The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for a long time. Communist China acts as though they own this sea, a claim disputed by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The United States has also historically challenged those claims with a number of close passes near some of the islands the ChiComs have claimed.
Now, it seems as though the Secretary of Defense James Mattis must have gotten a little irritated with the Chinese buzzings and other aggressive actions in the region. According to Business Insider, the United States Navy is going to be paying a visit to Vietnam.
What will be going there is sending Communist China a big message: A Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. This will be the first visit since the fall of Saigon in 1975, which marked the end of the Vietnam War. The United States Navy has one such vessel, USS Ronald Reagan, forward-based in Japan.
The announcement by Mattis came during a trip to Southeast Asia. Mattis had also visited Indonesia, where he witnessed a demonstration by Indonesian special forces units that included drinking snake blood, breaking bricks with their heads, and deploying from helicopters with dogs. While in Vietnam, Mattis also visited the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, where over 1,600 Americans from the Vietnam War are still not accounted for.
An old Turkish proverb notes that “coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.” One possible interpretation for this is that you should enjoy your coffee under any circumstance.
Even fighting the Islamic State.
Turkish special forces troops are said to be taking this to the extreme, opening a sort of coffee house on a rooftop overlooking the Syrian city of Al-Bab. The Turks sent their special operators into the area in December, and now the city is said to be surrounded by Turkish forces.
Reddit user “bopollo” posted a few photos of Turkish troops near a sniper overwatch position. While there’s no concrete evidence the photo was taken in Al-Bab, the writing is on the wall.
Bopollo is a frequent commenter and contributor on operations and developments of the Syrian Civil War. The photo above shows directions to both Al-Bab and Kabbasin, both towns in Syria still held by ISIS.
The road between the two cities is also held by the terror organization. It’s fairly common for troops to write graffiti on the walls of buildings they captured and held. It turns out Turkish special operators are no different.
While it’s entirely unlikely that special forces troops opened an actual functioning business, the building is more likely just an area secured by the Su Altı Taarruz, Turkey’s Navy SEALs (you can see the flag with the SAT logo on it above).
But because Turkish people are funny and there are at least 106 Starbucks locations in Istanbul, it’s likely some troops are living it up as best they can on the front lines against ISIS.
Twists and turns, bumps and bruises, the occasional crash. For many Veterans, the sport of bobsled is a metaphor for life.
Army Veteran Will Castillo’s story began on April 27, 2007. Castillo – then a staff sergeant – was riding along with Spc. Eddie Tamez and Pfc. David Kirkpatrick on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, when their Humvee struck an improvised explosive device (IED).
The aftermath was a blur. When Castillo awoke, his sister and mother were by his bedside.
“I could hardly talk I was so heavily medicated,” he said. “I was just trying to survive.”
He was 27 years old, and his injuries had cost him his left leg – but he was alive. Tamez and Kirkpatrick did not survive.
Castillo spent the next two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering and learning to navigate life with one leg. Visitors came by to give him hugs, handshakes and well wishes. The Director of Homeland Security even offered him a job.
In 2009, he was discharged from Walter Reed, and he moved to Orlando to start anew. But life wasn’t good.
“I had survivor’s guilt. I thought about my guys, what had I done wrong. I was depressed. I was suicidal.”
His marriage crumbled, and his mental health deteriorated.
“All the struggles I was going through. I was Baker Acted,” Castillo said, referring to the Florida law that allows for emergency or involuntary commitment for mental health treatment.
He recovered, remarried and again tried to rebuild. But his struggles continued and, in 2015, he divorced for the second time.
In 2017, Castillo returned to Walter Reed for a follow-up operation to his injured leg. His life took an unexpected turn.
“A friend of mine was there and said to me, ‘You should try bobsled.’ I was extremely overweight, but I figured it would be something to keep me busy.”
Army Veteran Will Castillo displays his gold medal from the Empire State Winter Games para bobsled competition. Castillo is one of the world’s top ranked sledders in the sport. (Courtesy photo)
His first attempt was skeleton, a sport where the slider rides face down and head-first on a small sled down an ice track at speeds of more than 80 mph.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “I was 260 pounds. I was crashing into the walls. Those little sleds are not made for that weight.”
After a year at skeleton, he switched to monobob, a one-person bobsled that looks like a rocket on ice skates. He knew instantly he’d found his sport.
“Everything just slowed down, I was able to see everything. There was danger, but I did it. There’s no disability on that ice. For that one minute, it’s awesome.”
Veterans like Castillo are dominating the sport in the United States, thanks in large part to camps like the ones at Lake Placid. From 2015 to 2020, VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant had funded 16 camps for Veterans at Lake Placid and Park City, Utah, the only two bobsled track sites in the country.
Thanks to the VA grant, Veterans’ only cost to attend is travel to and from the camp.
Camps are typically five days and allow Veterans to stay on site at the Olympic Training Center. Once there, Veterans receive training from strength and conditioning experts, physical therapists and sports psychologists. After completing initial training, they head to the ice track where they learn the fundamentals of para-bobsled and skeleton.
“With bobsled, things are pretty expensive,” Seevers said. “To get the ice time and the bobsleds is a lot. Each of the bobsleds is ,000. For us to rent the sleds and pay for track time is typically between ,500 and ,000, dependent on the number of Veterans sliding.”
Veterans among world’s elite
At the 2019-2020 Para World Cup competition, all five U.S. team members were Veterans. They finished the season ranked 7th, 16th, 18th, 21st and 24th in the world.
Castillo is the number one ranked para-bobsledder in the U.S. and will pilot USA 1, the name of the monobob designated for Team USA’s top slider, in upcoming competitions. It’s an opportunity he humbly accepts.
“It all starts with VA and those camps,” he said. “Then you really have to put the work in and you start seeing the rewards. You get to put that uniform on again (and) represent the USA with integrity and honor.”
Para bobsled and para skeleton are relatively new sports with the first international competitions having taken place in 2013. Still, neither sport is recognized as Paralympic eligible. But that may soon be changing.
Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is hoping her success can help the sport and other Veterans advance to the pinnacle of international competition.
Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is one of the United States’ top para bobsledders. Athletes are hoping the sport will become one of the newest Paralympic competitions. (Courtesy photo)
“I always liked winter sports, even though I don’t like the cold,” she said. “I’d watch the Olympics on TV and bobsled and skeleton were sports I always loved.”
In 1995, Frazier-Kim was injured in a training accident in the Marine Corps. In January 2019, after years of complications, pain and suffering, doctors at Ft. Sam Houston amputated her right leg above the knee.
“(My doctor) asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I want to make Team USA. And he said, ‘We’ll get you there.'”
In November 2018, in anticipation of her surgery, she was sent for physical therapy to get her into shape.
“I changed from a mom body to an athletic body.”
After the surgery, she continued physical therapy with her therapist, an ex-football player.
“He worked me out like I was on the football team. I was working out like a beast, doing balancing exercises, strength training, and someone there knew Kim Seevers.”
Like Castillo, Frazier-Kim says she was invited to one of the camps at Lake Placid. She completed her first camp in October 2019.
In less than a year, Frazier-Kim has become one of the top female sliders in the sport. Para bobsled is gender neutral with men and women competing together.
“There’s nothing like it. It’s the most exhilarating feeling. The excitement, the adrenaline rush, you’re going so fast. It’s crazy,” she said.
But her rapid success did not come without bumps and bruises along the way.
“Your legs and shoulders are hitting the sides of the bobsled. It’s not for everyone,” she said. “You have to think about every curve while you’re being slapped back and forth.”
Despite the challenges, she says her goal now is simple – to be the best.
“I plan on doing it for as long as I can – as long as my body can take it. And being a Marine, I don’t know any other way.”
A U.S. official says North Korea has conducted its first missile launch in more than two months.
The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
The Pentagon was more cautious, calling it a “probable” missile launch. Col. Rob Manning, a spokesman said, “We detected a probable missile launch from North Korea” at approximately 1:30 p.m. EST. He said the Pentagon is assessing the situation and has no further information to provide, including what kind of missile may have been launched.
It would be the first North Korean missile test since it launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sept. 15 that flew over northern Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
The White House says President Donald Trump has been briefed on North Korea’s apparent ballistic missile launch.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders says in a tweet that Trump “was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea.”
At the time of the launch, Trump was in a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.
A U.S. official says North Korea has conducted its first missile launch in more than two months.
The Pentagon says it detected and tracked a single North Korean missile launch and believes it was an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said Nov. 28 that the missile was launched from Sain Ni, North Korea, and traveled about 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan.
Manning says the Pentagon’s information is based on an initial assessment of the launch. He says a more detailed assessment was in the works.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary says North Korea has fired a missile that might have landed inside the country’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
Yoshihide Suga says the missile appears to have been fired from North Korea’s western coast and the government is gathering information and analyzing the launch data.
Suga says repeated provocation by the North is unacceptable and Tokyo has lodged a strong protest.
Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho. (U.N. photo by Mark Garten)
Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho says the government has told the North Koreans “that we criticize their behavior in the strongest terms possible” following a new missile launch.
He told reporters Nov. 28 at U.N. headquarters that “we are very concerned and we have condemned them publicly.”
U.N. Security Council President Sebastiano Cardi says he has been in contact with key U.N. members, but no request has been made yet for a meeting.
Cardi says he is scheduled to brief the Security Council on Nov. 29.
Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary says the missile might have landed inside the country’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
Cardi says if it fell in that zone, it would be an “even greater” danger.
President Donald Trump says the United States will “take care of it” following North Korea’s latest missile launch.
Trump told reporters Nov. 28 that “it is a situation that we will handle.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says North Korea is continuing to build missiles that can “threaten everywhere in the world.”
Mattis says a missile that North Korea launched early Nov. 29 local time flew higher than its previous projectiles. He says South Korea has fired pinpoint missiles into surrounding waters to make certain that North Korea understands it can be “taken under fire” by the South.
He says North Korea is endangering world peace, regional peace, and “certainly the United States.”
North Korea ended a 10-week pause in its weapons testing and threatened to heighten regional tensions by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan.
Mattis spoke Nov. 28 during a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and the top Republican congressional leaders.
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch.
Italy chairs the council and its spokesman says the Nov. 29 afternoon meeting was requested by Japan, the U.S., and South Korea.
The Security Council has already imposed its toughest-ever sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s government in response to its escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs and the U.S. and Japan are likely to seek even stronger measures.
The launch was possibly North Korea’s longest. It is certain to raise tensions in the U.N.’s most powerful body.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called North Korea’s latest missile test a “serious threat” to global peace and stressed the need for stronger sanctions and pressure against Pyongyang to discourage its nuclear ambitions.
Moon said Nov. 29 at a National Security Council meeting that the South will not “sit and watch” North Korea’s provocations and will work with the United States to strengthen its security.
Moon says South Korea anticipated the latest North Korean launch and prepared for it.
South Korea’s military conducted its own missile drills that started just minutes after North Korea’s launch was detected.
President Donald Trump is speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after North Korea launched what the Pentagon said was an intercontinental ballistic missile.
White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. tweeted a photo of Trump on Nov. 28 in his office. He says Trump was “speaking with @JPN_PMO @AbeShinzo, regarding North Korea’s launch of a intercontinental ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan…”
Abe says Japan will not back down against any provocation and would maximize pressure on the North in its alliance with the U.S.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has raised concerns that North Korea’s perfection of an intercontinental ballistic missile would let regional security “spiral out of control” and make the United States consider a pre-emptive strike against the North.
Seoul’s presidential office said Nov. 29 that Moon said during a National Security Council meeting that it would be important to prevent a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens the South with nuclear weapons or the U.S. considers a pre-emptive strike to eliminate the threat.
Moon has called for his military to take further steps to strengthen its capabilities following a recent agreement between Seoul and Washington to lift the warhead payload limits on South Korean missiles.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has told government officials to “closely review” whether the latest North Korean missile launch will affect South Korean efforts to successfully host next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Seoul’s presidential office reported Nov. 29 that Moon said during a National Security Council meeting that it would be important to find ways to “stably manage” the situation.
South Korean preparations for the February games have been overshadowed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests this year. France has said its Olympic team won’t travel to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed.
South Korea has been hoping North Korea takes part in the games to ease concerns, but it’s unclear whether the North will.
North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and has ignored the South’s proposals for dialogue in recent months.
President Donald Trump has spoken with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss the countries’ response to North Korea’s latest missile launch.
The White House says both leaders “underscored the grave threat that North Korea’s latest provocation poses” not only to U.S. and South Korea, “but to the entire world.”
The two presidents also “reaffirmed their strong condemnation of North Korea’s reckless campaign to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, noting that these weapons only serve to undermine North Korea’s security and deepen its diplomatic and economic isolation.”
Trump and Moon spoke at length about the threat posed by North Korea during Trump’s trip to Asia earlier this month.
No matter where you try to hide, Army Special Forces will find you.
That message is clear by watching this video. Special Forces soldiers catch up with some insurgents in what looks like the only structure in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, it’s like finding Luke Skywalker’s house on Tattooine.
However, Skywalker didn’t have SF hunting him down. The door opens and all hell breaks loose. ISIS should know that, especially since they just freed 70 hostages from their clutches.
The US Navy sent the USS Wasp into the South China Sea early April 2019 loaded with an unusually heavy configuration of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
“We are seeing a fleet experiment going on right now,” Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and naval-affairs expert, told Business Insider, explaining that the Navy and the Marines are experimenting with the “Lightning Carrier” concept.
Light carriers armed with these short landing and take-off F-35s could theoretically take over operations in low-end conflicts, potentially freeing up the “supercarriers” to focus on higher-end threats such as Russia and China, or significantly boost the firepower of the US Navy carrier force, experts told Business Insider.
The USS Wasp with a heavy F-35 configuration, with 10 Joint Strike Fighters on its flight deck.
(U.S. Navy photo)
The USS Wasp has been drilling in the South China Sea with at least 10 F-35s on board.
The USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, is participating in the ongoing Balikatan exercises with the Philippines. It deployed with at least 10 F-35s, more than the ship would normally carry.
“With each new exercise, we learn more about [the F-35Bs] capabilities as the newest fighter jet in our inventory, and how to best utilize them and integrate them with other platforms,” a Marine Corps spokesperson told Business Insider.
The Wasp was recently spotted running flight operations near Scarborough Shoal, a contested South China Sea territory.
The USS America.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Thor Larson)
The Navy and Marine Corps began experimenting with the “Lighting carrier” concept a few years ago.
The Marine Corps did a Lightning carrier proof of concept demonstration in November 2016, loading 12 F-35B fighters onto the USS America, the newest class of amphibious assault ship intended to serve as a light aircraft carrier.
“The experiments led to the realization that this is an option,” Bryan Clark, a naval-affairs expert and former special assistant to the chief of naval operations, told Business Insider.
“I think the Marine Corps may be realizing that this is the best use of their large amphibious assault ships. I think you are going to see more and more deployments like that,” he added.
Possible Lightning Carrier configuration.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
A Lightning carrier might carry almost two dozen F-35s.
The Marine Corps elaborated on its plan for the Lightning carrier in its 2017 Marine Aviation Plan, which suggests that the Marines should be operating 185 F-35Bs by 2025, more than “enough to equip all seven” amphibious assault ships.
“While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier,” the corps said, “it can be complementary if employed in imaginative ways.” These ships, the America-class ships in particular, could theoretically be outfitted with 16 to 20 F-35s, along with rotary refueling aircraft.
“A Lightning Carrier, taking full advantage of the amphibious assault ship as a sea base, can provide the naval and joint force with significant access, collection and strike capabilities,” the service said.
An AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron 311 landing aboard USS Bonhomme Richard.
The Lightning carrier is based on an older concept that has been around for decades.
The Lightning carrier concept is a rebranded version of the classic “Harrier carrier,” the repurposing of amphibious assault ships to serve as light carriers armed with AV-8B Harrier jump jets.
“We would load them up with twice or even three times as many Harriers as what they would normally send out with an amphibious readiness group and then use it as, essentially, a light carrier to provide sea and air control in a limited area,” Hendrix said.
The “Harrier Carrier” concept has been employed at least five times. The USS Bonhomme Richard, for example, was reconfigured to serve as a “Harrier Carrier” during the invasion of Iraq, the Navy said in a 2003 statement.
“This is not the norm for an amphib,” a senior Navy officer said at the time.”Our air assets dictate that we operate more like a carrier.”
F-35B Lightning II aircraft on the USS Wasp.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)
The Lightning carrier could boost the overall firepower of the US carrier force.
Lightning carriers, while less effective than a supercarrier — primarily because of the limited range of the F-35Bs compared with the Navy’s F-35Cs and the much smaller number of aircraft embarked — offer a real opportunity to boost the firepower of the carrier force. “You are going to see an increase in strike control and sea-control potential,” Hendrix told Business Insider.
The amphibs could be integrated into carrier task forces to strengthen its airpower, or they could be deployed in independent amphibious readiness groups with their own supporting and defensive escorts, dispersing the force for greater survivability and lethality.
“You can turn the light amphibious ships into sea-control, sea-denial, or even strike assets in a meaningful way to distribute the force and bring this concept of distributed lethality to bear,” Hendrix said, adding that this is a “wise” move given the rising challenges of adversaries employing tactics such as long-range missiles and mines to deny the US Navy access.
The USS Wasp.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)
Deploying light carriers armed with F-35s to deal with low-end threats also frees up the supercarriers to address more serious challenges.
“What we’ve been seeing over the past year is the Navy using Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARGs) with [amphibious assault ships] in the Middle East in place of Carrier Strike Groups,” Clark said.
The Navy has then been able to focus its supercarriers on the Atlantic and the Pacific, where great powers such as Russia and China are creating new challenges for the US military.
Last fall, the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, sailed into the Persian Gulf, and it was during that deployment that a Marine Corps F-35B launched from the ship and entered combat for the first time, targeting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
The USS Harry S. Truman, initially slated for service in the Persian Gulf, relocated to the north Atlantic for participation in NATO exercises.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
While this figure could easily be true, it’s difficult to verify, given Russia’s continual game of misinformation. It’s also unclear if that figure included Russian mercenaries who operate in the country, namely to guard oil fields.
Cards for Connection is a free resource that puts simple coping skills and VA phone numbers directly into veterans’ hands. Originally created for veterans who had experienced homelessness, the card deck has now been updated with information for all veterans.
As a result, veterans playing a game of cards read positive affirmations, reminders to breathe, and encouragement to make a connection with others.
Developing Cards for Connection
VA received input by veterans and that helped inform the VA staff that works with them.
Some veterans reported great feedback. Many wanted to see phone numbers on the cards, whether to see a doctor, find a safe place to sleep, or ask about VA resources.
Cards for Connection hopes to help Veterans cope with different situations.
“I like the feel of them. I was noticing the texture, it’s nice,” said one veteran.
Another veteran said, “I love this picture. If you’re in a [bad place], and you actually have a picture of something beautiful to look at, that’s something great.”
Veteran feedback will update future versions
VA will collect additional feedback on the cards via anonymous pre-addressed/stamped postcards. It will also collect from focus groups and anonymous staff surveys. VA will use this information to update future versions.
How do I get a deck of Cards for Connection?
There are about 8,000 decks available for any veteran who could benefit from using them. Requests for a deck from veterans can be sent to Katherine.Juhasz@va.gov.
With Russia’s announcement of a new permanent naval base in Tartus, Syria – long a port used by Russian (and prior to 1991, Soviet) forces, Moscow’s expansion into that war torn country continues even as the Assad regime is wracked by civil war.
But Russia has had a long history in the Med.
Tartus Naval Base has been used by the Russians since 1971. In those 45 years, it served as a forward operating location for the Fifth Eskadra (5th Operational Squadron). This unit was intended to counter the presence of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Med. The base had not been able to permanently support major vessels like the Kuznetov-class carrier; the Kirov-class battlecruisers; the Slava-class cruisers; or even modern destroyers and frigates in Russian service. The new construction at the base is intended to make it a permanent base for carriers and larger vessels as opposed to just a place to park.
The Fifth Eskadra was formed in 1967 after the Egypt-Israel Six Day War. The Soviets had been unable to find a way to inflict damage on the Sixth Fleet in the event of a war with the United States. This was not a solid strategic position from its perspective, and Russian naval legend Sergei Gorshkov pestered his superiors until the unit was formed.
The unit usually consisted of as many as 80 vessels, including two guided-missile cruisers and a number of smaller escorts like the Mod Kashin-class destroyer or Krivak-class frigate, ten diesel-electric submarines, and a host of auxiliary vessels. The Sixth Fleet usually had half that total, but much of its strength would be concentrated in a carrier battle group which could make life exciting (not to mention short) for the Soviet vessels.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians disbanded the Fifth Eskadra at the end of 1992 — a little over 25 years after the squadron was formed. Two decades later, in 2013, the Russians re-formed the squadron as the Syrian civil war heated up.
Now with about 10 vessels, it is a shadow of the force that faced off with the Sixth Fleet. Still, it is a sign that Russia is reasserting itself in the region.
Defense Department officials detected and tracked multiple missile launches out of North Korea Monday, four of which landed in the Sea of Japan, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters this morning.
Davis said the four medium-range ballistic missiles were launched from the northwest corner of North Korea, traveled over the Korean Peninsula and out into the sea, totaling about 1,000 kilometers in distance, or more than 620 miles.
The missiles landed in the vicinity of Akita Prefecture off the coast of Japan near that nation’s exclusive economic zone, he said. The EEZ is defined as a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.
“The North American Aerospace Defense Command detected that the missiles from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” Davis said. “This [North Korean missile launch] is very similar in terms of the path and the distance of the three missiles that flew into Japan’s EEZ in September 2016.”
He added, “These launches, which coincide with the start of our annual defensive exercise, Foal Eagle, with the Republic of Korea’s military, are consistent with North Korea’s long history of provocative behavior, often timed to military exercises that we do with our ally,”
The United States stands with its allies “in the face of this very serious threat and are taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles, such as the deployment of a [Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense] battery to South Korea, which will happen as soon as feasible,” Davis said.
U.S. Strikes AQAP in Yemen
Also overnight, the United States made an airstrike on Yemen’s Abyan Governorate against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula fighters, bringing to 40 the strikes there in the past five nights, Davis said.
Since the first airstrike against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen on Feb. 28, “We will continue to target [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] militants and facilities to disrupt the organization’s plot and protect American lives,” the captain said.
The strikes have been coordinated with and done in full partnership with the government of Yemen with the goal of denying al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists’ freedom of movement within traditional safe havens, Davis emphasized.
The captain also confirmed the deaths of three al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operatives in March 2 and 3 airstrikes in Yemen.
Usayd al Adani, whom Davis described as a longtime al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula explosives expert and facilitator who served as the organization’s emir, was killed in a U.S. airstrike March 2 within the Abyan Governorate. Killed with him was former Naval Air Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainee Yasir al Silmi.
Killed March 3 was al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula fighter and communications intermediary for Adani, Harithah al Waqri, Davis said.
“[Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] has taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Yemen to plot, direct and inspire terror attacks against the United States and our allies,” he said. “And we will continue to work with the government of Yemen to defeat [al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula].
Frank Levingston, the oldest living World War II veteran, died on May 3 in Bossier Parish, Louisiana. He was 110 years old, which also made him the oldest living man in the United States.
According to his wikipedia page, he was born on November 13, 1905 in North Carolina, one of seven children. Levingston enlisted in the US Army in 1942. He served as private during the war in the Allied invasion of Italy which lasted from September 1943 to January 1944. After receiving an honorable discharge in 1945, he became a union worked specializing in cement finishing. He never married.
On August 16, 2015, he became the oldest recognized living military veteran in the United States, following the death of Emma Didlake.
“I’ve been through so many dangerous things and I’m still here. I’m thankful to the almighty God for it,” Levingston said in an interview with WTVR marking his 110th birthday. “I think I’m one of the blessed ones.”
Pamela Gobert, one of Levingston’s good friends, said in that interview: “He’s always got a kind word and he lets me know that sometimes it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Gobert. “One time we were at Memorial and a young lady asked him ‘Mr. Frank how old are you going to live?’ and he said ‘110.’” He was right.
In December of 2015, he went on an honor flight to Washington, D.C. – it was his first time to ever visit the nation’s capital and war monuments. He helped to mark Pearl Harbor Day by taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Monument. He was unable to meet the President but did meet representatives of his state.
On Sept. 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler set World War II in motion when he invaded Poland. Germany attacked from the west, and 16 days later the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, by secret agreement with Hitler, invaded from the east. Poland kept fighting… but it never had a chance.
When Poland surrendered on Oct. 6, it disappeared from the map, its territory carved up and incorporated into Germany and the USSR. The dismemberment of Poland was but the first in a series of rapid-fire victories by the Nazis: On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded both Denmark, which fell that same day, and Norway, which fell on June 10. By then Hitler had also invaded Belgium, which surrendered after 18 days; Luxembourg, which fell after one day; the Netherlands, which held out for five; and even mighty France, which capitulated on June 22, after just five weeks of fighting.
Then on July 10, Hitler began bombing England in preparation for Operation Sea Lion, his planned invasion of the British Isles. The British faced the threat almost entirely alone: by then every other country in western Europe had either fallen to Germany, was allied with it, or had declared its neutrality in the hope of avoiding Hitler’s wrath.
Even the United States was officially neutral, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was under tremendous pressure from isolationists to keep America out of the war. What little aid he was able to send to Great Britain was menaced by German U-boats patrolling the North Atlantic.
With the threat of invasion looming, Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued new orders to Porton Down, a secret military facility in southern England set up during World War I to study the use of poison gas as a military weapon. The facility was created after the Germans introduced chlorine gas to the battlefield in 1915, and work at Porton Down had continued ever since. Now Churchill gave it a new project: find a way to use the deadly disease anthrax in battle. It was out of this crash germ-warfare program that Operation Vegetarian was born.
Anthrax is the name of a disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, which lives in soil. If the seedlike spores of the bacteria enter a cut in a person’s skin (a form of the disease known as cutaneous anthrax), the result is a serious infection whose most distinctive feature is a coal-black scab. That’s how anthrax gets its name—anthrakis is the Greek word for coal.
When left untreated, cutaneous anthrax is deadly about 20 percent of the time. When the spores are eaten or inhaled, the danger is far greater: gastrointestinal anthrax kills animals or people who eat the spores about 60 percent of the time, and inhalational anthrax kills its victims about 95 percent of the time. (Modern treatments have cut the mortality rates considerably, but those treatments weren’t available in the 1930s.)
DEATH FROM THE SKY
When anthrax spores are eaten by grazing livestock, even if the infected animals don’t die, their meat cannot be eaten because it will spread the disease to anyone or anything that consumes it. This was what the scientists at Porton Down decided to focus on: they came up with a plan to disrupt the German meat supply by wiping out vast herds of grazing cattle across northern Germany.
They would accomplish this by dropping anthrax-tainted “cattle cakes” (concentrated dietary supplements that are typically fed to cattle) from Royal Air Force bombers over the pastures and grazing fields. Any cattle that ate the cakes would die within a few days, as would many thousands—or perhaps even millions—of Germans who came in contact with the cattle or the cakes.
Once a portion of the German meat supply was shown to be poisoned, the thinking at Porton Down went, the country’s entire meat supply would become suspect. Terrified Germans would abstain from eating meat entirely (hence the name Operation Vegetarian) making wartime food shortages—and German morale—even worse.
Officials at Porton Down placed an order with a supplier for enough raw materials to make for five million cakes. Then it contracted a London toilet soap manufacturer to cut the material into individual cakes about an inch in diameter and weighing less than an ounce apiece. Finally, Porton Down hired a dozen soap makers, all of them women, to come to the secret facility and inject the cattle cakes with anthrax spores supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, which produced them in a lab.
By the spring of 1944 all five million cakes had been manufactured and pumped full of anthrax; the modified RAF bombers that would drop them over northern Germany were ready as well. Porton Down’s planners estimated that it would take about 18 minutes for the bombers to reach their targets over Germany. Upon arrival they would drop 400 cakes every two minutes in a bombing run that lasted 20 minutes, dropping 4,000 cakes in all. If 12 bombers were used in the mission, they’d drop 48,000 cattle cakes. When they finished, most of the grazing land in northern Germany would be contaminated with anthrax. And there would be millions of cattle cakes left over for future bombing runs in other parts of Germany.
“The cattle must be caught in the open grazing fields when lush spring grass is on the wane. Trials have shown that these tablets are found and consumed by the cattle in a very short time,” Dr. Paul Fildes, director of Porton Down’s biology department, observed. And because the anthrax spores can remain viable in the soil for a century or more, the poisoned land would remain uninhabitable for generations. No cattle would be able to graze there, nor would humans be able to step foot there for many decades to come.
All that remained was for Winston Churchill to give the order for Operation Vegetarian to proceed. The order never came. Why not? Because by then the war had turned decisively against Germany. Operation Sea Lion, Hitler’s plan for a land invasion of England, was never put into effect: British fighters shot so many German planes out of the sky in the run-up to the invasion that Hitler was forced to put it aside. Instead, he set his sights on Russia, and invaded his former ally in a sneak attack on June 22, 1941.
After months of steady progress, by October 1941 the Nazi invasion of Russia began to bog down, and Hitler failed to take Moscow before winter set in. Instead of finding shelter in the city, his ill-equipped, poorly clothed troops suffered through the brutal Russian winter in the open countryside, and many thousands died or were incapacitated by frostbite. Moscow never did fall, and by spring the Russians had regrouped and began to push back against the Germans. Then on December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into the war. His hands no longer tied by the isolationists, President Roosevelt could now back Great Britain with all of the military might at his command.
When Hitler’s attempt to take the city of Stalingrad failed in February 1943, the German advance against Russia was halted completely. For the rest of the war, the Russians pushed the Nazis relentlessly back toward Germany. The Allied invasion of Italy followed in July 1943; then on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the long-awaited Allied invasion of France began.
THANKS, BUT NO THANKS
With Great Britain’s survival no longer in question and the defeat of Germany just a matter of time, in the spring of 1944 Winston Churchill opted against putting Operation Vegetarian into action. At the war’s end in 1945, all five million cattle cakes were fed into an incinerator at Porton Down and destroyed.
Any doubts as to just how deadly an anthrax attack over thousands of square miles might have been were laid to rest in the one place where the British actually did use anthrax during the war: Gruinard Island, a 520-acre island less than a mile off the coast of northwest Scotland. Early in the war, the British requisitioned the island, and in 1942 and 1943 they used it as a test site for anthrax bombs. In one such test, 60 sheep were tethered in a line and an anthrax bomb was detonated upwind from them. The sheep inhaled the anthrax spores, and within a few days all of them were dead.
Gruinard Island, Scotland, was a testing site for Anthrax (Image Père Ubu Flickr)
If you had to dispose of 60 anthrax-infected sheep without getting yourself killed in the process, how would you do it? The Porton Down scientists dumped them at the bottom of a cliff on the island, then buried them (or so they hoped) by dynamiting the cliff. But one of the sheep was blown into the water and floated to the Scottish mainland, where it washed ashore on a beach. There it was partially eaten by a dog. The dog died, but not before spreading anthrax to seven cows, two horses, three cats, and 50 more sheep, all of whom died as well.
Quick payments to the farmers who owned the animals hushed up the incident, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the truth about what killed their dog, cows, horses, cats, and sheep finally became known.
When the British government requisitioned Gruinard Island at the start of the war, it planned to return the island to its owners once the war was over and the anthrax spores were removed. But several attempts to clean the spores failed, and in 1946 the government gave up. It bought the island outright and ordered the public to stay away. To drive the message home, it posted scary signs on Gruinard’s beaches that read:
THIS ISLAND IS GOVERNMENT PROPERTY UNDER EXPERIMENT THE GROUND IS CONTAMINATED WITH ANTHRAX AND DANGEROUS LANDING IS PROHIBITED BY ORDER 1987
The government promised to sell the island back to its owners for £500 (about $620 today) if a way to render it “fit for habitation by man and beast” was ever found. For decades afterward, Porton Down scientists visited the island regularly and took soil samples to see if the anthrax spores were still there. They were.
Finally in the 1980s, the government gave up on waiting for the spores to disappear naturally. It hauled away tons of the most contaminated topsoil and injected 280 tons of formaldehyde into the island’s groundwater to see if that would kill the remaining spores. They also reintroduced sheep to the island. In 1990, when those sheep failed to die and fresh soil samples showed no signs of anthrax, the scary signs were removed and the descendants of the original owners were permitted to buy the island back for £500, just as promised.
So is that the end of the story? The British government believes (and certainly hopes) so, but the Ministry of Defence has set up a fund to compensate any future victims of anthrax on Gruinard Island…just in case.