F. Sopko. “President Donald Trump’s new strategy has clarified that the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorosan will not cause the United States to leave. At the same time, the strategy requires the Afghan government to set the conditions that would allow America to stay the course.”
The downbeat SIGAR findings — its 37th quarterly survey of the war — come amid reports that the US military has begun to restrict the information flow on the war as the conflict grinds on. The New York Times reported this week that the Pentagon has stopped providing figures on the size of the Afghan security and police forces, the state of their equipment, and Afghan casualty figures.
The Pentagon told the newspaper that the information was being withheld at the request of the Afghan government, but even the SIGAR report released this week revealed that the Afghan army and the national police force had a net loss of manpower in the most recent reporting period.
Roughly 3,900 more US troops are being funneled into Afghanistan to support the 8,400 soldiers, sailors, and Marines already there, with a majority supporting the NATO-led adviser mission dubbed Operation Resolute Support. Other American troops, mostly special operations units, are conducting counter-terrorism missions against the Taliban and Islamic State under a separate mission.
Mr. Trump’s blueprint abandons the timeline-based approach to the American mission in Afghanistan in favor of a “conditions based” strategy. Administration critics claim the decision will effectively restart US-led combat operations in Afghanistan, which officially ended in late 2014 under President Obama and draw the US into an open-ended conflict.
While officials in the Pentagon and their counterparts in the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani claim the shift will provide much-needed reassurance to the Afghan Security Forces, the situation on the ground shows that fight will likely be much tougher than anticipated.
Despite the uptick in US action, the Taliban continue to carry out high-profile attacks, including some in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital.
Roughly 90 people were killed and over 400 wounded, including 11 American contractors, in a brazen suicide attack on the German Embassy in Kabul in May. The attack was one of the worst to hit the capital since US and NATO forces ended combat operations in the country in 2014.
On Oct. 31, four people were killed and 13 wounded in a suicide attack inside the “green zone” — the heavily fortified sector in central Kabul that is home to the US Embassy and the Afghan presidential palace. Members of ISIS-K carried out the Oct. 31 attack, according to reports from Amaq news agency, the main social media propaganda network for Islamic State.
When the US ended combat operations three years ago, the Ghani government held roughly 60 percent of the country, according to government-led analysis, as well as reviews by private-sector analysts.
But those gains appear to be slipping from Kabul’s grasp, and the Taliban’s gains in the country over the past six months have taken a toll on the country’s military.
Battlefield casualties continue to increase among the ranks of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, while Kabul continues to combat high levels of attrition among the country’s armed forces. The Afghan army’s ranks have dropped by 4,000 troops and the national police lost 5,000 people, according to SIGAR’s latest findings.
By contrast, the Taliban continue to show signs of strength within their traditional base in the southern and eastern parts of the country, but also in northern and western Afghanistan, where they had not had significant sway in the past.
Hundreds of Taliban fighters amassed in the western Afghanistan’s Farah province during a show of force in October. The gathering, posted as part of the group’s propaganda videos, showed the Afghan jihadis assembling in broad daylight without fear of being targeted by Afghan and coalition forces, according to analysis by the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
In a rare interview with The Guardian, senior Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Saeed said Washington’s new aggressive approach would not be enough to turn the tide against the group.
Since “150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us,” the 4,000 troops Mr. Trump has authorized “will not change the morale of our mujahedeen,” Mullah Saeed said. “The Americans were walking in our villages, and we pushed them out.”
He said the Taliban would consider a peace deal, but only on the condition that the “foreigners must leave, and the constitution must be changed to [Islamic] Shariah law.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Photo from US State Department.
Peace talks, possibly including the Taliban, have also been a key part in the White House’s Afghanistan strategy. On Nov. 1, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson reiterated that the administration was open to peace talks with the Taliban, though not with Islamic State elements in Afghanistan.
“There are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. They don’t want their children to fight forever,” Mr. Tillerson said during his unannounced visit to Kabul.
“We are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government,” the top US diplomat added.
Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to hold peace talks with the Taliban in 2013, coinciding with the Taliban’s unprecedented move to open a political office in Doha that year. At the time, officials in the Obama administration saw the potential talks as a vehicle to help accelerate the withdrawal of US forces from the country by 2014. But Pakistan’s decision to withdraw from the talks eventually scuttled any effort to reach a deal with the terrorist group.
Featured Image: 1st Sgt. David W. Christopher and Army Staff Sgt. Gordon M. Campbell stand by after setting fire to a Taliban shelter along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. (Army photo by Spc. Matthew Leary)
North Korea has again lobbed a vague year-end threat at the Trump administration, saying the US can expect a “Christmas gift” if talks between US and North Korean officials don’t lead to substantive concessions for North Korea.
As the year-end deadline that the hermit kingdom has given the US runs out, North Korea may renege on the only concession it has given President Donald Trump — the promise to abandon nuclear and long-range weapons testing.
In November, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run news outlet, released a statement saying that time was quickly running out for the US to resume talks that had stalled after Trump’s much-touted visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in June. While US diplomats have said that tentative negotiations in Stockholm last month went well, North Korea’s latest missive indicates otherwise.
For comparison, the MFA statement of July 7, 2017, shortly after the first Hwasong-14 ICBM test, included: “the test-fire of the inter-continental ballistic rocket conducted by the DPRK this time is a ‘gift package’ addressed to none other than the U.S.”https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1499418128-531979580/statement-of-dprk-foreign-ministry-spokesman/ …
North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister of US Affairs Ri Thae Song told KCNA that, “The DPRK has done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps it has taken on its own initiative,” referring to its promise not to test ICBMs or nuclear weapons, but that the US hasn’t held up its end of the bargain — which, to North Korea, means sanctions relief.
As researcher Joshua Pollack of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CNS) wrote on Twitter, North Korea has historically tested missiles between February and September. But the language of a “Christmas gift” echoes a July 2017 statement from North Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs that referred to the launch of three ICBMs, all of which landed west of Japan.
“A ‘Christmas gift’ in the form of a test into the Pacific seems not out of the question,” Pollack wrote Tuesday.
“It’s not implausible that they could give the world a Christmas or New Year gift of an ICBM test,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT and a member of a member of MIT’s Security Studies Program, told Insider.
“It’s possible this is all aimed at generating pressure and leverage against Trump now, but by the same token, given the consistency and insistence on the deadline, and North Korea’s history of doing what it says it is going to do… let’s see what gift we get,” Narang said.
“North Korea is very careful with its words,” Shea Cotton, also a researcher at CNS, told Insider, indicating that it’s no coincidence North Korea is again using the language of a threatening “gift.”
Dashing through the snow…
North Korean state media KCNA publish fresh pictures of leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse while visiting battle sites around Mount Paektu
On Dec. 4, new photos surfaced of Kim Jong Un visiting battle sites at Mt. Paektu, a legendary site for North Korea where Kim’s grandfather, the founder of the country, fought Japanese forces as a guerilla. Along with the photos of Kim with family members and military leaders, North Korea also announced a meeting of the Plenary Session of the Central Committee in December, before Kim’s annual New Year’s speech, the equivalent of the State of the Union. It’s expected that this plenary meeting could herald a major announcement about the country’s policy toward the US.
Should North Korea continue this pattern, the US will have lost the only concession Trump managed to wrangle from the DPRK. But experts say that unless the US is willing to take denuclearization off the table, North Korea will likely be testing ICBMs or intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in the near future — but this time, there may be a few new details, like an overflight of Japan instead of “lofting” its launches, solid-fueled missile launches, or a satellite launch, Cotton told Insider.
The Dec. 3 statement accused Trump of trying to stall ahead of the 2020 elections.
“The dialogue touted by the US is, in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US,” Song said in the statement.
For the second time in two months, Kim Jong Un rides a white horse https://reut.rs/2sK7NKs pic.twitter.com/c2O6pI7tXC
“It’s possible they also see Trump as someone they’re more likely to get a good deal with (compared to a more competent administration) and think he might not be around for much longer, given the looming impeachment and 2020 election,” Cotton told Insider.
Thus far, Trump has done little more than resurrect his “Rocket Man” nickname for Kim Jong Un and threaten a military response to North Korean provocations at a NATO summit Tuesday.
When asked the likelihood that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is bluffing, Cotton said, “Probably zero.”
“North Korea has a pretty sophisticated missile program,” he said. “They can probably test whenever they want more or less. If North Korea ends up not doing something like resuming testing it would only be because they found a reason not to, like the resumption of serious talks with the US.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Recently, the Afghan Air Force grabbed headlines by dropping its first laser-guided bomb. From here, that might not seem so impressive — the U.S. dropped laser-guided Paveways in Vietnam as early as 1968. But, considering the fact that their military force was decimated by a civil war that began after the Soviets left in 1989, Afghanistan’s military modernization is quite the shock.
Today, as World Air Forces 2018 notes, the Afghan Air Force has 12 A-29 Super Tucanos (with six more on order) as well as 28 MD530Fs (with 154 on order) and ten UH-1H Iroquois utility helicopters. The Afghan Air Force is also acquiring almost 160 UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters, four of which have already been delivered. These aircraft are set to replace a fleet of Russian-designed Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters and Mi-25 Hind attack helicopters.
Afghan Air Force MD-530F Cayuse Warrior helicopter fires its two FN M3P .50 cal machine guns
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston)
The Super Tucano is currently a finalist in the OA-X competition (alongside the Beechcraft AT-6B). The UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters are second-hand, but will be upgraded with a newer engine and rocket pods before delivery. Afghanistan is also going to acquire Cessna 208 Caravan light transport aircraft armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
But did you know that, thirty years ago, the Afghan Air Force packed a lot of punch? An inventory of older equipment shows a lengthy list of Soviet designs were once in service, ranging from the Il-28 Beagle and MiG-17 Fresco to the MiG-23 Flogger. But 12 years of civil war wore that force down substantially. By the time Operation Enduring Freedom began, less than 20 planes were flyable. After Operation Enduring Freedom, there simply wasn’t an Afghan Air Force.
One of what will be up to 160 UH-60A Blackhawks for the Afghan Air Force.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jared J. Duhon)
We’ve got a long way to go before the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS are defeated in Afghanistan, but the new Afghan Air Force should help speed that process along.