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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    north korea

    Foreign journalists visiting North Korea have been told to prepare for a "big and important event" on Thursday, although there were no indications it was directly linked to tensions in the region over the isolated state's nuclear weapons program.

    Around 200 foreign journalists are in Pyongyang as the country marks the 105th birth anniversary of its founding president Kim Il Sung on April 15, North Korea's biggest national day called "Day of the Sun".

    Officials gave no details as to the nature of the event or where it would take place, and similar announcements in the past have been linked to relatively low-key set pieces.

    In 2016, for example, foreign journalists underwent hours of investigation by North Korean officials ahead of what turned out to be a pop concert to mark the finale of a ruling Workers' Party congress.

    But tensions are running high, with a U.S. Navy strike group steaming toward the western Pacific in a show of force and North Korea warning of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a peaceful resolution to the North Korean problem in a telephone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

    In April, 2012, North Korea attempted to launch a long-range rocket ahead of the 100th Day of the Sun. State media later confirmed the launch had failed.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA in an undated photo. 


KCNA/via REUTERS

    On Wednesday, North Korean officials told foreign journalists in Pyongyang invited to mark the national holiday that their schedule had been canceled, and to instead meet early on Thursday to prepare for a "big and important event".

    Visits by foreign journalists to North Korea are rare and tightly coordinated, and security checks at events attended by leader Kim Jong Un are especially rigorous.

    North Korea often uses such visits to showcase new construction projects. In recent weeks workers have been putting the finishing touches to the skyscraper-lined "Ryomyong" street in central Pyongyang.

    Kim has made frequent visits to the street to inspect construction work there, according to state media. North Korea has in the past marked its April 15 holiday with tightly choreographed military parades.

    SEE ALSO: China reportedly sent 150,000 troops to North Korea's border — here's how they could stop North Korea

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's the surprising reason highways have those concrete walls alongside them


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    nikki haley

    The United States told Russia at the United Nations on Wednesday that is it isolating itself by continuing to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Britain said its scientists found sarin was used in a deadly toxic gas attack on Syrian civilians last week.

    Russia is set to block a push by Western powers at the United Nations later on Wednesday to bolster support for international inquiries into the April 4 toxic gas attack in Syria. It will be Moscow's eighth veto in support of the Assad government since the Syrian war began six years ago.

    "To my colleagues from Russia - you are isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, told the U.N. Security Council.

    During a heated Security Council meeting, Russia's deputy U.N. envoy Vladimir Safronkov told the 15-member body that Western countries were wrong to blame Assad for the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

    "I'm amazed that this was the conclusion. No one has yet visited the site of the crime. How do you know that?" he said.

    The attack prompted the United States to strike a Syrian air base with cruise missiles and worsened relations between the United States and Russia.

    President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday trust had eroded between the two countries under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.

    Syria strike map

    Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the Security Council that samples taken from the site of the gas attack, in a rebel-held area of northern Syria, have tested positive for the nerve gas sarin.

    He accused Russia of siding with "a murderous, barbaric criminal, rather than with their international peers."

    Safronkov, who demanded Rycroft look at him while he was speaking, responded: "I cannot accept that you insult Russia."

    Haley also accused Iran of being "Assad's chief accomplice in the regime's horrific acts," adding: "Iran is dumping fuel on the flames of this war in Syria so it can expand its own reach."

    Western powers blame the gas attack, which killed scores of civilians - many of them children - on Assad's forces. Syria's government has denied responsibility for the attack, which prompted a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base.

    Sarin gas deaths

    Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Syria had sent dozens of letters to the Security Council, some detailing "the smuggling of sarin from Libya through Turkey on a civilian air plane by using a Syrian citizen."

    "Two litres of sarin were transported from Libya through Turkey to terrorist groups in Syria," he said, adding that the government does "not have these weapons."

    U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura warned the Security Council on Wednesday that fragile progress in peace talks was now "in grave danger."

    SEE ALSO: MATTIS: Syrian strike will not 'spiral out of control' into war with Russia

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's footage of the US military's new helicopter that'll cost as much as an F-35


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    Sergei Lavrov Rex Tillerson

    Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria and urging a speedy investigation on Wednesday. 

    Wednesday marks the eigth time Moscow exercised a veto in support of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad since the Syrian conflict began six years ago. China abstained from the vote while Bolivia also voted against it, according to Reuters. 

    Earlier in the day, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the Russians are "isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death." 

    Russian diplomats urged patience and for the US and others not to rush to judgment over the April 4 chemical weapon attack that killed more than 80.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's why some Hong Kong skyscrapers have gaping holes


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    U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney (R) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets with members of the Republican Study Committee at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    President Donald Trump discussed his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and how he pressured him to help denuclearizing North Korea by leveraging the US's massive trade with China at a press conference on Wednesday.

    "President Xi wants to do the right thing ... We had a very good chemistry together," Trump said of the pair's meeting when asked if he had a deal in place for China to help with North Korea for trade concessions.

    "I think he wants to help us with North Korea," said Trump, who acknowledged that trade was part of the discussion around North Korea.

    Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart that "the way you're gonna make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea, otherwise we're just going to go it alone, but going it alone means going it with lots of other nations."

    Xi seemed to reaffirm his intention to help curb North Korea's nuclear threats to US forces abroad and allies in the region with a phone call to Trump on Tuesday night in which he signalled a new willingness to act.

    Traditionally, China has been North Korea's biggest backer, and Trump has accused Beijing of not doing enough to help.

    "I was very impressed with President Xi," said Trump. "I think he means well and he wants to help, we'll see if he does."

    SEE ALSO: Whatever Trump said to China about North Korea, it seems like it worked

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This animated map shows how World War I changed Europe's borders


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    Screen Shot 2017 04 12 at 4.55.54 PM

    The AK-47 is most popular assault rifle in the world. With more than 100 million in circulation, it's used by armed forces in more than 80 countries. It's simple and cheap. It's also pretty much indestructible. 

    Watch how the rifle can shoot even after being filled with Twinkies:

    Here's another video showing how AK-47s can fire after being buried underground for 18 years: 

     (H/T to Task and Purpose)

    SEE ALSO: This Chart Shows How The AK-47 Became The Most Popular Assault Rifle

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    NOW WATCH: Fashionable bulletproof clothing is now a thing - but it isn't cheap


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    U.S. President Donald Trump tours the pre-commissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford with Commanding Officer U.S. Navy Captain Rick McCormack (R) at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding facilities in Newport News, Virginia, Virginia, U.S. March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald J. Trump is planning to increase U.S. defense spending by $54 billion next year. But a series of recent reports by the Defense Department Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office say that Pentagon accounting systems will struggle to track how the money is spent.

    The reports found that the Pentagon remains unable to accurately track its $591 billion annual budget and experiences billions of dollars in accounting gaps and errors each year despite two decades of reform efforts. Taken together, the reports show that many of the endemic accounting problems exposed in a 2013 Reuters investigative series remain in place.

    “These deficiencies not only affect (the Department of Defense's) ability to have auditable financial statements,” a Feb. 9 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found, “they also affect its ability to make sound decisions on missions and operations.”

    A spokesman for the White House's Office of Management Budget (OMB) said he was confident that Defense Secretary James Mattis would properly spend the additional funds.

    “The need to replenish our military and bolster American security is unquestioned and an important priority of this president," OMB Communications Director John Czwartacki said in a statement. "We believe Secretary Mattis will deploy all of his resources in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

    Critics of wasteful Pentagon spending say increasing the Defense Department budget is unwise when the department is unable to account for what it already has.

    us air force night

    “It’s ludicrous,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project in Washington. “Reform isn’t going to happen as long as the spigot is turned on.”

    The Pentagon’s continued accounting problems are drawing particular scrutiny now because the Defense Department faces a congressionally mandated legal deadline of Sept. 30, 2017, to become ready for its first audit ever. Unlike every other U.S. government department, the Pentagon has never undergone an audit because its financial records are in such disarray.

    A spokesman for the Defense Department comptroller’s office said he is confident it will meet the deadline.

    “The Department is committed and on track to be ready to undergo a full financial statement audit in (fiscal year) 2018,” Lieutenant Colonel Eric D. Badger said in an email.

    Deep cuts

    At the same time Trump proposes to boost defense spending, he has called for deep cuts to other areas, a White House summary of his proposed 2018 budget shows. Whether Congress will accept or reject Trump's proposals is unclear.

    Trump calls for cutting the State Department’s budget by $10.1 billion, or 28%. Among other things, U.S. payments to support the United Nations would be cut.

    Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would take a particularly big hit. Trump would cut $2.6 billion, or 31%, of its budget. The White House document says the budget would eliminate more than 50 EPA programs, and cut EPA’s research and development budget by $233 million, or 52%. The budget for grants to states for lead clean-up would be cut by 30% to $9.8 million.

    The recent watchdog reports on the Defense Department found that it lacks a unified, functioning accounting system. As Reuters reported in its 2013 series, the Pentagon has hundreds of independent systems, built ad hoc and some dating from the 1970s, that are riddled with errors and incapable of sharing accurate data.

    Billions of dollars disappear from accounting records. The military has spent large sums building new systems meant to solve the problem, but so far they have not.

    A March 16 Defense Department Inspector General report said the Navy could not find any records to back up how it had spent $866 million in the first quarter of 2016 in U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. The report said that as a result, there was no way to know what the money actually was used for.

    A Navy spokeswoman, Lieutenant Kara YingLing, referred Reuters to the Navy’s official response to the report, which said the Navy agreed with the Inspector General’s conclusions but said its accounting problems will not be fixed until it begins using a new computer system in 2019. YingLing said the Navy is “on track” to help the Pentagon meet its Sept. 30 audit deadline.

    The Feb. 9 GAO report said the Pentagon's continued bookkeeping errors affect the federal government as a whole. Defense spending makes up such a large part of the federal budget that the department's unreliable data skews accounting for the entire U.S. government, the GAO said.

    Systemic risk

    An aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington August 31, 2010.    REUTERS/Jason Reed  The report noted that the Defense Department has been on the GAO’s list of “High Risk” entities that represent threats to the federal government’s financial well-being since 1995. The report said the Pentagon has remained on the list because of “long-standing deficiencies with its financial management systems."

    The GAO report noted that the Pentagon had hired large independent accounting firms for each of the military services to try to help them meet the Sept. 30 audit deadline. But the report said the firms have found so many problems that the ability of the Pentagon to meet the deadline remains in doubt.

    A separate Defense Department Inspector General report issued on March 23, 2017, found that the Army continues to be unable to balance its checkbook. The report concluded that the problem for the Army grew worse in 2016.

    The report said that for October 2015, the Army had 177,921 discrepancies. The monthly numbers rose steadily to 790,551 for June 2016. The report did not give dollar amounts for those months.

    Army spokesman Wayne Hall said the number of discrepancies continued to increase in 2017 because planned fixes to computer systems have not yet been made. He said the Army is working on building more reliable systems.

    The report said that because rules require that the Army’s numbers exactly match in monthly reports to the Treasury, the Army and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service must find a way to make them match. Their solution was to enter made-up numbers to make it appear falsely that the Army’s numbers do match.

    The report said that for March 2016, there were $1.9 billion in such “forced balance entries.” Hall said the Army must make the numbers match under federal rules.

    In separate reports, the Inspector General found that other military services have also had problems balancing their financial numbers with the Treasury’s. Accountants interviewed by Reuters said that such large discrepancies would be considered accounting fraud in the corporate world.

    US military life Abrams tank US Army

    Badger, the spokesman for the Defense Department comptroller’s office, said any errors by the military services were unintentional.

    “We strongly oppose any accusation of intentionally misrepresenting our books,” Badger said in an email. “Many manual accounting adjustments are often caused by the ineffective design of legacy business or financial systems.”

    Trump has said the $54 billion in increased defense spending will send a “message to the world in these dangerous times of American strength, security and resolve.” Trump has also vowed to negotiate cheaper contracts with defense contractors, a problem also cited in recent watchdog reports.

    In a March 2016 report, the Inspector General found that the Air Force had spent “billions” on a contract to maintain one type of jet engine, without first getting any idea of a fair price.

    The open-ended contract, with a guaranteed profit margin regardless of cost, was awarded in 2011. The report said that before signing the contract the Air Force obtained no data on the actual cost of the repairs and how the costs compared to private-sector rates.

    The exact amount of the contract was redacted from the report. The Inspector General has not ruled on a March 2016 Freedom of Information Act request filed by Reuters that asked for the redacted information to be made public.

     

    (Editing by David Rohde.)

    SEE ALSO: Trump says he put economic pressure on China's president to help with North Korea

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Meet the MQ-25A Stingray — the US's response to threats like China's 'carrier killers'


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    MOAB bomb

    The Massive Ordnance Air Blast, the weapon whose acronym inspired the nickname "Mother of All Bombs," is the US's largest nonnuclear bomb, weighing in at over 21,000 pounds.

    The bomb was used in combat for the first time Thursday, when it was dropped on an ISIS camp in a rural area of northeast Afghanistan.

    The bomb is so big that it has to be dropped by a C-130 transport plane. Its incredible destructive power makes it ideal for hardened targets like ISIS' network of tunnels and bunkers in Afghanistan.

    Video of the US Air Force testing the MOAB being tested in 2003 can be viewed below. For perspective, the MOAB's impact stretches a mile in each direction.

     

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Meet the MQ-25A Stingray — the US's response to threats like China's 'carrier killers'


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    EXPLOSION FOAB russia

    The US just dropped a 21,600-pound conventional bomb in Afghanistan.

    The bomb, the Massive Ordinance Air Blast, nicknamed the "Mother of All Bombs" because of its acronym, is the largest nonnuclear bomb in the US's arsenal. But Russia has an even bigger one.

    The so-called father of all bombs is thought to be about four times as big as the MOAB. It's a thermobaric bomb with a destruction radius of nearly 1,000 feet and a blast yield of nearly 44 tons of TNT.

    Thermobaric weapons differ from conventional bombs in that they combine with atmospheric oxygen to greatly extend the blast radius.

    Developed in 2007, the FOAB explodes in midair, igniting a fuel-air mixture. It is designed to vaporize targets and collapse structures, producing powerful blasts and aftershocks but without the radioactive fallout of a nuclear weapon.

    Watch the FOAB explode here:

    SEE ALSO: One picture shows how the US routinely drops more explosives than the MOAB

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's footage of the US military's new helicopter that'll cost as much as an F-35


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    DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is tasked with exploring some far out science and technology projects to benefit the United States. Since its inception in 1958, it's been credited with a number of inventions you probably use every day, but it also has worked on some weird stuff that never really came to fruition. Sharon Weinberger, author of  "The Imagineers of War," describes some of the most bizarre projects the agency has worked on over the years.

    Follow Tech Insider:On Facebook

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    f 15 elephant walk

    North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un watched his air force exhibit their air-strike accuracy mere hours before a snap US military exercise flew dozens of fighter jets in dueling displays of airpower on Thursday.

    South Korea's Yonhap News reported North Korea's "target-striking contest," which reportedly pleased the dictator, while Fox News broke the story about the US's massive elephant walk of F-15s, helicopters, and tankers.

    But while North Korea's air display may have been a show, its reported plans to test a nuclear warhead on Saturday, the anniversary of its founding, isn't being taken lightly.

    The US has sent their USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula as tensions flare — a move the North Koreans have condemned as "reckless."

    As the two sides flex their muscles in a lopsided contest, it's China — North Korea's biggest economic and political backer — that may hold the keys to deescalating the conflict.

    "Military force cannot resolve the issue," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Reuters in Beijing.

    Donald Trump Xi Jinping

    At a press conference on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump suggested that he'd pressured China into cutting off support for North Korea and to force the rogue regime to denuclearize.

    China is responsible for a whopping 85% of North Korea's external trade and supplying a similar amount of its energy imports, but Beijing has never fully used this to get the Kim regime to drop its arms program.

    Now, as the US increasingly talks of using military force against North Korea, China has finally signaled a new willingness to act.

    SEE ALSO: Whatever Trump said to China about North Korea, it seems like it worked

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How the US could prevent a North Korean nuclear strike — according to a former Marine and cyberwarfare expert


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    kim jong un

    PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Chinese experts see little immediate possibility of hostilities breaking out between the US and North Korea, but say Beijing will respond harshly to any further North Korean nuclear tests.

    Director of Jilin University's Institute of Northeast Asian Studies Gui Rui says President Donald Trump's domestic troubles should prevent him taking such action, while North Korea doesn't appear to be on a war footing.

    Gui says although the tension on the Korean Peninsula is high, it's not high to the point of having an imminent war.

    He says another nuclear test would invite tougher measures from Beijing, possibly including new restrictions on Chinese companies' investments in North Korea and cuts in the number of Chinese tourists allowed to visit.

     

    SEE ALSO: US and North Korea put on dueling shows of air power as nuclear test looms

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Your neighbor's WiFi is ruining yours — here's how to fix it


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    kim jong telephone_3542147b

    With the world on edge after reports that the US and North Korea are on the verge of war, North Korea has threatened "nuclear thunderbolts" at the first sign of a US preemptive strike, while also slamming China for cooperating with the West, according to NK News.

    While North Korea is expected to carry out another provocative nuclear test on Saturday — the 105th anniversary of the birth of the regime's founder, Kim Il Sung — threats and provocations from the Kim regime have become common.

    But the cooperation seen lately between the world's two greatest powers to contain Kim Jong Un's nuclear ambitions is new.

    "Currently, with the cooperation of 'somebody,' the US is planning to collapse our system, the action that is such a naive and foolish delusion," a North Korean think tank said, according to NK News.

    That reference to "somebody" appears to be a swipe at China, which recently rejected coal shipments from the Hermit Kingdom, thereby hamstringing the North Korean economy. Additionally, Air China announced on Friday it would suspend its only direct flights to North Korea, according to the South China Morning Post.

    While China has signed on to every UN resolution against North Korea since 2006, it remains North Korea's biggest economic and political backer.

    But since US President Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week and threatened trade retaliation against China should it fail to cooperate on denuclearizing North Korea, the Chinese have signaled a new willingness to act.

    Trump said at a press conference on Wednesday that he told his Chinese counterpart: "The way you're gonna make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea. Otherwise, we're just going to go it alone."

    The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the South China Sea, April 8, 2017. Photo taken April 8, 2017.  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown/Handout via Reuters

    Meanwhile, despite reports that the US and North Korea are at the brink of all-out war, Gui Rui, the director of Jilin University's Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, told The Associated Press that war wasn't likely.

    Instead, he said that should Pyongyang carry out its test, the regime could expect harsher rebukes from Beijing, which could single-handedly hobble North Korea by restricting its energy trade, thereby accomplishing what decades of UN sanctions have failed to do: destabilize the Kim regime.

    "I was very impressed with President Xi," Trump said on Wednesday of the pair's meeting. "I think he means well and he wants to help. We'll see if he does."

    SEE ALSO: US and North Korea put on dueling shows of air power as nuclear test looms

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How the US could prevent a North Korean nuclear strike — according to a former Marine and cyberwarfare expert


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    MOAB

    The US on Friday posted footage of its largest nonnuclear weapon's first combat use, against 36 ISIS fighters entrenched in caves and bunkers in northeastern Afghanistan on Thursday.

    "The strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and US forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities," the Pentagon said on Thursday of the strike. ISIS-K refers to ISIS-Khorasan, the terror group's branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    The deployment of the "mother of all bombs" comes from a strategy that started during the Obama administration, according to Scott Stewart, the vice president of tactical analysis at Stratfor, a geopolitical-analysis firm.

    Stewart said that by keeping the US footprint "as limited as possible" on the ground in Afghanistan and instead providing air support, the US could push back on ISIS and Al Qaeda's narrative in Afghanistan — that the US and the West represent imperialist, invasive forces.

    "The more we can turn over the ground fighting to Afghan forces and provide friendly air," the better, Stewart told Business Insider.

    He said it would have taken weeks and many American lives to clear ISIS's network of caves with infantry troops on the ground.

    Watch the blast:

     

    SEE ALSO: The US just dropped the 'mother of all bombs' on ISIS in Afghanistan — here's what that means

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This animated map shows how World War I changed Europe's borders


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    syria evacuation

    Buses evacuated thousands of people from two rebel-besieged Shi'ite villages in northwest Syria on Friday and hundreds of rebels left a town near Damascus with their families, under a deal between the government and insurgents.

    A monitoring group said government forces later entered Madaya, the town where rebels had been holed up for nearly two years, taking back control of yet more territory around the capital Damascus as Syria's conflict enters its seventh year.

    Similar agreements have been reached in recent months, with rebels leaving areas long besieged by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, sometimes in exchange for Shi'ite Muslim residents moving from the villages surrounded by the mostly Sunni insurgents.

    Damascus holds the upper hand against rebels in the west of the country, and has negotiated the deals from a position of strength thanks to Russia's intervention in support of Assad since 2015, as well as backing from Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah.

    The opposition says the deals amount to forced demographic change and deliberate displacement of Assad's enemies away from the main cities of western Syria.

    The government says the deals allow it to take back control and to restore services in the wrecked towns.

    Early on Friday, residents of the mostly Shi'ite villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, besieged by rebel forces in the insurgents' northwestern Idlib province stronghold, left on dozens of buses, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

    The buses arrived several hours later on the outskirts of government-held Aleppo city in northern Syria, the Observatory said.

    Syria strike map

    Meanwhile, buses carrying rebel fighters and their families left government-besieged Madaya near Damascus, the Observatory and a pro-Damascus military media unit reported.

    The evacuation of nearby Zabadani, another town surrounded by government forces and their allies and included in the deal, appeared to have been delayed. No buses had yet left the town, but that operation was expected to begin later on Friday.

    The convoys from Madaya and Zabadani are to head for Idlib.

    A member of one of the Shi'ite parties said 60 buses were moving through the town of al-Foua.

    A similar number of buses were leaving Madaya, the Observatory said. State television reported that engineering teams and Syrian forces would soon enter the town.

    Thousands evacuated

    syria evacuation bus

    About 5,000 people were being transported from the Shi'ite villages, and more than 2,000 from Madaya. The convoys included hundreds of fighters from each side, the Observatory said.

    Buses began arriving from al-Foua and Kefraya on Aleppo's outskirts later on Friday, and passengers were being searched by insurgents before they could cross into government territory, a witness said.

    Syria's population is mostly Sunni Muslim. Assad is from the Alawite religious minority, often considered an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

    Assad's forces and their allies have fought rebels for six years in the conflict that grew from a popular uprising in 2011.

    Russia's intervention around 18 months ago has helped him gain the upper hand militarily, despite diplomatic pressure and support for the rebels by Western and Gulf Arab states. Rebels and Islamist factions have fought back and achieved recent advances in some areas.

    The United States escalated its involvement in the conflict last week, striking a Syrian air base in response to what Washington said was a Syrian chemical weapons attack that killed scores of people in the northwest of the country on April 4. Assad has denied his forces were responsible.

    SEE ALSO: Fox News host says dropping 'mother of all bombs' on ISIS is 'what freedom looks like'

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    NOW WATCH: Watch the Navy's LOCUST launcher fire a swarm of drones


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    170412 M VU801 001.JPG

    Second Lt. Lillian Polatchek made history on Wednesday when she became the first female graduate of the Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course, and the first woman to lead a Marine tank platoon.

    Polatchek graduated from the Army-led Basic Armor Officer Leaders Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, at the top of her class of 67 Marines and soldiers.

    She will soon report to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where she will serve as a tank officer with the 2nd Tank Battalion. 

    Despite being a trailblazer, she downplayed her accomplishment in a video posted by the Marine Corps.

    "Ultimately, I am sort of just looking at it as another Marine graduating from this course."

    The 19-week course at Fort Benning is required for service members to become armor officers. Polatchek's class had only five Marines in it, but they all graduated in the top 20% of their class, including three in the top five, according to a Marine Corps press statement

    "The small group of Marines in the class worked really well together and that reflects in the class rankings,"Polatchek said"So it shows the success of all of our training up to this point and then how we worked well together as a group thanks to our instructors here."

    170412 M OF478 001.JPG

    "I think she's an inspiration for other female Marine who've been looking at the corps and considering joining a ground combat military occupational specialty," Capt. Joshua Pena, a spokesman for Marine Training and Education Command, told Business Insider in a phone interview. "She's an example, and we're very proud of her."

    She is the third female Marine officer to complete training for a front-line combat position. The military opened all combat jobs to women in April 2016. 

    Two female Marines finished artillery officer training in May 2016. Both are currently serving with the 11th Marines at Camp Pendelton in California, Pena said. Two more female Marine officer will start the Marine's Infantry Officer Course this month to try to become the first women to serve as infantry officers. 

    More than 30 female Marine officers have previously washed out from the course. 

    Polatchek is a native of New York, and attended Connecticut College before being commissioned in November 2015. She reported to the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Benning after graduating from The Basic School at Marine Corp Base Quantico, Virginia.  

    "A tank platoon has 16 Marines, and that small leadership-size really gives you, as a platoon commander, the ability to directly work with the Marines you’re leading," Polatchek said. "I’m excited to take everything we’ve learned here and to get a chance to go out to the fleet and apply it."  

    SEE ALSO: Female infantry Marines will train, fight, and sleep alongside their male counterparts

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    NOW WATCH: A Navy SEAL explains how you can escape a carjacking


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    F-35a lightning ii

    The US Air Force said on Friday that a handful of F-35s would head to Europe as part of an initiative to deter Russian aggression.

    According to an Air Force statement, the "long-planned" deployment marks an "important milestone and natural progression of the F-35 program."

    The F-35s will arrive in Europe at a time when Russian aircraft outnumbers— and in some cases can outperform— legacy US and European aircraft stationed there.

    The F-35, with its stealth design and unparalleled information-sharing capabilities, represents a huge step up for US air power, as it can improve the performance of legacy planes it flies with.

    Though Russia has long tried to develop counter-stealth technologies and has even taunted the US about its considerable air-defense capabilities, F-35 pilots who spoke to Business Insider said the new fighter would deliver unprecedented capabilities.

    The Air Force is also looking to scope out the European theater for long-term deployments, which it says would take place in the early 2020s.

    SEE ALSO: US and North Korea put on dueling shows of air power as nuclear test looms

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    NOW WATCH: This is how pilots train to fly the F-35 — America’s most expensive fighter jet


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    kim jong un computerThe Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency recently reached out to BAE systems to develop a workaround for a potential cyberattack on the US that would likely be the precursor to serious acts of actual warfare, Defense Systems reports.

    Basically the US wants a system to quickly identify cyberattacks and build alternative networks as a workaround, securing vital public and private infrastructure online.

    “DARPA is interested, specifically, in early warning of impending attacks, situation awareness, network isolation and threat characterization in response to a widespread and persistent cyberattack on the power grid and its dependent systems,” DARPA program manager John Everett told Defense Systems.

    Both North Korea and Iran have perpetrated cyber attacks on US companies and infrastructure that haven't led to broader conflicts. But with North Korea poised to test another nuclear device, and the US signaling a loss of patience with the Kim regime and sailing an aircraft carrier to the region, cyberattacks may be taken as a precursor to war.

    War between the US and an adversary "wouldn’t begin with a bang, but begin silently,"Peter Singer, a strategist at New America and author of "Ghost Fleet"— a novel that depicts a World War III situation with China, Russia, and the US — told Business Insider.

    In a modern war between states, cyber warfare would be the norm, rather than the exception, according to Ken Geers, a cybersecurity expert at Comodo who previously worked at the NSA.

    bomb farm uss carl vinson south china sea

    In fact, the US has been engaged in cyber warfare against North Korea for years, and DARPA's new project seems like it would only increase the US's already considerable advantage over the Kim regime. 

    According to Geers, because of the limited number of servers and access points to North Korea's very restricted internet, "If it ever came to cyberwar between the US and North Korea, it would be an overwhelming victory for the West."

    "North Korea can do a Sony attack or attack the White House, but that's because that's the nature of cyberspace," Geers said. "But if war came, you'd see Cyber Command wipe out most other countries' [internet] pretty quickly."

    SEE ALSO: North Korea threatens 'nuclear thunderbolts' as US and China finally work together

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    uss gerald r ford aircraft carrier newport news huntington ingalls.JPG

    The US Navy's USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier just returned home to Newport News, Virginia, on Friday after hitting the seas for the first time during builder's trials.

    During the trials, shipbuilders from Huntington Ingalls tested out the basic functions of the Ford, including cranking up its nuclear power plant, tracking aircraft with its new and improved radar, and dry-firing the new electromagnetic catapults meant to give aircraft a smoother launch, according to a US Navy release.

    The Ford carrier is the first of its class and the first totally new aircraft carrier design in four decades. The ship boasts a power plant three times as powerful as previous Nimitz-class aircraft carriers that can accommodate future weapons like directed-energy lasers and electromagnetic railguns.

    The US Navy said it expects the delivery of the Ford by spring and told Business Insider that it hopes to commission the US's new carrier this summer. 

    SEE ALSO: US Air Force F-35s are heading to Europe to send a message to Russia

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    NOW WATCH: These are the small, agile new aircraft carriers meant to take F-35s into battle


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    MOAB bomb

    The US's Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb does not cost $314 million, or $16 million, but $170,000 a unit, the US Air Force told Business Insider on Friday.

    The weapon, whose acronym inspired the nickname "Mother of All Bombs," was produced by the Air Force, not by a third party like Lockheed or Boeing, "so we don't have a standard procurement cost associated with them," an Air Force official said.

    The $170,000 figure makes sense considering a general-purpose 1,000-pound MK-83 costs about $12,000. The MOAB simply features more high explosives and larger fins to direct the GPS-guided munition.

    Many outlets, including The New York Times and Business Insider, inaccurately stated the cost of the MOAB as being in the millions. Business Insider's article has since been corrected to reflect this information.

    SEE ALSO: Here's what it looked like when the 'mother of all bombs' hit an ISIS hideout

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    NOW WATCH: MOAB Blast in Afghanistan


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    china military

    As tensions climb to historic highs between the US and its allies and North Korea, rumors of massive movements of Chinese troops near North Korea's border keep surfacing.

    A Pentagon official told Business Insider that the US had heard the reports but had "not seen anything to corroborate it."

    But Chinese troops are always stationed in the northeast near North Korea, and Yun Sun, a senior associate with the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center, told Business Insider that "Chinese troop movements happen often along that border" when North Korean nuclear and missile provocations seem imminent.

    "When North Korea acts up with some sort of provocation, the Chinese in the past have moved their troops to reinforce their deployments in the northeast for military preparedness," Yun said.

    "On the other hand," Yun said, "I think it does signal that the Chinese are concerned about a potential escalation, or even potential conflict" between the US and North Korea, as North Korea plans a nuclear test and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier pulls up to Korea's coast.

    This footage purporting to show a massive movement of Chinese forces has surfaced online, further stoking the rumors:

    On Saturday, North Korea will celebrate the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Hermit Kingdom's Kim regime.

    Experts have said Pyongyang has a nuclear device ready to test, and the US has signaled a loss of patience with North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons with the intent of one day threatening the US.

    SEE ALSO: How North Korea pays for a nuclear program and lavish parties while under the tightest sanctions on earth

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    NOW WATCH: Meet the MQ-25A Stingray — the US's response to threats like China's 'carrier killers'


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