Morton, Illinois Police say Dustin Brown rushed into the Morton Public Library last week brandishing two hunting knives, each at least five inches long. He allegedly announced he was there “to kill some people” and focused his ire on sixteen home school students in a chess club.
Pictured: Dustin Brown’s mug shot
He allegedly approached the children, but standing in his way was 75-year-old James Vernon, a World War II-era Army veteran who was trained but never served in combat. Noticing Brown would back away when he moved closer, Vernon positioned himself between the alleged attacker and the door, and told the kids to get out of the library.
“I gave them the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that! Quick, like rabbits,” he told the Pekin Times, the local newspaper.
Once the room was clear, Vernon said “there was no more talking.” Reports say Brown slashed at Vernon from his right, but Vernon says he knew he was right-handed by small cuts on his left arm and blocked the slash.
“I should have hit his wrist. That’s how you’re trained, but it’s been half a century,” he said. Vernon says, despite “bleeding pretty good,” he overcame Brown, throwing him on a table, pinning his left hand under his body, and hitting Brown’s collarbone until he dropped the knife.
hero [heer-oh]: noun, 1. a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.A library employee finally came to help and keep the assailant pinned until the authorities arrived. Vernon suffered wounds to two arteries and a tendon on his left hand from the attack.
“I failed my mission to kill everyone,” Brown reportedly told police.
Brown was facing prosecution on charges of child pornography. Now he’s looking at attempted murder.
The French military doesn’t get a lot of love these days; their crushing defeat and capitulation in 1940 still colors the way the world sees the armed forces of France. It’s a completely undeserved reputation, however. The French are much better at fighting wars than you might think.
One part of this is the French Foreign Legion and its cadre of criminals, strongmen, war junkies, and other badasses who decided to get a clean slate by joining the Legion. In World War II, the Legion was just a capable as it is today — and they capitulated to no one. In 1942, they were joined by a group of Jewish soldiers who decided they had enough of the anti-Semitism in Europe.
At a small oasis in Libya, guarding an old Turkish fort, the Free French Foreign Legion begin to reinforce their position. The fort, called Bir Hakeim, was a sort of last stand for the Allies. If Field Marshal Erwin Rommel could punch his army through the French position, he could take the vital port city of Tobruk. Near the end of the Legionnaires’ lines was a place called Bir-el Hamat.
This is where the Jewish fighters of WWII would make their presence felt.
They were a small group of 400 minelayers sent by the British and led by Maj. Félix Liebmann to reinforce the French position. They had no heavy weapons and were generally poorly armed and equipped. Rommel’s men targeted the Jewish position as the weakest point and sent a truce flag over to demand the Jewish surrender. When they refused, the Nazis hit the Jewish defenders with everything they had.
Unable to radio the French a few miles up the road, the Jewish fighters held their position using molotov cocktails on the tanks that didn’t get destroyed in the minefield. For eight days — low on water, ammunition, and supplies — the Jewish troops withstood relentless, constant bombardment and fought the Afrika Korps to a standstill.
On the last day, the French and Jewish forces got the word to retreat. They held off the Nazis long enough for the British 8th Army to retreat — and they did, in the middle of the night. Three-fourths of the unit were killed or wounded at Bir-el Hamat and they marched 60 some miles all the way to Gasr el-Abid.
When they arrived, they folded up their flag, a gold Star of David on a blue and white striped background — a precursor to the modern-day state of Israel’s flag. Observing the men folding their colors, French Foreign Legion commander General Marie-Pierre Koenig demanded why they stopped flying their flag. Under the British, Maj. Liebmann explained, they were not allowed to fly their own colors.
Koenig had the flag attached to his jeep, next to the Free French flag, at equal stature.
The British 8th Army was able to to defeat the Afrika Korps at el-Alamein the very next month, in a pivotal battle that kept the Axis from advancing into Egypt and capturing the Suez Canal. By 1944, the Jewish Brigade (as they came to be called) was formed to take the fight to the Nazis in Italy.
Veterans stuck inside can turn to reading a catalog of more than 61,000 classic, free e-books and audio books at Project Gutenberg.
People can read books online or download them for reading offline, including popular e-readers.
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The books are mainly older literary works whose copyright expired. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Jack London and Jane Austen are some of the celebrated authors. People can read about characters such as Moby Dick, Frankenstein, Peter Pan, Tiny Tim and Alice in Wonderland.
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Senior Army and Pentagon strategists and planners are considering ways to fire existing weapons platforms in new ways around the globe – including the possible placement of mobile artillery units in areas of the South China Sea to, if necessary, function as air-defense weapons to knock incoming rockets and cruise missiles out of the sky, senior Pentagon and Army officials told Scout Warrior.
Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has said he thinks the U.S. should think about new ways of using land-based rockets and howitzer systems as offensive and defensive weapons in areas of the South China Sea.
Such a move would better ensure access and maneuverability for U.S. and allied ships, assets and weapons in contested or tense areas, he explained.
Howitzers or Paladins could be used as a mobile, direct countermeasures to incoming rockets, he said. A key advantage to using a Paladin is that it is a mobile platform which could adjust to moving or fast-changing approaching enemy fire.
“We could use existing Howitzers and that type of munition (155m shells) to knock out incoming threats when people try to hit us from the air at long ranges using rockets and cruise missiles,” a senior Army official told Scout Warrior in an interview.
This consideration comes not long after Pentagon officials confirmed that satellite pictures show the Chinese have placed weapons such as Surface to Air Missiles in areas of the South China Sea.
Having land-based rockets or artillery could give US and allied forces both strategic and tactical assistance.
“A Howitzer can go where it has to go. It is a way of changing an offensive weapon and using it in dual capacity,” the official explained. “This opens the door to opportunities and options we have not had before with mobile defensive platforms and offensive capabilities.”
Mobile air defenses such as an Army M777 or Paladin Howitzer weapon could use precision rounds and advancing fire-control technology to destroy threatening air assets such as enemy aircraft, drones or incoming artillery fire.
Alongside the South China Sea, more mobile artillery weapons used for air defense could also prove useful in areas such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe, officials said. Having mobile counter-air weapons such as the M109 Paladin, able to fire 155m precision rounds on-the-move, could prove to be an effective air-defense deterrent against Russian missiles, aircraft and rockets in Eastern Europe, the senior Army official told Scout Warrior.
Regarding the South China Sea, the U.S. has a nuanced or complicated relationship with China involving both rivalry and cooperation; the recent Chinese move to put surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets on claimed territory in the South China Sea has escalated tensions and led Pentagon planners to consider various options.
Officials are clear to emphasize that no decisions have been made along these lines, yet it is one of the things being considered. Pentagon officials have opposed further militarization of the area and emphasized that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea need to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically.
At the same time, Pentagon officials have publically stated the U.S. will continue “freedom of navigation” exercises wherein Navy ships sail within 12 miles of territory claimed by the Chinese – and tensions are clearly on the rise. In addition to these activities, it is entirely possible the U.S. could also find ways to deploy more offensive and defensive weapons to the region.
Naturally, a move of this kind would need to involve close coordination with U.S. allies in the region, as the U.S. claims no territory in the South China Sea. However, this would involve the deployment of a weapons system which has historically been used for offensive attacks on land. The effort could use an M777 Howitzer or Paladin, weapons able to fire 155m rounds.
Spirit 03 is a revered name in the AFSOC community, often spoken of in hushed and pained tones. It was the call sign of the last AC-130 gunship shot down in combat.
The story of Spirit 03, whilst sad, was also one of heroism — the kind you’d find in the US Air Force Special Operations Command community. It was a story of American airmen putting the lives of their brothers in arms engaged in grueling ground combat above their own.
On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.
Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.
Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.
Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer. These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught around Khafji to their kill tallies.
On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.
Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky, banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.
Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.
On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.
An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly.
The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately, judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone, the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose. A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.
There were no survivors.
In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight, allowing themselves to be targeted.
Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed, and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.
Britain is trying to get homegrown robots ready for service on the front lines of combat, but they’re not looking for Terminators yet. They’re looking for POGs.
Specifically, they’re looking for robots to handle “last-mile” logistics. While insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that a small force can slow down the movement of supplies across the entire theater, engineers and other route clearance assets can usually keep the roads open between bases.
But when troops need ammo, water, medical supplies, or other necessities under fire, there’s no guarantee that a route clearance asset will be available. That could lead to infantry losing fire superiority or cavalry forces who are unable to keep scouting enemy positions.
So, Britain wants drones, autonomous vehicles, or other technologies that could ferry supplies between friendly elements, say a group of riflemen in a firefight and their reinforcements who won’t arrive for 20 minutes. The supplies sent forward by the reinforcements could keep the lead element going long enough for backup to arrive.
To get the ball rolling, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has announced what’s called a “Defense and Security Accelerator competition.” These are similar to DARPA challenges where a government agency puts up a cash prize to spur civilian companies to innovate.
In the first, a group of infantrymen in vehicles lacks the part needed for a vital repair while a nearby group of soldiers on foot needs food, water, ammo, and sleeping systems. Obviously, the logistics robots’ jobs would be to get the spare part to one group and the personal supplies to the other.
The second vignette paints a more dire picture. A group of soldiers are in contact and running low on ammunition when they suffer a casualty. With a full ammo load, they would be able to eliminate the enemy or lay down cover fire and break contact to evacuate the wounded. But they don’t have a full load of ammo left.
The troops do have a group of friends on foot about 1.5 miles away. It would be the robot’s job to get ammo from the reinforcements to the troops in contact quickly. Preferably, the supplies would arrive broken down by weapon system and would be delivered as close to each shooter as possible.
For anyone interested in learning more or submitting technologies, the performance thresholds are available here. The contest is looking for relatively mature technologies that could be demonstrated by early 2018.
A photo released by AFRICOM reportedly shows a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum jet flying over Libya.
The U.S. military has provided more details about an alleged Russian deployment of fighter jets to Libya, as officials in Russia continued to deny the presence of Russian military aircraft or personnel in the North African country.
The United States says Moscow deployed the jets to provide support for Russian mercenaries helping a local warlord battle Libya’s internationally recognized government.
The alleged deployment could have a big impact on the war pitting the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar and forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations.
The conflict has drawn in multiple regional actors, with Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates backing Haftar’s command.
Turkey, which deployed troops, drones, and Syrian rebel mercenaries to Libya in January, supports the government in Tripoli, alongside Qatar and Italy.
As Libya continues to be subjected to a UN arms embargo, the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) on May 26 said it assessed Russia had recently deployed military jets to Libya via Syria to support Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the LNA. It said the jets were repainted in Syria to remove Russian Federation Air Force markings.
In a tweet on May 27, AFRICOM added that MiG-29 and Su-24 fighters bearing Russian Federation Air Force markings departed Russia “over multiple days in May.”
After the aircraft landed at the Russian military base of Hmeimim in western Syria, the MiG-29s “are repainted and emerge with no national markings.”
AFRICOM wrote in a separate tweet that the jets were flown by “Russian military personnel” and were escorted to Libya by “Russian fighters” based in Syria.
The planes first landed near Tobruk in eastern Libya to refuel, it said, adding: “At least 14 newly unmarked Russian aircraft are then delivered to Al Jufra Air Base” in central Libya, an LNA stronghold.
Meanwhile, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari denied that new jets had arrived, calling it “media rumors and lies,” according to Reuters.
Viktor Bondarev, the chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on defense and security, dismissed the U.S. claims as “stupidity.”
“If the warplanes are in Libya, they are Soviet, not Russian,” Bondarev said.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, said Russia had not sent military personnel to Libya and the Russian upper house of parliament has not received a request to approve such a dispatch.
Vagner Group, a private military contractor believed to be close to the Kremlin, has been helping Haftar’s forces. A UN report earlier this month estimated the number of Russian mercenaries at between 800 and 1,200.
The Bondarev and Dzhabarov comments are the latest denials from Moscow that the Russian state is responsible for any deployments.
But U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, said on May 26: “For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way.”
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, in 2011.
Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, is seeking to capture the capital, Tripoli, from GNA forces.
But his LNA lost a string of western towns and a key air base in the past two months after Turkey stepped up military support for his rivals.
Since late 2017, thieves have taken 10 bells or gongs from buoys floating off Maine’s coast, and now the Coast Guard is offering a reward for information about the culprits.
Six buoys where hit during the first half of 2018, and more have been swiped since then. The Coast Guard says nine bells were stolen from Penobscot Bay, and another one, the most recent, was stolen off Bailey Island in Harpswell.
The bells attached to the buoys are meant to help mariners navigate when visibility is low.
When the Coast Guard asked the public for information at the end of May 2018, Lt. Matthew Odom, the waterways management division chief for the Coast Guard in northern New England, said the thefts “not only reduce the reliability of our aids-to-navigation system and put lives at risk, but they also create a burden and expense to the taxpayer for the buoy tenders and crews responsible for maintaining the aids.”
Seaman Cory J. Hoffman and Seaman Apprentice David A. Deere with a buoy on the deck of Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay in Lake Erie, Nov. 12, 2007.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class William B. Mitchell)
Each stolen bell has weighed 225 pounds, according to the Portland Press Herald. The gongs, like the one stolen from the White Bull Gong buoy off Bailey Island, weigh 371 pounds. The combined weight of the stolen gear is 2,755 pounds.
A Coast Guard spokesman told the Press Herald that the service has spent about ,000 so far to replace bells and gongs that have been stolen. That doesn’t include the time and labor needed to fix and replace the equipment.
The Coast Guard says the bells are most likely being sold to nautical novelty stores or scrap yards. The service requires the bells be made of a copper-silicon alloy to resist corrosion and withstand the seawater to which they’re constantly exposed.
The stolen merchandise could be worth a lot, depending on the market for copper. Silicon bronze, which is similar to the copper alloys used in the bells and gongs, can sell for about id=”listicle-2598399878″.50 a pound, according to a scrap-metal firm in Portland. Assuming all the bells and gongs can be sold, the 2,755-pound haul could net more than ,100.
Tampering with navigation aids is a federal crime, punishable by fines up to ,000 a day or a year in prison. The Coast Guard has asked those with information about the missing devices to call the Northern New England sector command center.
The reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction can total up to half the amount of fines imposed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
US Air Force Pararescue specialists, or PJs, are one of the most elite special operators in the world.
Consisting of about 500 airmen, PJs “rescue and recover downed aircrews from hostile or otherwise unreachable areas,” according to the Air Force.
These “highly trained experts perform rescues in every type of terrain and partake in every part of the mission, from search and rescue, to combat support to providing emergency medical treatment, in order to ensure that every mission is a successful one.”
“One of the challenges [in Afghanistan] is the altitude and terrain because we are surrounded by mountains,” Maj. Jason Egger, 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron commander at Bagram Airfield, said in a Defense Department news release on the training.
“We overcome that challenge by working with the Army pilots, which gives us the capability to get to the altitude we need and insert the teams,” Egger added.
Here’s how PJs rescue troops in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.
US Air Force PJs on the ground during a training mission in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
A CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off during a PJ training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
After getting a call, the PJs load into an Army CH-47 Chinook, which they often use for transports in rescue missions in Afghanistan.
“Most of the central and northern Afghanistan area is very high altitude, and that’s where the CH-47s can really provide some special capability because of their ability to get to that high altitude area and insert the team,” Eggers said.
PJ operators perform rescues during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
A PJ operator helps an service member with a simulated injury during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs provide first aid to wounded service members during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018. The wounds were simulated for the training’s realism.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs flying in Chinook helicopters during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs carrying a service member with a simulated wound during a training mission in Afghanistan in November 2018.
(US Air Force photo)
PJs conduct combat arms training Nov. 1, 2018 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
(US Air Force photo)
But PJs also undergo intense combat arms training as well, which is needed in certain rescue scenarios.
“The PJs and the combat rescue officers have a pretty broad skill set, and it’s pretty difficult to stay sharp on all those skills,” Eggers said. “So continuing to keep them engaged through training, it keeps those skills sharp throughout the entire deployment.”
Watch the full interview with Eggers here, and the PJ training videos here, here and here.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Soldiers in new cyber teams are now bringing offensive and defensive virtual effects against Islamic militants in northern Iraq and Syria, according to senior leaders.
“We have Army Soldiers who are in the fight and they are engaged (with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant),” said Brig. Gen. J.P. McGee, the Army Cyber Command’s deputy commander for operations.
Once the cyber mission force teams stand up, McGee said they’re going straight into operational use.
“As we build these teams, we are … putting them right into the fight in contact in cyberspace,” he said at a media roundtable last week.
The general declined to discuss specific details, but said the majority of the effort is offensive cyberspace effects that are being delivered from locations in the United States and downrange.
The Army is responsible for creating 41 of the 133 teams in the Defense Department’s cyber mission force. Of the Army’s teams, 11 are currently at initial operating capability with the rest at full operational capability, according to Brig. Gen. Patricia Frost, director of cyber for the Army’s G-3/5/7.
She expects all of the Army teams to be ready to go before the October 2018 deadline, she said.
The teams have three main missions: protect networks, particularly the DOD Information Network; defend the U.S. and its national interests against cyberattacks; and give cyber support to military operations and contingency plans.
This spring, Army cyber also plans to continue the Cyberspace Electromagnetic Activities support to Corps and Below pilot, which is testing the concept of expeditionary CEMA cells within training brigades.
The 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team is slated to take part in the pilot’s sixth iteration, being held at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.
In the training, Soldiers discover how to map out cyber and EM terrain in a simulated battlefield in order to defeat the enemy.
“Where are the wireless points, cell phone towers? What does that look like? How do you figure out how to gain access to them to be able to deliver effects?” McGee asked.
In one example, McGee said that a CEMA cell could be used to shut down an enemy’s internet access for a period of time to help a patrol safely pass through a contested area. The internet access could then be turned back on to collect information on enemy activities.
“We’re innovating and trying to figure this out,” he said.
McGee also envisions cyber Soldiers working alongside a battlefield commander inside a tactical operations center, similar to how field artillery or aviation planners give input.
“A maneuver commander can look at a team on his staff that can advise him on how to deliver cyber and electromagnetic effects and activities in support of his maneuver plan,” he said.
Until then, the Army has created a cyber first line of defense program, which trains two-person teams to actively defend the tactical networks of brigades, Frost said. Each team consists of a warrant officer and NCO who are not specifically in the cyber career field, but who can still help brigades operate semi-autonomously in combat.
“[We] look at putting two individuals that will come with cyber education and tools to be that first line of defense,” Frost said. “It allows a brigade commander to be able to execute mission command.”
Two Islamic State leaders behind the terrorist attacks in Paris last year were killed in a U.S.-led drone strike Dec. 4 in Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.
The two targets, Salah Gourmat and Sammy Djedou, worked with external terror operations and recruitment of foreign fighters in Europe. They were directly involved in facilitating the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.
Gourmat and Djedou were close associates of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, ISIS’s former chief spokesman who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August.
Walid Hamman, the third terrorist killed in the drone strike, was a suicide attack planner, Hamman was convicted in absentia by a Belgian court for a terror plot foiled in 2015.
“The three were working together to plot and facilitate attacks against Western targets at the time of the strike,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters.
All three were part of a terror network led by Boubaker Al-Hakim, who died in another U.S.-led airstrike Nov. 26.
“Since mid-November, the coalition has now successfully targeted five top ISIL external plotters, further disrupting ISIL’s ability to carry out terrorist operations beyond Syria and Iraq,” Cook said.
It’s been a bright spot for Russia’s wobbly space industry:
A contract, estimated at $1 billion, to launch 21 Soyuz rockets over the next two years carrying “micro-satellites” — part of a U.S.-based company’s plans to offer broadband Internet access over remote territories of the globe, including parts of Siberia.
For the company, OneWeb, the effort was seen as a critical step in building out its “constellation of small satellites” and validation for investors who have put up nearly $2 billion. For Russia’s space agency, Roskosmos, the contract was both a crucial source of private revenue, and a foothold in the burgeoning global market for small-scale satellite launches.
Now, just months before the planned maiden launch, it appears that the Federal Security Service (FSB) may put a stop to it entirely.
The daily newspaper Kommersant reported on Nov. 13, 2018, that the FSB, Russia’s primary security and intelligence agency, has serious misgivings about the micro-satellite venture. Citing unnamed government officials, the paper said the FSB feared that having an Internet provider whose signals would be transmitted via satellite would keep the agency from being able to filter and monitor Internet traffic.
Moreover, sources told the newspaper, security officials feared the satellites might be used to spy on sensitive Russian military sites.
The Kommersant report echoed a similar report by Reuters, on Oct. 24, 2018, that quoted an FSB official voicing precise concerns about satellite spying.
Russia’s workhorse rocket, the Soyuz, is launched primarily from Baikonur and Vostochny.
Adding further to the questions about whether the launch will go forward, the Interfax news agency reported that the chief executive of the Roskosmos division that handles foreign commercial contracts, including the agreement with OneWeb, had been forced to resign after Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin ordered an inspection of the division.
E-mails sent to both OneWeb, and its launch provider, the European aerospace giant Arianespace, were not immediately answered.
Founded by Greg Wyler, a former executive at Google, OneWeb aims to put hundreds of satellites in low orbit over the Earth to provide data communication in remote locations. The company is one of several making the effort, but it’s attracted the largest amount of private financing, had started building assembly factories, and was the closest to actually getting its satellites off the ground.
Key to the effort was contracting with Arianespace to arrange for the launches, using Russia’s workhorse rocket, the Soyuz, launched primarily from Russian facilities at Baikonur and Vostochny, and several from the European Space Agency-owned site at Kourou, in French Guiana.
At the time the contract was signed in 2015, the then-head of Roskosmos hailed it as “proof of Russia’s competitiveness.” The first launch, of a Soyuz rocket carrying 10 micro-satellites, was set for May 2018 from Kourou, but was then pushed back until year’s end. It’s now set for February 2019.
Two years later, OneWeb set up a 60-40 percent joint venture with a Russian subsidiary of Roskosmos called Gonets that would handle Internet service within Russia.
In 2018, Wyler told the industry publication Space News that the network of satellites would in fact have ground stations, through which Internet traffic would be channeled. But his comments suggested that there wouldn’t necessarily be ground stations in every country where the Internet service was offered.
“What we hear from regulators is they want to know the physical path of their traffic and they want to make sure it lands in a place where they have control and management of that data, just like every other Internet service provider in their country,” Wyler was quoted as saying. “This doesn’t mean the gateway needs to be in their country, but it means they need to know exactly which gateway their traffic will land at and they need the legal ability to control the router at the entry point into their national network. From a regulatory perspective inter-satellite links have been highlighted as a major concern.”
In recent years, Russia has steadily tightened control and surveillance of the country’s once wholly unfettered Internet. Part of that effort has involved policing editorial content and, for example, prosecuting people for sharing on social media material deemed to be extremist under the country’s broad anti-extremism laws.
But Russian regulators have also moved to tighten technical controls, requiring major technology and Internet companies like Google or Facebook to physically house servers within Russia, giving Russian law enforcement a way to access them. That also includes use of a system known as SORM, which is essentially a filter — a black box the size of an old video recorder — that allows Russian security agencies to intercept or eavesdrop on Internet traffic.
Roskosmos’s contract with OneWeb was believed to have given it a foothold in the burgeoning global market for small-scale satellite launches.
As recently as Oct. 26, 2018, Rogozin held discussions in Moscow with Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel about OneWeb, according to a statement on Roskosmos’s website.
The meeting came two days after the Reuters report on the Russian objections. The report said that OneWeb and Gonets has restructured their stakes in the joint venture to make Gonets the majority shareholder.
For observers of the global commercial-satellite industry, the uncertainty hanging over such a high-profile, well-funded project like OneWeb tarnishes Roskosmos’s ability to be a competitive player for space flight in general.
One of Roskosmos’s other lucrative sources of revenue is its contract with the U.S. space agency NASA to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station. But the recent mishap involving a Soyuz rocket raised questions about the Russian technology, which has been around for decades and had been considered reliable.
Kazakhstan, where Russia’s storied Baikonur cosmodrome is located, recently said it had hired the private U.S. company SpaceX to launch several of its own science satellites.
The uncertainty with OneWeb, said Carissa Christensen, founder and CEO of Bryce Space and Technology, a Virginia-based research group focusing the commercial space industry, may push customers away from Roskosmos.
“This just disconnects Russia some of the most active commercial space activity going on today, and it hands over potentially very desirable launch customers to other small launch providers,” she said.
In an opinion column published on Nov. 15, 2018, for the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, contributor Valery Kodachigov poked fun at the apparent FSB concerns that the OneWeb satellites could be used for spying within Russia. But he also pooh-poohed the idea that OneWeb would be singularly able to bring Internet service to the further reaches of Siberia or the Russian Arctic.
“The interference by Russian bureaucrats and security officials in the plans of eminent investors gives OneWeb’s history in Russia both scale and tragedy. But is it really all so scary for OneWeb and the Russian users who may be left without satellite Internet? For now, one thing is clear: the residents of Russia will not remain without mobile access to the Internet,” he wrote.