Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spent more than 40 years in the study and practice of war, but his extensive thoughts and writings on the subject have often been selectively reduced to chesty one-liners.
There’s the admonition to the troops, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
And another, “There’s some a——s in the world that just need to be shot.”
Other examples of bumper-sticker bravado could be cited that tend to drown out the context and Mattis’ consistent underlying message in a career as Marine legend and four-star general — that being prepared for war is the best way to prevent it.
Mattis, in the past week, has been attempting to provide more context in three informal sessions with Pentagon reporters that he acknowledges undertaking at the suggestion of The Associated Press’ senior defense correspondent, Bob Burns.
It’s just him in the middle of a reporters’ huddle. His aides stand aside but within earshot. He is unfailingly polite and direct in his responses to any topic that comes up, with the exception of those that he feels would give a clue to future operations.
Only once has he snapped at a question. Mattis took a question on civilian casualties in Yemen as suggesting that the U.S. didn’t care about the casualties. “Don’t screw with me,” he said.
At the session with reporters Jan. 5, Mattis took questions on Pakistan, Syria, Korea, Iran, Russia, transgender recruits, and the budget and, in the process, made a statement that could be added to his lexicon of one-liners.
“What counts most in war is [the] most difficult to count,” he said in expanding on his thoughts about civil war in Syria in response to a question about whether progress could be gauged by the number of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters killed.
Another reporter interjected that Mattis had recently said in Tel Aviv, “I’ve got better things to do than counting while the fight’s still going on.”
Mattis went on to say, “Yes, we’re not going to get into that sort of thing. You’ll know probably the most challenging part in assessing in combat — to include specifically your question — is that what counts most in war is most difficult to count, to quantify, OK?”
The most difficult thing to quantify is the enemy’s morale, Mattis said, but there are “lagging indicators” that would show that constant pressure is having an effect.
“Morale, eventually, you’ll see a lagging indicator,” he said. “You’ll see that not as many people want to be recruited into a force that’s getting annihilated — witness Syria.”
“You won’t see as many foreigners coming to join witness this. So, you can kind of look at what’s happened in Syria and say, ‘Wait a minute. They’re not putting out squads to go blow off bombs in Brussels anymore.’ They can’t. You know, this sort of thing,” Mattis said.
The problem is that “not always can you quantify where you’re at, at any one moment,” he said, but in the case of ISIS “we’ll fight them” until the threat is eliminated.
Mattis also spoke on tyranny and revolution in commenting on the recent street protests in Iran against the Islamic regime.
“You know, it’s interesting. You know, I enjoy reading history, just because I learn a lot from it. And, if you watch, when people confront tyranny — and this goes back 1,000-2,000 years — people, eventually, they get fed up with it,” he said.
“And whether it be physical tyranny or mental tyranny or spiritual tyranny, they revolt against it,” Mattis said.
“So we may come from different directions,” he said of Iranian and American judgments on the regime in Tehran, “but ultimately, it’s the same kind of tyranny.”
“In their case, it’s about their internal government, what it does to them. In our case, it’s that, plus it’s what that government has done to espouse or support terrorism, destabilizing activities, export of ballistic missiles, disruption of commerce. All these kinds of things,” he said.
Mattis declined to speculate on what may come next, and what the U.S. response would be.
“There’s a reason I have four-stars out in the field,” he said of the combatant commanders.
The Air Force is reving up electronic warfare upgrades for its F-15 fighter as a way to better protect against enemy fire and electronic attacks, service officials said.
Boeing has secured a $478 million deal to continue work on a new technology called with a system called the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS.
“This allows the aircraft to identify a threat and actively prosecute that threat through avoidance, deception or jamming techniques,” Mike Gibbons, Vice President of the Boeing F-15 program, told Scout Warrior in an interview a few months ago.
These updated EW capabilities replace the Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite, which has been used since the 1980s, not long after the F-15 first deployed. The service plans to operate the fleet until the mid-2040’s, so an overhaul of the Eagle’s electronic systems helps maintain U.S. air supremacy, the contract announcement said.
Boeing won the initial contract for the EPAWSS project last year and hired BAE Systems as the primary subcontractor.
Overall, the US Air Force is vigorously upgrading the 1980s-era F-15 fighter by giving new weapons and sensors in the hope of maintaining air-to-air superiority over the Chinese J-10 equivalent.
The multi-pronged effort not only includes the current addition of electronic warfare technology but also extends to super-fast high-speed computers, infrared search and track enemy targeting systems, increased networking ability and upgraded weapons-firing capability, Air Force and Boeing officials said.
“The Air Force plans to keep the F-15 fleet in service until the mid-2040’s. Many of the F-15 systems date back to the 1970’s and must be upgraded if the aircraft is to remain operationally effective. Various upgrades will be complete as early as 2021 for the F-15C AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and as late as 2032 for the various EW (electronic warfare) upgrades,” Air Force spokesman Maj. Rob Leese told Scout Warrior a few months ago.
The Air Force currently operates roughly 400 F-15C, D and E variants. A key impetus for the upgrade was well articulate in a Congressional report on the US and China in 2014. (US-China Economic and Security Review Commission —www.uscc.gov). Among other things, the report cited rapid Chinese technological progress and explained that the US margin of superiority has massively decreased since the 1980s.
As an example, the report said that in the 1980s, the US F-15 was vastly superior to the Chinese equivalent – the J-10. However, Chinese technical advances in recent years have considerably narrowed that gap to the point where the Chinese J-10 is now roughly comparable to the US F-15, the report explained.
Air Force and Boeing developers maintain that ongoing upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that this equivalence is not the case and that, instead, they will ensure the superiority of the F-15.
Among the upgrades is an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processer in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII.
“It is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput, translating into faster and more reliable mission processing capability for an aircrew,” Boeing spokesman Randy Jackson told Scout Warrior.
High tech targeting and tracking technology is also being integrated onto the F-15, Gibbons added. This includes the addition of a passive long-range sensor called Infrared Search and Track, or IRST.
The technology is also being engineered into the Navy F-18 Super Hornet. The technology can detect the heat signature, often called infrared emissions, of enemy aircraft.
“The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability, even when encountering advanced threats equipped with radar-jamming technology,” Navy officials said.
IRST also provides an alternate air-to-air targeting system in a high threat electronic attack environment, Navy, Air Force and industry developers said.
The F-15 is also being engineered for additional speed and range, along with weapons-firing ability. The weapons-carrying ability is being increased from 8 up to 16 weapons; this includes an ability to fire an AIM-9x or AIM-120 missile. In addition, upgrades to the aircraft include adding an increased ability to integrate or accommodate new emerging weapons systems as they become available. This is being done through both hardware and software-oriented “open standards” IP protocol and architecture.
The aircraft is also getting a “fly-by-wire” automated flight control system.
“Fly by wire means when the pilot provides the input – straight to a computer than then determines how to have the aircraft perform the way it wants – provides electrical signals for the more quickly and more safely move from point to point as opposed to using a mechanical controls stick,” Gibbons explained.
Along with these weapons upgrades and other modifications, the F-15 is also getting upgrades to the pilot’s digital helmet and some radar signature reducing, or stealthy characteristics.
However, at the same time, the F-15 is not a stealthy aircraft and is expected to be used in combat environments in what is called “less contested” environments where the Air Force already has a margin of air superiority over advanced enemy air defenses.
For this reason, the F-15 will also be increasing networked so as to better support existing 5th-generation platforms such as the F-22 and F-35, Air Force officials said.
The intent of these F-15 upgrades is to effectively perform the missions assigned to the F-15 fleet, which are to support the F-22 in providing air superiority and the F-35 in providing precision attack capabilities, Leese said.
“While these upgrades will not make these aircraft equivalent to 5th generation fighters, they will allow the F-15 to support 5th generation fighters in performing their missions, and will also allow F-15s to assume missions in more permissive environments where capabilities of 5th generation fighters are not required,” Leese added.
Gibbons added that the upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that the fighter aircraft remains superior to its Chinese equivalent.
“The F-15 as a vital platform that still has a capability that cannot be matched in terms of ability to fly high, fly fast, go very far carry a lot. It is an air dominance machine,” Gibbons explained.
During its return from an annual supply run to the McMurdo research station in Antarctica, the US Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, had a fire break out inside its incinerator room as it sailed about 650 miles north of McMurdo Sound.
The incident occurred on Feb. 10, 2019, after the icebreaker had left Antarctica, where it had cut a channel though nearly 17 miles of ice that was 6 to 10 feet thick to allow a container ship to offload 10 million pounds of supplies that will sustain US research stations and field camps in Antarctica.
According to a Coast Guard release, four fire extinguishers failed during the initial response, and it ultimately took two hours for the ship’s fire crews to put out the blaze. While damage from the flames was contained inside the incinerator housing, water used to cool nearby exhaust pipes damaged electrical systems and insulation in the room.
Smoke from a fire aboard the Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
A fire in the incinerator room of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
“It’s always a serious matter whenever a shipboard fire breaks out at sea, and it’s even more concerning when that ship is in one of the most remote places on Earth,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the US Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, said in a release. “The crew of the Polar Star did an outstanding job — their expert response and determination ensured the safety of everyone aboard.”
Point Nemo, the most remote spot on earth, is also in the South Pacific — 1,670 miles from the nearest land, which is Ducie Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands, to the north; Motu Nui, one of the Easter Islands, to the northeast; and Maher Island, part of Antarctica, to the south.
Coast Guard crew members fight a fire aboard the icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
A disabled fishing vessel is towed through sea ice near Antarctica by the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 14, 2015.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)
The Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, capable of smashing through the thick ice that builds up in the Arctic and around Antarctica. As such, it makes the run to McMurdo every year in the winter months and then goes into dry dock for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next trip.
Having just one working heavy icebreaker has hindered the Coast Guard’s ability to meet request from other government agencies. The service could only do 78% of heavy icebreaking missions between 2010 and 2016, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office Report.
Contractors work on the Polar Star’s hull as the icebreaker undergoes depot-level maintenance at a dry dock in Vallejo, California, in preparation for its future polar-region patrol, April 16, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
US Coast Guard scuba divers work to repair a leak in the shaft seal of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, January 2019.
(US Coast Guard photo)
The Polar Star left its home port in Seattle on Nov. 27, 2018, to make the 11,200-mile trip to Antarctica for the sixth time in as many years. It suffered a number of mechanical problems on the way there, including smoke damage to an electrical switchboard, ship-wide power outages, and a leak in the propeller shaft.
Repairing the propeller-shaft leak required the ship to halt icebreaking operations and deploy divers to fix the shaft seal. The Polar Star also had a number of mechanical issues during its 2018 run to McMurdo.
The Polar Star sailed into Wellington, New Zealand, on Feb. 18, 2019, for a port call, the first time those aboard had set foot on land in 42 days, according to New Zealand news outlet Stuff. The ship is currently on its way back to Seattle, the Coast Guard said in its release.
The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea passing the Polar Star in the ice channel near McMurdo, Antarctica, Jan. 10, 2002.
(US Coast Guard photo by Rob Rothway)
A seal on the ice in front of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star while the ship was hove-to in the Ross Sea near Antarctica, Jan. 30, 2015.
(US Coast Guard photo by Carlos Rodriguez)
The Coast Guard has been pushing to build a new heavy icebreaker for some time, setting up a joint program office with the Navy to oversee the effort. Funding for the new ship had been held up in Congress, but lawmakers recently approved 5 million to start building a new one and another million for materials for a second.
In summer 2018, the Senate approved 5 million for the new icebreaker, but the House of Representatives instead authorized billion to build the US-Mexico border wall sought by President Donald Trump, cutting a number of programs, including that of the icebreaker in the process.
But Congressional staffers told USNI News in February 2019 that the Homeland Security Department’s fiscal year 2019 appropriation would include 5 million for new icebreakers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
US subs remain far better than their Chinese counterparts, but in a conflict, numbers, and geography may help China mitigate some of the US and its partners’ advantages.
Naval modernization is part of Beijing’s “growing emphasis on the maritime domain,” the US Defense Department said in its annual report on Chinese military power.
As operational demands on China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy have increased, subs have become a high priority — and one that could counter the US Navy’s mastery of the sea.
The force currently numbers 56 subs — four nuclear-powered missile subs, five nuclear-powered attack subs, and 47 diesel-powered attack subs — and is likely grow to between 69 and 78 subs by 2020, according to the Pentagon.
China has built 10 nuclear-powered subs over the past 15 years. Its four operational Jin-class missile boats “represent China’s first credible, seabased nuclear deterrent,” the Pentagon report said.
In most likely conflict scenarios, however, those nuclear-powered subs would have limited utility, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Assessments.
“They’re relatively loud, pretty easy to track, and don’t really have significant capability other than they can launch land-attack cruise missiles, and they don’t have very many of those,” Clark said. “They’re more of a kind of threat the Chinese might use to maybe do an attack on a … more distant target like Guam or Hawaii.”
The locations and composition of major Chinese naval units, according to the Pentagon.
(US Defense Department)
Conventionally powered subs are the “more important part of their submarine force,” Clark said, particularly ones that can launch anti-ship missiles and those that use air-independent propulsion, or AIP, which allows nonnuclear subs to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen, replacing or augmenting diesel-electric systems.
Since the mid-1990s, China has built 13 Song-class diesel-electric attack subs and bought 12 Russian-made Kilo-class subs — eight of which can fire anti-ship cruise missiles.
Kilos are conventional diesel subs, which means they need to surface periodically.
“Even with that, they’re a good, sturdy, reliable submarine that carries long-range anti-ship missiles,” Clark said. On a shorter operation where a Kilo-class sub “can avoid snorkeling, it could … sneak up on you with a long-range attack, so that’s a concern for the US.”
China has also built 17 Yuan-class diesel-electric, air-independent-powered attack subs over the past two decades, a total expected to rise to 20 by 2020, according to the Pentagon.
Then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus leaves the Chinese Yuan-class submarine Hai Jun Chang in Ningbo, November 29, 2012.
(US Navy photo by Chief Mass Comm. Specialist Sam Shavers)
“The Yuan AIP submarine is very good,” said Clark, a former US Navy submarine officer and strategist.
“For the duration of a deployment that it might normally take, which is two or three weeks, where it can stay on its AIP plant and never have to come up and snorkel, they’re very good,” Clark added. “That’s a big concern, I think, for US and Japanese policymakers.”
Yuan-class boats can threaten surface forces with both torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.
For US anti-submarine-warfare practitioners in the western Pacific, Clark said, “it’s the Yuan they generally point to as being their target of concern, because it does offer this ability to attack US ships and [is] hard to track and there may be few opportunities to engage it.”
Despite concerns China’s current diesel-electric subs inspire, they have liabilities.
A Chinese Yuan-class attack submarine.
(Congressional Research Service)
As quiet as they are, they are still not as quiet as a US nuclear-powered submarine operating in its quietest mode. They don’t have the same endurance as US subs and need to surface periodically. China’s sub crews also lack the depth of experience of their American counterparts.
“Chinese submarines are not … as good as the US submarines, by far,” Clark said.
China’s subs have made excursions into the Indian Ocean and done anti-piracy operations in waters off East Africa, but they mostly operate around the first island chain, which refers to major islands west of the East Asian mainland and encompasses the East and South China Seas.
Chinese subs also venture into the Philippine Sea, where they could strike at US ships, Clark said.
Much of the first island chain is within range of Chinese land-based planes and missiles, which are linchpins in Beijing’s anti-access/area denial strategy. It’s in that area where the US and its partners could see their advantages thwarted.
The approximate boundaries of the first and second island chains in the western Pacific.
(US Defense Department)
“Now the Chinese have the advantage of numbers, because they have a large number of submarines that can operate, and they’ve only got a small area in which they need to conduct operations,” Clark said.
China could “flood the zone” with subs good enough to “maybe overwhelm US and Japanese [anti-submarine warfare] capabilities.”
The anti-submarine-warfare capabilities of the US and its partners may also be constrained.
US subs would likely be tasked with a range of missions, like land attacks or surveillance, rather than focusing on attacking Chinese subs, leaving much of the submarine-hunting to surface and air forces — exposing them to Chinese planes and missiles.
“The stuff we use for ASW is the stuff that’s most vulnerable to the Chinese anti-access approach, and you’re doing it close proximity to China, so you could get stuck and not be able to engage their submarines before they get out,” Clark said.
Crew members demonstrate a P-8A Poseidon for Malaysian defense forces chief Gen. Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, April 21, 2016.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Jay M. Chu)
Numbers and location also give China a potential edge in a “gray-zone” conflict, or a confrontation that stops short of open combat, for which US Navy leadership has said the service needs to prepare.
China’s subs present “a challenge [US officials] see as, ‘What if we get into one of these gray-zone confrontations with China, and China decides to start sortieing their submarines through the first island chain and get them out to open ocean a little bit so they’re harder to contain,'” Clark said.
“If we’re in a gray-zone situation, we can’t just shoot them, and we don’t necessarily have the capacity to track all of them, so now you’ve got these unlocated Yuans roaming around the Philippine Sea, then you may end up with a situation where if you decide to try to escalate, you’ve got worry about these Yuans and their ability to launch cruise missiles at your ships,” Clark added.
“As the home team, essentially, China’s got the ability to control the tempo and the intensity,” he said.
The US and its partners have already encountered such tactics.
Beijing often deploys its coast guard to enforce its expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea (which an international court has rejected) and has built artificial islands containing military outposts to bolster its position.
When those coast guard ships encounter US Navy ships, China points to the US as the aggressor.
In the waters off the Chinese coast and around those man-made islands, “they do a lot of that because they’re on their home turf and protected by their land-based missiles and sensors,” Clark said. “Because of that, they can sort of ramp [the intensity] up and ramp it down … as they desire.”
The circumstances of a potential conflict may give Chinese subs an edge, but it won’t change their technical capability, the shortcomings of which may be revealed in a protracted fight.
“Can the Chinese submarines — like the Yuans that have limited time on their AIP plants — can they do something before they start to run out of propellant, oxygen, and start having to snorkel?” Clark said.
“So there’s a little bit of a time dimension to it,” he added. “If the US and Japan can wait out the Chinese, then their Yuans have to start snorkeling or pulling into port … that might make them more vulnerable.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Coast Guard has been very busy recapitalizing its fleet. Many of its vessels, like the Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters and Reliance-class medium endurance cutters are quite old.
The Coast Guard has built six Bertholf-class cutters out of a planned class of nine to replace the 12 Hamilton-class ships. How nine vessels can be in 12 places at once is a mystery, but that’s a discussion for another time.
For their next step, the Coast Guard has been building what have been called the Sentinel-class cutters to replace 49 Island-class cutters built from 1985-1992.
The Island-class cutters started out at 110 feet long, and were armed with a Mk 38 Bushmaster chain gun like the one used on the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, as well as a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns (“Ma Deuce”). They have a top speed of nearly 30 knots and a range of 3,300 miles. The Coast Guard had 49 of them, but an effort to lengthen and modernize them went bad, and eight vessels had to be mothballed.
The new cutters are 154 feet long. While the main gun is the same Mk 38 Bushmaster, a Sentinel-class cutter boasts four M2 heavy machine guns as a secondary battery – twice as many as an Island-class cutter. The cutter is slightly slower (28 knots) and has shorter range (2,900 miles), and can launch a Short-Range Prosecutor, essentially a rigid-hull inflatable boat.
The Coast Guard plans to build 58 of the Sentinel-class cutters, replacing the Island-class cutters. According to a report by Military.com, the 24th Sentinel-class cutter, USCGC Oliver Barry (WPC 1124), will be commissioned this coming October in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Coast Guard though, is planning to retire the Island-class cutter USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336), which is based at Hilo, without replacing it at the largest city on the easternmost of the Hawaiian Islands.
The Coast Guard is also planning to purchase the first nine of a planned 25-ship “Offshore Patrol Cutter” class. These vessels will replace not only the 14 ancient Reliance-class medium endurance cutters, but the 13 Bear-class medium endurance cutters as well.
Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked militants are quickly moving to drum up outrage over a sharp spike in civilian casualties said to have been caused by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, posting photos online of a destroyed medical center and homes reduced to rubble. “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants,” the caption reads.
The propaganda points to the risk that rising death tolls and destruction could undermine the American-led campaign against the militants.
During the past two years of fighting to push back the Islamic State group, the U.S.-led coalition has faced little backlash over casualties, in part because civilian deaths have been seen as relatively low and there have been few cases of single strikes killing large numbers of people.
In Iraq — even though sensitivities run deep over past American abuses of civilians — the country’s prime minister and many Iraqis support the U.S. role in fighting the militants.
That has the potential to undercut victories against the militants and stoke resentments that play into their hands.
At least 300 civilians have been killed in the offensive against IS in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, according to the U.N. human rights office — including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more are claimed to have been killed in another strike late March, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria since Trump took office.
In Syria, as fighting around Raqqa intensified, civilian fatalities from coalition airstrikes rose to 198 in March — including 32 children and 31 women — compared to 56 in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syria’s war. Over the course of the air campaign, from September 2014 through February, an average of 30 civilians were killed a month, according to the Observatory.
The U.S. military is investigating what role the U.S. played in the March 17 airstrike in Mosul, and American and Iraqi officials have said militants may have deliberately gathered civilians there and planted explosives in the building. The blast left an entire residential block flattened, reducing buildings to mangled concrete.
Among those who lost loved ones, resentment appears to be building toward the U.S.-led coalition and the ground forces it supports.
“How could they have used this much artillery on civilian locations?” asked Bashar Abdullah, a resident of the neighborhood known as New Mosul, who lost more than a dozen family members in the March 17 attack. “Iraqi and American forces both assured us that it will be an easy battle, that’s why people didn’t leave their houses. They felt safe.”
U.S. officials have said they are investigating other claims of casualties in Syria and Iraq.
Islamic State group fighters have overtly used civilians as human shields, including firing from homes where people are sheltering or forcing people to move alongside them as they withdraw. The group has imposed a reign of terror across territories it holds in Syria and Iraq, taking women as sex slaves, decapitating or shooting suspected opponents, and destroying archaeological sites.
Mass graves are unearthed nearly every day in former IS territory.
Now, the group is using the civilian deaths purportedly as a result of U.S.-led airstrikes in its propaganda machine.
Photos recently posted online on militant websites showed the destruction at the Mosul Medical College with a caption describing the Americans as the “Mongols of the modern era” who kill and destroy under the pretext of liberation. A series of pictures showing destroyed homes carried the comment: “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants under the rubble of houses bombed by American warplanes to claim victory. Who would dare say this is a war crime?”
In Syria, IS and other extremist factions have pushed the line that the U.S. and Russia, which is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime, are equal in their disregard for civilian lives.
U.S. “crimes are clear evidence of the ‘murderous friendship’ that America claims to have with the Syrian people, along with its claimed concern for their future and interests,” said the Levant Liberation Committee, an al-Qaida-led insurgent alliance.
Some Syrian opposition factions allied with the U.S. have also criticized the strikes, describing them as potential war crimes.
An analysis by the Soufan Group consultancy warned that rumors and accusations of coalition atrocities “will certainly help shape popular opinion once Mosul and Raqqa are retaken, thus serving a purpose for the next phase of the Islamic State’s existence.”
Criticism has also come from Russian officials, whose military has been accused of killing civilians on a large scale in its air campaign in Syria, particularly during the offensive that recaptured eastern Aleppo from rebels late last year.
“I’m greatly surprised with such action of the U.S. military, which has all the necessary equipment and yet were unable to figure out for several hours that they weren’t striking the designated targets,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, speaking at the U.N. Security Council about the March 17 strike.
Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, acknowledged the spike in civilian casualty reports could change the way the coalition is conducting the war. He said it was a “very valid” concern that loss of life and destruction could play into the hands of IS or cause some coalition members to waver.
“But the coalition is not going to back down when (the fight) gets hard or there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “That’s what ISIS wants.”
In Syria, the deadliest recent strike occurred earlier this month in a rebel-held area in the north. Opposition activists said a mosque was hit during evening prayers, killing around 40 people, mostly civilians, and wounding dozens of others. The U.S. said it struck an al-Qaida gathering across the street from the mosque, killing dozens of militants, adding they found no basis for reports that civilians were killed.
In Mosul, the scale of destruction wrought by increased artillery and airstrikes is immense in some areas.
Abdullah, the resident of New Mosul, buried 13 members of his family in a single day.
Standing in a field now being used as a graveyard, he said: “This was not a liberation. It was destruction.”
Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Mstyslav Chernov in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.
Joint Task Force 5-0 in Hawaii is helping authorities handle evacuations, provide security, and monitor air quality as Mount Kilauea spews out clouds of toxic gas and lava destroys homes in its path.
About 2,000 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes so far on the big island of Hawaii, but the majority are staying with friends and family, said Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, state public affairs officer. Only a few hundred are in temporary community shelters, he said.
More than 150 National Guard troops have volunteered for active duty to help with evacuations and to man checkpoints in front of the lava flow. Other troops are standing by in case more mass evacuations are needed.
Black Hawk helicopters are conducting aerial surveys to monitor the lava and check on fissures, Anthony said. At least 17 fissures in the Puna district are currently emitting lava and toxic gasses. One lava flow is approaching the Puna Geothermal Plant and Anthony said that situation is being watched closely.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)
Members of the 93rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team are monitoring air quality to ensure dangerous gasses do not encroach on populated areas.
In May 2018, Army National Guard Soldiers went door to door in neighborhoods such as the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens to warn residents of the danger and advise them to evacuate in front of the approaching lava flow. Anthony said some residents waited until the last minute.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)
“I have no idea how anybody could stay inside that evacuation zone for days on end,” Anthony said. “The amount of gas and smoke and steam … sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid and all is incredibly nasty stuff.”
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)
The troops of JTF 5-0 are staged in the town of Hilo, about 15 miles north of the evacuation zone. They go into the evacuation zone for about four hours at a time to conduct roving patrols and help police man checkpoints, Anthony said.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andrew Jackson)
Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara is the task force commander. He is the deputy adjutant general of Hawaii. Some active force officers and Soldiers from the island of Oahu have joined him on the JTF staff, Anthony said. They are planning for contingencies in case the volcano eruption worsens.
Despite the troubles with Mount Kilauea, across most of the island, business continues as usual, Anthony said.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andrew Jackson)
“It’s just a beautiful, picture-perfect day on a Hawaiian beach,” he said. Then he contrasted it with the situation inside the evacuation zone where toxic fumes kill foliage and hot lava obliterates structures.
“It’s a mix of paradise and a freaking hellscape,” he said.
Was it ransom? That is the question that is now being asked as a Wall Street Journal report of a $400 million payment to Iran emerges. The money, reportedly Swiss francs and Euros that were provided by European countries, was delivered in pallets of cold, hard cash via unmarked cargo plane as four Americans were released back in January. Three of the Americans were flown out of Iran by the Swiss, while the fourth returned to the United States on his own.
Supposedly, the money was delivered as part of a $1.7 billion settlement surrounding an arms deal made before the fall of the Shah of Iran. Among the big components of that deal were guided-missile destroyers and F-16 fighters. The destroyers later were taken into service with the United States Navy as the Kidd-class destroyers, all of whom were named for admirals killed in action during World War II. The timing of that settlement, though, raised questions about whether the settlement was cover for a ransom payment. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, told The Wall Street Journal, “This break with longstanding U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures.”
Cotton’s comments were echoed by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), who served for over two decades in the Naval Reserve. “Paying ransom to kidnappers puts Americans even more at risk. While Americans were relieved by Iran’s overdue release of illegally imprisoned American hostages, the White House’s policy of appeasement has led Iran to illegally seize more American hostages, including Siamak Namazi, his father Baquer Namazi, and Reza Shahini,” he said.
The senators’ comments seem to be backed by comments on Iranian state media by a high-ranking commander of the Basij, an Iranian militia force, who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies.”
Since the first payment in January, the three Americans mentioned in Senator Kirk’s statement have reportedly been seized by the Khameni regime, leading some to speculate as to whether or not Iran is seeking leverage to force the release of other frozen assets. One portion of those assets, $2 billion frozen in 2009, was awarded to the victims of Iranian-sponsored attacks in a case that was finally resolved by the Supreme Court.
Those attending the current four-week run of The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ production of “Henry IV” at the West Los Angeles VA Campus may immediately recognize Tom Hanks as Falstaff, but what they probably don’t realize is that a crew of veterans not only built the stage, but are also working behind the scenes to make the production a success.
“It’s exciting to partner with The Shakespeare Center to provide our veterans incredible opportunities like the chance to work alongside professional actors, and to view live entertainment right here on the West LA VA campus,” said Ann Brown, director of VA’s Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. “Partnerships like this one are vital to bringing the vision for this campus to life and to transform it into a vibrant, welcoming, veteran-centric community.”
“Henry IV” performances began June 5, 2018, and run through July 1, 2018, at the Japanese Garden located on the West Los Angeles VA Campus. The Shakespeare Center, in partnership with West LA VA, set aside 2,000 tickets for eligible veterans and active duty service members free of charge. To find out more on these tickets, visit http://www.ShakespeareCenter.org to receive information about reservations when they become available.
“We’re grateful to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the leaders of the West LA VA for this opportunity to bring our company to the Japanese Garden at the VA,” said Ben Donenberg, the founder and executive artistic director of The Shakespeare Center prior to construction. “We’re hiring and training 40 veterans to work on this production alongside consummate theater professionals to tell a riveting story about the forging of a Shakespearean hero. We’re proud to bring the vision of one of the American theatre’s most esteemed Broadway directors and the talents a world-class cast lead by Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, our long-time supporters, to this very special venue.”
Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, have been long-time supporters of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles through their 26 consecutive years of hosting and participating in Simply Shakespeare, a no holds barred impromptu reading of a Shakespeare comedy with celebrity casts and musicians that raises funds and awareness.
“The VA location speaks to our mission to present Shakespeare in urgent, vital, relevant and accessible ways that reflect the history, landscape and people of Los Angeles,” Donenberg said. “Our work with the VA and veterans inspires personal and community transformation.”
This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
For the first time since its meteoric rise in 2012 amid the chaos of war, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria is in retreat, battling rival militant groups in the north and fighting for survival in a key foothold near the capital, Damascus.
Over the past three weeks, the extremist group has been driven from nearly all of the northern province of Aleppo, losing dozens of fighters in battles there and in nearby Idlib province.
The fighting poses a major challenge to the militant group, already beset by infighting and a string of assassinations that have taken out some of its top leaders. Unlike previous battles in which al-Qaeda-linked fighters were able to quickly crush their opponents, the fighting has been particularly fierce, with the militants losing dozens of villages.
The al-Qaeda-linked coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee is still one of Syria’s most powerful armed groups, with fighters numbering in the thousands.
While the U.S.-led coalition and Russian-backed Syrian troops have focused on driving the Islamic State group from the country’s east, the al-Qaeda-linked group has consolidated its control over Idlib, where it remains the strongest force despite its recent losses there.
After the defeat of IS, al-Qaeda is seen as the main jihadi group that rejects any peace talks to try to end Syria’s seven-year conflict. Its presence in northern Syria and in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta has provided a pretext for President Bashar Assad and his Russian backers to wage war against opposition-held territory, since various de-escalation and cease-fire agreements have excluded al-Qaeda.
Several hundred al-Qaeda fighters holed up in eastern Ghouta have become a burden to the armed opposition battling government forces there, which has pressed the extremists to leave the area for their stronghold in Idlib in order to avoid the current crushing offensive.
The group’s presence has also raised concern in nations from Turkey to the United States that fear the global network founded by Osama bin Laden could use its presence in northern Syria to launch terrorist attacks around the world.
The recent fighting appears to have been triggered by the February 2018 assassination of a senior al-Qaeda official, Abu Ayman al-Masri, who was riding in a car with his wife when members of a rival militant group, Nour el-Din el-Zinki, fired on their vehicle, killing al-Masri and wounding his wife.
The killing led to battles in Aleppo and Idlib that have raged for the past three weeks.
The shooting was preceded by the merger of Nour el-Din el-Zinki and the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham, both former al-Qaeda allies now turned enemies.
Amid the recent battles, the new coalition, the Syria Liberation Front, has forced the al-Qaeda fighters to retreat west to Idlib.
The insurgents say that the war against al-Qaeda will not stop until the jihadi group is crushed in Syria — an ambitious goal. It is also a striking statement, considering the rival groups once turned to al-Qaeda’s experienced and battle-hardened fighters for support in the battle against Assad’s forces.
Yazan Mohammed, a media activist based in Idlib province, said that although al-Qaeda has lost some territory in the recent fighting, the group is far from being defeated.
The al-Qaeda fighters are “not scouts. They are an organized and powerful group,” Mohammed said.
In recent years, tens of thousands of rebels and civilians from around the country have fled to Idlib or been forced there by government troops, raising concerns that the presence of al-Qaeda will give the government a pretext to storm the province under the cover of Russian airstrikes as it has elsewhere, including in Aleppo in late 2016 and in the current offensive in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling IS, said in 2017 that Idlib is the largest al-Qaeda haven since bin Laden’s days in Afghanistan.
“This war will not stop,” said Bassam Haji Mustafa, a senior official with the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group. “This is a real war against al-Qaeda, its extremist ideas and terrorism.”
After the recent battlefield losses, a senior al-Qaeda commander, Abu Yaqzan al-Masri, released an audio asserting the militant group will soon crush the offensive and the focus will again be “to fight infidels,” an apparent reference to the West.
The commander’s comments coincided with a counteroffensive in which the al-Qaeda affiliate regained some villages it had lost earlier, although its presence in Aleppo province has almost ceased to exist.
Local activists said the al-Qaeda counteroffensive was backed by members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a powerful group consisting mostly of jihadis from China’s Turkic-speaking Uighur minority.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria’s seven-year conflict, says the fighting that broke out on Feb. 20, 2018, has killed 223 fighters on both sides, including 132 from al-Qaeda’s affiliate.
Despite losing dozens of villages in the recent battles, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda will be defeated easily in Idlib, where the militants have crushed many of their opponents in recent years.
“They will not be able to defeat the Committee,” said Abu Dardaa al-Shami, who sometimes fights with the al-Qaeda affiliate but refused to take part in the current battles, saying he only fights against government forces.
For some, reunion is a simple and hollow engagement — existing in great frequency, and holding little weight on an individual’s life. For others, it is a sought-after moment, a serendipitous experience that is immediately followed by the feel of a warm embrace and serenaded by sobs of joy. The latter has the undeniable potential of being a rock-solid memory, one that would never be forgotten. This feeling is amplified considerably when someone reunites with the one place that gives them all the comfort and joy in the world; home.
In this case, Chief Personnel Specialist Angie Burns, from Cali, Colombia, reunited with the country of her birth when the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived in Turbo, Colombia, Nov. 14, 2018. Burns was born in Cali, Colombia, several hours south of Turbo, and feels that this mission is important to her and all of her countrymen.
“It’s a great experience for me to see all of this,” said Burns. “I always hear about missions like this, but I haven’t done one yet. Especially coming down to Colombia where I know there are so many people in need.”
Chief Personnel Specialist Angie Burns shows Juan Sebastian, a Colombian boy and former patient, a map during his tour of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, in celebration of his 10th birthday.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop)
In 1994, Burns moved to the U.S. to follow her mother when she was 13 years old. She lived in New Jersey in her mother’s home and in the community. She barely spoke English before joining the Navy in 1999.
“I was not really exposed to it that much,” said Burns. “All of my friends spoke Spanish. All of my friends were Colombians. You always find the comfort zone and the comfort zone for me was to still be around Colombians and people who spoke Spanish. So, there wasn’t really a need for me to speak English prior to the Navy, because everyone spoke Spanish.”
Fast-forward 19 years and Burns is underway with Comfort supporting Enduring Promise 2018 as the deputy dispersing officer. Along with her daily duties of managing money for the ship and the crew, Burns found a niche that has been highly sought after on the mission; translating for Comfort’s leadership.
Any part she can do to help the Comfort team work to complete the mission at hand, she is happy to support.
“The mission is mainly a medical mission and I am not in that field,” said Burns. “I can’t take someone’s blood pressure. But, it’s an honor to be out here and helping whoever needs it with the little bit I can give to the mission.”
Burns has enjoyed her time being back in Colombia and believes that this mission has been making a great impact on people’s lives in this part of the world.
Chief Personnel Specialist Angie Burns gives Juan Sebastian, a Colombian boy and former patient, Task Force 49 patch during his tour of the hospital ship USNS Comfort, in celebration of his 10th birthday.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop)
“I spoke to some of the patients and they are so grateful,” said Burns. “They don’t get tired of telling you how grateful they are. One day, a little boy was onboard and I was translating for him. Everywhere he and his mother went, they kept saying they were so grateful and thanking everyone for everything we were doing for her son. I think that we are making a great difference.”
In a couple of days, Burns will say, “goodbye” to Colombia and will continue to support the Enduring Promise mission in Honduras during Comfort’s next scheduled mission stop.
Comfort is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity with the Americas.
The Air Force announced the return of several key Tyndall Air Force Base missions, as the base begins its long-term recovery following Hurricane Michael.
“We will rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base,” said Vice President Mike Pence while at the north Florida base Oct. 25, 2018.
A number of important missions will resume at Tyndall AFB in the next few months and others will shift to other locations for the time being. All but approximately 500 airmen will return to the Florida panhandle within 1 to 3 months.
“We are focused on taking care of our airmen and their families and ensuring the resumption of operations. These decisions were important first steps to provide stability and certainty,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “We’re working hard to return their lives to normalcy as quickly as possible.”
Units that will resume operations at Tyndall AFB:
• The 601st Air Force Operations Center will resume operations no later than Jan. 1, 2019. • The 337th Air Control Squadron will resume air battle manager training at a reduced rate by Jan. 1, 2019. A full production rate is expected no later than summer 2019. • Air Force Medical Agency Support team will continue their mission of medical facility oversight. • Air Force Office of Special Investigations will continue their mission from usable facilities. • 53rd Air-to-Air Weapons Evaluation Group will remain at Tyndall AFB. • The Air Force Legal Operations Agency will continue their mission from a usable facility at Tyndall AFB. • Air Force recruiters will continue their mission from local area offices in the Panama City, Florida, area. • The 823rd Red Horse Squadron, Detachment 1, will continue their mission at Tyndall AFB. • The Air Force Civil Engineer Center will continue their mission at Tyndall AFB.
The courtyard of a student housing complex sits flooded with water and debris following Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, 2018.
Units to be located at Eglin AFB, Florida, with reachback to Tyndall AFB:
• The 43rd and 2nd Fighter Squadrons’ F-22 Fighter Training and T-38 Adversary Training Units will relocate operations to Eglin AFB. Academic and simulator facilities at Tyndall AFB will be used to support training requirements, as well as Tyndall AFB’s surviving low observable maintenance facilities. • The 372nd Training Squadron, Detachment 4, will relocate with the F-22 Fighter Training Units to Eglin AFB.
Units with insufficient infrastructure to resume operations at Tyndall AFB at this time:
• Personnel and F-22s from the 95th Fighter Squadron will relocate to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. • The Noncommissioned Officer Academy will temporarily disperse across four locations: McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee; Maxwell AFB – Gunter Annex, Alabama; Keesler AFB, Mississippi; and Sheppard AFB, Texas.
The Air Force is taking great care to ensure airmen and their families are supported when they return to the base. Officials are working to identify specific airmen required to remain at Tyndall AFB for mission needs or to assist with the longer-term recovery of the base.
“By the winter holidays and in many cases well before, we expect all our airmen — military and civilians — to have certainty about their options, so that everyone is either on a path or already settled,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.
“The strength of Tyndall (AFB) comes from its airmen and their families. It will take us a while to restore buildings and infrastructure, but returning our airmen and their combat missions to full strength — at Tyndall or somewhere else in the interim — will happen quickly,” he added.
As details are worked out, affected airmen will be contacted by their chain of command or the Air Force Personnel Center. In the meantime, airmen should continue to monitor the Tyndall AFB Facebook page and the Air Force Personnel Center website for additional details as they become available.
Retired Rear Adm. John Kirby was a Navy public affairs officer for decades and now serves as the State Department’s top spokesman, so he’s been around journalists for a while and given plenty of briefings.
That may explain why he was so chill when — in the middle of reading a statement about defeating ISIS propaganda — he noticed a journalist playing Pokemon Go on a smartphone.
Look, WATM isn’t one of those places that wants to take people’s joy away. Do your thing and enjoy life. If Pokemon make you happy, chase those Pokemon.
But maybe let’s don’t interrupt a briefing about the importance of defeating ISIS on the internet by playing video games — Pokemon Go or otherwise.
Unless, of course, you’ve found a way to defeat ISIS via video games. Then please forward your idea to WATM so we can spread the word.