NEWS

Now that ISIS is on the ropes, these guys have turned the guns on each other

Iraqi government forces launched an operation against Kurdistan's Peshmerga military forces over the weekend to capture Kirkuk, a disputed, oil-rich city in the country's north.


The Kurds defeated Islamic State fighters to take control of Kirkuk in 2014, but Iraq's central government had refused to recognize their sovereignty over the city since it falls outside of Kurdistan's internationally recognized autonomous region.

As the details continue to develop, here's a breakdown of the basics.

An Iraqi pilot walks to a Iraqi AC-208 Caravan for a training mission at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq. For the first time since the re-formation of the Iraqi air force, an Iraqi pilot fired a missile from an a AC-208 Nov. 04, 2009, at a target on a bombing range near Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

What's happening?

Conflicting stories emerged Oct. 16 as clashes broke out in areas outside the city, causing an unknown number of casualties. Iraqi forces claimed they had seized military bases and oil fields around Kirkuk, and had forced the Kurds to withdraw from the city. The Kurdistan Regional Government has rejected those claims.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the US military said it believed any clashes between the Kurds and Baghdad "was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions."

Army Major General Robert White, the commander of US-led coalition forces in Iraq, called for both parties to reconcile their differences through peace, and "remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy," ISIS.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Monday afternoon, as well, saying the US would not back one side over the other. "We don't like the fact that they're clashing. We're not taking sides," Trump said in a press conference.

Three days before clashes erupted, rumors surfaced of an impending Iraqi government assault on the Kurds. In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took to Twitter to debunk the accusation.

"Our armed forces cannot and will not attack our citizens, whether Arab or Kurd," he said. "The fake news being spread has a deplorable agenda behind."

Amid reports of a looming attack, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani ordered Peshmerga forces on Sunday to not "initiate any war, but if any advancing militia starts shooting, then Peshmerga have been given a green light to use every power to stand against them."

By Monday afternoon, Reuters reported that thousands of Kurds had fled the city of Kirkuk, which has a population of over 1 million people. About 6% of the world's oil comes from Kirkuk province, according to CNN.

Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider Al-Abadi. Photo from Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Why now?

Kurdish nationalism has long been a source of tension between Iraq's central government and the Kurds, both of which are strong US allies.

This tension was exacerbated after close to 93% of Kurds, which control a large swath of territory in northern Iraq, voted to declare Kurdistan an independent state on September 25. Baghdad has condemned the referendum and urged Kurdish leaders to reject it. Neighboring countries Iran and Turkey also opposed the vote.

The White House also warned against holding a vote on independence and called on the Kurdistan Regional Government to pursue dialogue with Baghdad.

"Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing," the White House said in a statement before vote.

ISIS has a history of targeting Kurds and their allies. (Dept. of Defense photo)

Why does it matter?

The independence referendum and latest round of clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi forces puts the Trump administration in a particularly strangling bind. Over the years, the US has trained and supplied weapons and equipment to both sides of the conflict with the intention of defeating ISIS. Now those very same weapons are being used by US allies against other US allies.

Iran's interference in the conflict also remains a top concern for American officials. The Iraqi-backed Popular Mobilization Forces — Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary units that have been fighting against the Kurds — presents another challenge for US mediation efforts in the region. Iran not only supports these Popular Mobilization Forces, but provides direct training and weaponry to its fighters.

The New York Times reported in July that Iran's presence in Iraq was a consequence of former President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw US troops from the country in 2011. This move has divided Republicans and Democrats in the US, and was a key campaign issue in the 2016 elections.

The Kurdish Peshmerga platoon of the newly-formed Joint Iraqi Security Company marches to class, Mosul, Iraq. The U.S. 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division are jointly training Kurdish and Iraqi forces, to become the first self-sufficient local military force.

What could happen next?

No one is really sure. The situation is still unfolding, with Iraqi and Kurdish leaders shifting blame on their opponents for the escalation in violence.

Even though the US has downplayed the clashes as simply a "misunderstanding," it's difficult to ascertain the true level of tension on the ground.

Conflicting claims from Iraqi government and Kurdish officials further complicate the situation. No matter what happens, these developments will surely add to Trump's challenges in the Middle East.

The Air Force snagged the alleged Minot M240 thief

The Air Force's long national nightmare is over. Its missing M240 machine gun was finally recovered from the home of an airman stationed at the base, according to a press release from the Air Force Global Strike Command.

The theft prompted many to question how it could have been lost, why the Air Force has an M240, does the Air Force really need an M240, how many do they have or need, and would the Air Force notice if I took one.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations obtained a federal search warrant, executing it at the off-base residence of a Team Minot airman on June 19, 2018.

Missing for little over a month, the automatic weapon and the fallout of its theft made waves across the military-veteran community and in the military news cycle. After a box of 40mm MK 19 grenades fell off the back of a humvee while traversing a Native American reservation, the subsequent inventory of the Air Force arsenal on Minot discovered the missing M240 machine gun. This prompted the 5th Bomb Wing, 91st Missile Wing, and other installations to make a thorough inventory of their weapons.

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This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

Enter Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a program Microsoft started in 2013 to provide transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today's growing technology industry.

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History

The horrifying way Iran cleared mines in the Iran-Iraq War

The only good mines are one that are cleared — or better yet, never used in the first place. Today mines are generally seen as relics of bygone eras, deadly weapons that remain dangerous long after the war is fought. Forgotten minefields all over the world kill civilians by the score – more than 8,600 in 2016 alone. Many of these are children.

Many who join armed forces around the world do so with the idea that they can keep their children and families – along with the children and families of their fellow countrymen – safe from the imminent dangers of impending war. When faced with an existential threat, countries will go to horrifying lengths to defend themselves.

This isn't World War I — it's the 1980s. No one told Saddam or Khomeini.

Such was the case in the early 1980s, the nascent years of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran fought a brutal war against Iraq since 1980, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein smelled blood in the disorganized post-Revolution Iran and attempted to seize its access to the Persian Gulf by force.

The Iran-Iraq War was particularly brutal, even as far as warfare in the Middle East is concerned. The war was defined by eight years of stalemates and failed offensives, indiscriminate ballistic missile attacks — often using chemical weapons — and insane asymmetrical warfare.

Insane symmetrical warfare is a very clean term for the tactics Iran used to level the playing field of the Western-backed, technologically superior Iraqis. Iran recently purged its professional military of those loyal to the deposed Shah and was by no means ready to fight a war with a series of Revolutionary militias. The Ayatollah Khomeini was no military commander. He saw a success in war in terms of casualties inflicted on the enemy versus the number his forces took, a World War I-era approach to warfare.

They also dug trenches. A lot of trenches.

To Khomeini, as long as the math worked and his fighters were sufficiently motivated by religious fanaticism and revolutionary spirit, he could push all the way to Baghdad. So he enlisted large numbers of civilians with little or no military training to execute his plans. This entrenched incompetence included the field command leadership who most often sent men to die in droves using human wave attacks, another World War I relic. The horror doesn't stop there.

The New York Times' Terence Smith, writing about Iran in 1984, described the use of child soldiers by Iran to clear minefields. Young boys, aged 12-17 years, wore red headbands with the words 'Sar Allah' in Farsi (Warriors of God) and small metal keys that the Ayatollah declared were their tickets to Paradise if they were martyred in their mission. Many were sent into battle against Iraqi tanks without any protection and bound by ropes to prevent desertion.

They were the first wave, making the way for Iranian tanks by clearing barbed wire and minefields with their bodies.

Iranian child soldiers marching off to fight Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War.

These children weren't the only human wave attackers, but they certainly were the most notable – and effective. In the same interview, Smith notes the Iranian commanders are unapologetic. Iraq has many tanks and a lot of support. Iran has very few. What Iran had is exactly what the Ayatollah predicted, a large population filled with religious fervor.

The total number of casualties inflicted on Iran and Iraq throughout the war isn't clearly known, but what is known is a number ranging anywhere between 500,000 to one million killed and wounded in the eight-year slugfest.

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This band hires vets — especially when they go on tour

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Technically, there are five branches of service to choose from if you're thinking about joining the military (including the Coast Guard). There's a high level of rivalry among branches that can spark a lot of friendly sh*t talking. As veterans, we still love to take cheap shots at one another — but it's always in good fun.

We've said it time-and-time again that the military has a dark sense of humor and we flex those comedic muscles at the other branches as often as possible. Since the U.S. Navy is hands-down the most dominant force to ever patrol the high seas, sailors do things that no other branch can do: kick ass while floating in the middle of nowhere.

The Army and the Air Force can't compete with the Navy since they have no ships. The Marines can't conduct business without the Navy navigating them around the world. Lastly, The Coast Guard is a bunch of land-hugging puddle jumpers.

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Tom Clancy used this wargame for 'Red Storm Rising'

Tom Clancy's 1986 novel Red Storm Rising is arguably his literary tour de force. Following on the heels of 1984's The Hunt for Red October, it cemented Clancy's status as the inventor of the techno-thriller genre. Despite being a massive best-seller, Clancy never won a Pulitzer Prize or Nobel Prize for his contributions to the field of literature.

In Red Storm Rising, "Dance of the Vampires" featured a Soviet attack on a NATO carrier force centered on USS Nimitz (CVN 68), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and the French carrier Foch (R99). In the book, the Nimitz was badly damaged by two AS-6 Kingfish missiles, while the Foch took three hits and was sunk.

There was little understanding of how new technology like the Tu-22M Backfire would play into a war.

(DOD painting)

But how did Clancy manage to make that moment in the book so realistic? The answer lies in a wargame designed by Larry Bond called Harpoon. Bond is best known as a techno-thriller author of some repute himself, having written Red Phoenix, Cauldron, and Red Phoenix Burning, among others. But he designed the Harpoon wargame, which came in both a set of rules for miniatures and a computer game. (Full disclosure: The author is a long-time fan of the game, and owns both miniature and computer versions.)

Alas, poor Foch, you were doomed from the start.

(U.S. Navy photo)

At WargameVault.com, Larry Bond explained that while the end result had been determined, what was lacking was an understand of two big areas: How would all these new systems interact, and what would the likely tactics be? As a result, they ran the game three times, and it was not a small affair: A number of others took part, resulting in each side's "commander" having "staffs" who used written standard orders and after-action reports.

A simulated massacre of Tu-22M Backfires off Iceland also shaped the plot of 'Red Storm Rising.'

(U.S. Navy)

Each of the three games had very different results, but the gaming helped to make Red Storm Rising a literary masterpiece of the last 20th century. Incidentally, Harpoon further shaped Red Storm Rising through a scenario called the "Keflavik Turkey Shoot" – a gaming result that convinced Clancy to include the Soviet Union taking Iceland in the early portions of the book.

While she sits in reserve today, at the time of 'Red Storm Rising,' USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) was the latest and greatest in naval technology.

(US Navy photo)

Bond released a collection of those scenarios, and some other material into an electronic publication called "Dance of the Vampires," available for $8.00 at WargameVault.com. It is a chance to see how a wargame shaped what was arguably the best techno-thriller of all time.

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These Dutch destroyers can inflict max pain on the Russian navy

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Today, the centerpiece of the Dutch navy consists of four powerful air-defense vessels. While the Dutch Navy calls them "frigates," these ships actually are really more akin to smaller guided-missile destroyers. Their armament is close to that of the Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyers. These vessels replaced two Tromp-class guided-missile destroyers and two Jacob van Heemskerck-class guided-missile frigates.

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4 reasons why the Navy will always be on missile defense patrols

The Navy has recently wanted to end ballistic missile defense (BMD) patrols. This mission, usually carried out by Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers equipped with RIM-161 Standard SM-3 surface-to-air missiles, has been to protect American allies from ballistic missiles from rogue states like Iran and North Korea, or from hostile peers or near-peers like Russia and China.

In June 2018 though, the Navy wanted to get away from this mission. The reason? They want to shift this to shore installations to free up the destroyers for other missions. Well, the ballistic missile defense mission is not going to go away any time soon. Here's why:

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