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The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

While most would assume that America’s bloodiest day came in one of the larger conflicts, like World War I or II, the U.S. lost more troops on Sep. 17, 1862, when Union troops found the plans for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s ongoing invasion of Maryland. Approximately 23,000 men were killed and wounded in the one-day clash.

(Author’s note: This article contains photos from the Antietam battlefield in the days immediately following the fighting. Some photos contain the images of the brave men who died that day.)


The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

The bridge over Antietam Creek where much of the bloodiest fighting took place.

(Library of Congress)

The road to Antietam began when Lee marched his troops across the Potomac and into Union-aligned Maryland while attempting to influence the midterm elections of 1862. He was hopeful that a few decisive Confederate victories on Union soil could cause a surge in votes for candidates opposed to the war, potentially leading to the start of peace negotiations at home. He also had a shot at diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy from European powers, like England and France.

Lee captured Frederick, Maryland, and then split up his force, sending four units against four towns. But, importantly, that left Frederick empty, and Union Gen. George C. McClellan moved in to collect what intel and supplies they could find. There, they found Lee’s entire battle plan. According to legend, the plan was wrapped around three cigars.

So, a cigar for the soldier who found it, a cigar for the sergeant who was with him, and a cigar for the general who was left with wet pants after how excited he got when he saw Lee’s entire Special Order 191, complete with all details.

But McClellan wasn’t exactly the most decisive and bold of commanders, and he waited a full 18 hours to get on the move, allowing Confederate forces to create a defensive line that delayed him further. By the time he was able to reach Lee, the Confederate Army was already coalescing. Lee was preparing for the Union attack he knew was coming.

Still, McClellan was headed for Lee with over 75,000 troops while Lee would start the battle with less than 40,000 troops and, even if all of his nearby troops made it to the battle within the day, he would still have less than 50,000. McClellan’s forces were in relatively good shape while Lee had many who were sick and exhausted.

While nothing about Antietam Creek, located near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was of true strategic value, both commanders knew that the moment was crucial. Keeping France and England on the sidelines required a Union victory, while the Confederates needed a huge win to influence the Union elections.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

The fighting started in a cornfield near Dunker Church. 10,000 men were killed and wounded in rifle and artillery fire so heavy that it cut the corn, originally higher than a man’s head, clear to the ground.

(Library of Congress)

When Sep. 17, 1862, dawned, 1,000 Union troops slipped through a cornfield toward Confederate lines, seeking to get the jump on Georgia soldiers on the other side. Unfortunately for them, the Georgians were expecting the move, and were laying on the ground with their weapons ready.

When the Union troops emerged, the Georgians hopped up and immediately started cutting down the men in blue.

Artillery fire crisscrossed the field and waves of troops from each side tried to cross the field to shut down their foes. Confederate defenders held their ground at Dunker Church. By the time it was finished, 10,000 soldiers were killed and wounded. Some units suffered losses of 50 to 70 percent — and it was only mid-morning.

In a weird fluke of history, the unit that had found Special Order 191 and made the battle possible was one of those hit hardest in the cornfield.

As the fighting for the cornfield and church reached its zenith and then tapered off, Union Forces maneuvered toward the Confederate center and found an old road used by wagons which, due to traffic and weather, had eroded to such a point that sections of the road were five feet below the surrounding ground.

Thousands of Confederates waited in breastworks, as well positioned and defended as if it were a deliberate fort. Their first volley nearly eradicated the first row of Union troops and the fight for the Sunken Road was on. Union forces marched toward the road over and over again.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

The “Sunken Road” was a depression caused by vehicle traffic and erosion that created an easy fortress for Confederate troops, at least until Union soldiers were able to flank them. 5,500 men are thought to have been killed and wounded in the fighting there, earning it the nickname the “Bloody Lane.”

(Library of Congress)

Finally, blue uniforms nearly surrounded the desperate men in grey whose low-lying fort became a barrel, leaving them to play the part of fish. Some were able to flee to the rear, but most of the 2,000 defenders were cut down and their bodies piled up. The Sunken Road would later be described with another name, “The Bloody Lane.”

While the cost to both sides was great, the capture of the Bloody Lane collapsed Lee’s center. A decisive thrust at this point had the potential to cripple the Army of Northern Virginia and possibly destroy it entirely, giving the Union a real shot at victory by Christmas — but no one sent new forces to carry the attack forward. Union forces in the area withdrew from the Sunken Road. 5,500 men had been killed and wounded.

Shortly after the fighting for the Sunken Road began, Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside began his attack on one of the most famous portions of the battle. He was tasked with crossing Antietam Creek and attacking the Confederate right, but the Confederates were using the geography and the creek itself to make him pay dearly for every inch.

Only 500 defenders held the heights and the bridge. The heights were a huge advantage, placing the defenders approximately 100 feet higher than the attackers. Burnside’s IX Corps attempted a two-pronged attack for three hours, suffering withering fire from the high ground before it was able to capture the bridge.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

President Abraham Lincoln, when he learned of how the battle played out, lamented the fact that McClellan had failed to give chase to Lee, allowing Lee to get away with most of his army.

(Library of Congress)

According to an NPR article on the battle, the men from New York and Pennsylvania who finally took the bridge only did so after their commander promised to return their whiskey ration, taken after drunken antics had gotten the men in trouble.

But the Union had taken too long to capture the bridge. By that time, Confederate Gen. A. P. Hill was arriving with his men and they were able to pour into the Confederate right flank, shoring it up and repelling IX Corps before counterattacking.

When night finally fell, the two forces had suffered approximately 23,000 casualties with an estimated 4,000 killed, the worst loss of American life in a single day in history. To put that in perspective, approximately 2,500 Americans were killed taking Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Italian-American military spouse shares message of hope amid coronavirus outbreak

“Don’t come here, it’s too dangerous!” my sister texted my mother a few weeks ago. “If you were to become infected with coronavirus, I would never forgive myself.”


My parents live in Naples, southern Italy, where I was born and raised before becoming an American citizen in 2018. My sister is in graduate school to become an anesthesiologist and she works in one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, one of the first areas to be designated as a red zone in the country.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

The Costagliola family on vacation at Disney World.

My parents, who are both over 65 years of age, were supposed to go visit my sister up north before coming to visit my family and I in New York, something they do at least once a year. We had it all planned out: they would join us in Syracuse — where we are currently stationed — and after a week, we were going to take a road trip all the way down to Florida, stopping at the most iconic landmarks on the East Coast, taking plenty of photos for my two children to look back on one day and reminisce on the precious moments they spent with their grandparents.

My 8-year-old son was counting down the days until the arrival of his Nanna and Babba, who had promised to bring an entire suitcase filled with presents for him and his 4-year-old sister — something they do every time they come visit. “Mamma, only 30 days left!” he shouted with excitement as he stepped off the school bus one afternoon. “Baby, I have to tell you something…” I said as I invited him to sit on the couch next to me. The words that came out of my mouth during that conversation sounded like something out of a script of an Apocalyptic science fiction movie.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

Tiziana Costagliola at work at one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region.

Only a few hours earlier, I had spoken to my parents via Skype and my mother, a primary care provider, told me with tears in her eyes, “I love you, and that’s why I won’t come visit you guys.”

I couldn’t believe it.

The coronavirus had started spreading in Italy, but it was mostly contained in the red zone. It wasn’t even in southern Italy yet. Borders were open, flights were departing as scheduled, cruise ships were taking excited passengers to the most exotic corners of the world, and theme parks were still selling way too much candy to children running toward their favorite ride.

Yet, my parents had decided to cancel their trips. They would not be going to visit my sister nor would they be coming to visit us in the United States of America. “It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, sweetheart.” My mother explained, “And I would never forgive myself if I unknowingly brought the virus to you all.”

It’s going to get much worse. That thought kept haunting my mind, day and night. It sounded like a prophecy.

“We were just told to choose which patients to save…” my sister wrote a few days later in a family group chat on WhatsApp. “We are to pick younger patients over older ones, as they have better chances of surviving the coronavirus.”

Meanwhile, life in the United States of America was proceeding as usual. Children off to school, grocery shopping done, and manuscripts edited. But the headlines in the news began mirroring what I was hearing from my mother and sister back home. Not enough hospital rooms. Virus spreads to southern Italy as well. Italy struggles to contain outbreak. Italian hospitals out of ICU beds. Airlines have canceled their flights to and from Italy.

It was a nightmare. What was happening to my home country? What was happening to my family and friends?

But then, Italy took a deep breath, looked in the mirror and reminded herself of who she is. The land of art, eternal love, good food, genuine smiles, warm sun and glittering Mediterranean waters. An entire red zone with 60 million people in quarantine, Italians stepped outside their balconies, playing instruments, singing, dancing and keeping each other company.

Coronavirus: quarantined Italians sing from balconies to lift spirits

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At the end of their impromptu concerts and shows, they could be heard yelling, “Andrà tutto bene!”

Everything’s going to be alright.

And now that we are also facing the reality of the outbreak here in the United States of America, let’s remind ourselves that, if we all do our part, everything will be alright.

As for that vacation, we were planning on taking; it wasn’t canceled, just postponed to when we are allowed to finally hug each other again. And if my children have it their way, it’ll be even bigger and better than the one we had originally planned.

Yes, everything will be alright.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Taliban went from international pariah to U.S. peace partner in Afghanistan

In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.


It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.

Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.

Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”

Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.

Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.

Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.

But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.

The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.

Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.

The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.

“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”

The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.

During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.

“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Radicalized In Pakistan

The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.

The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.

The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.

Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.

The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.

War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.

But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.

The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.

Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.

‘We Were All Scared’

Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.

Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.

“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”

Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.

“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”

During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.

U.S.-Led Invasion

The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.

By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.

By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.

The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.

Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.

Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.

Negotiating An End To War

In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.

But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.

For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.

Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.

“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.

“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”

Road Map For Afghanistan

The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.

More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.

But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.

“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.

But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.

Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.

There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.

The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.

The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.

“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”

Red Lines

The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.

Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.

But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.

Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.

Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.

“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”

Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.

“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS has a plan to bust out 70,000 supporters from Kurdish jails

ISIS fighters will be closely watching the fighting between Turkish and Kurdish troops in northeastern Syria, waiting for a chance to break thousands of fighters, and tens of thousands of family members, out of Kurdish prisons, according to a former member of the group, Western intelligence officials, and Kurdish commanders.

Concerns of a mass-scale ISIS prison break have grown as Turkish troops enter northeastern Syria to confront the Syrian Defence Forces. The SDF is a predominately Kurdish group regarded as terrorists by Turkey but a key American ally in the ground war against ISIS. SDF officials, who have warned that their resources were already overstretched guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners before the invasion, now say the situation is critical.


Thousands of ISIS fighters are being held in a dozen SDF facilities. Nearly 70,000 women and children are being held at the al Hol camp in Syria. US special operations troops on Oct. 9, 2019, moved several dozen high profile prisoners, including those accused of murdering Western hostages, to an undisclosed location outside of Syria.

Turkey ramps up fight against Kurds in Syria

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But that won’t be enough to prevent ISIS from attempting to break out thousands of lesser known but vital fighters, according to a former member of the group.

“Prison is like their home,” a former ISIS fighter tells Insider

Abu Ahmed al Halabi fought alongside ISIS and its predecessor groups from 2012 until 2015 before quitting the group over its brutal treatment of other Syrian rebel groups in his hometown of Tal Riffat, outside of Aleppo. Although not in contact with the group any longer, he’s currently fighting in Idlib Province for a non-jihadist rebel group. He told Insider that the group is deeply experienced in prison breaks, and its men will have organized while they were detained.

“All of the big bosses in Daesh are Iraqis that were in jail together during the American occupation,” he said. “The group that Abu Musab [al Zarqawi] founded in Iraq in 2003 was all sent to Camp Bucca, it’s where they organized Daesh [ISIS]. Prison is like their home.”

“Daesh will be organized inside the prisons and ready to attack the guards and escape,” Abu Ahmed said. “Outside the prisons, Daesh will be watching the guards and defenses and planning an attack, at any of these prisons they know they can get an entire [battalion] of fighters if they succeed. They have people watching right now waiting for a chance.”

Western intelligence officials agree, one officer from a NATO member that served inside Syria with his government’s special forces told Insider.

“These guys are a jail gang, running their operations while detained might even be easier than [being outside] hiding from drones afraid to use a telephone,” the official, who lacks permission to speak to the media, said.”

We are sure that there is close cooperation between fighters in some prisons, the families in al Hol, and the units that are still free in the desert area between Iraq and Syria,” the official said.

As many as 12,000 ISIS fighters including about 2,000 foreigners are held in SDF prisons. Among the 70,000 women and children in al Hol are hundreds of women who are still loyal to ISIS’s ground leadership.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

Flag of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

“[ISIS leader Abu Bakir] Baghdadi even said in his last statement that his people should be patient and await rescue, and that was before the Turks upended what had been a mostly stable situation.”

ISIS fighters in Kurdish jails have been in constant contact with the group’s leadership via Telegram and Whatsapp 

The families of ISIS fighters currently held in deteriorating security conditions in al Hol — where the SDF was already stretched thin — were in constant contact with the group’s leadership via Telegram, Whatsapp and other secure messaging systems, the official told us.

“Of course, we know they are plotting something but the resources to stop them just aren’t available,” the official said.

Abu Ahmed described the release of women and children in al Hol as a goal for the group but secondary to the immediate military need to free as many of its captured fighters as possible.

“The women might escape al Hol themselves but the Daesh bosses will be watching the prisons holding the fighters first,” he said. “They want those thousands of mujahideen so they can also fight the Kurds and Iraqis. If they take one prison, they will use those new guys to take another prison and then it will be just like Mosul” in 2014.

“They will have planned to attack at the perfect time and will have trucks and guns waiting for all the men they free”

Abu Ahmed said that in a series of attacks on Mosul in 2014, the plan was merely to break out 2,500 fighters from a local prison. Fighting for the group in northern Syria at the time, Abu Ahmed’s commander had been assigned to help plan the mission.

“My Emir was Abu Omar [al Shishani], and he was commander for all Daesh ground forces in Syria and Iraq, I helped him plan the Mosul operation. We were just trying to get fighters out of prison when the Iraqi Army collapsed. Once Abu Omar saw this he ordered everyone to attack to take as much space as they could as the Iraqis retreated. But the Mosul operation was part of a campaign of jailbreaks called ‘Breaking the Walls.'”

“These are very careful people,” he added. “They will have planned to attack at the perfect time and will have trucks and guns waiting for all the men they free.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Austrian Army defeated itself

There has been no friendly fire incident in the history of the world like the 1788 Battle of Karansebes. The Austrian Army had been at war with the Ottoman Turks for more than a year when another contingent of Austrian soldiers stumbled upon another part of their army. What should have been a general misunderstanding turned into a full-on battle with more than ten thousand killed or wounded and the Ottoman capture of Karansebes anyway.


The story starts with a band of gypsies.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

As every good story should.

It’s necessary to know that the Austrians of this time weren’t simply Austrian, they were fighting for the Hapsburg Empire, and their fighting force was comprised of several different languages, with no real common means of communicating between units. Still, units made up of these single language-speakers would regularly patrol by themselves, rather than joining other units to learn multiple languages or having a common tongue.

It was one of these units, a cavalry patrol, that was out looking for any signs of enemy Ottomans around. They didn’t find any Turks, but what they found was a group of Romani Gypsies who were just settling in for the night. The Gypsies offered the Austrians a good time with dancing and drinking, which the grateful cavalrymen eagerly took. Then, more Austrians showed up, but these were a group of infantry, and the cavalrymen refused to share.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

Anyone who’s ever known infantrymen can probably guess what’s about to happen.

This started a fistfight, of course. As the rival groups started fighting over the booze, shots rang out from across the nearby river. All the fighting Hapsburg men stopped fighting and took cover, quickly making it back to their camp to warn the others that Turks were shooting from the other side of the river. The camp exploded in a frenzy of men who thought Turks were overrunning their camp. When the German officers tried to get their fleeing men to calm down and come back, they shouted “halt,” which in a German accent, was mistaken for “Allah.” part of the Ottoman’s battle cry.

All the sides fought one another until the camp commander believed he was being overrun, at which point he ordered the artillery to pound his own men.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

Imagine this but with cannon fire landing everywhere around them.

When the Turkish Army did arrive to take the town two days later, it was completely deserted by the opposition. They rolled into the city immediately, and the Austrians didn’t talk about Karansebes for another forty years.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Steve Carell to make a ‘Space Force’ Netflix comedy

Today Netflix announced that they have teamed up with Greg Daniels and Steve Carell to create a show about the men and women who have to figure out how to make the Space Force a thing.

Based on their video announcement, it looks like the show is already brilliantly self-aware:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QgJR4pAPlE
Space Force | Announcement [HD] | Netflix

www.youtube.com

Space Force | Announcement [HD] | Netflix

“The goal of the new branch is to ‘defend satellites from attack’ and ‘perform other space-related tasks’…or something,” announced the teaser.

Daniels, whose producer credits include The Office, The Simpsons, and Parks and Recreation, along with co-creator Carell, were given a straight-to-series order for their new show, a work place comedy about the men and women tasked to create the Space Force. The episode count and release date have not yet been announced.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

So far, details about the actual Space Force have yet to be determined — although the announcement has launched the inception of hilarious memes — but if Netflix is smart, their new show will take a few notes from Veep, which is probably the most realistic depiction of government workings (you just know the government is even more balls crazy than the military — you just know it).

There have been a lot of discussions about whether the Space Force is actually necessary. That’s above our pay grade, but we did make a video about what missions it could actually perform. Check it out below:

This is what the Space Force would actually do

www.youtube.com

What do you think about the Space Force? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Video shows Delta Force operators swarming ISIS leader’s compound

The US military released video clips of the special-operations forces raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 26, 2019, in northwestern Syria.

US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the head of US Central Command, released the photos and video on Oct. 30, 2019, afternoon, showing US forces entering the compound in search of the ISIS leader.


The mission started at 9:00 a.m. ET on Oct. 26, 2019, in Syria, though US troops did not arrive at the compound until after dark.

No US soldiers were killed during the operation, but a military working dog was injured by live electrical cables after al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest in a tunnel. The dog has recovered from its injuries and returned to duty, according to McKenzie.

Fighters not associated with al-Baghdadi began attacking US troops from two locations, McKenzie said. US aircraft responded by attacking the militants.

Following the assault, the compound was hit by more munitions to prevent the location from becoming a shrine. Multiple armed helicopters, unmanned aircraft, and fighter jets were used to provide cover for the raid.

McKenzie shared before and after photographs of the building, describing it as a “parking lot with large potholes” and “not memorable.”

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Before and after photos of the compound in northwestern Syria.

(Defense Department)

The US troops detained several noncombatants, including 11 children, who were later released.

“Despite the violent nature of the raid, and the high profile nature of this assault, every effort was made to avoid civilian casualties and to protect the children that we suspected would be at the compound,” McKenzie said.

Four women and one man inside the compound were considered threats and killed after they “did not respond to commands in Arabic,” McKenzie added.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch sailors fight off World War II kamikaze attacks in amazing 4K

By 1944, the tides of the war in the Pacific had turned against the Japanese Empire. The United States and its allies repelled the Imperial Japanese Navy in critical battles like Midway, Milne Bay, and Guadalcanal. The stage was set for the U.S. to retake the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese were getting desperate. Low on ships, manpower, and material, they turned to the one thing they had in abundance — zeal for the Emperor.


That zeal led to the surprise kamikaze attacks that have come to define the war in its closing days. The amazing video producers at AARP are dedicated to keeping the memory of veterans of every American war alive and their latest offering is the story of Phil Hollywood aboard the USS Melvin at the Surigao Strait in incredible 4K video.

The Melvin was a Fletcher-class destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet Support Force moving to help the Allied landing at Leyte. But first, they had to get through the 47-mile Surigao Strait. Waiting for them was a fleet of Japanese battleships ready to halt their advance and stymie the allied landing — and the famous return of General Douglas MacArthur to his beloved Philippine Islands.

Phil Hollywood was a young sailor who enlisted after Pearl Harbor at age 17. He was aboard the Melvin at Surigao and talked to AARP about his role as a Fire Controlman 2nd Class during what would become the last battleship-to-battleship combat in the history or warfare. The Melvin was his first assignment, a ship made of, essentially, engines, hull, and guys with guns.

“It was everything I ever wanted in a fighting ship,” he said. “Facing the enemy was everything. I didn’t think of anything else.”
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Former U.S. Navy FC2 Phil Hollywood, a World War II Pacific veteran, looking at photos of destroyers from that era.

(AARP)

The Melvin was supposed to be looking for flights of Japanese planes via radar and alert the main landing area at Leyte. It was not safe to be on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, even by the standards of that war. Some 77 destroyers were lost in the war and 17 of those were from kamikaze attacks. Hollywood’s battle station was at the top of the director, moving guns on target.

“There were moments I was afraid, not sure if I was going to live or die,” he told AARP. “But one thing’s for certain, I wanted to fight and save our ship. The patriotism was raging in my blood.”
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World War II veteran Philip Hollywood enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was just 19 when he took part in one of history’s greatest naval battles.

(AARP/Phil Hollywood)

Hollywood recalled what it was like to face the kamikaze pilots in battle. The pilots were not well trained. For many, it was their first and last flights, and the planes were loaded up with weapons so traditional flight profiles weren’t really able to be used by the enemy pilots. It was a frightening experience. It seemed like no matter how much they threw at the pilots, they kept coming.

“During a kamikaze attack, being in the main battery directory, we were on telescopes,” he recalled. “It looked like he was coming down our throats. I was frightened, my heart was pounding, one looked like it was gonna hit us. We kept hitting him and hitting him… until I could see the flex of his wings breaking up.”

That was the moment he looked death in the face. Luckily, the plane crashed into the ocean. For Hollywood, it was both a sigh of relief and a moment to think about. Maybe the first thought other than avenging Pearl Harbor – which says a lot for the salty combat sailor Hollywood was by this time.

“It was a new experience,” he said. “Trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive. Anyone at that time who says they weren’t scared… I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
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The Destroyer USS Melvin.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was really a part of the greater Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in military history. It put 300 American ships against some 68 Japanese ships. The Japanese had always believed that one great naval battle could knock the United States out of the war and win it for Japan. This was a must-win battle for both sides, and it showed. The fighting at every level was intense but only one side could come out on top, and it wasn’t the Japanese.

Surigao was just the beginning of the greater battle, and sailors like FC2 Phil Hollywood and the crew of the Melvin started off the biggest naval battle of all time, a battle that would rage on for three full days.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The FBI released their files on Bigfoot

Ever since its inception in 1908, the FBI has been tasked with investigating the sorts of mysteries that keep Americans up at night. From foreign espionage to bank heists, the FBI has earned a global reputation for its investigative prowess for a reason; but despite all their training, resources, and pedigree, even the FBI’s most capable sometimes fall short of finding their suspect. Of course, when the suspect is Bigfoot, it seems a bit more excusable.

Back in 1976, Bigfoot was, well, big. Less than ten years after the Patterson-Gimlin footage took the country by storm with what certainly looked like a living, breathing, ape-monster trudging through the California woods, the Sasquatch had become a fixture at the box office. Theaters all across the country showed films like “Curse of the Bigfoot” and “The Legend of Bigfoot,” along with at least two other ape-man features that year, and even an episode of the “Six Million Dollar Man” had a Bigfoot cameo.

But the most intriguing place Bigfoot popped up in 1976 wasn’t on screen; it was in a file folder at the FBI.


Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film slowed down and stablised

youtu.be

Not everyone in the Bigfoot game back in 1976 had a Hollywood address. Just like today, Bigfoot had a fervent scientific following already scouring the North American forests for any evidence of the missing primate. One of the most respected in the field at the time was Peter Byrne, who served as the director of the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition in The Dalles, Oregon.

Byrne got his hands on a small patch of hair attached to a bit of skin that was supposedly from the ape-man himself, but soon realized that he and his team lacked the capability to conclusively determine the hair’s origin. So Byrne made the decision to send the sample to a reputable third party for analysis: the FBI.

His letter was received by Jay Cochran Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI at the Scientific and Technical Services Division. Cochran started by explaining to Byrne that the FBI isn’t in the business of chasing down unusual hair samples from the woods unless there was some kind of crime involved, but, because of the unique scientific implications, he was willing to make an exception.

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Hair samples sent into the FBI for testing

(Federal Bureau of Investigation)

The FBI files on Bigfoot contain a number of letters between Byrne and FBI officials from that point forward, as Byrne prodded the FBI to take his sample (and pursuit) seriously. Byrne forwarded clippings of articles from large media outlets like the New York Times to show that not only did he have a reputation as a legitimate researcher, but the American people had a vested interest in solving the Bigfoot mystery. Finally, the FBI responded to Byrne with the results of their analysis.

“The examinations included a study of morphological characteristics such as root structure, medullary structure, and cuticle thickness in addition to scale casts. Also, the hairs were compared directly with hairs of known origin under a comparison microscope,” Cochran wrote to Byrne.

“It was concluded as a result of these examinations that the hairs are of the deer family origin.”

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Letter from Jay Cochran, Jr. to Howard Curtis

(Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Cochran returned the sample with the letter, though, according to Byrne, he never received that final bit of correspondence. Because he was traveling at the time, the letter was sent to the executive vice president of the Academy of Applied Science, an organization Byrne’s Bigfoot Information Center maintained close formal ties with. Byrne was presented with the results earlier this week by the Washington Post, and reacted as though the FBI’s conclusion was entirely new to him.

That may well be true, as the files were only uploaded to the FBI’s website this week, though the documents were actually declassified years ago and have been publicly available on websites like The Black Vault ever since.

Of course, it’s impossible to say if the FBI maintains any other files on Bigfoot, but at least for now, it seems the North American ape-man has eluded authorities once again.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China cries at launch of new Japanese destroyer

Japan recently launched a new class of destroyer with top-of-the line US missile-defense technology, and despite Japan’s mostly defensive posture, China portrayed the ship as a dangerous menace.

The seven decades since World War II, which concluded with the US dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, have seen the rise of a strong US-Japanese alliance and peace across the Pacific.


Japan, following its colonization of much of China during the war, renounced military aggression after surrendering to the US. Since then, Japan hasn’t kept a standing military but maintains what it calls a self-defense force. Japan’s constitution strictly limits defense spending and doesn’t allow the deployment of troops overseas.

But threats from North Korea, which several times has fired nuclear-capable missiles over Japan, have prompted a desire in Tokyo for missile defenses, which the US has obliged, manifesting itself in part in Japan’s new Maya destroyer class.

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Japan’s Maya-class ballistic missile defense destroyer

(Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force)

“It’s not a big deal that they have this ship,” Veerle Nouwens, an Asia-Pacific expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. “They’re using it for military exchanges or diplomacy. That’s effectively what it’s doing by going around to India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.”

The new destroyer isn’t a radical departure from Japan’s old ones and will spend most of its time training with and visiting neighboring militaries. The destroyer isn’t exactly a rubber ducky, but it has one of the more peaceful missions imaginable for a warship.

One reason it may have drawn rebuke from Beijing is simple geography. This destroyer will have to pass through the South China Sea, and that is extremely sensitive for Beijing, which unilaterally claims almost the whole sea as its own in open defiance of international law.

China’s Global Times state-linked media outlet responded to the ship’s launch by saying it was “potentially targeting China and threatening other countries,” citing Chinese experts.

“Once absolute security is realized by Japan and the US, they could attack other countries without scruples,” one such expert said, “which will certainly destabilize other regions.”

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The various territorial claims over the South China Sea

China’s real game

“China seeks full control over the South China Sea,” Nouwens said. “We can say that quite squarely. It seeks to displace the US from its traditional position from its regional dominance in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific more widely.”Since World War II, the US, particularly the US Navy, has enforced free and open seas and a rules-based world order. Imposed at a massive cost to the US, this order has enriched the world and specifically China, as safe shipping in open waters came as a given to businesses around the globe.

But now, Nouwens said, “China is threatening to lead to a situation where that may not be a given anymore.”

China has repeatedly threatened force against countries that seek to undertake simple activities, like fishing, within their own UN-designated maritime borders. But when a US Navy ship passes through the South China Sea, Beijing calls it provocative, unhelpful, or destabilizing.

“When other countries do it, it’s threatening,” Nouwens said. “When China does it to other countries, it’s fine.”

That the only two countries to ever engage in nuclear war can now work together as partners looking to protect the rights of all countries on the high seas might represent a welcome and peaceful development.

But for Beijing, which fundamentally seeks to undermine that world order to further its goals of dominating Asia, it’s cause for worry.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Infantry Marines are now getting lighter, more streamlined body armor

The Marine Corps has started fielding a new plate carrier vest that features a more streamlined cut and offers a 25% weight savings over the vests Marines currently wear.

The new Plate Carrier Generation III will go first to infantry and other combat-arms Marines and then to supporting units in a push to reach full operational capability by fiscal 2023, according to a recent Marine Corps Systems Command announcement.


The Corps selected Vertical Protective Apparel LLC in September 2018 to manufacture up to 225,886 of the lighter and better-fitting Plate Carrier Generation III in an effort to increase the performance of Marines on the battlefield.

“When you lighten the load, Marines can get to their destinations faster, and they’re going to have more endurance, which increases their lethality,” Lt. Col. Andrew Konicki, the program manager for Infantry Combat Equipment at Marine Corps Systems Command, said in a statement. “The PC Gen. III is important because it is nearly 25-percent lighter than the legacy technology.”

Military.com reached out to Systems Command for the average weight of the PC Gen. III compared to the current plate carrier but did not receive an immediate response.

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The Marine Corps conducted a study in 2016 using the prototype of the new plate carrier, which involved Marines wearing it while running through obstacle courses and taking a 15-kilometer hike, according to the release. The study results showed that Marines completed the courses faster and appeared better conditioned when wearing the newer plate carrier design, it states.

Program officials worked with industry to remove excess bulk from the legacy plate carrier to reduce weight and give Marines more freedom of movement for handling weapons.

The material of the PC Gen. III reduces water absorption, and designers shaved bulk from the vest by cutting out excess fabric from around the shoulders.

“The PC Gen. III improves the Marines’ ability to shoot and move by eliminating excess bulk from the design, and cutting out the shoulders for a better rifle stock weld,” Lt. Col. Bryan Leahy, who leads the Individual Armor Team at PM ICE, said in the release.

The PC Gen. III is better-fitting than the current vest. It fits closer to the body, increasing protection and decreasing the risk of injury because of improper fit, according to the release.

The Marine Corps also added more sizes, so nearly 15,000 more male and female Marines will be able to get a proper fit when wearing the system, it adds.

“I think there’s a misconception that all females are small, and that’s not always true,” said Konicki. “We conducted a study that found the smallest Marine is actually male.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The world’s longest flight is moving one step closer to reality

Australian airline Qantas is taking the next steps towards its goal of having nonstop 19-hour flights between Sydney and London and New York.

The airline has openly discussed the endevour — internally known as “Project Sunrise” — for several years, following the successful launch of a slightly shorter, but still lengthy, nonstop flight between Perth and London in March 2018.

That route is measured as about 9,000 miles and takes around 17 hours, while the Sydney-New York route would be around 10,000 miles, and the Sydney-London flight is about 500 miles longer.


Qantas is scheduled to receive three new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft this fall — one each in October, November, and December 2019. The planes are being built at Boeing’s Seattle plant, and would normally be flown by Qantas pilots straight to Australia from there.

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history

(Photo by Suhyeon Choi)

Instead, the airline plans to fly the planes to New York and London first, and then fly nonstop to Sydney from there.

The planes won’t have paying customers — instead, they’ll each have about 40 people on board — including crew — most of whom will be Qantas employees. the airline says it plans to study how those on board react to the lengthy 19-hour flights.

According to the airline, “[s]cientists and medical experts from the Charles Perkins Centre will monitor sleep patterns, food and beverage consumption, lighting, physical movement, and inflight entertainment to assess impact on health, wellbeing and body clock.”

Commercial flights with full or mostly-full passenger loads are not currently possible due to the range of the airplanes available today. Keeping the planes mostly empty will increase their range, making the test flights possible. A normal Qantas 787-9 can seat up to 236 passengers, plus crew, and carry both luggage and cargo, while still achieving a range of about 9,000 miles — the length of the Perth-London flight.

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(Photo by John Kappa)

The airline is considering new ultra-long-range aircraft from Boeing and Airbus for the eventual New York and London to Sydney flights — Airbus’ rumored A350-1000ULR airplane, and Boeing 777X project, both of which are still being tested. Qantas has previously said it would make a decision around the end of 2019.

The world’s current longest flight— from Singapore to New York’s Newark Airport — is operated by a Singapore Airlines A350-900ULR configured with only business class and premium economy seats— no regular economy cabin.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Asad regime threatens to attack US forces in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has raised the possibility of conflict between his army and U.S. forces in Syria if they do not withdraw from the country soon — prompting a warning from the Pentagon.

In an interview with Russia’s RT television on May 31, 2018, Assad asserted that he is willing to negotiate with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that are allied with and embedded with U.S. forces and currently hold about one-quarter of Syria’s territory.

But he said he will reclaim their territory by force, if necessary.

“The only problem left in Syria is the SDF,” Assad told RT, adding he sees “two options” for solving the “problem.”

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history
U.S. armored vehicle inu00a0northeastern Syria.

“The first one: We started now opening doors for negotiations. Because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly they like their country. They don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners,” Assad said in English.

“We have one option: to live with each other as Syrians. If not, we’re going to resort…to liberating those areas by force.”

Assad added that “the Americans should leave.” He said Washington should learn a “lesson” from its experience in Iraq.

“People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” he said.

Assad’s threat to use force against U.S. allies in Syria and about 2,000 American troops providing them with air support and training prompted a warning from the Pentagon.


“Any interested party in Syria should understand that attacking U.S. forces or our coalition partners will be a bad policy,” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said at a press conference in Washington on May 31, 2018.

The U.S. State Department also said that while Washington is not seeking conflict with Syria, it would use “necessary and proportionate force” to defend U.S. and partner forces, which have teamed up to fight Islamic State militants in the region.

In the RT interview, Assad responded sharply to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent description of him as an “animal,” saying, “What you say is what you are.”

The bloodiest day in U.S. military history
President Donald Trump

Backed by Russian air power and Iranian and Hizbullah militias on the ground, Assad’s forces have gained significant ground in recent months in the seven-year civil war that has killed an estimated half a million people and driven another 5 million abroad as refugees.

After regaining control of Syria’s two largest cities — Aleppo and Damascus — Assad this spring set his sights on areas in the country that remain outside his control and in rebel hands.

The Kurdish militia group SDF that is backed by the United States holds the largest area of Syrian territory outside government control, but it has tried to avoid direct clashes with the government during the multisided war.

Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the SDF, said in response to Assad’s comments that a military solution would “lead to more losses and destruction and difficulties for the Syrian people.”

The SDF wants a “democratic system based on diversity, equality, freedom, and justice” for all the country’s ethnic and religious groups, he said in a voice message to Reuters.

Assad in the RT interview also sought to minimize the extent of Iran’s presence in Syria. Israel, which is alarmed by what it claims is a growing Iranian military presence in Syria, has recently destroyed dozens of military sites that it claimed were occupied and used by Iranian forces and Hizbullah militias.

But Assad said Iran’s presence in Syria has been limited to officers assisting the army. Apparently referring to a May 10, 2018 air strike by Israel, Assad said: “We had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian casualty.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent Britain-based war-monitoring group, has said at least 68 Iranians and pro-Iranian forces have been killed in Israeli air strikes since April 2018.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.