The gym echoed with sounds of bodies hitting the floor as instructors watched their students wrestle each other to the ground.
The students trained tirelessly for the past week and were showing signs of wear and tear: cuts, bruises, and red, sweaty faces steaming with pain.
This is the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course, perhaps the most rigorous training program in the Air Force Security Forces world. The Air Mobility Command’s Phoenix Raven program centers on the concept of specially trained security forces airmen flying with and protecting AMC aircraft around the world.
The trained airmen are to “provide close-in security for aircraft and airfields that AMC has deemed as having inadequate security,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph McGuire, 421st Combat Training Squadron Phoenix Raven Qualification Course instructor. “We guard the aircraft, protect the personnel, and whatever else is on board.”
This particular class, however, is different: instead of taking place at the program’s training hub at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, it was conducted by a mobile training team sent to U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa headquarters here.
The students in the course came from three squadrons in the Kaiserslautern Military Community: the 86th and 435th Security Forces Squadrons, and the 569th United States Forces Police Squadron.
Vigorous physical training
The course involves vigorous physical training sessions, Armament Systems and Procedures Baton training, use-of-force scenarios, combatives classes, and live-fire training, as well as 15 academic classes.
McGuire added that it is not uncommon for some students to fail the course and get sent home. A few have already washed out since they started Jan. 22.
“It is extremely hard,” he said. “You have to be mentally and physically tough. You have to have heart. You have to have dedication … and mental tenacity. And you have to be able to make proper decisions while being in a stressful environment.”
Students who graduate from the program receive the Raven tab, which they may wear on their uniform, and also a coin with their Raven number.
Hundreds of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, Army veterans, Pittsburgh-area officials, and Army leaders recognized U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his heroism April 5, 2019 — 16 years to the day after he was killed in action while serving in Iraq.
Booker’s mother and sister were presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor, during a ceremony at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood — near the University of Pittsburgh — as family, fellow soldiers, city officials and veterans watched.
“I am so honored … I am so proud of all my son accomplished,” said Freddie Jackson, Booker’s mother. “I didn’t realize how much my son did and how he inspired other people. Steve died for his country, not just for the Booker Family,” she said.
Booker died on April 5, 2003, while serving as a tank commander with Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 34-year-old Apollo, Penn., native was killed in action near Baghdad while serving in Iraq during the “Thunder Run” mission as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Booker attended Apollo-Ridge High School, near Pittsburgh, and enlisted in the Army in June 1987, at age 19, shortly after his high school graduation. He was promoted to Army staff sergeant in February 2001 and deployed in March 2003 to Iraq.
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, left, deputy commanding general of Forces Command, speaks in Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, during the presentation of the Distinguished Service Cross to Freddie Jackson, right, the mother of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his 2003 heroism while serving in Iraq.
(Photo by Mr. Paul Boyce)
“We’re here to honor his service, his sacrifice and his heroism … as well as his Family” said U.S. Army Forces Command Deputy Commanding General Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson. “He gave his life for something bigger than himself; he gave his life for others. He’s a Pittsburgh hero, an Army hero and an American hero.”
Richardson attended Friday’s ceremony along with 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, the 3rd Infantry Division Band and two retired Army generals. Army and Air Force cadets from the University of Pittsburgh’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program participated and attended as well.
Veterans of Booker’s unit also travelled from across the United States to attend the medal-presentation ceremony, organized by the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. The Army ceremony honored Booker for his heroic actions, personal dedication, and commitment to his fellow soldiers.
Booker’s platoon led a task force on April 5, 2003, along Highway 8 towards Bagdad International Airport. About 1.2 miles after the line of departure, the platoon came under heavy small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from enemy forces. Booker immediately communicated the situation to his chain of command, encouraged his crew, and returned fire with his tank-mounted machinegun.
“When both his and his crew’s machineguns malfunctioned, Booker, with total disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself by lying in a prone position on top of the tank’s turret and accurately engaged the enemy forces with his personal weapon,” according to the award’s summary. “While exposed, he effectively protected his platoon’s flank and delivered accurate information to his command during a critical and vulnerable point of the battle.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker.
Booker’s “fearless attitude and excitement over the communications network inspired his platoon to continue the attack and assured them and leadership that they would defeat the enemy and reach their objective safely,” the award’s narrative explains. “As he remained exposed, Booker identified an enemy troop carrier which was attempting to bypass his tank, but within seconds engaged the enemy vehicle and destroyed it prior to the enemy troops dismounting. Along the five-mile route he remained exposed and continued to engage the enemy with accurate rifle fire until he was mortally wounded.”
Army Col. Andrew Hilmes, Booker’s former company commander in Iraq, said the heroic staff sergeant prepared his crew well for that day’s battle. “His ability to train his soldiers saved a lot of lives. Not just his actions on April 5, but the training he put his soldiers through prior to the 5th of April paid off for the unit.”
Booker’s sister echoed their mother’s comments during a media conference attended by Pittsburgh-area news media prior to the awards ceremonies, which included a plaque dedication in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial’s Hall of Valor. “He’d be very proud. He’d probably be pumping his chest right about now,” said Booker’s sister Kim Talley-Armstead. “It’s a bittersweet moment, but we are extremely proud.”
After giving careful consideration and reviewing the recommendations from the Senior Army Decorations Board, Army officials said, the Secretary of the Army made the determination that Staff Sgt. Booker be awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross. In recognition of their gallantry, intrepidity and heroism above and beyond the call of duty, 12 soldiers recently received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for their valor.
Previously recognized for their bravery by awards of the Silver Star, the Department of Defense upgraded the soldiers’ medals as part of a 2016-2018 comprehensive review of commendations for heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Four soldiers are still on active duty; three are posthumous awards; three recipients have since retired and two recipients previously separated from the Army.
The US military released video clips of the special-operations forces raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 26, 2019, in northwestern Syria.
US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the head of US Central Command, released the photos and video on Oct. 30, 2019, afternoon, showing US forces entering the compound in search of the ISIS leader.
The mission started at 9:00 a.m. ET on Oct. 26, 2019, in Syria, though US troops did not arrive at the compound until after dark.
No US soldiers were killed during the operation, but a military working dog was injured by live electrical cables after al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest in a tunnel. The dog has recovered from its injuries and returned to duty, according to McKenzie.
Fighters not associated with al-Baghdadi began attacking US troops from two locations, McKenzie said. US aircraft responded by attacking the militants.
Following the assault, the compound was hit by more munitions to prevent the location from becoming a shrine. Multiple armed helicopters, unmanned aircraft, and fighter jets were used to provide cover for the raid.
McKenzie shared before and after photographs of the building, describing it as a “parking lot with large potholes” and “not memorable.”
Before and after photos of the compound in northwestern Syria.
The US troops detained several noncombatants, including 11 children, who were later released.
“Despite the violent nature of the raid, and the high profile nature of this assault, every effort was made to avoid civilian casualties and to protect the children that we suspected would be at the compound,” McKenzie said.
Four women and one man inside the compound were considered threats and killed after they “did not respond to commands in Arabic,” McKenzie added.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
After soaring costs and years of delays with the Navy’s new Ford class of supercarrier, Congress wants the service to pursue lower-cost carrier options for the future fleet.
But a new Rand Corp. report commissioned by the service and published this month concludes the Navy cannot build cheaper, more modest carriers without significantly limiting capability or overhauling its current air acquisition plan.
The study, which was provided to the Navy in a classified version last July and made publicly available Oct. 6, assesses four potential future styles of carrier, taking into account key capability factors such as aircraft sortie generation rates, as well as comparative costs for acquisition and midlife refueling.
The first option, CVN 8X, is by and large similar to the new Ford class of carrier that saw the first of its class, the Gerald R. Ford, commissioned in July.
Like the Ford and the two follow-on carriers in the class, this variant would be 100,000 tons and keep the same dimensions.
But the CVN 8X, as envisioned by Rand, would incorporate a few improvements that lean heavily on emerging technology, including a 40-year life-of-the-ship nuclear reactor that would eliminate the need for a midlife refueling period, and three catapults in its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) instead of four.
The second option, CVN LX, would be a carrier in the style of the Forrestal-class, built in the 1950s for the Navy as the first class of supercarriers. It would be 70,000 tons and feature an improved flight deck and a hybrid integrated propulsion plant with nuclear power.
At 43,000 tons, it would not incorporate the catapult launch system at the center of modern carrier operations, but would support short takeoff and vertical landing, or STOVL aircraft, including the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
Rand envisions the Navy requiring two of these smaller carriers for every legacy carrier it needs to replace.
The final option, CV EX, is a 20,000-ton miniature carrier akin to escort carriers used by some international navies.
This option, which would run on conventional power and could accommodate STOVL fighters, is undoubtedly the cheapest of the bunch. But its capabilities would be so limited, and require such a dramatic departure from current Navy operations, that analysts spend little time considering its merits.
The Forrestal-style carrier, or CVN LX, has several major advantages, according to the study. Though it would have a more modest footprint, a slightly reduced sortie generation rate would not significantly decrease its ability to meet the Navy’s needs underway, analysts find.
However, the requirements of redesigning an older style of ship to meet contemporary needs, they found, would result in a still-expensive ship: $9.4 billion to build, compared with the Ford’s $12.9 billion.
“The CVN LX [Forrestal carrier] concept would allow considerable savings across the ship’s service life and appears to be a viable alternative to consider for current concept exploration,” study authors Bradley Martin and Michael E. McMahon write. ” … However, CVN LX would be a new design that would require a significant investment in non-recurring engineering in the near-term to allow timely delivery in the 2030s.”
There are other downsides that might give the Navy pause, including reduced survivability compared with today’s supercarriers.
With the CV LX [USS America-style carrier], essentially a helicopter carrier that can accommodate the Marine Corps version of the new Joint Strike Fighter, analysts envision the Navy needing 22 ships in lieu of today’s 11 carriers.
Even at a two-to-one replacement rate, the Navy would realize significant savings, spending an estimated $4.2 billion on each ship.
However, the fact that this carrier could not accommodate the Navy’s brand-new F-35C aircraft, which are designed for catapult launch and tailhook recovery, means this option is at best an incomplete solution, and would require either a complete reimagining of future Navy aviation, or significant investment in other, complementary platforms.
“The concept variant CV LX [America carrier] … might be a low-risk, alternative pathway for the Navy to reduce carrier costs if such a variant were procured in greater numbers than the current carrier shipbuilding plan,” the analysts write.
“Over the long term, however, as the current carrier force is retired, the CV LX would not be a viable option for the eventual carrier force unless displaced capabilities were reassigned to new aircraft or platforms in the joint force, which would be costly,” they add.
A practical option, the study suggests, might be investing in future carriers like the Ford, but slightly cheaper to produce.
By equipping a future carrier with a 40-year life-of-the-ship reactor (a technology, the study notes, which does not yet exist) and cutting back from four EMALS catapults to three, which assumes the emerging technology will be proven reliable, analysts estimate the Navy could shave off $920 million in recurring ship costs.
However, the study concludes that evolving operational needs and acquisition decisions could easily alter the calculus.
“It is worth noting that the timeline for these arriving in service is still decades away, and it is very likely that threats and capabilities will evolve during that time,” the analysts write. “Any of these paths could be feasible assuming changes in air wing or escort mix.”
An Iranian diplomat, along with five others, have been arrested over a plot to blow up an event of an exiled Iranian opposition group.
The event for the National Resistance Council of Iran (NRCI), an Iranian opposition organization based in Paris, also featured President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani on June 30, 2018.
Belgian police intercepted two suspects on June 30, 2018, with 500 grams of a home-made explosive powder, as well as a detonation device in their car, Reuters reported, citing a joint statement by the Belgian prosecutor and Belgian intelligence services.
The suspects, reportedly a married couple in their thirties, were charged with attempted terrorist murder and preparation of a terrorist act. The NCRI said the woman had come from Iran to Belgium in 2009.
(Photo by Bill Fish)
According to The National, the Iranian diplomat was based in the Austrian capital of Vienna, and was arrested in Germany. The diplomat is suspected of having been in contact with the couple who were identified by Iranian exiles as residents of northern Antwerp.
The NCRI claimed the diplomat had been station chief of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in Vienna since 2014.
Three others were arrested in France as prosecutors determined if they were linked to the Brussels suspects, Reuters said, citing a French judicial source.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is due to visit Austria on July 4, 2018. In a tweet on July 2, 2018, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javid Zarif referred to the foiled plot as a “false flag” operation.
“How convenient: Just as we embark on a presidential visit to Europe, an alleged Iranian operation and its ‘plotters’ arrested,” Zarif tweeted.
The NCRI event dubbed “Free Iran 2018 — the Alternative” took place on on June 30, 2018, in Villepinte, just outside Paris. Along with Giuliani, it featured several former European and Arab ministers, and attracted a crowd of thousands, according to Reuters.
In a statement, Giuliani said the participants of the rally “appreciate and admire the fine work of law enforcement particularly in Belgium and France in arresting the terrorists who according to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s office were planning an attack on the gathering supporting freedom from the theocratic oppressive regime in Iran.”
He added: “This accentuates the growing sense that the regime that is the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world is increasingly weakened by constant large demonstrations in over 140 cities. It is also becoming apparent that Madam Maryam Rajavi and the NCRI pose a realistic alternative to this homicidal regime. Nothing could be worse for these misogynists than a movement seen as replacing them headed by a heroic woman.”
Iranian government regularly criticizes the group in state media.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
U.S. Marines are known for their fast thinking and courage in a time of need. Marines are taught from day one the core values of honor, courage, and commitment. U.S. Marine Cpl. Alexandra Nowak, an administrative specialist with Alpha Company, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, exemplified unwavering courage when she saved the lives of three people Sept. 20, 2019.
Nowak was driving to pick up her 2-year old daughter and mother at the airport on Interstate Highway 15 in Escondido, California, when she witnessed a multi-car collision resulting in a sports utility vehicle rolling onto its side.
Nowak, a native of Forney, Texas, sprang into action to help the vehicle’s occupants. She was able to successfully retrieve the driver’s uninjured 9-month old and 4-year old children from the vehicle and help them to safety.
After pulling back the broken windshield, Nowak realized that the driver’s arm was almost completely severed. Nowak then retrieved the tourniquet she kept in her vehicle and proceeded to administer first aid and keep the driver conscious until first responders arrived.
“I remember she asked me ‘Am I going to die?’ and I told her, ‘No, I am not going to let you die,'” Nowak said.
Escondido Fire Department Officials and witnesses at the scene credit Nowak’s quick thinking and bravery as the main reason that the driver did not suffer more severe medical issues or even death.
“I was courageous, yes. Would I do it again? Yes. Do I hope I have to do it again? No,” Nowak said.
Those who work with Nowak said her willingness to help was not surprising.
“It’s not surprising that she stopped to help,” said Sgt. Shannon Miranda, an administrative specialist with Alpha Co., HS Bn., MCI-West, MCB Camp Pendleton. “Her mom skills always kick in and she always tries to help people out.”
Nowak acted as any Marine should act in a traumatic event. With quick thinking and implementing the skills taught to her within the Marine Corps, she became a hero to the three people saved that day and an example to all Marines within the Corps.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
The Army has released an image taken by a combat photographer moments before she was killed in an explosion during a 2013 live-fire training exercise in eastern Afghanistan.
Spc. Hilda I. Clayton, a visual information specialist assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), was killed while photographing a live-fire training exercise on July 2 in Laghman Province. Four Afghan National Army soldiers were also killed when a mortar tube accidentally exploded.
One of the Afghan soldiers killed was a photojournalist whom Clayton had been training.
The primary mission of Combat Camera soldiers is to accompany soldiers on deployments to document the history of combat operations.
“Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts,” the Army said in a statement.
Clayton’s name has since been added to the Defense Information School Hall of Heroes at Fort Meade. The award for the winner of Combat Camera’s annual competition was also named after her.
“The Spc. Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM) Competition consists of five days of events to test joint service combat camera personnel on their physical and technical skills,” the Army said.
US leaders are now asking Pakistan to increase its counterterrorism activity and further collaborate with the Dept. of Defense when it comes to attacking Jihadists in their country and advance prospects for increased peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford recently met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa in Islamabad to discuss heightened cooperation between their two countries.
“Secretary Pompeo emphasized the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace,” State Dept. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement.
The meeting takes place within a broader context of ambiguity characterizing US-Pakistani relations, a connection which encompasses both tensions and successful military-to-military counter-jihadist cooperation.
Within Pakistan, there appears to be two interwoven, yet distinct trajectories; US officials and Pakistani security experts say that the Pakistani military has had substantial success attacking jihadists within their borders. At the same time, many US officials continue to raise some measure of question regarding the level of Pakistani resolve when it comes to counter-jihadist initiatives. Further, some are also raising questions about the actual depth of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, particularly given the country’s interest in addressing the India-Pakistan conflicts regarding the contested Kashmir region.
Pompeo and Dunford, being aware of President Trump’s stated concern that Pakistan might harbor jihadists, both cited increased military-to-military relationships as central to future progress in the region.
“On the surface, they say they want to cooperate…. So what we are looking for is the actions to back that up ,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staft Gen. Joe Dunford, according to a Pentagon report.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.
Former Secretary of State spokesman Jamie Rubin is among those raising concerns about the actual extent of Pakistan’s allegiance to the US-backed counterterrorism operations. In particular, he has posed the question as to whether the newly arriving Pakistani administration, led by recently elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, will pursue pro-American policies.
Multiple counterterrorism and security experts familiar with operations in the region have said that part of the ambiguity or apparent contradictory sensibilities within Pakistan emerges, in large measure, from Pakistani entities operating separately from a military-led government infrastructure.
Rubin made the argument that instances wherein Pakistani entities appear to be sustaining some degree of alliance with Afghan and Pakistani jihadists are due to the country’s highly-prioritized anti-India stance.
Specifically, Pakistani jihadists are, according to many expert estimates, believed to be involved in various counter-Indian initiatives. Also, Rubin maintained that some portion of Pakistanis seek to maintain an ability to have safe harbor in Afghanistan in the event that their country is overrun by Indian forces.
Citing the currently incoming new Pakistani administration, Rubin raised the question as to whether there were enough “pro-Americans” within Pakistani government. He wondered whether there was instability and tension separating Pakistani military leadership and other political ambitions held by some in the country.
Pakistani security officials involved in maintaining counterterrorism support and security within the country say an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, including government officials, are what he called “moderates.”
“The rhetoric in Pakistan is moderate and not one of an extremist Pakistan. That is in everyone’s interests,” said Ikram Sehgal, Chairman of an international security firm called the Pathfinder Group.
At the same time, Sehgal also cited the importance of Pakistan’s relationship with Iran and other regional neighbors, adding “our best stance is to be neutral and not take sides.”
Meanwhile, US military officials emphasize that the current Trump administration is deeply invested in improving US-Pakistani military and diplomatic cooperation with a particular dual-pronged approach of both seeking peace in Afghanistan and stepping up Pakistani military counterinsurgency attacks against jihadists.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.
Also, operating beneath the shadow of a widely-discussed war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military has quietly been aggressively attacking jihadi terrorists, Taliban forces and other enemies in the mountainous tri-border region spanning Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, according to Sehgal.
Pakistani military missions, which have for quite some time been existing below the radar of greater international consciousness and focus, have by no means been uncomplicated. Many successes have been met with challenges and an ebb-and-flow often associated with complex counterinsurgency operations against a mix of enemy forces.
Nonetheless, despite the overwhelmingly circulated narrative that jihadist enemies continue to find safe-harbor in Pakistan, jihadi insurgent forces have consistently been attacked and removed from the area by the Pakistani military, Sehgal said.
Operating with weapons, intelligence assistance, and training support from the US military, Pakistani military activity has lowered the number of jihadi fighters in the country from more than 100,000 years ago to roughly 2,000 today.
Along with many Pakistani experts and observers of the tri-border region, Sehgal does acknowledge that the situation in Pakistan is not without some ambiguities and complexities. However, despite an at times fragmented approach and periodic hesitations, Pakistani forces have steadily made substantial progress over the course of the last decade, he claimed.
Pakistani military operations have included raids, door-to-door searches of tribal areas and large-force attacks on jihadi facilities such as underground bunkers and command and control facilities; the attacks have massively reduced the amount of enemy jihadi fighters in the region, Sehgal said.
Sehgal added that, not long ago, Pakistani military forces attacked and destroyed a jihadist facility in the tribal areas previously known to harbor large amounts of insurgents.
“Pakistanis have been carrying out ops on their side of the border. We have not had an easy time as successful as we’ve been. We successfully carried out military operations against jihadi military facilities,” he said. “We have not had a single failure when we attack them directly.”
Also, the Pakistanis are currently fencing the tri-border area to stop the flow of enemy fighters coming in from Afghanistan. Sehgal said the fence will be finished several months from now.
Featured image: Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
A prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been sent back to his native Saudi Arabia to serve out the remainder of a 13-year sentence, making him the first detainee to leave the U.S. base in Cuba since President Donald Trump took office.
The Pentagon announced the transfer of Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi in a brief statement on May 2, 2018. He had originally been scheduled to return home as part of a plea deal no later than Feb. 20, 2018.
Al-Darbi pleaded guilty before a military commission at the U.S. base in Cuba in 2014 to charges stemming from an al-Qaida attack on a French oil tanker. He is expected to serve out the rest of his sentence, about nine years, in a Saudi rehabilitation program as part of a plea deal that included extensive testimony against others held at Guantanamo
His lead defense counsel, Ramzi Kassem, said the transfer was the culmination of “16 long and painful years in captivity” by the U.S. at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, with his children growing up without him and his own father dying.
“While it may not make him whole, my hope is that repatriation at least marks the end of injustice for Ahmed,” said Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who has represented the prisoner since 2008.
Al-Darbi was captured at the airport in Baku, Azerbaijan, in June 2002 and taken to the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan. He has testified to being kept in solitary confinement, strung up from a door in shackles, deprived of sleep and subjected to other forms of abuse as part of his early interrogation.
In a statement released by Kassem, who was part of a legal team that included two military officers, al-Darbi described what he expected to be an emotional reunion with his family in Saudi Arabia.
“I cannot thank enough my wife and our children for their patience and their love. They waited sixteen years for my return,” he said. “Looking at what lies ahead, I feel a mixture of excitement, disbelief, and fear. I’ve never been a father. I’ve been here at Guantanamo. I’ve never held my son.”
His transfer brings the number of men held at Guantanamo to 40, which includes five men facing trial by military commission for their alleged roles planning and supporting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack and another charged with the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Tina M. Ackerman.)
Al-Darbi, 43, pleaded guilty to charges that included conspiracy, attacking civilian objects, terrorism and aiding the enemy for helping to arrange the 2002 al-Qaida attack on the French tanker MV Limburg. The attack, which killed a Bulgarian crew member, happened after al-Darbi was already in U.S. custody and was cooperating with authorities, according to court documents.
Al-Darbi could have received a life sentence but instead got 13 years in the plea deal. He provided testimony against the defendant in the Cole attack as well as against a Guantanamo prisoner charged with overseeing attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2002-2006. Neither case has gone to trial.
Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the war crimes proceedings at Guantanamo, said in a February 2018 Defense Department memo that al-Darbi provided “invaluable assistance” to the U.S.
“Al-Darbi’s testimony in these cases was both unprecedented in its detail regarding al-Qaida operations and crucial to government efforts to hold top members of that group accountable for war crimes,” Martins wrote.
The agreement to repatriate al-Darbi was made under President Barack Obama, whose administration sought to gradually winnow down the prison population in hopes of eventually closing the detention center. Trump reversed that policy and has vowed to continue using the detention center.
In a separate statement on May 2, 2018, the Defense Department said it had sent the White House a proposed set of guidelines for sending prisoners to Guantanamo in the future “should that person present a continuing, significant threat to the security of the United States.” A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to provide any details about the new policy.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The Taliban have killed more than 200 Afghan soldiers and police officers in four provincial districts in the last three days, with the heaviest losses occurring in the key city of Ghazni just south of Kabul, according to The New York Times.
More than 100 Afghan security forces have been killed in Ghazni, about 40 to 100 were killed in the Ajristan District, more than 50 were killed at a base in Faryab Province, and at least 16 were killed in the northern Baghlan Province, The New York Times reported.
Afghan defense minister Tariq Shah Bahrami said Aug. 13, 2018, that 194 Taliban fighters and at least 20 civilians had also been killed, according to TOLO News, adding that 1,000 extra Afghan troops have been sent to quell the situation.
“With the deployment of additional troops to the city, we have prevented the collapse of Ghazni province,” Bahrami said, according to The Washington Post.
But there have been contradictory reports about how much of Ghazni the Taliban has taken.
“Ghazni City remains under Afghan government control,” Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell, a spokesman for Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, said MAug. 13, 2018, adding that the situation was “relatively quiet” despite admitting the US has carried out more than a dozen airstrikes in the area since Aug. 11, 2018.
But Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of the Ghazni provincial council, told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on Aug. 12, 2018, that only “the police headquarters, governor’s office, and a few departments are under Afghan forces’ control. … The rest are under the Taliban fighters’ control.”
And Mohammad Arif Shahjahan, a lawmaker from Ghazni, told CNN on Aug. 13, 2018, that the Taliban fighters still controlled several governmental buildings and had even taken the police headquarters.
Videos posted on social media on Aug. 12, 2018, even appear to show Taliban fighters strolling through the streets.
‘Every night fighting, every night the enemy are attacking us’
“We’re running out of hospital rooms; we are using corridors and available space everywhere,” Baz Mohammad Hemat, the director of the hospital in Ghazni, told The New York Times, adding that 113 dead bodies and 142 wounded had gone through the hospital.
“Bodies are lying around, they have decomposed, and no one is doing anything to evacuate them,” Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, a provincial council member, told The New York Times.
Meanwhile in Ajristan District, located about 90 miles west of Ghazni, the Taliban drove two vehicles packed with explosives into an Afghan commando base on Aug. 10, 2018, killing nearly 100 government troops, The Times reported.
In the northern Faryab Province on the border of Turkmenistan, an Afghan Army base had been under attack for nearly three weeks in one provincial district when the Taliban launched a heavy assault on the base on Aug. 10, 2018, killing more than 100 security forces, The New York Times reported.
“We don’t know what to do,” Captain Azam in Faryab told The Times, apparently before the Taliban launched the major assault. “Every night fighting, every night the enemy are attacking us from three sides with rockets.”
Azam was killed shortly after talking to The Times over the phone, The Times reported.
These Taliban assaults are the largest since the group assaulted the capital of Farah Province in May 2018, an event that unfolded much like the one in Ghazni, with Kabul and Resolute Support downplaying the situation, and local reports showing and saying that the Taliban took much of the city.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Sitting in the White House reading the citation for the Medal of Honor doesn’t give the real flavor of why retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and special warfare operator Britt K. Slabinski is receiving the award.
The nicely air conditioned room with comfortable chairs, impeccable floors, historic artwork and gilt on many surfaces isn’t right, somehow.
The dispassionate words on the award talk of Slabinski’s heroism in assaulting bunkers, rallying his men, and going back into the center of the firefight.
The White House is literally half a world away from a mountain in Afghanistan in 2002, where Slabinski — and America — lost seven good men.
When the master chief talks of the action, you realize he is reliving his time atop Takur Ghar — a 10,000-foot mountain near Ghazni, on March 4, 2002. He is remembering his decisions. He is remembering what he felt. And he is remembering his brothers who were killed.
He speaks in present tense, because in his mind’s eye. It is still happening.
‘I Was Just Doing My Job’
He believes he did nothing special. “I was just doing my job that day,” Slabinski said during an interview.
Slabinski — then a senior chief petty officer — and his men were just supposed to set up an overwatch position on the mountain to support the conventional forces in the valley below. “Now the enemy gets a vote,” he said. “We plan, we train, we rehearse and we rehearse some more for every possible contingency, but sometimes the fog and friction of war is just out of your control and a leader has to adapt.”
The team was aboard an Army MH-47 helicopter and as it was landing, well dug-in al-Qaida fighters opened up. “When we land, the ramp goes down,” he said. “I’m standing on the very back of the helicopter … and almost immediately take an RPG rocket to the side of the aircraft. It goes off, fills the aircraft full of smoke and we are getting shot up right away. There’s bullets flying through the aircraft the size of your finger [from] 12.7 machine guns that were up there.”
The pilot was able to take off, but the bird was wounded and experienced what Slabinski called “the worst turbulence you could imagine.”
Those gyrations caused Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts to fall off the ramp. The crew chief grabbed Roberts’ pack, and the weight of the SEAL pulled him off the ramp, too. But the crew chief was tethered into the aircraft and was able to get back in. Roberts fell 10 feet into the meter-deep snow.
“It happens that fast,” Slabinski said as he snapped his fingers.
He told the pilot that he had lost a man, but with the chopper’s hydraulics shot out, there was no way the bird could circle and retrieve him. “[The pilot] was flying a brick,” Slabinski said. “It was basically a controlled crash into the enemy-held valley.”
The master chief assessed the situation. “Now my mission originally was to support the overwatch, then my teammate Neil fell out, and now I have a downed helicopter I have to deal with,” he said.
Calling For Support
The first problem he dealt with was the helicopter, and he called in a second aircraft to take the crew and team to a safe place. Once there, Slabinski was able to focus his attention on Neil.
The information he received was Roberts was alive. “I knew there was a superior enemy force up there and they had heavier weapons than I had,” he said.
The enemy, the cold, the altitude — “Everything that could be stacked against us, was stacked against us going back, and I had the feeling that this was a one-way trip,” he said. “I knew though, that if I go now, there’s a chance I could rescue Neil. I knew if I tried to develop a battle plan more on my terms, it would certainly be better, but I knew Neil didn’t have that time.”
The weight was on Slabinski’s shoulders. “I remember sitting in the helicopter,” he said. “The [rotors are] turning, it’s cold, trying to sort through the tactical piece of it … and this thought keeps coming back to me: If I go now what’s the cost going to be versus the cost if I wait. If you are the leader and you have peoples’ lives that you are responsible for, the decisions don’t come easy.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Matthew R. Loken)
This was Slabinski’s loneliest moment. He was sitting in the chopper with a headset on and people are talking to him. He was thinking of all the tactical problems and the lives. “And this thought kept coming back to me, and it’s the first line of the Boy Scout Oath … ‘On my honor, I will do my best,'” said Slabinski, who attained the rank of Eagle Scout at his hometown troop in Northampton, Massachusetts “The only thing that is in the back of my mind is, ‘On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best.’
“That’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna go do this.'”
The master chief assigned his men jobs, and the pilot of the first aircraft, Army Chief Warrant Officer Al Mack, went up to Slabinski and told him he would be flying them back in the new MH-47, even though he had just survived a harrowing experience with the first helicopter.
There was no other place to land, so the team had to go right back to the place the first bird took the fire. As the chopper took off, it got quiet for Slabinski and he thought of his son, who was 6 years old at the time. “I remember saying, ‘I love you. Sorry for what’s to come. Be great,'” he said. “Then I put it in another room in my brain and went on with my duties.”
This Chinook also took fire coming in to the landing area, and as soon as the ramp went down, the team went off the back of the ramp. Two men went to the right, two to the left and the master chief and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, went out together.
Slabinski and Chapman were hit by a burst of automatic weapons fire. “The burst hit John and he went down,” Slabinski said. “The bullets from the same burst went through my clothes on each side, and I jumped behind a rock.”
The belt-fed weapon kept firing at them. “I looked for John and he is lying in a very odd position, and I look to my other guys and they are engaged with another dug-in position and the two to my left are engaged there. There are enemy muzzle flashes on three sides.”
There is no cover, and Slabinski tosses two grenades at the bunker, but the position is too well dug in. He looks to his men and sees Chapman still in the same odd position and the others engaging the enemy. His M60 gunner is next to me. “I have a 40mm grenade launcher … and I have six grenades,” he said. “I’m too close to the big bunker because they won’t go off. They have to spin to arm.”
He fired at the farther bunkers and silenced those, but the big bunker remains a deadly problem. He has the M60-gunner fire on the bunker and he wants to charge to the bunker to clear it under the cover of that automatic fire. Before he could do that, a grenade flies out of the bunker and explodes right in front of the barrel of the M60, wounding the gunner.
Slabinski again assesses the situation. “The gunner is down. John hasn’t moved and my other two guys are still engaged in contact,” he said. “The plan in my head isn’t working so I have to do something different.”
(Painting by Keith Rocco)
He decided to get his small band out of direct fire. As he is doing that another SEAL was hit in the leg from the same machine gun Slabinski was trying to take out. “I sent the wounded over first and I crawled over to John, looking for some sign of life from John and didn’t get anything,” he said.
The place he chose to seek shelter from the fire was just about 30 feet away over the side of the mountain.
Slabinski called for support from an AC-130 gunship to hit the bunkers. At the same time as the aircraft was hitting the mountain he noticed shell fragments were landing around the team. Slabinski thinks at first it is the AC-130, but it is from an enemy mortar that is ranging his position.
He moves again to a more protected area and now the U.S. Army Ranger quick reaction force is coming in. The first chopper is hit and crashes on the top of the mountain. Slabinski contacted the second bird and it lands on another spit of land and the Rangers work their way to the SEAL position and attack up the mountain to secure the top.
The master chief can’t move his wounded to the top of the mountain, so he moved to a place he could secure and await medevac, which came that night.
Estimates of the number of al-Qaida fighters on the top of that mountain range between 40 and 100. They had heavy weapons galore with automatic machine guns, mortars, RPGs and recoilless rifles. It was the headquarters for al-Qaida operating against U.S. forces engaged in Operation Anaconda. The SEAL team went in to try to rescue Roberts with six men.
Footage taken by a remotely piloted vehicle and examined later showed that Chapman was not dead. The technical sergeant regained consciousness and engaged the enemy killing two of them — one in hand-to-hand combat. “I was 100 percent convinced that John was dead,” Slabinski said. “I never lost track of John.”
He never would have left the airman on that mountain, he said, if he thought for an instant that Chapman was alive.
For his actions that day, Slabinski received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. As part of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s directive to the services to re-examine all of the valor awards beginning in 2001, the Navy recommended upgrading that award to the Medal of Honor. The master chief — who retired from the Navy in 2014 — received a call from President Donald J. Trump in March telling him of the decision.
The master chief is conflicted about the award. He believes he was just doing his job and still feels the loss of the seven men — Navy, Army and Air Force — he served with that day. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about them,” he said. “If I could give up this medal to have them back, I would.”
On a chilly May morning, the city of Murrieta, CA dispatched a firetruck to a new home. Dozens of men, women and children congregated the driveway. The sounds of Rolling Thunder could be heard in the distance. As if on cue, the wind picked up and the huge American flag streaming from the ladder of the firetruck began to wave. American Legion Riders escorted wounded Army veteran Sgt. Nicholas Mendes to his new specially adapted home, and the community was there to welcome him.
This is the work of Homes for our Troops.
HFOT builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes across the United States for those who have been severely injured in theater of combat since September 11, 2001. The non-profit’s purpose is to assist wounded warriors with the complex process of integrating back into society.
Army Sergeant Nicholas Mendes, who was a gunner with the 10th Mountain, 3rd Brigade, is one of 214 veterans to thus far be living in one of these homes. On April 30, 2011, an IED detonated beneath his vehicle in Sangsar, Afghanistan. The explosion, set off by a 1200-pound command wire device, caused multiple fractures to his vertebrae and rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. Mendes had previously served in Iraq in 2008.
After being presented with the key to his new home, Mendes’ wife held the microphone up to his mouth so he could address the audience of well-wishers.
“Bear with me, I didn’t write anything down – because my arms don’t work.” Mendes joked. “It’s just crazy looking back on everything, this all started with a Google search, and then putting in an application to a foundation that I didn’t know if they’d ever write me back…”
Not only did they write him back and build him a home, Homes for our Troops is working with Mendes to allow him to reclaim his independence. The adapted features in his home remove much of the burden from his wife and family and allow him to focus on recovery and his plans to pursue a career in real estate.
“These men and women are not looking for pity. They’re looking to rebuild their lives.” said Bill Ivy, Executive Director of HFOT. “We have an extremely talented group of men and women who are either in homes or that we are building homes for. The whole idea is to get them back going to school, back into the work force, raising families. Since 2010 we’ve had over 100 children born to families living in our homes. So it is about the next generation and moving forward. We have a tremendous amount of successes out there.”
Homes for Our Troops lays a foundation for these men and woman to continue on after their injuries. Although their way of life has undergone major changes, their spirit and desire to serve remains. Many of these home recipients are able to rehabilitate to the point where they enter the workforce and give back to their community as teachers and counselors.
Two HFOT recipients started a non-profit together called Amputee Outdoors. Another recipient, Joshua Sweeny is an American gold medal sledge hockey player and Purple Heart recipient who competed in 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. Four recipients participated in the recent Invictus games, and one even spent a month in a tent to raise awareness for veteran homelessness.
“There’s duty, there’s honor and self sacrifice. Death nor injury does not diminish those qualities in our soldiers. It is a testament to the love of this country” said David Powers of Prospect Mortgage – one of the key ceremony speakers. “Duty is the mission, the lesson is the sacrifice for our country, and for our freedom.”
For more information visit the Homes for Our Troops website.