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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    Nkerry afghanistanATO foreign ministers are meeting on how to handle a daunting and simultaneous array of security challenges facing the alliance, from Afghanistan and the Middle East and North Africa to a rearmed and resurgent Russia.

    On the Afghanistan front, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. made the case that US and coalition forces would have to stay until the Taliban uprising of late has been extinguished.

    Newly appointed supreme commander of NATO Mike Scaparrotti summarized Nicholson's plan of action for Afghanistan:“It’s a means to realize our objective of a stable and secure Afghanistan that is not a haven for terrorists any longer... I think that’s what I take away from General Nicholson’s report, and I think it’s important that the [military chiefs] also heard it today.”

    This plan of action would contradict US President Obama's stated goal of reducing the number of US troops involved in the 15 year war in Afghanistan, though the US and NATO have both suffered casualties recently in Afghanistan.

    On Thursday, the first day of the two-day meeting, the ministers will officially welcome Montenegro as a new alliance member-designate, subject to approval by the US Senate and parliaments in NATO's other member states. The rapprochement between the former Yugoslav republic and NATO has been loudly opposed by Moscow.

    It's only the seventh time in NATO's 67-year existence that the alliance is agreeing to grow. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is calling it "a historic step."

    Ministers will also review NATO policy toward Russia. Stoltenberg said the alliance's approach is based on two pillars: defense, but also dialogue.

    Currently, there are 12,800 NATO troops in Afghanistan, including 6,900 US troops as well as 2,900 US troops on related, but not NATO, missions.

    SEE ALSO: The world's most powerful military alliance just reached its arm out to another nation

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A teacher in Afghanistan turned his bike into a mobile library and cruises the countryside giving kids a chance to read

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    USS Freedom

    The US Navy is preparing to roll out an advanced network of targeting information that will revolutionize the fleet's capabilities in a time when they are increasingly being threatened by regional rivals.

    Russia and China are at or near parity with US naval forces in key strategic areas and developing convincing anti-access/area-denial defenses. Russia has even gone as far as to simulate attacks on the USS Donald Cook as it sailed off the coast of Poland.

    American air superiority is in question in a time when our allies need our reassurance most, but there is a bright spot just over the horizon.

    The Navy has lately been focused on a concept called "distributed lethality," or equipping even its smallest ships with powerful, stealthy, and long-range missiles that can sink enemy ships or signal emitters from a safe distance. So far, the strategy has mainly relied on retrofitting the ships to carry "over-the-horizon (long range)" missiles.

    The next step appears to be the formation of a "tactical cloud," or a network of targeting information from satellites, aircraft, ships, submarines, and even weapons themselves to form a lethal "kill web."

    This will afford the Navy "the ability for us to utilize air-launched capabilities, surface launched capabilities and subsurface launched capabilities that are tied together with an all domain" information network, said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Darrah at the Naval Air Systems Command, as the US Naval Institute notes.

    "We call it the tactical cloud. We're going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution," he said.

    The tactical-cloud concept mirrors abilities already possessed by regional adversaries: "Specifically their ability to take all of their sensors and nets them together to project their ability to see me faster and farther away and [now] my sanctuary [has] been decreased," Darrah said.

    aircraft carrier

    "It's about their ability to reduce the amount of space I have to operate in by tying their capability together and force me to operate from a farther distance from a threat," he said.

    The Navy already employs more ships, bases, and radar sites than any navy in the world. The issue now is simply leveraging them to create an all-inclusive picture that draws on information from submerged vessels all the way up to space assets.

    As such, the Navy looks to introduce the network within the year, with Darrah saying that the tactical-cloud concept "has been tested and it will be ready to deploy later this year, we're pretty excited about that."

    The network of sensor information will greatly increase the capability and interoperability of different Navy platforms.

    "I can replace an F-18 with a Harpoon with a JSF and another weapon [in the future]. That's the important piece. This is about [being] role based. Role-based means I don't care what the platform is, what I care about is the sensor that generates the information," Darrah said.

    naval strike missile NSM konsberg

    The challenge, once the network goes live, is prioritizing and finding relevant data in the web.

    "We're going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution, [but] what's the pedigree of the data?" said Darrah. "Who generated it? How long has it been since it's been refreshed? Is it actually a fidelity that's meaningful to my weapon?"

    SEE ALSO: How NATO should respond to Russian aggression in the Baltics

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US Navy is set to take over this $4.4 billion futuristic-missile destroyer

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with military officials at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia, May 13, 2016. Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters

    At first glance, the massive shoot-out at Moscow's Khovanskoye Cemetery this past weekend seemed pretty retro.

    What, after all, reminds us more of the 1990s than rival Russian gangs staging a deadly brawl in a turf war over control of the lucrative burial business? What is more reminiscent of the gratuitous violence and lawlessness of the first post-Soviet decade than a shooting gallery amid the tombstones?

    "The wild Russian '90s, replete with murders, racketeering, and criminal-fueled chaos, are back," the magazine The American Interest opined on its Mafia State Watch blog, adding that Russian leader Vladimir "Putin has long boasted that he alone was able to help Russia get over this tumultuous period, and that he alone could guarantee stability for an unlimited amount of time."

    But in addition to giving us a blast from the past, the showdown at Moscow's largest cemetery also gave us -- perhaps -- a glimpse of the future. 

    Because Putin never ended the gangsterism of the 1990s, he just nationalized it.

    And now the Kremlin's grip may be slipping.

    If Boris Yeltsin's Russia often resembled a mafia masquerading as a country, it was a mafia run by a weak, feeble, and frequently inebriated godfather. This, of course, was a recipe for chaos, as it gave Yeltsin's capos and underbosses a lot of leeway, which they used with impunity.

    Putin, in contrast, sent a clear and early message to the underworld: the state is the biggest gang in town and all others are subordinate to it. 

    Putin's deal with the criminal underworld was simple: do your gangster stuff, but don't do it in the open; don't embarrass the Kremlin with the noisy public shoot-outs that were the hallmark of the 1990s. 

    Vladimir Putin

    And oh, by the way, if the Kremlin needs a favor someday, you had best be ready to oblige.

    The shoot-out in Khovanskoye Cemetery violated Putin's first commandment to the underworld.

    It also exposed the soft underbelly of the regime; it revealed the rot that forms the foundation of Putin's Power Vertical. 

    Organized crime groups are colluding with the authorities and with law enforcement at every level. Police are often more concerned with taxing the illegal narcotics trade than fighting it. And even things like cemeteries are bound up in Russia's sprawling political- bureaucratic-criminal web.

    Russian media quoted law enforcement officials as saying that this weekend's shoot-out -- which involved enforcers from the North Caucasus attacking Central Asian migrants working at the cemetery -- was related to turf wars over who would control burial plots and maintenance work at the cemetery. 

    One of those arrested was a police officer. Also under investigation is the cemetery's director. And one of the main subjects of the investigation is Ritual, a state-run funeral agency.

    "The language of the banditized '90s no longer describes today's power structures," journalist and political analyst Oleg Kashin wrote in "The integration between criminals and the authorities is on a whole new level, as are the stakes."

    Vladimir Putin

    And the monster under the Kremlin has been rearing its head with increasing frequency.

    A warning shot came back in November 2010 in the Krasnodar region with the horrific Kushchevskaya massacre, in which 12 people, including four children, were killed by a gang led by a local mob boss with close ties to local politicians and law enforcement.

    Then there was the high-profile assassination of the legendary gangster Aslan Usoyan, an old-school "vor v zakone" who was known by the moniker "Ded Khasan," in downtown Moscow in January 2013.

    And last month in the village of Ivashovka in Samara Oblast, there was the slaying of Andrei Gosht, a former senior police officer, and five of his relatives -- a case Russian media reports suggested was tied to organized crime.

    When the economic pie was expanding, it was easy for the Kremlin to manipulate the criminal underworld and keep it tame and well fed.

    But those days are over. The pie is shrinking and only the best connected crime groups are thriving -- and the rest are getting restless, and more willing to break the rules. 

    The shoot-out at the Khovanskoye Cemetery might just be a harbinger. 

    "It's neither the opposition nor the bureaucracy, but those who are willing to die to achieve their specific goals who are showing us what a potential civil war in Russia could look like," Kashin wrote in his column in

    SEE ALSO: Putin's downfall: Here are 3 possible outcomes for the Russian regime

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    NOW WATCH: The US is showing its strength against Russia by sending its most advanced warplanes to the Black Sea

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    gurkha Dipprasad Pun

    To say that Gurkhas are simply soldiers from Nepal would be a massive, massive understatement. If there’s a single reason no one goes to war with Nepal, it is because of the Gurkhas’ reputation.

    They are elite, fearless warriors who serve in not only the Nepalese Army but also in the British and Indian armies as well, a tradition since the end of the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1816.

    They are known for their exceptional bravery, ability, and heroism in the face of insurmountable odds. Faithful to their traditions, one Gurkha in Afghanistan, Dipprasad Pun, single handedly held his post against more than 30 Taliban fighters.

    It was a September evening in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. It was 2010, and Sergeant Dipprasad Pun of the Royal Gurkha Rifles was on duty at a two-story outpost. He heard some noises and found two insurgents attempting to lay an IED in a nearby road. He realized he was surrounded. The night sky filled up with bullets and RPG fire. Taliban fighters sprang into a well-planned assault on Pun’s outpost.

    Pun responded by pulling his machine gun off its tripod and handholding it as he returned fire toward the oncoming fighters. He went through every round he had available before tossing 17 grenades at the attackers. When he was out of grenades, he picked up his SA80 service rifle and started using that. He even threw a land mine at the enemy.

    As Pun defended his position, one Taliban fighter climbed the side of the tower adjacent to the guard house, hopped on to the roof and rushed him. Pun turned to take the fighter out, but his weapon misfired. Pun grabbed the tripod of his machine gun and tossed it at the Taliban’s face, which knocked the enemy fighter off of the roof of the building.

    Pun continued to fight off the assault until reinforcements arrived. When it was all said and done, 30 Taliban lay dead.

    He was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

    “At that time I wasn’t worried, there wasn’t any choice but to fight. The Taliban were all around the checkpoint, I was alone,” he told the crowd gathered at the ceremony. “I had so many of them around me that I thought I was definitely going to die so I thought I’d kill as many of them as I could before they killed me.”

    In all, he fired off 250 machine gun rounds, 180 SA80 rounds, threw six phosphorous grenades and six normal grenades, and one claymore mine.

    Pun comes from a long line of Gurkhas. His father served in the Gurkha Rifles, as did his grandfather, who received the Victoria Cross for an action in the World War II Burma theater.

    SEE ALSO: This political cartoon is a perfect encapsulation of the US's future in Afghanistan

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A teacher in Afghanistan turned his bike into a mobile library and cruises the countryside giving kids a chance to read

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    Since ISIS first started making rapid gains in Iraq and Syria in June 2014, President Barack Obama has faced serious pressure across the political spectrum to strongly intervene.

    US-led international efforts against ISIS have made a major impact against the group. Targeted airstrikes have crippled large segments of ISIS's infrastructure. And the US spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve has recently said that ISIS has lost 45% of its territory in the Middle East.

    But despite these gains against ISIS, the terrorist group still controls Iraq's second-largest city and significant territory in Syria. Detractors have said that Obama has not done enough to face the ISIS threat, especially as the group has gone on to carry out terrorist attacks across Europe.

    Cartoonist Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee published this cartoon about the difficulties in facing ISIS. The cartoon helped him win the 2016 Editorial Cartooning Pulitzer Prize.

    screen shot 2016 04 19 at 12.51.23 pm

    SEE ALSO: This political cartoon is a perfect encapsulation of the US's future in Afghanistan

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    NOW WATCH: Female soldiers have created a 30-woman unit to fight ISIS in Iraq

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    Strong Europe Tank contest nato german

    On May 13, seven platoons from six NATO nations squared off for the Strong Europe Tank Challenge, a three-day tank competition that tested offensive and defensive operations.

    The German platoon took first place, with Denmark taking second and Poland taking third.

    The US platoons did not place in the contest, which was the first of its kind since 1991.

    The joint competition in Grafenwoehr, Germany, underlines a large-scale effort to increase military readiness in Eastern Europe as Russia increasingly engages in threatening behaviors.

    Increasingly, military planners are beginning to realize that conventional warfare, like infantry and tank brigades, are needed to deter, or even win a conflict with Russia.

    "To maintain the whole portfolio of capabilities, it is really important to also train together with tanks," German Army Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, the first non-American to be chief of staff for US Army Europe, said in a US Army statement. "We want to promote the capabilities of armored warfare and tanks because it is needed."

    "It is really important to work together with other nations as close as you can," he said. "Only training and integration build interoperability and trust for success in multinational operations."

    In the slides below, see exactly how the competition went down.

    SEE ALSO: The US Navy has a new trick up its sleeve, and it could be a game changer

    Here is the German Leopard 2A6 at the competition.

    Crew: 4 soldiers

    Platoon size: 4 tanks

    Armament: 120 mm smoothbore, 2x 7.62 mm

    Speed: 42 mph

    Range: 310 miles

    Length: 36 feet

    Weight: 62 tons

    Here's the Danish entry into the competition, also a Leopard but a 2A5 model.

    Crew: 4 soldiers

    Platoon size: 4 tanks

    Armament: 120 mm smoothbore, 2x 7.62 mm

    Speed: 45 mph

    Range: 310 miles

    Length: 32 feet

    Weight: 62.5 tons

    Here we see the Polish Leopard 2A5.

    Crew: 4 soldiers

    Platoon size: 4 tanks

    Armament: 120 mm smoothbore, 2x 7.62 mm

    Speed: 45 mph

    Range: 310 miles

    Length: 32 feet

    Weight: 62.5 tons

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    AJoseph Dunford testifies during the Senate Armed Services committee nomination hearing to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 9, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/Filesfter a week of rumblings that the US was preparing to arm and deploy Special Forces to Libya, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, said on Thursday that a military deployment to Libya could happen "any day."

    Speaking to journalists after returning from a NATO meeting in Brussels, as The Washington Post notes, Dunford outlined a "period of intense dialogue" between the US and Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord, who seek to rid the country of a recent but pronounced ISIS presence.

    The terrorist group ISIS has been gaining ground in Libya even as their so-called caliphate shrinks in Iraq and Syria as a US-led coalition and various regional forces attack the group from every angle.

    For ISIS, branching out into Libya provides it a potential "back-up capital" in case the terrorist group is driven out of its main base in Syria.

    "There's a lot of activity going on underneath the surface," said Dunford. "We're just not ready to deploy capabilities yet because there hasn't been an agreement. And frankly, any day that could happen."

    "There will be a long-term mission in Libya," said Dunford.

    In fact, US Special Forces have been on the ground in an advisory role since late last year.

    libya isis map

    But by backing the fledgling GNA, the US makes a risky political move. Despite being supported by the UN, neither the Libyan House of Representatives nor the General National Congress in Tripoli have fully accepted the GNA.

    Additionally, US arms sent to Libya could eventually end up in the hands of the very terrorists they were meant to fight, as has happened in Syria and Iraq.

    Currently, the UN has embargoed the shipment of weapons to Libya as they wrestle with an increasingly prominent ISIS presence, but the UN Security Council and more than 15 other nations recently said that they would approve exemptions to the embargo to back the GNA.

    Should, or more likely when, the US deploys to Libya, it will likely be Special Forces that advise and assist local forces in reclaiming their country from ISIS, much like the Special Forces in Iraq and Syria.

    Unity government head Fayez Seraj (R) shakes hands with a soldier during a tour of Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, Libya, April 1, 2016, in this handout photo provided by the Office of Information. REUTERS/Office of Information/Handout via Reuters

    But despite their nominal support roles, the recent death of US Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV by ISIS fire in Iraq shows just how quickly the "advising and assisting" can crossover into full-on combat.

    The US isn't alone in seeking intervention in Libya. Specifically, Italy, just across the Mediterranean, has expressed interest in supporting the GNA against ISIS and other Islamist militias gaining ground in North Africa.

    The US-led coalition against ISIS has already carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya.

    SEE ALSO: See how US-led airstrikes are crippling ISIS infrastructure in Iraq and Syria

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Female soldiers have created a 30-woman unit to fight ISIS in Iraq

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    dambusters 617 raf F-35

    The picture above shows the airmen of the RAF's 617 "Dambusters" squadron in front of two F-35Bs with their World War II counterparts superimposed behind them.

    The black-and-white counterparts were on the forefront of military aviation technology in World War II, when the multinational squadron of bombers needed a way to knock out Nazi Germany's hydroelectric dams. Besides air and sea defenses, the Germans devised torpedo nets that protected their dams from conventional attacks.

    Not to be defeated, the British devised a "bouncing bomb" to be dropped from Lancaster bombers flying just 60 feet above the water. The mission was bold and dangerous, but the 617th prevailed, earning them a sort of legendary status in history.

    Here's an illustration of how the bouncing bomb worked (from Weymouth College):

    Now, airmen from the same squadron train with US Marines in Beaufort, South Carolina, to fly the most advanced jet in the world, the F-35 Lightning II.

    “We work alongside the US Marines flying the jets and training pilots and maintainers every day. We’ve been working with our US partners since the beginning of the F-35 programme and we continue to develop the capabilities of the aircraft together,"said RAF Wing Commander John Butcher, 35, the officer commanding of the 617 Squadron, whose grandfather flew Lancasters during World War II.

    "We work very closely with the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps and other international partners in making decisions on the programme; the relationships really couldn’t be better.”

    SEE ALSO: One graphic shows 75 years of Air Force innovation

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US is showing its strength against Russia by sending its most advanced warplanes to the Black Sea

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    turkish jets acrobatic HUD

    The following video was filmed from aboard the NF-5A #3 of the Turkish Stars (Turkish: Türk Yıldızları), the aerobatic demonstration team of the Turkish Air Force during an airshow.

    The footage includes captions that let you understand what happens during the “2×2 cross” maneuver, when the #1 and #3 aircraft cross with the #2 and #4 coming from the opposite direction at an altitude of around 270 feet above the ground and a relative speed of about 1,600 km/h.

    Towards the end the clip you’ll see how close the aircraft of the two section pass one another.


    SEE ALSO: The legendary RAF 'Dambusters' of WWII are now flying F-35s with US Marines

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    NOW WATCH: 7 incredibly tiny details you never noticed in your iPhone

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    Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. Picture taken March 8, 2015.  REUTERS/Stringer

    BEIRUT – The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force has delivered a bombastic speech in which he claimed that Tehran has “triumphed” over its enemies in the Middle East.

    “It is certain that Iran has triumphed in all arenas in the region,” General Qassem Soleimani said during a conference Monday in Qom, one of the preeminent centers for Shiite theological work in the world.

    The Iranian military heavyweight claimed that without Tehran’s support “ISIS would have imposed [itself] across all of Syria,” while adding that his country’s efforts have foiled all of Washington’s goals in the war-torn country.

    “Iran relied on logic during its confrontation with US and benefited from its enemies’ mistakes,” he added, according to an Arabic-language translation of his speech prepared by Al-Mayadeen television, which has an editorial line closely supportive of Tehran.

    “The US worked to ignite wars in the region by supporting terrorists, but victory was on our side,” the Iranian general also said.

    Despite his proclamation of victories, Soleimani cautioned that Washington would continue to aim to “destabilize Iranian power.”

    “The US seeks to [achieve] a political, security and military presence as it believes that the Islamic Revolution was and still is the cause of the collapse of their abilities in the region.”

    “We should be on alert for this,” he warned. 

    NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated the Arabic-language source material.

    SEE ALSO: Hezbollah's top commander in Syria has been killed

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    NOW WATCH: These US war conspiracies turned out to be true

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    China Fishing Boats East China Sea

    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's navy has detained three Chinese ships with around 100 crew on board on suspicion of illegal squid fishing, officials said on Monday.

    The ships were spotted on Friday having entered South Africa's 200 nautical mile economic exclusion zone without permits. When South African officials asked the ships to sail to port they attempted to flee but were eventually captured.

    "We cannot tolerate the plundering of our marine resources, which are a source of food security," Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana said in a statement.

    "We are also looking into the sudden influx of these vessels in our waters."

    The three vessels - Fu Yuan Yu 7880, Fu Yang Yu 7881 and Run Da 617 - had a combined total of almost 600 tonnes of squid when the navy escorted them to shore. Inspectors found all three ships had no permits to fish locally.

    Crew members have been detained on the ships. Captains face fines and possible jail sentences if found guilty.

    Globally, illegal fishing costs the industry around $23 billion each year, with one in four fish thought to be caught illegally in African waters.

    In October, a Sao Tome and Principe court won a key victory against illegal fishing by organised syndicates when it convicted the captain of a vessel and two crew members on a number of charges, Interpol official said. 

    (Editing by Joe Brock)

    SEE ALSO: Japan and China are locked in a Coast Guard 'arms race'

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    NOW WATCH: A global intelligence analyst explains why the ‘real’ China is not the China we think of

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    Barack Obama Tran Dai Quang Vietnam

    The United States announced an end to its embargo on sales of lethal arms toVietnam on Monday, an historic step that draws a line under the two countries' old enmity and underscores their shared concerns about Beijing's growing military clout.

    The move came during President Barack Obama's first visit to Hanoi, which his welcoming hosts described as the arrival of a warm spring and a new chapter in relations between two countries that were at war four decades ago.

    Obama, the third US president to visit Vietnam since diplomatic relations were restored in 1995, has made a strategic 'rebalance' toward Asia a centerpiece of his foreign policy.

    Vietnam, a neighbor of China, is a key part of that strategy amid worries about Beijing's assertiveness and sovereignty claims to 80 percent of the South China Sea.

    The decision to lift the arms trade ban, which followed intense debate within the Obama administration, suggested such concerns outweighed arguments that Vietnam had not done enough to improve its human rights record and Washington would lose leverage for reforms.

    Obama told a joint news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang that disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully and not by whoever "throws their weight around". But he insisted the arms embargo move was not linked to China.

    china military

    "The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations. It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam," he said. Obama later added his visit to a former foe showed "hearts can change and peace is possible".

    The sale of arms, Obama said, would depend on Vietnam's human rights commitments, and would be made on a case-by-case basis.

    Human rights group outraged

    Human Rights Watch reacted with dismay to Washington's decision to toss away a critical lever it might have had to spur political reform in the Communist party-ruled state.

    Phil Robertson, the watchdog's Asia director, said in a statement that even as Obama was lifting the arms embargo Vietnamese authorities were arresting a journalist, human rights activists and bloggers on the street and in their houses.

    "In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of US leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam – and basically gotten nothing for it," he said.

    Obama told the news conference with President Quang Washington would continue to speak out for human rights, including citizens' right to organize through civil society.

    c-5 galaxy m1 abrams

    Obama is scheduled to meet with a group of activists on Tuesday.

    Quang, who actually announced the lifting of the US embargo before Obama could do so, was until recently minister of public security, which activists say harasses and arrests dissidents.

    Dissent was once the domain of just a few in Vietnam, but while the party has allowed more open criticism in recent years, it is quick to slap down challenges to its monopoly on power. 

    Leverage on arms deals

    south china seasThough the communist parties that run China and Vietnam officially have brotherly ties, China's brinkmanship over the South China Sea - where it has been turning remote outcrops into islands with runways and harbors - has forced Vietnam to recalibrate its defense strategy.

    Security analysts and regional military attaches expect Vietnam's initial wish list of equipment to cover the latest in surveillance radar, intelligence and communications technology, allowing them better coverage of the South China Sea as well as improved integration of its growing forces.

    Washington has allowed sales of defensive maritime equipment since 2014. Hanoi's military strategists are expected to now seek drones, radar, coastal patrol boats and possibly P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft from the United States.

    Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam's military at Australia's Defence Force Academy, said the steep costs of US arms would remain a factor for Hanoi, pushing it toward its traditional suppliers of missiles and planes, particularly long-time security patron, Russia. On the other hand, the lifting of the embargo will provide Vietnam with leverage in future arms deals with those suppliers.

    China sees US support for rival South China Sea claimants Vietnam and the Philippines as interference and an attempt to establish hegemony in the region. Washington insists its priority is ensuring freedom of navigation and flight.

    However, China's response to the announcement in Hanoi was muted. The foreign ministry said it hoped the development in relations between the United States and Vietnam would be conducive to regional peace and stability.

    The logo of Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index listed company Boeing (BA) is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    Underlining the burgeoning commercial relationship between the United States and Vietnam, one of the first deals signed on Obama's trip was an $11.3 billion order for 100 Boeing planes by low-cost airline VietJet.

    China is Vietnam's biggest trade partner and source of imports. But trade with the United States has swelled 10-fold over the past two decades to about $45 billion. Vietnam is now Southeast Asia's biggest exporter to America.

    In the commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, Obama will on Tuesday meet entrepreneurs and tout a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal he has championed.

    Obama said at the news conference he was confident the trade pact would be approved by US legislators, even though it is an election year. He said he had not seen a credible argument that the deal, which will group 12 economies, would hurt US business.

    SEE ALSO: China isn't the only one building islands in the South China Sea

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The US Navy is set to take over this $4.4 billion futuristic-missile destroyer

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    US Aircraft carrier

    A recent video from the US Naval Institute takes us aboard the USS John C. Stennis with the 9th Carrier Wing to detail the role, functions, and capabilities of every single plane and helicopter on the ship.

    The US's 10 operational aircraft carriers each measures nearly 1,100 feet in length, house as many as 6,000 sailors, and support more than 70 aircraft. These are some of the most complex and imposing machines ever made by man.

    From providing mobile air superiority and striking ground targets to jamming enemy radar, hunting submarines, or routine logistics support, the Carrier Wing group has a tool for each job.

    Get an inside look below at the air power that the US Navy's 9th Carrier Wing can bring to bear on short notice to any location in the world.

    SEE ALSO: The US Navy has a new trick up its sleeve, and it could be a game changer

    SEE ALSO: 19 photos proving the US's aircraft carriers are the ultimate weapon


    Four of the eight squadrons and one detachment aboard a carrier wing fly F-18s in either one or two seat varieties.

    The plane serves a dual purpose as a "both a fighter and an attack airplane," meaning it can engage enemy aircraft with "all the different types of missiles and weapons systems," as well as hitting all targets on the ground.

    "For the attack role, they can shoot almost all weapons in the US inventory," Capt. Rich ‘Snap’ Brophy, the commander of Carrier Air Wing 9, told the US Naval Institute.



    Though it looks almost identical to the F-18, the E/A-18G Growler has a totally different role.

    "Anytime a radar sets off any type of signal, this airplane is able to pick up that signal, classify it, locate it, and hopefully target it if it needs to," Brophy explains. 


    Brophy describes the E-2 as the "quarterback in the sky." The large propeller-driven plane carries a giant radar on top and shares that information with the entire strike group.

    "They help link one warfare commander to the other commanders and really help ensure that the picture is fused across all the various warfare commanders," Brophy said.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Democratic Forces Syria Fighters

    BEIRUT – The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by Kurdish troops have launched a widely-anticipated offensive north of ISIS’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, days after Washington’s top military official region visited northern Syria.

    The SDF on Monday afternoon announced the start of the campaign, under the banner “Liberation of Northern Raqqa,” but cautioned that the offensive does not immediately aim to capture the city itself.

    “The campaign is aimed at repelling terrorist attacks on Shaddadi, Tel Abyad and Kobane, ensuring the security of our people,” the coalition said on its official Twitter account.

    The SDF added that the campaign will “focus on the liberation of Syrians” in northern Raqqa from “Daesh (ISIS) oppression.”

    The ANHA news agency—which is close to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)—heralded the start of the campaign, saying it would be a three-pronged offensive launched from Ain Aissa, a desert town approximately 50-kilometers north of Raqqa.

    According to the outlet, the YPG’s ethnic Arab allies in the SDF “will be at the vanguard of the forces participating in the campaign.”

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tracking developments in the war-torn country reported that ongoing fighting has been raging since the morning north of Raqqa between the SDF and ISIS amid heavy coalition airstrikes.

    At least 22 ISIS members have been killed in the bombing runs targeting the extremist group’s positions, according to the monitoring NGO.

    The SOHR said earlier in the day that offensive aims to control a stretch of territory to the north and northwest of the de-facto ISIS capital, where coalition jets in recent days have been dropping leaflets calling on residents to flee.

    syria map may 2016

    Sources told the Observatory that the campaign, for now, does not have the objective of driving into Raqqa. 

    “Kurdish YPG units agreed to start the operation after they received promises from US [CENCTOM chief] Joseph Votel during his visit to the visit… and after promises received by the [Kurdish] Democratic Union Party during their [recent] visit to Washington DC,” the NGO’s report added.  

    The ANHA, for its part, claimed that 250 US special forces operators arrived in Syria overnight Monday to take part in the campaign.

    Votel, the top US military official responsible for his country’s Middle East operations, visited northern Syria over the weekend where he met with top Kurdish leaders.

    Brett McGurk, Washington’s point-man for the coalition fighting ISIS, said that Votel was in Syria “preparing the push on Raqqa.” 

    NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated the Arabic-language source material.

    SEE ALSO: The US-led coalition is dropping these leaflets on ISIS' capital in Syria to 'mess with them'

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    NOW WATCH: A Russian orchestra threw a surprise concert in the ancient city of Palmyra

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    In war, even the most advanced aircraft can be shot down, special operations forces can be ambushed, and well-defended airports and army bases can be shelled and weakened from afar by simple, indirect-fire weapons. Such was the case in an attack claimed by the Islamic State on a strategic loyalist air base in central Syria.

    Satellite imagery acquired by Stratfor in partnership with AllSource Analysis verifies that the T4 air base was severely damaged by an Islamic State artillery attack. In particular, four Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters appear to have been destroyed.

    syria russia airbase struck by isis focal point

    The T4 air base, one of the most important Syrian bases in the country, is located in Homs province near the city of Palmyra and near a strategic crossroads of routes that lead to Deir el-Zour, Raqqa, Damascus and other crucial areas. It houses two fixed-wing attack squadrons, one composed of Su-24 aircraft and the other of Su-22 aircraft.

    These aircraft have carried out ground-attack missions across Syria, including the operations that eventually forced Islamic State militants out of Palmyra. In addition, the Syrian air force maintains six L-39 trainer aircraft and a few Mi-8/17 transport helicopters at the base.

    Moreover, Russian forces have deployed a contingent of attack helicopters to the T4 air base at least since March 2016, supporting the loyalist offensive to retake Palmyra that same month. Based on satellite imagery as well as video of the base, the Russian force consisted of approximately four Mi-24P gunships. So at least according to these open sources, no Syrian Mi-24 helicopters operated from the T4 air base in recent months.

    syria russia airbase struck by isis focal point 3_0

    In early May, the Islamic State launched an operation to capture the Shaer natural gas field northeast of the air base. After doing so, the group advanced south, seeking to cut off loyalist forces in Palmyra by severing a road that leads west from Palmyra, passes by the T4 air base, and continues toward Homs city.

    Though the Islamic State failed to cut off the road for any extended amount of time, it did move artillery within range of the base, which it subsequently shelled.

    Late May 14, the Islamic State claimed that four Russian attack helicopters and 20 trucks loaded with ammunition were destroyed in the attack. Around the same time, loyalist forces reported that an accidental explosion had taken place in an ammunition storage area at the air base.

    Working with AllSource, Stratfor has discerned what occurred by looking at satellite imagery of the air base from that time period.

    syria russia airbase struck by isis focal point 2 (1)

    It is clear from the imagery that the northeastern part of the T4 air base, the section of the airport where helicopter use is concentrated, sustained considerable damage. Ordnance impact points are visible, especially around the structurally reinforced aircraft shelter and the cargo truck marshaling area.

    The imagery strongly suggests that the explosions that destroyed approximately 20 vehicles and four Russian attack helicopters were not accidental but were related to Islamic State artillery fire. In addition, a Syrian MiG-25 aircraft that was likely already out of commission appears to have been damaged.

    syria russia airbase struck by isis focal point 4 (1)

    The destruction of four Russian attack helicopters at the base is a stark reminder of the constant threat that Russia faces in its mission in Syria. The Russian contribution to the Syrian government has been notable in defending loyalist positions and driving back not only rebel but also jihadist forces in the Syrian conflict.

    But it has come with a cost. Even as Russia continues to rely on aviation and artillery power to support government troops, its forces are not outside harm's way.

    SEE ALSO: Iranian military mastermind: 'Iran has triumphed in all arenas' in the Middle East

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    NOW WATCH: Here's the high-tech military equipment Russia could use against the world

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    ayatollah ahmad jannatiIran's Assembly of Experts has chosen hard-liner Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati to head the powerful body, which is responsible for electing and overseeing the work of Iran’s supreme leader.

    The 88-member Assembly of Experts elected Jannati with 51 votes after its inauguration on May 24. 

    Two other conservatives, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini and Mahmud Hashemi Sharhoudi, won 21 and 13 votes, respectively.

    No moderates or reformists stood for the post.

    Jannati secured reelection in a February vote that saw a landslide for reformists and moderates in Tehran and big gains elsewhere. However, the assembly remains controlled by conservatives.

    The 89-year-old cleric also heads the Guardians Council -- the unelected, constitutional watchdog that disqualified hundreds of reformist candidates from the parliamentary and assembly votes.

    Jannati is a critic of President Hassan Rohani and his attempts to end Iran's isolation by normalizing relations with the West.

    Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and IRNA

    SEE ALSO: Iran has threatened it could destroy Israel in 'less than 8 minutes'

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    NOW WATCH: These US war conspiracies turned out to be true

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    War Remnants Museum

    President Obama lifted the decades-old US embargo on selling arms to Vietnam during an official visit on Monday, effectively knocking down one of the last vestiges of the Vietnam War.

    During a news conference in Hanoi, Obama remarked that "if you consider where we have been and where we are now, the transformation in the relations between our two countries is remarkable."

    Almost 1,000 miles south of the Vietnamese capitol city, the "where we have been" is on display in Ho Chi Minh City at the government-run War Remnants Museum, established in 1975 as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes.

    Throughout the exhibits, the museum details the history of Vietnamese conflict with France, China and the United States – including a gallery dedicated to the "crimes" of the "American War." The outdoor courtyard is filled with captured or abandoned American aircraft, helicopters, tanks and artillery.

    On a recent trip to Vietnam, I visited the museum and spent a while outside looking at all the old US vehicles. Below were some of the items on display.

    SEE ALSO: 11 spectacular photos of jets spitting fire with their afterburners

    A-37 fighter-bomber

    U-17 Plane

    A-1 Skyraider

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Robert McDonald (DC)

    The head of the Department of Veteran Affairs was heavily critic zed by Republicans after comparing wait lines veterans face for healthcare to lines at Disneyland. 

    Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald compared VA wait times to lines at Disneyland during a Monday breakfast with the Christian Science Monitor. 

    “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” McDonald said during the breakfast. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

    Republicans were quick to denounce McDonald for his statements. Arizona Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that McDonald's statements reflected a "fundamental lack of understanding about the serious problems plaguing veterans’ healthcare." 

    "Secretary McDonald’s comparison further erodes what little confidence the American people have left in the Department of Veterans Affairs and its commitment to our veterans," McCain said. 

    McCain's comments were echoed by Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who said McDonald "should be embarrassed for making such a comparison."

    Kirk went on to say that veterans were consistently disappointed by the services that the VA provided and that McDonald should more thoroughly make amends for his statements. 

    "The secretary should apologize for his tone deaf comments and show more respect for the men and women he is supposed to be serving," Kirk said. 

    Two of the Republican Party's leaders also chimed in, noting how the issues affecting the VA were potentially life threatening and were nothing to be made light of. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted how the wait times at the VA have led to deaths. 

    And presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump used McDonald's statements as a springboard to criticize Hillary Clinton while promising that he would "take care of our vets." 

    McDonald was appointed to head the Department of Veterans' Affairs in July 2014, following a wait-list scandal that forced former Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Dozens of veterans are thought to have died at the Phoenix VA hospital system alone while waiting for care, from which the wait-list scandal first emerged. 

    A report from the Government Accountability Office last month found that the VA still lacks the ability to ensure that veterans receive care on time.

    SEE ALSO: Donald Trump rages on Twitter after veterans donations are called into question

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    NOW WATCH: This electric patch helped a veteran with PTSD reconnect with his kids

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    free french foreign legion

    The French Foreign Legion is one of France’s elite fighting forces, filled with men who are ready and willing to do extreme violence on France’s behalf. When 1930s Germany started looking at its neighbors with greedy eyes, it knew that it had to do something about the Legion.

    Germany saw its opportunity in the large number of Legion noncommissioned officers who were German by birth. The Nazis hatched a plan to send droves of men to the Legion. These men would then convince German noncommissioned officers to betray the Legion. The spies would also collect lists of Jewish legionnaires and other groups targeted by the Third Reich for extermination.

    Somewhere around 80 percent of French Foreign Legion NCOs were German, so this was no idle threat. The Legion quickly caught on to the Nazis’ plan and began screening German recruits carefully.

    Still, many Nazi agents got in before the heightened scrutiny began. Legion leaders, knowing they were compromised, began sending suspect Legionnaires to low-risk postings like road construction. At the same time, Legionnaires who might be targeted by the Nazis were sent to far-flung outposts in North Africa.

    The level of German sympathies in the Legion was bad enough that France debated whether or not to deploy Legion units from their headquarters in Algeria to France ahead of the possible German invasion. They settled on recruiting new Legionnaires from anti-Nazi populations, such as political refugees from Germany and French reservists, and brought loyal Legionnaires from North Africa to train them.

    Nine new regiments were raised but most lacked the standards and experience of the true French Foreign Legion. Most of these units were sent to the front before the Germans invaded and they fought bitterly to resist the blitzkrieg when it was launched. When war broke out, the Legion also took the preventative measure of arresting German Legionnaires suspected of being Nazi spies.

    The Legion has a long and proud history of fighting well past when other units would have surrendered, and the Legion units fighting in France upheld that tradition. Most continued fighting even after taking losses of 75 percent or more, only ceasing when ordered by their commanders after the Armistice was signed.

    free french foreign legion

    The 11th Foreign Infantry Regiment, knowing it would likely be wiped out, even burned its colors to prevent their capture before launching a series of delaying actions to buy other units time to retreat.

    After the Armistice was signed, Germany demanded that their spies be allowed to leave the Legion. The true Legionnaires were happy to see them go.

    Those spies took lists of people considered “undesirable” with them, and the Legion quickly had to make false papers to protect them from arrest by the Nazis. Many were shipped under new names to remote outposts where the Nazis were unlikely to look for them.

    Unfortunately, about 2,000 men were found out by the Nazis. Most were sent to a new German unit, the 361st Motorised Infantry Regiment, and forced to fight for Germany.

    At the same time, Legion units split into three groups. Some of the newer units, filled with recruits who had joined “for the duration of the war,” were disbanded. Others joined the Free French Forces under Gen. Charles de Gaulle and continued to resist the Germans. A few units, mostly those in areas already controlled by the Germans, joined the Vichy French forces and fought against the allies.

    In one battle in Syria, this actually resulted in men from the Free French Foreign Legion fighting those from the Vichy French Legion. Following the Legion’s mantra, “The Legion is our Fatherland,” the treated prisoners and wounded from the opposing Legion with special care.

    Ultimately, the Free French Foreign Legion won and continued supporting the Allies well into the invasion of Germany.

    SEE ALSO: The legendary RAF 'Dambusters' of WWII are now flying F-35s with US Marines

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    NOW WATCH: We went inside a secret basement under Grand Central that was one of the biggest World War II targets

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    Saircraft carrierince World War II, flat-topped aircraft carriers have been the backbone of US power projection and military might at sea, but a new generation of long-range missiles being developed by the US's adversaries could push these mechanical marvels off the frontlines.

    The US's massive aircraft carriers have a problem. The F-18s aboard US aircraft carriers have a range of about 500 nautical miles, as noted by Ben Ho Wan Beng at the US Naval Institute.

    The incoming F-35Cs are expected to have a marginally better range of about 550 nautical miles.

    At the same time, China's aptly named DF-21 "Carrier Killer" antiship ballistic missile is said to have a range of 810 nautical miles and is capable of sinking an entire 1,100-foot carrier with 70 aircraft and 6,000 sailors on board.

    Such long-range antiship missiles create areas (also established in the Baltics by Russia) in which the US can't position its most powerful assets, the aircraft carriers.

    Aircraft carriers, which have been the star of the show since their emergence during World War II, may therefore end up taking a back seat to smaller vessels.

    The US Navy has long been working toward achieving "distributed lethality," or a strategy that entails arming even the smallest ship with missiles capable of knocking out enemy defenses from far away. Engaging enemies with smaller ships also helps to keep extraordinarily valuable targets like carriers out of harm's way.

    dong feng 21d DF 21d china military parade

    In fact, the Navy plans to have at least 40 littoral combat ships with a "full suite of anti-ship and anti-submarine sensors and weapons ... Plus such improvements as a medium-range 'over the horizon' missile to sink enemy ships," as Breaking Defense notes.

    So instead of putting a carrier in harm's way, the Navy will most likely look to use longer-range platforms, like cruiser-destroyers that carry the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile, which have a range of about 900 nautical miles.

    USS William P. Lawrence guided missile destroyer

    In the end, a carrier strike group would no longer lead with the carrier.

    Instead, destroyers firing Tomahawk missiles would initiate the attacks, softening up enemy anti-access/area-denial capabilities before the big carriers moved in closer to shore.

    SEE ALSO: A former Navy captain just identified the biggest flaw in the US aircraft-carrier strategy

    SEE ALSO: Every helicopter and plane aboard a US aircraft carrier explained

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    NOW WATCH: This is why US aircraft carriers are a force to be reckoned with

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