Recent beachside attacks reveal a new cartel turf war in some of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations

Mexican national guard on Cancun beach
A member of the new Tourist Security Battalion of the National Guard stands guard at a beach in Cancun, Mexico, December 2, 2021.

  • Deadly attacks this fall have heightened concern about organized crime in Mexican tourist hotspots.
  • Recent shootouts are signs of what experts and officials say is a growing turf war in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

MEXICO – Three recent armed attacks on Mexico’s top tourist beaches reveal a new turf war involving Mexican gangs, Russians, and local politicians, according to security reports and sources consulted by Insider.

At the end of October, an attack inside a bar in the popular city of Tulum killed two foreign tourists, including US-based travel influencer Anjali Ryot.

During the first days of November, tourists visiting Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun, were locked down in their hotels after gunmen opened fire on a beach and pursued a target into a nearby resort. The shooting left two people dead.

On the morning of December 7, three men riding ski-jets opened fire on a group of people at Playa Langosta beach, in the tourist hotspot of Cancun, according to news reports. No one was injured or killed, but another attack in only a few weeks spiked anxiety among tourists.

Mexico national guard troops in Playa del Carmen
Mexican national guard members patrol in the center of Playa Del Carmen, November 6, 2021.

Tulum alone saw 65 homicides between January and September, an 80.5% increase compared to the same period last year, when just 36 homicides took place, according to statistics from Mexico’s national system of public security.

Mexican officials said the recent spike in violence is a consequence of a “turf war” among a dozen local gangs looking to control the street drug-dealing business.

Oscar Montes de Oca, the state prosecutor in Quintana Roo — where Cancún and Tulum are located — said “about 10 groups of drug dealers” are fighting each other, but the reality could be more complex.

Quintana Roo very recently had local elections in its 11 municipalities, including for mayor and most police chiefs. This could be a key factor in the uptick of armed attacks, according to Eduardo Guerrero, director of Lantia, a Mexican consulting agency specializing in criminal organizations and security analysis.

“Most gang leaders had agreements in place with the leaving administration, and with a new chief of police, new mayors, and city officials, they are fighting to be the ones breaking a permissive deal that allows them to operate their illegal businesses freely,” Guerrero told Insider.

Cartels, gangs, and the mafia

Mexico national guard troops in Tulum
Mexican National Guard troops patrol the Tulum Ruins, November 10, 2021.

Currently there are six gangs affiliated with major Mexican drug cartels operating in the region. The main criminal activities for these gangs are drug dealing, trafficking, extortion, human trafficking, and money laundering, according to a recent report by Lantia.

“These gangs are fighting mostly for the beach area, where they want to operate freely offering all sorts of drugs and businesses to tourists. Another hotspot for them is the main streets inside the cities, clubs, and casinos,” Guerrero said.

The gangs described in the report are “Los Pelones,” which broke away from the Gulf Cartel and is responsible for the most recent attacks in Tulum and Puerto Morelos.

The gangs “La Barredora” and “Los Compich” are fighting against Los Pelones for Cancun, Tulum, and Puerto Morelos specifically. La Barredora is especially invested in generating business ties with local authorities and officials; “La Gente de Aquiles,” a group belonging to “Los Árzate,” with strong ties to the Sinaloa Cartel and responsible for most of the street drug dealing.

“El Cártel de Cancún,” which operates as a branch of the Sinaloa Cartel, is mostly responsible for the area of Benito Juarez and Isla Mujeres.

Mexico national guard troops on Tulum beach
Mexican National Guard members patrol Playa Pescadores in Tulum, November 8, 2021.

On top of these gangs, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel also has a strong presence through alliances with smaller local gangs that once worked under the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, according to the report.

“This could only explain a part of what is going in Quintana Roo recently,” Guerrero said. “Another big part is the presence of Romanian and Russian mafia operating mostly on money laundering and sex trafficking.”

In May, the Mexican government captured Romanian businessman Florian Tudor in Quintana Roo. Tudor is accused of being the leader of a Romanian mafia operating in several tourist hotspots in Mexico.

“Florian T. was captured by Mexico’s General Attorney Office complying with an extradition request by Romanian government for allegedly being involved in organized crime, extortion and homicide” the Attorney General’s Attorney Office said in a press release.

Originally from Craiova, Romania, Tudor moved to Quintana Roo with several close family members in 2014.

Adrian Enachescu, Tudor’s step-brother, opened a Delaware-based business with offices in New York and San Francisco, which were allegedly used to transfer money from illegal operations in Romania to Mexico, according to an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Mexican national guard troops on Cancun beach
Members of the new Tourist Security Battalion of the National Guard patrol a beach in Cancun, Mexico, December 2, 2021.

The organization Tudor is accused of running, called the Riviera Maya gang, was unique among European criminal groups in that Mexico was its base of operations.

“Florian built a network of politicians, businessman, and criminals for more than 10 years that allowed him to operate massively in Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur,” Guerrero said.

According to Guerrero, Tudor was so high up he even met with current Mexico’s top police chief, Rosa Icela Rodriguez, by request of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Although he is in jail and faces several years behind bars, the operation he is accused of running is still alive for the most part in Quintana Roo.

“Its the same as with Mexican cartels. They captured the boss, but the organization is still operating under new leadership,” said Guerrero.

Last week, Mexico deployed 1,500 National Guard troops to Quintana Roo, basing them in Tulum, to patrol tourist beaches. As with previous deployments, the soldiers in full gear among the tourists enjoying the beaches has received international attention.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What SOCOM’s ‘biggest lesson’ from Afghanistan means for future fights against terrorists and great-power militaries

US Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan
US Special Forces soldiers and Afghan National Interdiction Unit agents board CH-47 Chinook helicopters for an operation in Helmand province, September 12, 2016.

  • The end of the war in Afghanistan closes a chapter for US special-operations forces.
  • Like the rest of the US military, those operators are shifting to an era of great-power competition.
  • But US special operators will also continue to fight and help others fight terrorist threats.

The hectic last days of the US presence in Afghanistan spelled an end of an era for the US special-operations community.

For the past two decades, US special operators have been at the forefront of the fight against global terrorism. In addition to Afghanistan, American commandos deployed — and in some cases are still deploying — to Iraq and Syria and parts of Africa and Southeast Asia to combat terrorist groups.

US Special Operations Command is following the Pentagon’s shift to great-power competition against near-peer competitors, such as China and Russia, but elusive and persistent jihadists still threaten security and stability around the world.

That means US special operators face two completely different opponents. Although those challenges have common elements, SOCOM will have to use two different playbooks to counter them.

The fight against terrorism continues

Richard Clarke SOCOM general at Senate hearing
Gen. Richard D. Clarke at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, March 25, 2021

Even before the fall of the Afghan government and the chaos of the Taliban takeover — which could lead to a resurgence of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations — SOCOM’s leader emphasized that counterterrorism remains the US special-operations community’s priority.

In testimony to Congress in April, Gen. Richard Clarke, the commander of SOCOM, highlighted that his force has the capabilities and tools to address both violent extremist organizations and Russia and China.

Clarke also said that there has been a drawdown in the deployment of special-operations forces abroad, with 2020 being the year with the fewest commandos abroad since 2001.

The SOCOM commander told lawmakers that about 40% of US special operators focus on near-peer adversaries, with the rest fighting terrorists. Clarke said the command is looking to balance that division of labor equally, showing that while the Pentagon pivots to near-peer warfare, the US special-operations community still has to deal with terrorism.

Army Special Forces Green Berets Nepal
Nepalese soldiers practice medically evacuating casualties with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) during a joint exercise in Nepal, February 18, 2020.

Despite being battered by the US military and intelligence community for more than 20 years, Al Qaeda and its many offshoots are still present and seeking to strike American and Western targets.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is particularly dangerous. Other VEOs, such as ISIS and Al Shabaab, also pose a considerable threat.

In comments at the Military Reporters and Editors Association conference in November, Clarke acknowledged that the threat of terrorism remains active.

Clarke said SOCOM has started a review from its operations in Afghanistan to inform the special-operations community’s future approach to violent extremist organizations. He suggested the review’s focus will be on how US commandos supported larger conventional forces.

“We got to take those lessons learned, and where applicable to conditions somewhere else, we have to be able to apply those,” Clarke said at the conference.

One mission, two lessons

Army Lithuania Green Berets Saber Junction
Lithuanian troops and US Army Special Forces soldiers conduct mission planning during an exercise, September 8, 2018.

Perhaps one of the most important nuggets of information from Clarke in November was about how SOCOM conducts foreign internal defense — the training and advising of local forces — and how it may approach that mission in the future.

Foreign internal defense is arguably one of the most important missions done by US special-operations units, as it allows them to “outsource” all or part of the burden of warfare by building the capability and capacity of foreign conventional and special-operations units.

After nearly two decades conducting that mission on behalf of Iraqi and Afghan counterparts — at the cost of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives — forces in both countries have faltered or failed against determined adversaries.

The approach US forces took to that mission in those countries shouldn’t be the default going forward, Clark said last month.

Army Special Forces Guatemala
A US Special Forces soldier briefs Guatemalan Special Forces before an exercise in Guatemala, March 3, 2020.

“We don’t necessarily need to train with partner forces for what we want them to do. We need to train for partner forces of what they need to do for their country and their environment. I think that’s the biggest lesson that we have to take from this, writ large,” Clarke told military reporters at the conference.

What that means in practical terms is that US special operators may have different curricula for foreign internal defense, depending on the “customer.”

For example, Army Green Berets in Taiwan may teach their Taiwanese counterparts guerrilla tactics to use against a larger Chinese force after an invasion of the island nation, while Marine Raiders deployed to Kenya train their local counterparts to conduct counterterrorism and direct-action operations against a non-state group like Al Shabaab.

The inherent flexibility of US special-operations units would allow them to teach different aspects of the same mission set to two audiences in ways suited for each audience.

The future will be packed with challenges for the US special-operations community, but it has shown over the past 40 years that it has versatile toolkit to address current and emerging threats.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider

One of the military’s most common infiltration methods is a risky maneuver no matter who’s doing it

Marines perform a fast-rope exercise
US Marines conduct a fast-rope exercise aboard amphibious assault ship USS America, February 18, 2020.

  • An experienced Navy SEAL died this week after being injured in a fast-rope training exercise.
  • Fast-roping is a common infiltration method used by special-operations and conventional units.
  • It’s a convenient and effective way to insert troops quickly, but fast-roping has inherent dangers.

On Tuesday, a seasoned Navy SEAL officer died after an accident during routine training in Virginia Beach.

Cmdr. Brian Bourgeois, the commanding officer of SEAL Team 8, suffered serious injuries during a nighttime fast-rope insertion exercise over the weekend. He died at a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia.

Fast-roping is one of the most common infiltration methods, used mainly by special-operations forces but also by some conventional units. It’s a convenient and effective way to insert troops, but it has some inherent dangers.

Slide for life

Army Special Forces soldiers fast-rope training
US Army Special Forces soldiers conduct fast-rope training during night training in Morocco, June 15, 2021.

The Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System (FRIES), the technique’s official name, is used to get special operators out of a helicopter or tilt-rotor aircraft and on target quickly.

Fast-roping uses a very thick rope attached to a bar on the fuselage of an aircraft — usually an MH-60 Blackhawk, an MH-47G Chinook, or a CV-22 Osprey — that is rolled out once on target.

Usually, a sandbag on the end of the rope holds it in place on the ground, keeping the rope from getting tangled and endangering the troops. Then, special operators wearing thick, heat-resistant gloves mount the rope and slide to the ground.

“You straighten your legs and hold tight on the rope. Imagine like you’re trying to enter a room through a window like they do in movies. You straighten your legs like that, and then you slide down,” a Special Forces operator assigned to a National Guard unit told Insider.

Marine fast-rope exercise
A Marine demonstrates a secured position during fast-rope training aboard USS America, August 23, 2020.

Depending on the airframe, an aircraft could have two ropes being used by exiting troops simultaneously, making the insertion that much faster. Unlike rappelling, there can be more than one troop on the same rope. Most special-operations units around the world use the technique.

“Fast-rope is a great way to get quickly on the target. A well-trained assault team can fast-rope from the bird on the target in only a few seconds. There is an element of danger to the bird and the operators during this process, but that’s an acceptable risk — plus there is almost always some kind of overhead support covering the insertion. The fast-roping bird also has some of its organic defensive systems that can put down a good cover if need be,” a retired Delta Force operator told Insider.

The Army has a course for experienced troops to become FRIES Masters and supervise fast-rope trainings or insertions during real-world operations.

During this course, prospective FRIES Masters have to pass written and verbal exams, rappel from a 40-foot tower with and without a combat load, show proficiency in rigging an aircraft for FRIES operations, and conduct nighttime and daytime fast-ropes with and without a combat load — all without any safety violations during the course.

Special Forces soldiers fast-roping from CV-22 Osprey
US Army Special Forces soldiers practice fast-roping from a CV-22B Osprey in Germany, April 24, 2014.

“Fast-rope is one of the first insertion methods you learn in SOF [special-operations forces]. It has a very small barrier to entry and requires almost no real skill. You just have to hold tight to the rope and use your legs correctly. That’s it. It helps if you aren’t afraid of heights!” added the retired Delta Force commando, speaking anonymously because he still works with the US government.

In regions like the Indo-Pacific, where dense foliage and jungles create a restricted operational environment for aircraft, fast-roping is a valuable technique, as it puts troops on the ground without the aircraft having to land.

In the last few years, conventional infantry units have begun fast-roping as well.

Fast-roping is not the first insertion method exclusive to special missions units — like Delta Force and the former SEAL Team 6 — to be adopted by conventional units.

“This is in fact an intended outcome of ours,” the former Delta operator said. “We take pride in experimenting and developing equipment, TTPs [tactics, techniques, and procedures], and insertion methods for the joint force.”

A dangerous insertion method

Marine military working dog fast rope
Cpl. John West, and Dan, a military working dog, perform a fast-rope exercise aboard USS America, February 18, 2020.

During fast-rope insertions, special operators aren’t hooked to the rope. Their grip with their hands and feet is their only security. Should their hands slip or their boots slide, it can be a long fall, ranging from 20 feet to 100 feet.

“It’s a great tool to get guys on target fast and grouped [together]. If the helicopter can’t land, then fast-rope is the best answer. You can bring dogs with you too,” the National Guard Green Beret said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

“It can be dangerous, though. The reports mention that the SEAL was injured during a nighttime fast-rope. These are more dangerous because you [can’t] see shit and you have all the noise from the rotor blasting in your ears,” the Green Beret added.

Bourgeois is the first senior Navy SEAL to die in almost a decade. In 2012, Cmdr. Job Price, the commanding officer of SEAL Team 4, died while deployed to Afghanistan.

It is very unusual for officers of Bourgeois’ rank to die in training, but the Navy SEAL officer apparently led from the front and shared the same dangers as his men, even at 43 years old.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A 1982 war in the remote South Atlantic almost sparked the first aircraft-carrier clash since World War II

British aircraft carrier HMS Invincible during the Falklands War
Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Invincible leaving Portsmouth to lead the task force to the Falkland Islands, April 5, 1982.

  • After Argentina captured the Falkland Islands in 1982, the British navy sailed south to retake them.
  • The Falklands War was one of the largest conflicts since World War II and featured major operations.
  • The war also nearly had the first aircraft carrier battle since World War II.

In 1982, after years of simmering tensions, Argentina and the UK went to war over a small island chain in the South Atlantic.

The Falklands War was one of the largest conflicts since World War II and featured major operations. British special operators raided deep inside Argentina, submarines and aircraft attacked and sank warships, and infantry fought hand-to-hand for strategically located hills.

The Falklands War is also notable for a near-miss: The war almost had the first aircraft carrier clash since World War II.

A war long coming

Sea Harrier jump jets on British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes
Sea Harrier jump jets aboard HMS Hermes in the South Atlantic, May 1, 1982.

Located almost 8,000 miles south of the UK but only 300 miles east of Argentina, the Falkland Islands were a point of contention between the two nations ever since the British colonized them in the 19th century.

Argentina’s junta ordered the invasion in spring 1982, partly to distract the Argentine public from the country’s deepening socioeconomic problems and the junta’s own abuses. Argentine leaders didn’t think the British would go to war over a small group of islands where a few thousand people tended to a sheep-driven economy.

But British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, facing her own domestic struggles, responded forcefully to the crisis, galvanizing the British people.

A task force of over British 100 ships sailed to war in the remote South Atlantic, and the Argentines prepared to intercept them before they arrived.

The aircraft carriers

Royal Navy crewmen aboard aircraft carrier HMS Hermes
Royal Navy crewmen relax aboard HMS Hermes as they sail toward the Falkland Islands, 1982.

The Falkland War found the British military in a bad state. Every service branch had been gradually downsizing since the end of World War II.

While reductions to the wartime military were essential for the British economy, deep cuts by successive Labor and Tory governments left the Royal Navy only able to provide two small aircraft carriers — HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible — to protect the British task force.

The two carriers could only carry about 20 Sea Harrier fighter jets, short-take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) aircraft that didn’t need a “regular” flattop to operate. The two carriers had distinctive ski-jump ramps on their bows to aid the Harriers during takeoff.

ARA Veinticinco de Mayo aircraft carrier
The Argentine aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo in port in 1979.

British also converted transport and cargo ships into aircraft carriers. The converted ships were mainly meant to deliver aircraft to the true carriers, but they could also launch Sea Harriers and helicopters.

The Argentines weren’t in much better shape. Their navy could only field one second-hand aircraft carrier, the 40-year-old ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, which was first commissioned into the Royal Navy. It was later sold to the Dutch, in whose service it suffered a fire that damaged its boilers, before finding its way to Argentina.

These forces almost clashed in what would have been the most significant naval battle since World War II.

A near-run thing

Veinticinco de Mayo aircraft carrier
ARA Veinticinco de Mayo.

On May 1, 1982, as the British task force was approaching the Falklands, the Argentines prepared to strike, massing an armada of one cruiser, five destroyers, three corvettes, and the ARA Veinticinco de Mayo. Dozens of land-based aircraft would provide air cover.

The plan was to launch eight A-4Q Skyhawks from the ARA Veinticinco de Mayo to strike the British aircraft carriers, allowing other warships to get within range to launch their deadly Exocet anti-ship missiles against the slow-sailing transport ships carrying the British troops.

The Argentine ships spotted the British ships on May 1. Argentinian pilots prepared to take off from ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, but the weather had other plans.

Aircraft carriers have always used the wind to help launch aircraft. Modern-day carriers still conduct flight operations while sailing into the wind.

Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Hermes
HMS Hermes in Portsmouth Harbour upon its return from the Falklands, July 21, 1982.

The ARA Veinticinco de Mayo was an older carrier with a relatively small flight deck and limited speed due to its earlier boiler damage. That made it even more dependent on wind to launch aircraft. The A-4Q Skyhawks’ heavy bomb loads only deepened their need for wind.

The forecast on that day predicted there wouldn’t be sufficient wind to launch aircraft for at least 12 hours. The Argentine carrier didn’t have that much time. On the evening of May 1, British aircraft — guided by US-provided intelligence — spotted the Argentine ships.

The Argentines wouldn’t put their sole carrier at risk, and the Veinticinco de Mayo retreated. British forces pursued but were unable to catch the carrier before it reached safer waters.

Each side’s window of opportunity to strike the other’s carriers had closed, and the largest aircraft carrier clash since World War II was prevented.

Sea Harrier approaches the container ship and aircraft carrier Atlantic Conveyor
A Sea Harrier approaches the container ship Atlantic Conveyor to test its recently installed flight deck, at Devonport, June 1982.

The war did see major losses at sea.

On May 2, after following ARA General Belgrano for days, British nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror sunk the Argentine cruiser, killing more than 300 sailors in what became one of the war’s most controversial actions.

One of the converted flattops was also sunk. Atlantic Conveyor was struck by at least one air-launched Exocet anti-ship missile on May 25, igniting ammunition and fuel stores. Several crew members were killed, and the ship was left unusable. It sunk three days later.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Uncensored WWII-era surveys show US troops’ surprising thoughts about Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor

Sailors at Pearl Harbor watch USS Shaw explode
Sailors at Naval Air Station Ford Island watch USS Shaw explode in Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

  • The December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the US into World War II.
  • Histories of the attack and its aftermath portray a country and a military braced for war.
  • But a survey of soldiers conducted the next day reveals mixed feelings about the fight ahead.

Tuesday is the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed 2,400 civilians and sailors, wounded nearly 1,200 Americans, and damaged or destroyed 19 naval vessels and 328 aircraft.

It also thrust an ambivalent nation into World War II.

Stories abound of young men joining up after Pearl Harbor. But how did US troops respond when they learned of the attack?

Thanks to an Army survey program launched the very next day, we know what was on the minds of GIs in the Army’s Ninth Infantry Division, which was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the US’s largest military installation.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war on Japan on December 8 may have braced many Americans for the fight ahead, but the concerns of most men of the Ninth, it appears, had little to do with events in Washington, DC, or in Hawaii.

In fact, getting US troops to take the Imperial Japanese Army seriously was more difficult than some histories of the Pacific war would suggest.

The Army research program that almost wasn’t

Sailors read about Pearl Harbor attak
Sailors on leave read about the Japanese attacks on Hawaii and Philippines, December 1941.

The timing of the survey was purely coincidental. A special study group in the US Army Intelligence Division began developing the questionnaire used at Fort Bragg well before Japan’s attack.

Scientific opinion polling of the American public was new but rapidly increasing before the war. It wasn’t easy to get approval to poll US soldiers — in fact, it almost never happened.

Elmo Roper Jr., a highly respected and pioneering pollster, offered the War Department his services. Not only was he turned away, but Secretary of War Henry Stimson prohibited polling outright.

For an Army dependent on cohesion, anonymous criticism could only be “destructive,” explained the curt press release publicizing the ban.

But surveying personnel about their needs, behaviors, and attitudes seemed prudent to Frederick Osborn, a former corporate executive who was helping the military provide morale services to troops.

Osborn was an advocate of the social sciences. More decisively for his efforts, he was a childhood friend of Roosevelt. When the chief of the Army Morale Branch stepped down for health reasons in early August 1941, Osborn was tapped as his replacement.

An “over-night General,” Osborn quickly facilitated a $100,000 grant from Carnegie Corporation, where he was a trustee, to recruit top-notch psychologists and social scientists without putting them on the Army’s payroll.

Navy recruits after Pearl Harbor attack
Young men at a Navy recruiting station in Boston, December 8, 1941.

Polling was still banned, but Osborn received approval for a more benign “survey” of soldier morale, called Planning Survey I.

Stimson would not have approved had he known, and the Ninth was selected only because a commanding general elsewhere refused to cooperate.

The new research team scrambled to conduct the survey, worrying that holiday furloughs might delay it.

On December 2, Fort Bragg’s commanding general approved, and within two days the team was selecting soldiers for the survey, scheduled for December 8 to 10, and training a small group of other enlistees as “class leaders” to help administer it.

The team was doing final training with class leaders and interviewers when news of the attack flashed across the radio. In a second, they knew some questions were now useless.

The team completed the survey by the night of December 10, using four recreation halls, a theater, and several day rooms for interviews. Study director Samuel Stouffer started analyzing the 1,878 questionnaires that evening. He would hardly sleep during the following nights.

Eighty years after Pearl Harbor, the soldiers’ handwritten and multiple-choice responses are available for the first time, thanks to the American Soldier in World War II project, which has collected and transcribed 65,000 pages of uncensored commentaries.

What was on soldiers’ minds

Army soldiers from Fort Bragg with dates
Off-duty Army soldiers from Fort Bragg socialize with dates in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1942.

Some respondents felt exactly how we’d imagine they’d feel when they learned of the Japanese attack.

“Now that Japan has started the war, and the U.S. has declared war, every America Soldier will do his utmost to win this war, and America will win, So help us ‘God,'” wrote one GI.

Judging from the remarks of the 1,030 men who responded to the open-ended prompt on the last page of the survey, the US declaration of war was less than transformative.

A few soldiers mentioned Japanese soldiers. “I do not believe there is one man in this army who would back away from any Jap & I know we will die fighting,” another enlistee wrote.

Hardly any called for swift retribution, much less expressed the level of racial animus that histories of the US war with Japan have emphasized.

As they were more likely than other Americans to face combat, few of the soldiers appeared eager for war.

“Don’t, for God’s sake, take away furloughs right now. Don’t get excited about Japan. Be calm and remember that we need furloughs more so now than before. To take away all furloughs now is not needed in this division yet—war organization will take time—and we don’t want AWOL’s,” cautioned another respondent.

Like this soldier, most men wrote about more immediate personal needs and desires — furloughs, passes, and whether they’d get to go home and life on the base and amenities (or lack of thereof) in Fayetteville, the nearest town.

The vast majority wrote about the Army itself and what they thought it was doing wrong.

More ambivalence than hatred

US Army soldiers in weapons training at Fort Bragg
US Army soldiers during weapons training at Fort Bragg in 1942.

The US government invested heavily in racist propaganda during the war that portrayed the Japanese as brutish. That effort is partially explained by a trend in the Army’s survey data that troubled the General Staff: Too many GIs did not consider Japanese soldiers all that formidable, even after they defeated the US in the Philippines.

American troops massing in England for the November 1942 invasion of North Africa were asked to rank the fighting ability of Allied and Axis soldiers. Russians were believed to be the best, followed by Germans. They ranked Japanese soldiers sixth in a list of eight.

Army’s leaders attributed soldiers’ disregard for Japanese fighting ability to a “deficiency of information.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall — dismayed after reviewing a secret research report on the survey — wanted the details of the fighting with the Japanese on Bataan to be more widely distributed to illustrate “their toughness, tenacity of purpose, utter willingness to die, refusal to surrender—a general ruthless purpose which only great determination and skill can conquer.”

Using all the media at its disposal — orientation and information films such as the “Why We Fight” series, short-wave radio programs, servicemen’s newspapers, pictorial newsmaps, and graphic posters — Marshall’s staff redoubled its efforts to change attitudes.

Attitudes tempered by battle

Pearl Harbor attack grave
Military personnel pay respects beside the grave of 15 officers and others killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Whether the Army’s efforts to change perceptions worked is an open question.

Soldiers were asked later in the war how much they relied on thoughts of hatred of the enemy when the going was tough. Of soldiers in the Pacific, 38% responded indicated “a lot.” Only 27% in Europe said the same.

Soldiers may have cultivated hatred of the Japanese to cope and endure. Yet when the veteran infantrymen of the Pacific and European theaters were asked if the Japanese people should suffer after the war, GIs in Europe were more inclined to say yes, while those in the Pacific were not.

Of infantrymen in Europe, 58% wanted the Allies to “wipe out the whole nation” of Japan when it was all over. Only 42% of Pacific GIs, still a large share, said the same.

Some had gained the appreciation Marshall wanted them to have.

“There is something I hate to admit, but we did not win our battles because the Americans was better than the Japs. On the contrary, the Jap had it all over us, both Officers & men. It was our superiority in strength & equipment,” confessed a combat infantry stationed in the Mediterranean.

Edward J.K. Gitre is an assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech and director of The American Soldier in World War II project.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Britain’s Royal Marines were ‘victorious’ in a mock desert battle with US Marines. Here’s how the 2 forces stack up

British Royal Marines and US Marines
A British Royal Marine briefs US Marines on Viking armored vehicles during Exercise Green Dagger in California, September 29, 2021.

  • Britain’s Royal Marines got some unexpect attention this fall after reports they had “defeated” US Marines in an exercise.
  • The details in the reports have been disputed, they highlighted the special capabilities and unique histories of both units.

In October, an exercise in the California desert involving marine forces from across NATO spurred some unintended drama when reports surfaced about the swift defeat of US Marines at the hands of their British counterparts.

Exercise Green Dagger is an annual large-scale force-on-force training event that seeks to prepare US Marine Corps units for upcoming deployments to combat zones or volatile regions.

Marines from the US, UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates “fought” against one another in mock combat drills. During one five-day event, the Royal Marines Commandos defeated their American counterparts despite having smaller numbers.

While many have disputed those reports, they have highlighted the skills and capabilities of both forces. Here’s how they stack up.

Royal Marines Commandos

British Royal Marines during exercise
British Royal Marines provide security during Exercise Green Dagger in California, October 9, 2021.

The Royal Marines Commandos are a very interesting unit when it comes to classification. For centuries they served as naval infantry, sailing on Royal Navy ships and fighting on sea and land, in addition to being the troops responsible for enforcing discipline on the British navy.

After the Napoleonic Wars and the British navy’s rise to dominance of the seas, the Royal Marines increasingly deployed on land as a naval infantry force. By World War I, they were fighting in the trenches alongside regular infantry units.

It was during World War II that the Royal Marines first entered the special-operations realm. After Germany swept across Europe, the British stood up commando units to take the fight to the continent and keep the Germans on edge.

British Royal Marines carry casualty on stretcher
British Royal Marines carry a simulated casualty during Exercise Green Dagger in California, October 9, 2021.

Initially, the “Commandos,” as the units themselves were called, were composed of British Army soldiers and volunteers from many countries that had surrendered to the Nazis.

In 1942, the Royal Marines created their own commando units and added the coveted “Commando” designation to their title. They specialized in amphibious operations against Axis forces in occupied Europe and the Pacific theater throughout the war.

The Royal Marines Commando were the only “Commando” unit of the roughly 40 that existed during the war to survive the major demobilization that came after Germany and Japan surrendered.

Similar but different

British Royal Marines and US Marines with Amphibious Combat Vehicle
US Marines familiarize British Royal Marines with the Amphibious Combat Vehicle during Exercise Green Dagger in California, September 29, 2021.

While the US and British forces are similar as marines, comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges.

Whereas the US Marine Corps is a combined warfare force that can conduct expeditionary campaigns, the Royal Marines Commandos are a much smaller, more specialized unit that has served as a quick-reaction force of sorts for the UK.

The US Marine Corps has about 200,000 troops and more than 1,000 fighter jets and helicopters and until recently operated its own tank fleet. In contrast, the Royal Marines Commandos field less than 8,000 troops total, only half of them being line infantry. The British Marines have no armor or fighter jets of their own.

Indeed, in terms of capabilities, training, selection, and mission, it would be more fair to compare the Royal Marines with the special-operations units of the US Marine Corps — the Marine Raiders, Recon Marines, and Force Recon Marines.

Even with differences in size and capabilities, both forces have illustrious combat histories.

US Marines land at Inchon
US Marines scale a seawall as the second assault wave lands at Inchon, South Korea, September 15, 1950.

The US Marines have distinguished themselves in several wars.

Some of their most well-known actions are the Battle of Belleau Wood during World War I, the battles of the Pacific campaign that led the Allies to Japan’s doorstep during World War II, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War, and Second Battle of Fallujah during the Iraq war.

The Royal Marines Commandos earned respect and accolades for their actions in several engagements during World War II, but perhaps their most important campaign was during the Falkland War, when they marched across the rugged South Atlantic islands with full combat load — each troop carrying more than 100 pounds of gear — and defeated the Argentines in a series of brutal engagements.

The Royal Marines Commandos are now entering a new phase as British special-operations forces evolve for a world in which potential near-peer warfare against Russia or China has replaced large-scale counterterrorism operations as the main concern.

As part of that modernization, the Commandos are getting new weapons and gear in addition to restructuring into smaller, more agile units.

British Royal Navy helicopter Marines Falklands War
A British Royal Navy Sea King helicopter lifts off after transporting Royal Marines to Darwin in the Falkland Islands, June 1982.

“We’ve always been an elite force, but not many people outside the UK know about us. Our military is small compared to the Americans, and the Royals [Marines Commandos] are even a smaller part of that. But we’re the fellas you want in a trench when the going gets tough,” a former Special Boat Service operator told Insider.

The SBS was for decades the tier 1 special-missions unit of the Royal Marines, recruiting solely from the commandos. It was equivalent to the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, which used to be called SEAL Team Six.

Nowadays, however, the SBS and the Special Air Service (SAS), its Army counterpart, recruit from the wider British military. And like the Royal Marines, the SBS has always worked closely with their American counterparts.

“We have a close working relationship with the Americans, and we have frequent exchange programs, or at least we had back in my days,” the former SBS frogman said. “How that works is usually one of our lads or an American getting seconded to the opposite number for a year or two and serves as a regular member of that team. They train, work, and deploy with them as part of the unit.”

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A rare conversation at a NATO meeting shows how the alliance is trying to figure out what it does after Afghanistan

Lloyd Austin and Jens Stoltenberg at NATO
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters, October 21, 2021.

  • NATO is preparing for what leaders expect will be “a more competitive world.”
  • Alliance members are shifting away from counterterrorism toward more traditional security competition.
  • NATO leaders see Russia and China as future challenges and a “technological edge” as vital for that competition.

At the end of October, defense ministers from NATO’s 30 member-states met in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

After the withdrawal from Afghanistan and as tensions with Russia increase sharply, the defense ministers aim to reorient the alliance while also looking ahead.

The summit was a signpost for the alliance’s future.

New and old challenges

U.S. soldiers, part of the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol west of Kabul, Afghanistan.
US soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force on a patrol west of Kabul, January 28, 2012.

NATO forces spent nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, training Afghan forces and fighting the Taliban in what was the largest mission in the history of the alliance.

All NATO militaries contributed to the war effort, and many shifted their focus from conventional to unconventional warfare to combat terrorism and asymmetrical threats in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The end of the war has firmly reshuffled the alliance’s priorities.

“NATO is now prioritizing its core business of collective defense to deter and defend against threats such as those from an increasingly aggressive Russia,” Rachel Ellehuus, the deputy director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, told Insider.

That Russian aggression can be felt across NATO’s eastern flank.

NATO and Russia have increased their activities in the Black Sea. Russia has also massed troops on its border with Ukraine, putting Western countries on high alert. Many also see Moscow as permitting, if not facilitating, the weaponization of migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Dialogue is also suffering. In October, Russia suspended its mission to NATO and closed the alliance’s offices in Moscow in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats accused by NATO of spying.

Encapsulating the current state of affairs, at the press conference introducing the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the media that “the relationship between NATO and Russia is at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War, and the reason for that is the Russian behavior.”

But Russia is not NATO’s only problem.

NATO members recognize that the threat of terrorism persists and that Afghanistan still has an important role to play. As Stoltenberg said, key to curtailing the threat is ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a safe-haven for international terrorism.

That will not be easy. Fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups is harder without boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Stoltenberg has said that the “allies have the capabilities to strike from far away against terrorist threats,” but the effectiveness and accuracy of such capabilities diminish without assistance from in-country ground forces.

NATO has to also contend with limited resources. It may prove challenging to maintain the gains made against terrorism while also effectively deterring Russia.

For NATO to do that, “it will have to leverage the intelligence assets and military capabilities of its individual members,” Ellehuus said.

Looking ahead

Jens Stoltenberg Joe Biden NATO
Stoltenberg and then-Vice President Joe Biden at the 51st Munich Security Conference, February 7, 2015.

Overcoming current threats and preparing for future ones requires keeping a “technological edge,” Stoltenberg said.

“Future conflicts will be fought not just with bullets and bombs, but also with bytes and big data. We see authoritarian regimes racing to develop new technologies, from artificial intelligence to autonomous systems,” Stoltenberg told the press.

For that purpose, the 30 defense ministers announced the establishment of the NATO Innovation Fund and the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic.

The fund, which will be worth $1.2 billion, “will support the development of dual-use emerging and disruptive technologies, in key areas for Allied security,” through investments in startups, according to Stoltenberg.

Although the fund’s size will not make it a game-changer, its establishment signifies NATO’s awareness of the fast-evolving technological landscape.

The accelerator, known as DIANA, aims to enhance interoperability and increase cooperation in critical technologies between sectors and member-states. The fund’s offices and test centers will be hosted in a number of NATO countries.

At its October summit, NATO also adopted its first Artificial Intelligence Strategy, reflecting the potential its leaders see in AI.

Those efforts underscore the importance NATO puts in having a technological edge to better deter Russia, but the alliance is also looking beyond Moscow.

To the east

Lloyd Austin at NATO
Austin at a NATO Defense Ministers meeting at NATO headquarters, October 21, 2021.

China’s technological and military progress has NATO concerned.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin went into the October summit seeking to raise the issue of China, and it was the subject of considerable discussion even though no part of the summit was explicitly about China.

“What we have seen over the last years is significant modernization of China’s military capabilities,” Stoltenberg said when asked about China’s recent hypersonic missile tests.

NATO tries to avoid painting China as an adversary, but the writing is on the wall.

“China is assertively using its might and technological advances to coerce other countries and control its own people. It is expanding its global economic and military footprint in Africa, in the Arctic and in cyber-space. And it’s investing in our own critical infrastructure, from 5G networks to ports and airports,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană said at the Future of Democracy Forum in November.

Not all NATO countries have the same concerns about China, which is a major trade and investment partner for many alliance members — 15 of them participate in the 17+1 Initiative, which is meant to foster investment and business relations between China and Central and Eastern European countries.

That means the alliance will have to tread carefully, focusing on “building resilience within the alliance rather than on confronting China militarily,” Ellehuus said.

NATO’s upcoming 2022 Strategic Concept will be a roadmap for the years ahead and is expected to feature China as a rising power with worldwide ambitions.

“Our transatlantic alliance remains the bedrock for our security. And Europe and North America will continue to stand strong together in NATO, as we face a more competitive world,” Stoltenberg said at the end of the October summit.

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree on security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How NATO leaders used quiet maneuvers and ‘adroit flattery’ to keep Trump from blowing up the alliance

Jens Stoltenberg and Donald Trump at NATO summit
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Donald Trump with other NATO leaders at the NATO summit in London, December 4, 2019.

  • Trump’s complaints and criticism of NATO led officials to worry about his intentions for the alliance.
  • After he took office, NATO officials mounted a campaign of quiet maneuvers and public diplomacy to placate and distract him.
  • The alliance survived thanks largely to the skills of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, new research shows.

The Trump presidency posed an existential threat to NATO and to transatlantic relations.

Before and during his time in office, former President Donald Trump questioned the necessity of NATO, complained about US spending on the alliance, and criticized the underinvestment of many NATO members.

Trump even seemed to threaten a US withdrawal from NATO if members didn’t meet the alliance’s 2%-of-GDP spending target.

Trump also wanted to restore relations between NATO and Russia, which other NATO members strongly opposed because of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its ongoing proxy conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region.

However, NATO managed to survive Trump thanks to the deft diplomacy and interpersonal skills of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, according to research by Leonard Schuette of the University of Maastricht, who interviewed 23 senior NATO and member-state officials about Stoltenberg’s central role in placating Trump and preserving the alliance.

A personal approach

U.S.  President Donald Trump (R) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg shake hands during a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Trump and Stoltenberg during a press conference at the White House, April 12, 2017.

The US was exhorting NATO allies to step up their defense spending even before Trump took office. In 2014, President Barack Obama said “everyone should chip in.”

At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO members formalized what had been a loose expenditure target by agreeing to spend 2% of their GDP on defense — 20% of that on new equipment — by 2024.

By the time Trump assumed the presidency, only five of NATO’s 28 member-states, including the US, had met that target. Some of NATO’s wealthiest members were well below the 2% threshold, including Germany, which became the focus of Trump’s ire.

It fell to Jens Stoltenberg and his team to appease Trump and keep the alliance together.

Stoltenberg and senior NATO officials embraced “Trump’s demands for greater burden-sharing” because “they promised to generate most goodwill with the U.S. president and were not harmful to the alliance,” according to Schuette.

Stoltenberg lobbied allies to increase their defense spending. By making sure to do so publicly, Stoltenberg was able to put more pressure on underpaying members and to signal to Trump that he shared Trump’s concerns.

To placate the unpredictable American president and cast him as the main driver of positive change within the alliance, Stoltenberg credited Trump with any success in securing spending commitments.

In May 2018, Stoltenberg visited the White House and, in a clever bit of public diplomacy, thanked Trump for his leadership. “It is impacting allies, because all allies are now increasing defense spending. They’re adding billions to their budgets,” Stoltenberg said.

Donald Trump and other leaders at NATO summit
Trump and other NATO leaders after a group photo at the NATO summit in London, December 4, 2019.

Two months later, at NATO’s London Summit, which some had feared would spell the alliance’s end, Trump announced that “everyone has agreed to substantially up their commitment. They’re going to up it at levels that they never thought of before.”

Despite Trump’s swagger, those increases were the result of efforts by Stoltenberg, who “strategically promoted the view that Trump had prevailed over opposition from other member states,” Schuette writes.

Stoltenberg was also always careful to compare “the spending figures to 2016 — the year of Trump’s election — rather than 2015, when the allies’ budgets first showed increases,” Schuette notes.

According to one official interviewed by Schuette, Stoltenberg would even present the increases in defense spending to Trump using “very simple bar charts” — playing to Trump’s preference for visual aids.

After the London Summit, Stoltenberg continued his efforts. He praised Trump’s push for increased expenditures in a Fox News interview while visiting the US in 2019, saying it had resulted in “an extra $100 billion allies would have added to their spending by 2020.”

Stoltenberg’s tactics paid off, even if they didn’t bring all allies up to their spending commitment.

In 2019, only seven out of the then-29 allies met the 2% target and only 15 were planning to meet it by 2024.

Nevertheless, when asked that year if the US would withdraw from NATO, Trump replied, “People are paying and I’m very happy with the fact that they’re paying.”

The power of connections

vladimir putin donald trump
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019.

The other major point of contention between Trump and NATO allies was Russia. Trump often praised Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

In this case, clever public diplomacy would not work, as NATO’s approach to Russia “was a matter of concrete policy-making,” says Schuette.

Stoltenberg relied on a different tactic to prevent rapprochement with Moscow and maintain NATO’s deterrence posture in the face of Russian aggression, Schuette writes.

Firstly, in his interactions with Trump, Stoltenberg kept mentions of Russia to a minimum, instead focusing on burden-sharing to divert Trump’s attention.

Secondly, Stoltenberg relied on US officials actually responsible for implementing foreign policy, including Congress, the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Pentagon.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Stoltenberg with Norwegian soldiers deployed to Latvia, November 21, 2014.

Stoltenberg tapped into those circles “to coordinate policy and maintain US domestic support for the alliance,” according to Schuette.

Stoltenberg was helped by his deputy, Rose Gottenmoeller who had previously been the under secretary of state for arms control and international security in the US State Department and whose connections to US policymakers proved vital.

In the end, NATO’s posture toward Russia did not change, with the alliance maintaining its operational tempo in the east.

Amid these maneuvers, Stoltenberg managed to maintain a very good relationship with Trump, who often praised the secretary general and supported extending his term for two years.

As a senior official told Schuette, Stoltenberg “was the only one in Europe who had Trump’s ear.”

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree on security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Read the original article on Business Insider

After getting stripped of its F-35s, Turkey wants to buy other US fighter jets, but it won’t give up its new Russian weapons to do it

GettyImages erdogan biden
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then-Vice President Joe Biden in Ankara, August 24, 2016.

  • After getting kicked out of the F-35 program, Turkey says it wants to buy more US-made fighter jets.
  • But Turkey refuses to yield on the issue that got it booted: Its purchase of Russian-made weaponry.
  • That dispute is one of several that have strained relations between Ankara and its NATO allies.

In early October, Turkey sent the US State Department a letter of request for the purchase of 40 US-made F-16 fighter jets and 80 modernization kits for some of its older aircraft.

The request comes after the US kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system, reflecting Turkey’s warming to Moscow and estrangement from its NATO allies.

Congress has bristled at the request.

A bipartisan group of 41 representatives, led by the chairs of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken opposing the sale, calling Turkey’s “illegal and unfettered actions” indicative of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “transformation of Turkey to a rogue state led by a leader with a nationalistic philosophy, Neo-Ottoman ambitions, and a complete disregard for following international law.”

Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed strong opposition to the request, describing Turkey as “not the type of NATO ally that is behaving in a way that we should be able to go ahead and give it some of the most sophisticated fighting equipment.”

Both Menendez and the representatives directed their criticism at Erdogan rather than Turkey as whole. “At the end of the day, he needs to change course,” Menendez said.

But Erdogan’s government shows no sign of changing course. Last week, Turkey’s defense minister said that if the US rejects the F-16 request, Ankara will seek alternatives — including from Russia.

Strange bedfellows

erdogan putin
Erdogan with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in St. Petersburg, August 9, 2016.

Turkey has been a NATO member for almost as long as the alliance has existed, but in recent years its relationship with its allies, especially the US, has deteriorated because of several disputes.

In northern Syria, the US has been supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS and the Assad government. The SDF is largely composed of Kurdish fighters, primarily from the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG is considered the Syrian wing of Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey and the US have labeled a terrorist group. PKK militants have attacked Turkish troops and law enforcement in the country’s southeast. Ankara often conducts operations against PKK militants in Turkey and YPG fighters in Syria.

The defense agreement recently signed by the US and Greece and Turkey’s poor human-rights record are also points of contention between Washington and Ankara.

Russian S-400 unloaded in Turkey
Components of Russian S-400s are unloaded at Murted Air Base in Ankara, July 15, 2019.

Perhaps the biggest issue is Turkey’s close relationship with Russia, epitomized by Turkey’s purchase of the S-400, which was delivered in 2020.

US officials believe that operating alongside the Russian-made high-tech surface-to-air-missile system could compromise their military hardware, allowing Russia to access closely guarded information about Western weapons, such as the F-35.

That led the US to expel Turkey from the F-35 program and to sanction Turkey’s government, including its main defense procurement agency, under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

It was the first time a US ally has been penalized under CAATSA.

Turkish firms were to make important components for F-35s, and Ankara had made a $1.4 billion down payment on 100 F-35 jets. That money was not returned, further angering Turkey. Erdogan now wants that money to finance an F-16 purchase.

A difficult calculus

turkey syria
Locals applaud a convoy of Turkish military vehicles in Sanliurfa province, near Turkey’s border with Syria, October 12, 2019.

The White House understands Turkey’s geostrategic importance.

It overlooks the Levant, the Middle East, and the Caucasus and commands the southern shore of the Black Sea, where it is the largest NATO military. Turkey has also been an important base for military operations, hosting three US and coalition installations, including Incirlik Air Base, where the US stores nearly 50 B-61 nuclear bombs.

President Joe Biden met with Erdogan during the G20 summit in October, hoping to thaw the relationship. Among the topics they discussed was Turkey’s desire to purchase F-16s.

“While I saw Mr. Biden’s positive approach on this matter, another aspect of the issue is the House of Representatives and Senate,” Erdogan said afterward.

Biden, however, did not invite Turkey to the US’s democracy summit in December. Turkey isn’t making it easy for Biden, either. It has repeatedly said it plans to keep its S-400s and recently announced plans to buy more of them from Russia.

Biden faces a tough balancing act. Repairing the relationship and persuading Congress to accept Turkey’s F-16 request will be difficult if Turkey doesn’t change course. At the same time, rebuffing Turkey’s request will add insult to injury following its removal from the F-35 program.

That rejection may well push Turkey closer to Russia, and a closer Turkish-Russian relationship could create a spoiler within NATO, undermining the alliance’s principle of collective defense.

Those considerations may not sway US lawmakers.

“I am not deterred that they may go somewhere else. If they do so, then, you know, the interoperability gets diminished dramatically at NATO, and they further erode their position,” Menendez said this month.

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree on security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A new deal and a major operation show how the US military is bulking up in a tense corner of Europe

US Army soldiers with Black Hawk helicopter in Alexandroupoli, Greece
US soldiers fold the blades of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at the port of Alexandroupoli in Greece, November 18, 2021.

  • The US and Greece are making plans to update and deepen their defense cooperation.
  • Exercises by US and Greek troops in Greece will increase, and the US presence in Greece will grow.
  • The efforts come amid tensions in southeastern Europe between NATO members and foes outside the bloc.

In October, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias updated and deepened the two countries’ Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement.

“MDCA is the bedrock of our defense cooperation,” Blinken said in a statement, referring to what is essentially a bilateral defense agreement.

The agreement is timely for both countries, coming amid rising tensions in the region.

The update “highlights the geo-strategic importance of Greece specifically and the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean in general. In the context of ‘renewed great-power competition’ these regions are increasingly important,” Andrew Novo a non-resident fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think tank, told Insider.

“Greece has an important role to play in contributing stability in the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, and even looking north toward the countries on the Black Sea,” Novo said.

All roads lead to Alexandroupoli

US Army soldiers and vehicles in port at Alexandroupolis Greece
US soldiers move military vehicles after their arrival in Alexandroupoli, May 22, 2019.

Under MDCA, exercises between American and Greek troops in Greece will increase in number and duration, promoting interoperability between the two NATO allies in a tense corner of Europe.

One of the first exercises under the updated agreement was the recently concluded Olympic Cooperation 21, in which the US Army and Navy worked alongside their Greek partners. The Sixth Fleet’s flagship, USS Whitney, also took part, underscoring the partnership’s importance.

The agreement “also provides for increased American presence in Greece and the expansion and improvement of existing facilities,” Novo said.

Notable among those facilities are those in the port city of Alexandroupoli on the northern edge of the Aegean Sea. Alexandroupoli is close to Greece’s borders with Bulgaria and Turkey and is connected to Black Sea ports by roads and railways. The city is also increasingly important for regional energy security.

US Army M1A2 tank in port at Alexandroupoli, Greece
A US Army M1A2 tank is unloaded in Alexandroupoli, July 20, 2021.

Developing Alexandroupoli’s port and facilities will allow the US to deploy troops to the southwestern and western coasts of the Black Sea faster. Better access means more assistance to allies in the region and will increase NATO’s ability to deter Russia in the Black Sea and the Balkans.

In October, the US conducted its largest disembarkation operation ever in Greece. The offload was done in Alexandroupoli, and another, bigger offload operation is planned for mid-November.

The strategically located port was also instrumental in the US Army-led multinational exercise Defender Europe 2021 in March and a July rotation of US troops and equipment as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Alexandroupoli “plays a leading role in our countries’ shared goals of increasing European energy security and regional stability” US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said in May during one of his many visits to the city.

The increased presence of US troops in Greece has Russia worried.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently raised the issue to his Greek counterpart. Dendias replied that the American presence has no anti-Russian character. That is unlikely to assuage Russia, but Moscow is not the only country concerned about the MDCA.

A complicated alliance

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Greece Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kostas Fragogiannis
Erdogan, right, with Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kostas Fragogiannis at a summit in Turkey, June 17, 2021.

Across the Aegean, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed dismay with the US deployments in Alexandroupoli, telling reporters this month that he told President Joe Biden that the US “establishing a base there bothers us and our people.”

Greece and Turkey are nominally NATO allies, but they have fought many wars against each other throughout history. They narrowly averted another conflict in August 2020.

Athens and Ankara have a highly contentious relationship because of a number of issues, including Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus, which is considered illegal under international law, as well as their disputes over maritime delimitation zones and Turkey’s weaponization of migrants.

Turkey is also increasingly antagonistic toward other NATO members, particularly France, which recently signed a defense agreement with Greece.

Turkey’s disputes with its neighbors and the alliance come as it moves closer to Russia, raising concerns in NATO capitals, especially Washington.

Although the MDCA is not directed against any particular country, “it does provide certain comfort for Greece in its disputes with Turkey,” Novo told Insider.

It will also provide comfort to Greece’s Eastern Mediterranean partners.

Eastern Mediterranean stability

Army UH-60M Black Hawk
US and Greek special-operation forces during Eddie’s Odyssey, a first-time joint exercise in the Aegean Sea, January 14, 2021.

Cooperation and disputes between countries around the Eastern Mediterranean have increased following the discovery of large natural-gas supplies there.

Israel, Cyprus, and Greece reached a deal last year on the creation of the EastMed pipeline, which will transport gas from Israel and Cyprus to Greece and on to the rest of Europe. The project is supported by the US, which views it as a way to reduce European dependency on Russian gas.

The three countries conduct frequent military exercises alongside France, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. All six have a strained relationship with Turkey, which views the coalition as antagonistic.

France recently dispatched a frigate in the region to protect French and Italian offshore drilling and exploration activities, which Turkey has frequently harassed.

Russia is also active in the region. It reestablished its 5th Operational Squadron in 2013 to support its operations in Syria. Moscow has also invested heavily in its naval base in Tartus, Syria.

Safeguarding common values

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias
Blinken and Dendias after renewing the US-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, in Washington, October 14, 2021.

The updated MDCA will last for five years and will remain in place thereafter until either country chooses to terminate it. It may expand in the future.

“Adding potential new sites for bases was a part of the negotiations and could be something that Greece and the United States look at again,” Novo said.

The agreement signals the importance the US puts on Greece’s strategic location and on its relationship with Greece itself.

As Blinken said in October, the defense relationship between the US and Greece “is rooted in a common history and shared values and interests going back more than two centuries.”

Constantine Atlamazoglou works on transatlantic and European security. He holds a master’s degree on security studies and European affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Read the original article on Business Insider